Although I would call it more of a sofa. (Just trying to be funny. And failing.)
Vaseem Khan has been elected chair of the CWA, those literary ‘crime fanatics’ famous for daggers and stuff. But in this photo Vaseem is seated on something larger than a chair. He has blogged about it, too. The chairing, not the seat as such. Or ‘his’ elephant.
I didn’t actually know what the CWA do. Now I’m more in awe of the whole thing, and almost feel as if I’d like to join too.
Last week I quoted the first sentence of Vaseem’s first novel – The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra – and then I read all the other sentences too. It’s been nice, getting reacquainted with Baby Ganesh’s entry into a world of crime. I love him so much, even if he is a little naughty at times.
With my very senior witch’s hat on I – erm – signed up for this event twice. Nearly three times, in fact. I’m obviously quite keen. ‘How to Write a Crime Fiction Bestseller’ was the way for some Tuesday morning skiving off work, to hang out with Vaseem Khan on Zoom, courtesy of The Society of Authors. It was really for budding crime writers, but as I have no novel – crime or otherwise – in me, I was able to lean back and enjoy.
With two pointy implements behind him – his Historical Dagger Award, and a cactus – plus a suitably messy bookcase, Vaseem looked the business. Apparently crime pays, or at least, it outsells other genres. Beer helps, if he’s to be believed.
I already loved Vaseem, but to find out he used to be a Terry Pratchett wannabe was a lovely surprise. When that didn’t pay, and didn’t even let him escape getting an education, he went to LSE, became a management consultant and went to India to work for ten years. And for twenty long years he wrote seven novels that all failed to go anywhere, possibly because he wrote what he thought was wanted; white, English books.
Success came when he wrote something much more himself, and then added a baby elephant, and there we were. The hook (he kept mentioning the need for hooks) for him was the first sentence: ‘On the day he was due to retire, Inspector Ashwin Chopra discovered that he had inherited an elephant.’ I remember quite liking that.
You need to flex your writing muscle, and presumably that’s what those seven unwanted novels did. With less expectation when you are a new writer, you have the potential to exceed those expectations and that’s good for numbers, for publishers. You need a theme, as well as a plot and characters. If you can write something that is the same – but different – as some successful books, that would be good. Comping is a thing. You will be compared to others, and hopefully a place will be found for you. Vaseem admitted to borrowing from the da Vinci Code (I will try to forgive him).
Another ‘magic ingredient’ is quality, which in Vaseem’s case is to attempt to write like Hemingway. Study your favourite style. Remember the hooks. Make sure you don’t say the police jeep has windows when it doesn’t, i.e. get your facts right. Ginger is not an ingredient for either Chopra or Vaseem (I might have to disown him after all).
Characters matter more than plot. Make sure you have some secondary characters, who are actually interesting. Consider what’s hot, or not. Psychological thrillers are in, as is cosy crime. Everyone wants to be Richard Osman. Or write Gone Girl. Vaseem loves Michael Connelly, but also admitted to basing Chopra on the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.
On writing outside one’s own culture, Vaseem is all for it. (His book for next year is a standalone set in small town US…)
After a [very civilised] potty break, it was question time.
In a crime novel, every book plot needs to be finished. The characters can go on. And you should avoid saggy middles, which I gather is easier with an editor because they will catch anything that sags. For us older [sagging] forgetful readers Vaseem suggests adding reminders of what’s happened earlier in the book. (I thank you.) And female detectives are allowed to get things wrong, just like their male counterparts.
Vaseem likes events, both large and smaller ones. Anything that gets him out there to meet readers. You want book charisma to persuade people to want your book. Newsletters are the best way of selling yourself online. You are in control and can talk directly to fans who have chosen to be on your mailing list. Events are outside your control, but very good even so.
And for god’s sake, bring back Ganesh!!! (Those are my words.)
It’s never easy. The dentist asked if I was making the Resident IT Consultant’s favourite meal for dinner. After a three second silence I admitted I wasn’t. I used to. But had come to the conclusion that he doesn’t have a favourite; just that he once claimed to particularly like one dish. That’s the Resident IT Consultant, not the dentist.
So I made something else instead. Took me forever, especially factoring in the trip to the dentist in the middle of the day. Plus two cakes, the way I often do.
Back to the presents. With Son having got in with the big guns last week, there wasn’t much we could do. A paperback book each. And let’s face it, that’s enough.
Once I’d bought the Ambrose Parry I suddenly thought it was bound to be one he’d read. Except he’d never heard of him, or them. So that was all right. Daughter played it safe, really safe, and got the brand new crime story collection edited by family favourite Martin Edwards. This time it’s Crimes of Cymru. And let’s face it, who wouldn’t want a cover like that?
JD Kirk’s new detective, DI Heather Filson, is slightly less refined than I had carelessly expected [on account of her sex]. There is sex. Much alcohol, plenty of swearing, threats, violence and death. The One That Got Away is well plotted, and it grabs you by your ****. You sit there, clinging on.
Child abduction is never pleasant. Everyone is reminded of the three girls from over thirty years ago, and for Heather it is extremely close to home. But at least the killer is dead. This has to be copycat. Unless the killer is less dead than assumed? But plenty of possible, unsavoury copycat sex pests out there.
Kept back by an incompetent boss, Heather gets impatient. She finds herself spending more time than she would like in the company of the local gangster, who has his own agenda.
A spinoff of the DCI Logan novels, there is also an ace 15-year-old autistic ‘sidekick’ for Heather, whom I would love to see more of.
This was one hell* of a book. What to read now? The next Heather Filson would be nice. I suppose that’s somewhat unrealistic as this one isn’t even in the shops yet. But considering how JD writes a new book every few weeks, I am hopeful.
(*Apologies for the language. I blame JD and Heather.)
You may recall my thoughts on going into bookshops to browse. Occasionally I really want to do that, to see what’s new. To touch it, and to decide. And how my local shop’s crazy lift makes me not want to browse after all. How I wait until I’m in St Andrews, where browsing can take place on the level. Street level.
So that is what I planned to engage in over the weekend. We went in. I found crime, and YA, and children’s for various ages.
What I didn’t find was inspiration. Nothing leapt out at me. Not having been informed of much that is new, I simply didn’t ‘see’ it. By the time I reached children’s, I could remember one preplanned title. Slightly hard to find, but I did walk out* with Derek Landy’s latest, the Skulduggery Pleasant prequel, Hell Breaks Loose. Which seems very prequelly indeed, going back in time considerably.
*I paid for it. Obviously.
Looked at crime on the way out again, but wasn’t inspired.
So that was that.
Didn’t even muster up any enthusiasm in the shoe shop which came next. Must be me, then.
“Coffee pods have just been delivered. As has ‘The One Who Got Away,’ who clearly didn’t!” So said the Resident IT Consultant in his WhatsApp message on Saturday.
I had, in fact, got away, which is why I wasn’t there for the coffee. But the rest of the message made no sense to me. Book title. Probably. But why, or whose? I’d not bought anything. Besides, he’d have had to have opened any package to know what got away, or didn’t.
When I got home, it was obvious. See-through packaging. Or ‘Evidence Bag’ as they call it. Front cover of the book clearly visible on the clear side of the bag. Very clever. A bit gimmicky, perhaps. But I like a good gimmick.
I have another book on the go, but how am I going to make myself wait?
Pardon my French, but I have to get this off my chest or I won’t be able to go to bed. And sleep, I mean.
OK, let’s start again. Holy Island is what I meant. First crime novel of LJ Ross, whose efforts to become a success while bypassing standard publishing made me an admirer quite some time ago. Besides, I’m a sucker for a good cover, and hers are the best.
So when I finally decided to buy and read one of LJ’s books, I chose the first from 2015. Not sure what would have happened had I picked a different one. Anyway, I don’t like her detective. DCI Ryan can best be described as a very handsome Mr Rochester. Had I been fifty years younger, I’d have loved him and lapped up this story. At least until I got towards the end.
I don’t like the end. Or the epilogue, or the first chapter of the second book. Although in a way I’m glad it’s there, just to prevent me having another go.
But let’s face it. The effect the story has had on me suggests LJ knows what she’s doing.
The gorgeous image of Lindisfarne fits right in with my previous feelings about this interesting island and its castle. What could be better? Let’s just say I don’t think I need to consider visiting now. Yes, I know fiction is fiction, but there are limits. Besides tidal causeways don’t seem like such a good idea, now that I think about it.
For the most part I sat there reading, feeling it wasn’t quite as great as I’d hoped, but fine enough in its own way. The handsome detective and his romantic dalliance with a member of the public who is too involved in this ritualistic murder and the way we change points of view several times on one page made me feel uncomfortable. But as I said, I’d read on and see.
I did see. Not sure if one was meant to work out who the guilty party was, but I did. So probably intentional. The reader knows and can see how things are just going to get worse.
But I’m pleased for LJ and all her readers who have enjoyed this. It’s just not for me.
(And it’s ironic that I failed to find a usable image of the cover…)
What to do when there isn’t enough water? It’s not always the case that you want to get places as fast as possible. There could be prawn sandwiches you need to eat.
Admittedly, a committed Swede should be able to chew fast and see off that sandwich during a single journey across the Öresund. At its narrowest, between Helsingborg and Helsingør, it takes around twenty minutes. The crew know this and are capable of serving food and drink really fast. (Not to mention the duty-free back in the day. But let’s not mention that.)
So what you do is you go back and forth until you have finished eating. Most likely you end up where you started, because you didn’t actually want to get to the other side. This is eminently civilised. The prawn sandwich rules.
What I didn’t know until this week is that locally there is a word for this – tura – a verb that means roughly ‘to tour’. It’s fascinating. So what someone has then done is to coin the word LitteraTura. In other words, LiteraTour. Well, ish. Yesterday evening you would have been able to book a ticket to hear author Kristina Ohlsson talk about her writing – children’s and crime – in the time it takes to eat three open sandwiches accompanied by wine/beer/water, coffee and cake, book lottery and some book selling.
It goes without saying I’d have loved to be there.
What a lifesaver Sara Paretsky has been! No surprises there, really.
I have been having some trouble with an anthology. I usually love them, but one recent evening, I almost didn’t want to go to bed with the last two stories I had just read on my mind. I didn’t like them. At all. I know this level of effect, even a bad one, is an indication of a story well written. But not for me, and not at bedtime.
I realised that’s actually a problem with any short story collection written by a number of different authors. You might like one or several, but even with a reliable editor putting it together, there’s no guarantee for every story.
The anthology has not yet been finished. By me. Possibly not even by the Resident IT Consultant, towards whom I kept pushing this particular volume of crime. Now I understand his reluctance. Have not made my mind up whether or not to continue. Not sure if one can decide what a story is like before it comes to an end.
Anyway. Back to Sara and her VI. I had her Windy City Blues standing by, and I grabbed it like someone drowning. It’s a collection of stories, but thankfully they were all written by Sara and are all about VI. In other words, safe. It’s quite an old collection, from 1995, and some of the stories are older still, from the early 1980s.
Characters die. People are evil. Murderers get caught. There is sadness. VI dusts herself off again and again, and keeps going.
And I swear that man she walks off with in the last story is ‘Mr Paretsky’.
Elizabeth Wein makes me very happy. I love the way I feel when she moves into the between-the-wars period, even when I can’t avoid thinking about what her characters will have to face in just a couple of years’ time (this book is set in 1937). There is something magical about a period when people have all this hope, after that other war.
Stateless is about one person’s wish to promote peace, trying to make it happen when twelve young pilots from as many European countries are brought together in a flying race, where they will travel and talk and hopefully overcome the memories from the Great War. Except there is a fatal incident on the first leg of the race, with just one witness.
The witness is Stella, the British competitor, who already feels she needs to tread carefully, being both the only female pilot, but also the holder of a Nansen passport, meaning she is stateless.
This makes the race dangerous. Who might be next? And who was behind the first incident? The pilots are young and some are hot-headed. Many are scared because of the political situation in the various countries they visit; different for each in each place. Can they make friends, and can they stay alive while trying to find out what’s happening?
Flying is Elizabeth’s strength, and it’s not only this topic that makes her books stand out, but it’s the way the reader learns what the pilot can see – or not see – from the cockpit, because the wings are in the way, or some other thing. You learn how to be less visible if you are being chased by another plane. And you find out – if you didn’t already know – about the political issues of the day; the civil war in Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, the early days of Hitler’s Germany, about being jewish. Immoral music, even.
And the friendships? Enough to make my hair stand on end. Nothing is quite as you’d expect. This Europe of one for all and all for one is exciting. I still haven’t made my mind up as to whether things were more promising then, or now.
At least now you have Stateless to read. Don’t make any other plans until you’re done.