Tag Archives: Abir Mukherjee

The never-ending panel

I was going to dip in and out. Not miss Barry Hutchison. Nor Catriona McPherson. But in the end, there I was, taking in every minute of the four hours of crime writers coming and going. Possibly attending less diligently when slurping the soup Daughter so kindly carried to my desk, but continuing all the same.

So one advantage of Bloody Scotland going online was that you can have a couple of dozen authors from anywhere in the world pop into your Sunday panel to chat to their friends for a bit, before going off, leaving their chair to someone else.

To start, Lin Anderson looked after the first hour, discussing pets with Stuart MacBride, moving on to stovies (apparently everyone in Scotland knows what they are, but I am only hazy about them, except that I don’t want any on my plate) and from there seamlessly to vodka, with the help of Hania Allen, and how one can speak fluent Polish after drinking some.

Then, James Oswald with the hair. It was long, but mostly because he is antisocial, and not so much lockdown. The question there was how to tell his calves apart. (Coos, not lower legs.) Easy with Daphne, otherwise hairy ears make for problems. Andrew James Greig, former Bloody Scotland crew, added rotary dryers, and I’m not sure if you can kill with those or not. He didn’t recognise Hugh McIlvanney when they met – ‘which one of you is …?’ It’s not what you say to big names.

James – with the coos – spoke about the Bloody Scotland family. He was joined by Neil Broadfoot, who murders in Stirling, and who almost left when Lin handed over to Morgan Cry, aka Gordon Brown, non-PM. Some people plot, others don’t. Let’s leave it at that. But it can be so boring knowing what is about to happen that the writer might not want to go on.

The incoming authors kept coming, ringing the doorbell and being visible on screen to the world. Just not to the hosts. Might need to work on that. Sara Sheridan spoke of 1950s fashions, and appearing inappropriately dressed on her husband’s Zoom meetings, because it’s how she writes books.

Finally it was time for Barry, who was addressed as Barry despite being there as JD Kirk. I think he wins the book count. 140, of which most are children’s books, but the adult crime has grown by around 40 books in four years. He explained his quantity over quality theory, and spending 06.30 to 11.30 writing, before doing admin and then playing with the children.

His school librarian had lured him into the library with piles of The Beano until he entered voluntarily, with offers like ‘come with me to the monster section’. When the library failed to have ninja books, he was told to write one himself, which he did, aged nine, and it was duly entered into the library catalogue.

Mary Paulson-Ellis, who likes paperwork, and is a top LGBTQ writer according to Val McDermid, was next, along with Caro Ramsay who knows everyone hates her, but ‘that’s fine’. SJI [Susi] Holliday was accused of having jinxed Covid into being. (This was the soup episode, so I didn’t note everything down.)

Doug Johnstone was back, even after all that singing on Saturday, and the host changed into Craig Robertson. He had done no prep so told the group to talk as much as possible. Both parts of Ambrose Parry were present, and we learned that Chris Brookmyre is now letting wife Marisa ‘do a bit more’ in their shared writing. She sounded so useful that Susi said she wanted a Marisa as well.

Where Doug goes for walks to get ideas, Susi gets them in the car, where she can’t jot them down. Ambrose Parry enjoyed getting ideas after Covid-walks on the local golf course. Caro’s dog knows more than she does. They all said to trust your instincts.

Jackie Baldwin might have upped the body count in Portobello, having moved crime from Dumfries, and Susi pedestrianised somewhere that badly needed it. Chloroform belongs in Edinburgh, just so you know. Radio’s Theresa Talbot arrived with wine glass in hand and explained that with no traffic to talk about on the radio, she was now a garden expert.

Jackie is used to being in prison, due to being a criminal lawyer (which I hope is more innocent than it sounds). Theresa is a Glaswegian by heart, and when she sent her detective to Loch Lomond to please the fans, she couldn’t think of anything for her to do, so she returned to the city again.

Alan Parks sticks to the 1970s, which neatly avoids mobile phones and CCTV. Alex Gray had just been on a trip to Ballachulish, because she simply couldn’t cope with not going places. Alan’s fan emails are from bus enthusiasts who know more than he does. And that man in the pub he made up? He’s still alive, you know.

Our last host, Abir Mukherjee arrived from the Green Room, to discover Theresa discussing a question from an event on ‘how hard it had been to find a husband at her age’. Alan had once been coerced into an impromptu lecture in Sweden, where after much hard work, the first question was whether he owns a kilt.

When asked for their weirdest way of killing people, they only had stabbings, poisoned sandwiches, strangulation by harp wire and stabbing someone in the eye with a pencil, to offer. And, erm, elephants. Ben McPherson joined us from Oslo with many thoughts on how hard it can be to fit in, in a nice country, when you don’t really belong. (I know.) But at least his doorbell moment worked.

In Norway they have huts, and warm(-ish) beaches. Abir was 25 when he discovered you could go to the beach and not wear a jacket (in Goa). Both Alex and Alan prefer living in the Hufflepuff that is Scotland. Lisa Gray has experience of writing about a place she doesn’t belong to, and Ben discussed the feeling of living somewhere but not speaking the language, when disaster strikes.

Nicola White, originally from Dublin, writes about that city, as it was in the 1980s when she left. Many of us only know somewhere from a long time ago. The last two panellists, Catriona McPherson and Alex Knight (aka Mason Cross and Gavin…) joined the conversation. I stared at Alex’s familiar face, until I finally placed him as Luke in Gilmore Girls. (Not really, but same face.) If you’re going for a pen name, it’s worth picking one that people everywhere can pronounce, like when Alex went to Starbucks as Mason and turned into Basin.

The most important thing to becoming a novelist is to finish writing what you want to write. Reward yourself with a visit to the toilet after writing some words. Alex believes in a daily 500 words, which he feels is manageable.

To finish, the talk turned to reviews, and you should obviously never read the online ones. Unless three stars for fitting perfectly under that wonky table leg will make you happy.

‘One of mum’s fanciful ideas’

Or welcome to Bloody Scotland 2020!

After a worthy introduction by the First Minister herself, this year’s online Bloody Scotland kicked off with four crime writers dishing dirt and trashing reputations and generally having a good time, despite the fact that Lin Anderson, Craig Robertson and Gordon Brown, kept in some sort of check by Abir Mukherjee, were all at home. Each in their own, where we were treated to two sets of book backgrounds, one of posters plus Lin’s sauna, although I suspect that might have been a joke.

Bloody Scotland as ‘one of mum’s fanciful ideas’ was how Lin’s children explained how it came about. ‘A lot of good ideas come out of alcohol’, and as Gordon said, organising a crime festival ‘cannae be that hard’. For this year’s online weekend, Lin had apparently suggested that the whole country could light torches. Gordon had to tell how he ruined the town’s bowling green when he set up the football pitch five years ago. The grass died in a pitch pattern.

They all feel that this new crime festival has many advantages, including the ability for anyone, anywhere to attend; both authors and audience. It was great being able to ask Ian [Rankin] and Val [McDermid] who they most wanted to talk to, when anyone is possible.

The Curly Coo – the pub where shenanigans take place on the Saturday night – is actually Craig’s local pub and it was his ‘daft idea’ to organise an event there. It usually sells out in seconds.

Abir asked the others how the pandemic had affected them. He had found that his usual workflow of 15000 words per month dwindled to about 15. Craig found writing easier, if only because he couldn’t pop to the Curly Coo all the time. Gordon got up at five every morning and wrote a new novel, while Lin was so traumatised she couldn’t write at all, and had to stick to jotting down ideas for later.

Two thirds of the way into this event, I got up to go to the kitchen and put dinner on. This has never ever happened to me at the Albert Halls. But the four Bloody Scotland board members were able to follow me there and merely continued their bickering.

There were audience questions, and we learned that Abir once got asked about another authors book, because they were both brown authors. Gordon [also Brown] once had to explain to an irate bookshop customer why he was out signing novels instead of attending to the election. Lin told a fan at an event why she’s so good at sex. Lots of practice, I gather. A fondness for pina coladas is spreading wherever Abir goes, because he treats all crime gatherings like holidays.

Whether that will have to change now, we don’t know, but they believe there will be a Bloody Scotland after the virus. If there is an after the virus. And continuing digitally looks like a real possibility, regardless of viral status.

Abir did well, getting his unruly lot to finish on time, just as the pasta was ready.

A first bloody afternoon

Marnie Riches offered to carry my drugs for me. It was kind of her, but my haul from Boots weighed very little and I felt I could shoulder the burden on my own. Anyway, she’s the guest, about to enter her first Bloody Scotland weekend, and she should be looked after.

But I obviously didn’t take that sentiment so far that I didn’t let her pay for my tea and scone.

I had just had time for my drug run – I mean my long neglected shopping – before it was time to go and find Marnie at her hotel. Leaving the hotel en route for that scone across the road she encountered a hole heap of crime colleagues out on the pavement, and had to hug a few people like Luca Veste, Mark Billingham and Michael Malone, while I limited myself to uttering only one or two stupid comments.

We went to Loving Food, where we were offered a window seat, from which we saw the rest of Bloody Scotland’s cream of crime walk past while I demolished my scone and we both gossiped about what books we hadn’t finished and how well our children have done.

Craning her neck a little, Marnie kept a check of who seemed to be heading to the pub, asking me who that was who waved to me (Ann Landmann, on our second – of three – sighting of the day), my neighbours, and so on. It’s that time of year when everyone who’s out is a someone.

Well, maybe not the boob tube wearers. The weather was best Scottish and there were a fair few ‘light’ outfits  to be seen. However the two of us were decently covered at all times.

After waving in the general direction of where she’d find the Albert Halls as well as her church venue for Saturday, we recrossed King Street for Marnie to get ready for the evening’s torch-lit procession and for me to pick up my tickets before walking home in the sunshine. I’d like to think the lack of painful knees was due to David Almond’s walnuts. Not his personally; we have bought our own.

Bloody Scotland torches

Putting people in their place

Black or fat. It doesn’t matter. You’ll still be put in that special group. The one that shows that white people – or thin people – are feeling inclusive. They will let you have what they have ‘always’ had, but only because the winds are such that it appears best to allow ‘minorities’ to do what everyone should have the right to do, be it write books and have them published, or buy and wear clothes that look nice and actually fit.

Thank you. It is most kind.

The Guardian Review on Saturday had a long article about how things have almost got a little better [fairer] for dark people in the publishing business.

I was struck by two things. First is that authors who are somehow different get their own imprint, as witnessed by the hiring of Sharmaine Lovegrove as publisher of Dialogue Books, a new ‘inclusive’ imprint at Little, Brown. (Ironic, isn’t it?)

As the Guardian says, ‘but why does inclusivity have to have its own ring-fenced imprint? Shouldn’t it be part of every imprint rather than becoming its own distinctive brand?’

This, incidentally, reminded me of what I wrote earlier this year, “there is always something that can be done, putting people in their place. Quoting Wikipedia, Tamarind Books ‘was founded in 1987 as a small independent publisher specialising in picture books, fiction and non-fiction featuring black and Asian children and children with disabilities, with the mission of redressing the balance of diversity in children’s publishing.’ This is very worthy and I have the highest opinion of Tamarind. But now that it is also an imprint within a much larger organisation, has it become the place to stash away the slightly foreign authors? You know, ‘you will be happier next to your own kind’ sort of thought.”

I know someone who ended up being put there after a publishing house reshuffle. He/she was both offended and pleased. Offended because colour of skin suddenly made this the right place for him/her. Pleased because Tamarind have really keen publicists, which ought to be good for sales.

And second, a comment by Abir Mukherjee, part of a ‘dynamic new circle of British Asian crime novelists.’ Abir* has been told ‘his work is not “authentically Asian enough” because his debut A Rising Man is about a white, British detective in India.

So, the whites get to tell the ‘minority’ writers what to write. We’re back to the situation where you can only ever write about what you are; i.e. for my part a novel about a short, fat girl in southwest Sweden.

Which brings me to one of my fondest gripes, clothes for fat people. Don’t design especially ugly and different clothes ranges for us. It’s enough – well, preferable, actually – if you make larger sizes of the same as everyone else gets. This should have several benefits. No need to design twice. The fat customers will be happier. Happy customers buy more, thus providing more income.

And let’s face it; if you don’t make it, we won’t buy. We can’t suddenly use smaller clothes, just because you think that’s the best. So that’s a loss of revenue to you.

Something similar must surely happen in the book trade. Publish good books about anything at all, and we will buy. Doesn’t matter what colour skin the author is, or their accent, or if they were born in a different place than where they live now.

Yes, unlike the jeans that are too tight, if one book has not been written or published, a keen reader can buy another book. But there must still be a certain loss of potential income. To some extent publishers can and will tell someone what ought to be in a book [for it to sell], and sometimes they will even be right. But to limit Asian writers to write about Asians, or for that matter, to prevent a Muggle author from writing about wizards, is just silly.

In fact, I recently read a crime novel by Vaseem Khan, featuring his Mumbai detective as usual. Lovely book. But what makes that different from, say, Alexander McCall Smith’s lovely books about a female detective in Botswana? Is he female? Is he black? Is he a detective?

Neither Vaseem nor Alexander have been ring-fenced into an imprint suitable for their colour. Why should anyone else?


*When xenophobia is at its worst, immigrants are often told they need to adopt the same values and behaviour as the British. While I happen to think that this is wrong, I feel that it is precisely what someone like Abir has done. He has assimilated, which, considering he was born here, is fairly natural. And also what the real natives want. Except when they want their foreigners to be a little more authentically foreign.

It’s not easy.

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.

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.

Bloody Scotland – Sunday

My theory is that if you tried to take photos of someone’s arm being waved in front of an author’s face, you’d not do well. Whereas if you aim for the opposite, there are an awful lot of available arms out there, as well as hands and stomachs and books. Another observation is that it helps trying to enter a Bloody Scotland venue through the correct door.

That aside, Sunday was another good day. Well, I might have jinxed the weather somewhat by mentioning Saturday’s sunshine. It rained a wee bit on Sunday. But that’s fine. We are hardy souls.

Continuing with events featuring less well known crime writers, I began with Bloody India at the Albert Park South Church, although the Resident IT Consultant wondered what they did about their Sunday morning service. (I’m not sure, but at some point I did hear an organ being played, so am guessing they made use of the other end, so to speak.)

Abir Mukherjee and Monabi Mitra

Was pleased to encounter Fledgling’s Claire Cain, and we compared notes on events seen. I decided I didn’t fancy Harlan Coben, and swapped the free book on my seat for Elizabeth Moon’s Winning Colours.

Had another event in the church immediately after, so trooped out and queued with a couple of crime fans who had just been to hear Vince Cable, and who were very enthusiastic, except maybe not about his book selling out. Coincidentally it’s a crime novel, set partly in India. And they’d definitely vote for him.

My second event was Pitch Perfect, and I spied a couple of people ‘in the business’ but don’t know if they were there for professional purposes or not. It’d be a good place to discover a new – and unadopted – book you like the sound of. As for me I was so carried away by it all that I – literally – forgot where I was.

Louise Welsh

ES Thomson

Then it was time to walk over to the Albert Halls, where I did a quick check for signing authors and found a panel of four, including three who had written a short story each for the Bloody Scotland anthology; Louise Welsh, E S Thomson and Doug Johnstone. Remembering I actually had my copy in my bag, I hot-footed over to the end of the queue, while mentally kicking myself for not collecting more signatures on Saturday. Virtually everyone is/was here. I told Doug how disturbing his story was, and he seemed really pleased.

Doug Johnstone and Pat Young

Went downstairs for James Oswald’s event, and looking around the free books, came to the conclusion that there are a lot of books by James Patterson in the world. In fairness, the James we came to see also has a few books out, and the shelves in the shop were satisfyingly full of his Tony McLean novels.

Albert Halls bookshop

Managed to avoid most of the unwanted arms and elbows when I took photos of James at his signing. Noted that he has adapted to signing sitting down.

James Oswald

Some of us also found Lin Anderson resting after chairing his event, and I got myself another Bloody Scotland signature. I asked Lin if we might hope to see more of this kind of story collection, and if it’s down to her, we definitely will. Let’s hope it is then, because as she said, they only used up a dozen authors for this volume, and many more where they came from.

It was time for me and my umbrella to walk home, and I did so musing on the mystery of Stuart Neville. I had kept noticing his photo in the programme, and every time I looked for his name, he wasn’t there. It wasn’t until I peered extra carefully at the photograph that I saw that it was him. Stuart was here as Haylen Beck, who has a ‘debut’ novel out. I should have trusted my instincts. There can’t be two authors who look like that.