Monday 31 May 2010

My Dad Reviews...a brace of Val McDermids

My Dad's been on a Val McDermid binge recently, so here are a couple of reviews. By the way, he was well chuffed when people came up to him at Crimefest and told him they liked his appearances on this blog - so thanks everyone for that, I think you helped make his weekend. My Mum, on the other hand, said "Eee, our Donna, what fibs have you been telling people about us on that blob of yours?" Well, here's a non-fib for you. At the MaxCrime party they were giving out free books. My Mum stood by the door and tried to sell a copy to Peter Rozovsky of Detectives Beyond Borders for £5. She did say she was kidding, but I spotted her gleefully counting out a sweaty handful of fivers later on.

Anyway, first of all, the usual reminder of my Dad's tastes:

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.

: 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.

Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: 2003
First Lines: '
Tony Hill tucked his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. There was a fine web of cracks around the elaborate plaster rose that surrounded the light fitting, but he was oblivious to it.'

There are no Mermaids in this book. It tells the story of the rather gruesome murders of a number of men who are homosexuals in the Lancashire area - the actual town a figment of the imagination - and the efforts of Dr Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan to find out who it was. Once I had eliminated Tony as a suspect, I worked out who had committed the crimes. There was a twist at the end but the clues were there, you just had to work it out. As for the characters Dr Tony Hill came over as a likeable sort though frustrated, and DCI Carol Jordan,was a frustrated spinster, who fell for Tony to no avail. I enjoyed it.

Publisher: Harper Collins
Published: 2004
First Lines: '
Four in the morning, the dead of December. Four bleary outlines wavered in the snow flurries that drifted at the beck and call of the snell northeasterly wind whipping across the North Sea from the Urals.'

This is an entirely different story, set in the small town of St Andrews, In Fife. It tells of four students returning from a drinking session who virtually trip over the body of a murdered girl. They are suspected of being involved and spend time trying to prove otherwise. The story starts in 1978, then moves to 25 years later. The four are still suspected by the family of the girl, some in the meantime have moved to the US, others have married and the police force have altered with deaths and retirements. The story is involved and the ending does come as a surprise even though there are clues scattered throughout the narrative. The characters of the students are four different types, all believable and all suspectable. The police characters are equally believable, and some more unbelieving than others. This is a story that I enjoyed reading and can recommend it to anyone who has not had the pleasure.Val McDermid is a good writer and I like the way she tells a story.

Thanks Dad. (By the way, I'm not sure that suspectable is actually a word). He's currently reading Val's THE LAST TEMPTATION, so a review of that one will follow in due course, assuming I can bully him into it.

Sunday 30 May 2010

Titbits and Title Tattle

A round up of forthcoming book festivals in Scotland, an a more in-depth run-down of the Wigtown Book Festival in September from The List (I am desperately hoping to go and see Nick Cave in Dundee).

Shari Low with praise for Alex Gray's FIVE WAYS TO KILL A MAN and Karen Campbell's SHADOWPLAY in the Daily Record. The Daily Record also reports on Alex Gray'svisit to Barlinnie Prison in which she apparently got some stick over writing about crime when she has never committed one.

If you're in Stoke Newington next week, why not go and see Louise Welsh along with Mark Billingham, Dreda Say Mitchell and Toby Litt.

Here's a Conversation With Quintin Jardine.

The lovely Declan Burke - one of my favourite authors, and all-round top bloke - has lovely things to say about OLD DOGS. Thank you Dec, I owe you a hug.

Over at The Guardian, gearing up for the Hay Festival the Guardian asks various authors, including Ian Rankin, for the answers to questions they never get asked. Amongst the others, Jonathan Coe says 2010 is the year for comic fiction - yay! And I particularly like Roddy Doyle's list of questions he can't believe he was actually asked.

Brandy Purdy reviews Louise Welsh's TAMBURLAINE MUST DIE.

What happens to a 14 year old Sherlock Holmes to turn him into the person he is?

And, finally, I've been thinking about book titles recently, as I've been trying to come up with a title for one of my current WIPs (I'm currently working - very slowly I might add - on two books). This particular one is at the very early stages (ie at the stage of lying on the sofa with my eyes closed thinking about it) but today, after some brainstorming over lunch, and me telling wan what it was about, we came up with two titles WALK ON THE WILD SIDE and BEAT THE DEVIL'S TATTOO. Both fit the premise I have in mind, but one would take it a more serious route than the other. I guess I will just have to write the book and see whether it's funny or not. So, dear reader, are titles important? What sort of titles attract your attention? What titles or sort of titles turn you off?

Thursday 27 May 2010

Karen Campbell - SHADOWPLAY Launch

Bizarrely, Amazon have sent me an e-mail saying that I might like to get a book called OLD DOGS. On which note I was well chuffed to go into Waterstones last night for Karen Campbell's event, and discover that OLD DOGS is on their Favourite Books shelf. Woohoo! Of course, it might just mean that they have to try anything they can to shift them because no-one's buying...

So, talking of Karen Campbell, her event was excellent and really well attended. She was there to launch the third book in the Anna Cameron series, SHADOWPLAY. Since her Mum was there she said that she would be editing herself as she read. Why did I find myself nodding my head in heartfelt agreement?

Karen said that one of the main themes of SHADOWPLAY is women in power. She has left 2-3 year gaps between each of the books and in this one, Anna has just been promoted to chief Inspector. Karen wanted to look at what it felt like to be a boss rather than be one of the gang. As a police officer, Anna is already set apart from the rest of society, now she's also set apart from her colleagues. She wanted to look at what sort of boss Anna would be - especially as she is already not a very touchy-feely person, someone who wants to be in control and not show any weakness.

She gives Anna a role model who no-one would want - the boss from hell, who just happens to be a woman - Karen did stress that not all women in charge in Strathclyde police force are bullies, but this character has her roots in reality and is an amalgam of several people Karen worked for. This character's catchphrase is "You're on ma bus, or you're under ma wheels."

The plot involves gangs, old ladies going missing, the death of a young man, and Anna's relationship with her mother.

Karen read out a couple of passages. One, in particular, was extremely powerful and evocative writing.

The book was originally called FADE TO GREY. SHADOWPLAY was Karen's second choice (after the brilliant Joy Division song about people using other people for their own nefarious purposes).

There were numerous questions from the audience. One related to the fact that in THE TWILIGHT TIME Anna does something that is morally ambiguous. Karen said that she thought when it came out that more people would comment that at the end Anna takes some things into her own hands to some extent. She said that she is trying to write about what kind of police the public want and that the temptation is to think that you know best, so what would the character do in those circumstances?

She was asked why she thought crime novels are so popular. She said that part of it is that people like to be taken into worlds they are not familiar with, and that it's a safe way to get a scare. She also commented that she would let a bad guy get away with it as that's what happens in real life.

Karen has just finished a fourth book about Anna, and that's probably the last one. She has lots of other stories to tell and will always write novels with some sort of social element in.

It was an excellent event. I bought a copy of SHADOWPLAY and am very much looking forward to reading it.

And, finally, it looks as though Scottish MSPs are going to vote on whether to ban Buckfast - Scotland's favourite brain-rotting drink. Apparently, it's the fact that it makes you a wide-awake drunk which is the most troubling bit.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Crimefest: The Lost Weekend

Well, it's back to normality after Crimefest. So many people have said it so much better than me (besides, I took copious notes at several panels and have now lost them) so here's a round-up of Crimefest blog posts:

The lovely and indefatigable Ayo had her laptop surgically attached to her fingers for this series of blog posts over at Shotsmag. She was also wearing the most gorgeous necklace for the gala dinner and looked stunning.

Karen from Eurocrime (who I didn't get to spend nearly enough time with) also has several posts up (and well done Karen for being in the winning quiz team!)

Loads of posts from Peter Rozovsky over at Detectives Beyond Borders. Peter caused me my most awkward moment of the weekend, of which more later, but he's still a top bloke.

Martin Edwards has a couple of posts up.

Zoe Sharp's photos over at Busted Flush Press.

My own experience of Crimefest was chock full of lovely people, and loads of hugs. I went down a couple of days early to help with the final arrangements. Basically, this meant being at the beck and call of both Adrian and Adrian and Jen's gorgeous little girl Eleanor. Sometimes I didn't know whether I was meant to be stuffing envelopes or jumping on the trampoline, sorting out the tables for the gala dinner or watching The Little Mermaid. I have to say that it's loads more fun being bossed about by Eleanor. Especially when Adrian casually mentioned to me on Wednesday evening "Oh, by the way, you're being interviewed on BBC Radio Bristol tomorrow." I said some very bad words. Luckily, my Mum has always said that I have a face for the radio, so that was a bonus. I have no idea what I said. Mercifully.

My Mum and Dad (aka Wallace and Gromit) were also there for the weekend so on Thursday we had a family dinner - with my annoying little brother Vincent Holland-Keen, and my son Chris Ewan.

Thursday's panels were excellent and very well attended.

I went to see Sheena is a Punk Rocker: Good Girls, Bad Girls & Everything In-between – Writing Female Protagonists with Cassandra Clark, Mary Andrea Clarke, Katherine Hall Page and Alison Joseph - excellently moderated by Cath Staincliffe. I made notes, so that I could give a full report, but have left my notepad in the hotel room. All the panellists had interesting and entertaining things to say but Katherine Hall Page impressed me the most. She had taken the time to read books by her fellow panellists, was genuinely interested in what they had to say, and made insightful comments about everyone else's books. What a thoroughly excellent panellist and nice person.

Next was Punishment Fits the Crime: Crime Fiction as Social Commentary - Writing About Society, Morality & Justice with Lesley Horton, Adrian Magson, Claire Seeber and Edward Marston. Steve Mosby is a wonderful moderator and asked some really great questions, getting the most out of his panellists. One thing I really like about going to panels is that I often find new authors to try. This time it was Lesley Horton, one of whose books I bought based on her panel appearance.

On Friday I had my panel Grimly Fiendish with Chris Ewan, Zoe Sharp, Steve Mosby and Helen Fitzgerald. I had given them homework to do - firstly to write a fake bio for themselves, secondly to write a crime poem (a task which they all moaned about on Twitter - apart from Zoe, but only because she's not on Twitter.) (Panel photo courtesy of Zoe Sharp and Andy Butler). I am trying to persuade them to let me post their poems here - along with an amazing one written during the panel by audience member Amanda Brown. In the meantime, here are the fake bios:


Former two-time world cage fighting champion, Chris Ewan, was born in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where local legend has it that he was hewn from the bare rock. Known for his distinctive muscular physique, and the curious way in which complete strangers at writing conferences feel compelled to buy him free drinks, he now divides his time between New York and France, where he writes a series of moderately successful thrillers under the pen name Lee Child.


Being one of thirteen children, Helen FitzGerald was destined for a criminal life. Lacking supervision and self control, she was deported from the country her parents had adopted after she was found guilty of murdering the boyfriend who spilt coffee on her favourite shirt, staining it irretrievably. Finding herself in the mother country, she was immediately drawn into its dark underbelly, squatting in the basement of a London townhouse, and eventually fleeing police who suspected she had stabbed one of her many lovers for burning the toast. Hiding out in Glasgow, FitzGerald became acquainted with fellow felons who later welcomed her into C Hall with open arms and toothbrushes laden with melted razor blades. From her cell on the second floor, she now divides her time between writing autobiographical accounts of the men she has murdered and maimed and counting the days until her release.


ZoĆ« Sharp was almost certainly born. Her mother was an itinerant fork-lift truck driver and her father played the bongos on the original Mission: Impossible theme. Abandoned as a child, she was raised by Wolves, but later supported Nottingham Forest and as a result now has no interest in football whatsoever. She wrote her first novel at the age of two-and-a-half, which was described by critics both as “a masterpiece in Marmite and crayon ” and “mercifully short”. She has been making very little sense ever since. She lives in a hollowed-out volcano at a secret location and is planning world domination as soon as she can find herself a fluffy white cat. (And the sad thing is, part of this is true…)


Steve is the manifestation of everything that decent people revile. His date of birth is shrouded in mystery, possibly deliberately so, but he is certainly older than he looks. He has never achieved anything of note, and it is highly unlikely that he ever will, as he spends most of his time drinking, and annoying people on the internet. Bitter, malformed and vile - inside and out - Steve plots to take over the world in a variety of abhorrent ways, none of which has the slightest chance of reaching fruition. Basically an idiot.

Chris, Steve, Helen and Zoe - thank you so much for being such wonderful panellists and marvellous sports. Despite the fact that I hate doing panels and only do it because Adrian bullies me into it, I had good fun.

I went to several panels, discovered authors whose books I will definitely buy (plus a couple I won't!), learnt stuff (including a rather nifty bit of self-defence stuff from Zoe), and, most importantly was entertained and amused by the panels I went to.

Saturday evening was the maXcrime party followed by the gala dinner. Here I am with Maxim Jakubowski and fellow maXcrime author, Mike Hodges (who write and directed the brilliant original Get Carter - I was thrilled to meet him - what a treat).

My Mum is no longer speaking to me after the gala dinner when Peter Rozovsky leaned across and said "So, Donna, how did you get mugged three and a half times?"

My Mum bristled and said "You've been mugged three and a half times? How come I didn't know about this?"

Errrrrrrrr... I had to spend the rest of the weekend dodging barbed comments along the lines of "Apparently, there's a lot I don't know."

She also spent the whole evening trying to cover up my boobs, hoicking my dress up and repeating a selection of phrases - namely, "I've got a safety pin in my handbag somewhere", "You'd better cover those up or you'll get a nasty cold" and "I don't know which is more obvious - your bazooms or your shoes." (I was wearing these shoes).

It was a wonderful weekend. I love getting to see old friends and make new ones. The best bit about it is the hugs.

Monday 17 May 2010

Crime Writers Out And About

A quick update on Scottish crime fiction news before I head off to Crimefest. Hopefully I will blog from there.

Craig Russell takes viewers behind the scenes of BROTHERS GRIMM.

Karen Campbell impressed at Balloch Library. I'm really looking forward to her new one - SHADOWPLAY.

Alex Gray will be in Aberdeen on Wednesday, to discuss her new book FIVE WAYS TO KILL A MAN. And, also in Aberdeen, as part of the Word Festival, are Denise Mina and Philip Kerr.

Ian Pattison creates a stageplay about death.

Barry Forshaw at The Independent reviews Stuart MacBride's DARK BLOOD.

Val McDermid talks Agatha Christie at Hay.

And, finally, the Herald reports that Scottish publishers may go the way of the dodo.

Friday 14 May 2010

Back To Normality

A very brief post holiday catch up on some Scottish crime fiction news as I have a busy weekend ahead. Thanks to all who visited and commented on my Alaska blog. I had a wonderful time and have heard from quite a few of the students and teachers since. Some of the students have sent stories and poems, others have just written to say hello, which is lovely.

So, back to normality very briefly before I'm off to Crimefest in Bristol next week, where I'm moderating two panels - Grimly Fiendish on Friday at 11.20am with Chris Ewan, Helen Fitzgerald, Steve Mosby and Zoe Sharp and Howling At The Moon (the Last Laugh Award Shortlist panel on Saturday at 4.10pm with Chris Ewan, Suzette Hill, Malcolm Pryce and Len Tyler. Chris is going to be so fed up of me by the end of the weekend.

On with the news - loads more to catch up on but this will have to do for now.

The Daily Record talks to Stuart MacBride about the real life inspiration for his new novel.

A ghostly photo signed by Arthur Conan Doyle is up for auction.

The Northeast Ledger on Denise Mina's STILL MIDNIGHT.

The Aberdeen Word Festival is underway. And here's the programme.

The Telegraph talks to Alexander McCall Smith about his inspirations. And here's an article on his charity work, and a report on the baboon opera.

Louise Welsh at the Stoke Newington Literary Festival.

The Swindon Advertiser attends an event with M C Beaton.

William McIlvanney wants a stiff chat with his character Laidlaw.

Tuesday 11 May 2010

I Left My Heart (and my coat) In Alaska

My final Alaska post here. Back to normality with Scottish crime fiction news in the next couple of days.

Sunday 9 May 2010

Learning "I have no brain" in yup'ik

Post here. What a fun couple of days.

Friday 7 May 2010

Wednesday 5 May 2010

Tuesday 4 May 2010

Sunday 2 May 2010

Saturday 1 May 2010

"You Speak Funny"

Third Alaska post here.