Tuesday 30 March 2010

Hyperventilating of Glasgow

Well, I'm sorry to be all me, me me, but it's a very exciting day for me today. Look what arrived in the post from the lovely people at John Blake/maXcrime. Isn't it gorgeous? I've been stroking them all day, in between cackling madly and shoving them in peoples' faces. I can't believe it's here, and I can't believe it's released next week. Hang on while I have a cackle and a stroke again. Oh...errrr...that didn't sound quite right, did it?

I rang my Mum and told her I was sending her a copy.

"That's nice, our Donna," she said. "I'll carry a copy around with me."

"Oh...does that mean you're going to read it after all?" (she gave up at Christmas after the first paragraph (I think it was the term hard-on that was the nail in the coffin)).

There was a horrified pause. "Oh, no, dear. But I'm going to carry it around with me and show everyone." Awwww, well she might not read it herself, but at least she doesn't mind other people seeing it. I was touched. Until she added. "I'm just not going to let anyone actually look inside."

As you can see, I have a little pile of loveliness here. I've given a couple away already - friends, family, colleagues, complete strangers who ran away screaming - but thought I would give a couple away on the blog. All you need to do is leave a comment here, or e-mail me if you would prefer, and tell me the first line or first paragraph of the book you are currently reading (which is one of my favourite ways of finding a new book to read, so you'll be doing me a favour). Two people (pulled out of one of my favourite shoes) will get a copy of OLD DOGS. Unless I only get one entry - in which case one unlucky person gets two copies. And if I don't get any entries, well, I'm sorry, but my Mum gets extra. And you wouldn't want that now, would you, dear reader?

I am very, very lucky and owe a lot of thanks to a lot of people.

And now, enough of me, and back to your regularly scheduled blog.

Here's an excellent list from booksfromscotland.com showing all the literary and book festivals in Scotland this year.

A report on a recent Ian Rankin event in Zurich, from a blogger who wants Ian to know that at least some of the audience were listening. Nice one.

Bookmunch on Louise Welsh's NAMING THE BONES. And here's one blogger's personal view on this and her other books. There might be a little too much detail on the new book so caveat lector if you haven't read it.

And, finally, an interesting article from the Globe and Mail about letting students choose the books they read.

A very happy Donna signing off.

Sunday 28 March 2010

Vampires, Dodgy Tummies and Sneezing Fines

He's not Scottish, but here's an article on Mike Hodges whose WATCHING THE WHEELS COME OFF was published earlier this month by maXcrime - the lovely people who are publishing OLD DOGS in April. The Times describes WATCHING THE WHEELS COME OFF as 'Viz meets Raymond Chandler' which is brilliant. I read it a couple of weeks ago and it's a darkly comic, slightly surreal romp, full of grubby people doing grubby things. Really good stuff. A fuller reviewlet will follow in my monthly reads summary. Mike Hodges will also be at CrimeFest and there will be a special screening of Hodges' brilliant film Get Carter. And, if you're hesitating about CrimeFest, The Times have a special offer over at the link.

A slew of reviews as Denise Mina and Philip Kerr are reviewed in the New York Times, and also in the Dayton Daily News, while Eurocrime reviews Louise Welsh's NAMING THE BONES, and the lovely Crimeficreader reviews G J Moffat's DAISYCHAIN. Declan Burke, one of my favourite people, also reviews Louise Welsh's NAMING THE BONES, and here's yet another review for Philip Kerr's IF THE DEAD RISE NOT in the Washington Post Bookworld.

And, talking of Louise Welsh, here's more on The Gorbals Vampire, presented by Louise Welsh and on Radio 4 on Tuesday night at 11pm.

Allan Guthrie talks to Chris Ewan in the iomtoday.com. This event is looming far too close for my liking - my stomach's already doing flip-flops. Full interview here. And, talking of the delightful Chris Ewan (aka my son) he's been shortlisted for the Last Laugh Award at the aforementioned CrimeFest. Well done Chris.

Ian Rankin on the ten greatest crime novels of all time. I'm sure these must have been some tough choices. What, dear reader, would your own top 10 be?

Alexander McCall Smith is called to the bar (I'll have a Southern Comfort and lemonade please, Mr Smith).

The sweet and cosy guys at Radgepacket have just posted 6 new stories online. (No, Dad, these aren't suitable for your tender eyes either).

And, finally, a Scottish policeman known as PC Shiny Buttons hands out a sneezing fine, only a couple of months after fining a man £50 for dropping £10 out of his pocket.

Friday 26 March 2010

"The words consist of seven letters. Three of them are Fs."

Missing Ian Rankin's most famous detective? Here's a new and original Rebus story. Don't say I never give you anything. Well, Mr Rankin did the hard work, of course.

Talking of Ian Rankin, here's an article on writers' spats. I love the last line of the article.

Paula Woods reviews Philip Kerr's IF THE DEAD RISE NOT in the LA Times.

A newsletter from Alexander McCall Smith.

In festival and event news, first of all, Iain Banks at Scotland's most northerly festival, Ian Rankin at Cuirt in Galway, Philip Kerr, amongst others, at the Aberdeen Word Festival.

Irvine Welsh involved in a charity film to help orphans in India.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Pop Stars, Tram Stars and Merchant Bankers

How brilliant is this? Tony Black plays William McIlvanney's son in a music video.

Ian Rankin plastered all over a tram? But, whoops, Mr Rankin's not happy.

Aly Monroe's blog is always fascinating and thought-provoking, and this post on Arturo Perez Reverte and this one on the origin of characters are no exception.

The true story behind Robert Louis Stevenson's KIDNAPPED.

A review of Alexander McCall Smith's THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF SCONES. And an article on how he was inspired by SOS Childrens' Villages.

And a review of Val McDermid's FEVER OF THE BONE.

A man walks through a pretty street in Germany and talks about Helen Fitzgerald's DEAD LOVELY. Yes, that means my German is nicht gut genug to translate.

And finally, all those merchant bankers now want to be James Bond.

Monday 22 March 2010

Cows In the Cludgie

Maybe I'm wrong but I get the impression that Irvine Welsh isn't too keen on UK theatrical types. Ouch.

Books Are My Only Friends blog compares Philip Kerr to Weezer.

Alexander McCall Smith on his favourite word, amongst other things.

Reviewing The Evidence reviews Lin Anderson's THE FINAL CUT, Clandestine Critics on Ian Rankin's DARK ENTRIES. And The MadHouse Family likes Helen Fitzgerald's MY LAST CONFESSION.

Handbags at dawn as
authors take their revenge on each other.

Bookzone TV interviews Ian Rankin, who was once a vegetarian for three days. Until he decided he preferred bacon to Morrissey.

And, with thanks to a link from Ian Rankin on Twitter - Glasgow's child vampire hunters.

Finally, Scottish Water urges people "to think carefully about what they flush away". I wonder whether it was the same curious person who flushed a cow, a live badger and a steam iron.

Sunday 21 March 2010

She Flies Through the Air With the Greatest of Ease

First of all, a huge thank you to all those who sponsored me for my death-defying dive across the Clyde. It was today and I survived, despite all pronouncements to the contrary - my caring partner, Ewan, asked the woman who gave me the number to stick on my helmet when I would get my toe tag. How nice. One of the pictures here is a bit fuzzy because it's the official one taken when I was 130 feet up. I don't have a scanner so had to take a photo of a photo. However, it does clearly answer the question "Does my bum look big in this?" with a resounding yes.

We had a great time and the team raised over £2000 for Action For Children. My only moment of fear was when we were going up in the basket, being hoisted 130 feet in the air and I was standing at the edge, next to an open gate in the basket. "Do you think you could shut that?" I said. "Why, are you cold, hen?" said the heartless safety guy. Our team paid the sponsorship for some of the young people helped by one of Action For Children's projects to do the zipslide and I was in the basket with them. I thought that since I was the responsible adult (yes, I know, things are bad when you have to rely on me as the responsible adult) I had better not either swear or cry. I jumped first and managed to do it without sobbing, or clutching the safety guy around the knees. Amanda, who went after me, was really nervous. I forgave Ewan for the toe-tag gag when I saw the video later of her nervous wee face - a video taken by her boyfriend, William. Yes, instead of reassuring and comforting her, he was videoing her as she stood at the edge of the basket, sobbing. After she eventually jumped she started screaming. Our joker of a safety guy turned to William and said "Did you hear what she screamed as she went?" "No, said William, what did she say?" "She said you're never getting your hole ever again, son." You've got to love that Glaswegian humour.

This is going to be a very cinematic week - I have a screenwriting class tomorrow, and also I have to work on a scene from OLD DOGS as somehow I seem to have agreed to workshop a scene at the next Write, Camera, Action - eeeek! Last night we went to see SHUTTER ISLAND. I had a huge, huge problem with the book so I was interested to see whether I found the film any better. It was interesting, and well done, but I still had the big problem I had with the book. Since it's to do with the overall premise, I can't say what it is, but if you've seen the film and/or read the book, do send me an e-mail and let me know what you thought of it.

And on Tuesday I'm going to a premiere of this film which looks like it will be a lot of fun.

Talking of films, here's more on the Irvine Welsh film THE MAGNIFICENT ELEVEN which looks great.

Eurocrime reviews G J Moffat's DAISYCHAIN and Val McDermid's FEVER OF THE BONE.

A very original interview as a virtual reality TV station speaks to the protagonist of Peter May's VIRTUALLY DEAD. And here's a review of the book by Mysterious Reviews.

And, finally, Karen Campbell answers the question as to whether female authors are too gloomy in a debate in The Herald.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Starting With Gnomes and Ending With Giants

FasterLouder.com.au on an event with Irvine Welsh (who they describe as being rather like a "mild mannered bald garden gnome"). And if you want to check that description out, here he is on video. And on audio.

I know Valentine's Day is long past, but I'm still half catching up, so here's the delightful Michael Malone on writing poems for Margaret Thomson Davis for one of her novels.

Alexander McCall Smith enjoys sitting down with a nice cuppa. I never knew there was so much you could say about tea.

Sons of Spade with good things to say about Tony Black's LOSS.

Here's Ian Rankin on Deutsche-Welle radio. And, when two worlds collide - Ian Rankin talks to Richard Jobson of The Skids - one of my favourite bands from the punk era. For those who don't know the band, or for those old punks like me who just want to hear it again, here's INTO THE VALLEY. Brilliant.

Martin Edwards likes Craig Russell's BROTHER GRIMM.

The Seattle Times with a review of Denise Mina's STILL MIDNIGHT.

And finally, either there's no height requirement in the police force these days or this guy was auditioning for a part in Roald Dahl's The Big Over-Friendly Giant.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Write, Camera, Action

Last night I attended an event called Write, Camera, Action. It's a monthly event and this was my first time. It's an evening of workshops which bring together writers, directors and actors. Each month, writers submit a 5 minute (or so) script in advance and five are then selected for the evening. People also register their interest as directors and actors and each piece is then allocated a director and a group of actors and the scene is then workshopped for two hours. You can also go along just as an observer (which is what I did). Each time there are 5 workshops going on. Writers have to submit their scripts (which can be a standalone or part of a larger piece) with brief character descriptions and a couple of sentences as to what it's about. Directors must have experience directing actors. The actors seemed to be a mixture of drama students and people just interested in acting. I'm rubbish at guestimating numbers but I would guess there were about 100 people there.

The event is held at Glasgow's CCA which is a great venue. After registering, we were pointed in the direction of the synopses of the various pieces being workshopped that evening. the evening is split into two and you can stay in one workshop from beginning to end, or you can change at half time. At the end of the evening, all the groups come together and each piece is performed.
One of the synopses was marked 'Part 2' and, although it looked really interesting, I decided to forego that one, Two of them were science fiction which did not immediately grab me. The other two were a comedy scene set in a pub, and a drama about an unmarried mother in the 1960s. I decided that I would go to those two.

The first one was the comedy one. Two actors, sitting in a pub, talking about the fact that one of the guys had been out on a date. The director was very hands off. After a couple of run throughs, he suggested that they get a bit of action in the scene by pretending to be painting the pub rather than sitting in it. Another couple of run throughs and he then asked them to do it without the script and just improvise. The scene was very funny, but for me the major weakness was that only the guy who had been on the date really had anything to say, the other guy was mostly responding by facial expressions. As part of the improvisation, the second guy was saying much more, and it made it work much better I thought, so that was really interesting to see.

At half time, we went to see the other workshop. This one was totally different. The writer was also the director and he was more hands on - much more hands on. So much so that he was telling one of the actors to sit up straight and what tone of voice to use. He was being quite...directorial... in his direction. Sometimes it seemed as though the actors were getting a bit frustrated. The scene had a bigger cast of characters, and much more action. There were frequent changes of scene with only a couple of lines of dialogue in each. The script was seven pages long, but by the time we got there, this had been reduced to about three, characters had been condensed, and scenes had been discarded. To say that they'd already spent an hour working on it, it seemed quite chaotic and frenetic - totally different to the more laid back atmosphere of the first one we'd seen. It made for a totally different experience and it was fascinating to see the differences resulting from the script, the action and the style of the director. I also thought it was interesting how the director who also wrote the piece was so much more fixed on his own ideas and words than the other session. In that one, the writer had very little to say, he just sat back and observed.

Then it was into the theatre for a performance of each of the pieces. Prior to each one the writer stood up to say what the piece was about, and, if it was part of a larger piece, to give some background about the whole thing. I was really impressed by how well done each one was. It turned out that the piece that was Part 2 we could have gone to see without being bamboozled. It was very good - probably the most professional of the five scenes. And one of the science fiction ones was very well done with some very clever directorial bits added. The writer of that said that while they were doing the workshop quite a bit of dialogue had been cut and he was really happy with that as it sounded more flowing. The piece that we'd seen first hadn't changed substantially, just a few tweaks with some additional dialogue for the second character, and a little bit more action. Then came the other one we'd seen. When the writer stood up to explain what his piece was about and how it all fitted into the longer piece, it all made much more sense and I think that, as a short film, it could be really good. I wish I'd had the bottle to ask the guy why he chose to direct his own piece - especially as it was his first time. From the other one we saw, and from the sound of what had happened in the other workshops, a subjective director had added a lot and really helped the writers to see what needed work and maybe consider a different way of doing things.

It was a great evening. I am definitely going to go every month and am even considering submitting a scene from OLD DOGS. Well, maybe in a few months. I certainly won't be directing it though!

Sunday 14 March 2010

Sleepy Sunday Summary

Ian Rankin is taking a European tour, just like the posh Victorians. His tour dates: 15 March, Cologne (sold out); 16th, Hugendubel Funf Hofe bookshop (Munich, 8.30pm); 17th, Rabenhof Theatre (Vienna, 8pm), 18th, Zurich (sold out). Hopefully this will lead to more Babelfish opportunities.

Closer to home, some Crime In The City events in Edinburgh this week with Helen Fitzgerald - Monday 15th (Moredun Library), Caro Ramsay - Tuesday 16th (Newington Library), Alanna Knight - Wednesday 17th (Blackhall Library) and Allan Guthrie and Helen Fitzgerald - Saturday 20th (Wester Hailes).

Here's the longlist for the Tesco Bank Summer Reads which was launched at Aye Write last weekend. Vote for your favourite title and win a Sony e-Reader

The Madhouse Family reviews Craig Robertson's RANDOM and, although it left an uncomfortable feeling, pronounces it a good read for people who like to see "sad little lives spiralling out of control".

Val McDermid's FEVER OF THE BONE is one of the Telegraph's Pick of the Paperbacks.

Ray Banks reports on his Avant! Noir event in London.

Denise Mina at Lit Sutra on letters from drunk readers, while the Seattle Times enjoys STILL MIDNIGHT.

An Irvine Welsh story appears in the anthology BECAUSE I AM A GIRL. And Sean Bean, Dougray Scott and Robert Vaughn are to appear in the Irvine Welsh directed gritty UK comedy THE MAGNIFICENT ELEVEN.

Thursday 11 March 2010

Mouse Helplines, Hypoallergenic Cats and Delicious Babelfish

Since I am unable to post tomorrow, here's tomorrow's blog post early. Have a lovely weekend.

Douglas Lindsay, author of the excellent Barney Thomson series (if you haven't read them, do yourself a favour) got in touch today. I'd linked to his Barney Thomson and The Westminster Christmas Massacre - a violent yet strangely heartwarming Christmas story featuring "a deranged MP" (aren't they all?) who goes on a "bloody rampage through the Houses of Parliament." Well, Douglas sent me a link to the Hansard report for the House of Lords for March 3rd. Hansard, for anyone who isn't aware, is an "edited verbatim" (not quite sure how that works Mr Parliament, but there you go) report of proceedings in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

The first item of business was mice. Very greedy mice. Lots of mice (although, apparently, it's rather difficult to tell them apart so it might just be one mouse). My favourite part is this from the Chairman of the Committee "As I speak here this afternoon, the Bishops' Bar and the Guest Room are being hoovered, so we can get rid of the food scraps from lunch. If you were a mouse, you would rather eat the crumbs of a smoked salmon sandwich than the bait." I am so glad that the House of Lords has posh mice. I am also happy to learn that the tax that I hand over very grudgingly every month is going to such a good cause. A mouse helpline. Sadly, this appears to be a hotline that distraught Lords and Ladies can call if a mouse has the cheek to nick one of their salmon sandwiches, rather than a hotline that distraught mice can call should they feel the need "There I was, just coming out of my hole in the skirting board for a cheeky wee bit of Stilton, when what did I see but Lady Tweedy of Frumpington and Baron Snortworthy of Balderdash in flagrante delicto over the snooker table in the Bishop's Bar. That's not going to do the green baize any good, is it?"

And after that fun, I now get to use Babelfish again. Most excellent. This on Ian Rankin from SerieNegra. Babelfish tells me "We knew little Scotland, all the Scottish heroes had face of Mel Gibson, and we knew that sometimes special they put picture skirt, socks until the knee and touched the bagpipe, literally" Any Scottish men reading this post? Have you ever "touched the bagpipe, literally"? And Babelfish goes on to say nice things about the seemingly multiple- personalitied (sorry - Babelfish has wreaked its havoc on me) Rebus "We like John Rebus. We like their cynicism, that she is more than a bloodhound, who is a dog of fight with iron jaws. No matter how much it bleeds, by much pain that denotes their eyes and their soul, if the life bites does not loosen the prey, although in it goes to him." And later "It will be always implied personally in the cases. And before being police, between years 68 and 70, when the month of May was French, and Pepe Carvalho one became of the company, it was in the Army, Northern Ireland, the Special Forces. It is not necessary to explain much more." Um, well, actually, I think it is necessary... And we also learn something about Fife: "the mining county of Fife, hard and something slow, where “if you threw hand to the blouse of a girl immediately you had to its father persiguiĆ©ndote with the belt”" Russel? Have you ever 'threw hand to the blouse of a girl'? Did you have to do something weird to her father with a belt? And Ian - I think your CV needs some work - "Mr. Rankin you have been caretaker of pigs, poll of youthful, tax collecting blood level of alcohol of taxes, vendimiador in France, publisher of a musical magazine."

And now, I am off to my day job "Hello, Mouse Helpline, Minnie speaking, please squeak after the tone..."

Football, Flashers and Flying Across the Clyde

Craig Robertson and others talk baddies to Bookdagger.

Edinburgh's Tales of One City has a Youtube channel. See Iain Banks, Doug Johnstone, Irvine Welsh and much more (thanks to @scottishbooks) .

Ian Rankin - celebrity whale watcher. And he is great to follow on Twitter "Apparently, my brand new Inspector Rebus short story, 'The Very Last Drop', will be published in Friday's 'Scotsman' newspaper", he says. Yippee! He also says: "wondering if the couple who won me on ebay left positive feedback..."

A great article in The Guardian on John Buchan's Richard Hannay books.

The lovely Karen over at Eurocrime comments on several books with a football focus, including books by Scots Bill Knox, Alex Gray and Alexander McCall Smith.

More from The Scotsman on Creative Scotland and the potential pitfalls which need to be avoided.

A reminder of a rather excellent sounding event with Ray Banks on Friday if you are in London.

Booksquawk reviews THE DARKNESS by Bill Kirton. The South African Times Live reviews Ian Rankin and Philip Kerr. And the delightful Bernadette in Oz enjoyed Caro Ramsay's SINGING TO THE DEAD, but has a double pronged rant about authors who do not update their websites and how all Scottish authors end up being called "the next Ian Rankin", even when they patently aren't. Well said, that woman.

The Chicago Tribune on why mysteries still matter.

Carol Anne Davies on a recent Home Office report which recommends that police stop talking about crime because it upsets people. Her story of being flashed at reminds me of when a friend and I were once flashed at in the Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.

And, finally, there's only a week or so to go, so I'm getting as many plugs in as possible for my death defying plunge across the River Clyde on a piece of string. All sponsorship or encouraging comments gratefully received.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Aye Write, It's Christopher Brookmyre

I had a lovely time on Sunday going to a couple of the things at the always excellent Aye Write Festival in Glasgow, so here is my reports on one of the events.

The first thing we went to see was Christopher Brookmyre being interviewed. Brookmyre started off by saying that at last year's Aye Write he was on an atheism panel. It just happened to be on the day that his team - St Mirren - were playing Celtic in the Scottish cup. Celtic, needless to say, were the hot favourites. Brookmyre switched his phone off and he said it was a good thing that he had done so because if he'd seen the texts coming in from his friends, telling him that St Mirren had beaten Celtic (1-0) he would have had to abandon his atheistic stance and say to the other panelists "Look guys, all bets are off, there is a god."

He described Pandaemonium as a Gothic horror story, and said that, when asked what the difference is between horror and Gothic horror he says "I don't know, but this is Gothic horror because it has goths in it" :o) Pandaemonium is the tale of a group of High School students who are taken off to a retreat to help them come to terms with the death of one of their fellow students, through counselling, discussion, and prayer. The teenagers, on the other hand, have other ideas (most of which revolve around alcohol and sex). The Guardian described it as " a book in which vengeful demons meet horny teenagers in a remote location and huge quantities of blood gets shed." Because, yes, there are demons in the book. Brookmyre said that, according to Catholic doctrine, it's required to believe that demons are real. And there are, apparently, around 312million demons loose in the world right now. Brookmyre's comment was "Has anyone told the Daily Mail? What if they're all claiming benefits right now?"

He then read from Pandaemonium. Generally, I'm not a big fan of authors reading what feel like interminably long chunks from their books, but he's such an entertaining reader, and his books are such good fun, that he could have read for the whole hour as far as I was concerned.

The interviewer mentioned how well he writes his teenage characters (he's written great teenagers in several books now, including my favourite - ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT), and asked whether they are former classmates. Brookmyre said that he finds it easy to cast his mind back to his school days and that he is very much in touch with his inner teenager, or as he added "I'm emotionally retarded". He also mentioned that he is currently in talks with an American publisher of Young Adult novels, which will be science fiction books. One thing that concerns him about not actually being a teenager is that some of the put-downs are not actually being used any more. He says one of the benefits of the internet (and, specifically, football forums), is that you get to see the terms of abuse people are throwing at each other.

As far as writing teenage girls, he said it's easy to write the boys as he shares a lot of their enthusiasm and insecurities, however, it was harder with the teenage girls and he had to get into the way of 'psychological cruelty'. When there were laughs from the audience at this he said that was the "laughter of recognition and shame."

He was then asked about having his books turned into films and said that, currently, ALL FUN AND GAMES UNTIL SOMEBODY LOSES AN EYE is with a French based producer, and that there is also interest from a UK company in THE SACRED ART OF STEALING. He said that he's not precious about the way his work gets adapted and finds it interesting to see how someone else sees it. Matthew Vaughn (Kickass and Layer Cake) wanted to option A BIG BOY DID IT AND RAN AWAY, but only so that he could get the character Simon Darcourt - the rest of the story itself would have changed beyond recognition. Brookmyre was interested to see what he would do with that, but, unfortunately, it fell through.

I was particularly interested to hear that as in my screenwriting class, I am currently adapting (oh, that sounds so much grander than it is!) BUMPING UGLIES - the short story I wrote for the wonderful HELL OF A WOMAN anthology - and the only bit which has survived is the very beginning. It's a totally different tale now.

He loved Carl Hiaasen's books and read them all within about six months. He admires Hiaasen's ability to write a fast paced story, with great characters, and focus on something he's really interested in or passionate about. He thought it would be good to do something similar set in the UK. At the time, he felt that British crime at the time was grim and depressing, with characters who weren't allowed to be heroic.

He recently received a fan letter from Diana Gabaldon, who really enjoyed Pandaemonium and she told him she had him on her Methadone List, which are suggestions she gives to her own fans as to what they could read while they are waiting for another one of her books to come out. Brookmyre commented "I don't know what Diana Gabaldon's readers are going to make of my swearing, shagging teenagers."

When asked why he had changed genres somewhat with Pandaemonium, he said that he felt that he couldn't top A SNOWBALL IN HELL in terms of satire and character, and every idea he had for an OTT satirical crime thriller after that didn't seem good enough. He'd always wanted to write something SF. Pandaemonium started life as a screenplay and he decided to see if he could turn it into a novel, which he found an interesting process. He said it's almost unrecognisable as the screenplay it started life as, and commented that, with a screenplay, you sometimes have to use stereotypes for some of the supporting characters. With novels, you can take those stereotypes and subvert them.

He was then asked about the title, with Anthony, the interviewer, getting a laugh when he said "A one word title is a bit of a departure...admittedly, it's a long word." Brookmyre said that he wanted something a bit different and felt that PANDAEMONIUM was very apt - it's the capital city of hell in Milton's PARADISE LOST, plus it's what you get when you have 30 or 40 hormonal teenagers running around.

When asked whether he starts with a title or a theme he said it's usually a theme and the title suggests itself at some point. However, for ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT and A BIG BOY DID IT AND RAN AWAY he had the titles first and just knew he wanted to write a book with those titles. Incidentally, the alternative title he had for ONE FINE DAY was GOOD GUYS GET SHOT IN THE SHOULDER.

A question from the audience was raised as to how the west of Scotland humour translates. Brookmyre said that he doesn't worry about how it's going to be perceived outside the UK. When he's reading a book he would rather get it raw and work out what things mean, rather that a one-size fits all version. I totally agree with him. I hate it when publishers feel they have to change things in books because they think their readers are so stupid that they won't be able to get something from the context.

On the subject of translations, he said that his experience with translators is that they tend to either ask loads of questions or no questions at all. When ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT was translated, he was intrigued to see that it had a two word title. It turned out to be PARADISE FUCKED (sorry Dad, but that's what the book's called).

A Japanese translator asked one question, and one question only, about ONE FINE DAY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. In it, there's a character, in his pajamas, very miserable, as he's been shot out of a dinghy. The quote from the book is something like "utterly miserable and, for a Leither, marooned." This is a very Edinburgh specific quote in that the suggestion is that because he's from Leith, then he's a Hibs supporter (who play in green and white). The rival Edinburgh team is Hearts, who play in maroon. Hence, he wouldn't want to be marooned. Brookmyre told the translator that if he could translate that, he deserved an award.

Brookmyre had a very bad experience with a French translator (who appeared to have got the job because of who he knew, rather than what. He was translating QUITE UGLY ONE MORNING and COUNTRY OF THE BLIND and sent Brookmyre about 400 queries, many of which were answered on the very next page. Some of them were legitimate questions but still very funny. We were treated to a recitation of some of these and they were hilarious: "What does mean 'gub'?", "What are 'the dry heaves'", "What does mean 'boaby'?", "What is a protestant?", "What is a shirtlifter?", "Can you explain Schadenfreude?", "What is the meaning of Lebanon." "I know Fred West from your previous book but who is Rosemary West?", "Who is Rod Hull?", "Who is Johnny Foreigner?", "What scientist is Stephen Hawking?", "What does mean 'bawhair'?" And his final e-mail - very aptly - said "Your tea's oot means you're finished?"

Brookmyre said that Pandaemonium was "a big, geeky playground" for him. He was able to take some of the themes and iconography of the supernatural and combine them with science and quantum physics.

He then talked about some crime fiction he is working on now, which sounded really good. It's less satirical, more 'realistic' and plausible. It's a set of crime novels set in Glasgow's 'gangland' which sounds like a theme park. The first one in the series is about an enforcer who's looking for redemption later in life. The first one will be out in Summer 2011 and it's called WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED. He said it's both exciting and daunting embarking on a new character.

Talking of characters, he was then asked about Jack Parlabane. Since Brookmyre was a journalist, he was asked whether Parlabane was based on any journalists he knew. He said that, no, he wanted to create a fantasy journalist who would stop at nothing to get to the truth. His own experience of real journalists is that they would stop at nothing to get to the pub.

He then gave us a sneak preview of WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED and it sounds really good. As I hope comes across, it was a really fun hour and I could have listened to him for far longer.

Sunday 7 March 2010

Teeny Tiny Truncated Sunday Summary

A very brief post tonight as I am just back from seeing Christopher Brookmyre and Karen Campbell at Aye Write, plus dinner at Red Onion with my lovely friend Kieran. Reports to follow (not of the dinner - although if you must know I had crayfish, followed by duck, topped off with frozen raspberries in hot white chocolate, all helped down with a nice glass of Italian pinot grigio - mmmmm). In the meantime, a few linkety-links.

Talking of Christopher Brookmyre, a very thoughtful review of Pandaemonium from the wonderfully named blog Detained in Camp Miserable (Google Alerts lead me to some marvellous places I would never otherwise find).

The Times of India on Ian Rankin's THE COMPLAINTS.

More from The Guardian on the most borrowed books of 2009. And here's the actual list of the top 250. Nice to see all that crime fiction.

I missed this for Valentine's Day but it's still a good read. Included because of the mention of Ken McClure (and because it's fun, and that's all the excuse I need).

Charles Cumming on espionage.

Manda Scott on growing up preferring animals to people.

A review of Denise Mina's EXILE from the intriguingly named blog Slate Floor Tiles. I have no idea why it's called that. Is the owner a slate floor tile lover? Seller? Or indeed, a slate floor tile him- or herself?

And finally, I for one am most happy to see that Mr Ray 'Kuncklebuster' Banks will be at Harrogate this year. And what a fine panel it sounds too. If Ray's appearance wasn't enough it also has two of my favourites - Martyn Waites and Charlie Williams.

Friday 5 March 2010

That Friday Feeling

The Crimefest programme is up. Those who know me will know exactly why I gave the panels the names I did :o) The bad thing about organising the panels is that Adrian insists that I moderate one. The good thing is that I get to bully my friends onto being on it. This year my poor panellists are Chris Ewan, Helen Fitzgerald, Steve Mosby and Zoe Sharp and I'm looking forward to interrogating them. I'm currently thinking up suitable homework for them. Crimefest is always really good fun and Adrian Muller and Myles Allfrey do an excellent job organising it. Hope to see some of you there.

Crime fiction tops most borrowed library books list, with both Ian Rankin and Alexander McCall Smith in the top 10.

Talking of Ian Rankin, one of his recent tweets intriguingly stated " I'm showing a scriptwriter around Edinburgh, in preparation for TV version of 'The Complaints'". Hmmmmmmm, looking forward to hearing more about that. And Ian reports that this event went well. I'm not really stalking you Ian, honestly.

Louise Welsh and Dan Rhodes on new novels, flatpack furniture and knob gags (Dad, that's jokes about door handles, by the way).

Scene of The Crime blog interviews Philip Kerr about his Berlin.

A slew of book reviews for the weekend. First of all, Fair Dinkum Reviews on my Dad's favourite, Caro Ramsay's SINGING TO THE DEAD. The Guardian reviews the audio version of Aly Monroe's Maze of Cadiz, Mystery Books News on Peter May's THE RUNNER, The Scotsman reviews Louise Welsh's NAMING THE BONES, the Star-Telegram enjoyed Ian Rankin's DOORS OPEN and Mysteries and Musings reviews M C Beaton's DEATH OF A VALENTINE. And there are no mormons in Stuart MacBride's BLOODSHOT apparently.

Alexander McCall Smith at the Dubai Festival of Literature. And here he is in an audio interview over at Spoken Word.

Poisoned Pen Press give Val McDermid a nice surprise. I love Val's comment in the last line.

More on the possible creation of a Scottish Academy of Literature.

And finally, anyone going to any of the Aye Write events? On Sunday, my mate Kieran and I are going to this and this.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

What I Read In February - Scottish Month

February was Scottish crime fiction month for me. And what an excellent time I had, too.

LOSS - Tony Black

Published: February 2010
Setting: Edinburgh
Protagonist: Gus Dury
Series?: 3rd
First Lines: 'Calls in the middle of the night rarely bring good news.'
Gus Dury is back with his wife, Debs, although their relationship is fragile. Also fragile is Gus' new-found sobriety. Relationship and sobriety are both threatened when Gus' brother is murdered and Gus, needless to say, resists all exhortations to leave the investigation to the police. His own attempts to find his brother's killer put him on the wrong side of just about everybody - the law, Debs, and some seriously dangerous men. Sometimes it seems as though Gus' only friends are his dog, Usual, and the unopened quarter bottle of whisky Gus keeps in his pocket. Luckily for Gus, he does have two good friends who step in and help him, without thought for their own safety. As Gus struggles to come to terms with the loss of his brother, things get darker and more dangerous. Wonderfully written, tough, edgy, and very dark, but with the odd flash of humour, LOSS made me cry at the end. Tony Black is a brilliant writer and I'm glad to see that the fourth in the series is out in July.

Published: October 2009
Setting: Dundee
Protagonist: McNee
Series?: 2nd
First Lines: 'He doesn't waste a moment. Lets go of the axe, brings both hands round on either side of my head and slams them together.'
Hard-boiled Dundee PI McNee is called upon to investigate the disappearance of a teenage girl. He's reluctant, since the girl is the god-daughter of David Burns - someone that McNee is not particularly fond of, and that's putting it lightly. McNee lets himself be beguiled by his dislike of Burns - as well as his desire to right some wrongs - as he investigates the secrets and lies that lead him to become more and more emotionally involved in the case. Brutal, chilling, pacy and dramatic, THE LOST SISTER is superb - but very sad. I felt melancholic from about half way through and burst into tears at the end (it seems a pattern is developing!) McNee is an excellent character - tough as nails on the outside, but much softer on the inside - something he does his best to hide. He is uncompromising about right and wrong, his moral compass is firmly set, and his prickly exterior hides a troubled and isolated person who just can't get close to people. You don't know whether to hug him or punch him. Russel McLean spins a fine and expertly told tale.

Published: September 2008
Setting: Fife, Scotland and Tuscany, Italy
Protagonist: DI Karen Pirie
Series?: I think it's a standalone
First Lines: 'The voice is soft, like the darkness that encloses them.'
DI Karen Pirie, head of Fife's cold case review team is intrigued when a young woman comes in to report the disappearance of her father twenty-five years before, during the miners' strike. He was last seen in 1984 in the small mining village where he lived. At the time, everyone thought he'd joined a group of miners who had betrayed their friends and families by going off to 'scab' at a coal mine down in England, even though it seems to be out of character. In addition, new evidence has turned up in a kidnap case involving the daughter and grandson of the richest man in Scotland. Her bosses want her to concentrate on the kidnapping, but Karen is determined to look into the disappearance of the miner. This is a very cleverly told story with multi layered plot-lines, locations and times. It's full of atmosphere and social history as Val McDermid vividly shows the breakdown of a community and the suffering, grievances and bitterness which have cast long shadows. Intelligent and tightly plotted with twists upon twists and turns upon turns. An excellent read which kept me up.

Published: March 2010
Setting: Edinburgh, Glasgow and Lismore
Protagonist: Murray Watson
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'Murray Watson slit the seal on the cardboard box in front of him and started to sort through the remnants of a life.'
Glasgow University professor Dr Murray Watson is taking a year's sabbatical to write a book about obscure poet Archie Lunan - a man who wrote one book of poetry and died young, over two decades before, in a boating accident off a small Scottish island. Murray's task is not an easy one - he has very little information, and no-one seems particularly keen to talk to him. As Murray delves into the poet's life, he wonders whether there's any point to his research. Murray's own life is lonely and troubled and he seems to drift aimlessly. He's having a loveless affair, he has a chilly relationship with his brother - his only remaining family, and he drinks too much. The book not only tells what happened to Lunan, but also puts Murray's own life under the microscope and looks at love, death, art and obsession. Despite its length and seemingly leisurely pace, NAMING THE BONES is a fast read. It's atmospheric with a great sense of place and a very gothic tone. The real stand-out for me though was the characters. Even the most minor character is vivid and memorable, even those only on the page for a short time.

RANDOM - Craig Robertson
Published: April 2010
Setting: Glasgow
Protagonist: The Cutter
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'She was talking but I couldn't take anything in'
A serial killer know as The Cutter is making Glasgow's citizens a little on edge. The killer seems to have scant regard for the police, and has decided that the best way to make people sit up and take notice is to get the Press involved. The police are baffled by the seemingly random murders. The victims have nothing in common, each one is dispatched in a different way and with ruthless efficiency, and everything about the killings appears to be totally random. The only reason the police are linking the murders at all is because after each one DS Rachel Narey receives the severed little finger of the victim's right hand. Dark, violent and unsettling, the book is told from the cold and chilling point of view of the serial killer. There is a reason behind the killings, and the reason is one which should have made me feel some sympathy towards the killer. It didn't. He's as frosty and dangerous as an icicle hammered into your heart. But his story is compelling and it's a clever trick to make me want to keep reading about a character who made my skin crawl.

FALLING - Gordon Brown
Published: June 2009
Setting: Glasgow
Protagonist: Ensemble cast
Series?: Standalone
First Lines: 'The door to the toilet slams open and I turn to the noise.'
Mild-mannered accountant Charlie Wiggs is minding his own business in the office toilet, when two thugs burst in, grab him and take him to the roof of the building, where they proceed to dangle him over the side. Nobody, including Charlie, the two thugs, and George the maintenance man who sees it all happening, are quite clear why Charlie is being mistreated in this way. FALLING is a fast-paced read with an ensemble cast, told from multiple points of view. Some of the narratives overlap which means that, as the hows and whys are gradually revealed, we get to see them from numerous viewpoints. A breezy caper novel with dark undertones.

In March I am only going to read books in translation. Well, apart from this little beauty which I have just received, and which is next on my list to read. WATCHING THE WHEELS COME OFF is one of the first two books from maXcrime (the lovely people who are publishing OLD DOGS), and it's by Mike Hodges (director of the original (and best) GET CARTER). It's described as "a delicious dark slice of black crime comedy". Perfect.