Tag Archives: Colin Bateman

Raising the Titanic

The Titanic might not be the first thing you’d consider if you wanted to sink (sorry) your money into something worthwhile. But this is a children’s book, and I’m hoping it will float more than it will get dreadfully wet.

When I first met Colin Bateman, he was shortlisted for the Bolton Children’s Book Award with his Titanic 2020. It was the book back then that I never got round to reading. I’m hoping I can mend my ways now, but obviously only if people cough up a little bit of cash.

Colin has set off on another Kickstarter campaign, and needs £2000 to put the Titanic back on the shelves in bookshops. You can pay as little as £1 and you have until April 7th, which I estimate to be three weeks from now.

There are various sweeteners involved, and you can look at the menu on Colin’s page for this. At the time of writing, ten people have pledged £340. The urge to hand over some money, just to see the numbers change, is almost irrestistible.

But I will have to. Resist, I mean. My job here is to make you want to fail the resistance test. Go on, be a patron of the arts, for a few quid.

Bookwitch bites #117

Oh, what a long time since I have ‘bitten!’

It’s also rather a while since it was relevant to mention Christmas trees, but I was intrigued to read about Adrian McKinty stealing one. He knows it’s wrong, though. The interview by Declan Burke is very good. Almost as good as…

Adrian’s been busy. He and Stuart Neville have been working on Belfast Noir, which is another short story collection I am looking forward to. It’s obviously got a Northern Ireland angle, so I’m not sure how they will explain away Lee Child. But anyway.

While we’re over there, I might as well mention Colin Bateman’s plans to reissue Titanic 2020 with the assistance of one of those fundraising ventures. I hope to assist by finally reading it, having long suffered pangs of guilt for not getting to it last time round.

The Costa happened this week, and it seems we have to wait a bit longer for the next overall winner to be a children’s book. But it will happen.

There are more awards in the sea, however, and I’m pleased for Teri Terry who won the Falkirk RED award on Wednesday. If you ever see photos from that event, you’ll realise quite how red it all is.

Shortlists and longlists precede awards events and the Branford Boase longlist was very long. It was also embarrassingly short on books I’ve actually read. But the thing is that it can be harder to know you want to read a first novel, purely because you may not come across a new writer the way you do old-timers.

The Edgar lists have appeared, and while pretty American, it was good to see they appreciate Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood, as well as Caroline Lawrence’s Pinkerton and Far Far Away by Tom McNeal. (I know. Two of them are Americans.)

Finally, for the Oxford Literary Festival in March, one of the organisers has pointed out that they have a lot of fantastic panel events. They do. And that it might be easy to miss them, if you search for author name to find something you want to buy tickets for. So it might be wise to search even more carefully, and that way you’ll find all kinds of events you simply must go to.

One day I will learn not to read ‘chaired by’ as meaning that XX hits selected people with a chair. That it’s not a chair version of ‘floored by.’

OK, I’ll go and rest now. I’m not myself.

Dublin Express

I suppose authors know best. They probably go round thinking that there are certain shorter pieces they have written, which really could do with being published. And sometimes the world, or publishers, don’t agree. So you do it yourself.

Bateman, Dublin Express

That’s what Colin Bateman did with his Dublin Express collection, albeit with a little help from his friends, through a kickstarter crowd funding campaign. This is the book he sold from under the table at Bloody Scotland, and I believe it went the same way as hot cakes traditionally do.

Colin read The Prize to us, and it’s everything that you want from Bateman; very witty and a little rude and offering surprises here and there. Simple, but no one wrote it before him, so…

I’d come across some of the stories, or bits of them, before. It’s good to have them collected in one volume. Still not sure what the characters mean about those uncomfortable leather trousers, but I refuse to ask. It might prove embarrassing.

And then there is National Anthem, Colin’s play for the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival 2010. It’s Irish. I understand it was a sell-out. He’s good.

Launching Shine

The custard creams made all the difference. They and the Coke. Halfway through the launch party for Candy Gourlay’s new book Shine, I was overcome by an urge to liberate ‘a few’ custard creams. They were looking lonely, sitting on a table at Archway Library. That sugar rush kept me going all night, more or less.

Archway Library

I arrived just in time for The Three Hundred Word Challenge. Candy read out as many entries as there was time for, and her collected authors pitched in with their thoughts. The advice was good. The fledgling stories were even better. It’s reassuring to find that young people still want to write, and that they know how.

Teri Terry, Candy Gourlay and Jane McLoughlin

While this was going on in front of an audience so numerous they ran out of chairs, people went about their business in the library, and there was a nice mix of festival special and ordinary library behaviour. (It was the first day of the first Archway With Words Festival.) The authors couldn’t always agree on their advice, which should go a long way to proving that there is no one correct way to write. (I thought they were going to come to blows. Which would have been exciting.)

Random's Clare, Simon Mason, Philippa Dickinson and Keren David

Once it was time for the launch proper, I had a job recognising people without the customary name badges. I managed some. I was discovered in my corner by Random’s Clare, who was almost on her own doorstep for this event.

There were speeches. MDs Philippa Dickinson and Simon Mason came. David Fickling, on the other hand, did not. Replacing him, Philippa and Bella Pearson spoke, but they couldn’t quite manage David’s voice, so Candy had to help out.

Candy Gourlay with Philippa Dickinson and Bella Pearson

In her own speech, Candy told us of the long hard slog to get there. What’s three years between friends? Bella went on maternity leave, and came back. Candy said nice things about her editor Simon, even after he told her that her first attempt was no repair job.

Candy’s daughter Mia and friends sang a cappella. Absolutely lovely.

Candy Gourlay at Archway Library

Dave Cousins

We mingled. There were more authors than you could shake a stick at. (Not that I’d want to, I hasten to add.) Fiona Dunbar and I met where we always seem to meet. I met several facebook friends for real. (They exist!) Teri Terry was surrounded by young fans. Dave Cousins came.I recognised Jane McLoughlin but took ages to work out who she was. Missed Joe Friedman. Ruth Eastham was over from Italy, which was very nice. She introduced me to Sarah Mussi, whose book I just ‘happened’ to be reading, so I hauled it out for an autograph. (Very scary. The book. Not so much Sarah.)

Sarah McIntyre

The other Sarah (McIntyre) also ended up signing stuff, although not for me. Keren David said hello, and then goodbye. I chatted to Inbali Iserles and Savita Kalhan. I spoke to people I have emailed with, and to people I haven’t. Sam Hepburn.

Steve Hartley

And then Mr Gourlay went round saying it was time to go home. So we did. To the Gourley home, where the eldest junior Gourlay was looking after food and drink. There was a lot of it.

The Gourlays

They have the loveliest of gardens! Admittedly it was dark, but it was all lit up and the evening was balmy, and there was somewhere to sit. Not the trampoline for me. Spoke to DFB basement man Simon, and the kind Tilda who once bought me a sandwich. At some point I had to admit to a fondness for the Circle Line. (Yeah, well.)

The wine flowed (the recycling men were most impressed with the bottle collection the next morning) and there was cheese beginning with the letter c, and for the carnivores pork sausages on the barbecue, very ably operated by Mr G.

It was dark. As I said. So I gave up on the camera and simply enjoyed, which is why there are no scandalous shots of anyone. I think the man who hugged me before he left long past midnight might have been Cliff McNish, despite him being underwhelmed by my drinking.

Recommended crime to beautiful blonde, who was impressed with my recent meeting with Colin Bateman… When it got too cold we repaired to the inner regions. In the end most people went home, and Candy was left with a mere five houseguests. Eldest son politely gave up his bed for an old witch, and was banished to his godmother’s ‘vomiting room.’

In the morning I got up long after the six o’clock taxi guest had departed, and people had dispersed to school and jobs and things. I met my brand newest facebook friend (less than 24 hours) in her pyjamas. And then Candy made us breakfast and we gossiped about the great and the famous.

But I had a noon train to catch, so shouldered my nightie and toothbrush and walked up the hill to the tube station hidden in mist. Once I got to Euston I encountered the Poet Laureate on the escalators, going the opposite way. Bought some treats for the Resident IT Consultant to celebrate our first 31 years, and hopped on my train.

Tired library visitor

(I know how that doll feels.)

Good craic

I heard several people say Good craic yesterday, and each time I thought ‘oh, so that’s how you say it’ and immediately knew I’d never be able to replicate it myself. (Or is it so simple as to be ‘crack’?)

Whatever this craic is, it’s what Colin Bateman was scheduled to do with fellow funny Irishman Eoin Colfer, and ended up sharing with newcomer James Oswald instead. James might look like a benign younger version of Gerry Adams, but he sounds as English as, well, as the English. He was described as a farmer from Fife, who self-published his first two books and sold hundreds of thousands of Kindle copies, and won prizes, before being given a ‘real’ paper book contract.

James Oswald

They were talking to Liam Bell, who asked if they wanted to do rock, paper, scissors over who would go first… James realised within minutes what I could have told him from the beginning; you just don’t want to do a reading after Colin Bateman. Eoin might have got away with it, but only just. So the fact that James’s book actually sounded pretty good in its funereal setting, even after Colin’s reading of The Prize, has to mean it’s not a bad book at all. (I got a copy, so one day I might be able to tell you if I was right.)

Colin Bateman

Colin talked about how he started out, and then he moved on to this collection of short stories that he has recently published himself (which he sold under the signing table). The Prize was one of the stories from Dublin Express, and if you want a copy, I suppose you first need to find a table from which it can be sold.

Then James talked about his first book Natural Causes, and why he went down the self-publishing route. Basically, no one fancied a police procedural teamed with the supernatural. Or at least not until it got attention and won things.

Having an editor is brilliant, apparently, and his could see immediately that stuff he’d added to the book for all the wrong reasons, should be the first to go. He might live in Fife, and he might have lived in Wales when he wrote the book, but he set it in Edinburgh, with the help of maps and memories from his student days. Although James did – accidentally – change the reputation of some areas of the city. He likes Ian Rankin and Stuart MacBride, but otherwise prefers non-crime by Iain Banks and Neil Gaiman, as well as comics and writing fantasy.

The reason Colin writes so fast is he has a short attention span. He writes so fast that he frequently has too much time on his hands, which could be why he embarked on his Dublin Express venture, and also the musical he wrote, based on 21 songs by the Undertones. Once it was all ready, they changed their minds and would only allow him the use of one song, so it is now more of a play…

Coming from middle class Bangor, he felt unable to write fiction set in the tough cul-de-sacs (sic) of that town, and went for the mean streets of Belfast instead. No planner, Colin makes it up as he goes along. And he doesn’t necessarily have to know what he’s writing about, having written a 500-page book set in the Empire State Building, based purely on a tourist leaflet.

Asked if either man would be happy to write about someone else’s characters, James said he’s not brave enough, and there is a risk he’d put ghosts in as well. Colin has written a Rebus for television, with Ian Rankin’s blessing. He could do what he wanted to Rebus, but mustn’t change his taste in music. We finished on the note that crime writers are very nice, while romance writers are ‘catty as hell.’

A Bloody Scotland Saturday

Stirling Highland Hotel

Through the archway we went, studiously trying to remove ‘I wanna be like youuuu’ from rotating forever in our minds. My driver had a childish fondness for the archway at the Stirling Highland Hotel (one of the venues for Bloody Scotland), so was very pleased she could take me there. She unwisely confided in me that she had had the song from the Jungle Book running through her head all morning. That sort of thing is contagious, it is.

Stirling Highland Hotel

Anyway, I got my tickets, handed a few back as the good little witch I am, was given another by the kind Lisa, had a pre-event sandwich on a bench in the sunshine, watched authors coming and going, and couldn’t help noticing the twins we tend to see at every Scottish book event.

Stirling Highland Hotel

Went to hear Linda Strachan and Sophie McKenzie talk about ‘Breaking the Boundary,’ which was pretty good. Sex, arson, that kind of thing. (More of that later.) Briefly said hello while they were signing books afterwards, and then I had to run, due to this extra ticket which changed my whole afternoon.

Linda Strachan and Sophie McKenzie

It's all downhill

I hobbled downhill. With some difficulty, but you ‘always get down,’ don’t you? One way or another. Did I ever mention how steep it is around Stirling Castle? Made an assumption that Arne Dahl would still be signing at the Albert Halls after his event (which I missed), and I was right and he was, so I took more photos.

Arne Dahl

Left to go hunt for a salad or something in M&S, which I then ate sitting outside in the sunshine on another bench. Very nice. Went inside for some tea. Went outside again. Yes, I yo-yoed in that lift, up and down, up and down. It was so warm in the sun that my knees, which wore black jeans, almost self-ignited. Such a relief that the forecast for Sunday is rain and winds; ‘it was a dark and stormy Sunday…’

The Albert Halls

Went back in to buy a book. Yes, actually to buy a book. They didn’t have it. Got another instead. Chatted to Colin Bateman who’d just arrived, and apologised for not buying his first book, which they didn’t have. We worried a bit about his lost event partner, Eoin Colfer.

Then I spied Arne Dahl again, and went over to introduce myself. As you do. (We had already facebooked a little, so I wasn’t totally out of the blue.) ‘Do you fancy..?’ he said. ‘Yes, I do fancy. But I no longer have time for anything,’ I replied. So that was that. Nice while it lasted.

Colin Bateman

By then it was time for Good Craic (which I will never be able to pronounce properly!) with Colin and Eoin’s replacement James Oswald, which was great fun. (More of which later.) At the signing after the event I asked Colin if he had more of those books that came from under the table. He did. And then he did that very nice thing and said I could have a copy for free for being such a lovely witch. (Actually, that’s not how he described me, but it was very kind of him. Jolly good thing he writes crime and not romances.) Colin had read from his Dublin Express, so I knew I wanted to read it. James did some of his signing standing up, which looked polite, but uncomfortable.

James Oswald

Val McDermid

I swigged some water and then it was time for Craig Robertson to keep Val McDermid and Stuart MacBride in order in The Great, the Good and the Gory. It was most enjoyable, but not in the slightest orderly. (You know the drill by now; more about this later.) Caught them at their signing afterwards, before I elbowed my way into the room for one final Saturday sitting; the Jo Nesbø event.

Stuart MacBride

Daring to Thrill, where Jo chatted to Peter Guttridge, was planned to be the highlight of the day, and they even used the balcony for people to sit to fit them all in. After which I had a family dinner to go to, because the Hungarian Accountant was in town, so I never got the opportunity to see if I could have sneaked in to hear who won the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year at the fancy dinner they had. I couldn’t quite fork out £40 to eat with these lovely, but murderous, people, but would not have been averse to the odd bit of sneaking.

Peter Guttridge and Jo Nesbø

And as I’ve said, there will be more details of the day as soon as I have recovered. See you later!

Bateman, Dublin Express

Bateman – he hasn’t matured yet

This was the second time in just a few days that James Draper of the Manchester Writing School hinted that I might as well go and sit on the front row. He knows I won’t. There was a lovely chair right at the back, in the corner, with my name on it.

Colin Bateman

Colin Bateman was at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester last night, bravely telling us what a great football team Liverpool is. That wasn’t all he had to say, which could be why we let him continue. He’s a very funny writer. I had almost come to the conclusion that I can’t keep up with all his books, so might have to put Bateman on pause for a while, but now I want (need, even) to read more of Colin’s books than I ever imagined.

Like Divorcing Jack, for instance. I’d consigned Colin’s first novel to history for practical reasons, but then he read us a bit from the book he named after Dvorak (yes, really) and I realised the error of my ways. It’s about to be re-issued, so perhaps..?

He started his writing career as a 17-year-old ‘reasonably good’ journalist. He was put on the gossip column of the County Down Spectator, so had to make it up, seeing as his knowledge of the cool and the famous wasn’t interesting even in Northern Ireland terms. This might have been the time of The Troubles, but the only organisation he was in direct contact with was the Animal Liberation Front. And when a bomb went off by the paper’s offices, he discovered he hated that kind of thing.

Colin Bateman

So, after coming up with the idea for Divorcing Jack while having a bath, he wrote it, had it rejected by ‘everyone’, until his girlfriend read it and loved it and told him to send it to the biggest publisher he could think of. That was HarperCollins and they quite liked it. Thank goodness for girlfriends. They are never wrong.

Before reading the first chapter from his latest book, Nine Inches, Colin told us about his narrow escape from a select writing retreat, where you mustn’t park in front of the lake, thus preventing the inmates from being inspired by the view of the water, where there is no television, and where you even have to talk to the other writers over dinner.

He doesn’t plan his books. It appears Colin begins with the title, and then he writes 90,000 words to fit. He’s got a stockpile of one-liners that he’s working his way through, and he likes breaking the rules, like killing people prematurely.

Colin writes fast, a chapter a day, and doesn’t believe a book will be any better for taking longer. A little every day soon builds up. Discipline and learning to turn off the television, and before you know it you will have written a book. Embarrassed by his own writing, he gets on with it to make it to the end.

Colin Bateman

Being a writer was one of Colin’s two goals in life. The other is to play for Liverpool. Yes, well. Even a good writer can sometimes be wrong.

Asked why he started writing children’s books Colin said he wrote Reservoir Pups for his eight-year-old son, who thought Dad’s efforts were ‘all right.’ It took the boy another couple of years to discover and appreciate the books properly. Colin doesn’t feel there is all that much difference between his adult and his children’s books, as long as you remove the violence and the ‘sex.’

When Colin writes, he doesn’t read. He’s worried he’ll discover that someone else’s book is better, and he doesn’t want to be influenced by their style. And he reckons crime readers don’t want humour. Today even Raymond Chandler would end up in a sub genre of comic crime fiction.

Colin Bateman

Quite right, too! It’s the best kind. Although the (real) main character in Colin’s Mystery Man series, the owner of Belfast crime bookshop No Alibis is less keen on his fame these days. Apparently people buy Colin’s books in Tesco and then pop over to No Alibis for a signature.

Then we queued up to have our books signed. I pointed out that Colin had had the pleasure of speaking to me before, at the Bolton Book Award a few years ago. He almost remembered.

And Colin, if you haven’t already done so, it’s time for you to return the pen you borrowed from the man in the signing queue. He might be seeing other authors some day.

SOS Adventure

Ice Quake

Contrary to what you might think, this is my first children’s book by Colin Bateman. Still haven’t got to the charity shop purchase and I never did read the Titanic book, despite it doing well in awards shortlists. But I’m past the stage where I walk up to Colin and utter the ‘hello, I’ve never read anything by you, but I’m pleased to meet you’ kind of thing.

I’m rambling. SOS Adventure is Colin’s new series for children, the first of which is called Ice Quake. It’s an Alistair MacLean for children, competently written and exciting. SOS appears to be yet another organisation of the kind that does important and adventurous stuff and which recruits young people to help out.

So, not realistic, unless I’m mistaken in what goes on in real life, but it’s the kind of thing we dream of when young. To be chosen to be part of something bigger than a school outing. To make a difference. Michael sets fire to his school and then does a heroic act, after which he is catapulted into another world. There he meets Katya, another young recruit, and they really don’t like each other.

After that kind of a start it goes without saying that they get marooned together somewhere and have to be brave and clever, and they succeed where the adults failed.

I’d expect readers the right age to love this, and I can see that they’d want to go on to the next adventure, whereas I feel so tired and exhausted that I’d prefer a rest. I’m old. That’s why.

But you can all sense a big but of the one-t variety, can’t you? Colin is a marvellous writer. Having read his Mystery Man adult crime novels that are both intelligent and hysterically funny, what I’d like most of all is a miniature version of those. Just like I found Carl Hiaasen’s latest young novel far better than the first two, for the very reason that it was like his adult books with the sex and the swearing removed, I feel Colin could (should) do the same.

Intelligently written, humorous books for children in whatever genre is something we can never have too many of. Just as Derek Landy’s Skulduggery Pleasant really is The Thin Man for young readers, there’d be room for a ‘mini Mystery Man’ of sorts.

There’s scope here for telling me that the ones I haven’t read (yet) are precisely what I’m suggesting, in which case I’ll just go and lie down in a dark room for a while.

Humorous crime

Why shouldn’t it be? I mean, I know that Mother-of-witch said that crime really isn’t very nice. But having said that, why can’t it be funny?

The very funny (in the right way!) Declan Burke linked to this blog in the Guardian the other day, where Colin Bateman discusses the concept of humour in crime. Colin was recently given The Last Laugh Award for The Day of the Jack Russell, which is a truly amusing crime novel.

I’ve not really stopped to consider why so much of what’s published today doesn’t appeal to me, when it sells so well that far too many writers become far too rich. It’s not that I begrudge them their success (well, a little). It’s more that I’d rather that the money was more evenly spread out so that more authors could live off their writing. But what Colin says in his blog post is probably true. Somehow there is a fashionable trend that requires violence, and publishers require a book or more every year of the stuff.

Wouldn’t it be much better if we could laugh in the midst of murder? Or to take Declan and Colin as examples to follow, why murder indiscriminately all the time? Crime doesn’t have to mean death. Or at least not too much (whatever the right amount of death is).

The Day of the Jack Russell

I’m beginning to feel I can’t stand the man. I can’t tell you who, really, because he has no name. He tried pretending to be Raymond Chandler in this new book by Bateman (I know I said I’d only ever call him Colin…), but he’s not. What he is, is an insufferable bookshop owner (there are a few of those around), with a girlfriend who is far too nice for him, and he has the mother he deserves. And he solves crimes.

The Day of the Jack Russell

He has a touch of Tourettes about him, and he’s a grade one coward (takes one to know one, possibly), and the rest of the time he’s quite obnoxious. But, he does solve crimes.

The Day of the Jack Russell is the second novel about this, well, we don’t know, do we? Private Eye, and ostensibly the owner of Belfast bookshop No Alibis, except he isn’t.

The Jack Russell is stuffed, but you can still be allergic to it. His girlfriend is pregnant. Not the Jack Russell’s lady friend. ‘Mr Chandler’s’ sidekick-cum-girlfriend. If it’s his, that is. She’ll get on well with the mother from hell.

So, stuffed doggie, decorators, Amnesty International, MI5, the Chief Constable and Starbucks combine to make another very, very funny crime novel. It’s the sort of book I could write. If I could write books, which I can’t. But I’d make my ‘hero’ a little nicer. After all, he has to deserve the lady.

The cover has , yet again, been designed with me in mind. I like. Very much.

There is a launch at No Alibis this evening, but Colin has banned all those who listen to jazz.