Tag Archives: Helen FitzGerald

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.

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Stirling goings-on

The Bookbug Week‘s flagship event will this year take place only a mile or so away from Bookwitch Towers. Scottish Book Trust’s annual book week for young readers runs from May 16th for a week, kicking off at Bannockburn with a day of, I think, poetry and stuff.

Bookbug

The rest of the programme happens all over Scotland, and the theme this year is international. Songs and rhymes from around the world.

This tallies with what you find in the programme for Stirling’s own Off the Page where, surprisingly, they offer both a German Bookbug session, as well as a bilingual event or two.

You can also do colouring in and design your own coat of arms, along with attending a teddy bear’s picnic. At the other end of the age scale (or so I imagine) is a vintage reminiscence tea party, which sounds really very nice. Except I hope I am not old enough for that sort of thing yet.

Somewhere there are dragons.

In schools (they have all the luck!) you might find Chae Strathie, Janis Mackay, Kirkland Ciccone, Alex Nye, Ross MacKenzie and Mairi Hedderwick.

But despair not, Mairi Hedderwick is also doing a public event. Maybe even two. This ten-day long festival starts on May 6th, and other public children’s events offer Lari Don and Nick Sharratt.

Helen MacKinven, whom I met at Yay!YA+ last week is also doing an event. As are several of the big names in Scottish crime, such as Lin Anderson, Helen Fitzgerald, Denise Mina and Caro Ramsay.

There are many more events and many more authors. And much upset on my part because I will not be going to any of these… The more attractive the event, the less convenient the date (for me).

Into the unknown

The day had its ups and downs. Twice, in fact. I’d carefully chosen my morning event at Bloody Scotland to be down at the Albert Halls, so you can work out what had to happen. Had to collect my ticket at the Stirling Highland Hotel first, way up where I was on Thursday. The Resident IT Consultant drove me there, and while I got the tickets and hobbled down the hill again, he drove home, parked the car and walked back to the Albert Halls. (Because, yes, I had given him permission to join me.)

Sharon Bolton, Helen Fitzgerald and Julia Crouch

Apart from venue, I had chosen events with people I don’t know. Leaving your comfort zone and all that. The day began with Domestic Noir as written by Sharon Bolton, Helen Fitzgerald and Julia Crouch. They each read a short piece, and that was pretty chilling stuff. I’m not sure I’d have the guts to read the whole book, by any of them.

All three believe in starting with a punchy first sentence, because you can’t afford not to. The reader should be able to tell it’s not chick lit, but hard-hitting crime. It’s the editor’s job to tell them when there is too much housework in a book. Well-ordered tins of food is very scary, and so is an unreliable narrator. Sharon even has an unreliable main character.

Helen Fitzgerald

None of them reckon they need to write about feminism. It’s obvious from their books. Helen spoke of Australian radio announcements when there are bushfires. If you can see flames, don’t leave your house. It’s too late. Sharon talked about snakes in Midsomer country, and Julia has a past travelling in Greece that involved drunken, unseemly behaviour. (She looked so nice, too.)

Helen Fitzgerald and Julia Crouch

They find their children useful as sources of information and style, and while Julia had borrowed a friend’s Cath Kidston type house for a book, Sharon went out of her way to find a ‘skanky’ riverside setting.

Helen works part time, having gone crazy, alone in her attic. Sharon said she’s an unsociable creature who works best alone, with the dog to tell her it’s time for lunch. Although Twitter is good to check when things aren’t going so well.

Sharon Bolton

Both Sharon and Julia know how their books should end, but will often change as they go along. Helen knows where she is going, and even has a last line that she aims for. Humour is necessary and contact with readers is good. They all listen to their editors, and writing can be ‘sheer hell to go through, but worth it in the end.’

Afterwards we repaired to the bookshop for signings, and I enjoyed a mug of tea and cake, and a good read. As I left, I found Peter Robinson, whose event came next, sitting incognito-ish in the foyer. I think that meant he wasn’t really there, but his fans recognised him and came up to chat.

I climbed up the hill, having sent the Resident IT Consultant home, wondering why the Back Walk gave me vertigo going up, when down had been OK. My afternoon event was about Glasgow Gangsters with Andrew Davies and Bryan McLaughlin, chaired by Douglas Skelton. Andrew is a crime historian, specialising in street gangs,  and Bryan is a retired Glasgow detective, who has written a book about his work.

Andrew Davies

Street gangs happen because of poverty, over-crowding and unemployment. Andrew compared the smaller number of gang members in places like Coronation Street, small streets of terraced housing, with the Glasgow tenements, where you could literally be on the wrong side of the street, on someone else’s turf, and be killed for it.

Bryan, who hails from Easterhouse, reckoned the 1960s weren’t as dangerous as the 1920s or 30s, and that it was mainly territorial fights rather than other crimes. Andrew has scoured newspaper libraries for everything on crime and gangs in Glasgow, including moving there for six months to learn more. Chicago crime featured heavily in the papers, and both authors reckoned newspapers could have been partly to blame for the reputation of gangs and individual criminals.

Bryan McLaughlin

According to Bryan, Manchester’s Moss Side is worse than Glasgow is now. There is less violence, now that it is mainly drugs, because you’d be stupid to attack a potential customer. Questions from the audience covered things like human trafficking and what gangsters did in the war.

Then there was more signing, in yet another bookshop, with people doing literary chairs to fit in behind the available tables. I did that thing I rarely do, which is buy a book. (For tomorrow. James Oswald. Thought I’d better be prepared. As I exited the bookshop I found myself face to face with James. As you do.)

Came across Bloody Scotland’s Lin Anderson, who had been collared by someone outside the Ladies (which might not be the best of places to waylay people). After which it was time for me to make my second descent of the day. I won’t be able to keep this up…

The Scottish novelists

Lists will rarely be complete. But some are more complete than others.

On Monday Herald Scotland published a list of Scottish children’s authors.* What prompted this seems to have been Julia Donaldson’s decision to leave Scotland and move back to England. It felt like an ‘oh god who do we have left in Scotland if Julia Donaldson moves away?’ kind of list.

Don’t worry, J K Rowling is one of their ten ‘best.’ So are others that I know and admire, along with a few names I have never heard of. Which is fine, because I don’t know everything, and I’m sure they are great writers. I don’t even know who counts as Scottish for this purpose.

Although, with J K topping the list, I’m guessing they allow English writers living in Scotland. That makes my own list rather longer. Harry Potter isn’t particularly Scottish as a book, even if Hogwarts is in Scotland. Do Scottish authors living in England, or god forbid, even further afield qualify? (I’m not so good at keeping track of such people, so I’ll leave them out for the time being.)

As I said, I have no problem with who is on the Herald’s list. But along with quite a few Scottish authors, I gasped when I realised who weren’t on it. Catherine MacPhail and Gillian Philip, to mention two very Scottish ladies. Linda Strachan, Julie Bertagna and Theresa Breslin, who are also pretty well known and very Scottish indeed.

Keith Charters and Keith Gray. Damien M Love and Kirkland Ciccone. John Fardell. Lari Don, Lyn McNicol, Joan Lingard and Elizabeth Laird. Cathy Forde. Dare I mention the Barrowman siblings, Carole and John? Alexander McCall Smith writes for children, too. Roy Gill, Jackie Kay. Cat Clarke. And how could I forget Joan Lennon?

I’m guessing former Kelpies Prize shortlistees Tracy Traynor, Rebecca Smith and Debbie Richardson belong. (There is one lady whose name is eluding me completely right now, but who appears at the book festival every year and seems very popular…) Have also been reminded of Margaret Ryan and Pamela Butchart. (Keep them coming!)

Most of the above have lovely Scottish accents and reasonably impeccable Scottish credentials. But what about the foreigners? We have the very English, but still Scottish residents, Vivian French, Helen Grant and Nicola Morgan. Americans Jane Yolen and Elizabeth Wein. Ex-Aussie Helen FitzGerald.

And I really don’t know about English Cathy Cassidy, who used to live in Scotland but has more recently returned to England. I think she counts, too, along with all those writers whose names simply escape me right now, but who will wake me up in the night reminding me of their existence.

I’m hoping to get to know all of you much better once this wretched move is over and done with. Unless you see me coming and make a swift exit, following Julia Donaldson south. Or anywhere else. I think Scotland has a great bunch of writers for children. (And also those lovely people who write adult crime, and who are not allowed on this list, even by me.)

Sorry for just listing names, but there are so many authors! One day I will do much more. Cinnamon buns, for starters. With tea. Or coffee. Irn Bru if absolutely necessary.

Theresa Breslin's boot

*For anyone who can’t access the Herald’s list, here are the other nine names: Mairi Hedderwick, Barry Hutchison, Chae Strathie, Claire McFall, Daniela Sacerdoti, Debi Gliori, Caroline Clough, Janis MacKay and Diana Hendry.

Reading for all

We have a new decorator at Bookwitch Towers.  As we began talking books, I discovered that he’s dyslexic. I was wanting to offload some of my surplus onto the Junior Decorators, as it were. So I added a few dyslexia friendly books to the pile, just in case.

After the weekend he returned (we have a lot of windows here) and mentioned he had read one of them, and that it was the first book he’d sat down and read right through. That made me very happy, and I began wondering what dyslexic adults read. (The realistic answer will be ‘nothing,’ but I’d prefer it not to be.)

A quick search took me back to Barrington Stoke, who – naturally – also do books for adults. They were equally touched, and sent me some grown-up books to sample.

We hear a lot about children and dyslexia, but I found I couldn’t name a single adult I knew who’s dyslexic, apart from Sally Gardner. And the King of Sweden. And now Mr Decorator. So, once you’re out of school you are ‘free’ to ignore books and reading, and that is a shame.

Anne Perry, Heroes

Because it is Dyslexia Awareness Week, I bring you some great books for adults who don’t normally read.

Ladies first, which takes me to Anne Perry and her short novel Heroes. Set in WWI in the trenches, it’s something as unusual as a whodunnit, with the army chaplain as the detective. Very touching and surprisingly exciting for such a short book. Totally grown up, and excellent in every way.

Helen FitzGerald, Hot Flush

The second lady is Helen FitzGerald, and she’s still a bit scary, but not as much as she was a few weeks ago. Hot Flush tells the story of a middle aged woman with a dreadful husband, and a young Glasgow delinquent, with a fondness for stealing cars. It is both frustrating and fun, as the lives of these two converge in a most unexpected way.

So, two great, small novels that are fully adult. My fondness for short books means that I am a convert for my own sake, as well as on behalf of readers who need something this length to read at all.

Very serendipitous, this painting of windows. And right before Dyslexia Awareness Week, too.

The next big thing is Higashoo

Those of us who braved the unexpected rain on Sunday morning, could enjoy a discussion on The Next Big Thing with Barry Forshaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, editor Jade Chandler and Val McDermid.

Barry Forshaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Jade Chandler and Val McDermid

In between pronunciation issues and translations that made sanitary towels into bath towels, Barry kept hinting he knew the answer. It’s Higashoo. Sort of. I cornered him afterwards and even he didn’t know what he’d been saying, so there is little hope for me.

Barry Forshaw

The cream of Nordic crime has now been joined by less creamy novels, and the future might lie on some hitherto unheard of Scottish island. Or Man. Manx murders, anyone?

As long as president Putin doesn’t say he likes – or dislikes – what you write, you’ll be all right. Hopefully.

After Yrsa had said how she just likes creepy stuff, we crept uphill to the Highland Hotel and the one children’s books event of the weekend. It was free, which only goes to prove how undervalued children’s books are. We had the excellent Gillian Philip and Cathy MacPhail, along with the to me unknown, but now very scary, Helen FitzGerald talking to Christina Johnston.

Gillian Philip, Cathy MacPhail and Helen FitzGerald

The ladies chatted on the subject of Once Upon a Crime, and were photographed next to a clothes hanger. I worry a bit about the significance of that. They each read from their books, and Helen’s piece was about seeing your mother’s dead body. I think she said Deviant is her happiest book, so I don’t know… She road tests her books for teen authenticity on her daughter. For money.

Helen FitzGerald

Cathy, who does ‘like a good murder,’ learns about her genuine child characters on school visits. She likes writing from a boy’s point of view, and her next book, Mosi’s War is another boy book. What Cathy does not like is to be put in the Scottish section in shops, next to Nessie.

Cathy MacPhail

Gillian read from The Opposite of Amber, and said she tries to avoid slang for fear of it dating too quickly. But she doesn’t tone down content for YA. For her it simply means the protagonists are younger. And she does swear in her books.

Gillian Philip

All three bemoaned the lack of room for reviews of children’s books in the papers, and seemed to feel the answer might lie in reviews by young readers.

After getting a couple of Seth MacGregor books signed, we rolled down the hill, back to the Albert Halls for The Red-Headed League. An all star cast of crime writers read a dramatised version of one of Sherlock’s best known mysteries, with Gillian Philip as the villain. Karen Campbell had the most unlikely red hair, and Craig Robertson was Lestrade. Members of the audience – OK, other crime writers dotted about – made up the other hopeful redheads.

The Red-Headed League

Waiting outside beforehand provided a parade of Who’s Who in Scottish crime, with most authors walking past our sandwich-bench under a tree. (It was still trying to rain.)

Sarah Reynolds

Once an arrest had been made, it was on to the Worth the Wait short story competition, where out of 232 entries, they had chosen the best 19 for their free ebook (download it now!). The winner Sarah Reynolds received her price from one of the sponsors.

And then it was time for the inaugural Scottish Crime Book of the Year  Award 2012, introduced by Sheena McDonald and presented by William McIlvanney. The winner was Charles Cumming for A Foreign Country.

Charles Cumming

Once this was done, we trooped out and most of us went home. Sort of.

Except the witch who likes to meet authors. She had tea with Helen Grant, who is even scarier (in her books) than most of the Bloody Scotland lot.

Then we went home.