Category Archives: Reading

A report from the pavement

I spent quite a bit of my Bloody Scotland weekend trying to hunt Elly Griffiths down. This entailed looking into bars; a thing I don’t normally do. I wanted her to sign a book, but by the time I had the book, Elly was nowhere to be found.

She was one of the crime writers taking part in Vaseem and Abir’s Red Hot Night of a Million Games. It was a very silly night, but a lot of fun, and it cheered both Daughter and me up. We’ll go next year too if it’s on. Daughter’s favourite was Luca Veste singing Hit Me Baby One More Time. Again. We got to wave our lit-up mobiles in the air and everything. Elly did some good moves with her maracas. Helen Fitzgerald played a convincing corpse on the floor. There was much cheating.

And when all’s said and done, it has very little to do with crime fiction, except that these authors are fun to spend time with.

In Houses From Hell, all I wanted to do was move the furniture on the stage around. Lovely, tartan armchairs, but Helen Grant, Lesley Thomson and Stuart Neville didn’t get to interact enough, because they were not seated in a convenient semi-circle. (Please take note!) Besides that, between you and me, they are quite creepy people. No, that’s not right. They have creepy interests and they put all sorts into their books. Helen even managed to scare her own husband.

When the programme for Bloody Scotland came I wanted to go to so many events. But I know my [lack of] strength, so decided to pace myself, and opted for four, thinking I could add to them later. When the time came, however, four seemed like really quite enough.

After many years of not meeting Martin Edwards in person, there was no way I was going to miss his Cosy Makes a Comeback event. I think of him as a cosy writer. And then he started off by saying he prefers traditional; not cosy. Conveniently enough both the other participants, Jonathan Whitelaw and S J Bennett, as well as the audience, were quick to adapt and the word traditional got a lot of airing. Big audience, too, so I have to say that we are many who like cosy crime. Pardon, traditional.

Hadn’t been sure how the death of the Queen was going to influence the discussion, seeing as S J’s detective actually is the Queen. But she has many plans, and always lets fictional characters do the actual deeds, so this may well continue working. Martin’s excellence at editing [other people’s] vintage crime got a mention, with very many of us being big fans and wanting to know that there will be more from the British Library. He’d initially expected to edit two. There are now over a hundred, so that clearly exceeded expectations.

At the cosy event (sorry!) I said hello to Lizzy Siddal, who I now recognised, and was introduced to her companion Marina Sofia. This turned out to be serendipitous since Marina bore down on me outside the room for the evening event about Detective Duos. We exchanged cards, the way civilised people do, and talked. A lot. For obvious reasons we were able to talk about funny foreigners. Marina is a publisher of translated crime. When Son arrived, in his role as translator of David Lagercrantz’s book, I introduced them, and it turned out they knew about each other already, and a lot more conversation took place.

The Detective Duos event was interesting, and I was pleased to finally come across Ayo Onatade who chaired it. Must have been aware of her for ten years at least. And I had thought it was her I saw down at the Albert Halls the previous night. It obviously was.

One day I’ll have to explain to David Lagercrantz about spoilers. Like not mentioning them too much at events… I liked new-to-me author Ajay Chowdhury, who is a Bloody Scotland-made success, having won a competition to write new crime. Having decided against buying his book before the event on the grounds that it was a hardback, I hurried out afterwards to hand over my money, and still make it to be first in the signing queue.

Simon Mason talked about his two DI R Wilkinses, and if I’d not already read and loved his book, I’d have bought that too. At the end Ayo put them all on the spot, and David agonised at great length before giving up on answering. (In case you want to know what it was about, I’m afraid I can’t remember.) When asked about their personal favourite detective duos, I was very pleased that Ajay chose Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Haven’t heard those names mentioned in a long time.

I then proceeded to confuse everyone by chatting to Simon and David at more or less the same time at the signing table, about different things in two different languages. I think maybe I won’t do that again. But it was nice to reminisce a little with Simon, and good to introduce myself as the mother of you-know-who to David, who got quite carried away. And he finally got to meet his translator. So I suppose that was all good.

Afterwards Son and Dodo and the Resident IT Consultant went for a beer somewhere. Probably not where I was looking for Elly. Instead I hugged an author and talked about cows with another while I waited outside on the pavement for Daughter to pick me up. It’s quite nice this, finding yourself right next to some favourite writers on the pavement (where many of them go to smoke. But not these two!).

As you may have guessed the cow conversation was with James Oswald, which in turn started Vaseem Khan on the Scots use of the word coo. I worked out later that they might have been on their way to Crime at the Coo. Talked elephants with Vaseem. Obviously. And said what fun we’d had the previous night. Soon after the hug Daughter turned up and she tried to invite him round for chilli. Vaseem turned us down very nicely. But we can try again next year.

So, as I said, you find a lot of authors milling about both in and out of the Golden Lion. And when the ticket table remained unstaffed for rather longer than it should have, Gordon Brown came to the rescue.

Dark Music

I surprised myself by reading David Lagercrantz’s Dark Music. But what with David appearing at Bloody Scotland this Saturday, and the fact that a copy of his book ended up in my hands, I decided to see what he could do with two detectives from two completely different backgrounds.

In fact, seen from my exile point of view, I am wondering why Chileans seem to pop up so much. Are they – the second generation immigrants – seen as more attractive than some other nationalities? More attractive to me, having met some of the parent generation fleeing Chile back in the day. Anyway, here we have Micaela Vargas, who almost ruins her family’s reputation by joining the police. I’m curious to see if her delinquent brothers will be made more of in future books.

And on the opposite, but same, side we have the Holmesian Hans Rekke, a professor who sees too much and who is frequently high on drugs. He’s rich, too. Being clever can be a drawback, and it can be hard to stop thinking, and seeing.

Together these two start solving a murder that the police gave up on. It’s 2003/2004 and most of the signs point to Afghanistan. The crime as such is perhaps not so interesting, but the way the two detectives interact is. And then there’s the government and various foreign agents. What’s so special about a football referee from Kabul?

I quite liked the way David introduces the next book. At least, I hope it’s the next book. So I suppose that means I want to see more of Vargas and Rekke?

(Translation by Ian Giles)

A Killing in November

It’s lovely when people get on. But it’s also quite good – or fun – when they don’t. That’s what you have here, in Simon Mason’s new crime series about DI Ryan Wilkins and his close colleague DI Ray Wilkins. Ryan could possibly be described as white trailer trash (from Oxford), while wealthy Nigerian Ray graduated from Balliol (also Oxford).

A Killing in November trails in the footsteps of Simon’s Garvie Smith YA crime novels, and at first I laughed out loud at the humour of these two very different and also difficult detectives. But it’s a murder tale, so it gets darker, albeit with some very light and unusual touches throughout. I loved it.

Our two DIs have a dead woman on their hands, found at Barnabas Hall, in the Provost’s study. No one seems to know who she was. Rubbing each other up the wrong way, not to mention the people at the college, Ryan and Ray do their best, while trying [not really…] not to annoy the other one.

Highly recommended.

You can find out more about it at Bloody Scotland on Saturday 17th September when Simon Mason is here, chatting to two other crime writers – David Lagercrantz and Ajay Chowdhury – about their own respective detective pairs in Detective Duos. See you at the Golden Lion? I can almost promise you that David’s British translator, Ian Giles, will be present as well… I’ve been hearing a lot about his Dark Music. And there is Ajay’s The Cook.

Sally Jones and the False Rose

Sally Jones and The Chief travel to Glasgow! Here is Jakob Wegelius’s new story about our favourite ape and her beloved chief, and it’s a good one. Glasgow offers up all manner of horrendous characters, and one or two good ones. And, I hadn’t thought this through before, but for the purposes of the story Sally Jones needs to be left alone and like so many parent figures in fiction, The Chief has to be temporarily removed.

They are both honourable creatures and that’s why they travelled to Scotland. While renovating their old ship, the Hudson Queen, they came upon something valuable, which they are determined to return to its rightful owner. If only they could find her.

The low lifes of Glasgow quickly send The Chief off on bad business, holding our dear ape hostage. But Sally Jones is no ordinary victim, so she manages to move ahead, towards some sort of solution. Old Glasgow is an interesting place, and so are the crooks you find there (although their names could in some cases have been a little more Scottish).

I won’t tell you more though. You will want to read and discover for yourselves how some decent people are not decent at all, and how some bad ones are not all rotten. But which ones?

(Translation, as before, by Peter Graves.)

Why no YA for me

I had bought tickets for one more event at the book festival. This year the YA Book Prize 2022 was going to be presented at an event, which I think is a really good idea. Especially now that book awards are dropping like flies, and soon there might not be much to be won.

But the tickets were bought before I knew about the kitchen worktops. And all the rest. So it was more relaxing not to travel to Edinburgh.

And I couldn’t help noticing that I didn’t actually know much about the shortlisted authors. I had read one of the books. I met one of the authors earlier this year. And I know of Dean Atta who was presenting. I had read about the winner, Adiba Jaigirdar. But it’s still as though I have lost touch with what’s happening in the YA world.

In a way that is good. It means things are moving on, and new people are appearing on the YA scene. Being a bit old, I am too stuck in the ways of ten years ago. But someone else will be up to scratch with the new names and their new titles.

And as I said, I think doing the awards at the book festival is a great idea.

Low-hanging books

Having feared a long and slow decline in in-coming books, I have been relieved to find that I seem to be coming to a mostly natural end. I expect the postman would agree.

It’s been a freeing experience to buy my own. In a way. If I know I would like the new – or, for that matter, old – book by A N Author, I can get it online. But when I don’t know, I tell myself that what I need is a good browse; see what looks promising. If there are any three for two offers, maybe.

The next step is deciding I’ll pop into Waterstones to see what they’ve got. And once I’ve visualised myself there, I remember the upstairs aspect of children’s books. And then I see myself in the lift, and recall what it was like the last time and how I stepped out of it once the lift-woman’s voice had stopped being downright crazy, allowing me to exit [without having moved upwards].

Never again, I thought. And as the stairs are many and high, they are also a ‘never again’ if I can help it. This is why I have been happy to visit St Andrews, where they have a couple of normal bookshops with only a downstairs. On the other hand, travelling fifty miles there and then fifty miles back, seems like taking this book buying a bit far. Fifty miles, in fact.

There are other places a witch could go. Edinburgh, for instance. But both the obvious shops involve sharing a train with others, getting on a bus for a bit, and then there are stairs or lifts as well. Children’s books will probably never be the category to be found right inside the door. A bit like shoe shops back in the day when I wielded a pushchair and children’s feet at the same time.

So… Whereas I couldn’t buy adult shoes instead, these days I have turned to crime. Crime is adult and can be found somewhere the crazy lift-woman is not needed.

The rings of Siobhan

Today was nice. A few weeks ago I was contacted by Seana, whom I first ‘met’ on Crime Always Pays. It’s an intriguing thing when you find you get on well with someone else who also comments on a blog post somewhere.

As you will know if you’ve been here for a long time, it was blogging about Siobhan Dowd that brought Bookwitch to the attention of Declan Burke and his blog on all kinds of Irish crime. Which in turn brought lots of other people to me, one way or another.

So, many blog-reading and Facebook years later, we finally met. It wasn’t something I’d imagined, seeing as we live a long way from each other. But there she was, on her way to Scotland and Robert the Bruce, and wanting to see me too.

She and her sister consented to make a comparison of the castles of Edinburgh and Stirling, and were also agreeable to being cajoled into every gift shop in sight, where money literally spilled from purses. With Daughter doing the driving, we moved from one Robert the Bruce to another. (And possibly from one slice of cake to a second. Although the less said about that, the better.)

It didn’t even rain very much. Mostly the sun shone, which is its job. And we talked. If your ears burned, maybe it was about you.

In case you were wondering; Stirling Castle won. Obviously.

The Translator’s Craft and Graft

He’d found a pair of jeans in time for his first event on Sunday. No more need for Daniel Hahn to shiver in the relative ‘chill’ Edinburgh offered him. He was here to talk about his book Catching Fire, about translating Diamela Eltit’s Never Did the Fire, because you can never have enough books about other books.

It was one of those events I like so much. The book is fabulous and Daniel is always so [seemingly] relaxed when chatting in public like this. He started off with the regular crossed legs, but towards the end I noticed he’d sort of crept up in his armchair the way you do when sitting reading in the comfort of your own home.

Chaired by his publisher Sam McDowell of Charco Press, the two of them chatted about the sorts of things the large audience liked. Daniel is the kind of person who thinks carefully about what word to use in a particular place, and also the kind of son to accept an OBE ‘because he’s got parents.’ It made them happy. He also felt that an OBE is good for the general business of translating, no matter which translator is honoured.

Xenophobia is growing, so we need those foreign books. Without foreign language skills, we need someone to translate those books for us.

Something I’d never thought of is that Daniel’s English is not the same as other people’s; it all depends on how and where and with whom you grow up. So any translation will rely on the language that particular translator has. It’s very interesting.

He read a few pages from his book, and as ever it was entertaining both for what it was and how Daniel reads. It just made me want to reread Catching Fire again.

After this event in the Northside Theatre, we all mostly trooped over to the signing tent where I was happy to note I wasn’t at the end of the queue. Having acquired a post-it with my name on so he’d know who I was 😊.

He put it to the side as he wrote a nice long message, after which I felt it prudent to retrieve my post-it before he signed all the books after me to Ann. Nice enough name, but it’d be confusing.

Opening the Edinburgh International Book Festival

They must have guessed how much I’d like to sit in their garden, in the dark, under the tree lights, with a drink in my hand and feeling relaxed. Or else it was pure coincidence that the book festival invited me to their opening party last night, even allowing the Resident IT Consultant to join me there.

All I can say is I recommend it. And I don’t think you need a party; you can just go along one evening, preferably when it’s not raining, and sit down and relax, enjoying the string lights. And the literary aspects of hanging out at a book festival. Let’s not forget the books.

Fresh off the train I went over to claim my special badge, only to discover that press officer Frances has retired. I don’t blame her. Summers are nice to enjoy without working hard at running a press team. But how am I to Bookwitch without her? It’s quite a shock I tell you. Sarah who has taken over is excellent. But I am an old witch. Really old.

Anyway, I encountered my second favourite translator – Daniel Hahn – outside the bookshop, and we chatted. He was brave enough to be wearing shorts, on the grounds that it was warmer down south. Also happened across two of Son’s [other] friends, but didn’t dare throw myself on them. Mothers can be an embarrassment.

On my second foray into the book festival village I found Kate Leiper and Vivian French loitering outside, waiting to join the party. We picked up our free drinks tokens and after finding some seats in the ‘car park’ I sent the Resident IT Consultant over to the bar.

And then we sat. It was very comfortable. And whenever I saw someone I recognised, I had to tell him. Or at least the people he might reasonably be expected to know who they were. Ian Rankin. Julia Donaldson.

When we’d done enough sitting we tottered back to our hotel. (This can’t happen often. But once in a blue moon a hotel across the road is terribly useful.)

Resist

It’s the tulip bulbs I’ve never forgotten. Even as a child, learning that Audrey Hepburn had to eat tulip bulbs to survive during the war, it seemed both fantastic – in a bad way – and hard to believe. Just as I couldn’t really get my head round what Audrey was doing in the Netherlands.

If you read Tom Palmer’s new book Resist, you will find out, and it will probably leave you with tears in your eyes. Unlike many novels about the resistance in the war, in whatever country the story might be set, this one is a little more – dare I say it? – ordinary. Because it is based so much on what actually happened to Audrey and her family, rather than what an author has simply made up.

You meet Audrey – called Edda here, for her own safety – in her home village of Velp, near Arnhem, as she is setting out on helping the local resistance. It’s the kind of thing you need to keep secret, because the less anyone else knows, the safer you all are. Edda’s family have had bad things happen to them, and lying low is the way forward.

Covering the last two years of WWII, we learn much about ordinary Dutch people. Except, they are not ordinary; they are brave, albeit often in a quiet, life-saving way. I learned more about Arnhem, which to me was ‘just’ a place name connected with the war, in a bad way. And the tulips.

The same age as Anne Frank, we have to be grateful Audrey survived, if only just. It’s hard to believe that starvation can be so much more of a threat than being hit by bombs, say. And people fleeing their old homes has become much more of a current thing than we could ever have thought, until recently.

This is the latest of many thoughtful books from Tom Palmer about WWII and its effects. Its brevity adds to its seriousness. And the cover art from Tom Clohosy Cole is stunning.