Tag Archives: Doug Johnstone

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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Bloody India at Bloody Scotland

There were so many things I had no idea I needed to know about Kolkata!

Bloody India was my first event on Sunday morning, and it was even better than I had expected. Jenny Brown was there to usher the others in, and they were ‘needs no introduction, she’s great, obviously’ Lin Anderson and ‘little’ Doug Johnstone, whose jobs were to introduce Monabi Mitra, all the way from Kolkata, and Abir Mukherjee, from his mum’s house ‘down the road,’ but who usually lives in London.

Monabi Mitra

Chance – and the British Council – had sent Lin and Doug, and oh, Jenny too, to the Kolkata Literary Festival in February, where they met lots of people (they get something like 2,500,000 visitors there…), including, I believe, Monabi. Such numbers will explain why Scotland wants to make it on the Indian litscene. Just imagine how many books they could sell to so many fervent fans of reading! They are planning special Indian editions of Scottish crime, and expect to return there in February 2018.

Lin and Doug entered Indian immigration successfully, but there had been some doubt about whether Jenny should be let through. Or so they claimed. But when they were all safely in, and wondering what could have happened to their luggage, they discovered that people from [the plane?] had kept their bags company in the now deserted airport.

Doug said that it wasn’t until he went to India that he understood what culture shock means. And people are so cultural, in a place where readers rioted because the book fair closed early… According to Abir the words on the airport ceiling are from Tagore’s works. Watching an eight-year-old boy choosing a book to buy, they were flabberghasted to find it was a copy of Ivanhoe.

Anyway, as Lin said, we hadn’t come to hear her and Doug speak.

Monabi Mitra, The Final Report

Monabi Mitra is a professor of English literature, and she is married to a detective inspector, which might explain why she started writing crime fiction. She said there’s a duality in her life, with literature on one side and the dangerous world of the police on the other. Mentioning her own experience of being present at an autopsy, she feels there must be one in each book.

Indian autopsies are quite different from the Western kind we’ve got used to from CSI. Monabi read an excerpt from her novel, about a shockingly different autopsy. It’s fast, and careless, and there are rats, and it’s always smelly.

Abir Mukherjee

Abir Mukherjee reckons he is the only Scottish-Indian crime writer, and if there’s anyone else, he’ll have to kill them. He recounted the old tale of how in parts of Scotland people want to know if you are Catholic or Protestant, and when saying he’s Hindu, they want to know if he’s a Catholic Hindu or a Protestant Hindu.

Kolkata is practically a Scottish city, built by Scots, and it’s not all that old. Bengalis are very much like Scots, but without the alcohol. The period between 1919 and 1947 is an important one.

Abir Mukherjee, A Rising Man

Reading from A Rising Man, Abir chose a passage about a visit to a church (because we were in a church). His detective is a Scot who has gone to live in Kolakata after being widowed, and it was ‘slightly preferable to suicide.’ A sad background, but Abir’s writing is humorous and his book sounds like a great read. There is apparently a shared gallow’s humour between Scotland and Bengal.

Monabi mentioned the works of H R F Keating and his Inspector Ghote. As homage to this man who wrote about an India he’d not visited, she named her detective Inspector Ghosh. She pointed out that in India you don’t tend to hire a PI, unless you are ‘in deep shit.’

Monabi Mitra

When asked, she said that she thinks in English, although she speaks two other languages. She described her Saturday at Bloody Scotland, the sunshine (!) and what a great invention queueing is. Kolkata is not orderly. It’s wonderful here, and the events were real eye-openers.

But on the other hand, Kolkata used fingerprinting before Britain, and Ronald Ross discovered what causes malaria (admittedly by experimenting on the servants…). Kolkata was very cosmopolitan between the two world wars, and in the past ‘its greatness was greater.’

Abir said that the reason he writes is he read some popular crime novels and felt they were so badly written that he could do better. Despite his Indian background he said he didn’t feel he could write from a Bengal point of view, which is why he chose a Scot in Kolkata.

Abir Mukherjee and Doug Johnstone

His first book is set in 1919, and he said that whereas what happened in Amritsar that year had an impact on Kolkata as well, news travelled so slowly, that he had to make up faster news for his story, so that they knew the day after.

When time was up, there was a bit of a scramble to be first to the books for sale [as there could have been more copies]. I admit to buying a book by each of the visiting authors, which is something that hardly ever happens. I spoke a little to both of them, and Monabi told be about the number of Scots who have not only moved to Kolkata, but have aquired nationality, because it’s the best place to live.

After this event I can sort of see why.

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.

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!

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.

And then it was Sunday

Rubbing shoulders with all these crime writers has made me see the potential for murder everywhere. For instance, the fresh blood spatters in the ladies toilet? The possibilities are endless. The man with the shoulderbag strap? I saw him twice. Just because you see someone a lot, doesn’t mean you know them and that they are safe. (You from them, or they from you…)

Neil Broadfoot and James Oswald

I went to see three more noir boys before lunch. This time they were Edinburgh Noir. They may have been sold out. James Oswald reckoned ‘that was fun’ when I caught up with him in the corridor after the event.

You may remember I had running to do. So after I’d made sure the three noirs sat down to sign at the table laid for three, rather than four, it was all downhill for me again. But at least it was dry.

Outside the Albert Halls

It was so dry I was able to sit in the small park area in front of the Albert Halls to have my lunch. I even had a wasp trying to enter my sandwich bag. It made me realise two things; that we’ve not seen many wasps at all this cold summer, and that here is where I always attract wasps. Between one Bloody September and the next, I forget. I watched two men wielding a mallet and a saw (because that’s not dangerous at all). From their sign it seems they build cabinets. Don’t know why they did it in the park, though.

Queue for Sophie Hannah

Missed Lin Anderson’s signing due to my outdoor picnic. And then I went in for my two Albert Halls events, not meeting a single unexpected person and having a generally uneventful afternoon. If I could have Sophie Hannah’s trousers I’d be happy, but I daresay she needs them herself.

Ian Rankin

If Ian Rankin looks happy it’s because he and his fellow Scots in the Scottish football team drew with England. Naturally this was when it rained. 5-5, which apparently means the local team keeps the cup because they won last year…

It wasn’t so dry that it didn’t rain at all, but it mostly did this while I was indoors and the rain was not. On my way home I could have made it all the way in the dry, had I not stopped to help a lady in a car find her way to the street next to Bookwitch Towers. It struck me I could have offered to show her the way if she gave me a lift, but it also struck me that we’d both be safer not sharing a car with a stranger, however nice we both seemed.

That’s murder for you.