Category Archives: Crime

Bookwitch bites #133

I have allowed a certain amount of channel surfing over Christmas. It’s not something I do myself. Much. I’m actually never quite sure how to change television channels, and I tend to stick with a few programmes, and don’t generally have enough time to sit and pick the least bad thing to watch.

When I saw that David Walliams was going to present Britain’s Favourite Children’s Book on Boxing Day, I decided to boycott the programme. Which is why I ended up catching a bit of favourite Disney songs instead. That was nice enough, and I always enjoy the Bare Necessities, even if I’m not allowed to wriggle my behind the way Baloo does.

And when the singalong ended, I inevitably found myself in the company of David Walliams anyway. He did the job competently enough, but I wish a more ‘ordinary’ author could have been given the task. It was fun to see how many former children’s laureates they were able to dig up to come and talk about their popular books.

The selection of books was good. But did they actually say how they had been chosen, or by whom? The children they had on the programme were well read, and amusingly precocious, but they weren’t exactly Winnie the Pooh fans. So what made this bear the best?

Then we moved on to – the planned – watching of And Then There Were None. It’s good. I read the book so long ago, that not all the facts remain as fresh in my memory as they should. But this isn’t going to end well. (Unlike the stage production I saw in 1970 where they decided to go for a happy ending…) And I vaguely recall a creepy film version from maybe forty years ago. I think.

I wonder what Agatha would have said about the bare chests?

All of them

‘You must read a lot of books?!’ people say when we meet.

Well, I don’t know. How long is a piece of string? Who am I comparing myself to? You? Them? My own wishes? My past reading habits?

I don’t always count the number of books I read in a year, but I have just done so. 146. Is that a lot? Or perhaps a disappointingly low figure? 37 were picture books, so around a quarter. Eleven non-fiction books and ten adult books; mainly crime.

Quite clearly I am not someone who has a review up every day. Not even every other day. My gut instinct has always told me that I might average three book reviews a week, and that seems to hold. Meaning that four days a week I have to make something up.

Maybe not really. There are events. Perhaps I should count those? (I just did. 44 of my own, plus a few by others.)

Philip Pullman, Penelope Lively and Daniel Hahn

Interviews (4) and the odd guest blog. Eight profiles, and – sadly – five author death announcements.

Actually, 2015 will be more than 146. I still have a few books coming. In contrast, Christmas means much more making stuff up and writing very little, hoping that no one will notice. After all, you are face down in mince pies and turkey stuffing, aren’t you?

That last sentence presumably counts as either one of my opinionated posts, or as one of my ‘musings,’ rather like what I’m doing now.

There are awards, shortlists and longlists, cover images, other photos, travelling. Stuff.

Do I read a lot?

Shetland Noir – the stories

They really went to town with their misused kitchen utensils. I’d say, never encourage a professional killer. They have enough horror to offer as it is.

I would like to say I enjoyed the little leaflet with the top three stories from the Shetland Noir writing competition. But enjoy isn’t quite the word I’d use.

Runners-up Matthew Wright and Marina Marinopoulos went for very bloody scenarios indeed. Kitchen utensils make you think kitchens, and from there it’s not far to food, and… Well, you get the picture.

Whereas winner Helen Grant was more restrained, if only by comparison. She has a gory corpse. She has made ‘good’ use of her kitchen utensil. I’ll say that for her. And I could sort of see where this story must go, which isn’t a bad thing. It built up the suspense quite nicely.

The Beach House, as her story is called, is all about death in a beautiful place. That makes it worse. I can visualise where the house is, and I can see the corpse, even though I’m trying not to. I’ll have to work on unseeing this at some point.

DSC_0869

If Helen were to change paths and kill in the adult world from now on, I reckon she’d do it well.

Shetland Noir, only once removed

I’m the kind of witch who can recognise Denise Mina from behind, out of context (i.e. not at some book festival). On the other hand, my Shetland Noir representative, Helen Grant, had no idea who this ‘tremendously likeable’ woman was, gorgeous black furry boots and all. They travelled on the same plane, which despite it being Friday the 13th suffered no mishap, which is lucky for Scottish crime and its future. Helen did know the other crime writer at the airport, though, as she had been at Oxford with MJ McGrath.

Ann Cleeves, Helen Grant and Doug Henshall, by Dale Smith

Helen was on her way to Shetland to receive the Jimmy Perez Trophy for writing the winning short story – The Beach House – from, as it turned out, the very hands of Jimmy Perez, aka actor Doug Henshall. Not bad for a simple misuse of a kitchen utensil. (I can just see how he stands there muttering, ‘not the cheese grater. Please not the cheese grater!’)

Ann Cleeves, Helen Grant and Doug Henshall, by Dale Smith

Strangely (!) Helen was quite keen to see a bit of beautiful Shetland while she was there, so apart from the grand reception and award thing on the Friday night, she ‘only’ went to two events, but they both sound really good. Also very female, because as we know, women scare and kill best. Just look at Helen herself.

Donald Anderson, Jacky Collins, Mari Hannah, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves and Alexandra Sokoloff

There was a panel on the benefits and pitfalls of screen adaptations, with Alexandra Sokoloff, Ann Cleeves, Denise Mina and Mari Hannah, chaired by Jacky Collins. It’s apparently a bit like adopting a baby, and learning to step away. Ann Cleeves had Vera Stanhope adapted after the producer picked up a copy of her book in Oxfam.

According to Alexandra, who has a past as a screenwriter, in America television does sell books, whereas Ann recognises that viewers might not be readers. Denise has had a very successful adaptation made from her book, totally authentic down to the 1980s Irn Bru sign on Central Station.  And on the benefits of adapting a book, Denise said that we love books – ‘That’s why we’re all dweebing out when there’s a perfectly good craft fair on.’ The book is the real connection with another human being.

Jake Kerridge, Laura Wilson, Helen Giltrow, MJ McGrath and Louise Millar

The cheerfully named Killer Women is a London-based group of female (obviously) crime writers, which started as a social group, but now meet to discuss murder as well. In Lerwick Laura Wilson, Helen Giltrow, MJ McGrath and Louise Millar spoke to Jake Kerridge about women in crime, both as writers, detectives and victims. Apparently if the victim is male he must suffer as a spy or at war, and not in a domestic setting.

MJ McGrath enjoys turning things round, like having a female detective instead of just as the sidekick. Her male detective breeds lemmings, in order to replace those who jump off cliffs… Louise Millar has interviewed people affected by crime, several years afterwards, to learn of the long term effects. And MJ interviewed some Hell’s Angels after a murder. She felt that being a woman was an advantage in that situation: ‘Either they want to impress you or they don’t take you seriously.’

Women are ‘equal opportunities readers’ and will read books by both women and men, but men are more likely to read men. Helen Giltrow, who works in a male dominated sector, espionage, has been told ‘you write like a man.’ MJ commented that ‘I have been told with great sincerity and as a compliment, I write like a brunette!’

On sex and violence Laura said that she has heard male writers say that women can go further because if a man writes about sexual violence people will think that he is a pervert who really wants to do it! Louise added that there is also the issue of having to write ‘likeable’ women, which is very constraining.

(I’ve never noticed any ‘constraining’…)

On the gossip front the latest news from Ann Cleeves seems to be a non-crime (I’m guessing non-fiction) book about Shetland. Because she loves it. Alex Gray is incredibly nice, and she and Helen talked about Bloody Scotland. Valerie Laws’ sleep was not helped by waves breaking against the hotel wall right beneath her window. (At least the sea stayed on the outside.) Marsali Taylor wins [Helen’s] prize for best dressed crime writer, with a stunning fuchsia silk fitted dress with gold embroidery and matching trousers.

After a weekend like this, Helen can almost see herself having more of a go at adult crime. It was ‘inspiring.’ And next time she flies to Shetland, her woolly hat will be in her hand luggage.

Doug Henshall and Helen Grant, by Dale Smith

Hopefully not ditched

This is the Shetland Noir weekend. It could have picked better weather. Storm Abigail is upon us, and my own Ice Cube is bad enough, for being battered by winds and heavy rain.

I’m very grateful not to have been travelling to Shetland with Abigail. As far as I know, the authors who had to get there in time for the crime festival did manage to travel. Brave people who think nothing of throwing up in small planes or on choppy ferries in the service of literature.

But as I was thinking of these poor souls, in my relatively warm and cosy home, I could visualise the scenario of these people being stranded together. Either in some airport, with no planes taking off, or, well, in some rather more dire situation. You know, a whole plane load of professional killers.

Just imagine what they could get up to.

(Feel free to use this idea for a book, or a short story. I’ll settle for 10%.)

Light on Dumyat

Light on Dumyat is an old book, but not as old as I’d believed. First published in 1982, Rennie McOwan doesn’t say when it is set, but I’m guessing the 1950s. There are sheep in the middle of Stirling, and that rather determines the period. As the Resident IT Consultant said, there were just about sheep in his time, so I’m thinking this is a little before then.

Rennie McOwan, Light on Dumyat

Rennie McOwan lives very locally. Maybe I see him out and don’t know it. The Resident IT Consultant once went walking with him, when he was a teenager. That’s the Resident IT Consultant, not Rennie, who as an adult was a good companion because he had a car and could offer a walk somewhere more interesting.

Not that Stirling isn’t interesting, and Dumyat, which is a hill in the nearby Ochils, is as worthy as anywhere. You can tell that Rennie knows about walking and living wild. Light on Dumyat is basically the Famous Five in the Scottish countryside, and by now a wonderful period piece as well.

The book features 12-year-old Gavin who comes to stay for the holidays with his aunt and uncle near Stirling, and this young Englishman really takes to the hills. He meets three local children who seem to have adventures all the time and they set him a challenge to see if he can join their gang.

Gavin is stronger and more cunning than they thought, but the whole adventure is sidetracked when thieves try to steal his uncle’s valuable silver. That’s when his new friends really come into their own.

Very nice and innocent, and the kind of thing I’d have lapped up at the right age. Now, I’m too unfit to attempt Dumyat [that’s dum-eye-at], so will have to gaze at it from afar instead.

(I see there are a few more books about these children.)

Grate news

Helen Grant brought the cream. Two kinds, actually, as she wasn’t sure what kind I needed. (The kind that will make naughty cake naughtier still!! Obviously.) After a busy October for both of us, with much travelling, we wanted to meet up, and I said I would supply the cake if she got the cream.

Because Helen has had some great news. She has taken her killing to my neck of woods (i.e. Sweden) and done it so well that she won the Shetland Noir writing competition. Not that I am surprised. That woman can kill with considerable skill anywhere, although I’m not sure if I really want her to to do so in places I know, as opposed to the safely distant Germany and Belgium.

It had to involve some misuse of a kitchen utensil, and I’m thinking it wasn’t a jug of cream. On Facebook someone suggested a cheese grater. Which would be great. But I reckon that with a cheese slicer you could do so much more…

The prize is a trip to Shetland (I know, I know. There’s a lot about Shetland here) which would be good at any time, as long as ditches are avoided. But it should be especially good in November, when so many crime writers will be there for the (shared with Iceland Noir) Shetland Noir weekend. The things they will be able to discuss when they all get together.

And if you want to know what Helen and I talked about, it was mainly vertigo. Like, the best places to suffer. That kind of thing. We both had some excellent ideas as well as personal experience, and during this fruitful exchange I felt more scared than when reading Helen’s books. At least those are fiction. They are, aren’t they?