Tag Archives: Book Week Scotland

They’re all women!

They all seemed to be women. Or perhaps I merely happened to choose Book Week Scotland events that featured women. I picked what interested me, and what was nearby enough to be doable, and at times convenient to me.

Four events, though, and a total of nine women speaking at them. Only the last one, about gender violence, had a subject that determined who was likely to be taking part.

The audiences were slightly different. For Mary Queen of Scots there were three men. The gender violence had one man in the audience for part of it, one man to operate Skype (!) and one man who seemed to be working in the room where we sat. Several men for both Lin Anderson and the autism discussion, while still being in a minority.

Three events were during daytime, but that doesn’t explain the lack of men, when the women were mostly well past 70.

Do they read less, or are they not interested in events? Or do they go to the ones with men talking? (I’d have been happy to see Chris Brookmyre, but he didn’t come this way, or James Oswald, but he was sold out.)

Anyway, whatever the answer to that is, over on Swedish Bookwitch we have women today. My interview with Maria Turtschaninoff is live, and it’s mostly – just about entirely, actually – about women. And it’s in Swedish. Sorry about that. (Translation will follow.)

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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.

Lin Anderson – ‘It’s difficult to murder people at home’

Dumyat

The steps up to the entrance of Forth Valley College in Alloa were murder. It wasn’t quite Follow the Dead – which is Lin Anderson’s most recent crime novel – but nearly. On a brighter note, the view was spectacular. Once you arrived. I could almost enrol for the view alone.

We’d parked in the Asda car park, and the upside of this was that we could see the car during Lin’s Book Week Scotland event, knowing that it was all right and happy.

Lin Anderson

The event seemed to attract mostly staff and students from the college, and it must have been great to have someone of Lin’s stature come and visit ‘at home.’ I’d not thought of her height until Lin pointed it out, mentioning how she and her sisters used to stand out among the short people of Glasgow, known as ‘big Willie Mitchell’s daughters.’

Lin Anderson

Lin’s dad was a detective, and he used to worry when he got to a crime scene that he’d find one of his girls there, either as the victim or the perpetrator. And it was this thought which formed the basis of Lin’s first Rhona MacLeod novel Driftnet. At the time she didn’t know there were going to be more books about Rhona, but now there are twelve.

Before writing, Lin was a teacher, and she’s keen to point out that a future author does not necessarily teach English. In her case it was Computer Science.

She realised that she needed a better knowledge of forensic science, so – along with Alex Gray – she joined an evening class in forensics. It was primarily aimed at people who through their work need to appear in court at murder trials, but it worked fine for crime writers too. Lin still refers to her course notes. (And the less said about the [real] victim with an axe in his head and his missing pet snake, the better.)

Lin Anderson

Her new book was inspired by a blizzard in the Cairngorms one New Year. It involved learning about what Mountain Rescue teams do, about answering the call of nature during a blizzard, and how to incorporate something Norwegian in her story.

We learned that these days all deaths in the mountains are a crime scene, and that Mountain Rescue take photos of victims. Up there a forensic tent can very easily just blow away. And did you know the temperature in a mortuary is 4 degrees, like a fridge, not a freezer?

Lin is happy with the trend of fans paying money to charity to feature in books. Apparently the latest thing is to be allowed to go to bed with the detective (if you fancy him/her), and she has actually kept someone from her home village on in more than one book, feeling that this way the character gets more rounded. ‘Her’ Mary Grant even does her own PR and signs the books…

And Lin strongly feels we should volunteer at Bloody Scotland. It’s great in every way. In fact, she talked a lot about her baby, Bloody Scotland. And yes, you are allowed to say Bloody. Not everyone knows this.

Finally, the hardest thing about writing a book are the words.

Ochils

We over-ran quite a bit, which proves how interesting it was. I then had to get down all those [bloody] steps again, so we could retrieve the car, but not before engaging in some shopping. After which, the Resident IT Consultant spent the drive back thinking about getting hold of more of Lin’s books.

Mary, Queen of Scots – Revered, reviled

The Resident IT Consultant and your witch had been wondering who on earth would come to a book event at a branch library on a Tuesday morning. Even if it was Alex Nye and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Well, let me tell you; countless elderly ladies, interested in Mary, in history and most likely quite keen on some culture to liven up their day, at a time when it’s easier to get out. St Ninian’s library was ready for business at 10.30, standing by with fresh coffee and enough room for wheelchairs and zimmer frames and the odd, self-balancing stick. Not to mention an ignorant Bookwitch. The man seated in front of the Resident IT Consultant turned round and said he was so glad he wasn’t the only man in the room…

Self-balancing stick

In other news, there was barely a copy of Alex’s book – For My Sins – available to buy, because it’s out of print, and will only be in he shops again tomorrow. Alex had a few copies, which she brought, but at least that’s success, even if it would have been nice to see a roaring trade in Mary.

I hadn’t even heard it all before. This can be a problem when going to more than one event for a book, but Alex varied what she said, so it was almost like it was brand new.

Alex Nye

She set the scene by describing the snow-covered Stirling castle (we’d had one just like it three days earlier), with Mary getting ready for the christening of her baby son James. Alex read a bit from that part of the book, finishing with Darnley’s sudden departure for Glasgow (which presumably had him ride right past the library, seeing as it’s virtually on the Glasgow Road).

Alex Nye

We heard how Alex began the book in her early twenties, in her ‘garret’ in Buccleuch Street in Edinburgh, and how it was eventually discovered by publisher Clare Cain and made into what we all agreed was an attractive book (even if it did sell too well), looking as though it had just escaped from a fire.

Alex Nye, For My Sins

And when it came to questions, the assembled ladies had more and better questions than I’ve heard at other events. They know their Scottish history, and they care about it.

Maybe have more daytime events like this?

Spicy autism

You’ve heard of having mild autism? It’s a ‘kind’ way of describing someone as almost not autistic but nearly normal. Well, we won’t have it, so how about a t-shirt with the slogan ‘Spicy autism’ instead? Can you take it?

Monday night’s event for Book Week Scotland at Waterstones was like coming home, where I was surrounded by like-minded people, and they were clever and amusing and weird enough that they appeared normal [to me]. It was great. And we need more of this.

Nina Mega, Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

The conversation between Rachael Lucas, who wrote The State of Grace about a teenage girl with Asperger Syndrome, and Catherine Simpson, whose adult novel Truestory features a boy with Asperger’s, was chaired by Catherine’s daughter Nina. I can’t think of a better combination of people to listen to on this subject.

It was Nina’s first experience of chairing, and her straightforward style and intelligence was just what was needed. When she was younger she caused Catherine much worry, mainly because neither the health service nor the education authorities were helpful or sympathetic. (I’ve been there. I know.) And there was one thing Catherine told us, which was uncannily close to what I’ve felt myself.

Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

Rachael had spent a lot of time pointing out her daughter was unusual, but it still took ages for a diagnosis, for both of them. As is often the case; if one family member is diagnosed, another might be next.

With such interesting lives to discuss, I had very little need to hear [the usual] details about their books. It’s their lives we really wanted to hear about. This doesn’t mean that books about aspies are not needed, because they are. People like to find themselves in books.

‘Coming out’ as an aspie when you write a book about it, was both necessary and difficult for Rachael. Her daughter’s autism was not recognised because she didn’t line up her toys, and because Rachael helped her in trying to be normal. That in itself seems to be a sign of being on the autistic spectrum.

Catherine Simpson

Catherine needed something to do when she was stuck at home because of Nina, and eventually hit on writing, and did a course at Napier, before writing her novel which among other things features the f-word (as she discovered when starting to read to us), and growing cannabis. (It sounded much funnier when she said it. I suspect you need the book.)

Rachael decided to write about a teenage girl, partly because she had one herself, but also because everything people know about autism tends to be about boys. On the other hand, Catherine wrote about a boy, so people wouldn’t assume it was about Nina, but she regrets this now. And anyway, Nina has often been described as masculine, which is another situation I recognise. You can still love My Little Pony. And Doctor Who.

Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

One side-effect after reading Grace has been that some people have got their own diagnosis, which both writers agreed was excellent, but they also pointed out quite how hard this can be to achieve. The internet is mostly for the good, and it suits autistic people well. You can pause your life briefly when online, and take a moment or two to think about how to respond to what someone has said. (Rachael aptly called this her ‘buffering.’)

And you don’t have to smile to look friendly (Rachael’s husband asked her what she was doing, and when she said she was trying to avoid looking scary by practising smiling, he asked her to please stop). Nor do you need to worry about eye-contact online.

These two women are funny. But it seems their books have too much of a happy ending. Autistic people are only ever allowed to be ‘tragic and inspirational.’ Happy is for neurotypicals. But when you’ve had your mothering skills questioned by (possibly well-meaning) staff at your child’s school, then you are surely permitted to rebel? “Have you tried the naughty step?’

Nina Mega

Looking at how Nina turned out, I’d say Catherine did as much right as any parent. And I’m sure the same goes for Rachael’s daughter [who wasn’t present]. There were lots of questions from the audience, but in case there hadn’t been, Nina was prepared with more of her own, as any good aspie would be.

Lists’r’us.

And yes, balloons are frightening things. The Bookwitch family has at least one member who always tenses up, in case a balloon will pop unexpectedly.

Doctor Dodo and other clever women

The Resident IT Consultant and I saw a few more roundabouts than we had counted on, as we travelled to Edinburgh yesterday to celebrate Dodo’s new PhD.

If we had pushed for tickets to the graduation ceremony (but we didn’t, as we felt that they should go to Son and the Dodo family), we’d have had the pleasure of seeing Mairi Hedderwick receive her honorary doctorate alongside Dodo. It’s always nice when the famous person is so famous that one has actually heard of them, but nicer still when it’s someone quite so special as Katie Morag’s creator.

Doctor's graduation

As it was, it was just one more missed opportunity to see Mairi this week, but more importantly, it was a time to celebrate with the Dodos by stuffing ourselves with tapas. It was very civilised, and very nice, and the company was good and we were nowhere near needing those reserve sandwiches I happened to have in my bag.

And the proud Father of Dodo got to tell us his dream – he now has three children who can call themselves doctor, and he’s looking forward to the phone ringing and someone asking for Doctor L, so he can ask ‘Doctor Who?’

When we couldn’t get any fuller, or wittier, some of us went home to collapse on some sofa, and the resident IT Consultant went off to a transport meeting to consult a bit, and your witch hobbled downhill for a quick look at the Christmas market in Princes Street Gardens, and then on to Waterstones for an evening on autism.

Edinburgh Christmas market

As part of Book Week Scotland, Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson were there to talk with Catherine’s daughter Nina Mega, on writing novels with autistic characters, and bringing up children with Asperger Syndrome, and about being ‘a bit like that’ yourself. I felt right at home and it was one of the better events I’ve been to and I will tell you more about it when I’ve had some sleep, and maybe been to another book event or two.

Nina Mega, Rachael Lucas and Catherine Simpson

Who knows?

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.