Tag Archives: Theresa Breslin

Launching The Rasputin Dagger

I stood right next to the sign for Theresa Breslin’s book launch at Waterstones Sauchiehall Street as I asked a member of staff where it was going to be. Obviously, I only noticed as he’d very politely told me second floor. It’s not easy being an idiot.

After another turn round the lower ground floor just to show I was in no hurry, I got the lift up to the second floor, marvelling at the thickness of the floors, as well as feeling slightly ill. It’s a glass lift and you can see ‘everything.’ Seeing as I could see so much, I immediately noticed Alex Nye and a surprisingly soberly attired Kirkland Ciccone browsing crime fiction at – separate – tables, as though they were there separately.

Still feeling the shock of Denise Mina’s Bloody Scotland story, I unburdened myself to Alex, who just might have read a little in the shop’s copy to see what the fuss was about. Seems she’s a Thomas Hardy fan…

Anyway, both of them actually needed to buy books. I wonder how that feels?

Theresa Breslin at the Rasputin Dagger launch

When we were allowed to enter the events room I found Mr B, who did what he does so well; whipping out a fake beard, pretending he was Rasputin. I don’t mean he always tries to be a Russian monk, but that he enters into the spririt of his wife’s books. This time his personalised t-shirt had a dagger on the back. Better than in the back.

Cathy MacPhail and Kirkland Ciccone at The Rasputin Dagger launch

Cathy MacPhail and Moira Mcpartlin joined us and we sat down over drinks and crisps, although we gathered we were meant to stand up. I’m too old to stand up, so we rebelled. Also encountered Kathryn Ross and Kate Leiper, with Yvonne Manning, which was nice.

Moira McPartlin and Alex Nye at The Rasputin Dagger launch

It seems the events area is a new thing for Waterstones, and it looked good. I think more bookshops should have rooms for this kind of thing. After an introduction, Theresa spoke a little about the background to her book, and then she read, from chapter one, and the bit where Rasputin dies. She also mentioned that someone in the room knew someone who knew someone who’d met the Tsar.

The Rasputin Dagger launch

This probably wasn’t the rather young lady (granddaughter?) who ran up and hugged Theresa’s knees mid-read. But I imagine she might have found out that I favour the input from little ones at events like these, which could be why it seemed unfair to her when she was carried away again.

Theresa Breslin at the Rasputin Dagger launch

After chatting to the Waterstones host about the women’s demonstrations in Russia, Theresa mentioned their early right to vote, comparing this with Britain, and then they moved on to Argentina around fifteen years ago and the lack of food there, before we were invited to try the special cakes.

The Rasputin Dagger launch

To avoid being stuck in Waterstones all night, I left just before the pumpkin struck eight, and because the trains are back to being difficult (what would we do if the trains ran properly??), Kirkie and I walked down Sauchiehall Street; he to a bus and me to the last train. Moira gave Alex a lift for the same reason, and then it seems Alex got on my train in Stirling as I got off…

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Emergency grade two

For August, we’ve had a lot of snow.

OK, the weather in Sweden wasn’t as great as I wanted it to be, but there wasn’t snow. It was still summer.

But I read snowy books; several in a row, with no planning or anything. As with most coincidences it was, erm, coincidental.

There was Michelle Paver’s Thin Air. Very cold, lots of snow.

Piers Torday’s There May be a Castle is very snowy indeed, and also rather chilly.

Theresa Breslin had a variety of weather in The Rasputin Dagger, and some of it was snow, and plenty of it was cold.

The latter made me think about Calling a Dead Man by Gillian Cross. Again. There’s something about snow and Siberia which often reminds me of that exciting story.

And then Daughter went to Chile again. Whereas it is winter there, snow is rare, even at 2500 metres. After all, precipitation is not what they built the telescopes for. They want clear skies and dry air so they can get on with the ‘star gazing.’

La Silla Observatory

But yeah, snow is what they got. Daughter’s colleague saw a little snow there in May which, as I said, was rare. Never let it be said we can’t go to extremes, though. Three days (by which I mean nights) in, they had snow. Lots of it. Luckily they also have snowploughs up in the Andes.

No observing for three long nights, while all those poor astronomers sat around playing games, in order to keep their night-time rythm, and being driven by staff in fourwheel drive vehicles to tend to their telescopes, because it was an ’emergency grade two’ situation. (I was quite relieved there was no driving allowed, as I didn’t fancy any of them sliding off a hillside in the dark.)

La Silla

To cheer himself up, the Resident IT Consultant googled an article from the same place thirty years ago, when one of the scientists wrote about his exciting and snowbound weekend. Shows how rare it is.

Anyway, Daughter’s telescope was fine. It had its winter hat on and was ‘fed’ liquid nitrogen by her every evening. And then it was business as usual.

It was also summer time, as the clocks changed while they were snowed in.

Talking about a revolution

I’ve said it before, the school events at the book festival are often the best. And I was grateful to masquerade as a secondary school pupil on Wednesday morning. As I said, I even had my tie. Although, not all the students wore uniform; some did, some didn’t.

Theresa Breslin was there to talk about revolutions, and mostly the Russian revolution one hundred years ago. Lindsey Fraser introduced her by saying that she has known Theresa a long time, and she has always been interested in many different things. This is obvious from all the books she has written, on a variety of subjects, and always good.

To begin with Theresa read from chapter one of The Rasputin Dagger, about the massacre in St Petersburg in 1905. It’s something I recall from my school history books, but it was never like when described by Theresa. She really does bring history to life.

Theresa Breslin

The character Stefan was twelve years old when he took part in this peaceful march because people were starving. And then his mother and many others were massacred. He was radicalised by this, and it made what happened in 1917 the only way forward for Stefan and countless others.

The dagger in the story was one Theresa found in the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul many years ago, and just knew she had to use in a story. And some years ago when the Edinburgh Book Festival sent fifty writers to different places in the world, they sent Theresa to Siberia. It was somewhere she’d never have gone otherwise and it was a fantastic experience. She loved the light in Siberia. Less so the idea of encountering wolves and bears in the wild.

She talked about Rasputin and his background, and about the haemophilia the Tsar’s only son suffered from. She showed photos of the Summer Palace and the Winter Palace, where the Royal family lived, seemingly oblivious to the suffering of the people.

When writing this book Theresa had a deadline, since it was about what happened in October 1917. And as it was about real people, she couldn’t change what actually happened. She looked into the rumours that Anastasia survived the murder of the Tsar’s family.

Theresa Breslin

When she was in Siberia she collected names for characters, and made lists of things like street names. Sometimes she needs to get to know her characters before she can tell what their names might be. And to, well, maybe confuse herself, Theresa would hold her notebook up to a mirror to try and read mirror image, seeing if she could decode the ‘Russian style’ words.

Talking about Charlottesville today and how there is a split between the sexes on how people perceive what’s going on, Theresa reminded the pupils that whereas women had few rights in Russia, in 1917 more women there had the right to vote than did British women.

Asked which of her characters she might be, she felt she is Frances in Remembrance. And she recalled the librarian of her childhood, a ‘dragon librarian’ who forced children to pass a reading test before they could borrow books. Theresa mused on the fact that she went on to become a librarian herself…

Theresa Breslin

She also remembered a very bad review in one of the Sunday papers once. Mr B brought her tea in bed, which made her realise it was bad news. But her son-in-law later barbecued the review.

Day 6

Thanks to me wanting a scone (although it turned out not to taste terribly nice) I found Moira Mcpartlin downing an espresso at the station café, which was very nice indeed. We were both going to Edinburgh, so suddenly I had company, which was both welcome, and positively useful, as Moira kept me awake. And there was all that delicious book and author gossip to engage in.

Moira Mcpartlin

In Charlotte Square the first thing Moira needed to do was photograph her own book (Wants of the Silent) in the bookshops. Which is a perfectly normal thing to do. Then we went over to admire [the photo of] Kathryn Evans in her swirly dress, and as we stood there a black clad figure wearing an enormous witch’s hat walked past and into the Corner theatre.

Kirkland Ciccone

An hour or two later I discovered this had been Kirkland Ciccone. It being a really warm and humid day, he said he’d been too hot, except when you’re as cool as he is, you can’t be too hot. So that’s fine.

The first thing for me was to find Amanda Craig who was signing after a morning event in the Spiegeltent with Gwendoline Riley. Amanda told me it had been a good event, and how much she enjoys the book festival.

Amanda Craig and Gwendoline Riley

I rested in the yurt for a bit, and was able to hear all the shouting going on in the tent next door where Lari Don was entertaining a large horde of schoolchildren. Caught her just before her signing, when she was having a one minute rest.

Lari Don

Theresa Breslin

My main reason for day 6 was to join Theresa Breslin’s school event (they said I could), so Frances kindly walked me over there and told them it was all right for me to sit in. When Theresa arrived, she handed me a school tie from Mr B, to make me blend in a bit. It made all the difference. And the event was much better than the one in my dream in the early hours (the reason for me feeling so sleepy).

Theresa Breslin

Afterwards Theresa signed for a good hour, which meant I also managed to see Nicola Morgan who was half an hour behind in the signing tent. That’s what I like about these weekday school event days; my authors all over the place. So then I slipped across the square to the children’s bookshop, where I saw Judy Paterson, and Jenny Colgan with Kathryn Ross who had chaired her event.

Nicola Morgan

Judy Paterson

Jenny Colgan and Kathryn Ross

On my way back to the yurt I encountered Cathy MacPhail en route to the Main theatre and there was time for a little hug. Saw Elizabeth Laird arrive, and then went to sit outside the yurt while waiting for a last photocall. Press boss Frances went off to buy green ice creams for her crew, which they licked in the rising heat, after first taking pictures of her posing with the five cones.

James Oswald

At last it was time for Norwegian crime writer Thomas Enger and James Oswald to face the paparazzi, and me. I think they were both taken aback by the onslaught of so many cameras all at once. Chatted to James while Thomas was being ‘done’ and it sounds as if it’s not something he’s used to encountering. And when it was James’s turn, I mentioned to Thomas that we’d met in Manchester a few years ago. Luckily he remembered who he’d been with, as my memory was fading a bit.

Thomas Enger

I picked up my school tie and half-eaten scone and walked to Waverley in the heat, ‘enjoying’ the piper on the corner, and narrowly missing my train. But there was another one soon enough, and it was both cold and empty, which is the beauty of travelling mid-afternoon and mid-week.

School tie

Day 4

The days are getting shorter. Well, I suppose it’s that time of year. And it felt like even the long trains were also shortening; unless there really were that many extra daytrippers yesterday, being a Sunday and that.

DSCN0184

I didn’t quite make it to see Jo Nadin or Tony Ross at their signings, but you can’t have everything. I was there for the event with Maria Turtschaninoff and Alwyn Hamilton, chaired by the little known Daniel Hahn. It was in the new Bosco Theatre venue, out on George Street, and this was my first time. What I will say is that Theresa Breslin was spot-on earlier in the week, when she said it was lovely, but not for wearing stiletto heels in. At the time, Keith Charters and I looked at each other, both fairly secure in the knowledge that we wouldn’t be.

The other thing about the venue is that the signing tent is very small. No room for Bookwitches wanting to take pictures, except for this close-up of Alwyn’s handbag contents. But I dare say it wasn’t made with me in mind.

Alwyn Hamilton and Maria Turtschaninoff

I joined Daniel Hahn outside instead and forced him to sign a book (one he had edited, so I wasn’t being totally unreasonable) and then he made me want to go to Denmark with him in October…

After this fantasy event I wandered back to Charlotte Square, catching William Dalrymple signing for a queue of fans, after what looked like a full Main Theatre event. I feel I know, as I stood there trying to take photographs of Chris Close’s picture display, and I tried at just the wrong moment, when the whole tent walked past, very slowly. Well, obviously it wasn’t the actual tent that moved, but the people who had been in it.

William Dalrymple

Hoped to see Ross Collins and Claire Barker after their event, but they must have been busy chatting to admirers, as they hadn’t emerged when I had to make a move.

Because, dear readers, I had an interview to conduct, and was meeting Maria Turtschaninoff in the gap between her own event and seeing Jonathan Stroud. We sat in the sunshine on the deck outside the authors’ yurt, chatting about mothers and books and how arrogant Sweden is towards the other Nordic countries. I mean, I said that. Maria is far too polite to.

And as she went off with a bagful of Lockwood books, I walked to Waverley again, prepared to fight the other festival-goers, but struck lucky by finding an unexpected train going my way a couple of minutes later, and it wasn’t even full.

Bosco Theatre

Day 1

What a day! Now all I need is for the rest of the Edinburgh International Book Festival to be as good. And if the sunshine could continue shining? As I might have mentioned yesterday, I had a good line-up for Tuesday, and it did not disappoint. Nor did any of the day’s little bonuses.

After collecting my press pass, which is a new, edgier design this year, I picked up my events tickets from a boiling entrance tent. I reckon they were expecting rain with that ‘glass’ ceiling in there. I nearly expired, and was grateful I wasn’t queueing up for returns for Peter May.

I ate my M&S salad and ran for Barry Hutchison’s event, where I found Lari Don, busy checking out the competition. Well, she said she was enjoying seeing her colleagues, but… In the bookshop, after I’d taken hundreds of pictures of Barry, I encountered Keith Charters standing next to the Strident shelves, surreptitiously checking they looked all right. They did. He’d been expecting to rearrange them.

Strident books

While we were talking about running, and stargazing, Theresa Breslin arrived on her off-day, and the conversation turned to Kirkland Ciccone, as conversations sometimes do. Then Keith and I went over to bother Barry for a bit, and to find out how he writes quite so many books quite so fast. He was mostly – I think – pondering the groceries he had to buy on his way home, and how appearing at the book festival wasn’t quite as glamorous as it was the first time.

Barry Hutchison

Glamorous would be the word to describe Judy Murray, whom I saw as I returned to the yurt area. Onesies never looked classier.

Stephen Baxter

I did another turn round the bookshops, and found Stephen Baxter signing for adults, and in the children’s bookshop a signing table for, well, I’m not sure who it was for. But after some googling I’d say that the people in this photo are Ehsan Abdollahi – who was originally refused a visa to enter the country – and I think Delaram Ghanimifard from his publisher. And I only wish I’d stopped to talk to them. (I didn’t, because the books on the table confused me.)

Ehsan Abdollahi and Delaram Ghanimafard

Begged some tea in the yurt before walking over to Julie Bertagna’s event with William Sutcliffe. I noticed a man in the queue behind me and my witchy senses told me this was Mr Bertagna, which was confirmed later. And I couldn’t help noticing that ‘my’ photo tree either has moved, or the Corner theatre has, or the theatre has grown fatter over the winter.

Tree

Was introduced to Mr B and also to Miss B in the bookshop, after Julie and I had covered Brexit and Meg Rosoff and lunches in our conversation. And then I needed to go and queue for Meg’s event, which seemed to draw a similar crowd, with much of the audience being the same as at Julie’s and William’s talk.

Julie Bertagna and William Sutcliffe

Miss Rosoff had come along, as had Elspeth Graham, who has been involved a lot with Meg’s work on Mal Peet’s last book, which Meg was here to talk about. Spoke to Louise Cole in the signing queue, before Meg persuaded me to miss my train in favour of having a drink with her.

Meg Rosoff

So she and I and Elspeth chatted over wine and water on the deck outside the yurt, and many people were discussed, but my memory has been disabled on that front. Sorry. They had a French restaurant to go to and I had another train to catch.

I hobbled along Princes Street as best I could, and hobbling fast is never a good look, which is why I paid little heed to being hailed by someone who insisted on being noticed, and who turned out to be fellow ex-Stopfordians Philip Caveney and Lady Caveney. They had been to a church half-filled with water. Apparently this was very good.

My train was caught, and the Resident IT Consultant and I ended up at our destination almost simultaneously. I believe we both thought that our day had been the best.

The Rasputin Dagger

In memory of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Theresa Breslin has written a wonderful historical novel, filled with fear and violence, starvation and romance.

Theresa Breslin, The Rasputin Dagger

The title might be The Rasputin Dagger, and Rasputin and the Tsar family do feature in the book, but this is mainly a story about normal people – brave, normal people – during a time of great upheaval and danger.

16-year-old Nina has recently been orphaned and must leave her home to go to St Petersburg to seek a new life. There she meets medical student Stefan, as well as the Royal Romanov family and the charismatic Rasputin, who seems to be running the show.

There is a war on with Germany, and there is serious unrest at home. Lenin wishes to return to Russia and the soldiers want to survive so they can return home too. The Tsar is weak, and the people hate Rasputin.

By some strange coincidence, Nina owns a jewel-encrusted dagger, which is the twin of one belonging to Rasputin. One of the daggers is said to carry a curse.

The readers feel the cold, and we can imagine ourselves in the early morning queue for bread. The poor need medical help they can’t afford, and the soldiers who return are in a bad shape and require more than the doctors can give them.

This is a lovely, historical, romantic adventure, with nice (yes, nice) people doing the best they can under appalling circumstances. And even though you know that both Rasputin and the Royal family will soon be dead, and Lenin will take power (and you know how that worked out, too), you still wonder how it all will end.