Category Archives: Travel

Of dung beetles and other creatures

I miss those dung beetles. And the dinners.

When I got in touch with Gill Lewis a few weeks ago, after having reviewed her most recent book, Gill said she’d just re-read my post about the dung beetles. And because I had reminisced about the Salford book award dinners shortly before it, I re-read the post as well. Had forgotten them, but never the man who suggested writing a novel about dung beetles; Jamie Thomson. Crazy, but lovely, man.

And that was the point; the reason I had been thinking about the dinners and missing the diners. Despite me wondering if I’d gone mad each time I set off to meet another batch of half unknown – to me – authors for dinner, after having emailed them out of the blue to suggest we meet up.

Those dinners were successful, perhaps because we were a bunch of ‘strangers’ getting together. We weren’t strangers afterwards. Strange, maybe. (Remember the dung beetles!) So in hindsight I’m really very grateful to the Salford book award organisers, for having no evening plans for their visiting authors.

It was one of the things I wanted to take with me when I moved. But around here most visiting authors are well looked after and don’t need a witch to make overtures and suggest meals out. Shame, really…

You can thank me when that bestseller about dung beetles appears.

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Excuse me! Sorry!

Don’t you just hate it when you don’t speak the language?

I know. More than two years in, I ought to have mastered a little bit of French for those trips to Geneva. But I haven’t, other than a few extra odd words. That’s a few extra words, not especially odd ones. I did join Babbel, the online language school, but I had very little discipline, and I found the tasks tedious. It went too quickly in the direction of verbs in the past tense for every kind of person imaginable.

Which doesn’t help with what I want to say, which is ‘no I’m not queueing to use the toilet; just waiting for my friend’ kind of thing. Otherwise I could be preventing people from ‘going’ without intending to.

I do say ‘bon jour’ when entering a shop. The trouble with that is that I apparently bon jour so well that people think they can say anything they like to me after that.

There is also that automatic need for when you bump into a person, or you want them to get out of your way. I am aware I am somewhere that doesn’t use the English pardon or sorry. So I pick some other foreign word, one belonging to a language I don’t [really] speak.

I say ‘undskyld.’

Because Danish is such an obvious choice for apologising in Geneva.

If that was your toe, then undskyld!

Bon jour, merci. Au revoir.

They’re all women!

They all seemed to be women. Or perhaps I merely happened to choose Book Week Scotland events that featured women. I picked what interested me, and what was nearby enough to be doable, and at times convenient to me.

Four events, though, and a total of nine women speaking at them. Only the last one, about gender violence, had a subject that determined who was likely to be taking part.

The audiences were slightly different. For Mary Queen of Scots there were three men. The gender violence had one man in the audience for part of it, one man to operate Skype (!) and one man who seemed to be working in the room where we sat. Several men for both Lin Anderson and the autism discussion, while still being in a minority.

Three events were during daytime, but that doesn’t explain the lack of men, when the women were mostly well past 70.

Do they read less, or are they not interested in events? Or do they go to the ones with men talking? (I’d have been happy to see Chris Brookmyre, but he didn’t come this way, or James Oswald, but he was sold out.)

Anyway, whatever the answer to that is, over on Swedish Bookwitch we have women today. My interview with Maria Turtschaninoff is live, and it’s mostly – just about entirely, actually – about women. And it’s in Swedish. Sorry about that. (Translation will follow.)

Lin Anderson – ‘It’s difficult to murder people at home’

Dumyat

The steps up to the entrance of Forth Valley College in Alloa were murder. It wasn’t quite Follow the Dead – which is Lin Anderson’s most recent crime novel – but nearly. On a brighter note, the view was spectacular. Once you arrived. I could almost enrol for the view alone.

We’d parked in the Asda car park, and the upside of this was that we could see the car during Lin’s Book Week Scotland event, knowing that it was all right and happy.

Lin Anderson

The event seemed to attract mostly staff and students from the college, and it must have been great to have someone of Lin’s stature come and visit ‘at home.’ I’d not thought of her height until Lin pointed it out, mentioning how she and her sisters used to stand out among the short people of Glasgow, known as ‘big Willie Mitchell’s daughters.’

Lin Anderson

Lin’s dad was a detective, and he used to worry when he got to a crime scene that he’d find one of his girls there, either as the victim or the perpetrator. And it was this thought which formed the basis of Lin’s first Rhona MacLeod novel Driftnet. At the time she didn’t know there were going to be more books about Rhona, but now there are twelve.

Before writing, Lin was a teacher, and she’s keen to point out that a future author does not necessarily teach English. In her case it was Computer Science.

She realised that she needed a better knowledge of forensic science, so – along with Alex Gray – she joined an evening class in forensics. It was primarily aimed at people who through their work need to appear in court at murder trials, but it worked fine for crime writers too. Lin still refers to her course notes. (And the less said about the [real] victim with an axe in his head and his missing pet snake, the better.)

Lin Anderson

Her new book was inspired by a blizzard in the Cairngorms one New Year. It involved learning about what Mountain Rescue teams do, about answering the call of nature during a blizzard, and how to incorporate something Norwegian in her story.

We learned that these days all deaths in the mountains are a crime scene, and that Mountain Rescue take photos of victims. Up there a forensic tent can very easily just blow away. And did you know the temperature in a mortuary is 4 degrees, like a fridge, not a freezer?

Lin is happy with the trend of fans paying money to charity to feature in books. Apparently the latest thing is to be allowed to go to bed with the detective (if you fancy him/her), and she has actually kept someone from her home village on in more than one book, feeling that this way the character gets more rounded. ‘Her’ Mary Grant even does her own PR and signs the books…

And Lin strongly feels we should volunteer at Bloody Scotland. It’s great in every way. In fact, she talked a lot about her baby, Bloody Scotland. And yes, you are allowed to say Bloody. Not everyone knows this.

Finally, the hardest thing about writing a book are the words.

Ochils

We over-ran quite a bit, which proves how interesting it was. I then had to get down all those [bloody] steps again, so we could retrieve the car, but not before engaging in some shopping. After which, the Resident IT Consultant spent the drive back thinking about getting hold of more of Lin’s books.

Doctor Dodo and other clever women

The Resident IT Consultant and I saw a few more roundabouts than we had counted on, as we travelled to Edinburgh yesterday to celebrate Dodo’s new PhD.

If we had pushed for tickets to the graduation ceremony (but we didn’t, as we felt that they should go to Son and the Dodo family), we’d have had the pleasure of seeing Mairi Hedderwick receive her honorary doctorate alongside Dodo. It’s always nice when the famous person is so famous that one has actually heard of them, but nicer still when it’s someone quite so special as Katie Morag’s creator.

Doctor's graduation

As it was, it was just one more missed opportunity to see Mairi this week, but more importantly, it was a time to celebrate with the Dodos by stuffing ourselves with tapas. It was very civilised, and very nice, and the company was good and we were nowhere near needing those reserve sandwiches I happened to have in my bag.

And the proud Father of Dodo got to tell us his dream – he now has three children who can call themselves doctor, and he’s looking forward to the phone ringing and someone asking for Doctor L, so he can ask ‘Doctor Who?’

When we couldn’t get any fuller, or wittier, some of us went home to collapse on some sofa, and the resident IT Consultant went off to a transport meeting to consult a bit, and your witch hobbled downhill for a quick look at the Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens, and then on to Waterstones for an evening on autism.

Edinburgh Christmas market

As part of Book Week Scotland, Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson were there to talk with Catherine’s daughter Nina Mega, on writing novels with autistic characters, and bringing up children with Asperger Syndrome, and about being ‘a bit like that’ yourself. I felt right at home and it was one of the better events I’ve been to and I will tell you more about it when I’ve had some sleep, and maybe been to another book event or two.

Nina Mega, Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

Who knows?

Doune done

It’s not a bookshop, but alongside all the tea sets and silver and old furniture, they do sell books, as I mentioned yesterday. Last week they had Harry Potter 4 and Harry Potter 5. Both first editions, and reasonably priced. £20 for HP4 and £10 for HP5.

Well, we all have those first editions, but at least no one is trying to demand a fortune.

Before leaving the Antique’s paradise, I just had to go and check on one of the most fascinating items they sell. I’ve seen it there for the last year, at least, and they still haven’t sold it.

I’m not sure they even know what it is, apart from a sort of bookcase. It’s the bespoke bookcase for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, in one of its early editions.

We know this, because we have one just like it, except we also happen to have the actual encyclopaedia on the shelves in ours. And we have tried, and failed, to sell it for £100.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Here they are asking £145 for the bookcase alone. It’s down from £165, and still not selling…

Doing Doune

We went via Butcher’s Corner. This was made famous in the whole Bookwitch family when the Resident IT Consultant happened to complain about Daughter having taken a turn on ‘practically’ two wheels, back when he accompanied her on driving practice.

View from the Smiddy

Last week when Daughter was finally legally able to take her ancient mother to Butcher’s Corner – which is actually a farmshop and tearoom – we didn’t do the two-wheel thing. Instead we stopped for elevenses. It was nice being out like this, all on our own. You know, without Daddy, our regular and much appreciated family chauffeur.

Properly fed, we continued to the Antique’s place in Doune, where we could look at ‘everything’ without the Resident IT Consultant needing to ‘go for a walk.’

Hamish McHaggis

I was pleased to discover Linda Strachan lurking on a shelf, by which I mean her Hamish McHaggis was for sale, alongside much lovely bric-a-brac.

Chaos Walking

Across the aisle Daughter found a set of tied up Chaos Walking books. And as we waved at them in a friendly way, we discovered a similarly tied up trilogy of Ribblestrop close by.

Ribblestrop

This is what we like, finding friends everywhere.

Further into this massive cave of stuff, we encountered Chris Riddell sitting next to someone I won’t mention, so he had to be hidden before we photographed Fergus Crane.

Fergus Crane

I have to admit the colour co-ordination between the books was good, but limits are there to be obeyed.