Tag Archives: Sophie Hannah

A pathological liar

Even though I know I will love listening to Sophie Hannah talk about her new book, it takes me by surprise how entertaining she is. Fun. Intelligent. I’ve had her A Game For All The Family sitting here for a while. First I was going to read it immediately, but you know how that tends to go. After that I was too scared to contemplate it. Because Sophie is one scary woman, too.

Sophie Hannah

She’s satisfied with the title of her novel. She got the words from numerous boxes containing board games and the like, and her novel is about a family playing games, just not Cluedo or Monopoly. It’s her first standalone novel, and she couldn’t use her normal detectives Simon and Charlie, because she needed the police to be useless. And to be in Devon.

It’s about pathological lying, which is different from ‘normal sensible lying.’ She was inspired by her daughter’s friend, who was an unusually interesting nine-year-old boy. (Sophie tends to go out of her way to avoid children.) Set in a house on the same spot as Agatha Christie’s Greenway, it was inspired by Sophie’s family holiday there.

Sophie Hannah

Sophie has to plan everything in advance, as her ‘mysteries are so weird’ and there is generally just the one possible solution. She reminisced about her own house move from Bingley to Cambridge, moving not because they needed to, but because she felt like living in Cambridge. It made her feel a bit neurotic, worrying about having randomly moved her family, possibly tempting fate in doing so.

As a child she used to write jolly, childish stories, but rarely of the fingerprints and DNA variety. She talked about the pathological liars she has known. Her husband told her ‘no one is even remotely as weird as you.’ She feels attuned to the weird side of life, and loves inviting insane guests for dinner. (You’ve been warned.)

Apart from for her Poirot novel Sophie has come up with the titles for all her books, and she likes having the title before she starts writing. She feels there is often a link between what authors like reading and the kind of books they write. Sophie grew up on Agatha Christie and Ruth Rendell, who are both favourites, as well as P D James’ Innocent Blood which she would go up to strangers to recommend.

Sophie Hannah

At the moment Sophie has four and a half days off from having finished her next book, The Narrow Bed, before she starts on a secret writing task that has to be done by Christmas. I think we can guess.

When I got home, all fired up, I discussed the book with the Resident IT Consultant. I said I must read it. He – who has read it – commented on the plot, and I said ‘that sounded like a bit of a spoiler.’ He looked embarrassed before saying he’d better not say any more. Wise man. Maybe I’ll gag him.

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.

The Bloody Scotland programme, and other fun stuff

They had to launch the Bloody Scotland programme without me, but it’s actually quite a good one despite this.

Before the Bloody Scotland weekend even begins you can go to writing classes – if you are young enough – or you could take part in their short story competition. And then, on September 11th (hm, that’s an ominous date…) the Stirling goings-on start.

There are many of the regular Scottish authors we have come to expect, from Lin Anderson to Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and Philip Kerr. Sophie Hannah is returning to talk about what looks like an even scarier book than usual. We have Nordic Noir, and Arne Dahl is coming. Edinburgh also offers some noir, and Alexandra Sokoloff knows about self-publishing. Brighton Rocks, and there’s the poisons of Agatha Christie, and Pitch Perfect (which might not be about a capella singing).

Plus lots more.

And when all the fun in Stirling is over, you could hop on a chartered plane to Shetland to discover the settings Ann Cleeves has used in her crime novels, and you can do it in her company. There will be film locations, too, and you can ask Ann questions. That’s not a bad deal at all.

(I’m going to have to sit down and do some realistic calculations on how much fun I will be able to tolerate.)

My teacher, Mrs Christie

When Sophie Hannah was talking at Bloody Scotland about growing up with Agatha Christie, it was like hearing myself speak. Or it would have been if I could sound as intelligent and articulate as Sophie. And I wished I’d known this ‘sister’ back when I was twelve, except at the time her mother Adèle Geras was barely out of university herself, so Sophie and I were never destined to be the same age at the same time.

Also, we wouldn’t have had a language in common. It was more our behaviour and reading patterns that seem to have coincided. I’m pretty sure I didn’t go to school with children who read Agatha Christie at twelve. If I had I might not have felt like a freak.

And if there was a likeminded child at school, I’m reasonably certain they didn’t read Agatha in English. (This peculiar habit of reading in a foreign language really only took off with Harry Potter.) Mrs Christie was my English mentor/teacher. If not for her, I wouldn’t have tried. And I suppose I wouldn’t have attempted it if first I’d had to go to the library to check out their foreign langauges section. It helped that Mother-of-witch had a few Christies in the original; leftovers of her own attempts at educational improvement. So I could test drive them to see if it would work, and it did. Reasonably.

Agatha Christie, The Man in the Brown Suit

I was going to ask the rhetorical question of whether I’d be blogging right now, were it not for Agatha Christie. But my question has to go deeper than that. Not to be blogging wouldn’t be the end of the world (I mean, if I’d not started, I’d not know what I was missing). But would I have come to Britain to live? There would in all likelihood not have been a Resident IT Consultant. Or Offspring.

Perhaps Agatha wasn’t so much my English teacher, as my life designer. Not that she knew, but still.

It’s extraordinary what an early exposure to niblicks will do to a little girl.

The Monogram Murders

I was quickly enveloped in a lovely, cosy timewarp on starting to read Sophie Hannah’s The Monogram Murders. I was a little surprised by this, but concluded that it had been a really long time since I last read an Agatha Christie novel, and longer still since it was a new Agatha Christie novel. OK, The Monogram Murders is not Agatha, but it is very nicely Poirot.

Sophie Hannah, The Monogram Murders

The setting is 1929, and it’s most satisfying to find we could go that far back in time. At least it is when you can live like Hercule Poirot and the people involved in a murder mystery of this type. You’re halfway to being in a period film.

I could never work out who did it in Christie’s novels. There were always so many twists and turns, and that’s true here as well. You sort of suspect and feel what must have happened, but it wasn’t quite like that.

Poirot is approached at the beginning by a woman who fears she is about to be murdered, and when she disappears, Poirot worries she is already dead. Meanwhile, his new friend Catchpool from Scotland Yard has a triple murder in a posh hotel to investigate. Before long, it’s clear the two are connected.

He might be ‘on holiday’ but Poirot needs to exercise his little grey cells, and he comes to the rescue of Catchpool who is feeling out of his depth.

I don’t see how Christie fans can help but want to read this book. Lovely setting, wicked people, and a lot of confusion both in London and in the small village, which is behind all that happens. There are vicars and doctors and inn-owners, irate spinsters and widows, plus The Glamorous Woman.

And there is Poirot.

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.

Sophie Hannah on Poirot

Sunday morning at Bloody Scotland just had to mean Sophie Hannah on writing the new Poirot. As Alex Gray who talked to Sophie said, it’s the kind of thing that will make you very excited. There had been a lot of serendipity involved in her getting the job, which involved Sophie’s crazy maverick of an agent (a man with hints of Sophie’s mother, Adèle Geras), a HarperCollins editor, Agatha Christie Ltd, and the fact that Sophie already had an idea for a plot that she simply couldn’t make fit into her own novels.

A life-long Agatha Christie fan, Sophie knew the books very well (and hearing her talk about them made me want to rush home and start re-reading), and like Poirot she is rather OCD (in her case about the tassels on her Persian rug). She reckons that David Suchet is Poirot, but she didn’t write with him in mind. There is a strong film interest in her book, The Monogram Mysteries, but as she pointed out, David Suchet has said he won’t do more Poirot.

Sophie Hannah

The novel is set in 1929 in the gap between The Mystery of the Blue Train and Peril at End House. Poirot has gone on holiday, to temporary lodgings opposite his own flat (which seems to have been inspired by Sophie’s father, Norman Geras), in order to be free from people seeking his help. The story is told from the point of view of a young detective called Catchpool, to avoid Sophie having to try and imitate Agatha’s style of writing. Catchpool is there to offset Poirot, to be bright, but obtuse.

One of the many coincidences in her being given the task of writing the book was that long before this she had booked a family holiday staying at Agatha Christie’s house, Greenway. Another odd thing was that the week they were there, the filming of Dead Man’s Folly took place on the property. Sophie worked every evening, and by the time the holiday was over, she had the whole novel in her head. She is ‘very serious about crime fiction’ which is the best kind of fiction.

She accidentally invented a new way of writing while jotting down her ten page plan, when it became 100 pages with every detail of the book. Sophie found that this meant she could forget worrying about plotting while also trying to write nicely, as the job had already been done. (She has since written her latest novel in this way as well.)

Before Sophie was allowed to go public with the news about her book, she discovered on Twitter that feelings go very deep when it comes to people taking over writing somebody else’s work, and she was shocked but not worried. She sat down and thought about it and came to the conclusion it wasn’t morally wrong, and that real fans would want to read a new book, and others were free to not read it. Most of her Twitter followers have since come round, with the help of tea and scones, except for Troy in Minnesota.

There was no reason to list what had to be in the book; she knew instinctively what it needed. She’d be happy to write another Poirot, but does not feel she should be the one to write about Miss Marple – a shrewd old bat – but this would be better done by someone else, like Lee Child…

Her Christie favourites keep changing, but Murder on the Orient Express remains on top, along with Sleeping Murder, and more recently Lord Edgware Dies (it’s got the best murderer in it) and After the Funeral (best motive) and Appointment With Death (psychological tyrant).

People who say Agatha was not a terribly great writer are wrong. There’s a reason Agatha Christie sold more books than anyone else, apart from the Bible and Shakespeare. The books can be read by a 12-year-old ill in bed, or a middle aged professor. They are the perfect blend of simple and complex; funny but filled with darkness, suffering and torment. Sophie reckons that people who say the books are no good ‘might just be a bit stupid.’

Sophie Hannah

The last question of the morning came from ‘Troy  in Minnesota,’ or so he claimed. Probably here for his tea and scones. Sophie said she likes rules, whether for poetry, crime or Agatha Christie. And her own next book has a bit of Golden Age Mystery in it, now that her appetite for such things has been awakened.

Alex Gray spoke for all of us when she said that we would happily have stayed another hour. At least. I feel sorry for anyone who didn’t get out of bed early enough to hear Sophie talk Christie.