Tag Archives: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Who will sell a book?

I have been a bit naïve. After all these years I still don’t know ‘everything’ there is to know about bookshops, and the politics between publishers and shops, or chains. I’d know more had I realised that there was stuff to learn and find out about, rather than me believing in common sense in the book trade.

For all the mutterings I’ve done over the years about ‘the buyer from Waterstones’ and how they might not like a cover, say, so the publisher bends over backwards and makes a cover that will please ‘the buyer from Waterstones,’ I hadn’t understood that not all books get ‘accepted’ by – shall we say – Waterstones.

In fact, I still don’t know whether the non-acceptance of a new book by ‘John Smith’ means that you can’t even go into the shop and ask them to order it for you. I should try and find out.

If you can’t, then it seems that there is only Amazon and other similar online shops. If you want ‘John Smith’s’ book, that is. 999 Nuances of Grey and books by comedians are obviously always an option.

I used to think the hurdles you had to overcome were a) write book b) have book accepted by agent c) agent sells book to publisher d) publisher publishes book and sends it out into the world, where e) you hope someone will buy it. Perhaps f) read it. I just had no concept of the gap between publishing a book and it being available for buyers to find.

It appears that if you have a Land’s End novel and a John O’Groats novel, you shouldn’t – necessarily – expect bookshops at the opposite end of the country to stock it. This is just so weird. It’s sort of the continuation of the situation where if you are a white Londoner you must only write a novel about white Londoners, and now you should only expect to see it for sale in a London bookshop.

I can see the reasoning happening. I just don’t understand it.

Most bookshops in the UK probably stock Jo Nesbø’s novels. They were written by a man in a country with five million inhabitants. The population of Scotland is the same, but it seems Scottish books don’t necessarily make it to bookshops outside Scotland. (Because it can’t be that smaller publishers are discriminated against, I hope?)

Many shops are also likely to stock the crime novels by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, who hails from a small country with a population less than Cornwall. I actually have no idea if Cornish novels are treated differently, but if they aren’t, I wonder about the Scottish apartness. The referendum (the first one, about going it alone) was full of people saying we are the same and belong together. If so, what’s happening with books?


Bloody 2016 Scotland Programme

Bloody Scotland programme makers have this terrible habit of putting really interesting events on early in the morning. I mean, I will obviously have to get out of bed for Josephine Tey on the morning of September 10th, but how to last until the end of the day? Regrettably they won’t have the real Josephine Tey, but Val McDermid talking about her is good enough for me.

And from there the rest of the programme goes on and on with tempting combinations of topics and crime writers. There are the really famous names, and then there are the authors I’ve barely heard of. I ought to pick a row of sessions of new-to-me writers for the simple reason that new can mean tremendously exciting discoveries.

But then we have the old favourites. What to do about them? Scotland the Grave, and MC Beaton?

This year’s Bloody Scotland was launched in Stirling on Wednesday, and down south the following day, and being away I was unable to go to either. I shall have to give up holidays.

BBC presenter Theresa Talbot has a debut crime novel to introduce, and England and Scotland have a football score to settle. By how many goals will Scotland beat the English?

Stuart Neville returns to Stirling, as does super-scary Helen Fitzgerald. I am very keen to hear Erwin James talk to Martina Cole, which sounds like a fascinating event. Author crime quiz or Nicci French? How can you possibly choose?

The Curly Coo pub on a Saturday night, followed by a competitive measuring of the relative tartan-ness of people’s noir. Orkney or Northern Lights? Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is back, and with her are Agnes Ravatn and Erik Axl Sund. James Oswald. Craig Robertson. And finishing the weekend with Ian Rankin and Quintin Jardine.

Shetland Noir, only once removed

I’m the kind of witch who can recognise Denise Mina from behind, out of context (i.e. not at some book festival). On the other hand, my Shetland Noir representative, Helen Grant, had no idea who this ‘tremendously likeable’ woman was, gorgeous black furry boots and all. They travelled on the same plane, which despite it being Friday the 13th suffered no mishap, which is lucky for Scottish crime and its future. Helen did know the other crime writer at the airport, though, as she had been at Oxford with MJ McGrath.

Ann Cleeves, Helen Grant and Doug Henshall, by Dale Smith

Helen was on her way to Shetland to receive the Jimmy Perez Trophy for writing the winning short story – The Beach House – from, as it turned out, the very hands of Jimmy Perez, aka actor Doug Henshall. Not bad for a simple misuse of a kitchen utensil. (I can just see how he stands there muttering, ‘not the cheese grater. Please not the cheese grater!’)

Ann Cleeves, Helen Grant and Doug Henshall, by Dale Smith

Strangely (!) Helen was quite keen to see a bit of beautiful Shetland while she was there, so apart from the grand reception and award thing on the Friday night, she ‘only’ went to two events, but they both sound really good. Also very female, because as we know, women scare and kill best. Just look at Helen herself.

Donald Anderson, Jacky Collins, Mari Hannah, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves and Alexandra Sokoloff

There was a panel on the benefits and pitfalls of screen adaptations, with Alexandra Sokoloff, Ann Cleeves, Denise Mina and Mari Hannah, chaired by Jacky Collins. It’s apparently a bit like adopting a baby, and learning to step away. Ann Cleeves had Vera Stanhope adapted after the producer picked up a copy of her book in Oxfam.

According to Alexandra, who has a past as a screenwriter, in America television does sell books, whereas Ann recognises that viewers might not be readers. Denise has had a very successful adaptation made from her book, totally authentic down to the 1980s Irn Bru sign on Central Station.  And on the benefits of adapting a book, Denise said that we love books – ‘That’s why we’re all dweebing out when there’s a perfectly good craft fair on.’ The book is the real connection with another human being.

Jake Kerridge, Laura Wilson, Helen Giltrow, MJ McGrath and Louise Millar

The cheerfully named Killer Women is a London-based group of female (obviously) crime writers, which started as a social group, but now meet to discuss murder as well. In Lerwick Laura Wilson, Helen Giltrow, MJ McGrath and Louise Millar spoke to Jake Kerridge about women in crime, both as writers, detectives and victims. Apparently if the victim is male he must suffer as a spy or at war, and not in a domestic setting.

MJ McGrath enjoys turning things round, like having a female detective instead of just as the sidekick. Her male detective breeds lemmings, in order to replace those who jump off cliffs… Louise Millar has interviewed people affected by crime, several years afterwards, to learn of the long term effects. And MJ interviewed some Hell’s Angels after a murder. She felt that being a woman was an advantage in that situation: ‘Either they want to impress you or they don’t take you seriously.’

Women are ‘equal opportunities readers’ and will read books by both women and men, but men are more likely to read men. Helen Giltrow, who works in a male dominated sector, espionage, has been told ‘you write like a man.’ MJ commented that ‘I have been told with great sincerity and as a compliment, I write like a brunette!’

On sex and violence Laura said that she has heard male writers say that women can go further because if a man writes about sexual violence people will think that he is a pervert who really wants to do it! Louise added that there is also the issue of having to write ‘likeable’ women, which is very constraining.

(I’ve never noticed any ‘constraining’…)

On the gossip front the latest news from Ann Cleeves seems to be a non-crime (I’m guessing non-fiction) book about Shetland. Because she loves it. Alex Gray is incredibly nice, and she and Helen talked about Bloody Scotland. Valerie Laws’ sleep was not helped by waves breaking against the hotel wall right beneath her window. (At least the sea stayed on the outside.) Marsali Taylor wins [Helen’s] prize for best dressed crime writer, with a stunning fuchsia silk fitted dress with gold embroidery and matching trousers.

After a weekend like this, Helen can almost see herself having more of a go at adult crime. It was ‘inspiring.’ And next time she flies to Shetland, her woolly hat will be in her hand luggage.

Doug Henshall and Helen Grant, by Dale Smith

Putting the Edinburgh 2015 bookfest to bed

Charlotte Square

It’s time to put the finishing touches to my book festival bits and pieces report. If I can even remember what I did and who I saw. If I can even find my notes (Although, I can always make things up.)

The first few days I had my photographer, until she went and left the country. It’s understandable. I’m a hard witch to go gallivanting with.

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Then I was on my own, holding pen in one hand (except for when the ink ran dry) and pad in the other, and my camera in my third hand. But it worked, more or less. My first photocall I couldn’t remember who I’d come for, although I recognised Yrsa Sigurðardóttir when I saw her.

Chris Close

And I was pleased to ‘meet’ Nicola Sturgeon and see her selfie skills at first hand. I came to the conclusion that to make your event sell out like Roy Gill’s, you create a Facebook event and invite everyone, even your second cousin in New Zealand.

Nicola Sturgeon and Val McDermid

One day I travelled into Edinburgh in the company of Helen Grant, who was going to the Teen Titles event at the library. In actual fact, an awful lot of authors were going to that, and more still would have gone had they not had book festival events. Crazy Kirkland Ciccone went as some kind of Andy Warhol meets Boris Johnson in a beret. I had the opportunity of admiring Nicola Morgan’s shoes, which is a not inconsiderable experience.


Saturday gave me Eoin Colfer and the ducks.

EIBF ducks

For my last day I made a list of events to go to, official photocalls I was interested in and the unofficial opportunities of catching authors signing after events I’d been to and events I’d been unable to go to. I colour coded them, and had three columns, in strict chronological order, and I still had to refer back to it again and again because I got muddled up. I needed to identify breaks long enough to eat in, and got confused because it looked like the hour I was in an event, I’d be free to have lunch, and then worked out that wasn’t the case at all.

How nice it would be to be less old.

Which brings me neatly to my discovery when I got home and checked Google images to see what Sarah Ardizzone looks like, as I saw several people at her translation event and didn’t know which one was her. She turned out to be the one I’d taken a photo of in the signing tent that day, just because she happened to be sitting there with author Marjolaine Leray, next to Liz Kessler.

Sarah Ardizzone

Marjolaine Leray

Liz Kessler

Luckily some authors spend forever signing books. This helps people like me catch up with them, when I would otherwise have missed them, in the midst of that colour coded list with not enough food breaks. Francesca Simon is one, and she was there with Steven Butler.

Francesca Simon

Steven Butler

Lauren St John

Lauren St John is another long signer, very popular with her fans, as is Tom Palmer who is clearly doing something right with his sports novels.

Tom Palmer

I had ignored the name Gordon Brown on the photocall list, assuming that since I’d seen the politician last summer, it was bound to be the crime novelist this time. But it was the former PM, and I even caught him signing after his popular event, shaking the hands of everyone in the queue.

Gordon Brown

Chris Riddell made a second appearance that day, this time with his long time writing partner Paul Stewart.

Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart

Before I ran for (OK, hobbled towards) my train home, I photographed the still very cute Christophe Galfard, physicist and former PhD student of Stephen Hawking.

Christophe Galfard


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.’

The next big thing is Higashoo

Those of us who braved the unexpected rain on Sunday morning, could enjoy a discussion on The Next Big Thing with Barry Forshaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, editor Jade Chandler and Val McDermid.

Barry Forshaw, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Jade Chandler and Val McDermid

In between pronunciation issues and translations that made sanitary towels into bath towels, Barry kept hinting he knew the answer. It’s Higashoo. Sort of. I cornered him afterwards and even he didn’t know what he’d been saying, so there is little hope for me.

Barry Forshaw

The cream of Nordic crime has now been joined by less creamy novels, and the future might lie on some hitherto unheard of Scottish island. Or Man. Manx murders, anyone?

As long as president Putin doesn’t say he likes – or dislikes – what you write, you’ll be all right. Hopefully.

After Yrsa had said how she just likes creepy stuff, we crept uphill to the Highland Hotel and the one children’s books event of the weekend. It was free, which only goes to prove how undervalued children’s books are. We had the excellent Gillian Philip and Cathy MacPhail, along with the to me unknown, but now very scary, Helen FitzGerald talking to Christina Johnston.

Gillian Philip, Cathy MacPhail and Helen FitzGerald

The ladies chatted on the subject of Once Upon a Crime, and were photographed next to a clothes hanger. I worry a bit about the significance of that. They each read from their books, and Helen’s piece was about seeing your mother’s dead body. I think she said Deviant is her happiest book, so I don’t know… She road tests her books for teen authenticity on her daughter. For money.

Helen FitzGerald

Cathy, who does ‘like a good murder,’ learns about her genuine child characters on school visits. She likes writing from a boy’s point of view, and her next book, Mosi’s War is another boy book. What Cathy does not like is to be put in the Scottish section in shops, next to Nessie.

Cathy MacPhail

Gillian read from The Opposite of Amber, and said she tries to avoid slang for fear of it dating too quickly. But she doesn’t tone down content for YA. For her it simply means the protagonists are younger. And she does swear in her books.

Gillian Philip

All three bemoaned the lack of room for reviews of children’s books in the papers, and seemed to feel the answer might lie in reviews by young readers.

After getting a couple of Seth MacGregor books signed, we rolled down the hill, back to the Albert Halls for The Red-Headed League. An all star cast of crime writers read a dramatised version of one of Sherlock’s best known mysteries, with Gillian Philip as the villain. Karen Campbell had the most unlikely red hair, and Craig Robertson was Lestrade. Members of the audience – OK, other crime writers dotted about – made up the other hopeful redheads.

The Red-Headed League

Waiting outside beforehand provided a parade of Who’s Who in Scottish crime, with most authors walking past our sandwich-bench under a tree. (It was still trying to rain.)

Sarah Reynolds

Once an arrest had been made, it was on to the Worth the Wait short story competition, where out of 232 entries, they had chosen the best 19 for their free ebook (download it now!). The winner Sarah Reynolds received her price from one of the sponsors.

And then it was time for the inaugural Scottish Crime Book of the Year  Award 2012, introduced by Sheena McDonald and presented by William McIlvanney. The winner was Charles Cumming for A Foreign Country.

Charles Cumming

Once this was done, we trooped out and most of us went home. Sort of.

Except the witch who likes to meet authors. She had tea with Helen Grant, who is even scarier (in her books) than most of the Bloody Scotland lot.

Then we went home.

Evil and deadly and Scottish (ish)

It’s going to be blo*dy difficult to choose. I am talking about Bloody Scotland. The programme goes live today, and I have to urge you to buy tickets while stocks last and all that. Hurry.

You might also want to stock up on stamina. I began making a list of what I want to see and hear, and setting aside that little inconvenience of having mislaid my timeturner, meaning I can only go to one event at a time, I have come to realise it could turn out to be too taxing going to one event for every slot in the day. Do you think? Or perhaps I can?

Bloody Scotland venues

It’s in Stirling, and what better place for it? The organisers have commandeered the Albert Halls and the Stirling Highland Hotel. They are near each other, so the toing and froing will be OK. Or would be but for that little matter of the hill. The hotel is the former Stirling High School, the alma mater of the Resident IT Consultant. (No, he didn’t go to school in a hotel. He had to go somewhere else.) The Albert Halls sounds grand, and seeing as it has been good enough for the Singing Kettle, it will be good enough for the cream of crime.

I’m aware that I haven’t listed all the crime writers who are appearing. You will just have to check out the programme. Karin Fossum and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir are coming, which means it’s not exclusively Scottish. It’s northern, though, and Scotland has expressed this understandable interest in joing the Nordic countries. And I daresay that if they murder well enough, we might let them.

There are so many great looking events I don’t know how to choose, and I won’t even try to list them here for you. What I absolutely mustn’t miss is Gillian Philip and Cathy MacPhail with Helen FitzGerald talking about YA crime.

A couple of fancy dinners are also part of the programme, where you can dine with your favourite crime writers. I hope that the former school does nice meals. They say the dinners go on until late. Luckily it’s downhill on the way home (unless, of course, it isn’t – depends on where you intend to sleep), so that’s all right.

Get on that website now and book your tickets. There are even reduced prices if you buy lots (except I’m not sure they have been reading those maths books I’ve mentioned) of tickets.

See you there!