Tag Archives: John Connolly

The greats on a Sunday

Sunday nights are generally for some of the best, kept until last. The pattern seemed to hold, with Mark Billingham talking to John Connolly, followed by Val McDermid with Lee Child, and I settled in for some fun.

The first two talked football, at Bloody Scotland and elsewhere. John wants to play for Scotland if he ever makes it to Stirling. Mark thought he’d be made welcome. They moved on to fashion and women’s tights, dwarfs, Snow White, and acting.

I like Mark and adore John, but really, they sounded like – almost – any pair of men, getting together talking about stuff that is no more interesting for having been uttered by a famous crime writer. I switched off.

Once dinner was over, I turned my attention to Val and Lee. It was Wyoming vs New York, 10 miles to the mailbox, long winters, Stetson hats and four-wheel drives. Lee has opinions on these vehicles, but also pointed out he has a different one ‘at his English place’.

There’s a problem with Tom Cruise, but not when he gives you a ride to the football in his helicopter. Other actors have the wrong accent, are too thin, too good looking, and so on. ‘The Reacher Guy’ hasn’t got it easy.

They most likely will not be writing about the virus, although Val had written a drama about plague when Covid started. One of those weird coincidences. Mrs Child had read a novel written in the past, set in 2060, and something viral having happened forty years earlier. The Spanish flu was not very visible in fiction, or so they said.

Lee admires Angela Merkel, and Bill Clinton. When Val had the temerity to mention Barack Obama, we learned that he hasn’t read Lee’s books. If that was me, I’d be reasonably proud to have met the man for long enough to be told he hadn’t read anything I’d written. In fact, I’d prefer for him not to be frittering away his time on my words, when there is a world to look after.

I like Val, and previously when I’ve seen her talking to women, she’s not needed to be quite so much ‘one of the boys’. Lee was pretty much the way he was 15 years ago. Authors only need to write great books. It’s a bonus if they are fun and witty and intelligent, but there is absolutely no need for them to be important, rich or cool.

So that was the 2020 Bloody Scotland. It was convenient to be able to ‘meet’ people at home, but it was nowhere near as much fun as in real life. For me personally, the main gain was not having to fight for the seat I want; the one at the back, nearest the door.

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What shall we do without Kerry?

Yesterday the Bookseller delivered the unwelcome news that my favourite publicist is retiring. Yes, Hodder’s publicity director Kerry Hood is hanging up her, well, I don’t know what she’s hanging up. But something. Her not being one of those 27-year-olds, I did realise this time would come, but I pushed the thought away and hoped for the best.

Because that’s what Kerry has given me; the best PR help and some of the bestest authors. (I’m sure the woman cherry-picks…)

We first met eleven years ago, when I forced her to bring me Sara Paretsky. Seriously, I had no idea people were so easy to force. Nor did I know that publicists could speak, I mean type, like normal people, which is why when I got this email I’ve treasured it all these years, ‘Crikey! Yep – that’s you!’ (It refers to an unexpected appearance by me on Sara’s website.)

Hodder's Kerry

The next time was in that maze they call Nottingham, and I will link to the whole blog post here, because it shows so clearly how Kerry provided 110% book & author experiences.

More recently I have had thoughts such as, ‘that looks like Peter Robinson over there! I wonder where Kerry is?’ I’ve not had enough time to be a Peter Robinson fan, but his choice of publicist is certainly a recommendation.

Kerry has not only facilitated meetings with authors of interest, but she has gently pushed me in the direction of others that she just knew would be my kind of author. And there have been so many books, usually dispatched with that admirable hands-on technique that I – well – admire. Everyone should be like that.

I have so many great Kerry-related events that I can’t link to them all. Hence Nottingham. I know I’m not alone in this fan behaviour. Just mentioning her name leads to others admitting they love her too.

Daughter and I met Kerry’s dog when we were in London. I had no idea that having your dog in the office could work so well.

I hope there will be another lovely dog for Kerry’s retirement, if that’s what she wants. And maybe the odd appearance at book events? Please? Or just call in for tea.

The Dublin Ghost Story Festival 2018

No, I did not attend this Dublin book festival, but I am not above borrowing freely from others.

Helen Grant who is heavily into ghosts, as we know, was invited to attend, and she not only met Joyce Carol Oates, but she moderated her panel!!! According to Helen’s blog post about it, this was her first moderation experience. Well, to my mind they couldn’t have picked a better ghosty moderator. Or do I mean ghostly..?

Ray Russell, Helen Grant, Andrew Michael Hurley, V.H.Leslie by Diala El Atat

It seems that Dublin was wonderful and the bookshops were wonderful and the people attending were also a bit wonderful. And Helen shook the hand of John Connolly. (Beat you to that, dear.)

On the other hand, it’s not easy pleasing the fans. Helen had gone looking on Goodreads to see what people thought of the masters of ghostliness:

‘M.R.James:
I can’t finish these.
Extremely overrated.
L.T.C.Rolt:
I had high hopes for this & all i can realy say is this book didnt meet them.
Sheridan Le Fanu:
a bit amateur-ish and poorly derivative.
Bram Stoker (Dracula):
overall, it was shit.
Don’t read this book. It’s awful.’

I suppose just because a book is old doesn’t mean it has to be good…

Books To Die For, again

Hot on the heels of Bloody Scotland comes the paperback version of Books To Die For. You know, the book about crime writing by crime writers for crime readers that I love so much. (I’ll tell you a secret. When I picked the books I just had to have with me during my temporary home displacement, BTDF was one of the few I simply had to have by my side. It is that wonderful.)

So two years after John Connolly and Declan Burke travelled round talking about their beautiful collaboration, here it is for anyone who managed to miss it first time round. Who wouldn’t want to hear about Sara Paretsky’s favourite, or find out whose favourite Sara herself is? And so on and so on.

The main danger as always, is finding more people whose books you must read than you have time.

And that leads me to the – slightly horrifying – thought I had on Sunday when listening to Sophie Hannah talk about her admiration for Agatha Christie. Because a lot of the writers in BTDF started their careers in crime by liking Christie’s work.

Like me, Sophie began reading Christie around the age of 12. It was the natural thing for people that age with a taste for reading and that inexplicable spare time we all seemed to have, to do. You looked at your parents’ shelves, or maybe the neighbours’ shelves or anyone else among close grown-ups. And you’d find Christie and you’d try her and most likely be hooked.

After that, you’d go on to more crime, and more, and more.

We didn’t have all those books children today have, and I’m all for pointing the 10-year-old reader in the direction of Artemis Fowl. But will the Artemis Fowl fan grow up to be a fully paid up member of crime reading? Do 20-somethings read a lot of crime today?

I have no idea, and I’m the first to admit I’ve not been pushing Agatha Christie at young people, either. Offspring know her through television. Will she be known mainly for ‘screenwriting’ for Joan Hickson and David Suchet? And what will happen to that natural progression towards all kinds of – written, fictional – crime?

Books To Die For could take over from those parental bookshelves. I hope it will.

OxCrimes

Pop down to your local Oxfam and buy a copy of OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers and support the work of Oxfam while giving yourself something good to read for the next few hours.

It’s got ‘practically every crime writer’ contributing. Even the ones I’d not heard of, as I had to confess to yesterday. But especially the ones I do know. Foreword by that Rankin chap who always pops up and takes part in every worthwhile venture going. (All right, not everyone. But 27 isn’t bad. Plus Ian Rankin.)

OxCrimes: 27 Killer Stories from the Cream of Crime Writers

The stories were of every imaginable kind, including a pretty scary sci-fi thriller crime tale from Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. There’s war crimes and ghostly crimes, sexy ones and the usual crime-y crimes. How Anthony Horowitz could be allowed to say what I’ve always suspected about public toilets (you know the kind…) is beyond my comprehension. Now none of us will want to go.

My favourite – if I’m allowed one – has to be Stuart Neville’s, which was brilliant in all its period simplicity. Not to mention chilling.

As for the rest, I think I’ve listed them all. You will know some better than others, just like me. You might find a new favourite, or even one you wouldn’t mind killing slowly and painfully. What do I know?

It’s all in a good cause, even if the blood flows fairly freely in places.

‘With previous books OxTravels and OxTales having raised over a quarter of a million pounds since their 2009 publication, Oxfam is hoping OxCrimes will raise even more, helping to tackle poverty and suffering around the world. Visit Oxfam’s Emergency Response pages to find out more about how you can help.’

Bookwitch bites #120

Bah, rubbish! And I mean google and unresponsive websites. I went looking for the link to Peter Dickinson’s essay A Defence of Rubbish and found nothing. I understand the origin is a talk from 1970, but I read about it not long ago. Unfortunately, as this rubbish stands, I can offer no link.* Sorry.

I was reminded of this when I came across another – not quite so old – piece on reading rubbish, by Clémentine Beauvais on ABBA. I don’t know how I missed it, seeing as it stirred lots of feathers, and quite rightly so. Clémentine is against, but a lot of people believe in rubbish.

So do I, although there is good rubbish and bad rubbish. I’m probably most in favour of the better stuff.

John Connolly Edgar award by David Brown

Not rubbish at all is what I can say about John Connolly’s recent Edgar Award for Best Short Story for The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository. (I’ve not read it, but I very much doubt he’d win anything if it was bad. Or that John would write bad stuff.) The photo of John and Edgar is pretty appalling, however. Could almost have been taken by me, but wasn’t.

More Irish excellence with the news that Eoin Colfer is the new Laureate na nOg, which I believe means he’s their Malorie Blackman. Congratulations to Eoin, and here’s to the great work he’s bound to do, for books and reading!

Someone who definitely gets young people reading is Liz Kessler, who recently reported that there is now a fantastic screenplay of her Emily Windsnap, written by a Hollywood-based producer and an amazing scriptwriter. As Liz points out, that’s still a long way from it becoming a film, but it’s a start. We’ll be waiting!

You don’t have to wait quite as long, and there’s more certainty, for the Borders Book Festival. The programme is out now, and the festival itself will happen in five weeks’ time. Who knows, I might even make it there this year. Bring on the famous Scottish sunshine!

*Below are two screen caps of parts of what Peter said:

Peter Dickinson, A Defence of Rubbish

Peter Dickinson, A Defence of Rubbish

Conquest

Science Fiction set at Edinburgh Castle and in the Scottish Highlands? If it didn’t actually have aliens, I’d say that Conquest is like any other – fabulous – story about invasion and resistance movements. Written by John Connolly (does that man never sleep?) and Jennifer Ridyard, Conquest is the first in their mature YA sci-fi series The Chronicles of the Invaders.

Despite the aliens I’d have felt it was more civil war story than sci-fi, except it looks like we are heading out into space for the next instalment.

Set in the not too distant future, Earth has been invaded by the Illyri, from a very long way away, arriving via multiple wormholes. They were pleased to find a race so similar to themselves, but shocked at the crude behaviour exhibited by us humans. As with many invasions, it seemed at first as if the Illyri were more civilised, but we’re all the same; good and bad and ‘human.’

John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard, Conquest

16-year-old Syl lives with her father at Edinburgh Castle, and like most teenagers she likes to disobey the adults occasionally, which is how she meets Paul Kerr, a 17-year-old member of the resistance. At first he doesn’t realise she’s Illyri, and he saves her life and then she saves his, and after that both of them are in danger.

This is a fantastic tale of deception and intrigue, politics and love. (Star Trek meets Braveheart?) There are witches and spies; some with special abilities. Conquest is very pacy and exciting. You just don’t know who to trust. The Illyri have brought with them people from other planets, and some of them you’d rather not think about too much.

Gruesome in places, but also lots of food for thought regarding what we – in reality – are doing to this planet.

The Creeps

Or Samuel Johnson vs. the Devil, round III. (Actually, that has more of a ring to it, I think.)

John Connolly, The Creeps

Samuel Johnson must be one of the most wonderful boy heroes in fiction! I love him. I’m not alone in this, because there is a fair amount of love in this last (I wish it wasn’t) book in the trilogy by John Connolly, although it is also about one of the worst dates in history.

Mrs Abernathy is back, if only in bits and pieces. That woman certainly knows how to hold a grudge! After so much exciting stuff taking place in Hell and other far-flung settings, it almost comes as a surprise to spend most of this book in the somewhat unusual town of Biddlecombe.

I like second and third books. That’s when you know what’s what and you and the supporting characters have learned to find your way around. Even the stupid policemen have stopped being quite so idiotic, and have the good sense to know when they are up against the devil and generally supernatural things. The same goes for the – almost – loveable dwarfs.

You know where you are. Biddlecombe. You know Mrs Abernathy is bad, even in molecule form.

I’m a little concerned that the scientists sent to Biddlecombe from CERN in Switzerland are nearly more stupid than the policemen, but you can’t have everything.

It’s not only the molecular Mrs A you need to worry about. Teddybears and armed dolls are not toys. (Think Ilya Kuryakin and the dolls…) Beer can damage your health, and who cares if your best friend is a little green?

As with the first two, The Creep is a very funny book. John’s footnote style asides are most entertaining, and should go a long way to educating young readers. But along with that lovely humour you do get the serious aspects of life, love and friendship. Courage.

Love conquers all, and there were tears at the end. (Obviously not absolutely everyone can be allowed to survive.)

I need more books like these. They are what makes life worth living.

Friday the 13th

Fascinating Aïda used to sing a song called Taboo. One line was about inviting a vegetarian to a barbecue. In the case of Daughter yesterday, it was more about the wisdom of asking the vegetarian to order the food for the AstroSoc barbecue for Freshers’ week. I have no wish to ask for more details as to what she actually bought. (Grilled mushrooms anyone?)

The event was shared with the Physics students (might be Quantum Soc?), who wanted them to have a plan B in case of rain. It won’t rain, Daughter told them. And, you know, Astrophysicists are surely that little bit closer to any potential rain, so would know what’s coming. That’s my theory.

It was Friday the 13th. Did you notice? My travelling went better than the date made me expect, but I suffered the ignominy of being mistaken for a woman who goes to Blackpool. By the time I got to Manchester Piccadilly the platform was full of (superficially) similar women, all heading for fun in Blackpool. I changed trains in Preston, and the Grandmother later told me about the time when she did that, and a kindly man tried to tell her she didn’t have to, because it was a through train to Blackpool. (He found it hard to grasp that she wanted to go to Glasgow.)

I spent part of the day reading about devils and demons. In two separate books. What are the odds? I expect the date helped. First I read a short story about The Good Little Devil (with my breakfast, if you want to know). Then I moved on to John Connolly’s latest Samuel Johnson book, which as the disCERNing fan knows features CERN and the Higgs Boson.

Once Daughter had got the barbecue going, starring whatever devilish veggie-burgers she could muster, she left the two Socs to their fate and grabbed her gown (academic, not dressing) and dashed downtown for her meeting with Hillary Clinton and Peter Higgs.

Hillary Clinton at St Andrews

It wasn’t a threesome, but when people like that come to town, you go and see them. At least if you’re so boring as to having applied for tickets before the star turns became publicly known. As it happens Professor Higgs didn’t come. But what Daughter forgot to mention was that Hillary Clinton wasn’t exactly alone.

Rowan Williams. Mary Beard. Tim Berners-Lee. Jane Goodall. To name but a few ‘nonentities’ who were there. Apparently the former archbishop said his only claim to St Andrews fame was having married two of its former students.

Hillary Clinton at St Andrews

I mentioned Glasgow. Like the Grandmother, I went to Glasgow, where I overheard someone talking about crayfish kebab. Walking from Glasgow Central to Glasgow Queen Street I came across a poster for safe sex. No, I didn’t. I looked again. Surf and Fax was being offered. So did I hallucinate that crayfish kebab?

Once I’d reached my destination I learned that the Hungarian Accountant is in town. But also that Eoin Colfer isn’t.

Sob.

Bookwitch bites #97

Let’s start with a stolen photo, shall we? (My thieving is getting worse. Or better, depending on how you look at it.) Here is a photo, which might have been taken by Gill Lewis, winner of the Salford award last week. It was on her Twitter, anyway. And the lady between Jamie Thomson and Josh Lacey is not Gill, but Barbara Mitchelhill, who narrowly avoided that dinner.

Jamie Thomson, Barbara Mitchelhill and Josh Lacey

Another award is Sefton Super Reads. They have announced their shortlist for the summer, and it’s pretty good. The lady above is on it, for instance. And so are some of my other favourites, and some unknowns (to me).

• Ruth Eastham, Messenger Bird
• Fabio Geda, In the Sea There Are Crocodiles
• Caroline Green, Cracks
• Barbara Mitchelhill, Road to London
• J. D. Sharpe, Oliver Twisted
• David Walliams, Ratburger

In fact, there are awards absolutely everywhere. Declan Burke could be in for an Edgar for his hard work on Books To Die For, along with John Connolly. I don’t know who or what they are up against, but if ever a book and its creators deserved an Edgar, Books To Die For must be it.

While we are in an awards kind of mood, it appears Adrian McKinty is on the shortlist for The Last Laugh for The Cold Cold Ground, which will be awarded at Crimefest later this year.

Nick Green, The Storm Bottle

Finally – in more ways than one – Nick Green’s The Storm Bottle is available to buy. That’s over three years since I reviewed it, which happened by some odd fluke (me looking into the future, kind of thing). So far it’s ‘only’ on Kindle, but if you only ever buy one Kindle book in your life (although that sounds a bit unlikely, now that I stop and think) this has to be it. The Storm Bottle! Very good book! Sad. Funny. Exciting. Does not end the way you expect it to.

Dolphins can definitely talk.