Tag Archives: Bloody Scotland

Not CrimeFesting at all

I had to agree with the facebook friend who pointed out yesterday that she wasn’t at all jealous of those of her ‘criminal’ friends who are currently in Bristol, enjoying the 10th CrimeFest. She obviously didn’t mean it. We’d both like to be there. Maybe not kill to be there, but severe jealousy is a painful thing.

One of my American colleagues is there, again, and has been ever since he first sat on ‘my’ chair the year after I went. Which is now nine years ago, and I’d not have believed it could – would – be that long. (That’s [not] me on the left. As you can see.)

Dinner Friday Night

And the funny thing is, the less time I have to read adult crime novels, the more I feel like a fraud for even wanting to be there. ‘I won’t know anyone,’ I tell myself. But looked at realistically, I must know many more people than I did in 2008. I suppose I just threw myself right into things then, with my youthful energy, and now I sit here in my dotage, doubting my criminal credentials.

It’s so long ago that I even used the word Ceefax in a blog post the same month! I know because I went back and looked, to remind myself of Bristol. I have promised myself countless times to really try to go back ‘next year.’ I suppose the best thing would be if I could book right now, long before I know what I will or won’t be doing in May 2018.

In 2008 I made the rash decision to go, when discovering that my Irish colleague Declan Burke was going. Just like that. Have I become responsible? No, actually, I haven’t. I just caught a glimpse of the dates for Bouchercon, and almost saw myself in Toronto in October.

This will not do! Bloody Scotland is a short walk away. Much more convenient.

And then it was the end

I began Saturday with an alarm clock related issue. No, not what you’re thinking. One that immobilised me to such an extent that I had to miss my first Bloody Scotland events, only limping in towards the end of the day to collect my press pass.

The press pass

And to hear Erwin James talk to Martina Cole; an event I’d looked forward to considerably.

As I was waiting to get in, I spied one of my favourite publicists, Kerry, and very nearly jumped up (well, not jump, but you know what I mean) to say hello. She was with the equally lovely Peter Robinson. But I decided I needed the armchair I’d found to sit in, and it would undoubtedly be ‘taken from’ me if I got up. So I didn’t.

Instead I was chatted up by the very pleasant woman sitting across from me, so the time wasn’t wasted in any sense. We discussed dyslexia, and she’d been to the event in Edinburgh last month that I never made it to. She had many nice things to say about Barrington Stokes’ Mairi Kidd.

She told me she reads a fair number of YA books and is tired of having to justify this to people. I know the feeling. She asked if I know Nicola Morgan, and I had to admit I do. She likes her. I suggested reading Sally Gardner. And then she asked what I read for pleasure, so I had to point out this is pleasure.

And that my fairy blogmother Meg Rosoff is also my favourite author. She didn’t even ask ‘who?’ but knew, and turned out to be a big fan of How I Live Now, having given countless copies of the book to people to read. I know the feeling.

At that point it was time to go in for Erwin James, so I said goodbye.

Within minutes it was more goodbye than that, as I was bluntly informed that the press pass that would give access to anything, was no good for sold out events such as this. (I had wondered, but on asking, was reassured that it would get me anywhere.) Probably didn’t help that they changed the venue around, meaning this was in the smaller room, making sold out happen much sooner.

So, well, I limped home again.

At least the weather was nice.

And today I have the day off, as no way am I limping anywhere else on the off-chance that Sunday’s events have seats left.

Bloody Scotland 2016 – The beginning

Val McDermid and Provost Mike Robbins

We don’t kill using tropical fish, or even curare, in Scotland. Murder wants to be less outlandish. More the way William McIlvanney killed. More Scottish. That’s why Bloody Scotland renamed their crime award after the late, much admired and loved, crime writer.

His brother Hugh was at the opening celebrations at the Golden Lion last night, along with our host Provost Mike Robbins and most of the authors who are in Stirling for another bloody weekend.

Robert Burns had been there too, but not all that recently, I understand.

Chris Brookmyre with Hugh McIlvanney and Magnus Linklater

There were various speeches before Chris Brookmyre was announced winner of this year’s prize. This nice man – who is always shorter than I expect him to be – was photographed, and then came and lay his prize at my feet as he was interviewed on camera right in front of me.

Chris Brookmyre

The longlisted authors were corralled into a line in front of the stage, and it almost worked. There’s always one not quite in the right place. The shortlisted ones were clutching their prizes, the complete works of William McIlvanney.

James Oswald, Lin Anderson, E S Thomson, Chris Brookmyre, Doug Johnstone, Val McDermid, Stuart MacBride

McIlvanney Longlisted authors

I avoided the haggis canapés, looking to see where the promised veggie ones might be, but gave up. (I had a sandwich in my bag.) Picked up my free ticket to go and see Stuart MacBride and Caro Ramsay at the Albert Halls, and discovered that it is indeed only five minutes there, even for me. I thought they’d lied.

The free books

There was a free book on every seat, donated by Bloody Scotland sponsors BookDonors. I was about to scout around for the most interesting one, when I realised ‘my’ seat came with a Paul Temple, and you can’t improve on that. Had to sit next to a Jeffrey Archer however.

Stuart and Caro arrived on stage promising a shambles, which I have to say they managed to deliver. Caro brought a book, in case she got bored. I did too. She brandished a traffic sign to be used in case of spoilers, mentioned something about someone not drinking. And there were rats.

I only took one, very poor, picture, because I discovered my stupid mobile has a flash. And that’s not good.

They argued about their first meeting, which might have been about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Or not. If it was in Harrogate, then it wasn’t Caro. There was some running back and forth, dog style, possibly for a reason. Worst reviews brought out some interesting ones, and they discussed whether they post reviews of their own books on Amazon.

From Googling herself, Caro knows she speaks Swedish, which caused some problems when required to actually speak it. Stuart offered a Swedish Chef impersonation. He’s a man who never plans, and he certainly won’t tell anyone the best place in Aberdeen to hide a body.

In Glasgow they kill with sarcasm, not guns. And I didn’t quite catch the issues with horse meat and butchers. There was a soaking cat, somewhere, unless it was stroaking a cat.

Might have been.

Yeah, so that was the first bloody evening.

Francis Durbridge, Send for Paul Temple Again!

Bloody 2016 Scotland Programme

Bloody Scotland programme makers have this terrible habit of putting really interesting events on early in the morning. I mean, I will obviously have to get out of bed for Josephine Tey on the morning of September 10th, but how to last until the end of the day? Regrettably they won’t have the real Josephine Tey, but Val McDermid talking about her is good enough for me.

And from there the rest of the programme goes on and on with tempting combinations of topics and crime writers. There are the really famous names, and then there are the authors I’ve barely heard of. I ought to pick a row of sessions of new-to-me writers for the simple reason that new can mean tremendously exciting discoveries.

But then we have the old favourites. What to do about them? Scotland the Grave, and MC Beaton?

This year’s Bloody Scotland was launched in Stirling on Wednesday, and down south the following day, and being away I was unable to go to either. I shall have to give up holidays.

BBC presenter Theresa Talbot has a debut crime novel to introduce, and England and Scotland have a football score to settle. By how many goals will Scotland beat the English?

Stuart Neville returns to Stirling, as does super-scary Helen Fitzgerald. I am very keen to hear Erwin James talk to Martina Cole, which sounds like a fascinating event. Author crime quiz or Nicci French? How can you possibly choose?

The Curly Coo pub on a Saturday night, followed by a competitive measuring of the relative tartan-ness of people’s noir. Orkney or Northern Lights? Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is back, and with her are Agnes Ravatn and Erik Axl Sund. James Oswald. Craig Robertson. And finishing the weekend with Ian Rankin and Quintin Jardine.

Capital Crime; Edinburgh Noir

They are busy upsetting tourist boards all over Scotland. They, being Neil Broadfoot, Doug Johnstone and James Oswald. I mean, how dare they commit murder in the lovely settings the tourist boards are meant to promote?

Yes, well, they do. But last Sunday morning the topic for discussion was putting people off Edinburgh, or rather, telling us about how they have approached murder in the Scottish capital.

James Oswald – described in a blurb as the new Ian Rankin – started writing his Tony McLean books in Wales, so had to pick the areas of Edinburgh he knew from when he was a student. Besides, Stuart MacBride already had Aberdeen, which would have been a second choice for James.

Doug Johnstone is from Arbroath and thought that Dundee is a big city, so he simply ‘got over it’ [Edinburgh’s reputation], and he tries to find areas less well represented in fiction to make them his. He has also written about Islay, and in order to avoid lots of research he makes his characters visitors, so that he doesn’t have to prove he knows a place like a native.

Neil Broadfoot’s only reason for ‘being here’ was Edinburgh. A journalist for the Scotsman he described getting the idea of killing someone by throwing them off the Scott Monument. He also enjoys killing on Skye, and generally likes taking a beautiful place and doing something terrible in it.

So the introduction by Alanna Knight was obviously quite apt; ‘Edinburgh has always been bad.’ She talked about Burke and Hare, saying what a fascinating crime history Edinburgh has.

James Oswald

James’s Tony McLean hardly ever gets sent out of Edinburgh. He needs to be there. In the early days of writing James described the rather nice area of Trinity, off Leith Walk, as a place full of drug addicts and whores. Now he checks his facts a bit better. He also finds he needs to move McLean and the murders to new areas, and not just stick to the few he knew well years ago. A while ago he thought of a friend’s house in Gilmerton, and decided he was going to murder someone there. He then discovered the caves in Gilmerton, which were absolutely perfect for killing people in.

Doug tries to be as accurate as possible, so has maps and photos on his wall. He checks distances from A to B, and which way you’d travel between them, as well as knowing house numbers, mentioning a murder which took place in Ian Rankin’s house.

Neil Broadfoot

Neil said you’d never have a Mardi Gras in Princes Street, and that tone and flavour is the most important. He also seems to have considered, very carefully, how you’d kill someone by running a tram into them.

Questioned on writing series, Neil said that one novel tends to give him the next one. Doug isn’t strong enough to be hard to his characters by having them go through the treatment he dishes out more than once.

Tony McLean gets more scarred with every book, but James blames Stuart MacBride for this. Asked if you have to read the books in order, he said you don’t need to, but that he’d prefer for people ‘to buy all the books…’ (The Benfro books must be read in order, however.)

James read the passage from Gilmerton cove and it was chilling even when you have already read the book. Doug read a suicide scene set on the Forth Road Bridge in Queensferry, which made me want to read the book, while also making me not want to read it. Neil said that as it was after twelve, he was allowed to swear, which he did when he read about murder in a newspaper editor’s office [not the Scotsman].

As to who they write for, they agreed you must write for yourself and not try and please others. James found this out when publishers made him lose the supernatural from his books, but it was rubbish. Besides, Allan Guthrie told him to keep the ghosts in.

Doug Johnstone

Doug said you have to write what you have to write. This former nuclear physicist has always written, and he was encouraged to ‘go for it’ after getting two quite nicely done rejections.

And politics is generally a no.

A pathological liar

Even though I know I will love listening to Sophie Hannah talk about her new book, it takes me by surprise how entertaining she is. Fun. Intelligent. I’ve had her A Game For All The Family sitting here for a while. First I was going to read it immediately, but you know how that tends to go. After that I was too scared to contemplate it. Because Sophie is one scary woman, too.

Sophie Hannah

She’s satisfied with the title of her novel. She got the words from numerous boxes containing board games and the like, and her novel is about a family playing games, just not Cluedo or Monopoly. It’s her first standalone novel, and she couldn’t use her normal detectives Simon and Charlie, because she needed the police to be useless. And to be in Devon.

It’s about pathological lying, which is different from ‘normal sensible lying.’ She was inspired by her daughter’s friend, who was an unusually interesting nine-year-old boy. (Sophie tends to go out of her way to avoid children.) Set in a house on the same spot as Agatha Christie’s Greenway, it was inspired by Sophie’s family holiday there.

Sophie Hannah

Sophie has to plan everything in advance, as her ‘mysteries are so weird’ and there is generally just the one possible solution. She reminisced about her own house move from Bingley to Cambridge, moving not because they needed to, but because she felt like living in Cambridge. It made her feel a bit neurotic, worrying about having randomly moved her family, possibly tempting fate in doing so.

As a child she used to write jolly, childish stories, but rarely of the fingerprints and DNA variety. She talked about the pathological liars she has known. Her husband told her ‘no one is even remotely as weird as you.’ She feels attuned to the weird side of life, and loves inviting insane guests for dinner. (You’ve been warned.)

Apart from for her Poirot novel Sophie has come up with the titles for all her books, and she likes having the title before she starts writing. She feels there is often a link between what authors like reading and the kind of books they write. Sophie grew up on Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell, who are both favourites, as well as P D James’ Innocent Blood which she would go up to strangers to recommend.

Sophie Hannah

At the moment Sophie has four and a half days off from having finished her next book, The Narrow Bed, before she starts on a secret writing task that has to be done by Christmas. I think we can guess.

When I got home, all fired up, I discussed the book with the Resident IT Consultant. I said I must read it. He – who has read it – commented on the plot, and I said ‘that sounded like a bit of a spoiler.’ He looked embarrassed before saying he’d better not say any more. Wise man. Maybe I’ll gag him.

A kind of Bernard, but one level down

One day I will know not to say to people I’ve just met that I’m pleased they are so old. I mean it in the most positive way, but realised – belatedly – that it might not sound too good.

Two weeks ago I knew nothing about Lindsey Davis, and when her publicist mentioned her to me, I visualised a twenty-something with long blonde hair. (It’s something about the name, that sounds so blonde and so young.) Hence my relief on discovering Lindsey is 66 and wears black socks. Like Jeremy Corbyn. (Her words, not mine.) She was ‘terribly sorry, but it’s just the way things are.’

Lindsey used to be a civil servant, rather like Bernard in Yes Minister. Now a bestselling author of historical Roman crime novels, Lindsey could take up sitdown comedy if she ever wants to, with no need to go civil servanting again. And at 66 she has her pension. I do hope her sense of humour will help her forget my bad manners. As I said, I meant well. (And as Lindsey said, ‘no I’m not going to stop [writing]. I don’t think female authors give up, do they? How old was P D James? 93.’)

We had tea, and coffee (which was not so frothy it gave her the moustache she craved), before her Bloody Scotland event. I’m grateful for the opportunity not only of meeting Lindsey, but being able to switch events to go to hers. It was one of the best ever, and I’d happily go again tomorrow. She had started her day by lying down on the carpet in her hotel room, until she remembered that in CSI they always point out how much ‘stuff’ will be lurking in a small square of hotel carpet. But since she was down there, she decided to make use of it.

When she was a civil servant during Thatcher’s reign, Lindsey used to do many strange things, and I especially approve of building toilets in – already – ancient monuments. And that’s with only O-level Maths, and English from Oxford. Lindsey decided to leave the civil service when she had to write draft letters on behalf of someone, and then had to write draft replies back to herself.

Lindsey Davis

To cheer herself up Lindsey wrote a novel, set in her favourite period, the English Civil War. She was runner up in a writing competition, so decided to give writing a go. In the 1980s the Civil War was the wrong period. ‘I chose the Romans because nobody else was doing it, which now seems rather funny. I like to tell myself they wouldn’t be there [in the bookshops] if I hadn’t.’ She had a leaking roof that needed money spending on it, and she’d already done some research on the period, and could ‘bluff well.’

Her Marcus Didius Falco books are in effect the Roman Archers; with her adding family details as the series grew. When writing about the Emperor Domitian, Lindsey discovered she quite likes ‘evil paranoid tyrants,’ reckoning she is one of them.

The new Albia series about Falco’s adopted daughter Flavia Albia is set when Albia has reached adulthood, so she has a certain standing in society, despite being a mere woman. Lindsey also feels that both authors and their characters need maturity and life experience, in order to avoid that young, blonde feeling.

(I kept mentioning the Roman Mysteries, and the fact that the female detective in those books is also a Flavia. Apparently you would be named for the Emperor, which explains the staggering number of Flavias. And then I mentioned the RM a bit more still… Lindsey reckons girls didn’t marry as early as we are made to believe. ‘I’m not convinced that that really happened. I think it was something that was practised in the aristocracy.’)

The most recent Albia book, Deadly Election, wasn’t planned to coincide with the elections either here or in the US. It mainly happened because of some stolen Rugby tickets for the Five Nations in Rome, which Lindsey had thought she could use for some kind of Colosseum background. And anyway, in Rome it was the Emperor who decided, with no elections necessary. (She told me she had always wanted to write about a Roman election, and how in the series this was a good moment. ‘And I found a book on it as well, so it just happened, and then I realised just how exciting it was going to be.)

Lindsey Davis

During the Q&A we discovered that the hall was full of retired civil servants. One man wanted her to come and live next door. I think that was a sensible request. We got an explanation to the background of the turbot gift, which featured an editor burning his hands on a hot tray of recently cooked fish. A very large fish, but no turbot.

Lindsey is a sneaky woman. I like her. She wanted to write a series of seven books, set on the seven hills of Rome. Two editors said no. Instead she’s writing about Albia. Each book is set on one of the hills of Rome. A new hill every book. There will be seven books.

She doesn’t plan much. (Except perhaps for the seven hills thing.) She has a vague idea of who will die and who did it, but wouldn’t want a long synopsis to ‘colour in’ when writing the book. And no need to suggest potential plots to her. ‘I don’t want people to give me ideas. I have plenty of ideas myself!’

At this point someone felt called upon to let us know that Lindsey’s ‘twin’ Jeremy Corbyn had won, so black socks are clearly ‘it.’ She grew up as much on radio drama crime as on books, liking Chandler and Hammett. Lindsey does read, but ‘when I stop work I tend to do something completely different, like gardening.’

No ‘street Latin’ for her in the books, either. ‘I hate books where they break into foreign languages.’  What she’s got is mainly 1940s style wise cracks. Lindsey finished by reading the first page from her next novel in the Albia series. This is a woman who knows what she’s doing.

Lindsey Davis

At the end of the day I discovered I was also wearing black socks. Admittedly, I’m not 66, but it’s a good witchy number. Long live old age.