Tag Archives: Bloody Scotland

Bloody Scotland – the anthology

Bloody Scotland. What a – bloody – fantastic collection of crime stories! And what a gorgeous cover! It’s like blood dripping…

Bloody Scotland - the book

Although I have to admit to doubting the wisdom of going to bed so soon after finishing the last stories. How was I going to sleep after what Denise Mina put me through? Or Louise Welsh? She’d seemed like such a pleasant person when I got my book signed at the weekend. How could she?

Whereas Stuart MacBride, who usually is too dark for my general wellbeing, just entertained me, and almost made me laugh. Almost. I would like to see his crazy romp at Kinnaird Head Lighthouse with his insane characters made into a short film. I think. I might not be able to watch it, though. Crying out to be filmed, whether or not I am witch enough to view it.

This crime story collection with stories by twelve of Scotland’s best, was the brainchild of Historic Environment Scotland, or HES for short, in collaboration with Bloody Scotland. Why not have our professional killers write a story each, set in one or other of the many HES buildings or sites? Why not? Well, maybe in order not to scare people.

For those less feeble-minded than your witch, this is a marvellous memento of your visit to a HES site. It’s marvellous even if you never go, and after you’ve waded through some bloodbaths you might have second thoughts. So visit first, then buy, and read last. After which you either go back to look at the place again (I know your type..!), or your next visit will be to a place where Bloody Scotland has not murdered anyone.

Yet. I feel there should be more of these. Obviously not to be read at bedtime.

It’s not all blood and gore and devastation however. Chris Brookmyre is suitably fun and lighthearted, and Gordon Brown’s character has a lesson to learn. A couple of authors have gone for revenge, which was most satisfying. Or history, such as Lin Anderson’s visit to the distant past, or E S Thomson’s industrial history drama.

I’ve already mentioned how pleased Doug Johnstone was about my reaction to his tale about the Forth Bridge. And if I don’t mention Val McDermid, Sara Sheridan, Craig Robertson or Ann Cleeves next to their stories, it’s to avoid spoilers.

You don’t want to know when to beware the narrator/main character, or when they are as innocent as you want/expect them to be. Or people close to them. There’s a lot of bad people out there.

But as I said, once the sleep problems have been dealt with, I can’t but want more of this. I can think of authors not yet asked to kill for HES, or places to visit that have not yet been, well, ‘visited.’

Let the blood flow and your nerves take a beating. Won’t be the only thing to take a beating, I can promise you.

Bloody Scotland blog tour

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Getting rid of the bodies – Bloody Scotland

Yes, I am aware I made this year’s Bloody Scotland the beginners’ festival, but James Oswald is my new crime writer. When he turned up four years ago to take the place of Eoin Colfer, I was disappointed, but only for about three minutes. And anyone who can, if not exactly replace our favourite Irishman, be just as good but in a different way is, well, good. Yes, I know I just said that. Besides James was given the extra handicap of having to read after Colin Bateman.

And he survived! After a few years of coming back to Stirling, and being part of panels of three or four, here he was, practically on his own, and in a full Albert Halls at that. Yes, I know he appeared with Sue Black, the famous forensic anthropologist dame, but I usually think of her as being paired with Val McDermid, so this was definitely a step up, or two [for James]. And Lin Anderson was there to keep order as they talked corpses and what to do with them.

Lin actually insinuated that we in the audience were somewhat suspect, as though we all had dead bodies we needed advice on disposing of.

James Oswald books

They spoke mostly about James’s latest Tony McLean novel, Written in Bones, and where he put his corpse and what could be done with it after. That’s up a tree in the Meadows (just outside Lin’s flat, I gather), and the trick is how you remove a body without it deteriorating or ending up all over people and roads and that kind of thing.

Sue told us about different injuries to bodies, ante mortem, peri mortem, and post mortem. James apparently got the idea for using a cherry picker from a friend, but when asked if she’d like to go up in one to look at a dead body, Sue replied ‘God no!’

James admitted that Tony McLean is a bit him. He has given Tony most of his own hang-ups. And he does actually own three Alfa Romeos, albeit only one that works and lives in the garage. The other two are in the cowshed. Despite making Tony’s grandmother such an integral part of the books, James never knew either of his; only his maternal grandfather.

James Oswald

Sue said that her grandmother was her best friend, and talked about how tough it was for her teenage self to discover that her grandmother’s sixty-a-day habit was about to kill her. ‘Oh, she was a wicked woman!’ Sue said about her best friend. It seems her grandmother consoled her by explaining that she’d never leave her; that she would be sitting on her left shoulder, where ‘that bloody woman’ has witnessed all that Sue has done. If you’re wondering, the right shoulder’s for the angel.

Sue Black

Sue didn’t enjoy counting dead fruit flies at university, so switched courses at some point. She also had a gruesome tale about a barbecue where you first had to choose your meat, while it was still a living animal… It could be that Sue really doesn’t know what to do when she grows up, but meanwhile she is Professor at the University of Dundee, where she raised half of the two million pounds needed for a new, bigger and better mortuary.

That’s where Val McDermid came in, bringing her crime writing friends in to raise money, for what is now the McDermid Mortuary, after its largest donor. The various tanks in the mortuary were named after other authors, but Lee Child said they couldn’t have a Child tank, so it’s now named after Jack Reacher. Somewhere in the tale of raising money, there is a cookbook, which Sue said was perhaps not the best thing for when you’re involved in disposing of bodies. And beware Sue’s husband’s margaritas. Have one, or possibly two, but after the third you’ll ‘never walk again.’

Talking about the bodies donated for research, they have an annual memorial service for these people, because it’s important to remember who they were . On the other hand, Sue doesn’t approve of ‘body farms’ and after hearing what they do, neither do I. And because we are all experts now, after watching CSI, people like Sue can never hope to compete in court, so juries are less impressed.

James said that on one occasion he made Tony travel outside Edinburgh, to victims discovered near James’s own farm, and when Tony needs to clear his head by going for a walk, he is chased by James’s highland cows. As for himself, he’s so shy he has never asked the police about procedure, afraid he’d be arrested if he did. For him the touchstone is whether what he’s writing is plausible, and he will rewrite if worried. His first bit of fan mail came from a retired policeman who was so impressed he wanted to know who his source was, because he could almost guess.

James Oswald

On the subject of fan input, the most James has had is about Mrs McCutcheon’s cat. ‘Is it all right?’ ‘Don’t hurt it!’ Someone wanted a book about the cat, and James reckons he might manage a short story about Mrs McCutcheon’s cat.

There wasn’t much time for questions, but a member of the audience said they’d done a tour of the mortuary, and it was wonderful. Sue said ‘there is no fear in death,’ but James pointed out he’s really sqeamish and has never actually been to a mortuary…

Pitch Perfect at Bloody Scotland

Had they even written those books they worked so hard to pitch?

I ask only because last year’s winner of Pitch Perfect apparently hadn’t. She pitched. She won. She got contract. And then she wrote. Or I hope she did, as the book is coming out in the spring.

I don’t know why I’ve never gone to one of these sessions before. Well, I do. They sounded too intimate, for some reason. A moment between hopeful writer and stern publishing person. Could be embarrassing to witness.

Pitch perfect

Except it wasn’t. Eight – slightly vetted – hopefuls using their three minutes as wisely as possible, trying to charm the four professionals, who in turn had three minutes per applicant to give their verdict.

The first pitch was really good, I thought. I liked the person, I liked his performance and I thought the book sounded promising. But maybe they’d all be like that.

Well, some were, in some respects, and others weren’t. Most were interesting in some way. But what fascinated me was that while what I liked best, the professionals also liked. I think. But they seemed to like what I didn’t go for, even more. Very illuminating. As far as the publishing world goes, I mean.

And the thing is, a personable potential author does not guarantee a good book, or sales. A good pitch still does not mean it’s going to be a cracking novel. And so on. Those publishing people could be wrong. Maybe?

Or rather, they know very well what is likely to work. But it doesn’t mean they pick the best story to work with. The choose what will fit in best with their business. And it’s from this readers get to pick what they might enjoy. I noticed how one of the panel was impressed by an idea that I at my age felt was anything but original, because I’ve been around for longer.

Pitch perfect

They liked the person who could say who her expected readers might be. Except she had young people in mind, and that makes it YA (the horror of it!), and young people don’t spend money. Probably right. What they overlooked – perhaps – was that authors are often mistaken about who will love what they have written. It’s a judgement better done by someone else.

The panel obviously wanted to tick boxes. It’s how business works. And the digital publisher understandably had different needs from traditional publishing.

That’s why they eventually picked two winners; one for a possible digital future, and one traditional. The latter was the one I liked best, the first one. Look out for crimes in 1930s Singapore!

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.

Alex Gray’s New Crimes – Bloody Scotland

My resolve was to try new authors. At least new to me. And then Alex Gray turned out to have a whole event featuring new crime writers, which was perfect. She herself was obviously not new. The others were. Sort of.

While I didn’t recognise the very smiley Felicia Yap, as soon as she mentioned that she had been introduced to her husband by Anton Du Beke, I knew I had read about her in the Guardian recently. She is one of these people you want to dislike, because they are both attractive and talented and can do/have done so much.

Rob Ewing, Ian Skewis, Mark Hill, Felicia Yap and Alex Gray

This must be what led Mark Hill to claim that he had also been a catwalk model, although I feel that ‘only being a journalist’ is no bad thing. Ian Skewis, on the other hand, was a ‘pissed off’ former actor, and Rob Ewing a Falkirk GP. Ordinary, but not really ordinary. All four have got a debut crime novel out, something that made Alex point out that anyone can become a crime writer.

Rob’s book – The Last of Us – is set on Barra, except he doesn’t say it’s Barra, but it is. The bit he read to us was partly about posting coconuts through a letterbox, and surprised cows. I think it was, anyway. Ian read on the Kindle from his A Murder of Crows, which he began writing in 1989, and as he mentioned finding a dead body (in real life) ten years earlier, I’m having trouble working out his age. He looks younger than that.

Mark Hill and Felicia Yap with Alex Gray

Mark Hill’s novel Two O’Clock Boy was always going to be a crime novel. No doubt about that. Finding out it was going to be published made him the happiest ever. Unless that was having a child. And Felicia read from Yesterday, about the difficulty of solving a crime when you can only remember the last 48 hours. She might have claimed she wrote it on the dance floor.

(I’m wondering if books featuring amnesia are ‘in’?)

I found it interesting that all four had strong opinions on how to write, despite not having lots of books under their belts. Maybe they have lots of unpublished ones? Mark plots on a blackboard with coloured pens. Felicia writes anywhere as she travels a lot, and her writing in Germany differs from that in Italy.

Rob does only a little plotting and planning, while Ian said that writing over so many years has had an impact on the book. That, and being OCD, and having your characters talk to you. He crowdfunded his novel, which has caused him to have 900 friends on Facebook, after having virtually none.

Rob Ewing and Ian Skewis

How do you know when your book is finished? Felicia reckons when you are tired of it. She did 14 edits on Yesterday. Rob wrote fast, and Mark a bit less so, and as we’ve mentioned, Ian took a very long time. There’s the issue of having a day job, too.

Titles are difficult. All went through several, and had help from editors and agents.

Asked whether they could see themselves writing a series about the same character for 30 years, like Ian Rankin or Val McDermid, Mark reckoned he wants to have a go, and is already on the second book [about the same character]. Felicia is writing a prequel, and here I got rather lost in the days of the week. Might be called Today, or perhaps Tomorrow?

Caro Ramsay was in the audience, and she wants Ian Skewis to read audiobooks, because his own reading was so fantastic.

Finally, Mark had a question for Rob, the GP. He wanted to know how he would go about starting a pandemic. And Rob has clearly given this some thought, as he had his reply ready and waiting, finishing with ‘that will do the job.’

Well, that’s good, I suppose…

Off the beaten track – Bloody Scotland

The Saturday lunchtime event Off the beaten track, was – I think – a discussion about picking far-flung settings for your crime [novel].

Catriona McPherson, CF Peterson and Michael Ridpath were talking to Russel McLean, who was having a little bit of trouble speaking the lines he claimed to have written down. He introduced the three authors, and asked them to tell us what made them pick their settings.

‘Californian’ Catriona joked that she’d obviously been inspired by Wisconsin. She’d found a former army firing range, and somewhere she felt would be a great place for someone to have a breakdown… She read from her new Weight of Angels, which she said felt longer than when she planned the reading. It was about Mary Queen of Scots, who had her head chopped off, although she didn’t actually sing it, and the audience didn’t either.

CF (whose name might be Callum), felt he needed to set his story some other place than where he lives, but it’s still close. He read a piece from Errant Blood, about finding a dead body.

Michael had wanted to set his book in Vermont, but his agent told him that wasn’t a good idea, so it had to be Scotland instead. He picked the isolated cottage where he had spent a holiday as a boy, and read an excerpt from Amnesia, about an old man who can’t remember anything. Or so he thinks.

Michael Ridpath, C F Peterson and Catriona McPherson, with Russel McLean

Talking about how you see Scotland when you are somewhere else, Catriona feels that it looks different, and that distance makes her braver and she’s not worried about letting her characters live in someone else’s house. But after years in America, she occasionally needs to ask her friends stuff like whether you call trackie bums sweatpants…

Callum, who has a past in South Africa, already knows it’s too late to set a book there, without going back for more research. Asked about characters, he did pick a main character first, but sees the weather as another character which determines what happens.

Michael spoke about doing research in Greenland, and also Iceland. It’s important to collect impressions. But Capri is more fun than the distant corners of Scotland. He used no locals for his remote cottage, because people coming and going make things more neutral and also isolated.

Russel wanted to know if they have ever killed anyone. Not sure what he meant, as they clearly kill in their books, but ought to be sensible enough not to own up to any real life killings. Catriona replied that she has ‘happy and well adjusted down pat.’ I’d say so. She must have mesmerised the whole audience with her red, shiny earrings, which matched her red cardigan so beautifully.

An old manuscript by Michael’s father which he found after his death, contained things he’d later put in his novel. You just never know what you will find, and Catriona mentioned a friend’s grandfather discovered in a photo next to Hitler.

A member of the audience asked if they feel Scotland is overcrowded yet, from a crime-writing perspective. Michael said it’s no Midsomer, and that Sutherland is empty and offers endless opportunities. We’ll take that as a no then. As for whether Scotland has nice cosy crime like England, Catriona pointed out that Agatha Christie was far darker than people generally think.

Michael Ridpath, C F Peterson and Catriona McPherson

Somehow the talk moved on to ‘depleted uranium’ which made Catriona mention that she doesn’t want to ‘know things’ again, and she’s too lazy to do research. This didn’t seem to have stopped her from sheltering from the rain in a bread oven at some ancient house, where she was busy taking notes and needed to protect her ink from getting wet.

At this point poor Russel almost choked and had to be revived with some water before we were sent on our way with the happy thought that at least no one had asked anything about bubblebath dispensers. Apparently Iain Banks had once been asked if he or any of his characters had ever been made into such things…

This will now prey on my mind and it will be hard not to ask about.

Bloody Scotland – Saturday

Bloody Scotland on Saturday morning began with me picking up my press pass at the Golden Lion hotel, where you could almost not move for bumping into crime writers. Chris Brookmyre was being interviewed – I think – in the foyer. It was dark. And Ann Landmann was there to manage the venue. It had something to do with someone having to go to a wedding. We agreed that people should be very careful when they get married.

C L Taylor and Sarah Pinborough

Ran past Gordon Brown and Graeme Macrae Burnet, and ‘someone else’ on my way upstairs where I bumped into James Oswald, who very kindly offered his cows to be photographed in case Daughter felt inclined. His are real coos, unlike the fake she found last week. Alanna Knight was hovering, and two of the three Queens of Lit-Grip – Sarah Pinborough and C L Taylor – were signing after their early event. (I’d considered going to that, but decided they scared me too much.)

After checking out the bookshop I went and sat while waiting for my first event, being waved at by Craig Robertson, and eventually moving away to avoid overhearing a conversation that was going into far too much detail regarding an operation. I know this was Bloody Scotland, but there are limits!

Once in the Golden Lion Ballroom – which is a good room for events (except for loud conversations in the bookshop from behind the curtain) – I was reminded of the free books on the chairs from bookdonors, who sponsor Bloody Scotland. I did what many in the audience did; looked to see if a neighbouring chair had a better book to offer. And I couldn’t help getting some satisfaction from seeing Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer on the floor, under one of the chairs. Their books. Not the actual men. Although that would have been funny too.

Michael Ridpath, C F Peterson and Catriona McPherson

After Off the Beaten Track, I did what I usually do, which is take blurry photos of the signing authors. I saw Thomas Enger, but felt it would be unfair to make myself known to him yet again, so soon after Edinburgh.

Walked up the hill a bit, and then down towards the Albert Halls for my afternoon event, meeting hordes of people presumably coming away from an event there. One of them seemed to be Neil Oliver, and I most definitely refrained from saying hello to him. I suspect he doesn’t want to meet any more Swedes.

Val McDermid

Sat on a bench in the sun, eating my lunch, before popping into the Albert Halls bookshop to see who all those people had been to see. Val McDermid. Obviously. She was still signing, with a long queue to go. I bought an emergency piece of cake (that should teach me to come out with too little to eat) and squeezed out past the long queue waiting for the next event, with Peter May. Mine was in the new Bloody Scotland venue, the Albert Park South Church, across the road.

Albert Park South

It was a far better place than I had been expecting, with plenty of space, toilets and a small bookshop table. And tea! I needed tea to go with the emergency cake. I was there to see Alex Gray introduce some newbies to crime writing, and very appropriately, all the chairs had the same book to offer; a proof of another debut author.* Which just goes to show that Bloody Scotland think about what they do.

Rob Ewing, Ian Skewis, Mark Hill, Felicia Yap and Alex Gray

After the event I gathered up my tea and put it in my pocket (it works if you move carefully) and set about taking more iffy photographs. Looked longingly at the book table but sensibly left all the books where they were, and walked home in the sunshine. It was almost too warm. That’s Scotland for you!

*Bloody January by Alan Parks. And yes, the title sounds like the festival, and the author like the church…