Friday, 30 October 2009
Panellists: Austin Camacho (moderator), Jack Fredrickson, Greg Herren, Adrian Magson, Michael Wiley.
This was another panel that sent me scurrying to the bookroom, having discovered an author I'd never heard of before - this time Michael Wiley. It also reminded me that I need to read one of Adrian Magson's books as he was excellent on the panel and very funny.
Austin Camacho set the scene by talking about living in a technological age, how the PI can give the writer more flexibility than either a police procedural or an amateur (ie you can do more than either of those for different reasons). He asked the panellists whether the settings they use continue the noir, fatalistic, gritty settings of old.
Jack Fredrickson said that he tries to use every device he can - including setting - to disguise the fact that he doesn't know anything about plot! He said that he does use a gritty setting (just outside Chicago). Adrian Magson uses London as a setting, although he does like to move his characters around and vary things. He likes to keep a contemporary feel to his books.
Austin Camacho then asked the panel whether their PIs adhere to the traditional, heavy drinking, heavy smoking detective.
Greg Herren said that when he first started his series his protag was a smoker. He had him quit in the second book, but he still gets stoned. He's not much of a drinker. Herren quoted Julie Smith as saying "New Orleans will break your heart and wreck your liver." Michael Wiley said that the new heavy drinking/chainsmoking detective is now a non-drinker/non-smoker.
Austin Camacho asked the panel about technology and science. He said that PI stories tend to focus on questions and characters and not so much on forensics. He asked the panel how they coped with technology and whether the technological age made it harder to write PI novels.
Greg Herren said that he had lived through Katrina when technology shut down for a while. He also said that he was not the best at technology since it took him five years to work out that he had 'hotkeys' on his computer (note to self - check computer for hotkeys). In his first book his protagonist had a computer but no cell phone. He also has a computer tech - that way, the character has no need to learn anything and neither does Herren, so he can take the lazy way out.
Adrian Magson said that his character Riley Gavin uses a Blackberry but that the most use she puts a laptop to is when she throws it at someone's head. He said that you can get into the trap of your characters relying on technology too much. He also pointed out that in the UK your every move can be followed on a security camera in some cities. Michael Wiley also has his character throwing technology at someone - this time a cell phone. Camacho himself said that his protagonist is a luddite and he finds it no fun to write the technological stuff.
The panel were then asked about the kinds of cases their protagonists get involved in. Who is the client of the 21st century PI and how has this changed?
Jack Fredrickson felt that the clients are the same because people are the same now as they have always been. Michael Wiley agreed, saying that the things which interest him are sex and murder and people have been doing both those things forever.
The topic then turned violent (although not literally, they were all very polite), Camacho saying that in the 40s and 50s PI novels the violence was generally a simple rough and tumble. He asked the panellists whether they felt that today's readers are more sophisticated about how people fight each other.
Adrian Magson said that he used to teach Tae Kwon Do but he doesn't put much of that into his books. He tries to keep things realistic and felt that too much martial arts detracted from the plot. He noted that in the UK there are very few guns and that they tend to be in the hands of the bad guys. His protag uses an asp and Adrian went down to his local police station to ask how to use one. Needless to say, he got some odd looks. Camacho also said that he tries to keep things realistic. His character is a trained kick-boxer, but real fights in real life tend to be very short.
Turning from violence to attitude, Camacho asked whether the idea of the smartass PI has remained the same. Jack Fredrickson said that to be a good PI you have to have an attitude - you need one to function in that kind of world. He added that if you can do it humourously it sharpens the distinction between the dark side and the lighter side and he likes that contrast.
Greg Herren said that his protagonist was a smartass. He tried to make his first book dark and noir and thought that he had succeeded but at the first reading he did people were laughing. He said that he doesn't mean to do it and if he could find a way to stop it he probably would (note to self - buy a Greg Herren book).
Austin Camacho then asked the panel who they felt was doing it right in terms of the PI novel. Michael Wiley said that there were a lot of people doing it right and that the PI genre is far from dead. He likes writers who are aware of what is politically correct but aren't going to go there (note to self - buy a Michael Wiley along with the Herren). Greg Herren cited Laura Lippman, Sara Paretsky, Val McDermid and Sean Chercover. Of Sean he said "He makes me want to quit...bitch." Camacho cited Marcus Sakey and George Pelecanos but also said, interestingly, that he doesn't feel that the new Raymond Chandler or Ross Macdonald has been published yet.
When asked about great 20th century writers the panel were worried could get forgotten Adrian Magson said Leslie Charteris and Greg Herren said John D MacDonald.
Another excellent panel.
Thursday, 29 October 2009
Ian Rankin on How Writers Write.
Val McDermid on her choice of neglected classic book.
The lovely Caro Ramsay now has a blog.
The many faces of Sherlock Holmes at the movies. And a preview of the new one.
New Zealander Craig Sisterson on Scottish crime with an interview with Stuart MacBride, an audio review of Ian Rankin's THE COMPLAINTS and Val McDermid's FEVER OF THE BONE.
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
DISLIKES: romance, books that have too much swearing in (I guess that's my Dad not going to read my next book either, then - I thought it was just my Mum I had to keep away from it). Also doesn't like horror, and books with vampires, pterodactyls and the living dead in them. Also, something called an ungoliant. No, I have no idea either - I think my Dad has been at the sherry.
LIKES: thrillers, spy novels, war stories and books with elves in (the elves can swear their little heads off as far as he's concerned). Oh, and maps. He bloody loves maps. If you ever meet him, for goodness' sake don't ask him for directions. Not even to the bathroom.
The Redemption of Alexander Seaton - Shona MacLean
Publisher: Quercus Publishing
Published: May 2009
The old woman lifted her candle the better to observe me.
"You would not think of going out tonight?"
"Aye mistress, I would."
She fixed me with a look I knew well. "On a night such as this, no honest man would stir from his own hearth."
"Indeed he would not, mistress," I said. "But as you have often assured me, I am no honest man." I took down my hat and, bidding her no farewell, I went forth into the remorseless storm."
What my dad says:
This was an awkward book to review. At first I thought it was going to be a contender for a new Olympic sport, "Jumping to Conclusions". After getting hooked into 17th century Scotland I realised there was much more to it. I do not know if it was the author's intention but it appeared to me to be a journey of self discovery by the main character Alexander Seaton.
It tells the story of his efforts to find the reasons behind the death of an apprentice to the local pharmacologist and his daughter. It covers the local troubles with religion, witchcraft, and the prejudices of the times.
Alexander, a priest, failed to obtain a living through a stupid error and the enmity of others. He reluctantly takes the position of teacher to the youth of the town, through his efforts finds out who the murderer is and the method used. Later he is offered a position in the church and so sets out for the tests which will confirm his status.
I found the development of the characters was extremely good, some were likeable and others were easy to dislike.
In all a very easy book to read once you had slipped into the 17th century and forgotten about this one.
Message from me: Dad - you've always been in the 17th century haven't you?
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Grant McKenzie at Author Toolbox on writing, reading, and his ideal day off.
Irvine Welsh at The Guardian on what he sees in the mirror.
Toronto's International Festival of Authors - Writing Scotland Q&As with Margaret Elphinstone, Quintin Jardine, Denise Mina, and Ian Rankin (nice mention for Al Guthrie!)amongst others.
The Rap Sheet hosts an excellent conversation between Megan Abbott and Lee Horsley (author of THE NOIR THRILLER. Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Monday, 26 October 2009
Is the UK film industry struggling?
Vote for your favourite neglected book at BBC Radio 4's Open Book site.
The lovely Dorte from DJ's Krimiblog reviews Helen Fitzgerald's DEAD LOVELY. And, talking of Helen Fitzgerald, why does she always manage to do events when I'm not in town? This one's on in Glasgow's Borders on Saturday 31st October. See also further down the page for an event by Gordon Brown, author of FALLING, on Thursday 10th December.
A report on Val McDermid at Warwick Words.
Ian Rankin's new sleuth. And here, he talks about his Edinburgh.
Alexander McCall Smith on playing Bridge.
More on the violence and misogyny brouhaha,
Sunday, 25 October 2009
Denise Mina is reviewed in Toronto's NOW Magazine.
And well done to Ian Rankin who wins the V Festival award from the Institut de Cultura de Barcelona. He also appears in Belfast where he showcases THE COMPLAINTS and gets excited about a plot to kidnap a tiger. And still more Ian Rankin here, in a pre-performance discussion of James Hogg's Confessions of A Justified Sinner (which I'm going to see in a couple of weeks).
More on Alexander McCall Smith making a monkey out of Macbeth, including news that it may be coming to Scotland. And in the real life Scotland Street, residents are having their door plates stolen.
Irvine Welsh on how TRAINSPOTTING allowed him to buy a home for his mum.
Aly Monroe appears at an event at the Edinburgh Bookshop on 18th November.
Alex Gray featured at Suite 101.
The lovely Brian at BSC Review on his top 50 novels of the decade, which includes Scottish author Ray Banks. And, since of the ones Brian mentions that I've read, I absolutely love all of them, I'm going to be using this as a shopping list for new books. Some further excellent recommendations in the comments section.
The Telegraph reviews Liam McIlvanney's ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN.
The 'As Others See Us' exhibition, which includes Christopher Brookmyre.
And, finally, he's not Scottish, but following on from the Bouchercon panel I reported on in my last post, here's one of my favourite writers - Steve Mosby - on violence in crime fiction. An excellent post.
Friday, 23 October 2009
Megan - who was an excellent moderator - started off by pointing out that after all these years the idea of a female character is still focused on and there was no equivalent 'male' panel at Bouchercon. You can write from the point of view of a doctor, cop, serial killer and no-one says anything, but write from the point of view of the opposite sex and people comment.
Derek Nikitas said that he tells his grandmother not to read his books. She came to one of his readings but he said it was OK because all the swearing was in Spanish
Thursday, 22 October 2009
The Inverness Book Festival may be moved to the summer next year (why? It's still going to pee down).
Gerard Brennan interviews Liam McIlvanney over at Crime Scene NI. And also names Allan Guthrie and Liam McIlvanney in his top 10 for 2009 so far.
Jay Stringer reviews Helen Fitzgerald's THE DEVIL'S STAIRCASE at Do Some Damage.
Allan Guthrie and Stuart MacBride entertain fifty Fifers. No tassels or pasties involved.
And more Fife fun as Christopher Brookmyre visits Inverkeithing on Monday 26th October.
Norm at Crime Scraps reviews THE REDEMPTION OF ALEXANDER SEATON by Shona MacLean.
Val McDermid and Ian Rankin team up for a fundraising event for Raith Rovers. More Ian Rankin - this time at the Biggar Little Fest. And at the Belfast Festival. And, busy bee that he is, he talks to the Ottawa Citizen about his latest book THE COMPLAINTS. And, if you're in Toronto on October 27th you might want to go and see Ian Rankin and Denise Mina.
Aly Monroe launches WASHINGTON SHADOW in Edinburgh on November 18th.
Fancy a job with the Scottish Crime And Drug Enforcement Agency?
And, finally, here's the lovely Christa Faust's telling of The Night Of The Walking Dead in Indianapolis.
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
Dark Books For Dark Times
Panellists were Reed Farrel Coleman (moderator), Larry Beinhart, J T Ellison, Michael Lister and Duane Swierczynski. I've read and loved Reed's and Duane's books and the 'find' of this panel was Michael Lister, an ex prison chaplain.
This was an excellent panel, and Reed was a brilliant moderator. He allowed a free flow of discussion and let the audience ask loads of questions (with prior warning that there should be no dissertations in the questions (having sat through one or two interminable questions at Bouchercons past, designed only to demonstrate the questioner's brilliance and erudition, I, for one, really appreciated that warning!).
Duane Swierczynski felt that dark books are about people who have lives worse than ours (he cited Balloon Boy as an example) - reading about their torment makes you feel better, even if it is selfish and wrong.
Reed asked the panel about how 'dark' is often synonymous with violence. Michael Lister felt that darkness reflects the choices that we make, but also that there are so many paths which are chosen for us and which we have no influence over. Duane commented that David Goodis described pain and darkness very well.
There was then a discussion on whether a truly dark book has to be dark all the way through, or whether a happy ending at the last minute makes it not a dark book. Michael Lister commented that, for the victim of the crime, it is dark and it doesn't get any darker, no matter what the ending. J T Ellison said that novels can examine the horrible things people can do to each other, but when you read the newspaper, things are even worse. Larry Beinhart commented that Dexter is 'happy darkness'.
Reed said that he finds cosies very dark, said that he once saw someone dying of a gunshot wound and quoted SJ Rozan (quoting someone else) "A cosy is a book in which someone is murdered but no-one is hurt." He also noted that in Jason Starr's books he finds it impossible to care about any of the main characters but that he still really likes the books. Bad people doing bad things are good to read about.
The discussion then turned to humour. Duane cited James Elroy's books as being very funny in places. He enjoys both humour and darkness and feels that the balance and contrast make a book better. J T Ellison note the coping mechanism of cops using black humour. Larry Beinhart loves humour in dark books, and Duane commented on a scene in Hammett's THE GLASS KEY which had the protagonist being beaten up again and again as being very funny.
Michael Lister agreed that contrast really helps and said that in noir films the visual style is high contrast. He said that he has a lot of light in his life but loves to explore the darkness. You don't have to be a dark person to write a dark book - he also said that darkness is not just the absence of light. We are drawn to darkness regardless of the times. I really liked what he had to say and so did Reed who, at this point, commented that if Michael Lister was his preacher, Reed would give up his Bar Mitzvah certificate :o)
Reed said that he tries to reject the idea of resolution as he feels that it doesn't set the world to rights at all. The key is to show that any resolution is temporary - it might resolve one issue but the randomness and unpredictability is still there. Larry Beinhart and Michael Lister had a great discussion about whether darkness = depression. I'm sorry, but I was so fascinated by it that I forgot to write anything down!
Reed asked the panellists whether the truth makes things better or worse. J T Ellison answered that the truth makes things better after it makes them worse. Larry Beinhart and Reed disagreed with this, saying that the truth didn't make things better. Reed used as an example someone having an affair - ie the confession of a spouse who has strayed makes only the cheating spouse feel better.
The discussion then turned to how dark is too dark and whether there is anything the panellists didn't like to write or read about. Duane said kids being hurt or killed, and J T Ellison said hurting animals. Michael Lister felt there wasn't anything too dark, and Reed said that if the book you are writing should go some place really dark, then you should go there.
Some of their favourite dark characters were Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor and Derek Raymond's Factory novels (Duane Swierczynski), Dolarhyde in RED DRAGON (Larry Beinhart), James Lee Burke's Dave Robichaux and Dennis Lehane's GONE BABY GONE (Michael Lister) Megan Abbott's and Daniel Woodrell's characters (Reed - who described them both as 'beautifully, painfully dark').
Reed noted that, as dark as you think a book is, as soon as something happens to you it's much darker. Michael Lister said that we are all going to die and mortality is the reason we explore darkness, everything we care about and love will be gone.
Reed then closed the panel by saying "The end is drawing nigh - like our lives apparently."
An excellent panel, like its subject matter it was full of darkness and light.
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
First of all, the non-crime-fiction waiting for me in my hotel room from my lovely friend Nicholas at Dissident Books (based on these, I dread to ask Nicholas what these say about his opinion of me):
I HAVE FUN EVERYWHERE I GO: SAVAGE TALES OF POT, PORN, PUNK ROCK, PRO-WRESTLING, TALKING APES, EVIL BOSSES, DIRTY BLUES, AMERICAN HEROES AND THE MOST NOTORIOUS MAGAZINES IN THE WORLD - Mike Edison
This looks brilliant fun. A quote about it from Nick Tosches says: "This book is beyond blurbs, so let’s just get to the jack. If you have any interest in pot, pornography, punk rock, or professional wrestling, just buy this fucking thing. Much more important than food for the table or the starving children of wherever." A note for my Dad - I have an interest in punk rock. That's all, I promise.
LOVE, SEX, FEAR DEATH: THE INSIDE STORY OF THE PROCESS CHURCH OF THE FINAL JUDGMENT - Timothy Wyllie
"The Process Church of the Final Judgment was the apocalyptic shadow side of the flower-powered '60s and perhaps the most notorious cult of modern times.Scores of black-cloaked devotees swept the streets of New York, San Francisco, London, Paris, Rome, Chicago, Toronto, Boston, New Orleans and other cities selling magazines with titles like Sex, Fear, Love and Death.The Process’ no-holds-barred theology brought on accusations of sinister conspiracies. Personalities like Marianne Faithfull, George Clinton and Mick Jagger participated in Process publications, and Funkadelic reproduced Process material in two of their albums. Love Sex Fear Death — written by original Process Church member Timothy Wyllie — is the first book to provide the astonishing inside story of this fascinating group and the mysterious woman at its center. Included are contributions from six other former members and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge." A note for my Dad- I promise I'm not about to join a cult.
THE AUTHORIZED AND ILLUSTRATED STORY OF THE STOOGES - Robert Matheau
A gorgeous gorgeous book about Iggy Pop and The Stooges SIGNED TO ME BY IGGY POP!!! Need I say more? A note for my Dad - I know you have no idea who Iggy Pop is. Ask Mum.
And now the crime fiction:
THE CORPSE WORE PASTIES - Jonny Porkpie
A Hard Case ARC. Back cover blurb - "Usually, when you call a Burlesque act a 'show stopper', you don't mean it quite so literally. But this time, that's just what happened: the show stopped dead and so did the girl. And as I looked at her nearly naked and completely lifeless body and the bottle of poison in her hand with my fingerprints all over it, I thought to myself: 'Porkpie, you're in for it this time...'"
First line: 'The heel of the stiletto caught on the strap of the black lace bra she had dropped a few moments earlier.'
HONEY IN HIS MOUTH - Lester Dent
A Hard Case book, originally written in 1956 about a small time grifter who's a dead-ringer for a South American dictator.
First line: 'He should have paid the bill.'
LOSERS LIVE LONGER - Russell Attwood
Another Hard Case book (I love them). A down and out East Village PI investigates the death of another PI.
First line:'The downstairs doorbuzzer buzzed. I didn't answer it.'
TOWER - Ken Bruen and Reed Farrel Coleman
A parallel narrative about the deadly and destructive friendship of two minor New York wiseguys. I started this one on the plane home and it's sheer genius.
First line: 'Griffin coughed blood into my face when I made to slip the chains under his shoulders.'
HOGDOGGIN' - Anthony Neil Smith
Publishers Weekly says of it "Fans of darkest noir will be most satisfied." Excellent - what more do I need to know? Besides, I love his other books. I'm expecting dark and severely warped.
First Line: 'Steel God said "Fuckin' guilty."'
JACK WAKES UP - Seth Harwood
I'd been meaning to get this for a while and picked it up at the book giveaway on Sunday. A washed-up movie star who takes high-rollers around San Francisco's club scene gets involved in a drug war when he plays tour guide to a group of ex KGB agents.
First Line: 'Jack Palms walks into a diner just south of Japantown, the one where he's supposed to meet Ralph.'
GO WITH ME - Castle Freeman Jr
Bought because the way my friend Bobbie (whose judgment I trust implicitly) described this it made my heart beat faster. It sounds a little like Daniel Woodrell set in New England.
First Line: 'Midsummer: The long days begin in bright, rising mist and never end. Their hours stretch, they stretch. They stretch to hold everything you can shove into them; they'll take whatever you've got. Action, no action, good ideas, bad ideas, talk, love, trouble, every kind of lie - they'll hold them all.' Isn't that gorgeous? You can start a book with the weather.
HARD STOP - Chris Knopf
I bought this one because Knopf was excellent on the panel that I almost walked out of twice. The cover blurb says "Sam Acquillo is getting to be a lot more sociable. People are constantly dropping by, including guys in black outfits with .45 automatics breaking into his cottage in the middle of the night.
First line: 'I didn't like anything about that big, dumb, ugly SUV.'
TKO - Tom Schreck
I got this at the book giveaway for the same reason I bought the Knopf. He was great on the panel but I couldn't find this one in the book room - I think they had all sold out before I got there - obviously I wasn't the only one to be impressed. First in the series about part time boxer, part time counsellor Duffy Dumbrowski.
First Line: '"Just because a guy slits the throats of to high-school cheerleaders, axes the back of the quarterback's head and runs down the class president in his mom's LTD, doesn't make him a bad guy," I said.'
BOULEVARD - Stephen Jay Schwartz
This was another I picked up at the giveaway. I'd never even heard of this book. A debut novel about LAPD Homicide detective Hayden Glass who is investigating a series of vicious murders by a sexual predator. Meanwhile, Glass is hiding the fact that he is a sex addict and cruises Sunset Boulevard for prostitutes.
First line: 'Detective Hayden Glass of the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery-Homicide Division drove his old Hollywood beat, crossing Fairfax, heading east on Sunset Boulevard.'
THE FOURTH VICTIM - Tony Spinosa
I need no other reason to buy this other than the fact that Tony Spinosa is the pseudonym of Reed Farrel Coleman but if anything else was needed, this is "a tale of greed, blackmail, corruption, vengeance, racism, fear, and what righteous men do in the face of a world gone wrong."
First line: 'At his best, Rusty Monaco was a miserable, self-absorbed prick and tonight he was paying even less attention than usual to the world outside his head.'
THE LAST STRIPTEASE - Michael Wiley
Another one bought because the author impressed me when he was on a panel. A debut about a Chicago private eye who is investigating the death of a young Vietnamese American girl who had a taste for drink, drugs and stripping in front of a camera.
First line: 'North Dearborn, a couple blocks off the Gold Coast high-rises, is a high-priced neighbourhood, full of forty-year-old guys fresh out of divorces from suburban wives.'
MANIFESTO FOR THE DEAD - Dominic Stansberry
A fictional memoir of Jim Thompson. Desribed as "top notch noir blended with biography, fiction, suspense and satire." Nice
First line: 'This was the end. The final trap. The last flimflam.'
42 DAYS FOR MURDER - Roger Torrey
Originally published in 1938.San Francisco detective Shean Connell is hired to clear up a divorce case in Reno and finds himself in the middle of a frame-up.
First line: 'Lester came in my office with the sun hitting his glasses and making them shine like headlights.'
HALO IN BRASS - Howard Browne
Originally published in 1949. Paul Pine is hired to find a missing girl.
First line: 'Almost the first thing Mrs Fremont said after I was seated on the edge of her lounge chair was that Laura had always been a good girl.'
THE BLIND PIG - Jon A Jackson
The blurb says "Guns. Everyone has one. The good guys. The bad guys. The guys in between. Mulheisen can't see the fascination, but he's made a career of cleaning up the messes. Now he's on a case that began when a cop shot a prowler, two hit men shot a jukebox, and a "delicious kumquat" of a woman used her own brand of ammo on Mulheisen in the after-hours world of blind pigs and jazz joints." How could I resist?
First line: 'Patrolman Jimmy Marshall sat at the wheel of the squad car parked in a dark alley off Kercheval Avenue.'
THE HITCHHIKE KILLER - Paul Ross
An old paperback from 1972. The front cover says it's "Chopper Cop #2" and the back cover says "Chris and Lisa were a pair of swinging stewardesses who were hooked on competing with each other. I try harder was the name of their game - in the air, on the ground, and in the sack. Terry Bunker had to choose one of them to help catch a motorcycle killer with a taste for young and pretty females."
First line: 'The pretty teen-aged girl with the long reddish-brown hair stood at the edge of the freeway, her arm out, her fist balled and her thumb extended.'
THE BIG PAYOFF - Robert Novak
The blurb says "Big Joe Blaze is maybe the best and worst cop in New York. He never fails to get results - or hell from his superiors."
First line: 'He was big. He was tough. He was important.'
THE TURQUOISE SPIKE - Frank Archer
An old Gold Medal book from 1967. How could I resist a book with a turquoise high-heeled shoe on the cover? "A heel was the weapon - and a heel the victim."
First line: 'Police statisticians will tell you that murders are seldom committed late in the afternoon.'
PASSPORT TO TERROR - Max Daniels
From 1960. "From sinister side-streets and dangerous alleyways, from sordid little 'night-clubs' and doubtfully named 'hotels,' they come - dangerous and desperate people enmeshed in the intrigues of vicious international crime.
First line: 'Later, whenever I thought back over the whole affair, I would begin by remembering the trouble with Ferguson at the Jickey.'
IDENTITY CRISIS - Debbi Mack
Picked up in the book giveaway "A domestic abuse case turns deadly, when the alleged abuser is killed and Sam McRae's client disappears."
First line: 'I've never been a morning person, and if it's one thing I don't need before my first cup of coffee, it's a visit from the cops.'
Anyone have any comments on these? Any thoughts on which one I should read after I finish TOWER?
Sunday, 18 October 2009
Anyway, here is Bouchercon panel report number two.
More Noir Than You Are
Panellists were Frankie Bailey (moderator), Christa Faust, Charlie Newton, Jeri Westerson, Victor Gischler.
First an aside - the great thing about conventions such as Bouchercon is that you get so many ideas for new books to read. The great thing about going to panels is that I always find a new to me author that I just have to read, based on what they say on the panel. On the noir panel I already know and love the books of Christa and Victor. However, I had never heard of Charlie Newton and what he had to say was so interesting that I am now determined to read his debut - CALUMET CITY.
OK, this was a noir panel, so you just knew the inevitable first question was coming - how do you define noir?
Jeri Westerson said that it's like porn - you know it when you see it, and then expanded to say that it's a bad day getting worse. Victor said that a lot of people don't think that humour belongs in noir but he likes the definition that noir is where you are not only screwed, but people are laughing at you. Christa's comment "It's French for black. Goodnight."
Frankie Bailey asked whether noir is rooted in realism, or is more of a romantic style. Christa answered that noir films are more stylised than noir fiction and that the books are less about the shadows and darkness and more about terseness and realism. Victor felt that he doesn't need to be rooted in realism (and there I thought that GO-GO GIRLS OF THE APOCALYPSE was factual). He doesn't want to be bound by realism and wants people to read what he writes in spite of reality. Jeri Westerson agreed, but Charlie Newton felt the opposite - he felt that as writers they had a tool to tell the truth and for him, rooting it in the truth is imperative. He wants his characters to struggle with the decisions they make. Christa pointed out that nice things happen too, in life and that noir is only one reality.
The panellists were asked what draws them to noir as writers. Jeri Westerson liked the lack of control for the character and felt that this leads to a more complex protagonist, who is a lot of fun to write. Victor agreed that writing bad guys is more fun. In noir, the good guys are only slightly less bad than the bad guys. He likes putting his protagonists through the mill - "Maybe it's the sadist in me." There is a quote from someone (not sure if that's me being vague or whoever mentioned it not being sure) that the only thing which is interesting is trouble. In noir, often the person trying to fix the trouble causes even more trouble. Normally, at the bottom of a hole, you would stop digging. In noir, the character just keeps right on digging. Christa said that she likes the grey areas.
Each panellist read a very short passage. Victor read from my favourite of his - GUN MONKEYS - and Christa read from her HELL OF A WOMAN story - Cutman.
Frankie Bailey asked the panellists whether they had been influenced by the style of any particular writers. Jeri Westerson was writing historical fiction prior to writing mystery and she decided that she wanted something with violence and sex, but set in medieval times. Her influences are Dashiell Hammett and Dorothy Hughes.
Victor said that, as a teen, he read almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy. Then one day he ran out and had nothing to read so he asked his stepfather if he could read one of his books and his stepfather recommended that he read a Travis McGee novel. When asked which one he should start with he said “They’re all the same, just pick one.” Victor loved the way Travis McGee went about things and the notion that there are really no boundaries. Charlie Newton cited Chandler as a big influence – his sentences were to die for, even if he couldn’t figure out the plots. Also Hunter S Thompson, Pete Dexter, Thomas Harris’ first three books, and P J O’Rourke. Christa said that she was influenced by the duelling opposites of Richard S Prather’s Shell Scott series and Westlake’s Parker series.
The panellists were then asked what films influenced them. Jeri Westerson said Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice; Victor said Out Of The Past and Double Indemnity (particularly citing the dialogue), Charlie Newton said Double Indemnity, Postman Always Rings Twice, Casablanca, Gilda and Touch of Evil. Christa said Night And The City (with Richard Widmark personifying the noir character – as soon as he walks on screen, you know he’s doomed – he’s the only person who doesn’t know it) and The Set-Up. Christa also likes In A Lonely Place – the book and the movie are very different but both brilliant.
Victor said that he doesn’t set out to write noir “One day I’m drinking beer, the next I’m drinking coffee, and it looks totally different on the page.” He also got a big laugh when he said that even if he thinks the book he has written is crap, he consoles himself with the thought “Wow, that was a lot of typing – maybe some of it will even get published.
Modern noir writers the panellists enjoy - Christa said Ray Banks, Charlie Newton said Pete Dexter and Megan Abbott, Victor said Richard Morgan’s ALTERED CARBON and Jeri said Christa.
Charlie Newton loves noir because he says it is one of the only genres that talks about things that matter.
Finally, Christa threw out her sperm and egg theory of writing. The egg theory is the nurturing of one precious baby, coddling it for 20 years before letting it loose on the world. The sperm theory – spray out as many as possible and hope that one or two will catch.
It was a really excellent and entertaining panel.
Saturday, 17 October 2009
The Good: Being at the Shamus awards while my friend Reed Farrel Coleman won the Shamus award for the amazing EMPTY EVER AFTER.
The Good: Getting back to my room yesterday to discover that the lovely Nicholas Towasser of Dissident Books (publishers of the wonderful DON'T CALL ME A CROOK by Bob Moore) had sent me a gift - a biography of The Stooges - signed "Hey Donna - Iggy Pop". Iggy Pop signed a book to ME! Do I, or do I not, have the loveliest friends?
The Bad - I lost at poker last night. Although, on The Good side, it was a very small loss and I had great fun doing it. I shall see if I can do better tonight.
The Ugly - The blisters on my feet after Christa Faust, Martyn Waites and I walked 40 blocks - including about 10 blocks where we saw no-one but cop cars (running, but empty, strangely enough), under a scary freeway underpass where we could probably have scored every drug known to man. And I had to do it in these shoes.
On The Good side of that one - we stopped off for tapas and margaritas on the way, we ended up at a great bar for the Black Mask party, and we got to ride home in a 1938 Cadillac.
As you can see, there's always a good for every bad. And far outweighing any minor badness, is the opportunity to spend time with some of the nicest people in the world, hugging old friends and meeting new ones.
And now, a panel report.
SUDDENLY I'M THIRSTY
The panellists were Con Lehane (moderator), Chris Knopf, J A Konrath, Jason Pinter and Tom Schreck. Keeping to the theme of good and bad, four of the panellists were excellent. One was so awful I nearly walked out twice (speaking to people after the panel, it appeared I wasn't the only one.)
The first question to the panellists was what effect did drink or sobriety have on their protagonists and how it affected their books. Joe Konrath was the first to answer and the first words out of his mouth were "I'm not going to answer any of that." And then he launched into what was, effectively, a prepared stand up routine about his hotel and a jacuzzi. It wasn't funny, but, more to the point, I thought it was very rude and disrespectful to the moderator and the other panellists. It made me mad. However, people in the audience were laughing so I guess some people found it funny (although the biggest laugh came for Con Lehane when he said something to try and shut Konrath up).
Chris Knopf (whose books I definitely want to read, based on the panel, so I bought one. His answer to this question was really interesting However, I can't tell you what it was, because all I wrote down was "interesting response". Silly cow.
Tom Schreck said that his character Duffy Dumbrowski loves to drink. By day he's a drug and alcohol counsellor, by night, he drinks. Schreck said that he did not want a down and out cliched drunk as a protag, he wanted a happy drunk.
Jason Pinter wanted to make his character a bit contrary and not the divorced, older PI with baggage so he made him young. When Henry drinks, there is a reason for it and the lower he gets the more he drinks.
The panel were then asked how they get scenes across where their protagonist is getting more and more drunk and Chris Knopf said that he sends him to bed. Jason Pinter makes sure his character stays away from electronic equipment.
Tom Schreck says that when he is drunk he sometimes has very profound thoughts - however, when he tries to write when he's been drinking, when he sobers up he realises it's "total shit".
Con Lehane referenced a quote from Ernest Hemingway that you should make yourself a promise that you will always do what you say you will do while drunk because that keeps you a bit sober. One of the panellists quipped that he obviously hadn't lived by his own rule.
The panellists were then asked about the use of humour and all the panellists felt that there was room for some humour in with the drunkenness. Tom Schreck uses a neighbourhood bar in his books and commented that the dialogue in his books is sometimes verbatim from the conversation in the bar he himself frequents on a Friday night. Schreck had been an addictions counsellor for 25 years and he said that being drunk all the time is a tragedy, but that doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with occasionally getting a bit merry.
The next question was a really interesting one - whether it seemed to be more acceptable for a male character to get drunk rather than a female. I was looking forward to the answer but unfortunately, the panel was hijacked again. Joe Konrath said he was more interested in sex, and after telling some story about writing sex scenes, started to read the four page scene he was talking about. Luckily, Tom Schreck stopped him.
Chris Knopf did say that when he was writing his second series - with a female protagonist - he decided he didn't want to make her a hardened drinker (and be typecast as that sort of writer) so he made her take drugs instead.
The panellists were asked if they ever felt they were stepping outside any boundaries. Joe Konrath said that morals are dictated by society at any given time. Jason Pinter said that he had got letters from reader who were quite happy to read about all the murder and mayhem but that he would get told off for having characters who drank, smoked, or hurt animals.
Con Lehane talked about a big debate on the mystery discussion group DorothyL where it was clear that the idea of glorifying drinking really bothers people. He noted that there is a tradition going back to Chandler and Hammett. At that time it wasn't seen as a bad thing (the panellists mentioned Nick and Nora Charles, who always had a cocktail in their hands) and Tom Schreck said that alcoholism was declared and official disease by the American Medical Association in 1957, and by the World Health Organisation in 1958. Chris Knopf said that he does not endorse drinking as being good, and expects his readers to see the moral underpinning. Schreck is of the opinion that it's a great vehicle to tap into the emotions of your protagonist and noted that a lot of men in particular have emotions that they never get to because they use alcohol.
An excellent panel. Apart from the obvious.
Thursday, 15 October 2009
I got to my hotel yesterday to discover that it was in the middle of a shopping mall - the only thing which could have been better is if it was in the middle of a shoe store. So, since there will be a lack of proper post until later, here are some facts and figures...
Panels Attended - 2
Pairs of shoes putchased - 9
Books purchased - 17
Friends hugged - loads, and yet not enough. Here's the only picture I have so far - this is Gary and the Teds (not Big Ted and Little Ted, for those who remember playschool). More pictures in a later post - I will try and remember my camera next time.
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
On one of the lists I'm on (the wonderful 4_Mystery_Addicts), we once discussed whether there were any books which united both ends of the cosy-noir spectrum, and, I believe we concluded that there actually weren’t. So, I had a stab at marrying Cozy and Noir (although actually it's more of a very short engagement where the parties split due to irreconcilable differences). But here it is for what it’s worth.
WHEN COSY MET NOIR
The name’s Fluffykins. And don’t even think about smirking. The last one to laugh at my name was a mangy tomcat from Yonkers who’s now meowing soprano on Broadway in the chorus of Cats. Just because I travel around in my owner’s oversized handbag and wear a little bow in my topknot, it don’t make me a pussy, ya know. I have a good life – my human buys me all the choicest cuts of meat, the finest salmon. You know that saying ‘The cat who got the cream’? Well, that’s me. Every day - breakfast, lunch and dinner. If I have to put up with a little bit of tartan ribbon, well… so be it.
So, life was good, but me and the human were feeling a little bored. I was spending most of my day sleeping, she was spending most of hers knitting. I could feel all the inactivity was having a detrimental effect on my normally sleek and lithe figure. I was getting a little stodgy round my midsection, and the birds outside on the window sill were safe from me, unless someone were to hand me a Glock. Come on sparrows, make my day.
Anyway, yesterday the human sighed, put down the lifesize model of the Statue of Liberty she was knitting and said "Fluffykins, we need a bit of excitement in our lives. The only thing we have to look forward to this week is a Bridge party at Lady Dalrymple’s and seeing how long it
takes the Vicar to cheat."
I opened one eye and rolled over for my stomach to be rubbed. I don’t do that for everyone you know. What - you think I expose my tender bits to all and sundry just because they happen to visit and say "Awwww, what a sweet little thing"? Just because I’m a cat doesn’t mean I’m stupid. Would you do that? Would you roll over on your back and let a complete stranger within inches of your crown jewels? No, I thought not. So don’t expect me to, OK? Jeez.
So, anyway, here we were, in front of the glass panelled door which spelled out in peeling black letters ‘Dick Blade – Private Investigator’. The human knocked gently and a gravelly voice called out "Yeah? It’s open. Come in, but don’t make any sudden moves. I’ve got a roscoe trained on you. One false move and I’ll fill you so full of holes you could double as a teabag." I purred in delight. I had reached my spiritual home.
The human opened the door. Behind the desk sat a man who was looking very much the worse for wear. A battered fedora sat on his head, resting jauntily on a bandage over his left eye. He was unshaven and grey looking. His eyes were screwed up against the cigarette smoke that hung over the room like a blanket. As he took a huge swig out of a half empty bottle of whisky, my human tutted, plonked her handbag with me in it on the chair and moved over to the window which she opened wide.
"Hey! Whaddaya think you’re doin’ lady? I gotta cold. I’ll catch my death, you open that window." He coughed feebly, just to underline his protest.
"And you think whisky and cigarettes are going to help? What you need, dear, is a nice hot camomile tea with some lemon and honey. And here," she lifted me out of her capacious handbag and rummaged about, "Look, here’s a warm scarf I knitted for Colonel Arbuthnot. You can have it."
As she wound the scarf around the PI’s neck, I smacked my forehead with my paw. My hero with the battered fedora and dirty trenchcoat, now had a baby blue woollen scarf with lemon fringe around his neck. And damn me, if he wasn’t fingering the soft wool with joy.
He tried to pull himself together. "So, lady, what can I do for you?"
"My name’s Agatha Parple. I’ve come about your advert in the newspaper."
"Yeah? Which one? ‘Dick Blade’s the name, Detecting’s the game. Your old man skipped out leaving you holding the baby? Blade will track him down like a dog.’ That advert?"
"No, not that one."
"OK. What about ‘Need a Bodyguard? Call Blade.’ Short and sweet that one."
"No, not that one either."
"No? OK. It must be ‘Need muscle? Blade’s got more muscle than a gym full of steroids’. Hell lady, what do you want with muscle? Can’t get the lid off a jar of raspberry jam?"
"No dear, none of those. It’s this one, from the Daily News - ‘Wanted - partner for PI. Ability to shoot straight, drink like a fish and stay awake for days on end essential. Must have own trenchcoat.'"
"Lady, you gotta be kidding."
My sentiments exactly. What was the human thinking of? Where was the mention of the intelligent crime solving cat in all this? I meowed piteously.
"Listen buster", said my human, ripping the ribbon out of my hair and ruffling my fur. "Can the prejudices and don’t be a sucker, or I’ll kick you in the keister. I’m a good triggerman and know how to recognise a flimflamm when I see one. Now, pass me over some of that giggle juice and let’s yap." She sat down, put her little button-booted feet up on the desk, and whipped out a packet of Capstan Extra Strength.
Blade looked at her admiringly. "I think you and I are gonna get along just fine, Doll. Now, what was it you said about a nice cup of camomile tea?"
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
We have been having a marvellous time. The first night we had a bonfire and cooked hotdogs and s'mores (which I had never had before). I now know why they are called s'mores, because every time I touched my face I said "I don't believe it, I have s'more marshamallow up my nose."
Bobbie, like me, is a big crime fiction reader. She has a lovely reading room (jealous, moi???). Here she is reading an Ian Rankin book (see, I knew I could bring this post kicking and screaming back on topic). The book shaped table next to her was made by Larry. Larry is both a lovely man and a genius. He can make anything, and he does. And, if he doesn't have a tool to make something then he makes the tool - out of anything he has lying around. He makes the most gorgeous cabinets and woodwork stuff and has made a couple of those glider chairs which are beautiful pieces of work.
This is him in his metalwork room (he also has a woodwork room - jealous, moi? OK - not so much as the reading room, but...) I swear that every time I say "Oooooh, that's so lovely", it has been made by Larry.
On Monday he made a rocket for going to Jupiter while Bobbie and I sat round and drank wine and ate chocolate.
Yesterday, we went to the supermarket. Now, this may not seem like a big deal to most people, but I love going to supermarkets over here. We don't have 6 mile long aisles of soft drinks in the UK. "Oh look here's guava and barbecue pork flavour orange and liquorice juice - I think I'll have some of that." And my, but isn't everything so much bigger in America? Look at the size of these onions, can you believe it? After we had taken this photo, giggling like a pair of six year olds, a lady doing her shopping came up to us and said "I can't believe you ladies just did that."
The countryside is so beautiful round here and the leaves are just starting to turn. We went to a lovely park in town and had a wander round so that I could take 17000 photographs of trees. Like this one. We also wandered through a cemetary. Which was...weird. I don't think this happens in the UK but there were gravestones for people who hadn't even died yet. Not one where someone is buried and there's also the name and date of birth of their spouse, with a space for the date of death (presumably as some sort of warning that he had better not get remarried to some blonde floozy half his age).
No. These were huge stones, with a picture of the happy couple, a carving of a rearing horse, an engraving of two intertwined gold rings with the date of their marriage, and their names and dates of birth. Neither of them were dead. That's like saying to your friends and family "Hank and I really don't think you lot will spend enough money on providing us with something ostentatious enough when we die, so we've done it ourselves. Hope you're not offended. Oh, and by the way, we're spending next Christmas at the grave site so that you can all admire it." Meanwhile, Hank's talking to his best mate and saying "Hey, Bill, there's an empty plot by Thelma and me - can you make sure that my mistress gets buried in it." And what if Hank and Thelma get gored to death by a wild horse? How are their relatives going to feel when they get reminded of the carnage every time they see the gravestone?
But, that was not the weirdest thing. Oh no. There was this enormous grave (about the size of 3 normal graves). A big stone in the middle and then a lifesize stone deer at either side. As we drove past, Bobbie spotted this white thing that looked as though it was underneath one of the deer. "What on earth is that?" "I have no idea," I said, "maybe it's a bag of deer guts?" So we had to get out and look. It was a penguin. A huge white plastic penguin that was looking down at a baby penguin between its feet. Unfortunately, the angle of the penguin's head, and the fancy metal bow tied around its neck, made it look as though it was the victim of a hanging. And since when did Bambi have a wee pal who was a penguin? Especially an albino one.
I'm sorry but if anyone does anything like that when I die I swear I am going to come back and haunt them. And talking of haunting - people have really gone to town on the decorating their houses for Halloween. Either that, or this is the home of the Addams Family.
Last night, I dreamed that I had built myself an enormous grave in someone's back garden, complete with fairground carousel and a car. Bobbie, on the other hand, dreamed I crept into her bedroom while they were asleep and took all her clothes and started wearing them. I do believe that is dream code for "I hate you, get out of my house."
Monday, 12 October 2009
It was a lovely sunny Saturday afternoon, so I decided to go into the city centre to buy a new pair of sandals. Yes, I know - the World Shoe Mountain currently resides in my spare bedroom, but, well, you never can tell when that rumoured Slingback Shortage is going to occur, so, abiding by that old Girl Guide motto 'Be Prepared', off I trotted. (For the purposes of this tale, it's actually irrelevant that I was thrown out of the Girl Guides due to my reliance on my own personal motto 'Be a Pain in The Arse'.)
So there I was, sitting on the bus, gazing out of the window and listening to my ipod (The Clash if anyone cares). About half way into town, I noticed someone sitting down next to me. When I say 'I noticed' what I actually mean was 'I couldn't help noticing because he sat on my knee and breathed stale beer fumes all over me'. Oh good, that most annoying of Bus Pests, the Glasgow drunk. He apologised profusely. I mostly couldn't hear what he was saying due to the music so I I just smiled and turned away. Then he spoke to me again and I just nodded and smiled and looked out the window. So he tapped me on the shoulder and spoke again. I pointedly took out the earpiece from the ear on the Bus Pest side and said "Sorry?"
"Oh! Are ye listening tae music hen?"
"Whit are ye listening tae?"
"Just a mixture." (My patented method of getting rid of The Bus Pest is be brief, be polite, don't give them too much information, they'll only ask more questions).
"Is it some of that meatrocker music?" (OK, so my patented method needs a little work). "Ah'm an Elvis man maself. Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra... Ah'm no much o' a singer mind." I breathed a sigh of relief - thankful for small mercies - at least I wasn't going to be treated to a rendition of My Way. "Although, I dae a pretty guid Ma Way, if I dae say so maself." I cast about feverishly for a hole of swallow-me-up size, but luckily he decided not to sing.
In one way, I would have loved to have seen him sing. He had apparently recently been to the false Teeth Shop but was obviously in a hurry on teeth shopping day. I knew this because a) he had the most perfect set of top teeth (apart from the fact that they moved independently from his gums) and b) he had 2 yellow bottom teeth (and I don't mean he had two yellow bottom teeth in an otherwise perfect set. I mean he had only 2 bottom teeth, and they were bright yellow). Watching him speak was like watching a badly dubbed Hungarian film. When he finished speaking, his top teeth were still in motion - moving away from his gums, out over his bottom lip and, on a couple of really scary occasions they were sucked back into his mouth and disappeared towards his throat. I was mentally practising the Heimlich manouevre.
Instead he held out his hand "Ah'm Big Chick. Pleased tae meet ya hen. And you are?...."
"Donna", I said quietly.
"Did yez hear that?" he announced to the rest of the bus "The lassie's called Donna. Whit time is it Donna?"
"Ten past one."
"Ten past wan? Ten past wan in the MORNIN'?"
"Errrr.....no, afternoon" What, did he think Glasgow had sneakily moved locations while he was down the pub and was now situated in the land of the midnight sun? At that point, a woman got on the bus and he said to her "Dae ye want ma seat pal?" She shook her head and moved on, despite the pleading look I gave her. Big Chick leaned over to me and whispered (and, when I say 'whispered' what I actually mean is 'boomed loudly') "She's just jealous 'cos ah'm sittin' with you instaed o' her." Yes, I should imagine the whole bus was positively emerald green with jealousy at my good fortune by now. At least, those who weren't sniggering with glee at my predicament and increasingly red face.
"Where are ye fae' Donna?"
"Here. I live here."
Again, the annoucement of this titillating piece of information to the rest of the bus "Did yez all hear? Donna lives in Glasgae."
Someone up the back of the bus laughed. My Bus Pest turned round, taking his jacket off "Hey youse up the back - haud yer wheesht. Dae yis want tae fight me?" Luckily no one took him up on this. I say luckily because he then turned back to me and said "Ah'm a bouncer." Oh. Really. Since 'Big' Chick was less than 4 feet 6 inches tall and more than 104 years old, I found this a tad difficult to believe.
"Ah'm gettin' aff at the Sandyford." I breathed a sigh of relief. The Sandyford was a pub a couple of stops further up. "Are ye coming in? Ah'll see you right." I didn't know whether he meant for a drink, a fight or a lumber*, but frankly, I didn't want to ask.
"Errr, no, thanks all the same but I have to go into town."
"Okay hen, well you come in and see me on Monday. I'll be in the Sandyford fae' aboot 10 in the morning. It's a great wee boozer. It opens at 8am, so if ye get up and ye feel like a wee drink, ye can just stoat along."
Great. Hold me back.
Big Chick heaved himself out of the seat and walked to the front of the bus, turning round at the front to give me a last beery wave "Bye Donna hen. Ah'll have a wee pie and a pint waitin' fer ye on Monday mornin'."
Mmmmmm, can't wait.
Sunday, 11 October 2009
Just a reminder about the UNICEF Crime Night at Glasgow's Hillhead Library on October 16th with Karen Campbell, Helen Fitzgerald, Caro Ramsay and Alex Gray. For more information contact Hillhead Library or e-mail email@example.com.
Funghi-phobe Russel McLean on place in crime fiction over at the always excellent Do Some Damage.
Fancy joining Alexander McCall Smith at the Daily Mail Literary Lunch? And more on the premiere of his opera.
Stuart MacBride goes to jail.
The Warwick Words Literary Festival. And a report from the Inverness Book Festival.
Plus Ian Rankin and Denise Mina at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto.
Conan Doyle given stamp of approval.
The Hereford Times on Kate Atkinson.
&*%$ me, if swearing doesn't rear its naughty little head again. And, talking of swearing, here's more news of the TRAINSPOTTING prequel.
Friday, 9 October 2009
Well, here I am sitting at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam (which does seem a very odd way to go to America since I’ve just gone several hundred miles east, while aiming to go several thousand miles west. I said goodbye to my luggage in Glasgow. Who knows when I will see it again. All being well I will say a brief hello to it in Detroit, only for it to disappear en route to St Louis. Luckily, since my luggage goes missing at least 66% of the time, I am prepared. I have spare knickers in my carry on.
It was an inauspicious start to my trip to America – a)I forgot to take a book and b) the plane to Amsterdam smelled of sick. Luckily, to mitigate a) I have my Sony e-Reader on which I have about 200 books, so I knew I wasn’t going to run out of reading matter. However, there’s always that niggling doubt that they will have changed the rules on planes and no electronic equipment will be allowed, so I nipped into the airport bookshop and, luckily they had a book that I’ve been meaning to get for ages. Gordon Brown’s FALLING. (No, not that Gordon Brown, and it’s not about the state of the UK economy). To mitigate b) well, sadly there was nothing. The hour or so flight to Amsterdam was marred by the smell of vomit.
Schipol airport in Amsterdam is the size New York. My arrival gate from Glasgow and my departure gate for Detriot were about as far apart as it’s possible to get. Walking from one to the other is like taking a stroll from the Empire State Building to ooooooh, Newark, New Jersey. When I got to my gate, of course, there was a little sign up saying “Haha suckers, your gate has been changed. Please go to Gate E9.” It was then that I found myself in a strange Kafkaesque nightmare. I arrived at Gate E9 to be confronted by a screen saying “This gate has been changed. Please proceed to Gate E24.” “Gate E24?” I thought to myself, “That number seems strangely familiar.” Yes, indeed, it was the gate I had first been to. I passed the same confused looking people six times as we all meandered, with increasing perplexity, between Gate E9 and Gate E24.
I’ll tell you how far I walked between gates – I had to stop and go for a wee twice (not just in the middle of the concourse, I hasten to add. I made sure to go to the designated restrooms. Here, I was able to observe a phenomenon that has puzzled me since the advent of toilets that flush automatically. This type of toilet seems to spot me coming. No matter how carefully and slowly I open the cubicle door, the toilet flushes once on my entry into the cubicle. It then flushes a second time as I am hanging my handbag up on the cubicle door, a third time as I am...ahem...preparing myself. Then it flushes once more while I am...sorry to be indelicate...tinkling. After I’m done and stand up – ie, the time when it should flush, it doesn’t. I wave at it, point my bum at it, bob up and down a few times, still no flush. I give up, take my handbag off the back of the door and the toilet flushes. It flushes again when I open the cubicle door and then it gives me an enthusiastic farewell flush as I leave the cubicle.
The automatic taps on the sink are a whole other issue. They seem to think I am one of the undead. They never come on. No matter how much I wave in front of the little sensor. I could climb into the sink and start doing the hokey cokey and they would still remain obstinately dry.
So, here I am sitting waiting for the flight. I’ve been through the second round of security at Schipol. Now, they’re not too shabby on the security front at Glasgow airport, but here they’re fiendish. As usual, I beeped. I’m sure the woman who frisked me could now make a pretty good guess at my cup size. Honestly, I’ve been on first dates where I’ve been touched up less. (Dad – I’m sure you are reading this so I just wanted to say that I have never been touched up on a first date. In fact, I’ve never been touched up at all).
Later that same day...
By now, I am supposed to be in Illinois. Only I'm not. In a strange reversal of fortune my bags have gone on to St Louis. I, on the other hand am stuck in Detroit, in the hotel out of The Shining. The plane was late so I missed my connecting flight. I thought there was still a chance to catch it, as I have never been through customs and immigration so quickly - and that was despite having some more unusual questions thrown at me by the immigration official. Along with the usual 'where are you going?', 'how long will you be here?', 'whay are you here?' and 'who was the seventh president of the United States?' this time I also got 'what's wrong with your leg?' I wondered if this was a trick question and spent five minutes agonising over what to say. Could he see the scar where I fractured my knee when I was 13 even through the material of my trousers? If so, these are not immigration officials, they are superheroes. Should I say 'nothing' or should I make something up? Which one would get me deported?
In the end, I opted for the truth. "Nothing." I said.
"Then why do you have crutches?" he said.
Ah - now I had it. This was some sort of conversation where I had to respond with the secret code. Unfortunately, no-one had told me what the secret code was. I leaned towards him and tried a likely candidate "Errrrrr...the daffodils are blooming early in Prague, this year."
"Ma'am, do you have a mental illness?"
It turned out that he had thought my wheel-y carry on luggage was crutches. I wish I'd known that before I mentioned the daffodils.
Anyway, by the time we had got that little misunderstanding sorted out, and I had waited at the luggage carousel watching everyone else's luggage come off, the last flight to St Louis had gone, so the lovely people at Delta Airlines gave me a hotel voucher and vouchers for dinner and breakfast (what sort of breakfast am I going to get for $3 by the way?) and packed me off to a man waiting to take me to my home for the night.
"Are you a distressed passenger? he said.
"Well, not really. I'm a little bit miffed, but I wouldn't say I was distressed."
"No ma'am, that's what they call passengers who've missed their flights and need to stay overnight."
Oh. I see.
I seem to have written a whole lot about nothing at all. Sorry about that. Signing out for now, completely un-distressed but very sleepy.