Category Archives: Travel

Tea in the library

It wasn’t until I typed that heading, that I realised quite how Agatha Christie it sounds. There were no corpses, to the best of my knowledge. The books were legal registers, rather than books you’d actually read, but it still made for a suitably bookish backdrop.

My friend Pippi was in town (=Edinburgh), and like me she enjoys an extravagant afternoon tea. And she had just the place in mind for us to test. After all, someone has to. Colonnades at the Signet Library, right next to my very own Cathedral on the Royal Mile, made it easy(-ish) to get to.

Would have been easier had I not been required to bring a computer thingie for Son, who met my train at Waverley and then proceeded to walk with me. It’s uphill all the way and his idea of slow didn’t tally with mine. But we got there, and as we waited in the foyer for the clock to strike afternoon tea-time, he chatted to Pippi, before running off to do the kinds of things Sons do.

Pippi and I were shown to our own little alcove table in the sun, and the tea started coming. Now I know why they set aside two hours for it! It’s not so you can lounge; more to allow you to eat all of it, as the dishes keep coming. The photo below is my personal stand showing the savoury stuff. There was another for the sweet things. And two more for Pippi.

Colonnades at the Signet Library

I didn’t actually eat all of it. Honest.

Luckily the uphill meant it was downhill back to the train, which was a jolly good thing.

Before that, Pippi had asked me book questions I couldn’t answer, and then I told her what to read. She even asked me which bookshop I go to, which is an awkward question for someone who does not specialise in buying books. But I trust she will go somewhere, and buy some books, although hand luggage only means not too many of them.

Colonnades at the Signet Library

Yes, that is Pippi’s head at the bottom, with books behind her going way further than you can see.

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Noireland

Isn’t it marvellous what you can do with the word noir? All these crime festivals where noir can be slotted in quite effortlessly. Like here, in Noireland, which as any fool can see is short for Northern Ireland.

That’s Belfast, really. It’s where you want to go to spend the weekend of 27th to 29th October. Sorry about the short notice.

Noireland

I’d like to go myself, as it looks both tempting and is a short hop across the water from here. It’s organised by David Torrans, the man famous for running Belfast’s famous crime bookshop. The one who’s actually in some crime novels. It all happens at the Europa hotel, so would be convenient, too. Hotel stay. Shoulder-rubbing with crime writers. Perfect.

Judging by the photos flashing across my computer screen, Stuart Neville will be singing and playing the guitar. Many of the Irish authors I’ve come to know from the Crime Always Pays blog will be appearing. My favourite as ever is Adrian McKinty who’ll be travelling across a rather bigger water than I’d have to do.

They are borrowing a few people from Scotland, like Craig Robertson and Abir Mukherjee. From England Sophie Hannah, and from my own neck of woods Arne Dahl. So, not all Irish, but satisfyingly Irish.

Have a look on their website. This is their first time. I’m guessing it might not be the last. I hope not, because one of these years I will get to Belfast. The Titanic, you know.

Bothies

If you come across the Resident IT Consultant’s red walking socks, just leave them where they are. I had already half decided they might need to be terminated, so forgotten and left behind is as good an end for them as any.

Speaking of ends, he is nearing his [walking the length of Scotland]. One more instalment, which I’ve been told is going to be easier than this last one. So far 26 days of walking have brought the Resident IT Consultant from Berwick-upon-Tweed to somewhere near Kylesku. No doubt he’d tell you it’s not, but it’s the one placename ‘up there’ that I know, so that’s how I will describe it.

Most of the time he has slept in comfort, either at home (instalments, remember) or in hotels or hostels. But this week the time had come for the bothy. Yeah, I know. At his age it feels a bit rough, not to mention uncomfortable.

When I told Daughter back in the spring that bothies would have to be used, she made one of those young person style comments about old people, often ones related to them. And then she went and bought him a book about bothies as a birthday present. He even seemed to like it, and he is one of the hardest people to buy books for.

There is now a second bothy book in the house as well. Where once I’m sure a book like that would have been thin and modest, with a few words for each bothy and all in black and white, they are now worryingly seductive. I mean, I would like to visit a bothy. If I didn’t have to walk there, and if they had beds and toilets. And as long as Val McDermid doesn’t go and kill anyone there.

So I really shouldn’t look at these books. All I can think of is how I would furnish each bothy if it was mine. It’s good that these small cottages and other shelters which are no longer needed for their original uses, can enjoy a new lease of life hosting walkers and letting them hang their wet socks up, and forgetting them as they walk on.

We’ve already decided the Resident IT Consultant can describe it as having ‘stayed at the Duke of Westminster’s little place in the Highlands.’

The 2017 Gothenburg Book Fair

Next week it’s time for this year’s book fair in Gothenburg. Maybe we should refer to it more as a Swedish book fair? Because it is the book fair, and it just happens to take place in Gothenburg. People travel there from Stockholm. In fact, perhaps they need an excuse to leave.

Before I out-festivalled myself this summer I was seriously tempted. It was as if the nine-year gap from 2007 to 2016 had not been. I was there last year and although I was exhausted from the word go, it still felt as if I should – would – be going. But we all get funny notions occasionally. I started with Philip Pullman, and ended with Meg Rosoff. Not sure what the fair would need to offer to rouse me this time.

The programme, which I perused carefully, has a lot going for it, and that was before I recollected that many authors are boycotting it this year, for permitting the far right to attend. And – this might gall them, if they actually read Bookwitch – I didn’t miss them in the programme. It looked interesting enough anyway.

My new ‘pal’ Christoffer Carlsson will be there on the Saturday. There are talks on subjects such as Arabic children’s literature today, and Are there too many children’s books being published? It bears thinking about. Black Lives Matter, on politics in teen books. Quality or Quantity? on children’s publishing. Read Yourself Well. Very important. Does the Swedish school system kill the creativity of its pupils? Chapter books vs YouTube.

Jenny Colgan will be there, talking among other things about living in a castle. I didn’t know she did. How to use children’s books to talk about current affairs. And it seems Norway has never been hotter [in children’s books].

Perhaps there are fewer ‘names.’ I’m not sure. But then, it’s not necessarily the ‘names’ that make for a good event. We flock to see and hear our literary stars, but occasionally they can be less good at performing than other literary professionals.

YA in Icelandic; how about that? Or there’s M G Leonard and Frances Hardinge. And does educated = well read? I suspect there won’t be any cake in the Afternoon Tea event with Jenny Colgan and Sophie Kinsella. Or even tea. An event on how reading trash could be the start of good reading sounds just like my kind of thing.

In fact, right now I am wondering why I’m still at home. (I know why, but temptation is back.) David Lagercrantz talks about his Lisbeth Salander, with Christopher MacLehose. FYI I’m still only on Saturday. One more day.

Astrid Lindgren and Jane Austen. Not together, and not in the flesh, for obvious reasons. More Val McDermid. Some [Swedish] superstars like Sven-Bertil Taube and Tomas Ledin. It gets lighter as the weekend progresses. It’s a way to tempt the masses to come on the Sunday, and it’s a way for the masses to rub shoulders with stars.

There’s Arundhati Roy. Ten years ago I grew – almost – blasé about seeing Orhan Pamuk all over the place. It’s what it’s like.

I might go next year. But I’ll – probably – never again have constant access to my favourite author as I prowl those corridors.

Meg Rosoff at Vi Läser in Gothenburg

Launching The Rasputin Dagger

I stood right next to the sign for Theresa Breslin’s book launch at Waterstones Sauchiehall Street as I asked a member of staff where it was going to be. Obviously, I only noticed as he’d very politely told me second floor. It’s not easy being an idiot.

After another turn round the lower ground floor just to show I was in no hurry, I got the lift up to the second floor, marvelling at the thickness of the floors, as well as feeling slightly ill. It’s a glass lift and you can see ‘everything.’ Seeing as I could see so much, I immediately noticed Alex Nye and a surprisingly soberly attired Kirkland Ciccone browsing crime fiction at – separate – tables, as though they were there separately.

Still feeling the shock of Denise Mina’s Bloody Scotland story, I unburdened myself to Alex, who just might have read a little in the shop’s copy to see what the fuss was about. Seems she’s a Thomas Hardy fan…

Anyway, both of them actually needed to buy books. I wonder how that feels?

Theresa Breslin at the Rasputin Dagger launch

When we were allowed to enter the events room I found Mr B, who did what he does so well; whipping out a fake beard, pretending he was Rasputin. I don’t mean he always tries to be a Russian monk, but that he enters into the spririt of his wife’s books. This time his personalised t-shirt had a dagger on the back. Better than in the back.

Cathy MacPhail and Kirkland Ciccone at The Rasputin Dagger launch

Cathy MacPhail and Moira Mcpartlin joined us and we sat down over drinks and crisps, although we gathered we were meant to stand up. I’m too old to stand up, so we rebelled. Also encountered Kathryn Ross and Kate Leiper, with Yvonne Manning, which was nice.

Moira McPartlin and Alex Nye at The Rasputin Dagger launch

It seems the events area is a new thing for Waterstones, and it looked good. I think more bookshops should have rooms for this kind of thing. After an introduction, Theresa spoke a little about the background to her book, and then she read, from chapter one, and the bit where Rasputin dies. She also mentioned that someone in the room knew someone who knew someone who’d met the Tsar.

The Rasputin Dagger launch

This probably wasn’t the rather young lady (granddaughter?) who ran up and hugged Theresa’s knees mid-read. But I imagine she might have found out that I favour the input from little ones at events like these, which could be why it seemed unfair to her when she was carried away again.

Theresa Breslin at the Rasputin Dagger launch

After chatting to the Waterstones host about the women’s demonstrations in Russia, Theresa mentioned their early right to vote, comparing this with Britain, and then they moved on to Argentina around fifteen years ago and the lack of food there, before we were invited to try the special cakes.

The Rasputin Dagger launch

To avoid being stuck in Waterstones all night, I left just before the pumpkin struck eight, and because the trains are back to being difficult (what would we do if the trains ran properly??), Kirkie and I walked down Sauchiehall Street; he to a bus and me to the last train. Moira gave Alex a lift for the same reason, and then it seems Alex got on my train in Stirling as I got off…

Bloody India at Bloody Scotland

There were so many things I had no idea I needed to know about Kolkata!

Bloody India was my first event on Sunday morning, and it was even better than I had expected. Jenny Brown was there to usher the others in, and they were ‘needs no introduction, she’s great, obviously’ Lin Anderson and ‘little’ Doug Johnstone, whose jobs were to introduce Monabi Mitra, all the way from Kolkata, and Abir Mukherjee, from his mum’s house ‘down the road,’ but who usually lives in London.

Monabi Mitra

Chance – and the British Council – had sent Lin and Doug, and oh, Jenny too, to the Kolkata Literary Festival in February, where they met lots of people (they get something like 2,500,000 visitors there…), including, I believe, Monabi. Such numbers will explain why Scotland wants to make it on the Indian litscene. Just imagine how many books they could sell to so many fervent fans of reading! They are planning special Indian editions of Scottish crime, and expect to return there in February 2018.

Lin and Doug entered Indian immigration successfully, but there had been some doubt about whether Jenny should be let through. Or so they claimed. But when they were all safely in, and wondering what could have happened to their luggage, they discovered that people from [the plane?] had kept their bags company in the now deserted airport.

Doug said that it wasn’t until he went to India that he understood what culture shock means. And people are so cultural, in a place where readers rioted because the book fair closed early… According to Abir the words on the airport ceiling are from Tagore’s works. Watching an eight-year-old boy choosing a book to buy, they were flabberghasted to find it was a copy of Ivanhoe.

Anyway, as Lin said, we hadn’t come to hear her and Doug speak.

Monabi Mitra, The Final Report

Monabi Mitra is a professor of English literature, and she is married to a detective inspector, which might explain why she started writing crime fiction. She said there’s a duality in her life, with literature on one side and the dangerous world of the police on the other. Mentioning her own experience of being present at an autopsy, she feels there must be one in each book.

Indian autopsies are quite different from the Western kind we’ve got used to from CSI. Monabi read an excerpt from her novel, about a shockingly different autopsy. It’s fast, and careless, and there are rats, and it’s always smelly.

Abir Mukherjee

Abir Mukherjee reckons he is the only Scottish-Indian crime writer, and if there’s anyone else, he’ll have to kill them. He recounted the old tale of how in parts of Scotland people want to know if you are Catholic or Protestant, and when saying he’s Hindu, they want to know if he’s a Catholic Hindu or a Protestant Hindu.

Kolkata is practically a Scottish city, built by Scots, and it’s not all that old. Bengalis are very much like Scots, but without the alcohol. The period between 1919 and 1947 is an important one.

Abir Mukherjee, A Rising Man

Reading from A Rising Man, Abir chose a passage about a visit to a church (because we were in a church). His detective is a Scot who has gone to live in Kolakata after being widowed, and it was ‘slightly preferable to suicide.’ A sad background, but Abir’s writing is humorous and his book sounds like a great read. There is apparently a shared gallow’s humour between Scotland and Bengal.

Monabi mentioned the works of H R F Keating and his Inspector Ghote. As homage to this man who wrote about an India he’d not visited, she named her detective Inspector Ghosh. She pointed out that in India you don’t tend to hire a PI, unless you are ‘in deep shit.’

Monabi Mitra

When asked, she said that she thinks in English, although she speaks two other languages. She described her Saturday at Bloody Scotland, the sunshine (!) and what a great invention queueing is. Kolkata is not orderly. It’s wonderful here, and the events were real eye-openers.

But on the other hand, Kolkata used fingerprinting before Britain, and Ronald Ross discovered what causes malaria (admittedly by experimenting on the servants…). Kolkata was very cosmopolitan between the two world wars, and in the past ‘its greatness was greater.’

Abir said that the reason he writes is he read some popular crime novels and felt they were so badly written that he could do better. Despite his Indian background he said he didn’t feel he could write from a Bengal point of view, which is why he chose a Scot in Kolkata.

Abir Mukherjee and Doug Johnstone

His first book is set in 1919, and he said that whereas what happened in Amritsar that year had an impact on Kolkata as well, news travelled so slowly, that he had to make up faster news for his story, so that they knew the day after.

When time was up, there was a bit of a scramble to be first to the books for sale [as there could have been more copies]. I admit to buying a book by each of the visiting authors, which is something that hardly ever happens. I spoke a little to both of them, and Monabi told be about the number of Scots who have not only moved to Kolkata, but have aquired nationality, because it’s the best place to live.

After this event I can sort of see why.

Launching Trespassers

No sooner had I met Claire McFall last Saturday than she invited me to her book launch, which was last night at Waterstones. So back to Edinburgh I went. This was no hardship, as I’d had several days of ‘rest.’ And I was able to meet up with two toddlers on the same day, both of whom took exception to their mums being a bit busy with other people.

Claire McFall

The second toddler belonged to Claire and he was a little vocal about mum sitting over there on the chair, without him. I thought that was rather lovely, and realised that there are too few tiny children helping launch their parent’s books.

Lari Don was there as well, and I will not speculate on why, or make anything up. Maybe. She had chaired Claire’s event at the book festival on Saturday, so has read both Ferryman and Trespassers. (Ferryman is Claire’s first novel about the afterlife, the one that is doing well in China, and it’s just been re-issued by Floris, so it can help usher the sequel Trespassers in.)

Claire McFall and Lari Don

Between them Claire and Lari have enthused a lot about how wonderful they feel Floris have been. And that is good. Floris had laid on lots of crisps and chocolates and drinks, too. (And I know why Lari was there! She offered to hold my glass so I could drink and work.)

Claire McFall

After an enthusiastic introduction, Claire told us all – well, some at least – about herself and her writing, what comes after the afterlife, and how she used to read trashy books as a teenager, and was a little surprised to find she’s now seen as writing romantic fiction. (Not surprising at all, and nothing wrong with that, I say.)

I had already encountered several spoilers re the end of Ferryman, so coped relatively well with Claire’s reading from Trespassers. It sounds at least as good as the first book, so those Chinese fans are in for a treat. As are the – slightly fewer – Scottish fans. Some of them are Claire’s students at school, and they were there last night.

Claire McFall

Lots of photos were taken, including some great ones by Claire’s mother, which I had to go and ruin by suggesting maybe the book shouldn’t be held upside-down. I won’t be invited again.

Claire McFall

Here’s to another million sales!