Category Archives: Humour

‘One of mum’s fanciful ideas’

Or welcome to Bloody Scotland 2020!

After a worthy introduction by the First Minister herself, this year’s online Bloody Scotland kicked off with four crime writers dishing dirt and trashing reputations and generally having a good time, despite the fact that Lin Anderson, Craig Robertson and Gordon Brown, kept in some sort of check by Abir Mukherjee, were all at home. Each in their own, where we were treated to two sets of book backgrounds, one of posters plus Lin’s sauna, although I suspect that might have been a joke.

Bloody Scotland as ‘one of mum’s fanciful ideas’ was how Lin’s children explained how it came about. ‘A lot of good ideas come out of alcohol’, and as Gordon said, organising a crime festival ‘cannae be that hard’. For this year’s online weekend, Lin had apparently suggested that the whole country could light torches. Gordon had to tell how he ruined the town’s bowling green when he set up the football pitch five years ago. The grass died in a pitch pattern.

They all feel that this new crime festival has many advantages, including the ability for anyone, anywhere to attend; both authors and audience. It was great being able to ask Ian [Rankin] and Val [McDermid] who they most wanted to talk to, when anyone is possible.

The Curly Coo – the pub where shenanigans take place on the Saturday night – is actually Craig’s local pub and it was his ‘daft idea’ to organise an event there. It usually sells out in seconds.

Abir asked the others how the pandemic had affected them. He had found that his usual workflow of 15000 words per month dwindled to about 15. Craig found writing easier, if only because he couldn’t pop to the Curly Coo all the time. Gordon got up at five every morning and wrote a new novel, while Lin was so traumatised she couldn’t write at all, and had to stick to jotting down ideas for later.

Two thirds of the way into this event, I got up to go to the kitchen and put dinner on. This has never ever happened to me at the Albert Halls. But the four Bloody Scotland board members were able to follow me there and merely continued their bickering.

There were audience questions, and we learned that Abir once got asked about another authors book, because they were both brown authors. Gordon [also Brown] once had to explain to an irate bookshop customer why he was out signing novels instead of attending to the election. Lin told a fan at an event why she’s so good at sex. Lots of practice, I gather. A fondness for pina coladas is spreading wherever Abir goes, because he treats all crime gatherings like holidays.

Whether that will have to change now, we don’t know, but they believe there will be a Bloody Scotland after the virus. If there is an after the virus. And continuing digitally looks like a real possibility, regardless of viral status.

Abir did well, getting his unruly lot to finish on time, just as the pasta was ready.

A Fantastical Escape

This was a great event to end the book festival with! Eoin Colfer is always fun, and he was complemented by Cressida Cowell and Kiran Millwood Hargrave, and kept in some sort of order by Mairi Kidd. There were many laughs and if you hadn’t read all the books yet, you’d want to by the end. Mairi was hoping there were some in the audience who still had this to discover.

Despite ‘promises’ there was no dog, sleeping or otherwise, nor a rear end of cat. But we had a past – Irish – laureate, and the current children’s laureate, and maybe a future one? Cressida was in her kitchen, Kiran in her Oxford office and Eoin was delighted to be anywhere, even in Dublin.

He was feeling smug, having written a picture book and a drama during lockdown. There was ‘nothing he could teach his sons that they’d want to know’ so he mostly ‘read books’ [on Netflix]. So did Kiran, but as she’s married to her illustrator she needed to get some work finished. And Cressida had read her books on YouTube, loving her own jokes, long forgotten.

People with a high IQ are more easily disturbed by noisy chewing. This is a fact. Apparently. Eoin wore his glasses to improve his high IQ look, and to seem more trustworthy as he talked about his fraternal, con-joined twins…

Kiran, who at a young age was traumatised by the tunnel in Eoin’s The Wish List, always has strong ideas of what her characters look like, but can’t draw them. Cressida might be an artist, but has bad visual memory, citing a pear with the stalk at the wrong end.

Eoin regrets the fact that children grow too old to dare write fiction, believing they must do it in a certain way. Kiran used to write as a child, but had forgotten this, until her mother reminded her of it, and reckons that’s 15 lost years where she’s not been ‘using it’ to make it stronger.

At this point Eoin disappeared. Broadband issues? (When he popped up again he blamed Brexit. Something about a hard border.) He’s scared by public speaking. Who’d have thought? After 25 years he’s less worried. His worst experience was doing a parachute jump. Not his choice. It was a gift from his wife… And the cords tangled.

Kiran likes the adrenaline pumping, and bungee jumps are her thing. Caving, not so much, But she got out eventually, that time, and she didn’t drown the time she wasn’t waving at her dad, either.

‘Not usually an issues guy’, Eoin is most pleased with his book Illegal. Although in Ireland you are not supposed to be proud of your own work, but as this is a collaboration, it might be OK. Cressida always likes her latest book best, and she’s always proud. With barely a minute to go, Kiran said her book titles are so long she didn’t have time to list one. Maybe the most recent book.

Llama drama

Who could resist a toy llama with attitude? Not me.

Sunday morning’s reading by author Annabelle Sami, of her book Llama Out Loud! was the kind of event I might well not have chosen in real life, being awfully resistant to new things. But it was fun, and I defy anyone not to want to find out how the noisy llama Levi might improve Yasmin’s life. She’s ten. In fact, it’s her birthday, and it didn’t go well. And she hasn’t spoken for seven years.

Yasmin wanted a different kind of guardian angel than this toy from the market in Whitechapel. But you get what you get, and Levi has to – almost – accept that their first meeting involves Yasmin potentially hitting him with a tennis racquet. The way you do when there is a strange noise coming from your wardrobe.

She quickly traps him in her laundry basket instead. Levi informs Yasmin that he doesn’t bite. He spits. And he can’t see why people want to open so many coffee shops in Whitechapel.

While Annabelle read a few chapters from her book, her illustrator Allen Fatimaharan drew pictures to show us the meeting. And I have to say that for a room belonging to a tidy girl, it somehow looks, well, untidy. As though a llama passed through.

And we learn about the purple poo incident.

If you want to know more you just have to buy a copy of Llama Out Loud!

You can also – while you wait – take Annabelle and Allen up on their challenge. Write a monologue about your very own guardian animal, or draw a picture.

Author, in a dress

What do people do? During these unusual times, I mean.

Supposedly authors, who ‘always’ work from home, tend to do so in their pyjamas. I believe that some have now started actually dressing [properly] for work, from home. Even heard of someone who ironed his clothes.

And they write. At least those who feel up to writing. It can be hard to get in the mood. Or getting out of that other mood.

Will anyone still be around to publish what they write, once they have typed ‘The End’? Will there be shops from which to buy those books?

I came across the link to a video clip, where Wendy Meddour reads her new picture book, Not in that Dress, Princess! It does have a publisher, but won’t be out for a few months yet.

It’s about what princesses can do while wearing dresses.

I like it. Do you?

Lowering the standards?

Thank goodness for David Lammy! I was really pleased to see his choice of book that made him laugh.

Usually even that question in the Guardian Review’s questions to writers gets a ‘worthier’ response. But here was a grown-up, a politician, willing to mention a silly – but funny – picture book.

I remember Who’s in the Loo? by Jeanne Willis. Like all her picture books it’s both funny and seriously sensible. And I have my own personal interest in toilets, making it a lot more relevant than some.

In fact, most of the books mentioned by David are more normal than I have come to expect.

A Sudden Death in Cyprus

I was already a fan of Death in Cyprus, so it’s just as well Michael Grant added two more words to make his thriller A Sudden Death in Cyprus. Just so I can tell him apart from M M Kaye..! That one was rather more clean-living, not to mention romantic, than Michael’s offering sixty years on.

Adult it may be, but it’s still pretty clean, and I’ve learned at least one new use for a toilet. His author [former] crook David Mitre shares a lot of traits with Michael himself, including ‘the girl in the window.’ So Mr ‘Mitre’ may be a mere 42 years old, boasting symmetrical looks (I understand this is good), but he’s an attractive enough reformed villain, with enough brains, and Mr ‘Grant’ has given him a worthy crime to deal with.

Yes, there is death. After all the title suggests it. But mostly it’s a thrilling mystery-solving exercise, and I particularly like it when heroes can cobble together a team on the hop, so to speak; one that works well and gets us all where we want to be. Except possibly for David himself, who’d like to get a bit further with some of the ladies. (I believe it’s good for him to have to wait.)

And he is funny, this David/Michael. Just the right amount of funny. What more can you want apart from the gorgeous actresses, sullen French neighbours, FBI Special Agents, priests, sex workers and refugees? And hamsters.

When he’d solved the problems in Cyprus, I waited all of one day before turning to the next David Mitre story.

Highfire

This was lots of fun! It was also rather gory, with not only missing body parts but a fair bit of death and destruction. It’s only what you’d expect when you have a real live dragon in a Louisiana swamp, a cheeky teenage boy plus a pretty crooked cop.

Highfire by Eoin Colfer shows, as did his earlier adult crime novels, that he can be just as funny when writing for grown-ups, but also that he knows plenty of bad language. If it weren’t for the air turning rather blue around Vern, as the dragon calls himself, this would almost suit Eoin’s child fans. Almost.

15-year-old Squib Moreau is working hard, if not legally, to see if he can get himself and his mother out of the swamp, and preferably away from Constable Hooke who wouldn’t mind knowing Mrs Moreau a little better.

And then Vern happens, and when he does, he happens a lot, in an unavoidable fashion. He wants to kill Squib. Squib doesn’t want to be killed, and there we have a problem. But it’s not as big or bad a problem as the one of staying alive when Constable Hooke gets going.

Think Carl Hiaasen and his Florida criminals, except this is a state further west and there is a dragon. Highfire has been labelled fantasy, but it all feels quite normal. There is just a fire-breathing, flying dragon. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Squib is small and human, and Vern is bigger and more dragon-shaped.

As I said, not everyone survives. And it’s hard to work out how Vern can avoid being discovered, but those swamp-dwellers are canny people. Unless they are dead.

Personally I wouldn’t mind more of this. It could be a sequel..? It could, couldn’t it? Or a standalone. As long as there is more.

Skulduggery Pleasant – Bedlam

I’m late. Sorry. But I had to buy Derek Landy’s latest Skulduggery Pleasant book Bedlam myself. And then I had to find the strength to carry it home. No, I didn’t. The postman did. After which it suffered because of its sheer size when I couldn’t take it out with me.

It’s the end. Or is it? Well, actually, not only are a few of the characters still alive on the last page, and I daresay others could be revived a little, but I cheated and looked online and there seems to be another book coming. Soon. Just as well I read this one now.

Bedlam. Where shall I start? As usual, I wasn’t sure who was still alive and who was friends with whom, because this keeps changing so much. But basically, Valkyrie needs to make her younger sister unhappy again. Can’t have a child so content, despite the dead hamster and all that.

And then there’s all the rest, fighting between the magic world and the ‘normal’ one, and fighting within these worlds, and being stabbed in the back by your best friend, both literally and figuratively. It’s exciting and it’s funny.

What also makes the Skulduggery books stand out is that Derek has so many female characters who fight and are strong, as well as being sexy and good looking, and it feels so much more equal. None of this one token female and then lots of guys. Valkyrie rules, or maybe it’s China who does. Or Abyssinia. Serafina is powerful, as is Solace, and there is no getting away from Tanith. We like Tanith.

In fact, among the males we have a dead [obviously] skeleton and various scarred men, vampires and ghosts. Plus we have Omen Darkly, who continues being seemingly mostly useless and kind. But sometimes that’s the best person to be.

Anyway, as I might have been saying, much gets sorted towards the end. Some not. And with a few characters a little bit alive, we need more of the same. Which, according to Wikipedia, we will get.

I will alert the postman.

The Fowl Twins

Would it work, this move from Artemis Fowl to his twin brothers Myles and Beckett? Could they be as charmingly bad as their big brother, and would we miss Butler, and what if Eoin Colfer had lost his touch? Yes, yes, yes and no.

They seem so young! Eleven is nothing. But the Artemis we first met was similarly young and just as crooked, and intelligent, calculating everything he did to suit him. Myles is a cold fish, not hesitating to hack Artemis’s security system to get things his way. And Beckett, well, a delight, but one who would quickly wear you out if you actually met. If he was actually real. Charming, and not quite as stupid as he makes you think he is.

Being twins they have that unspoken way of working well together, and the mere fact that Myles has prepped Beckett to do what needs doing, when it needs doing, is a testament to both their abilities. And they have NANNI, an AI minder (who can also be a little hacked).

We have fairies. (It’s an Irish story, after all.) One Barbie-sized troll, who is quite vicious, or would be, were he not encased in plastic. One small, but ancient, non-magic pixel (half pixie, half elf), who is less invisible than she thinks.

And we have baddies. A Spanish speaking nun and a Duke from Scilly, who is very old. Plus the requisite horde of stupid muscle.

Together they all make for a fun and fast paced reading adventure.

There is no point in me explaining anything that happens in this first book about the Fowl twins. It’s just one of those times when you sit down and read and enjoy the ride. I mean, maybe not when face-to-face with the shark. But otherwise it was – mostly – lots of fun. What am I saying? It was fun the whole time. Except maybe for the nits. And, er… yes. Fun.

The Lammisters

I suspect Declan Burke’s new novel would make a good film. In fact, I have no way of knowing that it’s not already happening. Set in Hollywood, slightly under a hundred years ago, it would be appropriate. And I do enjoy humorous films.

The Lammisters is completely different from Declan’s other crime novels, which – mostly – take place in Ireland, featuring inept and sometimes bad characters, but usually also very funny ones. If they talk too much, it’s because they are Irish.*

Here, though, is a narrator who uses a lot of words. Long words. Fancy words. Complicated sentences. Footnotes. That sort of thing.

Not being as well read – or educated – as the Guardian’s Laura Wilson, I don’t know Laurence Sterne, although I have heard of him. I gather it is his style that Declan has gone for. The review in the Guardian was very positive, which is well deserved. To my mind, all his books ought to have got a mention there.

It’s a period I like a lot, and coincidentally it’s the second of two crime novels set in that period that I had lined up over Christmas; one on each side of the US. (More about that tomorrow.) And the cover is fabulous.

Declan Burke, The Lammisters

* Apologies for the stereotyping…