Tag Archives: Barry Forshaw

29 years on, nearly there

Saturday morning desk

Woke too early yesterday, but saw the light – literally – from the dining room, so breakfasted while watching Son writing his thesis. Not all of it, obviously, but some of the bit of it that hadn’t got written the day before. Deadline is looming.

Over my yoghurt I was asked what I did on 23rd April 2000. I couldn’t remember, but said I’d not been invited to Shakespeare’s party, and suggested I might have been looking forward to Harry Potter no. 4. You need perspective.

Was also asked if I had a copy of Barry Forshaw’s Nordic Noir, but as I was trying to work out where I had hidden it, Son realised he’d already borrowed it and had left it at the office, which was not at all useful…

We talked about Marcel Berlins, and his fondness for the Famous Five, and about someone else I’d not even heard of. I’m flexible that way; don’t need to know what I am talking about.

I could recall when I first heard of Henning Mankell, and Son knew when the first translation into English appeared (surprisingly recently). I also knew roughly how ancient Maj Sjöwall must be and that Per Wahlöö had been older.

At some point Son was showing off his chapter pages, and Daughter admired the look until she found out it was in Word. Seems scientists don’t believe in Word.

Despite not wanting to upset Son’s proofreader with this tardiness, we all eventually took to the very snowy roads and went for brunch. There are times when I feel studded tyres would be quite welcome. This was one such time.

And despite it being intended as a [rare] weekend off, there was more thesis-ing between brunch and birthday cake and a Burns supper. Laziness must skip a generation every now and then.

Monday miscellany

I’d – almost – concluded I have no friends, but before you gallantly cry that I have you, I realised how wrong I was. Today is School Friend’s birthday. (Her 60th, but don’t tell anyone. She looks like 29.) And I’m not there. I suppose that’s what I meant, really. I’m not physically surrounded by friends, but I know they are out there, at various inconvenient distances for birthday parties and the like.

I could have gone. But with a future kitchen having just arrived, sitting in the hall (which has not had book boxes stored in it for maybe as long as a couple of weeks, and was beginning to look almost normal), and a sink that needed to be crowbarred free by Son, now seems an unwise time for me to up and frolic.

I typed ’tile’ instead of ‘time’ and that was most certainly a Freudian slip. I’m not 60, nor do I look like 29, but feel rather like 79 sometimes. The Resident IT Consultant and I went shopping for tiles last week. As we walked towards the entrance to the DIY emporium I halted and nearly asked him what we’d come for. Good thing I didn’t, as he beat me to it by a split second. We managed to remember why we’d come (I did have a list in my bag, but you feel that one item should be possible to keep in your brain and not have it slosh around uncontrollably) and the outing was a relative success. I mean, only the day before, we’d also ventured out for tiles but ended up eyeing raspberry bushes at the local nursery, where we’d gone for coffee, instead.

Speaking of gardens, we made some discoveries in ours. The Grandmother found we had a pond. Well, we knew that. But once the weeds went, we realised we have dependants. One duck. Plastic. An otter. Stone. A tortoise. Also stone. Frog. Real. Frogspawn. Also real, and watched over by the parental frog. And some days later, after all that unexpected light and air, we have ‘watery’ flowers as well.

As I said, Son and Dodo were here, carrying kitchens and liberating sinks. And stuff. Then they had to go home again, partly because Son is off to the London Book Fair this week. (It’s unfair! I still haven’t been. And I had to decline an invitation to Canada House. Again.) You can tell it’s that time of year, by how many publicists are already ‘out of office’ in their emails. (So, basically, I can blog as I like, and I am, as you can see.)

Before he left, Son borrowed the complete set of Martin Beck by Sjöwall and Wahlöö, and Barry Forshaw’s Nordic Noir. Seems he’s going to need the books for some paper or other. (Someone’s been getting their translators wrong…) He asked if we wanted anything from London, and you know, I am sure I was thinking just the other day that there was something. But what?

Bookwitch bites #123

C J Flood has won the Branford Boase for her first novel Infinite Sky. Congratulations!

I had so wanted to be there. But in the end common sense prevailed and I didn’t travel to London. It would have been a good time for it, apart from my moving into a new house handicap. For once it wasn’t the only thing happening, and I could have combined events. Adrian McKinty’s publisher was offering beer and sausage rolls with Adrian at their office yesterday afternoon. Not even teetotal veggie witches should be able to say no to that. Except I did.

And then I discovered Adrian was appearing at Waterstones Piccadilly the night before, in the illustrious company of Barry Forshaw, Mallock and Pete Ayrton. But in a way it was lucky I wasn’t there for that event, seeing as it started a mere 30 minutes after another event in the very same bookshop, featuring *Meg Rosoff and Marcus Sedgwick. I mean, how could a witch choose?

Trying to count myself lucky I didn’t have to.

Found this interview with Terry Pratchett about his next new book, Dragons at Crumbling Castle. If he has a favourite book, it seems to be the Tiffany Aching books, because she just gets on with things. So does Terry, of course. He might have had to cancel his Discworld appearance in Manchester, but the man is still writing, and Tiffany fans are looking forward to book number five.

Despite the shocking figures on author incomes that emerged this week, many authors do like Terry and his Tiffany, and just get on with things. Despite not earning a living wage. Despite other stuff too, no doubt. Terry obviously has no money worries, but he has another concern instead; how much time, and how many more books?

There was the news last week that food bank parcels now contain children’s books. It’s wonderful that more children will have a book to call their own, but pretty dismal that they have to rely on charity for it, not to mention that anyone in Britain should need food parcels.

*So pleased someone saw the similarities between Meg’s Picture Me Gone and Marcus’s latest YA book; American road trips involving British teenagers. Both books are fabulous, and She Is Not Invisible has just come out as a paperback. I have to admit to having handed over my copy of the latter to a teenager, because I felt the need to share this wonderful journey. Not in a food parcel as such, although there was food involved. And much talk of money.

Euro Noir

Wouldn’t it be nice to be an expert at lots of things? Except you can’t. There is a limit to how much you can delve into different areas of interest. And that’s when it’s good to have someone who does it for you.

Barry Forshaw knows a lot about crime (in the right sort of way). He is a Nordic crime specialist, but reads a wider diet than that. Here he is with his new Euro Noir, briefly outlining crime fiction and films in a number of European countries. I’m ashamed to admit I’d never considered whether there are Polish crime novels.

He wondered what I would make of the Nordic section, which is only right, since I know almost nothing about Romania or Greece when it comes to crime, or any fiction, now that I think of it. But if I did want to read something so drastically new, I now know where I would begin. With this book. And then one of the ones mentioned in here.

Barry Forshaw, Euro Noir

Barry is right to ponder how he can cover Nordic crime yet again and so briefly, but he has succeeded. There is a good selection of authors from a long time ago as well as now. And he does the same for the other Nordic countries. You might know a lot of it already, but I bet there will be something new for everyone.

And once you’ve covered the north, there is all the rest of Europe. If I were to tackle French crime I’d have to go to Fred Vargas. Barry very sensibly asked various specialists to write a page on what they like best, and my colleague Karen Meek likes Fred Vargas. That’s good enough for me.

There is a wide coverage of films, including some pretty ancient ones, and obviously the recent euro crime we’ve seen on television during the last few years. Again, you might know it all, but that doesn’t prevent this from being interesting to read.

Euro Noir is a short book, which will quickly tell you what you need to know.

Nordic Noir

Before I knew what I was doing, I was hauling a Nordic (well, Swedish) crime novel off the shelf to read. That’s how fired up I got once I started on Barry Forshaw’s Nordic Noir guide book.

He knows a lot about this subject. More than most. Certainly more than I do. And that made me envious and I wanted to begin my new career as a Nordic crime specialist, which is when I discovered the book I’d found was in English. So I put it away again, and I will pick something else. Later.

I will never be an expert on Nordic crime. Barry didn’t set out to be. It just happened to him. Now he has read quite a bit, and he has met most of who’s who in this genre. And in Nordic Noir he shares it with us.

This slim volume is probably more for looking things up in, than to sit down and read from cover to cover. Barry lists books from all six countries, includes interviews with authors, as well as talking about recent films and television shows. There’s not much that’s missing.

The Swedish section is the largest – naturally – and the Faroese is definitely the smallest, with the other four countries nestling in the middle. For a non-Nordic speaker Barry has steered an almost perfect route between å and ä and ö, past ø and ð. The few near misses could be due to printers, and not the author. Only the one Norwegian writer has ended up listed as a Swede, but these things happen.

And when Henning Mankell saw mice, he did so in a posh London hotel. These things happen, too.

Any fan of Nordic darkness could do worse than equip themselves with Barry’s guide. You know, you could show off a little next time you’re in the right kind of conversation.

The next big thing is Higashoo

Those of us who braved the unexpected rain on Sunday morning, could enjoy a discussion on The Next Big Thing with Barry Forshaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, editor Jade Chandler and Val McDermid.

Barry Forshaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Jade Chandler and Val McDermid

In between pronunciation issues and translations that made sanitary towels into bath towels, Barry kept hinting he knew the answer. It’s Higashoo. Sort of. I cornered him afterwards and even he didn’t know what he’d been saying, so there is little hope for me.

Barry Forshaw

The cream of Nordic crime has now been joined by less creamy novels, and the future might lie on some hitherto unheard of Scottish island. Or Man. Manx murders, anyone?

As long as president Putin doesn’t say he likes – or dislikes – what you write, you’ll be all right. Hopefully.

After Yrsa had said how she just likes creepy stuff, we crept uphill to the Highland Hotel and the one children’s books event of the weekend. It was free, which only goes to prove how undervalued children’s books are. We had the excellent Gillian Philip and Cathy MacPhail, along with the to me unknown, but now very scary, Helen FitzGerald talking to Christina Johnston.

Gillian Philip, Cathy MacPhail and Helen FitzGerald

The ladies chatted on the subject of Once Upon a Crime, and were photographed next to a clothes hanger. I worry a bit about the significance of that. They each read from their books, and Helen’s piece was about seeing your mother’s dead body. I think she said Deviant is her happiest book, so I don’t know… She road tests her books for teen authenticity on her daughter. For money.

Helen FitzGerald

Cathy, who does ‘like a good murder,’ learns about her genuine child characters on school visits. She likes writing from a boy’s point of view, and her next book, Mosi’s War is another boy book. What Cathy does not like is to be put in the Scottish section in shops, next to Nessie.

Cathy MacPhail

Gillian read from The Opposite of Amber, and said she tries to avoid slang for fear of it dating too quickly. But she doesn’t tone down content for YA. For her it simply means the protagonists are younger. And she does swear in her books.

Gillian Philip

All three bemoaned the lack of room for reviews of children’s books in the papers, and seemed to feel the answer might lie in reviews by young readers.

After getting a couple of Seth MacGregor books signed, we rolled down the hill, back to the Albert Halls for The Red-Headed League. An all star cast of crime writers read a dramatised version of one of Sherlock’s best known mysteries, with Gillian Philip as the villain. Karen Campbell had the most unlikely red hair, and Craig Robertson was Lestrade. Members of the audience – OK, other crime writers dotted about – made up the other hopeful redheads.

The Red-Headed League

Waiting outside beforehand provided a parade of Who’s Who in Scottish crime, with most authors walking past our sandwich-bench under a tree. (It was still trying to rain.)

Sarah Reynolds

Once an arrest had been made, it was on to the Worth the Wait short story competition, where out of 232 entries, they had chosen the best 19 for their free ebook (download it now!). The winner Sarah Reynolds received her price from one of the sponsors.

And then it was time for the inaugural Scottish Crime Book of the Year  Award 2012, introduced by Sheena McDonald and presented by William McIlvanney. The winner was Charles Cumming for A Foreign Country.

Charles Cumming

Once this was done, we trooped out and most of us went home. Sort of.

Except the witch who likes to meet authors. She had tea with Helen Grant, who is even scarier (in her books) than most of the Bloody Scotland lot.

Then we went home.

A Bloody Brilliant Crime Weekend

Lin Anderson and Alex Gray are used to murdering people, and on Friday night they toasted their victims in prosecco (which was really water, or so they claimed) to mark the start of Bloody Scotland, their ‘baby’ in the ‘Harrogate of the North.’ (That’s Stirling for the uninitiated.)

Alex Gray and Lin Anderson and drinkers

They ran through all the reasons for a Scottish crimefest, and then called in Ian Rankin to consider the merits of them, and he seemed to think it was a sound idea. Hard to be sure, because he mumbled a bit from time to time.

But it is a good idea; this ‘weekend to die for.’ The Albert Halls were packed on Friday evening when Lin and Alex and Ian provided the arguments for yet another crime festival. Something for a country with fewer spinsters and tiny gentlemen, and ‘with a bit more gas’ to put it bluntly.

Scotland has plenty of places not yet used in fiction. Everywhere is fair game. And crime is not subsidised or sponsored, so it has to sell. It has to be good. Ian Rankin said he wanted to write what he thought his father might want to read. He himself grew up on Alistair MacLean (well, who didn’t?), but pointed out that all of his books were set outside Scotland.

When they opened the floor to questions the audience was unusually reticent until Barry Forshaw set the ball rolling by wondering if we – they – need to be worried about the Scandinavians.

Yes, they do need to be concerned about the Scandinavians. Especially beware the ones in Stirling this weekend.

Ian Rankin

Ian moaned about the difference in television hours between Rebus and the Killing, and made the obvious statement that Branagh is Branagh. As for himself he prefers the second Wallander, which is probably Krister Henriksson.

After discussing how it’s harder to murder people with obscure poisons these days, the audience got friskier, culminating in one writer advertising his own crime novels and asking Ian for advice on publishing and ‘how to become a little more rich.’

The move on to sockpuppets was probably unavoidable, although not everyone knew what they are. But as Ian said about himself and his Scottish crime writing peers, ‘we’re the gang.’

This gang drank – another – toast to Bloody Scotland, signed books in the BS bookshop, and then swanned off to a grand dinner at the Highland Hotel.

Evil and deadly and Scottish (ish)

It’s going to be blo*dy difficult to choose. I am talking about Bloody Scotland. The programme goes live today, and I have to urge you to buy tickets while stocks last and all that. Hurry.

You might also want to stock up on stamina. I began making a list of what I want to see and hear, and setting aside that little inconvenience of having mislaid my timeturner, meaning I can only go to one event at a time, I have come to realise it could turn out to be too taxing going to one event for every slot in the day. Do you think? Or perhaps I can?

Bloody Scotland venues

It’s in Stirling, and what better place for it? The organisers have commandeered the Albert Halls and the Stirling Highland Hotel. They are near each other, so the toing and froing will be OK. Or would be but for that little matter of the hill. The hotel is the former Stirling High School, the alma mater of the Resident IT Consultant. (No, he didn’t go to school in a hotel. He had to go somewhere else.) The Albert Halls sounds grand, and seeing as it has been good enough for the Singing Kettle, it will be good enough for the cream of crime.

I’m aware that I haven’t listed all the crime writers who are appearing. You will just have to check out the programme. Karin Fossum and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir are coming, which means it’s not exclusively Scottish. It’s northern, though, and Scotland has expressed this understandable interest in joing the Nordic countries. And I daresay that if they murder well enough, we might let them.

There are so many great looking events I don’t know how to choose, and I won’t even try to list them here for you. What I absolutely mustn’t miss is Gillian Philip and Cathy MacPhail with Helen FitzGerald talking about YA crime.

A couple of fancy dinners are also part of the programme, where you can dine with your favourite crime writers. I hope that the former school does nice meals. They say the dinners go on until late. Luckily it’s downhill on the way home (unless, of course, it isn’t – depends on where you intend to sleep), so that’s all right.

Get on that website now and book your tickets. There are even reduced prices if you buy lots (except I’m not sure they have been reading those maths books I’ve mentioned) of tickets.

See you there!

K O Dahl, Thomas Enger & Yrsa Sigurðardóttir: Crime in a Cold Climate

It rained. That’s probably not what they had in mind when they named Monday evening’s Nordic crime event for the Manchester Literature Festival. Its other title was Scandinavian Crime Fiction. They do wobble rather between the words Nordic and Scandinavian, and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir isn’t Scandinavian, but she doesn’t mind. She’s quite pleased to be allowed to belong to this select group. Norwegians K O Dahl and Thomas Enger are both Nordic and Scandinavian, and they don’t like the fact that us Swedes are the biggest in Nordic crime.

It’s obvious to me. Bigger population. More crime novels. And as Yrsa very sensibly put it, 300 000 Icelanders can’t possibly fill Waterstone’s with books. Although, I feel they are doing their very best. Once, the only writer from Iceland anyone knew was Laxness.

Thomas Enger, K O Dahl and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Yrsa is dark, or so Barry Forshaw who chaired the event said. I could see she’s dark. Having checked them out on google images to make sure I knew what they looked like, she has gone brunette from all those blonde photos. Maybe he meant her writing. Apparently Yrsa has also written children’s books. Cheerful, humourous ones at that. Good for her. And in true Icelandic spirit, where no one can be allowed to do just the one job (remember, there’s only 300 000 of them), Yrsa is also a civil engineer.

Barry Forshaw started off by asking them about their misanthropy, but they didn’t seem to get that. And then he called Stieg Larsson controversial, which also surprised the three of them. They all claimed to be very non-violent in their books, and Yrsa mentioned her difficulty in working out how to kill people off. Must be tricky.

Thomas Enger

But she has one piece of advice for those who do want to kill off their characters. The answer is the standalone novel, because those characters are disposable and need not be saved for the next book. How true. She herself has a new horror book coming next year. Presumably there isn’t a single character standing at the end.

Thomas Enger wrote four books before he had anything published. The fact that they were about a woman in New York might have had something to do with it. Once he wrote about what he knew – being a journalist – it went a lot better. He explained to us why his character is scarred, in more ways than one.

K O Dahl

K O Dahl wrote his first novel at 15, and was so put out when it wasn’t published that he was never going to write again. But twenty years on, there he was, getting published, and doing so long before the Nordic crime wave. He said that at the time there was only him and Anne Holt.

They all avoid sex. Thomas’s character is too angry for sex, and K O prefers tension between his characters. As for Yrsa, Iceland is too small for sex. (You know, she is really quite amusing…) Having been informed that Italians and other south Europeans are the only ones who can write about food, Thomas makes a point of always having food in his books.

Speaking of food, Yrsa might have said she does the shopping for Arnaldur Indridason. Or perhaps not. The live near each other, but that’s just by coincidence. Early reading for K O was his father’s pulp fiction, whereas Thomas read the Hardy Boys and his sister read Nancy Drew. Quite normal, in other words. Didn’t quite catch what Yrsa said. Something about a Yellow Shadow, I believe.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Translations of books are tricky. They are only able to check the English ones, but that’s enough. Yrsa has been translated into 34 languages, and when she sees how mangled the English translation can be, she worries about what happens in the other 33.

After the Q & A, it was time for book signings, and Yrsa was kept singularly busy. I just wish she wouldn’t keep putting her reading glasses on and off like that. Made the photographer’s life difficult. The Norwegian ‘boys’ on either side of her sat like angels.