Potions & Poisons

The programme self-destructed. Or so it seemed when I went back to double-check I had the right names and the title for the event. Because, you know, I am old, and I forget.

Tickets for Cymera

Anyway, for my first Cymera event on the first night, it was all potions and poisons, and they were far too cheerful about these dangerous substances. They were Melinda Salisbury and PM Freestone, talking to Laura Lam, and the rule for the evening was ‘no spoilers.’ Unfortunately, this rather cramped their style, as nearly everything they wanted to contribute could count as spoilers.

Apart from having to stop themselves from giving too much away, they seemed to get on very well, laughing like a group of friends out, chatting away about what they write about. I think the audience got what they wanted; they seemed to be knowledgeable about the same stuff, and as they filed into the Upper Hall, they looked like fans too. I know that sounds silly, but they did. Sometimes the, well, wrong people go to events.

I wondered what the bucket was for. One of the volunteer ushers carried around a bucket. Seems it was for money. (I sent mine by bank transfer…)

Pleasance, where the Cymera Festival is doing its thing this weekend was very pleasant. At least if you ignore the lift. I will never ever go in that lift again! Afterwards I was further alarmed when one of the very helpful and polite volunteers came up to me to say the lift was now activated..! I don’t think I want to know.

I arrived early. Again. Was ushered to the lanyard table, where I found Sarah Broadley and Lari Don, and also my nice orange badge. Came across one or two people I knew, including someone who also knew me, but we both agreed that while we had met, we had no idea where or when. LJ McWhirter sat in front of me at the ‘poisonous’ event and had much news to share.

The venue does look very good, nicely decorated, albeit with too many stairs. And that lift. Fashionable café and for the weekend a lovely bookshop stocked with all the science fiction, fantasy and horror you could want. Possibly more.


The 2019 EIBF launch

The launch of the Edinburgh International Book Festival programme is the kind of event where when you squeeze past a couple of people to get to the Ladies, the people you squeeze past are Val McDermid and Jackie Kay. So you need to practise your best be cool at all times face, but I’ve got one of those. Except maybe when I arrived last night, and crawling (almost, anyway) up the stairs I came face to face with my EIBF boss Frances Sutton, and she was somewhat alarmed at my [lack of] Everest climbing skills. (I was carrying contraband, and it was very heavy.)

I arrived unfashionably early. But so did Mr and Mrs Brookmyre, whom I last saw four days ago as we left the Bloody Scotland launch ‘side by side.’ There was no avoiding Kirkland Ciccone and his selfie-taking mobile phone. But he was looking dapper, as everyone pointed out. I chatted to Eleanor Updale, and was introduced to Emily Dodd. There was a dog, too. Nice looking dog with very busy tail.

The proceedings were started by Allan Little, again, and it seems he’d promised not to cry this year, so he didn’t. He did mention it being D-Day and read a poem by A E Housman, and most of us didn’t cry.

This year the large tent will be the New York Times Main Theatre, as they are new sponsors, along with old-timers Baillie Gifford, and countless others. Also new this year will be live-streamed events from the Main Theatre, which sounds very exciting. We can, in effect, all be there.

EIBF launch 2019

As before, the triumvirate Nick Barley, Roland Gulliver and Janet Smyth presented ‘everything’ that will happen this August. As before, that’s far too much for me to mention here, so you need to look it up yourselves. Many big names will be appearing, as will many less well known people. My own experience is that most of these events will be worth going to, be they big or small. But, you know, Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, former Prime Ministers, and a First Minister. Sheila Kanani. The new and old poet laureates. Konnie Huq, Malorie Blackman.

Finishing off with some Shetland poetry featuring a peat knife, it was time for more chat and more drinks. Eventually I even came across some vegetarian sushi (but I had my own sandwiches). Found out what Emily Dodd will be doing at the festival. Chatted to Kate Leiper. And then I lost Kirkie. Started walking to Haymarket for my train.

Phoned the Resident IT Consultant to ask where I was. Seems I made the mistake I almost made last year but didn’t, and this year I had come mapless, just to make my life more exciting. (Well, it’s not every day you turn 63.) Found Haymarket. Found Kirkie, too, on the train from Waverley. He didn’t know the way to Haymarket. But then it seems neither did I. He was sitting in a first class seat, but once I’d calmed down I remembered that those trains don’t have first class. It just looks like it.

So he didn’t get us thrown off the train, and it had been a first class kind of evening, and it didn’t even rain. It usually rains on June 6th.

Maresi, Red Mantle

With Maresi, Red Mantle we are back with Maresi from the Red Abbey. Maria Turtschaninoff’s final book in the trilogy is based on the letters Maresi writes to her friends and to the older, supportive, women she left behind on Menos when she started the long journey home to Rovas.

Maria Turtschaninoff, Maresi, Red Mantle

This story about her new life back in the old place is, if possible, even more feminist than the first two books. It also has more men in it, which sort of hits you after a while, because you have got used to the – almost – women-only groups in Maresi and in Naondel. Even knowing what the first books are like, I still found myself feeling surprised at the sheer strength of a woman’s power.

That is an empowering feeling for any reader. So are the wise thoughts that Maresi shares with us, whether they are her thoughts, or those of her mother or her sister, or simply observations on life. They are so true, and yet, we often miss such obvious ideas, because we are so busy with life, maybe making mistakes, or assuming too much, based on what is traditional.

I kept wanting to cheer her on, to tell Maresi that she could do it. But it’s never easy to return to a place where you once belonged. You’re home, and you’re not. How do you know where you really belong? And does it matter, when it’s what other people think of you that determines how your life goes?

Maresi’s job is to start a school. That may seem an obvious task, but it’s hard, when people can’t see what good it would do to read. And then we are shown how life can go wrong, just because you didn’t know what was written on a piece of paper. It’s more than a matter of life and death.

And the pleasure you get from reading, or being able to write letters to someone. It’s as if all of life is in this book. Read it. You will feel better for it.

Maresi, Red Mantle tells girls that they matter. That they can, and should, do things. It tells boys that girls can, and that the boys will be better for it. It’s very beautiful.

(Translation by AA Prime)

What if the ‘Ants’ say no?

Oh, the relief I felt when the man accepted all five large bags of books without fuss! I’d been building up to what I would do when refused and where to take the unwanted books next. Presumably to the tip…

I had checked, and double-checked, that Myrorna (Salvation Army charity shop) still take books. But you can’t be too certain. The discussion on social media, maybe last year, where other Swedes had discovered there was nowhere to take books, because their nearest ‘Ants’ (=Myrorna) have stopped selling, and thereby accepting, books.

It was all very well that I’d made more room on my holiday shelves last summer. And then Daughter and I didn’t feel quite up to taking them, but I waited until I had a nice strong man to carry them for me. But would that mean I was too late?

I’d Googled the situation too, discovering that Amnesty take books, but ‘please, pretty please, not Bra Böckers Lexikon! (That’s the 25 volume encyclopaedia ‘all’ Swedes own. So what happens when charity shops are given all those sets at once makes the mind boggle.)

The one thing I’d come up with when considering whether my old – well, Mother-of-witch’s old – ‘leather’ bound poetry collections, and similar, would actually be something a charity shop could shift, was that they’d look good as props. Interior magazines are full of silly still life arrangements consisting of piles of old books and candles* (think of the fire hazard!!) and stuff. So that might still make the books attractive to some.


*Maybe artichokes instead? Or there is colour coordinating your shelves/rooms. There are some lovely brown and blue books right there, above.

Val McDermid – no singing in September

My heart sank as I walked up the slope towards the Golden Lion, where half of Scotland’s crime writers were milling about in the street. Not because of them, but they were milling next to the ‘wee tourist train’ parked outside. For a brief moment I was worried the launch of Bloody Scotland involved the train, but it seems they just ‘played’ on it.

Crime authors on wee train, by Paul Reich Photography

On reaching the ballroom anteroom upstairs, my heart sank again. Were we really launching in this hot little room with no seat in sight? We were. But I lie. There was the usual tartan-covered bench outside the room. I sat there, instead, doing my best to hear some of what was said.

Boss Bob McDevitt spoke, as did Val McDermid and various other people, including the Provost. The speeches were pretty much what you expect in these circumstances, until a cleaner squeaked past with her towel trolley and they closed the door.

The programme looks good, though, so I expect you’ll find me back at the Golden Lion come September. And hopefully also my colleague Lizzy Siddal who very kindly offered to share her photos of Val with me. I don’t deserve it, but that’s never stopped me.

Val McDermid by Lizzy Siddal

After a sandwich break, it was time for Val McDermid’s launch event, in the actual ballroom, with actual chairs. This crime writing star, who only mildly complained that the Bloody Scotland bloody logo doesn’t feature Fife, where she grew up, is heading to this year’s Glastonbury with her crime colleagues. To sing.

On Monday she was here to talk about her new book – My Scotland – alongside photographer Alan McCredie. The book features all the places in Scotland Val has included in her novels over the years. She’s a bit embarrassed about the title of this travelogue and memoir, which she reckons was easier to write than an autobiography, because ‘my life is quite dull.’

It was their first time doing the talk, so it counted as a work in progress. Val has done a lot in her time, beginning with the Fight for Fife, demolishing Wemyss Castle [in a book] and ‘opening’ a [temporary] pub in Edinburgh called the J K Rowling.

Now she’s off to be a professor in New Zealand, which is why she will have to give Bloody Scotland a miss. She might commit murder down under, but she only does what she has to.

If you ask me, they ought to have got Val and her band to perform for us. That would really have made for a memorable launch. Especially now she’s not singing in September.

Embarrassingly out-of-date. Or an antique?

Can’t remember what made me get the old atlas out. We were talking about something or other.

At some point in the mid-1960s Mother-of-witch bought a new atlas. It was about time. She’d had an absolutely ancient one for about 25 years or so. It was all brown and generally embarrassing. The old one, I mean.

I was very pleased with the new atlas, even if it wasn’t mine but hers. I could still study it. And study it I did. Aren’t atlases great?

It is now being held together with brown parcel tape, mostly due to excessive crossword-puzzling by Mother-of-witch. It was one of her reliable sources, so no wonder the spine died.

But last week we got out the old brown one. I think maybe we’d been talking about Berlin and train lines, and I felt that they could surely be found in the 19th edition, published in 1940?

Ancient atlas and holiday crime

It’s fascinating! The railways, yes, but also all the dated stuff from 1940, where they had simply over-printed some information from the 18th edition three years earlier. I’m guessing that school pupils understood about the changing maps of Europe right then.

And it’s no longer embarrassing. There’s so much to see and think about. Besides, it’s in far better condition!

And things keep a-changing

‘It was a bit chaotic,’ said the Resident IT Consultant when he returned with the milk and other early essentials. I heartlessly assumed he was just being useless at shopping, but it turned out the holiday ‘super’market was being rebuilt. Hence his difficulty in foraging for food, as well as finding the – temporary – way out again, once he’d paid.


So yes, change keeps a-coming at me. Some days later we popped over to the big opening of the shop, which was mostly finished, with only the one man still hammering away up on the roof. And there was cake after a long waffley speech by Master Koch, the owner, who – now that I think of it – is probably over fifty, but younger than his retired father.

Ankaret cake

It was the Resident IT Consultant’s birthday and Daughter decided to feed him salmon to celebrate, so off we went to Laxbutiken. Yes, yes, don’t worry. It, too, had changed. New furniture in the restaurant, and gorgeous new marble counters from which to choose your salmon.

Another thing that has changed is that Daughter can now drive her mother places. It’s really convenient. First we went to the optician’s. You’ll be pleased to hear he has not changed. Other than his computer system, which meant that he couldn’t take payment for Daughter’s new glasses, so she was able to walk out without paying. (I think on the hopeful understanding I’d be back with money some other day.)

From there we went to buy bread at the best baker’s in the world. When I showed them my membership card [ it’s a coop] they suddenly charged me less. Not being one to refuse such a thing, I said nothing. I suspect they have changed (yes, there is that word again) from annual dividend payments to an instant 10% off.

Walking through town we discovered the main square had been redesigned. And then came the sad sight of my old bookshop, which is no more.

We were invited to a friend’s house for tea and rhubarb pie. I was a bit surprised, as I didn’t remember her sea view. I mean, I knew she had one. Just not used to seeing it. This is what happens when hedges are trimmed.

Sea view

Money is forever a problem. The woman at the flea market looked at my offered two kronor coin and recoiled. Older than me, yes, but presumably a permanent resident, so should be used to the new coins by now. But I know what she was thinking; that I was handing over what looked like the 1 öre from our childhood. That’s how small small change has become.

You might recall I wondered how pay toilets would work after the big coin change. It’s now contactless. Very hygienic and all that. Except my only affordable – currency wise – credit card isn’t contactless. If your need is not too great, you read on and discover that chip and pin will also be tolerated, once the machine thing has had a little think. Some of them even still take coins…

But cash in general has become a problem. It’s not wanted. Many places are card only, or as with Riccardo’s Glass (that’s ice cream to you), you can swish. Except I can’t. I believe Son knows how to swish. I’ll have to investigate further. Anyway, Daughter paid for our ice cream and milk shake with, erm, cash. She said she had the correct change so just did. I suspect that maybe she simply dropped the money and exited, before they knew what had hit them. Or they are more versatile than they let on.

This time last year was hot. So hot we did nothing, and one day that was so hot I lost the will to live. This year I have to say that my padded jacket I wore all through winter has come in quite handy. It sort of averages out.

Holiday Bookwitch Towers has new neighbours. On two sides. I’m not quite sure how to deal with this, but the house opposite has gone from being the neighbourhood dump, to looking so great that it’s a pleasure to look out the window again, 35 years on. Not a moment too soon for this change.

The neighbour on the third side was given some coins, to pay for the life-saving midnight milk, and a bottle of whisky.

Luckily not all is change. Here is what we encountered in the ‘salmon car park.’ The only reason they almost fit is that the parking spaces are huge.

Dream cars