Category Archives: Television

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

Mog lives again

Would you buy your brussels sprouts in a supermarket you don’t normally frequent just because it revived Mog?

I fail to see how normal people could be swayed by this. It’s one thing to advertise sweets and toys at children, or for that matter, wine and discounted sofas at adults. That way you are being sold a particular item that you might not need, but will develop a craving for.

But Sainsbury’s are not flogging a dead cat, however adorable and Christmassy. Well, they are. I understand that you can go to the supermarket and buy Judith Kerr’s latest book about Mog. (Anyone reading this, feel free to get me a copy..!) Other than that, though, they are either ‘merely’ hoping to win the Christmas television commercial war, or possibly also hoping that you will pop into one of their branches for your Christmas food. Whether or not you are already a customer.

So as a part time customer, I feel neither more or less of an urge to let them supply me with sprouts after the Mog ad.

It’s lovely, though. More so for those of us who have got used to the idea of Mog being dead and not expecting to see our darling cat again. But that little film of Mog’s nightmare and subsequent crazy accidental frenzied exit from the house has had many of us old cynics laugh and cry at the same time. And that is a most welcome feeling.

Thank you Judith Kerr for giving us some more Mog. And thank you Sainsbury’s for making Mog come to life again, in such a spectacular way. (I might be in later for sprouts. Or I might go to Lidl. I’ll see.)


Not long ago I thought about His Dark Materials and how I found it hard to believe that they made a film of the first book and then abandoned the project. So much was right, and it would go to waste if not used. Lyra was perfect [in my opinion] and Nicole Kidman was a marvellous Mrs Coulter, who then got pregnant and obviously couldn’t go on with more films. And as for Lee Scoresby… Well. He was just right.

The list could go on. While the film wasn’t 100%, it was pretty close, and I’m not easily pleased when it comes to top books.

But as the years passed, it became clear that you can live without the other books made into film if you have to. And we had to.


The good news this week is that there will be a BBC series of His Dark Materials, and I so hope they will – also – get it right and not mess about too much. (I loved Philip Pullman’s I Was a Rat on television, so hopefully someone will be able to do something similar with HDM.)

It’s just that Philip’s books aren’t merely really good books, but they have had such an impact on life at Bookwitch Towers; reading the books, listening to Philip reading the audio books, travelling to London to see the dramatised HDM at the National Theatre, travelling again to see it another time (that was Son), travelling to Dublin (Son again) to see the stage play there, involvement in the HDM fan websites (Son), new friendships for us all, and so on.

'That' bench

I’m guessing I will have to be patient, as you don’t rustle up great television just like that. But it will come. (As long as they allow for young people’s habit of getting older faster than films are made.)

Hej då, Henning

By now you probably all know that Henning Mankell died this morning. His death is in the news everywhere, which just goes to show how far crime will get you. Even when you’re a foreigner, as Henning undoubtedly was to most of you.

I never did get that interview, apart from my impromptu four-minute one in the children’s bookshop in Charlotte Square; the place where he wasn’t guarded at all, unlike for his adult events. But we did speak very briefly, several times, including that first meeting when Son startled him by wanting a book signed that Henning didn’t recognise as his. It was his, though, and after some discussion it got sorted out.

Even then, Henning was a grand person, while on Swedish soil; walking round with a bit of an entourage. But that’s how Swedes do their worshipping. His star status in the English speaking world came a little later.

I knew he was ill, and ever the pessimist I expected the worst. But as recently as last week I felt a moment of optimism. I have a Facebook friend, whom I barely know, despite having ‘known’ him for decades (he’s GP Cousin’s very good friend). He’s rich, and he’s a rather radical leftie, and he does unusual things with his time and money. His latest venture is some museum for another well known Swedish radical, which is opening next month. And the encouraging news was that Henning was to do the honours. So I thought, ‘Oh, he’s well enough to do that then?’

Today’s sad news took my radical millionnaire by surprise too, as he was due to have lunch with Henning a few hours ago. Which I suppose was a good sign in itself; that he’d felt able to make such plans.

As for me, I’m glad we met a few times, and I’m even glad I cried at his event in Gothenburg eight years ago. He was a good man who did lots of good to lots of people, and that’s not counting entertaining us with Wallander.

Henning Mankell(I prefer this photo from some years ago, to the one my local Swedish newspaper used, where you can clearly see how unwell he was.)

The Henning Mankell mini-interview


In mid-September a Swedish book fan was ordered by Stirling Sheriff Court to leave her favourite author alone, and to go back to Sweden the next day. And no, that wasn’t me.

The author in question is Stirling historian Neil Oliver, who has been bombarded with letters and photos and CDs by this woman over the last year. Her stalking continued when she turned up at a book signing Neil was doing at Waterstones in Glasgow this month, trying to hand him an envelope.

I understand that this must have been upsetting for Neil. I’m wary of people knowing where I live, so for his address* to have become known to her will have made him feel unsafe.

But, the man appears on television regularly. It’s easy to ‘fall’ for a charismatic television presenter at the best of times. As an author he’s a bit of a public figure. At a bookshop signing he is doing a public event.

It’s tricky. I understand her fervour, and I get his fear. I don’t know what the solution is.

But I can sort of see myself in her place. It can be hard not to admire too much.

(*The full name and address of the poor fan has been made public, with the help of the Stirling Observer. This is something that wouldn’t happen in Sweden.)

Btw, I love you all!!!!!!

The Go-Between

It’s idiotic. With all the technological advances we have, you can watch all the television you like [have time for]. You record one and watch one. You use watch-again services. No need to fret over programmes that clash.

Like Downton Abbey tonight, and The Go-Between. As the Guardian Guide says, ‘The Beeb brings out a big gun to spoil Downton’s party.’  They describe and praise this new version of The Go-Between. And then finish by saying ‘skippable if you’ve seen the 1971 movie.’

Yeah, so in other words, it’s not that good?

What I thought was, what about the book?

It was a set book at university, and I dutifully read it. Hated it, but that’s beside the point. And so, I never watched the 1971 film (which, incidentally, provided the cover for my copy of the book). Because, I didn’t enjoy the book, I never felt I wanted to repeat my non-enjoyment of it. But I still feel I can be excused from watching tonight’s offering.

Because I read the book. And because I reckon I’ll enjoy Downton.

Goings-on in the Scottish book world

I’ve mentioned before how much I appreciate the work of Scottish Book Trust, and how well they keep me informed of what’s happening in Scotland. I don’t always share with you their full press releases, but I’m going to make an exception here, as I found the following most interesting:


Scottish Book Trust has today (1st April 2015) announced that its planned documentary, Between the Covers, has been cancelled.

The programme, filmed on location at the Trust’s offices off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and due to be premiered on British television next week, was set to be a fascinating insight into the inner workings of the literature promotion business and the charismatic characters found within.

Though an exact reason for the cancellation of the programme has not been forthcoming from the production agency, Scottish Book Trust would like to make clear that rumours that staff were deemed to spend ‘too much time reading’ and were ‘far too introverted’ and ‘bookish’ for television are unfounded.

Reports that a month of fly-on-the-wall filming only yielded 15 minutes of useable footage, including one staff member picking their nose and a minor fracas over three Garibaldi following the office’s bi-weekly ‘biscuit run’, are also categorically untrue.

Andrew McLaughton, President of Real Scotlives TV, the production company behind classic docusoap Hebridean Vets: After Hours, said:

“Whilst we’re incredibly disappointed with today’s announcement, we have a commitment to provide viewers with entertaining, educational content and it was felt that the programme fell far short of our own broadcasting guidelines. The language used during the Biscuit Incident was deemed to be far too coarse to be shown pre-watershed. We do hope to work with Scottish Book Trust in the future, perhaps on a series of food vlogs.”

Chris Leslie, Schools Resource Developer at Scottish Book Trust, said:

“It’s a shame it was cancelled. I was the one who came up with the title. People click on things if they think it’s going to be sexy. Fact.”

PHOTOS: Though no footage stills are available for publication, x-rays of the Marketing Manager’s broken metatarsal and a doctor’s report concerning the removal of a Custard Cream from a staff member’s nasal cavity can be obtained by emailing…

Well, never mind that. The Grandmother has told me how fond of their biscuits the Scots are, and now I see what she meant. I quite like a good Custard Cream myself, actually.