Tag Archives: Mark Billingham

A criminal song and dance

Isn’t it funny how we seem to be so fond of people doing something other than what they normally do, or are famous for? When my intended Bloody Scotland date with James Oswald et al last night turned out not be available online yet, I turned to the music.

Yes, the music. It’s the obvious thing for six professional killers to engage in on a crimefest weekend. I had actually considered going down to the Albert Halls to see the concert in person, but shied away because it was a bit late. And all those happy people in the audience might be, you know, a little too happy.

As Daughter commented when Val McDermid entered the stage singing, ‘is there nothing Val can’t do?’ I brought to her attention the fact that ladies of a certain age are Very Good At Everything. Cough.

It was very enjoyable. I’d also decided not to take notes, because I was just going to have fun, albeit in my own living room. Anyway, it’s not as if the six – Val, Stuart Neville, Doug Johnstone, Luca Veste, Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre – were talking about their writing. They really do seem to be Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, and they’d been apart for far too long.

They sent us off on a drinking interval, the better to appreciate them in the second half.

The thing is, though, having imbibed the special Bloody Scotland non-alcoholic gin, I was nowhere drunk enough not to mind what happened next. I completely lost my pioneering spirit when part two went soundless. I’m guessing someone switched off the sound for the interval, and then didn’t flick the switch back. The online audience engaged in some frantic chat, and Daughter wondered whether she should actually drive over to the Albert Halls and alert them.

You’ll be relieved to hear that the music came back after 20 minutes, in time for Delilah. It took me until Whiskey in the Jar to thaw, however, so my thanks to Stuart for that. They went out on a high, with I’m gonna be 500 miles – which is a long enough distance for anyone – and my parting words will be that in future they allow [little] Luca to Britney on to his heart’s content. It’s what he wants.

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.

More gigs than rehearsals

There was less music than I had hoped for, or expected, but setting that aside, Friday night’s chat between the six members of The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers was great fun. It’s so strange that a bunch of novelists can just stand up – well, almost – and sing and play and actually entertain an audience with their music, including ending up playing Glastonbury.

An early opportunity was when three of them played at Bouchercon one year; an ‘accidental shambles that worked really well’ (according to Mark Billingham).

Val McDermid is the boss, as well she should be, and the five boys don’t enjoy it when she can’t be there to perform with them. But it’s not only performances that matter, they simply love getting together as a group, each enjoying being with the others.

Craig Robertson was doing the asking, and the starting question was what the first single they bought was. I like Mark! He got I did what I did for Maria, with Tony Christie. Val’s was a Beatles one, Chris Brookmyre liked Skids, Stuart Neville got the ET soundtrack… Yeah. Doug Johnstone, I think, because he wasn’t on screen so it was just a voice admitting to Michael Jackson. Little Luca Veste, as the baby of the group, was grateful for the best decade ever in the 1990s, and he bought an Oasis single (but also likes early Britney…).

But ‘nobody should ever be ashamed of music’ as Stuart put it.

They were all rather mean to poor Chris, who was invited to join them for one song and never left, returning with new guitar playing skills and everything. According to Stuart Chris is so good that he might have been one of Stuart’s pupils! He’s so keen that he once joined them for the second half of an event, because he had his own book event to do first, so couldn’t come sooner.

Early on Doug agreed to be their drummer, because they are hard to find, while guitarists are ten a penny.

Reykjavik without Val had been scary. Some of them would have preferred to turn around and go home again. As Val said, ‘the team is greater than the sum of our parts’.

Their Spiegeltent debut in Edinburgh was fantastic, a free event were the audience clearly expected nothing, but were greatly surprised. (It was packed. I suspect that’s why I wasn’t there.)

And then there was Glastonbury, where the modest Mark asked for too few drinks for them, on what was a very hot day. They were complimented for their crew being the best, except they were their own crew, so… It was ‘a bizarre and educational experience.’ (I’d say so! Stuart even did a Bookwitch thing; arriving supporting himself on a stick, hardly being able to walk, and then feeling just fine afterwards.)

The gang can’t wait to be back together in real life. Val and Doug have done a small thing in a bookshop in Portobello, but that’s all. After all, a group who are clever enough to come up with a song like Paperback Writer can’t be all wrong!

A first bloody afternoon

Marnie Riches offered to carry my drugs for me. It was kind of her, but my haul from Boots weighed very little and I felt I could shoulder the burden on my own. Anyway, she’s the guest, about to enter her first Bloody Scotland weekend, and she should be looked after.

But I obviously didn’t take that sentiment so far that I didn’t let her pay for my tea and scone.

I had just had time for my drug run – I mean my long neglected shopping – before it was time to go and find Marnie at her hotel. Leaving the hotel en route for that scone across the road she encountered a hole heap of crime colleagues out on the pavement, and had to hug a few people like Luca Veste, Mark Billingham and Michael Malone, while I limited myself to uttering only one or two stupid comments.

We went to Loving Food, where we were offered a window seat, from which we saw the rest of Bloody Scotland’s cream of crime walk past while I demolished my scone and we both gossiped about what books we hadn’t finished and how well our children have done.

Craning her neck a little, Marnie kept a check of who seemed to be heading to the pub, asking me who that was who waved to me (Ann Landmann, on our second – of three – sighting of the day), my neighbours, and so on. It’s that time of year when everyone who’s out is a someone.

Well, maybe not the boob tube wearers. The weather was best Scottish and there were a fair few ‘light’ outfits  to be seen. However the two of us were decently covered at all times.

After waving in the general direction of where she’d find the Albert Halls as well as her church venue for Saturday, we recrossed King Street for Marnie to get ready for the evening’s torch-lit procession and for me to pick up my tickets before walking home in the sunshine. I’d like to think the lack of painful knees was due to David Almond’s walnuts. Not his personally; we have bought our own.

Bloody Scotland torches

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.’

Masters of the Dark

Masters of the dark they may well be, but Mark Billingham and Stuart Neville are also a lot of fun. With the help of Peter Guttridge as chair, Bloody Scotland offered a marvellous morning of entertainment, well worth braving a dark and stormy Stirling at noon. You could ask yourself ‘who goes out to a literary event in weather like that?’ and the reply would be, ‘quite a few, actually, including Arne Dahl’ who presumably needed to check out the competition.

Peter Guttridge

Peter was back to his usual sparkling self, and we could have gone on forever. We only got an hour, but it was a good kind of hour. I knew nothing about Mark before, and emerged rather fond of this writer who is brave enough to go out with uniforms, just to see what it’s like at ‘the sharp end.’ Fun, until reality calls, when it gets pretty grim. In the police car it’s mostly filth and farting.

The two policewomen who gave Mark the guided tour suggested putting his DI Thorne back in uniform, which you can do, apparently. They keep their rank, but discover that the bad treatment dished out to uniforms rubs off on them as well. A lower rank non-uniform policeman will talk down to someone in uniform even if they outrank them.

Truth is stranger than fiction. There was some unmentionable stuff featuring cats, pigs and horses. The horse and crime scenes tape story was ‘fun’ though, and I wouldn’t have minded seeing that policeman going over the fence.

Stuart’s new book Ratlines is a standalone which has received heaps of praise. It is about Ireland’s history with the nazis. Set in the 1960s, it features Hitler’s favourite commando, Colonel Otto Skorzeny.

It was a break for Stuart, who wanted to write the story before someone else did. He says ‘you couldn’t make Skorzeny up.’ He lived publicly as a minor celebrity, as well as being an acquaintance of Charles Haughey. Stuart did some research on life in the 1960s, which included finding out you can’t dress a woman in an off-the-shoulder dress. It would have been scandalous. You have accuracy versus authenticity, and it’s the feel of truth that you want, rather than truth itself.

Stuart Neville

Jumping into a police car to see what the job is like, isn’t something you can do in Northern Ireland, because of the paramilitary aspects of policing. The police have a fact sheet which sets out what happens at a murder scene, and ‘that is all you’re getting.’

Strangely enough, Stuart had been criticised for having been unfair to the nazis. He said that the Skorzeny/Haughey set-up made things larger than life, and he had to prevent things from becoming too cartoonish.

Mark said about going back in time that you need to get away from CCTV and mobile phones which you have ‘forgotten’ to charge. There are only so many times you can use that. The Lleyn peninsula is good for having no mobile signal. (I think that’s where his Book 14 is set. The title is under discussion, with the editor disliking what Mark wants.)

Mark Billingham

With old age – as opposed to old, old age – Mark has found he doesn’t care for violence, and much prefers the effect of a single drop of blood. He has discovered, much to his surprise, that he enjoys the ‘window moments’ when a character is resting, instead of charging around in action scenes. Detectives need plenty of depth; the reader should get to know what troubles them away from the crime solving. Stuart has a female detective discovering she has breast cancer, for instance.

You can have too much of a good twist. Mark has dubbed them ‘Chubby Checkers’ where they twist, and twist again. And you shouldn’t keep hinting thoughout a book. You know something, you share it. And he definitely doesn’t believe in characters that take over and tell the author what to do.

Peter Guttridge, Mark Billingham and Stuart Neville

Cumbernauld-man-gone-to-Hollywood, Craig Ferguson, has written the screenplay of Stuart’s novel The Twelve, and it looks like Pierce Brosnan is down to play one of the characters. (Looking forward to that!)

Despite hatemail and abuse on Twitter, Mark feels ‘the time comes when you have to kill a character.’ Absolutely. And Stuart likes ‘rooting for the killer.’ That’s not character-killer Mark, btw. I think he meant fictional killers.

I’ve already lost track of where paranormal noir came into the picture – I didn’t even know there is such a thing – and poor Stuart reads very little these days. That’s the problem with babies.

There was another dead cat, with no truncheon involved, and both these writers have definitely evolved from the early days ‘when you’re often rather like someone else.’

A Bloody Scotland Sunday

I was woken by a strange noise. Worked out it was probably caused by rain hammering on my window. I’m used to the Scottish sunshine which makes no sound at all.

My first Bloody Scotland event of the day was Masters of the Dark with Stuart Neville and Mark Billingham. I arrived far too early, so started by checking out an empty Waterstones, where they were tidying up the piles of books from yesterday.

Stuart Neville books

Stuart arrived, looking rather wet, but better a wet author than no author, I say. I was wondering who gets up on a rainy Sunday morning to go to a literary event, but quite a few did, among them Arne Dahl who perhaps came to check out the competition. Fantastic event (and more about it later, as you well know).

Bloody Scotland bookshop on a Sunday morning

Went back to the bookshop in the lift, and one of the other occupants wondered out loud if it was safe to get into lifts with a group of strangers, given what we’d been listening to. Happily we all survived to have our books signed.

Mark Billingham and Stuart Neville

The name Bookwitch rang a little bell for Stuart, who asked if I was the one with the blog. I was. He had dried out somewhat, and I think he might even have combed his hair, possibly with a view to being photographed.

Stuart Neville

When I discovered the rain had been replaced by blue sky, my sandwich and I went outside to sit on a bench, and soon the sandwich was no more. After some dithering I decided to walk up to the Stirling Highland Hotel, just to see if anything interesting was happening. The steep path looked even steeper from the bottom, so I chickened out and went up the less steep path. (In theory I suppose it’s exactly the same height, since you leave one place and end up in the other, and it’s the same for both options.)

After some aimless walking around the hotel, and coming to the conclusion that the bar looked deserted, I saw Stuart being driven away by car along with Arne Dahl, so that was a brief three-hour visit  for Stuart. Arne was on his way to Manchester. Bought some tea to go with my cake. Had left behind my slices of cake in the freezer at Bookwitch Towers, but the Grandmother got out the lemon cake Helen Grant didn’t eat when she visited. The icing is a bit cardboardy, actually, so that might have been for the best.

Nicola Upson, Martha Lea and Catriona McPherson

Went into the other Waterstones and snapped some author pics of Nicola Upson, Martha Lea and Catriona McPherson, along with Craig Robertson and Chris Carter, who complemented each other well in the hair department. History for the ladies and serial killers for the men.

Craig Robertson

Chris Carter

Decided to get the wee shuttle bus down the hill, and ended up on the long scenic route, when I was expecting merely the long but sensible route. Ballengeich Road was an interesting choice for a bus, even when wee.

There was still too much time left before my Lee Child event, and with very little prospect of staying awake, I reluctantly came to the conclusion that Lee would do perfectly fine without me, and walked ‘home’ instead. Clearly timed that wrong, because the rain only started when I was safely back.

Alex Gray, The Swedish Girl