Tag Archives: Alexandra Sokoloff

Writing Gender Violence

Oscars. Pathfoot Building, University of Stirling. Looks simple, doesn’t it? But by clicking the map link in my Eventbrite email for my fourth event of Book Week Scotland I was taken to the Kilted Kangaroo. That’s a bar. In town. I think. So I Googled Oscars and looked at countless maps of the university. No Oscars.

The Resident IT Consultant dropped me off at the top of Pathfoot – to save me all those stairs, what with the building sitting on a slope – and went for a walk up on Sheriffmuir. So did I. Walk, I mean. I laboured down all those stairs until I got to the reception, where I asked about the event, which the receptionist had never heard of. But she squinted at a discreet A4 sheet on the door, and asked if that was it. It was. So I walked back up the stairs to where I’d started. Oscars is the dining room, except this is not mentioned on any map.

As with the college in Alloa, I reckon the event was really for university staff and students, and they’d know Oscar, whoever he may be. But I got there, and the view was lovely. The campus loch and the Wallace Monument in the background, and the famous Scottish sunshine on the grassy slopes. Beautiful.

Pathfoot, University of Stirling

Now, you know me. Gender violence is not the first thing you think of for a Bookwitch. But the discussion sounded interesting, it was local, and it was to feature Alexandra Sokoloff, among others. Alex had to join us via Skype in the end, as she appears to be stuck in California for various reasons, and where it was very early in the morning.

Alexandra Sokoloff

Chaired by professor Karen Boyle, we also had psychotherapist Madeleine Black, Lydia House from Zero Tolerance and Lorna Hill, who’d just submitted her PhD (Bloody Women: The Role of Women in Scottish and Scandinavian Crime Fiction) that morning. This was to be part of 16 Days of Action Against Gender Violence, which will culminate in an event at the Scottish Parliament next Thursday.

Lydia House

Lydia House started by telling us about the stock images Zero Tolerance have put together, which are free to use, and more suitable for portraying violence against women than what the media usually go for. She also mentioned an award for good writing.

Madeleine Black, who’s written the book Unbroken (about when she was repeatedly raped as a teenager), talks a lot at events, and feels she’s finally getting across what rape means, citing her [male] editor who eventually grasped what the experience had been like.

Lorna Hill is a former journalist who tired of gender violence being considered a taboo subject. As part of her PhD she has written a crime novel, about human trafficking and domestic abuse.

Alexandra Sokoloff’s novel Huntress Moon is about a female serial killer. In Hollywood serial killers are ‘just part of our classic language.’ Alex wanted to reach a large audience, which is why she chose this topic for her novel, and she points out that violence against women is so common, that even though her serial killer has killed a lot of men (slitting throats is apparently quick), she still needs to look out for her own safety when out.

It’s important to point out that this kind of violence makes for a ‘series of surviving’ and it’s not something you only do once. It happens all the time. Over and over again.

Karen Boyle

Madeleine finally realised that date sex can also be rape, and she set out to write her book to tell the world what had happened. Many readers of her book have decided that despite the warning about the violence, they ‘owed it to [Madeleine’s] 13-year-old self’ to read the chapter. Karen Boyle admitted that she wanted Alex’s killer to come after Madeleine’s rapists.

Lorna talked about cultural appropriation, and how she felt she was allowed to write about an African girl who had been trafficked, despite not being either African or abused. Lydia mentioned that it’s important to have survivor-led action. And one of the best interviews Madeleine had ever done was with Trevor McDonald, which she later heard had made an 81-year-old woman open up about what had happened to her many years earlier.

Lorna Hill and Karen Boyle

Alex said that with television screenwriting, they are looking for edgier and edgier subjects, which now means they want something with women. She also pointed out that it’s vital to call the crimes ‘male violence against women’; that you must mention who did it, rather than against whom.

Lydia said that with their new stock images, it becomes easier to show that much abuse is emotional, rather than ‘a black eye.’ Some women believe they can’t ask for help because they have not been hit and have no bruises to show. They also believe it’s their fault.

Media has not helped by first deciding what they want to write about, and then asking for a victim of a specific kind of crime [rape in a taxi], instead of looking at the whole problem. According to Alex there are hundreds of thousands of rape kits handed in to the police, that have not been processed, because the police don’t know what to do with them.

Alex reckons that after Weinstein, and with Trump in power, women have nothing to lose. It’s time to do something. Madeleine feels you must share, because ‘the shame belongs to the perpetrators.’

Madeleine Black, Lydia House, Lorna Hill and Karen Boyle

Karen asked the women for their take-home points, and Madeleine said ‘do it!’ Lorna agreed, ‘just do it, have confidence in yourself.’ Alex said there are many ways of being active; journalism, writing fiction, activism, and she mentioned her own writing classes in Stirling (for when she’s allowed back in…).

Lydia reminded us of the writing award next week, and the event on Thursday at Parliament. And Karen said there is also a march from Stirling Castle Esplanade on Thursday December 7th at 6.30pm, for anyone who wants to take part.

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Book Week Scotland 2017

Starting on Monday, 27th November, is this year’s Book Week Scotland. And there is much you can do.

But don’t delay. There is no point in me suggesting you catch James Oswald in Auchterarder, because he’s already sold out. And because I have now more or less decided what I will and won’t do, I have stopped looking at the ticket booking facility, so won’t know what else might be too late.

Crawford Logan, aka Paul Temple, will do an event in what seems to be an undertaker’s ‘service room.’ But I don’t see why not. After all, he was last seen by the Bookwitch family doing a reading at the Grandmother’s funeral. He knows what to do.

Mairi Hedderwick is appearing all over the place, while still not doing so at a venue or at a time that suits me…

A place and time that is surprisingly good for me is Rachael Lucas talking about Asperger’s at Waterstones on Monday night. And more locally, I have Alex Nye coming to my nearest library (not that I’ve measured), and Alexandra Sokoloff will be talking at Stirling University.

Lin Anderson will be in Alloa, and Badger (the lovely dog) is coming to Cumbernauld.

And I could go on. But I won’t, because if I mention all the people I would like to see but can’t, because they are booked to speak in Shetland or (almost as bad) Orkney, I will get upset. But if you happen to be close to my far flung places, then off you go to a lovely event or two. Julie Bertagna, for instance. Or Debi Gliori.

Shetland Noir, only once removed

I’m the kind of witch who can recognise Denise Mina from behind, out of context (i.e. not at some book festival). On the other hand, my Shetland Noir representative, Helen Grant, had no idea who this ‘tremendously likeable’ woman was, gorgeous black furry boots and all. They travelled on the same plane, which despite it being Friday the 13th suffered no mishap, which is lucky for Scottish crime and its future. Helen did know the other crime writer at the airport, though, as she had been at Oxford with MJ McGrath.

Ann Cleeves, Helen Grant and Doug Henshall, by Dale Smith

Helen was on her way to Shetland to receive the Jimmy Perez Trophy for writing the winning short story – The Beach House – from, as it turned out, the very hands of Jimmy Perez, aka actor Doug Henshall. Not bad for a simple misuse of a kitchen utensil. (I can just see how he stands there muttering, ‘not the cheese grater. Please not the cheese grater!’)

Ann Cleeves, Helen Grant and Doug Henshall, by Dale Smith

Strangely (!) Helen was quite keen to see a bit of beautiful Shetland while she was there, so apart from the grand reception and award thing on the Friday night, she ‘only’ went to two events, but they both sound really good. Also very female, because as we know, women scare and kill best. Just look at Helen herself.

Donald Anderson, Jacky Collins, Mari Hannah, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves and Alexandra Sokoloff

There was a panel on the benefits and pitfalls of screen adaptations, with Alexandra Sokoloff, Ann Cleeves, Denise Mina and Mari Hannah, chaired by Jacky Collins. It’s apparently a bit like adopting a baby, and learning to step away. Ann Cleeves had Vera Stanhope adapted after the producer picked up a copy of her book in Oxfam.

According to Alexandra, who has a past as a screenwriter, in America television does sell books, whereas Ann recognises that viewers might not be readers. Denise has had a very successful adaptation made from her book, totally authentic down to the 1980s Irn Bru sign on Central Station.  And on the benefits of adapting a book, Denise said that we love books – ‘That’s why we’re all dweebing out when there’s a perfectly good craft fair on.’ The book is the real connection with another human being.

Jake Kerridge, Laura Wilson, Helen Giltrow, MJ McGrath and Louise Millar

The cheerfully named Killer Women is a London-based group of female (obviously) crime writers, which started as a social group, but now meet to discuss murder as well. In Lerwick Laura Wilson, Helen Giltrow, MJ McGrath and Louise Millar spoke to Jake Kerridge about women in crime, both as writers, detectives and victims. Apparently if the victim is male he must suffer as a spy or at war, and not in a domestic setting.

MJ McGrath enjoys turning things round, like having a female detective instead of just as the sidekick. Her male detective breeds lemmings, in order to replace those who jump off cliffs… Louise Millar has interviewed people affected by crime, several years afterwards, to learn of the long term effects. And MJ interviewed some Hell’s Angels after a murder. She felt that being a woman was an advantage in that situation: ‘Either they want to impress you or they don’t take you seriously.’

Women are ‘equal opportunities readers’ and will read books by both women and men, but men are more likely to read men. Helen Giltrow, who works in a male dominated sector, espionage, has been told ‘you write like a man.’ MJ commented that ‘I have been told with great sincerity and as a compliment, I write like a brunette!’

On sex and violence Laura said that she has heard male writers say that women can go further because if a man writes about sexual violence people will think that he is a pervert who really wants to do it! Louise added that there is also the issue of having to write ‘likeable’ women, which is very constraining.

(I’ve never noticed any ‘constraining’…)

On the gossip front the latest news from Ann Cleeves seems to be a non-crime (I’m guessing non-fiction) book about Shetland. Because she loves it. Alex Gray is incredibly nice, and she and Helen talked about Bloody Scotland. Valerie Laws’ sleep was not helped by waves breaking against the hotel wall right beneath her window. (At least the sea stayed on the outside.) Marsali Taylor wins [Helen’s] prize for best dressed crime writer, with a stunning fuchsia silk fitted dress with gold embroidery and matching trousers.

After a weekend like this, Helen can almost see herself having more of a go at adult crime. It was ‘inspiring.’ And next time she flies to Shetland, her woolly hat will be in her hand luggage.

Doug Henshall and Helen Grant, by Dale Smith

Saturday’s people

I had a pot of builder’s tea with Roman crime writer Lindsey Davis first thing on Saturday morning. Well, Lindsey had coffee, but her publicist Kerry and I had Very Strong Tea. It was Kerry who suggested I’d love to meet Lindsey, and how right she was! (Kerry usually is.) I’ll tell you more about our chat in a later post, but I have to mention what a beautiful purple coat Lindsey wore. (Apparently she owns matching colour boots. My kind of woman.)

There was some talk about the Nordic authors who had been offered pickled herring for breakfast (obviously to make them really feel at home), when all they wanted was a good old British cooked breakfast. Rollmops, anyone?

We also talked about Kerry’s lovely dog, which I met last year, and this led nicely to the serious matter of shopping. After our tea, and coffee, we hobbled separately down the hill to the Albert Halls for Lindsey’s event.

Alexandra Sokoloff

Allan Guthrie

Since there is no sense in not photographing signing authors when they’re available, I grabbed pictures of Alexandra Sokoloff, Allan Guthrie, Lin Anderson and Val McDermid, all of whom worked the early morning shift.

Lin Anderson

Val McDermid

Then it was on to Lindsey’s event with all the civil servants. I’ll tell you more later. To my great surprise I found Blackwell’s allrounder Ann Landmann safely outside the onsite Waterstones, wearing a Bloody Scotland t-shirt. Seems she can’t get enough of book events and festivals.

Lindsey Davis

As I was going about my business taking photos of Lindsey, while discreetly ignoring the fact that Ian Rankin was sitting in the café, I encountered a surprisingly soberly dressed Kirkland Ciccone, who’d brought a friend there as a birthday present. For her, not for him.

Kirkland Ciccone

It was still raining so I ate my sandwiches in the bookshop, as discreetly as I could. I checked out Lindsey’s books and decided they look very nice indeed.

Still in the rain, I walked back up to the Stirling Highland Hotel, passing the man with the interesting shoulderbag strap. I recognised the strap first, and the rest of him second. Caught a glimpse of James Oswald on his way down, as I puffed uphill.

Had plenty of time after that so went and sat in the bar, reading and looking at people. Ann Cleeves came in, and I spied publisher Clare Cain – she who drives Plague Doctors around Edinburgh. Went to my afternoon event on Nordic Noir, before starting on my last downhill trip for the day, conveniently finding James Oswald in the car park, so I stopped and chatted. Good thing, as I’ll be running again after his Sunday event.

Not exactly running, but you know.

Ian Rankin & Co

The Bloody Scotland programme, and other fun stuff

They had to launch the Bloody Scotland programme without me, but it’s actually quite a good one despite this.

Before the Bloody Scotland weekend even begins you can go to writing classes – if you are young enough – or you could take part in their short story competition. And then, on September 11th (hm, that’s an ominous date…) the Stirling goings-on start.

There are many of the regular Scottish authors we have come to expect, from Lin Anderson to Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and Philip Kerr. Sophie Hannah is returning to talk about what looks like an even scarier book than usual. We have Nordic Noir, and Arne Dahl is coming. Edinburgh also offers some noir, and Alexandra Sokoloff knows about self-publishing. Brighton Rocks, and there’s the poisons of Agatha Christie, and Pitch Perfect (which might not be about a capella singing).

Plus lots more.

And when all the fun in Stirling is over, you could hop on a chartered plane to Shetland to discover the settings Ann Cleeves has used in her crime novels, and you can do it in her company. There will be film locations, too, and you can ask Ann questions. That’s not a bad deal at all.

(I’m going to have to sit down and do some realistic calculations on how much fun I will be able to tolerate.)

Demon rules and the Glasgow underground

Did you know there are rules for summoning demons? And that crime writers all refer to the same rules?

I trust I didn’t imagine this. Michael J Malone chaired the Bloody Scotland Sunday afternoon supernatural event, talking to Alexandra Sokoloff, Gordon Brown (the other one) and James Oswald. Actually, I don’t suppose the event was supernatural. It was the topic. Although, Alexandra was described as the daughter of Mary Shelley, so I don’t know.

After a ‘warm bloody welcome’ Michael asked the three to blame someone or something for what they are doing. Gordon Brown didn’t know he wanted to write crime, but worked out that he could do a lot of horrible things to people if he did. He described a Glasgow pub fight he’d witnessed once, where one man was sitting reading a book, completely oblivious to the fighting going on around him.

Alexandra Sokoloff

Alexandra said that although she had a past working with juvenile crime in Los Angeles (where she’s from), it was the Scottish who led her to crime. Hearing Denise Mina and Val McDermid talk at BoucherCon one year, she realised that crime writing was the best way to address social issues, tired of the endless slaughter of women in books, and she wanted to turn that around, writing about a female Jack Reacher type.

James blames (hey, that rhymes…) Stuart MacBride. James was writing his epic fantasy series when Stuart told him to stop doing that. So James wrote a few short stories to see if he could write crime, but he hasn’t been able to totally shake off the fantastic element. Hence the demons.

James Oswald

Is evil a noun or an adjective? It can be both, but James uses it as an adjective. And he says that publishers want something different, as long as it’s the same as everything else. Gordon has a plan for putting two politicians into the same room, having the First Minister murder another Minister…

Sex? Well, Gordon doesn’t think he could write it very successfully. And can you let your mother read it? James doesn’t believe the reader should know about the detective’s sex life. They can have one, but you don’t need the details. Whereas Alexandra likes sex and so do her characters. She wants the stories to have erotic suspense, and besides, the books go on for too long for the characters not to have sex. But James said he feels the suspense can still be there with clothes on.

Have they met evil people? Gordon said you can’t possibly know. Alexandra thinks you can, and she has encountered many evil people in the past. James has led a sheltered life, but has come across evil intent, even if people are not evil.

Gordon Brown

Gordon said that if something feels gratuitous, then it probably is. It’s better to imply than to describe. It’s harder, but better, to get inside people’s heads. Alexandra gave up screenwriting because she didn’t like the ‘torture porn’ she was expected to write. She writes about violence, but doesn’t like to read about extreme violence. Humour, according to James, is true to life, so you need it in a book. If there is none, it makes the book hard to read.

Writing series – Alexandra has written two books, and is working on the third, but doesn’t know how long she would continue. Feedback from readers is a good thing. Gordon will write more if he likes the characters, but if he tires of them it’s hard to make it fresh. James doesn’t know. He’s got a contract for six McLean novels, and since his detective doesn’t die at the end of book six, there is scope for more. He gets to know him better with each book, so could go on forever.

Have they researched the supernatural? Well, there seems to be some ground rules about demons. Alexandra has read up on the rules. James relies on Buffy, and Gordon talked about getting the Glasgow underground wrong. The trains might go round and round, but you could still be on the wrong platform.

Bloody Scotland 2014 programme

Am I allowed to have a favourite? OK, in that case I must admit I am really looking forward to hearing Sophie Hannah talk about ‘becoming’ Agatha Christie, writing the new Poirot.

The programme for this year’s Bloody Scotland – on my own home ground – is out and ready for your perusal, and for buying tickets. It’s another good one. Perhaps not filled with the best selling best sellers, but then that’s not what I feel Bloody Scotland should be about. It should be Scottish crime, and perhaps a little something else on the side. Like Sophie Hannah.

They are rolling out Ian Rankin again. Can’t have him every year – although, why not? – but I’m glad he’s back. My new ‘neighbour’ Craig Robertson is obviously doing his bit, and so is sheep farmer James Oswald, who debuted so well last year by pretending to be Eoin Colfer. He will have had his fourth McLean novel published by the time September arrives. (Slow down!) James will appear with Alexandra Sokoloff and Gordon Brown. Probably not that Gordon Brown, but the other one.

Well, you can read for yourself. You don’t need me to list the whole weekend. They have a new hotel venue in the Hotel Colessio, which isn’t even open yet (and I’d not heard of it). Otherwise they are mostly in the Albert Halls, and at the  Stirling Highland Hotel, when they’re not making crime writers play football against each other. I mean, honestly! (Scotland will win.)

There will be a surprise cinema event at the Old Town Jail (don’t go, whatever you do! They get up to funny stuff in that jail…), as well as the traditional dinner where you eat with people who live off crime.

Sounds like an OK kind of weekend, actually.