Thursday 30 September 2010

Hydrophobia, Haircuts and Haunted Houses

The Independent reviews Val McDermid's TRICK OF THE DARK. And Val's on The Book Show's Off The Shelf. And here are her top 10 Oxford novels.

Stephen Fry will play Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock Holmes 2.

A very varied range of Alexander McCall Smith related items. Middletown, Ohio, is having a Botswana weekend and there will be an exhibit about Alexander McCall Smith's books. The man himself, meanwhile, was at the Goteborg Book Fair, and will be at the Boston Public Library on October 25th. He's also taking part in World Rabies Day, and congratulations are in order as he receives an award in Botswana.

The always funny Douglas Lindsay on when haircuts go bad.

Ian Rankin, Iain Banks and Quintin Jardine at the Lennoxlove Book Festival in November. And a reminder of the event at the Portobello Book Festival with Ian Rankin, Allan Guthrie, Doug Johnstone, Alice Thompson and Caroline Dunford.

The lovely Caro Ramsay talks about her diploma in forensic science, osteopathy, and living in a haunted house.

BookGeeks reviews M C Beaton's SNOBBERY WITH VIOLENCE, while at the other end of the spectrum the marvellously named Cinema Fromage looks at Denise Mina's graphic novel A SICKNESS IN THE FAMILY.

And thanks to all for your comments and e-mails on the Ramones story blogathon - I'm so looking forward to seeing everyone's stories! I've already seen one and it's a cracker.

Monday 27 September 2010

"Blurred Vision and Dirty Thoughts"

The alternative title to this post is 'It's My Birthday And I'll Suggest A Ramones Themed Anthology If I Want To' but it doesn't quite trip off the tongue so I thought I'd go with the quote from the Ramones' 'Somebody Put Something In My Drink'.

So, since it is my birthday, who fancies writing a story using a Ramones song title as the title for the story? The story doesn't need to be based on the song, it just needs to use the title.

So how about it? Anyone in? I suggest:

1. Stories should be under 750 words, to reflect the fact that Ramones songs were really, really short.
2. Stories posted on your blog on 1st November (or thereabouts) and I'll put links to them all here. If you don't have a blog, I would be thrilled to post them here for you.
3. There needs to be a crime in it, but it can be as petty as you like.

For non-Ramones fans - what about 53rd and 3rd with its tale of a male prostitute:

"Then I took out my razor blade
Then I did what God forbade"

Or Blitzkrieg Bop's "Shoot'em in the back now"

And the rich implications of Teenage Lobotomy's:
"Now I guess I'll have to tell 'em
That I got no cerebellum" (which just have to be some of the finest lyrics ever!)

And then of course there's I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement, You're Gonna Kill That Girl, You Should Have Never Opened That Door, Born to Die in Berlin, Cabbies on Crack, Heidi is a Headcase, Too Tough To Die...lots of delicious inspiration there.

Here are 183 song titles (complete with lyrics).

Leave me a comment if you're in, or send me an e-mail. I'll post regular reminders. Anyone fancy it? Please don't say it's just me, it's my birthday and I will cry.

In other crime related birthday news, amongst other things I got Donald Westlake's MEMORY, published by Hard Case Crime (I also got the new Grinderman CD as we're going to see them tomorrow - (woohoo!) and a quad bike experience. Yesssssssssssss)

Update - I am so stupid - I meant 1st November, not 1st October. That would be cruel - expecting people to write a story in 4 days! Whoops, sorry :o)

Saturday 25 September 2010

Post Berlin Catch Up

Well, it's now back to post-Berlin normality. Writing my previous gratuitous holiday post made me all the more determined to go back next year. I'm still boring everyone at work with how fantastic it was.

Blogging might be a little bit thin on the ground over the next few weeks. I'm doing two courses - one in counselling, and one in teaching adult literacy. And then, of course, it's Bouchercon coming up. Woohoo! I will try and continue to post 3 or 4 times a week, but the posts might be shorter. What's that you said, dear Reader? 'Thank god for small mercies"?

We went to see Winter's Bone last night, based on one of my favourite books. It was part of my birthday weekend treats (I'm trying to string my birthday out for a whole week, but, sadly, that's being frowned upon and poo-poo'ed). Great film - not, of course, as good as the book, and the bad guys weren't anywhere near as scary as they are in print, but an excellent film nonetheless - as faithful as it could be to the book, and really well and sympathetically adapted. The posh people behind us didn't think much though - two couples with Kelvinside accents (where 'sex' is something you bring the coal home in). At the end of the film, there was silence for a few seconds and then one of the husbands said "Well, that was cheery, wasn't it?" Since the first thing we heard when he sat down was "Oh, Alastair, the film hasn't even started yet, I could have finished my peppermint tea" I think we knew it wasn't going to be his...well...his delicate bone china cup of peppermint tea.

Lots of reviews, reviewlets and opinions:
The Globe and Mail on Quintin Jardine's A RUSH OF BLOOD.
The Guardian on Val McDermid's TRICK OF THE DARK. While Buried Under Books loved FEVER OF THE BONE, as did Mostly Fiction.
A Day In The Life on Ian Rankin's BLOOD HUNT.
The charming Declan Burke in The Irish Times on Kate Atkinson's STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG. Which was also enjoyed by Material Witness. And is reviewed here by the always-thoughtful Martin Edwards. Still on Kate Atkinson, Bridget Schaumann enjoyed CASE HISTORIES. And the lovely Dorte enjoyed WHEN WILL THERE BE GOOD NEWS.
Bookwagon on Philip Kerr's BERLIN NOIR trilogy. Bibliolathas also enthuses about Philip Kerr.
The Scotsman on Alexander McCall Smith's THE CHARMING QUIRKS OF OTHERS.

Arthur Conan Doyle's violin gets used.

Unfortunately, Babelfish doesn't translate videos, but here's a German report on Louise Welsh.

Read a Manda Scott short story here.

BBC Scotland to film Denise Mina's FIELD OF BLOOD. And here's the Inveresk Street Ingrate's opinion on that.

Catch Aline Templeton at the Carnegie Library in Ayr on September 26th.

And I really, really, really want to stay at this hotel. And never leave.

Have a lovely weekend, dear reader. No post until Monday or Tuesday as we're off to sunny Fife-shire.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Thoughts From A Broad - Berlin

So here is the gratuitous holiday post, as promised/threatened. Berlin is one of the best places I've ever been. A really schizophrenic city with stern and imposing greyness, concrete and Eastern bloc austerity nestling up to tree-lined avenues, cobbled streets and gracious apartment buildings covered in colourful graffiti and anarchic slogans. I really liked that. I love graffiti - as long as it's not the 'Shuggy Woz 'Ere' type. That's just unimaginative. Berlin's graffiti is artistic and pretty. And it's not just random graffiti, there's also street art of the most brilliant kind. I've put a few pictures here (click on them to make them bigger), dotted through this post, as I loved it.

You'll turn a corner and there's a huge picture on the side of a building. I loved this one of a giant made up of lots of little people, snacking on a little person. Then there's the East Side Gallery. This is a 1.5km stretch of wall where artists were commissioned to paint pictures. Before the fall of the Wall, practically the whole of the west side was covered in pictures and writing. Nothing on the East (mainly because on the west side of the Wall was a 70m 'death strip' of no-mans land, barbed wire, and yet another wall), so when the Wall came down, to redress the balance, the East Side Gallery was created.
This picture shows the wall, death-strip, watchtower and re-enforcing wall. In the background is the ubiquitous Fernsehturm (see later) and the apartment building we stayed in.

Berlin is made up of a number of different sections - many of which we visited - and all of which have their own character and atmosphere. I loved every side of it.

One of the things which fascinated me was that you always knew whether you were in the old East Berlin or West Berlin. Only East Berlin had trams so if there are tramlines it's the old East Berlin. Oh, on the subject of transport, Berlin has a brilliant public transport system. Trams, trains, underground, buses - they are everywhere and really cheap. In fact, probably free, but don't tell anyone I said so. Unlike London, or Glasgow, where there are barriers everywhere, and people suspiciously looking at your tickets, in Berlin, there appears to be nothing. We went 6 days without seeing a ticket inspector on any type of transport. And there are no barriers. We'd bought tickets, and so did everyone else, it seemed, very dutifully. It was just that no-one wanted to see them. We were trusted to ride the underground or the trams responsibly. 'Buy a ticket if you like' the ticket machines seemed to say. And we liked.

The other thing that differentiates East and West is the pedestrian traffic lights. If you're in the old East Berlin, the little green men and little red men are wearing hats. You are lucky to see these photos. I nearly got mown down by a tram taking the red one.

For the first few days we were staying in an old Plattenbau - an apartment building made up of prefabricated concrete slabs. This one was the highest in the Mitte district of Berlin, a stone's throw (well, unless you chuck like a girl) from Alexanderplatz. It was built in the 60s to house the GDR dignitaries who could look out from their lofty heights and revel in the fact that their side of the wall was better than all that capitalist nonsense on the other side. Many of them still live in the same building, apparently. I wanted to approach any resident over 50 and ask them what it was like in the old days. Ewan, the spoilsport, wouldn't let me.

Our apartment was on the 21st of 24 floors. Stripped back to the naked concrete which, strangely, had been varnished, we were spared the ubiquitous GDR lino, but the apartment was decorated with a mixture of 60s and 70s furniture, a grey metal wardrobe that I'm sure used to be a Stasi filing cabinet, and the naked torso of a man. Not a live one, I hasten to add; although, quite frankly, I wouldn't have been surprised. It also had a raised platform so that we could survey the wonderful view. Well, I say 'we'. What I mean is, I could hang half out of the window and take photos of the Fernsehturm (Television Tower) while Ewan would sit whimpering as far as he could get from the windows and ask me pathetically when I was going to shut it and draw the curtains. It's probably not an ideal apartment if you are afraid of heights.

I needn't actually have leaned out - you can see the Fernsehturm wherever you are in Berlin, it seems. This was very handy for those evenings when we'd had a bit to drink and couldn't quite place where we'd ended up. As long as we headed in the direction of the Fernsehturm, we knew we'd find our way home eventually.

Platte Mitte was a wonderful place to stay. I want to go back and stay there again. Ewan says we will have to have separate apartments - mine on the 24th floor, his on the 2nd. Wuss.

The back wall of each of the lifts in the building were plastered with little cards for various different services - language lessons, plumbers, restaurants etc. One of them was for a Thai Massage. At the bottom it said 'Keine Erotik' (no erotic). Someone, on each of the cards in each of the lifts, had scribbled out the K, completely reversing the meaning.

I should point out here that my German has suffered from the passage of time. I studied it, all too briefly, 30 years ago. Ewan, on the other hand, has a degree in it and a German channel on his TV. I was nothing, though, if not game. I found I could understand a fair bit, it was only speaking it that I struggled with. I also caused some consternation when I got Urlaub and Urteil mixed up and told someone we were in Berlin on trial, rather than on holiday. Easy done, I'm sure you'll agree.

While Ewan was phoning for a carpenter to come and board up the windows of our aerie (at least, that's what he said he was doing, for all I knew, he could have been phoning a Thai masseuse. He did sound rather disappointed when he came off the phone. I guess it was, indeed, Keine Erotik), I went to investigate the bathroom. I'm not sure if this is typical of German bathrooms but, on the wall by the toilet were two taps. Just your normal hot and cold taps. Nothing fancy. The only thing was, they weren't actually attached to anything. I turned the cold tap - nothing. I turned it off and turned the hot tap on. Still nothing. I turned both of them on at once. Then off. Nothing. Although maybe, in the next apartment, some elderly Stasi officer was sitting on the loo, being sprayed - first with cold water, then with hot, then with both...

We arrived in Berlin at around 7pm and, after leaning out of the windows and turning on the taps, we went out to eat, followed by a wander up Oranienburgerstrasse - apparently home of hookers and hookahs. Here are pictures of both. Hopefully you can tell them apart. Hookers in Berlin are much better shod than those in Glasgow. The hookah, by the way, was apple flavoured. I thought it was just apples and water - apparently there's also tobacco in it. Whoops.

We also went into a place called Tacheles. It's a five storey building which was a former department store/cinema. It suffered damage during the war and towards the end of the GDR it was slated for demolition. However, before this could happen, and a couple of months after the wall came down it was basically squatted by a collective of artists and musicians.

The place is covered from top to bottom in graffiti. Even the toilets. It's now home to art galleries, workshops,exhibitions and a theatre and, at the top, a bar with sofas that have been written all over and whose stuffing is coming out. The bar sells beer, vodka and Jaegermeister - and that's about it. I can safely say that Jaegermeister is quite strong.

Before we went, I had researched with my 26 guide books where we wanted to visit. I had separate folders for every day, complete with maps and public transport routes. Ewan, who calls me Monty (after General Montgomery) because of the way I plan stuff, decided that my new nickname was Rommel - especially for the German campaign.

We had loads of things on our agenda. There are about a million museums in Berlin. We didn't make it to the marvellously named Museum of Things, but we did manage the Film and Television Museum, which was a great place.

The most fascinating part of it was a hall of mirrors type of arrangement. Apparently, we weren't supposed to take photos. Whoops. Too late. I'd already taken this one. We also went to the Musical Instrument Museum which was, for me, the only disappointment of the trip. Great looking building which had that GDR smell and was full of 1960s lights and decor, but it felt as though we were being watched like hawks, I don't know whether they thought I was going to stuff a tuba up my jumper, or that Ewan was going to sit down and play chopsticks on a 900 year old harpsichord, but it felt as if we were being stalked by a gang of elderly men. And, for a museum dedicated to music, it was awfully, awfully quiet.

One of the most thought-provoking places we visited was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe - around 2700 concrete slabs, varying in height. Standing at the edge, it doesn't look very much, but as you go further and further in, you get a real feeling for the expanse of it and what it means.

We also went to the Ramones Museum - a tiny little place stuffed full of Ramones memorabilia - set lists, handwritten lyrics, newspaper cuttings, old ticket stubs, posters, Marky Ramone's old baseball boots, DeeDee's jacket, a water bottle thrown into the crowd by Joey...

So during the day we walked and walked, in the evenings we ate and drank. We ate at the most gorgeous vegetarian restaurant in Kreuzberg called Cafe V - highly recommended, even for non-vegetarians like me. We sat outside on the pavement tables (as we did for most meals - most places even give you blankets for when it gets a bit chilly) and watched the world go by - lots of families with children, young couples with dogs, an old punk guy who'd maybe stayed in Kreuzberg too long because he walked past us four times with no shoes on. We had Italian in trendy Prenzlauerberg, Spanish in quiet and leafy Schoeneberg, and French in another part of buzzing Kreuzberg. One night we stopped off at a nameless bar in Mitte and sat outside having a drink. Two German guys sat down on the other side of the table. After a couple of minutes one of them leaned over and said to me "What wine are you drinking?" "I dunno, it's red. And dry. And yummy." "I supply the wine here, would you like to try some? On the house?" Wine? On the house? I pushed across my glass. "Warum nicht." We spent the rest of the evening chatting and laughing with Chris and Florian. Really nice blokes. We had brilliant fun.

But Donna, I hear you say, what of the famous sights - the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, the Brandenburg Gate? Yes, we saw all that, and I even took photos, but I thought I would just give you the random stuff. The things that took my fancy, the bits that seemed quirky or interesting. And there were plenty of those.

An example of the schizophrenic nature of Berlin is that on two consecutive days we visited two parks. The first of them - Goerlitzer Park - is in Kreuzberg. The ubiquitous graffiti, scruffy, informal, its only monument appears to be a huge, wonky, rusting metal M (no, I have no idea why). We stopped and watched part of a football match, there were dogs having sex, people sunbathing, children fighting. I saw a great photo opportunity which was 2 guys from the waist down behind the branches of a tree. I was just about to snap this interesting scene when one handed over money and in return got a small package. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour I decided that photographing a drug deal would not be wise.
The next day we visited a park about a kilometre away in the old East - Treptower Park, part of which is a very imposing monument to the Soviet soldiers who died. I didn't realise that, out of all the people who died in WWII, half of them were Soviet soldiers. It was showery the day we went, so we had the memorial almost to ourselves, and my photos came out all shiny due to the rain on the marble. It's a gorgeous place, and very thought provoking. 7000 Soviet soldiers are buried there. The tower at one end is topped off by an enormous metal statue of a Soviet soldier wielding a sword, carrying a child, and with his foot on a crushed Swastika.

Goerlitzer Park is like the scruffy elderly punk guy with no shoes and a wandering mind. Treptow Park is like a spruced up soldier with shiny shoes and buttons. Both of them have their charms, and were two of my favourite places in Berlin.

I've already talked about Hohenschoenhausen Prison. We visited this on what we termed Stasi Day, as it also included a trip to the Stasimuseum in the Lichtenberg district. This is a sprawling couple of blocks where Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, had his headquarters, and where files were kept on what seemed to be almost every East German citizen. The place is now a museum - and has been almost since straight after the Peaceful Revolution in January 1990 during which the place was besieged by demonstrators who wanted the reign of terror over and who wanted access to their files.

After some negotiations, the ordinary people finally got access to their files. They can go in and read what was written about them, find out why they were stopped from getting a job, why university applications were turned down, why they were followed, why years of bad luck seemed to dog their every move. And all this might be because they had their TV aerial pointing the wrong way (ie, so they could get channels from the West), or because they forgot to hang the Communist flag out on May 1st. They also have the right to know the real names of the people who informed on them - friends, neighbours, family. I can't imagine how something like that would make you feel. The Stasi had about 90K employees and 190K 'unofficial' employees.

The place has been kept more or less as it was - you can see Mielke's office, there are photos and documents and flags and medals, plus there are all sorts of listening devices and cameras - cameras disguised behind a button, or in a purse, in one case even in a watering can. A lot of the pictures and documents have accompanying text - unfortunately, it isn't always in English (yet), which made it a bit tough for me to take it all in, although I tried very hard. There were individual stories of people who had been subjected to scrutiny - a renowned musician who was allowed out of East Germany to perform (but only because he was surrounded by informers, including his manager); a man who spoke out against the GDR and whose file was 65,000 pages long.

One of our other trips was to the Gruselkabinett - sort of translated as Chamber of Horrors and here, just to prove it, is a Horror standing outside the Chamber. It's an old World War II bunker. The basement floor is an exhibition relating to the bunker itself - how it was used, how long people stayed there at any one time, and it has loads of bits and pieces that were found in there when it was cleared out - letters, papers, perfume bottles etc. There are still a lot of passages sealed off and the woman who runs it is trying to get permission to open them up. How exciting that would be - to go into tunnels that no-one has been in for years - apparently, some of the tunnels went for miles, linking up with underground stations in the city. There were no plans for the bunker and no logical way through - a staircase from the first floor wouldn't take you to the second floor but only the third floor for example.

The top floor was a totally scary experience. It was really dark and a series of rooms had creepy graveyard scenes, cobwebs, noises etc. We were lucky (unlucky) enough to be more or less on our own up there. !You do realise", said Ewan "that people are going to jump out at us, on't you?"
"Yes," I said, clutching his hand for dear life, "But I hope they give us a few min……aaaaaaaaaarrrrrggggggghhhhhhhh!" Someone in a mask came right up behind me and leered over my shoulder. And that was it. For the rest of the trip around the place I was alternately whimpering, hyterically laughing, and screaming as a series of sadists in rubber masks jumped out of dark corners at me.

In one room, I could see a figure at the other end of the room. "I'm not bloody going in there!" I said, rather triumphantly, turned round, and came face to mask with another one of the buggers. Another room was attractively light and tempting. "Quick, let's go in there and recover, look, it's light, they won't be able to scare us."

"What do you mean…us?" said Mr Bravery Personified. Apparently, it was my fault we were being targetted because my reactions were so extreme. And pathetic. I mean, you go into a Chamber of Horros, knowing that people in masks are going to jump out at you, and then you're surprised and practically wet yourself when they do? How can that be?

"OK. Me. I mean me. Happy now? Now, let's go towards the light." So we did. And a nanosecond later a masked freak jumped into the room behind us and turned the light off, leaving us in the darkest darkness I have ever experienced.

When we eventually managed to escape, I stood for a moment on the stairs trying to calm my heart. An unmasked, friendly faced guide appeared from behind a screen. Much, much too fast for my tender state and I screamed again. Oh, how they all laughed at me. Gits. It's a good job no-one tapped me on the shoulder for the next four hours. Brilliant, brilliant scary fun. Not for children, unless they're braver than me. I would definitely do it again. Maybe.

To drag this post kicking and screamng back on topic, we even managed to pay a visit to a bookshop. Where we discovered that Herr Allan Guthrie is very popular.

Well, there's much more, but I think I will spare you more babbling. Oh, we've already decided we're going back next year. After all, we didn't manage to see the Museum of Sex.


Tuesday 21 September 2010

Singing, Stealing and Swearywords

Spend a minute with Val McDermid. And then spend a bit longer in an interview with Craig Sisterson over at Crime Watch.

How do you fancy being a character in Irvine Welsh's SKAGBOYS.

The Book Show in Australia has an audio piece on Louise Welsh. And CBC Radio has one with Alexander McCall Smith.

The very funny Douglas Lindsay on how to improve opera.

Ian Rankin picks five paintings that he would nick if he got half a chance. And listen to Ian Rankin and Andy Diggle talking comics on 21st October.

I've posted this before, but it's so good that there's absolutely nothing wrong with mentioning it again - the trailer forAllan Guthrie's BLOOD WILL OUT.

The Independent - standing up for the swearyword. That'll have my mother reaching for the Basildon Bond to write a stiff letter to the Editor.

Sunday 19 September 2010

I'm Virtually A Writer, But Definitely A Tourist

Firstly, a huge thank you to everyone who has donated books for the charity raffle. I truly appreciate it - you're all very kind. Still time to donate if you wish! The crime fiction community is a wonderful thing to be part of.

Secondly, I am really chuffed - I am now Writer In Virtual Residence at my lovely schools in the Kuspuk School District in Alaska. I already keep in touch with some of the teachers and students, but this will mean I can keep in more regular touch with all the schools. I'm planning to do podcasts (if I can work out what a podcast is, that is...) or videoblogs, set writing exercises, get the students to send me stories on which I can give feedback, perhaps get some of the older students to set up an online magazine to publish the stories, and I'm also going to read as many of their curriculum books as possible so that I can tie some of the writing exercises in with what they're reading. I'm really looking forward to getting started. I can't stop smiling about it. I love the students, and teachers, and the villages and I have had some very special times there. If anyone has any suggestions for me (given that I've never done this before, nor am I a teacher!) please let me know.

I must still be in Berlin mode (holiday photos to come in future posts, Dear Reader - I know that you will be champing at the bit. Don't worry, I have 895 of the little buggers) because this weekend's film viewing was two German films.

The first one was The White Ribbon (Das Weisse Band) from 2009, and directed by Michael Haneke. It's set in a small town in Germany, just before the outbreak of World War I. A series of mysterious and cruel events take place, starting with the village doctor falling off his horse when the horse is brought up short by a wire strung across the track. The film is narrated many years later by the young schoolteacher at the time and focuses on people within the village who are defined by their status - the baron, the doctor, the steward, the pastor, the worker. We see their public faces and their private lives. It's difficult to say much about the plot without giving things away, but let's just say that some of the upstanding pillars of society don't necessarily practice what they preach. Disturbing, chilling enthralling, and beautifully shot in black-and-white.

The second film was The Lives of Others (Das Leben Der Anderen) from 2006, written and directed by Florian Henkel Von Donnersmarck. It's set in 1984 in East Berlin - a place where normal people are ground down by their daily life, where the secret police can come in and bug your whole house in double quick time, where no-one is going to tell you they've seen this happening, just in case something bad happens to them, and where you don't actually know whether your closest friend or relative is, actually, a Stasi informant. The film tells the story of the rather drab and unimaginative, staunch and idealistic Stasi captain Gerd Wiesler. He's loyal to the cause and loyal to the regime, and, when given the job of collecting evidence against playwright Georg Dreyman, he starts out with the same steely impassivity with which he interrogates suspects at Hohenschoenhausen prison. However, as he enters into the lives of Dreyman and his actress girlfriend - via the bugs which have been installed in every room in their flat, listening to hour upon hour of their lives from his secret hideaway in the building's attic space - he discovers things which threaten his idealism and may prove him to be not as soulless as he appears. Again, I won't say any more about the plot. It's an amazing film. Jealousy, envy, pettiness, fear, and quiet desperation. Wonderfully acted, powerful, fascinating, and it made me cry.

What made this film especially come alive was the fact that, a few days before, we had visited Hohenschoenhausen Prison - a place that not many people knew about at the time. What a good excuse for me to include a couple of gratuitous holiday snaps.

Hohenschoenhausen was a remand centre where people suspected of acts against the regime - whether that be trying to escape across the Berlin Wall, reading banned literature, publishing leaflets speaking out against injustice, or, it seemed, simply moaning about the hardships of daily life - were subjected to psychological torture and hour upon hour of interrogation until they confessed.

And, according to our guide, they always confessed. The prison has something like 102 detention cells and 120 interrogation cells - I think that says something about where their priorities lay! This is one of the interrogation cells we went in.

Prisoners were de-humanised by only being known by a number, by never being able to engage in conversation except when being interrogated, and by never seeing another prisoner. While watching the film, I could smell the interrogation cells - a distinctive mixture of cleaning fluid and lino. We smelled the same smell in a couple of other ex-official East Berlin buildings.

In the film there's also a Barkas van which is used to round up suspects. On the outside it says 'Fresh Fish'. We saw a similar van at the prison. Inside are 5 tiny cells, dark and cramped. They would pick people up, drive them round for a couple of hours, and then take them to Hohenschoenhausen. They would step out of the pitch black van to be greeted by a bright light shone in their faces, and the barking of the guards.

And, finally, an article in The Washington Post on The Hardy Boys. I had a very similar reaction when I read a Nancy Drew book a couple of years ago. When I was little, I wanted to be one of Enid Blyton's Famous Five and fight crime with the aid of only a basket of cucumber sandwiches and a bottle of ginger beer. I spent my spare time following mysterious strangers around the village where we lived - especially those with cockney accents and a couple of days' growth of stubble - until a complaint from the new local vicar put a stop to my sleuthing career. When I was about 12, we had an American neighbour who used to take me to the local American airbase every Saturday, and I would buy a new Nancy Drew book. Then I would take it home and devour it. So then I decided I wanted to be Nancy Drew - I coveted her cool friends, her dashing boyfriend, her understanding father and her lovely car. Sadly, after re-reading one recently I discovered that either Nancy or I had changed - she was a pompous prig, her friends were whiny and self absorbed, her father was uncaring and her boyfriend was a wet drip. I still liked the car though.

No Scottish crime fiction news today. Normal service will be resumed in the next couple of days, along with the threatened holiday post.

Tuesday 14 September 2010

R I P David Thompson

When I arrived home from Berlin tonight, the first thing to greet me was a text telling me that my friend David Thompson of Busted Flush Press had died. I stared at my phone in disbelief and then started to cry.

I first met David and his wife McKenna at a Bouchercon, got to know them at subsequent Bouchercons and Left Coast Crimes, and was honoured to be invited to stay with them in Houston and subsequently to go to their wedding. David was loved by the whole mystery community - not just because he was such a great supporter of crime fiction, not just because he championed authors and books, not just because he always had a brilliant recommendation for something you were sure to love, not just because he had an infectious and boundless enthusiasm and energy for everything he did, but because he was genuinely one of the nicest people you could hope to meet.

As a publisher he cared about his authors and their books. He truly loved what he published and he went above and beyond the call of duty, but bemoaned the fact that he couldn't do more, he got as excited as I did about reviews, he came up with some excellent suggestions for edits for OLD DOGS and we shared a series of giddy and excited e-mails and tweets about the gorgeous cover he commissioned for the book. He was the same with everyone. My last e-mail from him, on the day he died, was about an author we both loved - Daniel Woodrell. He was thrilled to be publishing Woodrell, just as he was thrilled to publish everything Busted Flush came out with. He treated everyone as if they were special. He was passionate. And he cared.

As a person he was so lovely. My over-riding memory of him is with a huge smile on his face. I seldom saw him any other way. I was looking forward to seeing David at Bouchercon and spending time with him and McKenna in Houston afterwards. We had been discussing going out after my signing event and he mentioned a strip joint in Houston that used to have the same name as one in OLD DOGS. I told him we had to go in October. He said of course we would and added "I'm totally not a stripjoint kinda guy...I was like, 'oh my god, she's sweating near my beer.'" He made me laugh, on that and many occasions. He was kind, and caring, and funny.

David was a good friend to the mystery community, and a good friend to me. We will all miss him very much. My thoughts are with McKenna and everyone at MBTB, and all David's family and friends. We have lost a special person. I am so very sad tonight.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Born To Die In Berlin

Well, tomorrow I'm off to Berlin for a week or so (note to burglars: there will be someone home, so don't bother). I will either post while I'm away, or I won't. Is that helpful? Probably not.

Isn't it brilliant that there seems to be a Ramones song title to fit all eventualities (I'm serious about that Ramones themed anthology by the way. I might just have to do it myself).

Anyway, here's to crime...

BBC Radio 4's Front Row is asking various authors to play a game of Consequences, with brilliant results.

Noir Journal looks at Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels.

If You Can Read This blog reviews Catriona McPherson's AFTER THE ARMISTICE BALL, while Learning To Read enjoyed Christopher Brookmyre's A TALE ETCHED IN BLOOD AND HARD BLACK PENCIL.

And a couple of reviews for Kate Atkinson - first of all The Northern Echo reviews STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, and Insert Clever Title Here finds reading EMOTIONALLY WEIRD to be 'pure joy'.

West Lothian events for Christopher Brookmyre, Karen Campbell and Ken McClure.

An interview with Val McDermid in The Scotsman.

And finally, she's not Scottish, but she's my good pal - if you like dark (and often warped) short stories, check out my lovely mate Julie Lewthwaite's blog - Gone Bad.

Tschuss, meine Lieblinge, bis bald.

Sunday 5 September 2010

It Can't Be Sunday Yet, Surely?

First of all huge thanks to everyone who has offered books for the charity raffle - I really appreciate it.

My weekends guests have now gone home and the flat is back to quiet normality (if you don't count Black Rebel Motorcycle Club who are currently blasting through the speakers and the bits of baby food I keep picking up off the floor) So, onto the news round-up.

Firstly, it's me, me, me (sorry!) I'm blogging here on the Busted Flush blog about the perils of research. And the Kindle version of OLD DOGS is now available in the US. Right, that's enough of that nonsense, back to proper news.

Some appearances - Louise Welsh in Canada in November, more on the Milngavie Book and Arts Festival with G J Moffat, Caro Ramsay and Shirley McKay, Philip Kerr will be at the Indie Alliance Weekend on 11th September, and Ken McClure will be speaking at the West Calder Library on 30 September.

And some reviews - Brit Grit, just like Badsville, loves Tony Black's Gus Dury novels and writes an excellent post to tell us so, here. Meanwhile, Bookmunch enjoyed Kate Atkinson's STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, and The Shore Bookworm reviews Denise Mina's Garnethill series.

Oxfam's most wanted author for the second year in a row is Ian Rankin, whilst Dan Brown is most unwanted. And, on the topic of Ian Rankin, here's a review of the audio version of THE FALLS.

In an audio interview with 'Scottish National Treasure' Val McDermid at the Brisbane Writers' Festival, Val reveals that she was once beaten up by a wrestler and was recently insulted by being inadequately burgled. It's a fascinating interview with Val and journalist Jake Adelstein. Wonderfully entertaining stuff. And Crime and Publishing reviews TRICK OF THE DARK.

The Scottish Review of Books reviews Alexander McCall Smith at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

And, finally, watch out if you're making a film in Aberdeen.

Friday 3 September 2010

A Begging Letter

A quick post today as I'm expecting weekend visitors.

This post is mainly a plea. I volunteer on the phonelines for a UK charity that supports people in crisis. The local branch are having a raffle to raise funds and the lady organising the raffle asked if she could have a signed copy of OLD DOGS. Since I was worried that that would be one of those raffle prizes that nobody wants and which always turns up at subsequent raffles, always the last prize to be picked like the sad and lonely little plastic loo brush holder set shaped like a duck, I decided it was time for A Brilliant Idea (my second in 5 days, I'll have you know). So my Brilliant Idea is to hide my book in the middle of a box of books that everyone wants. So here is my begging letter to you, dear reader. If you're a writer and would like to donate a signed book to this good cause, please send me an e-mail or leave a note in the comments and I'll send you my address. If you're a reader and would like to donate a book (it doesn't matter if it's not signed by the author) then please do the same. With many thanks in advance.

And now, a brief snippet of news...

First of all, the Tesco Siummer Bank Read has now been judged and I'm happy to report that crime fiction made a great showing with Ian Rankin coming second and Karen Campbell coming fourth. Well done to all the nominees.

Have a lovely weekend all. Back with a full round-up on Sunday.

Wednesday 1 September 2010

Titbits and Twists

Lots of stuff about Val McDermid today as she continues her tour of New Zealand and Australia. First of all, an audio interview on The Book Show on ABC, Craig at Crimewatch goes to see her in Auckland, and here's six words from Val at the always excellent Jen's Book Thoughts.

Caro Ramsay on becoming a crime writer by accident.

If you have a Sky account you can watch Ian Rankin on TV.

Alexander McCall Smith and the Green Pencil Award.

A (mostly SF) interview with Iain Banks.

Russel McLean is appearing at Houston's Murder By The Book on October 8th. Sadly, it's a couple of weeks before my event (gulp - what the heck am I going to do???) so I won't have the moral support of the lovely Russel.

Closer to home, Louise Welsh is appearing in Forres on 16th September and Alice Thompson will be at the Caledonian Hotel in Edinburgh on 7th October for a Gliterary Lunch.

Irvine Welsh says that the only entrepreneurs in Scotland's housing schemes are the drug dealers. And it's probably a bit late for this, but there's a special screening of Trainspotting at Edinburgh's Dominion.

And I've mentioned it before, but if you're ever stuck for something to read, pop over to the brilliant A Twist of Noir, where there are plenty of great stories, 564 of them so far to be exact. And, in an additional twist, from story 600 onwards, the story number is also the number of words in the story. Genius.