Thursday 31 March 2011

Leaving on a jet plane

Well, I had my last day at work yesterday. If I tell you that I had cried twice by 9am then I think you can imagine the rest of the day. So now I have a few months to finish a screenplay and a book, before starting my postgrad course in September. Apparently, I now have another decision to make. Glasgow Uni has two student unions. One is for sporty debating types. The other has a lot of indie bands on. Yep. Decision made.

Tomorrow we're off to Berlin so this will probably be the last post for 10 days or so. And after that, there will, of course, be the usual gratuitous holiday post - just like last time. You have been warned.

Allan Guthrie has a new blog. And here he interviews Tony Black.

And another interview - Nicola Morgan interviews Aline Templeton.

Bernadette at Reactions To Reading loved Denise Mina's EXILE.

Ian Rankin talks about his five favourite literary crime novels.

An excellent post over at Douglas Lindsay's blog about putting books on Kindle. And, talking of books on Kindle, just in case there is anyone in the whole of Cyberspace who hasn't seen this - it's a priceless example of how not to behave when someone is kind enough to review your book.

Alexander McCall Smith is in Houston on April 4th and Clearwater, Florida on April 6th. And Make It Better has a chat with the man himself.

And Philip Kerr is in Scottsdale, Arizona on April 17th.

And, finally, a new journal of crime flash non-fiction - Fingerprints - has recently started. And I'm over there talking about something I've talked about here before - being half-mugged. Just click on the little thumbprint.

Tschuss! Bis bald.

Monday 28 March 2011

Cheerless, chippy, sozzled and tight-fisted? Us?

I hope you had a lovely weekend, Dear Reader. It's my last week of work this week - thanks again to all of you for your good wishes - I got on the Masters in Community Learning and Development course I wanted so, come September, I will be a student (pushing up the average age of the student population of Glasgow University quite considerably). I'm really looking forward to it, and to my placement at the wonderful Glasgow Women's Library, where I'm looking forward to becoming involved in all sorts of literacy and community projects. Before that, a few months to do some writing. I feel like the luckiest person in the world!

And now, on to the Scottish crime fiction round-up.

The Scotsman reviews Gordon Ferris' THE HANGING SHED, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Kate Atkinson's STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG and Nigel over at Sea Minor enjoyed Doug Johnstone's SMOKEHEADS.

Talking of Doug Johnstone, he's talking about books over at Untitled Books.

Kate Atkinson appears on 3rd April at Book Passage in Corte Madera. And Helen Fitzgerald is appearing at the Ramshorn Theatre in Glasgow this Wednesday (interviewed by the aforementioned Doug Johnstone, I do believe). Wine and twisted filth is promised. Excellent.

Russel McLean with a really interesting post on becoming a writer over at Musings of An All Purpose Monkey and Elizabeth - the blog's host - loves THE LOST SISTER.

Ian Rankin on structuring a crime novel.

And, finally, the depiction of Scottish people on the big screen. "Unkempt attire, wild-eyed aspect and eccentric haircut"? I do believe that's how my mother usually greets me when I go down for a visit.

Friday 25 March 2011

It's That Friday Feeling

The latest stage of The Great Russel McLean Blog Tour sees the lovely Russel being interviewed by Steve Hockensmith. And it's great fun.


A look at the new Sherlock Holmes film.

See Iain Banks at Aberdeen's Word Festival on 28th March, Quintin Jardine's launching his new book at Tranent Library on March 31st and Alexander McCall Smith will be at the Fayetteville Public Library on April 8th.

Eurocrime reviews Peter May's THE BLACKHOUSE.

Dominic West talks to Charles Cumming about THE TRINITY SIX.

And, finally, crime writers dominate the list of most borrowed books in Scotland.

The Bookpage would like you to meet Philip Kerr. And The Daily Beast talks to Kate Atkinson about not taking her characters too seriously.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Terrorists in pink cowboy hats

On Thursday March 31st catch Alexander McCall Smith at the Ridgewood Library. I have absolutely no idea where Ridgewood is, by the way. And here's an article on him following a recent surprise visit to Cape Town (that, I have no problem with, geographically). Closer to home, you can see Kate Atkinson and Lin Anderson at the Scarborough Literature Festival from April 14th to 17th.

The West Australian interviews Stuart MacBride.

Lots of reviews today - first of all, the Washington Post reviews Kate Atkinson's STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG, and the New York Journal of Books with a great review of Russel McLean's THE LOST SISTER. Russel is also reviewed in The Kansas City Star, along with Ian Rankin's THE COMPLAINTS. Spinetingler reviews Peter May's VIRTUALLY DEAD, the Chronicle Herald reviews Graham Moore's THE SHERLOCKIAN, 612 ABC enjoyed Craig Russell's THE LONG GLASGOW KISS and The Star Online looks at Val McDermid's TRICK OF THE DARK. And The BookNut says some very kind things about OLD DOGS, while agreeing with my mum about the swearing. Whoops. Sorry, Andy.

Alan Cumming is hoping to star in the film adaptation of Irvine Welsh's FILTH.

And finally, I'm just wondering whether I can borrow the cowboy hat.

Monday 21 March 2011

"I only went out for a loaf."

Just one film in this weekend's film viewing: from Park Chan-Wook, who also directed the wonderful OLDBOY, we watched SYMPATHY FOR MR VENGEANCE. It's a dark and disturbing hard-boiled thriller about a steelworker who cannot hear or speak and who is sacked from his job. With the help of his girlfriend, decides to kidnap his boss' daughter in order to pay for a new kidney for his sister. This is a lovely looking film (even the bits I couldn't watch because they were so gory), but I didn't find any of the characters particularly sympathetic because you don't get to know them that well. As a result, I wasn't emotionally involved. Well worth watching though (but not as good as OLDBOY, which I loved).

Helen Fitzgerald needs your help - she's looking for a new title for THE DEVIL'S STAIRCASE. And, talking of Helen, she's doing an event at the Ramshorn Theatre in Glasgow on Wednesday. If you're going along, I'll see you there.

Ian Rankin will be at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona on March 22nd and Alexander McCall Smith will be appearing at the Seattle Public Library on 1st April.

Jay Stringer and Russel McLean in a podcast interview with Tony Black (who is apparently being interviewed inside a woolly sock).

Robert Louis Stevenson's abandoned first novel has been found, completed and is set to be published.

Eurocrime reviews Grant McKenzie's NO CRY FOR HELP, Bookpage reviews Kate Atkinson's STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG and The Guardian reviews Gordon Ferris' THE HANGING SHED.

And, finally, Stan Laurel's statue turns up after seven years. Brilliant.

Friday 18 March 2011

What I Read In February

Yes, I know it's nearly the end of March. What can I say? I'm a bad, bad blogger. Anyway, February was Scottish month and what a lovely month it was, too.

But, before I get to that, I just want to say thank you for all your kind wishes - they must have worked because I've been accepted on the course - a Masters in Community Learning and Development at Glasgow Uni. I couldn't be more thrilled and am really looking forward to starting. And in two weeks time I am officially laid-off (I prefer the American term to the British redundant - redundant sounds as though I'm the big slabs of bloody fat sucked out in a liposuction operation (sorry - anyone having dinner?), whereas laid-off sounds as though I'm going to spend the next few months lying on the sofa eating bonbons. Which, of course, I am).

BYE BYE BABY - Allan Guthrie
Published: 2010
Publisher: eBook
Setting: Edinburgh
Protagonist: Detective Frank Collins
Series?: Standalone
First Line: 'I was on my way downstairs to grab a can of something from the drinks machine when I passed Detective Sergeant Dutton's office.'
Detective Frank Collins is suspicious but chuffed when he's given his first high-profile case - suspicious because his boss doesn't like him - in fact, not many people do - and chuffed because he's been waiting for a long time for this chance. His first task is to go and see a a distraught mother who has reported the disappearance of her seven year old son. And, with that, I'm going to say absolutely nothing more about the plot because I wouldn't want to spoil what is an absolutely brilliant original tale. Apart from a plot full of twists and turns, what this perfectly formed little novella has is a cast of really vibrant, believable and engrossing characters and sparkling prose. The novella is by turns funny, touching, somber, wistful and surprising. And, for the enormous sum of 86p, you also get the original short story this was based on. That story is told from a completely different perspective so it's a fascinating experience.

Published: Originally 1999
Publisher: Long Midnight Publishing
Setting: Glasgow
Protagonist: Barney Thomson
Series?: First
First Line: 'Breasts.' (Honestly, that's the first line)
This is the first in the barbershop death junkie series (yes, really). Despite the fact that there are already seven books in this series, I almost never see it talked about on the online book groups to which I belong. And that's a bloody shame. It's a hilarious series. Glasgow barber Barney Thomson is a bit crap, really - he's a bit crap as a barber, a bit crap as a husband, and a bit crap as a man. He's relegated to the worst chair in the barber's shop - customers would rather wait for one of the other barbers than have their hair cut by Barney (don't get me wrong - on his good days he can give you a Frank Sinatra '62, a Kevin Keegan '74, or an Anwar Sadat '67 - but he's just as likely to send you away looking like a laughing stock); besides, he doesn't really have the patter.Then there's his wife, who spends all her time watching the soaps, and his mother - who's more than a little bit loopy - is hooked on game shows. Meanwhile, there's a serial killer on the loose in Glasgow and body parts keep turning up in the post. Darkly comic, gleefully gruesome and absurdly warped. As we say in Glasgow - this book is totally aff its heed.

Published: 2011
Publisher: Preface
Setting: Edinburgh
Protagonist: Inspector Rob Brennan
Series?: First
First Line: 'The girl's screams were enough to give away their hiding place.'
When four teenagers find the dismembered body of teenage runaway Carly Donald in a dumpster on one of Edinburgh's worst housing schemes, Inspector Rob Brennan is put on the case. He's only just back at work, having been off on psychiatric leave, after the murder of his brother. If that wasn't bad enough, it's apparent that the young girl has very recently given birth - and the baby is missing. Add to that more than a few problems at home and at work, and you know that things are going to get a tad difficult. This is an excellent police procedural novel and Rob Brennan is a thoroughly engaging and believable protagonist. He is likeable despite his dark side, and is a genuinely good cop. He has strong instincts and isn't afraid to follow them, and once he's got his teeth into a case he won't give up, no matter what the personal and professional cost may be.

The book takes a very dark and difficult topic and treats it with sensitivity and complete lack of sensationalism. Yet it's a thrilling, chilling enthralling read.I am a huge fan of Tony Black's Gus Dury series, so I was prepared to be grumpy that TRUTH LIES BLEEDING was Gus-less. At the very least, I thought it would take a little while for Inspector Rob Brennan to grow on me. Not so. It was like being snogged by Johnny Depp when you're apprehensively anticipating Shane McGowan.

THE REBORN - Lin Anderson
Published: 2010
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Setting: Glasgow
Protagonist: Rhona MacLeod
Series?: Seventh
First Line: 'It was fear of the clown that drove Kira inside.'
This is the seventh book in the series featuring forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod. As well as being Scottish month, this must also have been my month for pregnant teenager and missing baby storylines. This time, the body of the pregnant teenager is found in the Hall of Mirrors at the funfair. And her baby appears to have been cut from her belly. Add a thoroughly nasty (and, thankfully, locked-up) killer whose hobby is making realistic dolls of newborn babies for people who have lost their own babies, and what you have is a thoroughly bone-chilling and horrific tale. It's fast paced and twisty with intriguing characters and the Glasgow setting is excellent.

DARK BLOOD - Stuart MacBride
Published: 2010
Publisher: Harper Collins
Setting: Aberdeen
Protagonist: DS Logan McRae
Series?: 6th
First Line: 'Run. Don't stop. Keep moving...'
Goodness me, it strikes me that I spent February with some particularly nasty types. The latest in the McRae series has him involved in the re-location of a nasty serial-rapist of elderly men who wants to come home to Aberdeen. And there aren't very many people in Aberdeen who are happy about that. But McRae's woes do not end there. There's some shady gangland activity going on, a man has disappeared and McRae is in trouble with his superiors (again). Doesn't sound like a barrel of laughs, does it? Well, trust me, with Stuart MacBride's warped one-liners and pitch black humour, it often is. If you like your humour twisted - as I do - you'll be laughing all the way to the bottom of the barrel. Gory, gruesome and generally not very nice (but in a good way).I really like Logan McRae, but my favourite character in this series has to be DI Steel. The woman's a legend.

Published: 2011
Publisher: eBook
Setting: various
Protagonist: various
Series?: Short story anthology
First Line: 'In my experience, those who beg for mercy seldom deserve it.' (From the title story)
This collection of 9 short stories has something for everyone - a dad and son burglary team, a pimp, a frustrated housewife. Every story is really well-written and each brings its own charms and surprises. The stories are really varied - touching, menacing, chilling, sad, violent - but what they all have is honesty and immediacy. My favourites were SISTERHOOD with its theme of getting revenge on racists, the title story DIRTY OLD TOWN - a thoroughly nasty little tale set in a gym, and MERRY CHRISTMAS (I DON'T WANT TO FIGHT TONIGHT) a heart-warming Christmas tale of a father and son burglary team. Really good stuff. I always look forward to one of Nigel's short stories because I know I'm going to get something fresh and exciting.

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Today It's All About A Beardy Scotsman

Today I'm handing over the blog to one of my favourite people - Russel McLean - author, bookseller and mushroom vomiter extraordinaire.

Russel is doing a blog tour in conjunction with the US launch of THE LOST SISTER. Here's an excellent review of it over at The Drowning Machine, and my own thoughts on it are in this post.

And if you want more Russel (and why wouldn't you, for heaven's sake?) here's the post from the first stop on the blog tour, over at Central Crime Zone.

Over to you, Russel (and please try not to vomit, I just hoovered the blog).

Good morning. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. I am not your usual host, the fabulous Donna Moore. No, Ms Moore has graciously allowed me to invade her blog today as part of my ongoing blog tour to promote my latest novel, THE LOST SISTER which has just been released in hardback in the US. This is my second day on tour and I was trying to figure a suitably Scottish topic to talk about. I had one all planned, but there was a question someone had asked me yesterday that had been sticking in my head all day, one I felt I had to try and answer.

The question was this:

Why write about Dundee?

Place can be everything in a novel. It can affect the way you look at your story and your characters. Certainly, when writing THE GOOD SON and its sequel THE LOST SISTER, place began to play a very important part in my thinking.

The place, of course, was Dundee. Scotland’s fourth city. The home of “Jam*, Jute and Journalism”. I’d been here for a few years as a student. When I was younger, I remembered coming to the city, usually on a shopping trip with my parents to Debenhams. But it never made a huge impression on me.

Not until I accepted a place at the university and found myself living here full time.

I was a country boy, so even though Dundee is by an standards a small city, it felt big to me. The variety and sheer number of buildings was fascinating. The services, the senses of different communities within one place was so different to where I’d grown up. I admit that the discovery of take outs just down the street resulted in a fairly rapid weight gain.

I had been here for three years when I started writing about the city. I was still a student, still an outsider, but I was discovering layers to the city by then. When I first moved to Dundee, many people had warned me that it was “a dangerous place”, that I’d be mugged in a week. I hadn’t been, but I understood that the city was changing. New buildings were going up every day. New money – this was the late nineties, after all – was being pumped into developing services and creating a new Dundee, a new City of Discovery that looked to the future.

Given how this new Dundee jarred with a certain generation’s view of the city, I figured that this would make it an interesting place to write about. Especially as I had just turned to writing crime stories and had an instinctual feel that the best crime stories emerge from environments undergoing change.

The challenge I faced, of course, was fidelity to the physical reality of the city. One of the lessons I soon learned was to become overly concerned with such minutiae was to invite failure. While it might please some people that you get every pacing stone on every street in the right place, you can become obsessed with such details and lose what it important to fictional storytelling: the soul of a place.

The Dundee I write about is a place emerging from its industrial past. The Jam, Jute and Journalism days are long gone. The city has been trying to find its place and now that new industries – computing, medical research – are rising, there is a struggle between the old and the new Dundee that lends itself perfectly to the crime stories I wish to tell.

There is something, too, about the physicality of the city. It is not a giant, looming city like Glasgow. It is a city that moves from old, dilapidated tenements and horrific 1960’s architectural mistakes to the new-money glass and steel structures like the DCA and the new Overgate Shopping centre with barely a pause. There are large areas of greenery near housing schemes. There are mansions near rickety blocks of flats. There is no clear division other than the sometimes artificial east/west divide that many people have mentioned in relation to the city. And at the centre of it all, the Law Hill looms large, visible from so many places.

Every day, I find something new in the city, a corner I never knew existed, a story I file away for later use. There is more history here than one might expect. From electric street lamps to lickable postage stamps (no, really), there is a history of invention and innovation here.

And of course, there is crime. An entire book, The Law Killers, was written upon true Dundee crime. It became a national bestseller. But I don’t want to talk about that today. We’re only on day two in our blog tour and I want to save the true Dundee crime for a later date.

But to return to the question: why write crime novels in Dundee?

Not just because no one else was doing it. But because the city itself is fascinating, exciting. Because it is free from cliché in a way that Edinburgh and Glasgow are not. And because, the more I learn about the city, the more excited I am by it.

The Lost Sister is out now in Hardback from St Martin’s press in the USA.

*except its not jam, its marmalade. But “marmalade, jute and journalism,” doesn’t have the same ring.

Sunday 13 March 2011

"There's worse places to hole up in than a carny."

This weekend's film viewing consisted of just one film, but it was a good one - Tod Solondz' HAPPINESS. I love books and films with ensemble casts, and this is one of those. It tells the tale of three sisters - one of them apparently has a perfect family life, one is a successful writer - adored and wanted by all, and one of them is a lonely, mousy woman with a knack for picking completely unsuitable men. Dark, dysfunctional and often very disturbing, this is also a very touching black comedy that definitely won't be for everyone (Dad - that means you and Mum - forget I ever mentioned this film).

Of my two new pastimes - the Kindle and the gym - I'm loving one and tolerating the other with gritted teeth. I'm sure I don't need to tell you, dear Reader, which one is which. Let's face it, I ain't ever gonna be skinny. Anyway, on the Kindle front, I downloaded several editions of Crimefactory Magazine to my Kindle and have been dipping in to one of those this week. And I'm now going to declare my undying love for the genius that is Jimmy Callaway (well, his prose, anyway, which I am sure will be a great relief to him). Not only does he write stories like this, which get turned into films like this, but in Crimefactory #2 volume #2 he has the most brilliant essay on William Lindsay Gresham - author of NIGHTMARE ALLEY (one of my favourite noirs - which was turned into a film that was almost as good). Mr Callaway - I think it's about time for a novel. Get onto it, pronto. Thanks. Appreciate it. But make it quick, OK?

And, by the way, that's not the only great thing about this particular edition of Crime Factory. It also has an essay by one of my very favourite people - Reed Farrel Coleman - about his transformation from poet to mystery author, and his inspirations in the genre, a great part story by Kieran Shea that I want to read more of, and some excellent short fiction - my favourites being SOME DAY WE'LL ALL BE FREE by Ray Banks and HAMMER AND NAIL by Josh Converse. All that plus interviews and film reviews.

I had to miss Tony Black's recent book launch, but some lovely person recorded it for me. Well, not for me, obviously, but they recorded it. And Tony guest blogs over at Paul Brazill's place.

A review of BONE MACHINES by John Dodds and, if the review intrigues you, the book is available as a free podcast here, read by the author. You can listen to the first episode as a taster. Nice idea.

I've downloaded it - it will make a nice change from the German language podcasters I'm currently listening to, to prepare for a trip to Berlin (three weeks - yippee!). Isn't it weird, though, that the only words which seem to stick are ones that you know you're never going to need in a million years. Like midwife. And ratcatcher. I'm hoping I don't need either of those. Especially the ratcatcher.

Philip Kerr will be appearing in St Louis on April 19th.

A review of Ian Rankin's THE COMPLAINTS. And, if you're in Milwaukee, you can catch him here on March 19th.

Well, many apologies - this post appears to be light on Scottish crime fiction, and heavy on twaddle. I shall try and make up for it during the week. In fact, I know I will, since I have a special guest blogger on Wednesday.

Keep your fingers crossed for me this week, dear Reader. I'm hoping to hear if I've been accepted on the Masters degree course I really, really want.

Thursday 10 March 2011

"Sherlock Holmes is an arrogant cokehead"

On Monday my lovely friend 27 (aka Kieran) and I went to see Allan Guthrie, Denise Mina and Louise Welsh in an event at Aye Write. The topic of the discussion was heroes and villains in Scottish crime fiction.

The moderator of the session - Glasgow University's Dr Matt McGuire - referred the panel to a TV programme which Sebastian Faulks had been on, where he had said that there are no heroes in literary fiction and he asked the panellists what they thought.

Denise Mina had seen the programme but she said that he did not define his term for 'hero' and was also not swayed by Faulks' absolute conviction that there is a distinction between 'high art and low art'. Louise Welsh said that when she thinks of a hero she thinks of someone like Bruce Willis, and is not really able to come up with a straightforward, uncomplicated 'hero' in fiction at all. Allan Guthrie noted that Sebastian Faulks wrote at least one James Bond novel and Bond is actually not a very nice character. Sam Spade is not particularly heroic and his motivations are dubious, similarly Mike Hammer. Al also said that the prevalent idea in publishing is that a book should have a character who is brave and good, but that readers are more sophisticated than publishers give them credit for. (Totally agree - I prefer my protagonists flawed, complicated, and often downright evil). He then called Sherlock Holmes an "arrogant coke head". At least, I think it was coke...

Denise Mina wondered whether Faulks meant a 2D character - she noted that if you don't read a lot of crime fiction, then you might think that crime fiction heroes are going to be 2D.

Louise Welsh added that a lot of crime fiction is a quest, and the reader is going on that journey with the protagonist.

Dr McGuire asked what crime fiction allowed the panellists to do as writers. Denise Mina said that crime fiction allows her to do anything she wants. She also added that books should be entertainment, no matter how highfalutin the book is.

Louise Welsh said that people perceive crime fiction as being about good and bad and the righting of wrongs, and she said this is untrue. Crime fiction is full of compromised characters and the challenge for the reader is how far you are going to go along with them (she gave the example of Ripley).

Al said that readers tend to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist/narrator. In commercial publishing it's seen as very difficult to sell books with anti-heroes and he noted that both his books and his book sales reflect that! He said that it's much easier for readers to associate themselves with the detective. If you empathise with that character and then that character does something abhorrent, then you may push the reader away.

Denise noted that the attraction of a character like Ripley is the power they have.

Dr McGuire asked whether the idea of heroism has changed/is changing. Denise mentioned that the first hero was actually a woman - from the Goddess Hera. She said that what she finds heroic are communitarian ideas, and people making heroic decisions in their own lives.

Louise noted that, politically/culturally we appear to be going back to the 80s. What makes a central character interesting is the problems he or she faces and women face a lot of problems. Dr McGuire added that if male heroism is asserted through violence, women have to assert themselves in a different way. Al said that this was not necessarily the case and sometimes it's the other way round (Zoe Sharp's Charlie Fox, for example).

Denise said that people assume that a book with a masculine author name will be gender neutral, and that books with a female name on the front are going to be all about flower arranging. I have to say that I don't altogether agree with this. The sex of an author is never something that I take note of when trying a new to me author. If I'm browsing in a bookstore the first thing that makes me pluck a book off the shelf of books which are equally unknown to me is probably something about the title or the cover. And this might be something totally inconsequential. If the title is the same as the title or lyrics of a punk or indie song then I'm certain to pick it up. If it's a bizarre title then I'll probably pick it up - ISLAND OF THE SEQUINED LOVE NUN, or NIGHT OF THE AVENGING BLOWFISH for example. On the other hand, any puns involving food, flowers or pets will cause me to move on hurriedly. As will a cover with a syringe on the front. Or the word 'code' or 'conspiracy' in the title. After I've picked it up then I'll read the back cover. If it still appeals then I'll read the first paragraph. And that's it. What about you, dear Reader? What draws you to a book that you know nothing about?)

Anyway, back to the event. There were then some questions from the audience. I couldn't hear all of them but I got the responses.

Denise noted that the character who is most like her in all the books she has written is Lachie in SANCTUM. She said that the book wasn't much liked in the UK so when she meets someone who says they liked it, she says she feels like you would if someone kissed your ugly child.

Al said that things were changing in publishing and that with the explosion of ebooks, it's a great time to be a writer and a reader, but maybe not to be a publisher. When asked if he had figures to back this up he said that he had sold more ebooks in two months than he had sold print books in seven years. He said ebooks provide a lot of variety for readers and also a break for writers who might be bored with what they are writing. He said that the 'Big Book' now has to be very big indeed and a lot of publishers will only take something on if they feel it is going to sell fifty thousand copies.

An audience member asked if we need a fictional hero right now, given what is happening in the world.

Denise said that she is currently writing a book loosely based on the Tommy Sheridan story. She said that she always thought she would go into politics, but then she discovered that she had a really bad temper. Louise said that she would love to believe in heroes but finds that she can't. She said that you shouldn't invest too much in any single individual and that people are flawed. Her last hero was David Bowie and then she found out he had said all sorts of terrible things.

Al said that he tends to write the books he wants to read and that he can't buy into the hero type - there's something unrealistic about it. You know that faced with the fight or flight decision they're going to fight. Al's personal recommendation was that instead of going to self-defence classes, people should learn how to sprint :o)

One questioner asked whether the days of Miss Marple had gone forever. Denise said that people read and watch TV or many different reasons. She, herself, loves the magazine Take A Break, as well as the sorts of books that you're embarrassed to be seen reading. She also loves true crime.

Al said that according to statistics by publishers John Blake, of all the books they supplied to Waterstones,17.5% of true crime books were stolen, while only 1.5% of every other category were stolen.

They were asked whether they would ever write true crime. Al said that fiction is his forte and he always got marked down at school for using fiction where he should be using fact. However, a lot of true crime triggers his fiction. Louise said that when she was at university a history lecturer once said "I always like your essays because you always leave a wee cliffhanger."

The panellists were then asked who their own literary heroes are. Louise said that she is always wary of heroes because that anyone who looks too good to be true probably is - citing Ted Bundy as an example. She said that Jane Eyre is a brave character - she has no advantages and yet she goes out into the world, as is Allan Breck Stewart. Denise said that her literary heroes were George Orwell (because of his political writings) and Mikhail Bulgakov (because of the humourous way he writes about being a writer). Al cited Dashiell Hammett as being ahead of his time, and David Goodis, who gave a voice to losers - there are no heroes in any of his books.

And there we go. A great time was had by all.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

Fancy a quickie?

Because that's all you're going to get today. I am very behind (does my bum look big in this blog?)

I was at the CWA lunch in Glasgow last week - lovely lunch, even lovelier people. There was a wee bit of chat about the Scottish crime fiction convention Bloody Scots, which is all sounding very exciting. It will be held in mid-September 2012 in Stirling and some top Scottish names have already signed up. More in due course. I'm really looking forward to seeing how it develops.

And now a wee bit of Scottish crime fiction news.

Doug Johnstone's SMOKEHEADS is now out and there's a great article on him in The Skinny. And, in a conversation on Twitter with Russel McLean, Doug mentions that he was asked about swearing in his books. The comment was - can you believe this - "I think your book is disgusting." Actually, if I hadn't already bought the book, that comment would make me rush out and buy it. Incidentally, Russel's response was that someone once spoke to him about his book, without realising he was the author, saying "I couldn't have such filth in my house. So I burned it." Reporting a Twitter conversation makes me feel like some creepy eavesdropper, standing behind a wall, while all the cool kids chat. But there you go.

Talking of Twitter, Ian Rankin gives his views on the subject.

Val McDermid talks about Irish crime fiction.

And Ian Rankin again - this time he's asked 7 questions by Book Page, Crime Watch interviews Liam McIlvanney, and Quercus interviews Peter May.

Alexander Mc Call Smith's THE MEMORY OF LOST THINGS is reviewed in The Herald.

Saturday 5 March 2011

It's Alternative World Book Night

Updated below in red.

I think World Book Night is a great idea (people giving away books they love - how brilliant is that?!) - my only wish was that the list of books chosen would have included some lesser known authors and books.

So, back at the beginning of December when I first talked about Alternative World Book Night I thought of several books that I love, that deserve to be far better known, that I've bought copies of for friends and generally want to thrust into strangers' hands with an evangelical "Here, you've got to read this book, it's brilliant." The struggle is, which one. I've been thinking about it since December, and I'm still struggling. Not every minute of every day, you understand - that would just make me some kind of weirdo. But every now and again I'll think "Which one of these books that I love, am I going to buy for someone?" And the answer has been eluding me for the last three months. I can't narrow it down, I just can't.

So, since I find myself unable to pick just one book (just as I find a similar difficulty in having just one chocolate), I'm going to have to give away three books - one each by an American, an Englishman, and a Scotsman. These are all books that I love, have re-read several times, and that deserve to be more widely known.

The first of these is one I've raved about on here many times - Eddie Muller's THE DISTANCE. I actually already own three copies of this, but they're all personalised to me and, much as I love you, dear Reader, I'm buggered if you're getting one of those.

When San Francisco’s ‘Mr Boxing’ - sportswriter Billy Nichols - turns up at boxing manager Gig Liardi’s apartment one night in 1948, he finds Gig dead and his fighter, Hack Escalante, standing over him. Billy makes a snap decision to protect Hack and cover up the murder. It’s a choice that he may later regret but, once taken, he sticks to it. This is a wonderfully told tale - very noir, full of corruption, moral ambiguity, betrayal and lies. The mean streets of San Francisco’s sleazy underbelly in the ‘40s really come alive. The writing is gorgeous - really rich and atmospheric.

The outstanding appeal of this book - and its sequel SHADOW BOXER - is the character of Billy Nichols. His tough, cynical outer shell hides a vulnerable interior. He's not the typical macho noir protagonist. He's a sensitive, perceptive, flawed man. He's a storyteller - a chronicler of fact and, sometimes, a creator of fiction. But he's an honest liar, unlike many of the other characters in the book. Because Billy doesn't have that cold, self-destructive, caring for nothing and nobody streak that is the territory of a noir protagonist, the book is suffused with warmth, light, passion and heart. Eddie Muller turns the conventions of noir and hard-boiled novels on their heads.

The second book is the Englishman - Mark Sullivan's CORNED BEEF SANDWICH. If Donald Westlake had been born in Manchester and listened to Marilyn Manson, he could well have written this book. Take a goth assistant in a run-down bookmaker's, a bag of stolen money, a halal corned beef sandwich and an aquarium full of oddly named goldfish; mix them all up with a good dollop of humour, a smattering of romance and some decidedly dodgy characters. Then stand back and watch the sparks fly. The main premise of the book is simple - a hold-up gone wrong, the wrong person ends up with the loot and the baddies want it back. The result is an endearing romp which could easily be renamed Reservoir Goldfish.

The voice of the main character is completely original, the writing is casually stylish and Mark Sullivan writes in a really playful way. Corned Beef Sandwich is a comedy crime thriller where the crime is incidental, the thrills are Manchester home video rather than Hollywood blockbuster, and the comedy is understated and effortless.This is a really good read - completely original, charmingly scruffy and it has that real feelgood factor. It's also the only time I've ever found corned beef appealing.

And the third book is Douglas Lindsay's THE LONG MIDNIGHT OF BARNEY THOMSON - the first in the barbershop death junkie series (yes, really). Despite the fact that there are already seven books in this series, I almost never see it talked about on the online book groups to which I belong. And that's a bloody shame. It's a hilarious series. Glasgow barber Barney Thomson is a bit crap, really - he's a bit crap as a barber, a bit crap as a husband, and a bit crap as a man. He's relegated to the worst chair in the barber's shop - customers would rather wait for one of the other barbers than have their hair cut by Barney (don't get me wrong - on his good days he can give you a Frank Sinatra '62, a Kevin Keegan '74, or an Anwar Sadat '67 - but he's just as likely to send you away looking like a laughing stock); besides, he doesn't really have the patter.

Then there's his wife, who spends all her time watching the soaps, and his mother - who's more than a little bit loopy - is hooked on game shows. Meanwhile, there's a serial killer on the loose in Glasgow and body parts keep turning up in the post. Darkly comic, gleefully gruesome and absurdly warped. As we say in Glasgow - this book is totally aff its heed.

So, all you have to do to win one of these books is to leave me a message in the comments, or send me an e-mail, telling me which one of the above you'd like to receive and also naming a book that you love that you wish was better known (you don't have to give it away - it's just another means of me getting recommendations for great books!) and I'll draw a winner for each of the books in two weeks' time.

And if you want to join in on Alternative World Book Night just post on your blog about a book you love, why you love it and offer it to someone (however you want, competition, draw it out of a hat...whatever). If you're joining in, let me know via e-mail, and I'll link to the posts here. Anyone without a blog who wants to join in, also let me know and I'll host your book rave here at Badsville.

In the comment below, Bobbie is giving away not one but three Daniel Woodrell books - The Bayou Trilogy made up of BRIGHT LIGHTS, MUSCLE FOR THE WING and THE ONES YOU DO. I can also highly recommend them - Daniel Woodrell is one of my favourite authors. If you want this trilogy, let me know and I'll pass your requests on to Bobbie, or leave a message in the comments.

Over at her blog, Patti Abbott is giving away Castle Freeman's GO WITH ME, another book which I really enjoyed and which definitely flew under the radar. Let Patti know if you would like it.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Alternative World Book Night

First of all, over at Confessions of A Mystery Novelist, Margot Kinberg is holding a book raffle in aid of the Christchurch earthquake relief.

Next, a reminder of Alternative World Book Night on Saturday. Just in case you can't be bothered to click, it's all about a book that you love and that you wish was better known. The idea is simple. If you're a blogger, post on Saturday (or Sunday, or Monday...) about a book you love to recommend to people and which you wish everyone knew about because it's so good. Tell us what it's about, and why you love it. Then give a copy of it away on your blog, in any way that you like. Let me know when you've posted and I'll link to them all here. If you're not a blogger, then I'm happy to host your book rave here at Badsville. Send it to me any time - just a paragraph about the book, and also let me know how you want to give it away. I'll then post yours when I post mine on Saturday (or Sunday, or Monday if you like - I'm not good with rules :o)). It's all about loving crime fiction and wanting to share our favourites.

And now, the crime fiction news.

The intrepid Douglas Lindsay changes a light bulb.

Win a copy of M C Beaton's DEATH OF A CHIMNEY SWEEP over at Mystery Scene Magazine.

The Badly-Behaved Guest - a short story by Alexander McCall Smith.

Several reviews of Scottish authors over at the wonderful Crimesquad HQ - Alex Gray's SLEEP LIKE THE DEAD, Doug Johnstone's SMOKEHEADS (which is next on my TBR list too), and Chris Ewan's THE GOOD THIEF'S GUIDE TO LAS VEGAS. Mysterious Reviews on Louise Welsh's NAMING THE BONES. And a review of Craig Robertson's RANDOM.

An excellent post from Nigel Bird over at Sea Minor, including a lovely wee charity book from a class of six-year olds.

Ian Rankin on writing comic books.

David Ashton's McLEVY on the radio.

Val McDermid will be appearing at the Brisbane Writers Festival. I feel that there should be an apostrophe in there...

Blogger Alyssa looks at how Kate Atkinson writes characters. And the FT reviews STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG.

And now, I'm off for a lie down to try and recover from a yoga class in which we did the Cobra, the Cat, the Downward Dog, the Cow Face, the Warrior and the Eagle. Although, if you happened to be looking at me through the door you would think we did the Baby Hippo, the Baby Hippo, the Baby Hippo, the Baby Hippo With A Face Like A Cow, the Baby Hippo and the How The Hell Did The Baby Hippo Tie Herself In That Knot?

Tata for now, dear Reader.