Houses From Hell

If that’s not a tempting – I mean, hellish – title for a Bloody Scotland event, I don’t know what is.

Lesley Thomson is new to me, but I hope she’s as scary as Helen Grant and Stuart Neville, who I imagine will manage to be suitably spooky. Actually, Stuart has generally come across as quite cuddly, so I’d say his The House of Ashes will probably be as blood-curdlingly menacing as befits this event.

Lesley’s The Companion sounds so friendly, and that makes me suspect the worst. She looks like a really sweet person too. But looks can deceive. Besides, looks don’t write novels.

I know this particularly well because Helen Grant has never been anything but kind, in that friendly way she has, but her books..! Her books! Too Near the Dead is pretty borderline as far as the romance of living right next to buried bodies goes. Imagine waking up to find you’re in a coffin. A closed coffin, at that. Not one of my favourite pastimes.

So, if you were to turn up at Bloody Scotland’s Houses From Hell event at six pm this Friday, 16th September, you can decide how you feel about coffins and other haunting aspects of seemingly innocent properties.

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It rained

Family lore has it that it rained heavily when Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh came to Stockholm for my birth. Well, they arrived a couple of days after, and it wasn’t really for my sake. But I’ve always liked to think of it that way.

And today, that same Queen has died after seventy years of rainy state visits and much more. I’m glad for her sake that she made it to Scotland this year as well. It rained a lot today too. Maybe not at Balmoral; I don’t know. But we have had floods elsewhere.

There will be tears. This is surprising in many ways, as a lot of people believe they are better off without queens and kings. But this Queen did well and for such a long time.

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.

Handy to be alive

It is. And we are so grateful that Michael Rosen came out of Covid almost as good as new. I’d forgotten quite how much of a performer he is. Not for Michael this sitting down in one of the book fest’s trendy armchairs and chat quietly to a chairperson like Daniel Hahn. No. He allowed himself to be introduced, and then it was full speed ahead with an hour of absolute comedy.

Comedy mixed with serious stuff, because nearly dying, or being from the stone age, isn’t all fun. But it’s possible to talk about it entertainingly, and in such a way that a roomful of very young children don’t get bored. Michael told us about being ‘put to sleep’ by the NHS, and how hard it was to wake up after forty days, and how his resourceful wife brought in a mobile phone and had his children chat to him and getting him talking (and now he can’t stop).

He had to relearn how to walk and talk. The first with the help of Sticky McStickstick, who assisted Michael all the way to the toilet and back. The talking by learning to sing Frère Jacques by making the somewhat rude noise that sounds a bit like farts (and he had the audience doing just that…). I couldn’t help thinking of the aerosol effect when so many people blow/sing raspberries.

Anyway, he now walks and talks. About pasta, for instance. There was much said about pasta, and Rigatoni the pasta cat. Although Michael prefers fusilli, with bolognese – with mushrooms – sticking to every little fold.

His current favourite [own] book is the as yet unpublished Gaston le dog. This led to a lot of French being bandied about, and coming on top of Frère Jacques and also Daniel’s translation thing, it was a very French sort of day.

Born in 1946, and not the stone age (he lied), Michael and his brother were very naughty boys. And noisy. This brought back the story of how their father used to deal with noise. He would put his hand to the side of his face (see Bookwitch archive photo of Michael demonstrating this in 2012) and simply utter the words ‘The Noise’.

Which coincidentally is how it sounds to people in the rest of the world when Michael says the word ‘nice’. It’s tricky. So is not breathing, which seems to have been something that happened at school, but which was alleviated by flapping the lid of your [ancient style] school desk lid, and breathing behind it. This saved several lives in Michael’s school.

Of course, it could be that he just made all this up.

And because this was about poetry, and because Michael is a poet, he told us some poems, making the audience repeat them.

His favourite pudding is blackcurrant sorbet, or cassis.

After an hour of fun it was Daniel’s thankless task to tell us it had to come to an end.

Two weeks on, back at the book festival

With migraines rampaging quietly around Bookwitch Towers on Saturday morning, I decided to risk it and still travel through to Edinburgh where Daniel Hahn ‘was waiting’. Drugged and with enough nice sandwiches to last the afternoon, but perhaps not enough water, I got to the Edinburgh College of Art, and found Albertina’s where I interrupted Daniel mid-chat with director Nick Barley himself. He handed over the ‘goods’ and I left again.

Well, I did cast a quick look at the Spectacular Translation Machine Daniel was running with Sarah Ardizzone, asking non-French speakers to translate a picture book from French into English. Because that is so easy. I’ve seen them trying to trick people like this before.

Clutching my chairperson’s ticket for the day’s event [with Michael Rosen], I went over to the signing tent where I hoped to find most of the relevant books I’d been after. With hindsight I might have bought too few, but three are better than two. Or one. Ran into blogger Lizzy Siddall, Daniel’s ‘other stalker’ and we chatted a bit, about chairs* – as you do – and how to get rid of books.

Clutching my new ones, I went and sat in the ‘car park’ again, having developed a fondness for somewhere to picnic that’s level. Should have refilled my water bottle too, seeing as I was sitting right next to the tap.

After my sandwiches, it was time for Michael Rosen and his chair, Daniel Hahn. More about that tomorrow…

*Ones you sit on.

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.