Sunday 31 May 2009

The Scottish Tourist Board Will Hate Me

A comment from Dorte in the comments section of a previous post made me dig out an old post I'd written for Sarah Weinman's Confessions of An Idiosyncratic Mind a few years ago about Scottish crime - factual and fictional - and amend and update it.

A wide variety of crime fiction writers ply their trade here, and there are quite a few new names. Glasgow and Edinburgh, in particular, seem to have more than their fair share. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the River Clyde is chock full of dead bodies, or that there aren’t enough watering holes for the protagonists not to bump into each other at every turn. Well, I can’t vouch for the number of dead bodies in the Clyde, but Glasgow, at least, certainly has enough pubs.

But first, just the facts ma’am. Scotland is home to around 5.1 million people. Edinburgh, the nation’s capital in the east, has around 472,000 residents in its 100 square miles. Glasgow, in the west, is only 67 square miles but is Scotland’s most highly populated city with around 580,000 residents. A 50 minute train journey separates the two cities, but they’re separated by a heck of a lot more than that. Glaswegians say that the best thing to come out of Edinburgh is the train to Glasgow. Not surprisingly, the phrase is repeated slightly differently if you’re from Edinburgh.

Edinburgh is really dramatic and scenic. It’s built on seven hills and there are some really spectacular views. And it has a castle, lots of tourists, and more than a few blokes in skirts wailing on bagpipes. It’s also the home of Scotland's parliament (personally I think that’s because politicians are too scared to come to Glasgow). The parliament building caused a big stramash in Scotland because the cost of £431m was 10 times over budget. To add insult to injury, it was 3 years behind schedule, but, hey, what's £390m-odd between friends? House prices in Edinburgh are high, and the major employers (well, until recently perhaps) were banks, building societies and, obviously, really slow builders.

Glasgow is, and always has been, an industrial city and centre of trade (originally built up by tobacco merchants who built themselves swanky houses and tried to outdo each other). It was also a major shipbuilding city, before shipbuilding went into decline. It used to be very grimy, with all the buildings covered in centuries of dirt and soot but in the 1980s there was a major city wide clean up and all the buildings were steam cleaned and rejuvenated.

Both Glasgow and Edinburgh have wonderful old buildings in the city centre. A lot of these used to be fancy townhouses, but are now mostly offices. I prefer Glasgow's buildings - most of the city centre of Edinburgh is made of gray stone, and looks spectacular but cold. Glasgow is known for its blond and red sandstone buildings and it feels altogether warmer.

And it’s not only the buildings. There’s a lot of rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh and a lot of this is due to the perceived differences between its residents. Edinburgh and its people are seen as snooty, middle class, reserved, cold, serious, elegant, more refined. Glasgow and its people are seen as down to earth, working class, humorous, livelier, warm, friendlier.

There’s an old saying amongst people in Glasgow that there’s more fun to be had at a Glasgow stabbing than at an Edinburgh wedding. That tells you a lot about both places. I would like to add that I have been to an Edinburgh wedding and I had a whale of a time. I’m unable to vouch for the fun factor at a Glasgow stabbing. Perhaps my invitation got lost in the post. And I’m not even going to mention the football rivalry.

Glasgow drunks are funnier than Edinburgh drunks. If you get stuck next to one on a Glasgow bus, he’ll be more likely to sing you a Frank Sinatra favourite (My Way is the chosen anthem amongst Glasgow drunks – “Hand na-ow, the hend is ne-ah”) than anything else. I'm not kidding. I have been treated to a rendition of this on a bus by a Glasgow drunk whose false teeth didn't fit. He had a perfect, but very ill fitting, set of top dentures and two yellow bottom teeth - and I don't mean two yellow teeth in an otherwise perfect set. That's all he had - two yellow bottom teeth. And his top set moved independently - almost shooting out on occasion, only to be sucked back in again. It was like watching a badly dubbed Hungarian film. An Edinburgh drunk might treat you to an aria from Wagner's Ring Cycle.

Edinburgh likes to see itself as the cultured city, which is why they have a month long festival of theatre, comedy, dance, books, film etc in August, just to prove it. In Glasgow the equivalent is a drunk bloke peeing in the alleyway behind where I work (I jest, of course, Glasgow has great festivals and culture. In fact, last night I went to see Ibsen's GHOSTS at the theatre. That there was a drunk bloke peeing in the car park when we came out did not spoil my enjoyment one jot.)

There’s a lot to see in Edinburgh. Apart from the castle, there are some really great historic buildings, a Museum of Childhood, the cemetery where bodysnatchers Burke and Hare plied their trade and some underground streets which were supposedly blocked off during the plague and the residents left to die a slow painful death (did I mention that Edinburgh was less friendly than Glasgow?). There’s also the Heart of Midlothian. As well as being a football team, this is a paving slab which is in the centre of Edinburgh, it’s heart shaped, and it’s supposed to be at the heart of Midlothian (the district Edinburgh is in). So, unable to come up with something witty or apt, they called it the Heart of Midlothian. It’s supposed to be good luck if you spit on it and means you will come back (Rome gets a lovely fountain full of coins, Scotland gets a bit of stone covered in spit - lovely - no wonder we had the plague).

I once took a friend through to Edinburgh and told her this story, so she decided to spit on it for good luck. Unfortunately, it wasn’t very good luck for her, as the wind was blowing quite strongly and, well, to be frank, she didn’t check the wind direction very carefully and she ended up with a faceful of spit – only some of which was her own. In Glasgow, we don’t have a special place to spit, people just do it wherever they like. I suppose that’s another cultural divide between the two cities.

Glasgow is not as rich in historical culture, and consequently doesn’t have as many tourist attractions, although it does have a beautiful square (if you watch that webcam long enough you will see a drunk bloke peeing on the statue of Queen Victoria), some great museums and galleries. It also has better shopping. Much better shopping. Glasgow also has better clubs (although if you go to some of them, you might be able to test out the Glasgow stabbing/ Edinburgh wedding theory. Clatty Pats, sadly, has since closed down, although a much more upmarket club has taken the name for a special once a month - I wonder if they are resurrecting the sticky carpets along with the cheesy 80s disco music). Many of these clubs are not places to go to when you’re sober. And if you do, you’ll hurriedly remedy that in a bid to forget the whole horrendous experience.

So let’s turn to murder – as, indeed, it seems more and more people in Scotland are doing. A report called Homicide in Scotland revealed that for 2007-2008 there were 114 homicides in Scotland, down slightly from the previous year. But still the highest in Europe per head of population, a title shared with two other countries - Portugal and Finland. The Monty Python team were right, it would seem. Finland does have it all. By the way, you might want to avoid Colombia, Sierra Leone and Honduras...

Back to Scotland. The wild west is the most dangerous place to live with the murder rate in Strathclyde being almost 50% of the total. We’re a bloodthirsty lot over here in the west. Almost half of the attackers were drunk or on drugs (no surprise there, then – presumably they do it when taking time off from peeing in alleyways). Bizarrely, of the remaining 50% only about a quarter were definitely not on drink or drugs. For the remainder, it was, apparently, impossible to tell. I have that problem every day. Most murders occurred at the weekend and involved young males (with 4 times more men than women being killed), around half of the murders involved stabbings (with shootings accounting for only 4% of the total). 80% of the victims knew their killers and12% of Scottish murder cases were committed by women

As a 46 year old woman it’s reassuring to note that I’m relatively unlikely to be a murder victim in Glasgow. A thorough analysis of the statistics shows that I can lower my chances still further if I hide the steak-knives, only go out on Tuesdays, and try not to make anyone angry. I’m not convinced, however. Having been mugged three and a half times, I feel as though I may be walking around surrounded by neon lights, only visible to the criminal eye, which spell out ‘Lookee here, a crime waiting for somewhere to happen’.

The traditional view of murder on the east and west coasts is that in Edinburgh the murders are carried out in secret behind the locked doors of elegant Georgian houses, whereas in Glasgow it’s all drugs, razor gangs and Taggart drawling “There’s a boady in thuh riv-uh”. Needless to say, there are plenty of net-curtained suburbs in Glasgow, and the regal Georgian terraces in Edinburgh are just as likely to house brothels and drug dealers as the housing estates are.

So those are the facts - apologies for the length of this post! The fiction will follow.

What I Read In May

Published: June 2009
Setting: UK
Protagonist: Alex Connor/Paul Kearney
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: "The last time I saw my wife was one evening in January, two and a half years ago."

Alex Connor is running away from his past, when he sees a newspaper report about his friend Sarah, who helped him when he was at his lowest. Sarah has been murdered and Alex' brother James is prime suspect - only the body has been taken. Meanwhile, policeman Paul Kearney is investigating the disappearance and horrific murders of a number of other women, and time is running out for the most recent victim. A chilling and compelling look at the nature of evil, horror beyond comprehension, and the desire to possess. Several of the characters in STILL BLEEDING gave me the creeps. Some are consumed by their compulsions, rotten to the core, all of them have their own demons to contend with. Sometimes those demons take human form. At one point, reading late at night, I had to put the book aside and read something less disturbing. An excellent book, wonderfully written and one which will definitely be on my list of top books for 2009.

Published: November 2008
Setting: Paris
Protagonist: Charlie Howard
Series?: 2nd
First Lines: "The moment I'd scanned the outside of the building, I turned to Bruno and said, "First impressions, it looks straightforward."

Chris Ewan writes books about a thief who writes books about a thief who solves crimes. That clear? Good. Charming mystery writing thief Charlie Howard is in Paris. Having imbibed several glasses of wine too many he is flattered when a complete stranger tells him he is an admirer of his special skills, and agrees to show the man how to break into an apartment. Just one day later, Charlie is hired to steal a really dull painting from the very same apartment. A superbly entertaining caper full of twists and turns, very well drawn characters and memorable scenes. Breezy and quirky, with a protagonist who's part Raymond Chandler, part The Saint.

BAD FOR GOOD (the book previously known as GONZO NOIR) - Declan Burke
Published: only on the far
Setting: Ireland
Protagonist: Hmmmm...well...Karlsson/Billy and Dec himself
Series?: standalone
First Lines: "‘You don’t remember me,’ he says. I allow that I don’t. But then I haven’t had my coffee yet, or even a smoke."

Where to start with the plot...well, let's see. Billy - who used to be known as Karlsson - is a bit peeved, because Dec was writing a book about him and he just stopped, and chucked the manuscript in the back of a drawer. So Karlsson was left in limbo. He was a hospital porter who helped old people to die. And now he's decided he wants to be called Billy, and he's in Dec's back garden trying to persuade him to finish the book. Oh, and he wants to blow up the hospital. I loved this. Billy/Karlsson is really, really not a nice guy...but, on the other hand, you can't help liking him. Which made me a bit worried about my sanity. But then, the whole book is insane. It's so gonzo that after reading it I felt as though I had turned into Hunter S Thompson. Funny, warped, cleverly written metafiction. It was a lot of fun to read, and it came across as though it was a lot of fun to write.

MY FRIEND MAIGRET - Georges Simenon
Published: 1949
Setting: The small island of Porquerolles
Protagonist: Inspector Maigret
Series?: 31st!!! (I think)
First Lines: "You were standing in the doorway of your club?"

A low life pimp and thief has been murdered on an idyllic Mediterranean island. On the night of his death he claimed that Inspector Maigret was a friend of his, so Maigret is called in to investigate. He takes a trip to the island, accompanied by his quiet shadow - Inspector Pyke from Scotland Yard, who's come to study his methods. Maigret meets a motley collection of characters on the island and doesn't so much investigate as wait for people to come up and chat to him. This one's a bit like a locked room mystery. It's a quick read, with nice little character sketches, but I didn't really connect with the characters (of which there are many, with convoluted relationships).

THE TERRORISTS - Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo
Published: 1975
Setting: Sweden
Protagonist: Martin Beck
Series?: 10th and last
First Lines: 1975

Martin Beck and his team are put in charge of trying to stop a gang of highly trained terrorists from assassinating a visiting Senator. In addition, a pornographer has been murdered, and a young girl is tried for attempted bank robbery. Suspenseful, subtle humour, and a look at Swedish society and politics.

Friday 29 May 2009

It's All About Dundee...Except For The Bits That Aren't

Ewan McGregor has apparently ruled out any possibility of starring in Trainspotting 2 (based on Irvine Welsh's Porno).

Here's a great post from Martin Edwards about David Ashton's Inspector McLevy. Whilst a young Conan Doyle was still toddling about in the 1860s, real-life detective James McLevy, who had a reputation for always getting his man, published collections of the cases he solved. When actor and writer David Ashton (who appeared in the excellent filmThe Last King of Scotland, as well as Dr Who and Monarch of The Glen) discovered the stories he developed the character of McLevy and his colleagues into a radio play and then two (so far) novels. In addition, Ashton is also adapting the books for a film starring Dundee actor Brian Cox (who plays McLevy in the Radio plays).

'Dundee, you say, Donna?' 'Why yes, Dundee.' How serendipitous, since that segues nicely into more Scottish book events (Scotland is, I am happy to say, getting all crime fiction-y these days - and long may it last). First of all, Russel D McLean and GJ Moffat are doing a new writers panel at the Dundee Literary Festival on Fri 26 June. And for those of you thinking of holidaying in Dundee (and why not, indeed) David Peace is appearing the day before.

I read Russel's first book THE GOOD SON at the end of last year and it was excellent. It's a gritty PI novel set in Dundee, featuring an intriguing protagonist called J McNee, who is struggling to come to terms with the death of his fiance (sorry can't work out how to do accents). He's hired by a man who has found the dead body of his estranged brother hanging from a tree and doesn't agree with the suicide theory the police are going with. There's a great interview with Russel on Pulp Pusher.

As for Russel's partner in crime fiction at the event, I'd never heard of G J Moffat before, so did a bit of digging. He's a lawyer and he has been described as 'the Scottish John Grisham'. His first novel - DAISYCHAIN - is set in Glasgow. You can read the prologue here.

Dundee is going to be up to its oxters in crime writers over the next month, as I understand that Stuart MacBride and Aline Templeton may be appearing at Waterstones in Dundee on June 16th. More details to follow.

No blog post tomorrow (no, please, at least pretend you will miss me). I have a busy day, culminating in a visit to the theatah dahling to see Ibsen's Ghosts - a tale about 'an
upstanding woman in Norwegian society haunted by her dead husband’s adulterous past. Having sent her son Oswald away to protect him from his father’s treachery, his return makes the issues of incest, venereal disease and euthanasia stark realities in her life.' Yes indeedy - I know how to enjoy myself, don't I? :o)

Have a lovely weekend.

Thursday 28 May 2009

Indiana Jones Meets Bridget Jones

Well, I have to say, I'm rather enjoying this blogging lark.

Ian Rankin talks in a Scottish TV interview about his forthcoming book THE COMPLAINTS (which could possibly be the start of a new series), writing misery cook books, and his pop debut as backing vocalist for Edinburgh band St Jude's Infirmary. I love their stuff and this is one of my favourite tracks.

Next up is a brief review from The List of Helen Fitzgerald's new book MY LAST CONFESSION. I am curious to try one of her books as apparently she writes the strange combination of noir chick lit. Has anyone read her? Noir chick lit reminds me of last year's Crimefest (which, by the way, is a great convention and heartily recommended). I was moderating a panel called Big Bellies and asked my panellists to write the first paragraph of a book in a genre other than crime fiction. The delightful Chris Ewan (who I am sure I can adopt for Badsville since he comes from the Isle of Man which is right next to Scotland by my calculations) came up with a brilliant combination of Indiana Jones and Bridget Jones. Since I can't actually directly link to it on his blog I'm going to post it here and hope he doesn't sue me.

Indiana Jones Diary - by Chris Ewan

Saturday 7th June, 2008

Weight: 12 st 9; alcohol units: 16; Nazis killed: 2 and a half

Noon. London. My research lab.

Ugh. Desiccated archaeological bones and a vile hangover. It’s the morning after Spielberg’s costume party, and I’m still wearing my kitsch explorer outfit. At least am not smoking (for am now fabulous star of family movie franchise). And am definitely not dwelling on night of Spielberg emotional fuckwittage. Am poised, confident female adventurer with Nicole Fahri bullwhip and super-zany sidekicks, Short Round and Jocasta. Ugh. Have forgotten dreaded black-tie event with that awful bore Lucas tonight. Must call Harvey Nicks and begin epic quest for the Legendary Cashmere Shawl of Knightsbridge. Am determined to look sensational and refined (and also to rescue temple of enslaved children in commendable act of charity).

Love it.

There are a couple of events coming up which look good. Getting slaughtered in Falkirk is a regular occurence, but here's a new twist on it, with authors Allan Guthrie, Denise Mina, Karen Campbell and Reg McKay on Saturday May 30th. Somebody (I'm looking at you Mr Guthrie) didn't tell me this earlier or I would have been there. Sadly, I can't go as my dance card is now full for the day.

In addition, Helen Fitzgerald, Allan Guthrie and Tony Black will be doing an event in Edinburgh West End Watersone's at 6pm on Thursday 25th June, tickets are £1. £1? For three top crime writers? A bargain, I tell you.

And finally, a friend of mine volunteers for the Make A Wish Foundation, which grants magical wishes to children and young people with life-threatening illnesses. She is helping with some fundraising at the moment, and her job is to organise a raffle. I suggested that she puts together a prize basket with signed crime fiction books, so, if anyone would like to donate a signed book, please e-mail me at bigbeatfrombadsville at googlemail dot com. Thank you :o)

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Gritty, and Not So Gritty

For those in the vicinity of Edinburgh in early June, a couple of book events as part of the Leith Festival look good. I'm hoping to go to the first one myself as Tony Black launches his second Gus Dury novel GUTTED on Tuesday 9th June. Here's a review of the book from Gerard Brennan's excellent Crime Scene NI. I totally agree with Gerard, it's a great book with an utterly believable protagonist who's flawed but very sympathetic.

And then on Thursday June 11th, Karen Campbell talks about her new book AFTER THE FIRE. The lovely Alex Dickson , who's a big fan of crime fiction, interviews Karen on Smooth Radio in Glasgow. has a new review of Caro Ramsay's recently published book SINGING TO THE DEAD, which is the second novel featuring the cops of Glasgow's Partickhill police station. I like this particular site and the way they format their reviews. They also do music and film reviews. Here's one for an album that I am currently playing quite a bit - the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (not a Scottish band but I am allowed outside Scotland from time to time...once the Restraining Order has been lifted of course). Sadly, they don't have a review for my favourite Scottish film Red Road, which is a dark crime drama set in Glasgow. Very low budget, it was the first film directed by Andrea Arnold (whose latest - Fish Tank - won a prize at Cannes this year). It's the story of a CCTV operator who sees a face from her past as she is scanning her cameras at work. Red Road is the first in a loose trilogy of films called Advance Party, which are all due to be set in Scotland, with each being made by different first time directors and producers. Apparently the second one - Rounding Up Donkeys - is due to be released later this year.

And finally, don't get the impression from all these gritty books that Scotland's criminals are a hard lot with no feelings. Far from it. Here's the sad story of the gunman who ran away from jail because he didn't feel welcome.

Tuesday 26 May 2009

It's Not Over Until The Fat Lady Sings

Alexander McCall Smith and Kate Atkinson are two of the authors in a new anthology of stories called MIDSUMMER NIGHTS. All the stories are inspired by opera. Edited by Jeanette Winterson, the stories and the operas which inspired them are Alexander McCall Smith on Cosi Fan Tutte; Ali Smith on Fidelio; Andrew Motion on Peter Grimes; Andrew O'Hagan on Eugene Onegin; Ann Enright on Rusalka; Colm Toibin on Pearl Fishers; Jackie Kay on The Makropulos Case; Joanna Trollope on L'Elisir d'Amore; John Mortimer on Cosi Fan Tutte; Julie Myerson on The Crowning of Poppaea; Kate Atkinson on La Traviata; Kate Mosse on Pelleas et Melisande; Lynne Truss on The Turn of the Screw; Marina Warner on Dido and Aeneas; Ruth Rendell on Theodora; Sebastian Barry on Natoma; and Toby Litt on Don Giovanni.

What an interesting idea. There was an anthology a couple of years ago called MEETING ACROSS THE RIVER which contained stories inspired by the Bruce Springsteen track.Personally, I'd love to see an anthology of stories based on Ramones songs...any publishers out there reading?

The Glasgow Herald reports that Tom Morton - thriller author and BBC Radio Scotland presenter - had an interesting book signing experience.

Ray Banks is interviewed in the excellent Pulp Pusher about his new book BEAST OF BURDEN which is the last in the Cal Innes series. Great interview but I'm most definitely not happy to learn that Ray is now taking it easy. Sorry Mr Banks, but you need to get writing. In addition, Tony Black interviews Ian Hamilton, one of the ringleaders behind the theft/reclamation (depending on your outlook!) of Scotland's Stone of Destiny.

Monday 25 May 2009

A Gallimaufry of Links

Christopher Brookmyre has been shortlisted for The Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for Comic Fiction. The prize is given to the best comic novel published in the last year and the winner will be announced at the Hay Festival at the end of the month.

The six shortlisted novels are:

A SNOWBALL IN HELL - Christopher Brookmyre
RANCID PANSIES - James Hamilton-Paterson

Stuart MacBride talks about childhood memories, seeing a ghost and the house he lived in that was inspiration for his first novel COLD GRANITE.

Maxine Clark reviews Karen Campbell's new novel AFTER THE FIRE.

Louise Welsh will be presenting a BBC Radio Scotland programme on Conan Doyle and the paranormal. It will be broadcast at 11:30am on 29 May as part of a series marking the 150th anniversary of Conan Doyle's birth and it's going to be available online after the show goes out on BBC iPlayer.

This one looks like fun. Irvine Welsh is to direct a remake of The Magnificent 7. Called The Magnificent 11, it's apparently centered on a local amateur soccer team, a Tandoori restaurant and a group of menacing thugs.

In other Irvine Welsh news, Random House have announced that they are launching an "enhanced" e-book list called Book and Beyond, which will include additional content embedded. As an official Technical Numpty, I have no idea how this works and any attempt to explain it to me will be met with a glazing of the eyes, but I'm looking forward to seeing it in action. Irvine Welsh is one of the ten authors chosen for the initial launch and his e-book, which will be available shortly, will "offer a gritty video commentary on the characterisation of his book Crime and a taster of his prequel to Trainspotting."

And finally - from the Glasgow Herald's archives 100 years ago today, one of the news articles was "Unprecedented Sobriety at Clydebank - There were again no apprehensions for drunkenness in Clydebank last weekend. It is now 10 days since an inebriate was taken into custody, which is quite unprecedented for the town." times have changed...and not. Clydebank is now considered part of Glasgow. Since it was decision day in the football league yesterday, I think the time between inebriates being taken into custody was probably nearer 10 minutes. And I'm not sure what it says about Glasgow, but I can still see "No drunks arrested" being headline news.

There, did I do that right? Or did all those links take you to somewhere unsavoury or a complete dead end?

Sunday 24 May 2009

Timing Is Everything, and Mine is Rubbish

If I had started this blog 3 days ago, I would have been able to write my first post as a body lay under a sheet in the next door neighbour's garden, and I was being interviewed by the police. Sadly, this post will be much more prosaic.

"Donna," I said to myself, "It's about time you got into this blogging malarkey."

"Really?" I said back to myself, munching on a Hob-Nob, "don't you think that everyone else does it so much better?"

"Well, there is that," I said, giving myself a glare. "But you could be a little more supportive here."

I shrugged, and said to myself "So, what's it going to be about anyway, this so-called blog of yours?"

"Well, I thought I might make it about Scottish crime fiction - you know - news, reviews, interviews, books set in Scotland, authors from Scotland...and other stuff."

"And does 'other stuff'mean any old nonsense that you get the urge to write about, even if it's total rubbish?"


"Thought so. Now, pass me another Hob-Nob and stop talking to yourself."

So, there you have it. Welcome to Badsville. Please let me know if I have missed out any Scottish authors, or authors with books set primarily in Scotland, because I know I don't have them all. There were some authors I couldn't find websites for so I've not included them. And if there's anything you'd like to see, please let me know. And if you want a Hob-Nob, just let me know that too - I'd love to hear from you.