Tag Archives: Sophie Hannah

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 Even the unpublished ones pitching their first novel, spoke of series.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?

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Closed Casket

I must admit I can’t work out what the four words are. Having finished reading Sophie Hannah’s second Poirot mystery, Closed Casket, I remembered her saying at the Edinburgh launch that four words describe the whole thing. You know, something like ‘the butler did it.’ Except he didn’t. I mean, maybe he did. I’m saying nothing.

There is an outlandish character in Closed Casket, but one I had no trouble believing in, as I’ve met someone like that myself. I wonder if there is one like that in most people’s lives?

Sophie Hannah, Closed Casket

In this second Poirot outing we meet an Enid Blyton kind of children’s mystery author. Very rich and famous, this woman changes her will, leaving everything to her dying secretary, which is a weird thing to do. And from that we have our mystery. Who will die, and who murdered them and why?

More so than in Sophie’s first Poirot novel, I felt this one gave more space to Poirot’s Scotland Yard friend Catchpool, letting Poirot work around him. They have been invited to the author’s home in Ireland, and while the house itself is fancy, the surroundings seem less attractive than we are used to in Agatha’s own books. Much less vicarage chintz for the blood to spill on, so to speak.

There is a whole cast of likeable – and less likeable – characters, and it really was difficult deciding who must have dunnit. In fact, I didn’t. I just let myself  float along, happy to let any of them be the bad guy.

Klootzak of the year

Father Christmas listens. It’s amazing how, even quite close to Christmas, the man in red has time to listen to find out what people want. I obviously wanted nothing, but happened to mention that I could do with educating a bit, in regard to music. Lo and behold, what did I find? CDs featuring Bowie’s and Adele’s finest.

Other than that, it was – unsurprisingly – mostly books. What better way to celebrate the end to 2016 than with good old Enid Blyton’s Famous Five on Brexit Island. That will be a jolly read. We also cheered ourselves up by laughing uncontrollably at electric chairs. Yes, it is in very bad taste. I’m sorry. Daughter had bought another quiz book, but the questions were so hard – even for the Resident IT Consultant – that we abandoned it and went back to last year’s quiz volume.

Daughter was shocked at how few presents I got. I was surprised at how many there were for me. She is now an adult. This was made clear by how many gifts she gave and how few she received. (She has rubbish parents.) The generations have swapped places. Luckily a famous author called at Bookwitch Towers last week, with a Christmas present for the witch. Flemish insult on the outside – specially for me – and a migraine trigger on the inside, so I will share it with the Resident IT Consultant. We are both happy.

There were elephants. I have no idea why.

Amaretti. I think I know why. Socks. Obviously.

And the Resident IT Consultant went to bed with Sophie Hannah, looking very happy. (I await my turn.)

Next year I shall have to resort to wrapping individual toffees to increase the number of presents under the tree.

Sophie Hannah on her second Poirot

Despite Edinburgh’s trams trying really very hard to keep me from Sophie Hannah’s event at Blackwell’s on Thursday evening, they failed. I steamed in just as Ann Landmann was pressuring everyone to move closer, saying there – probably – wasn’t going to be any audience participation to worry about. I was just pleased to be so late but still find someone had kept Bookwitch’s corner on the leather sofa for me. That’s all I cared about.

Ann at Blackwell's

Ann was busy stroking Sophie’s new Poirot novel, Closed Casket, suggesting what a good Christmas present this lovely, shiny book would make, hint, hint. (And it would, were I the kind of person who gives people presents.) The rest of you, pay attention! Buy Closed Casket for everyone.

I have heard the background to how Sophie was given the lovely task of becoming the new Agatha Christie before. I was interested to see how much she’d be able to vary it. It was about half and half; some the same, some new.

She put most of the blame on her crazy agent, who doesn’t do reassurance terribly well, and thinks it’s OK to tell her she is ‘brilliant, etc’ when she needs to be comforted. (As an aside I reckon Adèle Geras [Sophie’s mother] was quite correct in feeling her daughter should have been made head girl at school. Sophie is a very head girl-y kind of person.)

Basically Sophie got the job (Agatha Christie, not head girl) through good timing, and also by having plenty of experience of Dragon’s Den. Whatever that is. And you ‘can’t say no to Agatha Christie’s grandson.’

Sophie Hannah

The idea for Closed Casket, which incidentally is another four-word idea [like Murder on the Orient Express], describing how the novel ends, came when she had an argument with her sister. As Sophie now ‘blames’ her Christie fixation on her father Norm’s cricket book collection, I feel we have much to thank the Geras family for.

She doesn’t know if her book is any good, but she does know that her idea is. It’s the best and simplest idea ever, and she is very fond of this book. It has an Enid Blyton style character in it, and if the first chapter is anything to go by, I can see this will be a fun book to read.

Sophie doesn’t write chronologically, and in this case she was so tired that she began with the easiest chapter. Chapter 23. The house where the murder takes place was found by extensive time spent on Rightmove until she happened upon a house in Ireland that fitted the bill. So no, nothing to do with Irish politics in 1929.

Sophie Hannah

As she doesn’t know how many Poirot books there might be, Sophie is eking out the years between 1928 and 1932, not letting much time pass between her first two mysteries, just in case. Hitherto every generation has discovered the world of Agatha Christie, but not the current one. That’s partly the reason the Christie family needed something new to offer potential readers, and the idea appears to have been successful, with fresh interest in Poirot.

No, writing Poirot is not difficult. It has ‘instantly become the thing she most wants to do.’ Even if she does have to share the profits with the Christie family. Sophie does not want to write any Miss Marple stories, if only to prevent herself from believing she actually is Agatha. She’s already half expecting them to turn over Agatha’s house Greenway to her…

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.)