Tag Archives: Bloody Scotland

Bookwitch bites #146

Bookwitch hasn’t ‘bitten’ for a long time. But better late than never.

Danny Weston has a new book out, which he launched in Edinburgh on Friday. He had to do it without me, but I gather it went well enough despite this. It’s called Inchtinn, Island of Shadows. Danny had even baked Inchtinn cakes. I bet he ate most of them himself, or possibly his friend Philip Caveney helped with the eating. (I won’t post that picture here. It is too dreadful.)

Danny Weston, Inchtinn

If it’s dreadful you’re after, you only need to look at this photo from when the witch met Vaseem Khan at Bloody Scotland last month. Vaseem looks just fine, but, well, that creature on the left… Sorry.

Vaseem Khan Twitter

That was the event when we discussed humour and how important it is, while not being taken seriously (!) by enough publishers. This is what Sarah Govett has found as well. After her dystopian trilogy a few years ago, she has tackled teen humour, much in the vein of Louise Rennison. If she’s to be believed – and I see no reason why not – teens are crying out for more funny books. India Smythe Stands Up is the book for you, fresh from Sarah’s keyboard.

Sarah Govett, India Smythe Stands Up

It’s important to keep track of children’s books. Even the Resident IT Consultant seems to feel this. I was a little surprised to find his companion in the holiday reading sofa, but who am I to say anything?

Daniel Hahn, Children's Literature

And, I knew this news was coming, but it’s still good to have it confirmed. There is another book from Meg Rosoff. It’s old YA, or some such thing. And not very long, apparently. We will have to wait until next summer, but the witch who waits for something good… (The Great Godden, since you ask.)

Meg Rosoff book news

At least it rained on the last day

Stirling

You can have too much sunshine. Or can you? Well, this time of year in Scotland it is usually quite welcome. Makes you feel summer isn’t quite over, and you can forget that it will be Christmas in three months.

Actually, I don’t know where that thought came from. I don’t want to think about it.

But it was nice while it lasted, even if it did rain when people woke up on Sunday, for the finishing touches of Bloody Scotland. The sun somehow makes it easier to chat to people, to hang about, to enjoy yourself.

I could easily have stayed on outside the Golden Lion on Saturday night, as I waited for my chauffeur to pick me up. It was balmy and pleasant, and none of that September chill after the sun has set. I almost did have to stay, as the hotel walls – or whatever caused the block – wouldn’t let my call through to the Resident IT Consultant to come and get me. I had to go outside before those telephone lines started connecting up.

Lucky for me, because when I went back inside to wait I discovered James Oswald and went over to bother him for a few minutes. He was very polite about it.

Alexander McCall Smith

Earlier in the day I had encountered Alexander McCall Smith at the Albert Halls. It was his first time at Bloody Scotland, but he chatted to his fans as though they are always doing this.

And all those people sitting out in the sun, eating sandwiches, fighting the wasps (I made that up), and generally having a good time…

Albert Halls

You’ll have to wait until the 18th September 2020 to do this again. See you!

A twist on the cosy

And I’m afraid we all laughed at the memory of Catriona McPherson’s grandmother’s funeral. (But I’d say we were meant to.)

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Last night at the Golden Lion was one of the very best Bloody Scotland events I’ve known, and I’ve been to some good ones. As Vaseem Khan said, it was quality over quantity, referring to the fact that he and Catriona and Lynne Truss were competing with Ian Rankin and Nicola Sturgeon down the road. But really, who’d choose those two over these three, so ably chaired by Laura Wilson, who’s just as fun and capable as I remembered from CrimeFest eleven years ago?

Right, so it was a discussion on cosy crime with three authors and a select audience, which contained, among others, Catriona’s parents. I liked her parents and wouldn’t mind borrowing them.

But was it really cosy crime we were dealing with? No, it was more whether you can kill kittens, and about writing with humour. Which, as far as I’m concerned is the best. Well, perhaps not the kitten-killing.

Apparently all cats are psychopaths.

It was actually a fairly animal-centred discussion, ably led by Baby Ganesh, Vaseem’s little elephant. While it was his detective Chopra’s wife’s involvement with where to deposit your poo that got us onto this, it was Catriona’s question whether he never worried whether Ganesh might, well, deposit, something somewhere unsuitable as well, which took us straight to Blue Peter’s elephant poo memory. This made us laugh a lot.

(Here I have to insert an apology to Lynne. I am not at all sure I get my thats and whiches and anything else right. But that’s the way I am. I loved Eats Shoots and Leaves. I just didn’t learn anything.)

And let’s get the panda out of the way right now. Not allowed to say what Vaseem thinks about pandas. But he likes vultures. He gets mail from fans, warning him not to let anything bad happen to Ganesh. There is no great plan for his little elephant, since when he wrote the first book he didn’t expect to get published, or that there would be more books. Ganesh will obviously outlive Chopra.

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This makes dogs more suitable to your plots; they won’t live as long. But this thing with age is difficult. Apparently Catriona and her Dandy were the same age in 2002 when they started out, but now Dandy is four years younger than her.

Catriona wanted to write her period crime as though it was written back then, and the greatest praise she’s had was the comment that it was just like a novel you might encounter in a wet Norfolk cottage (and not in a good way). Or, Dan Brown meets Barbara Pym. Her problem is that the action happens in the shadow of WWI, while the reader knows what is to come.

Lynne’s novels are set in Brighton in 1957. She wanted to go back to a time when her parents were young, and while it’s easy enough to know what was in the cinema at the time, it’s harder to get people to act the way they did. Do you let them swear, or not? The criminals can’t be seen to swear, even if they would have.

And you certainly didn’t swear in the wet Norfolk cottage.

Murder on the other hand is fine. Even of kittens.

What all three authors were annoyed by is that cosy crime is seen as a ‘guilty pleasure’ and as not proper books, and you can’t be funny. This snobbery is so unfounded.

Police in Brighton were notoriously corrupt, and Lynne wanted to write about the ‘relentless idiocy’ of her stupid policemen. She quite enjoys the sexism from the 1950s, meaning the police can’t even imagine that a working class woman could be the villain. But Lynne doesn’t set out to scare people.

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This panel almost fought to chat to each other, and to ask questions, and it was all interesting and fun, and if I ever get one of those ‘who would you invite to dinner?’ opportunities, Catriona, Lynne and Vaseem will be the ones, along with Laura. And hopefully Catriona’s parents. Maybe their friends whom I eavesdropped on outside on the pavement afterwards.

Before that afterwards, there was the signing. I already had books by Vaseem and Catriona, but hurriedly bought Lynne’s book as well. It was that kind of event. Vaseem insisted on taking a selfie with me, even after looking dubiously at my [conventional] camera, realising that no selfies would be coming from that. He had a mobile to hand, and now I’m afraid the internet will explode once that goes on Twitter.

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Catriona remembered the Witch, even after so many months, after just the one review. I might have said I now need extra time in my life to be able to read all her books, but all she could offer was more books… Like the fourth in her trilogy. And she couldn’t speak to me until she’d written down the ‘just arrived’ idea for her new book title on the back of the Bloody Scotland programme.

And Lynne, well, her book on the pitfalls on grammar and punctuation has put her forever in my, erm, good books. It’s like talking to royalty. Her next book will be the impressively titled Murder by Milk Bottle.

Talking about the future, Vaseem clearly has too much time on his hands, as Chopra and Ganesh will be joined by a new series, about a female Indian detective in the 1950s.

I really will need that extra time.

Women in Gangland

That’s Manchester’s finest, plus a contribution from Lanarkshire. Marnie Riches and Mandasue Heller come from Manchester’s troubled north and troubled south respectively, and I have realised I was right to be scared of Marnie when I first met her. Anna Smith – with no exotic name – came more from poverty than the violence the other two were used to.

Mandasue Heller, Brutal

Gently guided through the finer details of gangs by Jacky Collins – no not that Jacky Collins – we spent an hour learning about the seedier side of life. Mandasue came to writing after a life as a singer, after having been attacked in her flat, along with her ten-week-old baby, and feeling fed up with the bad treatment she got from the police afterwards.

Marnie was so bored at work that she decided to write some children’s books, before realising that her language is ‘too foulmouthed and dirty’ for children, and she reckoned that what dead Stieg Larsson could do, alive Marnie Riches could do as well. And she has, with her George McKenzie books followed by her Manchester ones and now more crime on her home ground in and near Hale – ‘where the orange people roam’ – with Tightrope.

It was Anna’s publisher who suggested she try gangland crime, and having read one Martina Cole novel, she decided to have a go. Her character can be described as a ‘much more exciting me.’

An expert on Nordic Noir, Jacky found the books by these three women an eye-opener. They were really dirty and draining; ‘so raw.’

Marnie Riches and Mandasue Heller

Referring to Mandasue as the gangland queen, Marnie described her own childhood and how she ended up as the angry teenager from the council estate when she made it to the posh school, and from there to Cambridge. I learned more about her mother, too, and she sounds like quite a woman.

Mandasue started life in Warrington, before moving to Manchester at twenty, and she loves it! Anna knows about the poverty in Glasgow through her work.

Tightrope and Fightback

The way to write about bad characters who do really awful things, is to use humour. In fact, many of the bad people they have met are quite amusing. Sometimes the women are worse than the men. Marnie mentioned two girls everyone was scared of where she used to live.

The first question from the audience was how they felt about women being murdered [in books] and the short answer seems to be that since this really happens, it’s very real. Marnie has also murdered many men (fictionally) and while Anna likes men, she makes bad things happen to them.

Another question was if it’s possible to write about bad men with no redeeming features, and make it work. Admitting to being someone who used to have a massive crush on Darth Vader, Marnie said she writes about serial killers, and that she feels the continuity with their back story is important. She’s afraid someone will ‘recognise’ themselves in her books, and then she told the story of her builders, their criminal past and what you might do with a wood chipper.

Mandasue never writes about real people, but they do come up to her and ask if that was them. One criminal came to an event and said he liked her book, and how realistic it was. As did the undercover cops who used to work where she lived. She said her move away from the city in her latest book, Brutal, was not intentional; she just wrote what was in her thoughts.

She’s been a bit of a serial starter of books, and she described how her changing one line in the prologue, meant that the whole [of her next] book changed. Urged on by her agent, Marnie said she was supposed to mention that the Kindle version of Tightrope is available for 99p. And the next book is Backlash, out in January.

Marnie Riches and Mandasue Heller

Unlike last year when Jacky overran, it seems to have helped that she had no watch today, and we started and ended just when we were meant to. This was definitely worth missing the sunshine for.

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

The #26 profile – Ambrose Parry

It was the witchyness again. In the past few months I’ve come closer to Ambrose Parry than most of the other big Scottish crime writers I am capable of recognising in the wild. By that I don’t mean I’ve been stalking him [them] but just that we’ve ended up in the same doorways several times. So that will be why Ambrose [was] volunteered to answer my silly questions to mark the 2019 McIlvanney prize at this year’s Bloody Scotland, where his The Way of All Flesh is one of the shortlisted hopefuls.

Though it appears it really was Chris Brookmyre, despite me suggesting some split personal history between the two halves of Ambrose Parry. I suppose it would have ended up with arguments over who read Enid Blyton and who didn’t…

So, here he [they] is [are]:

Ambrose Parry (c) Alan Trotter (1)

How many books did you write before the one that was your first published book?

Four. I made the mistake of trying to write what I thought publishers wanted. When I wrote for my own amusement, I got a deal.

Best place for inspiration?

Outdoors. Doesn’t matter where, as along as I’m walking.

Would you ever consider writing under a pseudonym? Perhaps you already do?

I write with my wife Marisa Haetzman under the pseudonym Ambrose Parry.

What would you never write about?

Nothing. I have learned that the things you forswear can end up central to a subsequent book.

Through your writing: the most unexpected person you’ve met, or the most unexpected place you’ve ended up in?

Playing Glastonbury as part of the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers. I can’t think of any other confluence of events that could have seen me playing guitar on-stage at one of the world’s biggest music festivals.

Which of your characters would you most like to be?

None of them. Even the cool ones are beset by horrible things that I would not wish for myself.

Do you think that having a film made of one of your books would be a good or a bad thing?

Unequivocally a good thing. Having your work reinterpreted by someone else in a different medium is both flattering and exciting. Even if they arse it up.

What is the strangest question you’ve been asked at an event?

‘Can I bring up this book [on-stage] to be signed so that I don’t have to wait?’

Do you have any unexpected skills?

I used to be pretty good at Quake 2 and Quake 3 twenty years ago. These abilities were of limited assistance in my day job.

The Famous Five or Narnia?

I grew up on Douglas Adams and Tolkien. Blyton and Lewis were too twee for my taste.

Who is your most favourite Swede?

Mikael Åkerfeldt of Opeth. He brings dry humour to progressive death metal.

How do you arrange your books at home? In a Billy? By colour, or alphabetically?

I don’t even want to think about this. There is no sense, no reason, no arrangement. Just chaos. It haunts me.

Which book would you put in the hands of an unwilling eight-year-old boy reader?

You’re A Bad Man, Mr Gum by Andy Stanton. If he isn’t laughing out loud after about three pages, he’s unsavable.

If you have to choose between reading or writing, which would it be?

Writing. It’s a need that does not sleep.

Hmm, well… More Swedes I’ve never heard of. Quake 2 and Quake 3?? I’m pleased the young Ambrose/Chris was good at it. And my victims must be getting younger. It’s not natural to have been brought up on Douglas Adams, but it does explain rather a lot.

And really, playing Glastonbury is cooler than meeting Obama. I don’t reckon anyone will be able to top this on here. Ever.

Bloody Scotland Blog Tour 2019

Val McDermid – no singing in September

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

Crime authors on wee train, by Paul Reich Photography

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

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

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

Val McDermid by Lizzy Siddal

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

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

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

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

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