Tag Archives: James Oswald

The never-ending panel

I was going to dip in and out. Not miss Barry Hutchison. Nor Catriona McPherson. But in the end, there I was, taking in every minute of the four hours of crime writers coming and going. Possibly attending less diligently when slurping the soup Daughter so kindly carried to my desk, but continuing all the same.

So one advantage of Bloody Scotland going online was that you can have a couple of dozen authors from anywhere in the world pop into your Sunday panel to chat to their friends for a bit, before going off, leaving their chair to someone else.

To start, Lin Anderson looked after the first hour, discussing pets with Stuart MacBride, moving on to stovies (apparently everyone in Scotland knows what they are, but I am only hazy about them, except that I don’t want any on my plate) and from there seamlessly to vodka, with the help of Hania Allen, and how one can speak fluent Polish after drinking some.

Then, James Oswald with the hair. It was long, but mostly because he is antisocial, and not so much lockdown. The question there was how to tell his calves apart. (Coos, not lower legs.) Easy with Daphne, otherwise hairy ears make for problems. Andrew James Greig, former Bloody Scotland crew, added rotary dryers, and I’m not sure if you can kill with those or not. He didn’t recognise Hugh McIlvanney when they met – ‘which one of you is …?’ It’s not what you say to big names.

James – with the coos – spoke about the Bloody Scotland family. He was joined by Neil Broadfoot, who murders in Stirling, and who almost left when Lin handed over to Morgan Cry, aka Gordon Brown, non-PM. Some people plot, others don’t. Let’s leave it at that. But it can be so boring knowing what is about to happen that the writer might not want to go on.

The incoming authors kept coming, ringing the doorbell and being visible on screen to the world. Just not to the hosts. Might need to work on that. Sara Sheridan spoke of 1950s fashions, and appearing inappropriately dressed on her husband’s Zoom meetings, because it’s how she writes books.

Finally it was time for Barry, who was addressed as Barry despite being there as JD Kirk. I think he wins the book count. 140, of which most are children’s books, but the adult crime has grown by around 40 books in four years. He explained his quantity over quality theory, and spending 06.30 to 11.30 writing, before doing admin and then playing with the children.

His school librarian had lured him into the library with piles of The Beano until he entered voluntarily, with offers like ‘come with me to the monster section’. When the library failed to have ninja books, he was told to write one himself, which he did, aged nine, and it was duly entered into the library catalogue.

Mary Paulson-Ellis, who likes paperwork, and is a top LGBTQ writer according to Val McDermid, was next, along with Caro Ramsay who knows everyone hates her, but ‘that’s fine’. SJI [Susi] Holliday was accused of having jinxed Covid into being. (This was the soup episode, so I didn’t note everything down.)

Doug Johnstone was back, even after all that singing on Saturday, and the host changed into Craig Robertson. He had done no prep so told the group to talk as much as possible. Both parts of Ambrose Parry were present, and we learned that Chris Brookmyre is now letting wife Marisa ‘do a bit more’ in their shared writing. She sounded so useful that Susi said she wanted a Marisa as well.

Where Doug goes for walks to get ideas, Susi gets them in the car, where she can’t jot them down. Ambrose Parry enjoyed getting ideas after Covid-walks on the local golf course. Caro’s dog knows more than she does. They all said to trust your instincts.

Jackie Baldwin might have upped the body count in Portobello, having moved crime from Dumfries, and Susi pedestrianised somewhere that badly needed it. Chloroform belongs in Edinburgh, just so you know. Radio’s Theresa Talbot arrived with wine glass in hand and explained that with no traffic to talk about on the radio, she was now a garden expert.

Jackie is used to being in prison, due to being a criminal lawyer (which I hope is more innocent than it sounds). Theresa is a Glaswegian by heart, and when she sent her detective to Loch Lomond to please the fans, she couldn’t think of anything for her to do, so she returned to the city again.

Alan Parks sticks to the 1970s, which neatly avoids mobile phones and CCTV. Alex Gray had just been on a trip to Ballachulish, because she simply couldn’t cope with not going places. Alan’s fan emails are from bus enthusiasts who know more than he does. And that man in the pub he made up? He’s still alive, you know.

Our last host, Abir Mukherjee arrived from the Green Room, to discover Theresa discussing a question from an event on ‘how hard it had been to find a husband at her age’. Alan had once been coerced into an impromptu lecture in Sweden, where after much hard work, the first question was whether he owns a kilt.

When asked for their weirdest way of killing people, they only had stabbings, poisoned sandwiches, strangulation by harp wire and stabbing someone in the eye with a pencil, to offer. And, erm, elephants. Ben McPherson joined us from Oslo with many thoughts on how hard it can be to fit in, in a nice country, when you don’t really belong. (I know.) But at least his doorbell moment worked.

In Norway they have huts, and warm(-ish) beaches. Abir was 25 when he discovered you could go to the beach and not wear a jacket (in Goa). Both Alex and Alan prefer living in the Hufflepuff that is Scotland. Lisa Gray has experience of writing about a place she doesn’t belong to, and Ben discussed the feeling of living somewhere but not speaking the language, when disaster strikes.

Nicola White, originally from Dublin, writes about that city, as it was in the 1980s when she left. Many of us only know somewhere from a long time ago. The last two panellists, Catriona McPherson and Alex Knight (aka Mason Cross and Gavin…) joined the conversation. I stared at Alex’s familiar face, until I finally placed him as Luke in Gilmore Girls. (Not really, but same face.) If you’re going for a pen name, it’s worth picking one that people everywhere can pronounce, like when Alex went to Starbucks as Mason and turned into Basin.

The most important thing to becoming a novelist is to finish writing what you want to write. Reward yourself with a visit to the toilet after writing some words. Alex believes in a daily 500 words, which he feels is manageable.

To finish, the talk turned to reviews, and you should obviously never read the online ones. Unless three stars for fitting perfectly under that wonky table leg will make you happy.

Bury Them Deep

It’s time for the 10th Inspector McLean novel. Or Detective Chief Inspector as we now need to address James Oswald’s Tony McLean. There’s been a promotion or two along the way since we first met him. And in a way, this doesn’t suit our Tony. He’d rather be out doing than dealing with the overtime of others, or for that matter, the politics of getting on with his superiors.

I have missed the last two books due to the fact that James insists on writing new ones every year. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to keep up, but apart from everyone having been promoted since I met them, they are mostly the same. No MacBride, and some of the bosses are retired, but still rootling around in the basement.

It helped that we revisited an old bad guy I’d come across before, and that I remembered both him and one or two other old cases that got a mention. I’m guessing some of the bad guys were so deliciously bad that it was worth going a second round with them. Though my use of the word ‘delicious’ might not be in the best of taste…

Ahem. Well, this is another ghastly tale set somewhere in and near Edinburgh. We meet the victim early on, and when that happens, it usually means they will come to a sticky end, and that we’ll be right there when it comes. There is some supernatural stuff, again, which you just can’t explain.

Ordinary poor thieves might be bad, but they have nothing on the much better off bad guys. The ones who normally get away with it.

And it’s hot. Tony is still badly dressed for what he is doing, but this time it’s not the lack of gloves that gets to him. But it seems that the police mustn’t cavort around in shorts and t-shirts, while others wear nothing at all…

Kanada bound

Well, he was. The Resident IT Consultant is now safely back from his Kanadian adventures. (Sorry about the Ks. I got a bit karried away, what with Swedish and German and all the rest.)

He decided he wanted to go and see his relatives over there, so he went. I was allowed to come too. I just didn’t feel up to it. Besides, there is so much a witch can get up to when all alone in the house. I suspect he still hasn’t found the things he’s not found yet. And it’s been a couple of weeks, so I no longer recall what I hid where.

Just like when Son went the first time, there were cousins to see. An uncle. Even a brother, if you allow for the US detour. There’d have been another uncle, but he very sensibly decamped to New Zealand. Cousins once removed (which is a really odd way of putting it).

They looked after him well.

After all, I sent along books as bribes. I chose several of my favourites, mostly with some sort of connection to Scotland, to possibly entice some of them to come and visit us. Gruesome murders is a sure way of tempting people to come. I don’t remember all my choices, but James Oswald was there, as was Elizabeth Wein and Catriona McPherson. And naturally Meg Rosoff and Hilary McKay for a bit of comfort reading.

There were oatcakes too, but I imagine the books were the best.

And when they’d swapped their Grandfather’s jigsaws with each other, the Resident IT Consultant escaped across the border near Niagara Falls. Really fishy visitors obviously walk across, and here he is, looking surprisingly all right for a man who never selfies. Anyway, he’d have needed extra long arms for this one.

The Resident IT Consultant

At least it rained on the last day

Stirling

You can have too much sunshine. Or can you? Well, this time of year in Scotland it is usually quite welcome. Makes you feel summer isn’t quite over, and you can forget that it will be Christmas in three months.

Actually, I don’t know where that thought came from. I don’t want to think about it.

But it was nice while it lasted, even if it did rain when people woke up on Sunday, for the finishing touches of Bloody Scotland. The sun somehow makes it easier to chat to people, to hang about, to enjoy yourself.

I could easily have stayed on outside the Golden Lion on Saturday night, as I waited for my chauffeur to pick me up. It was balmy and pleasant, and none of that September chill after the sun has set. I almost did have to stay, as the hotel walls – or whatever caused the block – wouldn’t let my call through to the Resident IT Consultant to come and get me. I had to go outside before those telephone lines started connecting up.

Lucky for me, because when I went back inside to wait I discovered James Oswald and went over to bother him for a few minutes. He was very polite about it.

Alexander McCall Smith

Earlier in the day I had encountered Alexander McCall Smith at the Albert Halls. It was his first time at Bloody Scotland, but he chatted to his fans as though they are always doing this.

And all those people sitting out in the sun, eating sandwiches, fighting the wasps (I made that up), and generally having a good time…

Albert Halls

You’ll have to wait until the 18th September 2020 to do this again. See you!

No Time to Cry

No Time to Cry is James Oswald’s new crime series. It’s so good that I raced through a lot of it, and rested a little here and there, because it got so scary/exciting that I needed to let my nerves ping back to neutral again.

These things happen.

James has a female detective this time, but apart from the swearing Constance Fairchild does – mainly to fit in – she’s quite close to Tony McLean in her social background, by which I mean she’s [originally] well connected, except she doesn’t get on with her immediate family.

James Oswald, No Time to Cry

No Time to Cry starts with Con walking in on the murder scene of her boss Pete. Before long she’s accused of killing him and suspended from the London Met.

She obviously needs something to do, so apart from trying to stay alive when different people take turns attempting to murder her, Con starts digging into the disappearance of a childhood friend.

Before long it seems that nothing she does is terribly safe, and I began worrying about the various older females near her, and an unexpected cat, hoping there was to be no more Mrs McCutcheon-ing, with or without cat.

Great crime thriller, complete with a character from the Tony McLean books. I look forward to seeing what will happen next.

This year’s Bloody [Scotland] plans

If you thought that rubbing shoulders with crime writers at the Coo in Stirling, during the Bloody Scotland weekend in late September, sounds like fun, you can forget it. The event sold out in no time at all.

But there’s other daft stuff you could do, unless you delay so that these other events also sell out. Personally I fear this might happen more than I’d find convenient. You know, I don’t want to commit just yet. But I don’t want to be left without, either.

Bloody Scotland

There’s more than one event where crime writers do something else, like sing. Or pretend to be a television quiz show. There is even a musical, written by Sophie Hannah and Annette Armitage, which to begin with I believed to last seven and a half hours, but it’s just two ‘sittings’ so to speak. Or there’s the cast and crew of Agatha Raisin. You can go to the football. I haven’t yet, but there is no saying how long I can hold out.

If you fancy more ‘ordinary’ events where authors talk about their books, look no further. Bloody Scotland has a lot of them. I see James Oswald has a new detective. (I don’t like change!) There’s an event on breaking barriers with three Asian authors and one Icelandic one. Or there are more Icelanders in a separate event, if you prefer.

They have Swedes. Well, they have one real Swede, Christoffer Carlsson, from my neck of woods. He’s nice. Although not so sure about his murders. Then there is a French fake Swede, but who writes about Falkenberg, which I highly approve of. And someone else foreign who at least lives in Sweden.

It’s 2018, so violence against women has to be addressed. Our favourite pathologist is coming back. So is Pitch Perfect, where they let the hopefuls in. The Kiwis are coming, and Chris Brookmyre has got a new name as he writes with his wife.

They also offer some of the biggest names in the business, but you’ll need to read the rest of the programme yourselves. And come and see the torchlit procession on the Friday night!

Bloody Scotland Torchlight Procession

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.)

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.

Series – to abandon or not to abandon

That is the question.

As has become clear over the Bloody Scotland weekend, there are series everywhere. Not only do the long – and medium – established writers have series. The debut authors are also planning several books. Even the unpublished ones pitching their first novel, spoke of series.

If you are free to read whatever you like, whenever you can, with no blog commitments, you can probably keep up with lots of series.

I no longer know what to do. I tend to wait and see what happens. Because I can’t actually make the decision. It has to be made for me. I will – temporarily – abandon a series of books I love, if there is something else, equally loveable out there. Maybe something that is noisier when looking for attention.

And that first abandoning was never intentional. It just happened. It’s not you; it’s me.

In the last maybe fifteen years I have read and thoroughly enjoyed the crime novels by Kate Ellis and Stephen Booth. I read every one up to a certain point. I read about Mma Ramotswe. I read these usually in the right order, moving backwards to catch the odd earlier book, and then waited in real time for the next one to be published. It seemed like a long wait, until it wasn’t so bad, and then until the next two books were here and I didn’t know how to fit them in.

I discovered Sara Paretsky, whose books I still read when a new one comes along, and slowly reading the older ones.

Among my new people, as you know, are James Oswald and Vaseem Khan. I don’t know how long I can keep going. I want to. But I wanted to with the others as well.

With Sophie Hannah I grew too scared to continue, so that was an easier decison to make. And thankfully we have the new Poirots.

Or there is Harry Potter, but we knew how many books to expect. Knew there would be an end. As we did with Skulduggery Pleasant, at least until Derek Landy decided to keep going a bit longer. With Lockwood you might not have known for certain, but unless something changed, the characters would eventually be unable to do what they did because of their [lack of] years.

Which books do you keep? Will I ever reread the abandoned series? Will I restart one day? Which ones will I regret once I have ditched my copies? When we moved, we parted with about half our Dorothy Sayers. That seemed OK. Many of Agatha Christie’s books I’ve never owned as I borrowed them from the library.

And then I looked at my shelves for inspiration, and considered Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh. Those books I read slowly over a long time, and I don’t claim to have read all. But the thought that I might get rid of the books made me want to cry. They are staying. Campion is like a crazy older brother, and Alleyn some benevolent uncle. Yes, I know I have now bypassed them in age, as far as most of the stories are concerned.

So what to do about those just starting out? Not read at all, just in case? Read one and be hooked? Have nervous breakdown?

Getting rid of the bodies – Bloody Scotland

Yes, I am aware I made this year’s Bloody Scotland the beginners’ festival, but James Oswald is my new crime writer. When he turned up four years ago to take the place of Eoin Colfer, I was disappointed, but only for about three minutes. And anyone who can, if not exactly replace our favourite Irishman, be just as good but in a different way is, well, good. Yes, I know I just said that. Besides James was given the extra handicap of having to read after Colin Bateman.

And he survived! After a few years of coming back to Stirling, and being part of panels of three or four, here he was, practically on his own, and in a full Albert Halls at that. Yes, I know he appeared with Sue Black, the famous forensic anthropologist dame, but I usually think of her as being paired with Val McDermid, so this was definitely a step up, or two [for James]. And Lin Anderson was there to keep order as they talked corpses and what to do with them.

Lin actually insinuated that we in the audience were somewhat suspect, as though we all had dead bodies we needed advice on disposing of.

James Oswald books

They spoke mostly about James’s latest Tony McLean novel, Written in Bones, and where he put his corpse and what could be done with it after. That’s up a tree in the Meadows (just outside Lin’s flat, I gather), and the trick is how you remove a body without it deteriorating or ending up all over people and roads and that kind of thing.

Sue told us about different injuries to bodies, ante mortem, peri mortem, and post mortem. James apparently got the idea for using a cherry picker from a friend, but when asked if she’d like to go up in one to look at a dead body, Sue replied ‘God no!’

James admitted that Tony McLean is a bit him. He has given Tony most of his own hang-ups. And he does actually own three Alfa Romeos, albeit only one that works and lives in the garage. The other two are in the cowshed. Despite making Tony’s grandmother such an integral part of the books, James never knew either of his; only his maternal grandfather.

James Oswald

Sue said that her grandmother was her best friend, and talked about how tough it was for her teenage self to discover that her grandmother’s sixty-a-day habit was about to kill her. ‘Oh, she was a wicked woman!’ Sue said about her best friend. It seems her grandmother consoled her by explaining that she’d never leave her; that she would be sitting on her left shoulder, where ‘that bloody woman’ has witnessed all that Sue has done. If you’re wondering, the right shoulder’s for the angel.

Sue Black

Sue didn’t enjoy counting dead fruit flies at university, so switched courses at some point. She also had a gruesome tale about a barbecue where you first had to choose your meat, while it was still a living animal… It could be that Sue really doesn’t know what to do when she grows up, but meanwhile she is Professor at the University of Dundee, where she raised half of the two million pounds needed for a new, bigger and better mortuary.

That’s where Val McDermid came in, bringing her crime writing friends in to raise money, for what is now the McDermid Mortuary, after its largest donor. The various tanks in the mortuary were named after other authors, but Lee Child said they couldn’t have a Child tank, so it’s now named after Jack Reacher. Somewhere in the tale of raising money, there is a cookbook, which Sue said was perhaps not the best thing for when you’re involved in disposing of bodies. And beware Sue’s husband’s margaritas. Have one, or possibly two, but after the third you’ll ‘never walk again.’

Talking about the bodies donated for research, they have an annual memorial service for these people, because it’s important to remember who they were . On the other hand, Sue doesn’t approve of ‘body farms’ and after hearing what they do, neither do I. And because we are all experts now, after watching CSI, people like Sue can never hope to compete in court, so juries are less impressed.

James said that on one occasion he made Tony travel outside Edinburgh, to victims discovered near James’s own farm, and when Tony needs to clear his head by going for a walk, he is chased by James’s highland cows. As for himself, he’s so shy he has never asked the police about procedure, afraid he’d be arrested if he did. For him the touchstone is whether what he’s writing is plausible, and he will rewrite if worried. His first bit of fan mail came from a retired policeman who was so impressed he wanted to know who his source was, because he could almost guess.

James Oswald

On the subject of fan input, the most James has had is about Mrs McCutcheon’s cat. ‘Is it all right?’ ‘Don’t hurt it!’ Someone wanted a book about the cat, and James reckons he might manage a short story about Mrs McCutcheon’s cat.

There wasn’t much time for questions, but a member of the audience said they’d done a tour of the mortuary, and it was wonderful. Sue said ‘there is no fear in death,’ but James pointed out he’s really sqeamish and has never actually been to a mortuary…