Thursday 26 May 2011

CrimeFest Report - A Tale of Two Colins

Another CrimeFest panel report. Jake Kerridge interviewed Colin Bateman and Colin Cotterill, and an excellent interview it was too. Both of them are funny and interesting.

Jake Kerridge started off by saying that the name 'Colin' is Gaelic for a young dog, or cur, or whelp. He noted that the two Colins look like adorable puppies!

Colin Cotterill firstly did his usual trick of taking photos of the audience. He explained that this was because where he lives a local shaman specialises in photos and can put curses on people that way. He said that if anyone in the audience let their mobile phone ring "Don't be surprised if you wake up with feathers sticking out of the back of your head." He then told a story about photoshopping the same woman into three photos and giving them to a class of students. They spotted the woman in two photos and were freaked out. Colin, on the other hand was freaked out because she had disappeared from the third photo.

In Colin Bateman's book I PREDICT A RIOT, the dedication is to "My Christian name, gone but not forgotten." He commented that Colin isn't really an action sort of name. Colin Cotterill then said that he was going to drop both his names.

Jake asked them whether they had any idea where the ability to make people laugh comes from.

Colin Bateman said that he had no idea. When he was 17 and a quiet and shy journalist in Bangor, he was asked to be the paper's gossip columnist. However, he was so shy and quiet that he didn't gossip about anyone and wrote abut his own life. He said that a lot of a writer goes into the characters in a book, but it's a fictitious version. Once, when he was in Amsterdam, he got pushed up against a wall by some blokes. His immediate reaction was to "scream like a girl". In a book, his character would have disarmed the men.

Colin Cotterill said "It takes me a long time to be spontaneous."

When asked whether they make themselves laugh out loud, Colin Bateman said "No, that would be weird." and Colin Cotterill said "Yes, but only because I drink a lot of red wine."

Jake asked Colin Bateman where the Mystery Man series came from (this one features the owner of No Alibis bookstore as protagonist). Colin said that he always does his book launches at the No Alibis bookstore and he always reads something from the beginning of the book. When launching his Dan Starkey novel, he felt uncomfortable reading this out as almost all the first chapter is about masturbation. So, instead, he wrote a short story featuring the owner of the bookstore (the owner said he could write anything he wanted as long as he didn't make him a pedophile). Now, people go into No Alibis just to look at the owner.

When asked whether he had the same problem re characters masturbating, Colin Cotterill's response was "Most of my characters are over 70 so it doesn't come up."

Colin Cotterill noted that the next Dr Siri has Americans in - there have never been any western characters in previous books.

Colin Bateman said that Mystery Man is not a typical protagonist. He's an unreliable narrator, his thoughts just come out, and he's a coward, a hypochondriac and manic depressive.

Colin C's new series features a female journalist protagonist called Jimm Juree. Colin said that where he lives there is no crime. The police station doesn't even have a jail. Police officers in Thailand are never sacked, they are just transferred. And they are transferred to a place like the one where Colin lives. However, although there is no crime, from talking to the local people, Colin has discovered loads of hidden secrets (including the fact that the little old couple who run the greengrocers are not married and the woman had her husband killed. Colin is now afraid to go out after dark.

Colin B said that in DR YES he is making fun of fanatical crime fiction fans. His main bad guy came about through a crime fan who mentioned that he had just quit his job at Madame Tussauds and now freelances and travels the world with a wax copy of his own head (apparently, wax models of your head sell very well). Also, Augustine Wogan is based on an obscure crime fiction writer from Belfast who self-published in the 1980s. He made a good point that it is only in the last 10 years that traditional crime fiction has been published in Northern Ireland. Previously it was all paramilitary type stuff. He said "We are the new Scandinavians."

Colin Cotterill said that he's not particularly complimentary about the governments of Laos and Thailand. When his second book came out, he was worried that he wasn't going to be let back in. However, he said that he needn't have worried, as the 5 new computers at the airport remained unplugged for three years. He said that, although he comes back to Britain as a tourist, and feels more comfortable in Thailand, it can be a dangerous place and people who try to complain about the system can sometimes disappear. Researching Laos in the 1970s for the Dr Siri books was quite difficult as it was a period in history when there was no news - journalists were kicked out at the time. However that gives him the opportunity to make it all up.

Colin Bateman said that for EMPIRE STATE all his research was based on a leaflet given out at the Empire State Building. He doesn't enjoy research. He said writing that one was his plan to become extremely rich. However, it was the only one not to be published in the US.

Colin B does not outline. He generally write a book in around 30 days. Colin C writes the story by hand in about 3 weeks and then goes back and edits.

Colin C said that he does not want his books to be translated into Thai.

Colin B said that his popularity was like the ripples in a pond. In his own house he is extremely popular. The further away you get from his house, the less popular he gets.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

CrimeFest Panel Report 2 - Bringing Up Baby

Following earlier posts, here's the second panel report.

This one was Bringing Up Baby - Creating Believable Sleuths. Panellists were Paul Johnston, L C Tyler, Christopher Wakling and Anne Zouroudi, moderated by Zoë Sharp. I always like to see the panels Zoë moderates - they are good fun and she asks excellent questions.

Zoë asked whether heroes need to be heroic. Len Tyler said that the realism of the character is in the flaws but that sometimes the trend is to make characters a little too flawed. Anne Zouroudi says that she has problems because her protagonist is not a typical detective, so it's difficult to give him flaws. She commented that it was Sherlock Holmes' flaws which make him interesting and that flaws are essential in any believable character. She agreed, though, that some flaws are becoming a bit of a cliche these days. Despite their flaws, the best protagonists have a good side which redeems them. Christopher Wakling said that he likes relatively mundane flaws and made everyone laugh when he said that his character's flaw is that he needs a haircut (I really want to read the book after that!) The character is frustrated and bored and it is those things which power the book. Paul Johnston said that the flaws needn't be in the detective but in the context he or she finds themselves in. For example, with Alex Mavros, what drives him as a missing persons specialist is the fact that he lost his brother.

Zoë asked Anne how much setting moulds the character. She said that Hermes is a figure of justice and he grew out of her interest in Greek mythology and Jungian psychology, and he grew out of the landscape. He was based on a Greek bank manager.

Zoë then asked Christopher Wakling what the differences were when setting a character in a historical time period. He said that he did loads of research on the slave trade in Bristol, wrote a really long book, and then cut all the research out. He looked for the universal things.

Len was asked how he arrived at his narrative style of having two first person narrators. He said that he did it because he enjoyed reading it in other people's books and it gives him the opportunity to use different typefaces. It also gives two completely different viewpoints.

Zoë asked the panel how they go about creating a character. Chris said that it was an organic process and he adds to the character as he goes through the book. He commented that he teaches creative writing and he has a 150 question questionnaire which he gives to students asking about their character. He'd never done that himself and, when he was bored one day, he started to do it for his own protagonist and realised that he didn't know half the answers. Anne felt that to do that would kill a story dead. She starts out with a glimpse of a character. She said that, when creating a character, you have a role for them and that, for example, if you're creating a baddie, you wouldn't have a woman who bakes cup-cakes (I actually think that would be a good idea). She then writes the details in afterwards.

Paul was of the opinion that you have to leave gaps for the reader, and he doesn't tend to use a lot of physical description. In the first book of his Matt Wells series, the character is completely driven by revenge after being drpped by his agent an publisher (written after Paul was dropped by his agent and publisher...). Len said that you need to keep track of the characters somehow, especially when writing a series.

Zoë asked Len what he did to create conflict. He said that he once read a book about writing which said 'no conflict = no story'. He said that he has conflict between Ethelred and Elsie and that Ethelred also has a conflict with modernity.

The next question for the panel was whether they had ever painted themselves into a corner. Paul said that there will always be someone who sends you an e-mail to tell you where you have gone wrong. The important thing for his is to show the effect of the story on the character. Anne said that it is important not to get bored with the things that you have made your touchstones, and that those details can be very comforting to readers. Chris Wakling said that he writes standalones and so creates new characters each time. He once wrote a dog into a book with a very small part, but when he decided to change its name, the dog suddenly became very important and he had to change things.

Zoë then asked how the panellists chose their character names. Chris said that he had a character called Harry Brinkman but nobody got the significance (I have to confess that I am one of those nobodies :o) ). Len said that in his latest book, all his characters are named after fictional characters in crime fiction, and no-one has noticed. However, in the middle of those is the random name of someone who won a character named after them in an auction. Zoë said that she had this problem too - one of her books has a character called Frances Neagley, who won this at an auction. However, Frances Neagley also bid to be a character in a Lee Child novel and Zoë said that she'd been accused of stealing the name!

Paul Johnston said that, when he was thinking of a name for his Quintillian Dalrymple character, he wanted a protagonist with the initials QED. The best he could come up with for the E, when sitting in a pub with a friend, was Eric. So Quint doesn't have a middle name after all! Mavros is Greek for 'black' and is a play on noir, and for Matt Wells he wanted a bland, uncontroversial name. However, soon after the book came out he received an e-mail from a Guardian journalist called Matt Wells.

Zoë asked whether people ever spotted something about themselves (either rightly or wrongly) in the panellists' books. Anne Zouroudi said that she sometimes borrows physical descriptions from people, but that she doesn't know anyone interesting enough to be a full character. Paul said that he once killed his ex-wife in a novel and she didn't notice. He has also used other real people - heavily (or not so heavily) disguised. Len said that he once wrote a hideous caricature of a female novelist he didn't like. However, as he was writing the book, he got to like the real life person better and, as a result, the character in the book became nicer too. Zoë said that she has run out of people she doesn't like and now takes requests (note to self, never piss Zoë off).

The panellists were then asked how much of themselves is in their characters. Anne said that her son thinks she is Hermes to a T, and sometimes it's subconscious. Paul said that with Matt Wells he was definitely sending himself up, as well as his ex-publisher and ex-agent.

Zoë asked what annoyed the panellists in characters they read. Paul said that he can't stand snobbery and class - so one of his least favourite characters is Lord Peter Wimsey. Chris Wakling said that he dislikes American Psycho - not because he's a nasty character, but because he can read someone's business card across a room. Len recently read a book with a five year old narrator who acts like an adult. Anne's pet peeve was a general one - policemen who are grateful to members of the public who solve crimes and are quite happy to give them all sorts of information. She said that in real life, policemen try to keep the general public away from crime scenes. Zoë said that she dislikes characters who get things wrong. One of Dan Brown's characters escapes in a Range Rover and to Zoë it was clear that Dan Brown had never been near a Range Rover, let alone driven one.

There, I think that's it. A couple more to go over the next few days.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Crimefest Panel Report - Born To Be Bad

Following yesterday's general report from CrimeFest, I'm going to post a few specific panel reports. But, before I get to those, happy birthday to Badsville. This blog is 2 years old today, started after a conversation with the lovely Declan Burke at Crimefest 2 years ago.

And now, a panel report.

Born To Be Bad - The Nature of Evil. Panellists were Peter James, Steven Saylor, Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Andrew Taylor, moderated by Steve Mosby. First of all, Steve Mosby is an excellent moderator. He asked some really thoughtful, insightful questions and got a lot out of all the panellists.

I didn't realise, but Peter James started out writing supernatural thrillers. The first thing he did was to mention Steve's burglary, two days before (another thing which makes Steve a great moderator - he lost all his panel notes in the burglary and still managed to do a brilliant job). Peter James said that he has always been interested in whether there's such a thing as evil. He once spent a day at Broadmoor (as a visitor, rather than an inmate) and said that it seemed as though everyone fitted into two categories - schizophrenic and treatable, or sociopath/psychopath and wired differently. With the latter category, it depends on your parents and upbringing as to whether you turn out to be a political leader or a murderous serial killer (editor's note - sometimes, the two are interchangeable).

Steve said to Steven Saylor that there's a verb in Japanese (Tsujigiri) which means "to try out one's sword on a chance wayfarer" and asked whether that viewpoint affected what he writes, given the historical setting. Steven Saylor said that young Spartans were allowed to go out and kill helot people for sport. He said that a lot of historical novels glamourise people like Julius Caesar etc, but, in reality "great people of history are like the larger carnivora - best viewed through stout bars." He noted that Nero had really just wanted to be an actor and added "If only they'd had 'Rome's Got Talent'." He also said that, worryingly, he'd had 2 e-mails from readers who were moved by his apparently 'sympathetic portrayal of Nero". "I hope not." he said.

Steve asked Andrew Taylor whether he felt there were answers to present situations to be found in the past. Andrew said that, when you write novels set in the past, you realise that people felt very differently about good and evil and right and wrong back then. During the investigations into the murders by Fred and Rosemary West (which were local to him) he noted the black humour that came out (including a joke about an estate agent selling the house in Cromwell Street "two up, seven down", even though the feeling that swept the neighbourhood was an almost atavistic fear. He said that the Roth Trilogy has a central theme of evil and good, right and wrong, lawful and unlawful, and that crime writers can find a lot of interesting stuff in the gaps. He also asked how it was that people who worked in the concentration camps could be so nice at home.

Peter James goes out on patrol with the police and that he is most interested in murder as it is the one irreversible crime. He noted that he didn't think that all murder was evil (which caused a bit of a stramash during audience questions!). He said that he thought people like Fred West and the BTK killer were evil. Steve said that Ted Bundy had once said "What's a few less people on the face of the planet?"

Steve asked Yrsa whether she had ever based her books on any real life cases, to which she answered that, generally, that would make unreadable fiction. Murders in Iceland are domestic, mundane and bland in Iceland. She said that Iceland had only ever had one serial killer and he had only killed two people. She then went on to explain about the case, which sounded pretty horrible - an 11 year old boy who drowned two other boys. He was a sociopath who had been abused by his stepfather. She also referred back to the point made about the nature of evil then and now - commenting on what Steven Saylor had said about Ancient Rome. She noted that back then, the government would think nothing of putting people in an arena and then setting fire to it (hmmmmm, remind me not to go to the Olympics next year), whereas today that would be unimaginable. Steven Saylor then made the very good point that we would be more than happy to go and see a film about it, though. It was agreed that evil is a very uncomfortable subject on all sorts of levels.

Steve then asked Andrew Taylor whether crime fiction was a bit conservative - ie whether we like everything to be tied up neatly at the end. Andrew said that with crime fiction you take the most awful thing that can happen to someone. 9 times out of 10 it is resolved at the end. Peter James said that one of the reasons people read crime fiction is for the puzzle. However, there are more reasons and that crime fiction is the biggest selling genre in the English speaking world. He said we are genetically programmed to survive.

The topic was then thrown open to the audience for questions. Natasha Cooper asked about Peter James' comment that there is murder that is evil and murder that is not, and that his comment was like Kenneth Clarke's comment about rape. Peter James said it was different because the clear-up rate for murder is 92% and the clear-up rate for rape is 2%. Also, the chance of being raped by a stranger is very slim, while the chance of being raped by someone you know is very high but the effect is identical on every victim. He said that what he meant with his comment on murder is that there is a difference between a serial killer and the man that kills his wife in a drunken rage - ie that the difference is in the intent.

Another question from the audience was whether the panel were ever worried that the books they write stimulate people to commit murder. Steven Saylor said that he gets a free pass on this one as he writes historical fiction. Yrsa said that she didn't worry about it at all, since Icelandic criminals are stupid. "Murderers don't go looking for stuff like that." Andrew Taylor agreed, saying "If you're going to be a killer, you're going to do it without any help from me." He said that to read a book requires very different skills from those you need to psych yourself up for a killing. Peter James mentioned that the killers of Jamie Bulger got the idea from the film Chuckie. However, he added that crime fiction and increased forensic awareness was more likely to give villains ideas about how not to get arrested - although they were more than likely to wear a SOCO suit and gloves and then throw the gloves in the nearest bin.

Peter James said that the darker the character of a fictional villain, the more readers love the character. Steve Mosby made a very interesting comment that, while this applied to murderers, it didn't apply to all crimes, noting that there were no books with rapists or paedophiles as protagonists (an excellent and very chilling point - especially when you consider the popularity of a character like Dexter).

A further questioner asked whether the panel thought evil could be the gradual nibbling away of good. Andrew Taylor said that a lot of crime is banal and Peter James said that after a lot of murders you often see press interviews that say "He was so nice, I never would have guessed."

The panel were then asked to what level of evil they would go. Andrew Taylor very honestly said that if he'd been in the SS he thought he would have been socialised into evil. Yrsa said that to be evil, she thought that you have to have the capacity for hate.

Phew - I think that's enough today. It took me longer to write that, than it took to listen to the panel :o) I made notes at three other panels so will write them up over the next couple of days. I attended other panels but didn't take notes.

Monday 23 May 2011

The Warm Glow of CrimeFest

Back from CrimeFest. Apologies for not blogging but things were just too hectic. Besides, internet access in the hotel cost something like £3000 per night (just slightly cheaper than a Southern Comfort and lemonade at the bar).

It was a brilliant weekend. Lots of old friends hugged, lots of new friends made (and some of those were hugged), the panels I went to were excellent (I shall write reports up of some of them over the next few days), the panels I moderated went well - I think - thanks to my lovely panelists. And I didn't vomit all over them, so that was a bonus. More of those panels later in this post.

The best part of the weekend is getting to spend time with people I really don't spend enough time with and laughing a lot. Some of those moments could not possibly be reported here.

My Mum and Dad made went too, and that was lovely. I took them out to dinner on the Thursday and after that my Mum and I went to the ballet. When we came back to the hotel we discovered my Dad in the bar. I was greeted with "Oh, Donna, we've been hearing all about you from your Dad." Oh. Shite. That phrase followed me all weekend. And each time, it worried me more. My Mum and Dad had a great time, as always. Everyone was lovely to them, and my Mum got to chat to some actor from Heartbeat, spend a weekend saying "Eee, our Donna, where on earth did you get those bloody shoes?" and buy a monkey for her 'grandson' Chris Ewan. As an aside, at the Gala Dinner, when neither Chris nor I won the Last Laugh Award (it was won by the charming Len Tyler who will no longer be able to remove his lucky tie) this conversation ensued between Mum and me.

"So you and Chris didn't win, then?"
"No, Mum."
"That's a shame."
"Thanks, Mum, but it's OK - I didn't expect to win."
"I didn't mean YOU, our Donna. I wanted Chris to win."
"Thanks Mum."

On to panel reports.

On Friday I was moderating two panels.

The first was I Was A Male Warbride: Confessions of a Crime Fiction Author - with Chris Ewan, Helen Fitzgerald, Douglas Lindsay and Steve Mosby. They were brilliant - interesting, funny, and they submitted to my terrible questions with panache and aplomb. As well as asking them questions about their books, I interspersed these with confession-type questions - whether they had ever done anything illegal, most embarrassing moment etc. I wish I'd been in the audience, rather than actually asking the questions, because I would love to report on their great responses. They all submitted gracefully to having to do homework in advance. I asked them to read out their worst ever review, and also to write the beginning of a story with an animal protagonist.

Here are the stories

Douglas Lindsay's story is here:

Helen Fitzgerald's story:

Her husband hanged me from the Rowan tree. Said she needed to let go of her attachment to me. “You can’t replace the real world with that fucking bunny,” he said. At ten o’clock tonight, he found me in her secret place, took me out into the garden, looped a string around my neck, and hanged me while she banged on the window of her locked bedroom. It’s after eleven now and she can still see me. She’s stopped screaming, but she’s crying, hands touching glass as she watches me go. I’m not dead yet and she knows it. She can see my ears quivering, less and less rampant as the insides of me flatten. "I’m going now," I say with barely moving ears.

Her husband has unlocked the door. "Come on," he orders, "come to bed." He has no settings, this murderer, no buzz no matter where or how hard she she presses.

She kisses her fingertips and touches the glass. "Arriverderci my rabbit," she says. "my every time dead cert. I must go and endure the real world."

Chris Ewan's story:

A Fly Vendetta Thriller

I was a fly in a glass. There was water inside the glass. There was a throwaway coaster on the end of it. The water was sloshing around. I was sloshing with it. This was on account of the movie that had been playing on a TV over the bar. Not a bad movie. Except for one scene. A scene where some guy drowned a fly in water and then brought it back to life with a sprinkling of salt. Now every chump in the bar wanted to drown a fly. Every guy wanted to produce a little magic with some salt. And I happened to get the goof who was just a bit dumber than most. He gave me a real good shake. A real thorough drenching. Like I was in a washing machine. Like I was in a toilet flush. Then he dumped me on a napkin and tipped half a pound of salt over me. I wasn’t crazy about this guy. I was buzzing mad. First thing I did when I came round was I gave him the finger. Flies can do that. Maybe you didn’t know. Truth is, flies can do a lot of things. They can mess with you in all kinds of ways. I was going to mess with this guy. And no amount of salt was going to help him.

Steve Mosby's story:

Action thriller with STIs

As Corporal Green discharged his final rounds at the army of antibiotics advancing on his position, he glanced down at his fallen comrades and was finally forced to accept the harshness of his predicament. I'm a goner, he told himself. I'm a goner 'ere.

Brilliant stuff.

My second panel was Monkey Business: The Last Laugh shortlist panel. Panellists were Colin Bateman, Colin Cotterill, Chris Ewan and L C Tyler. Again, they were excellent and great fun. Again, they were gracious enough to submit to homework. This time, a fascinating fact and an alternative bio.

Fascinating Facts

Chris -
I once worked as a chemical cleaner in a meat factory. After that, I worked in a factory making Glade Plug-it-in, Plug-it-ins. Neither job was as glamorous as it sounds, although they both paid better than being a crime writer.

Colin C - I was kicked out of the recovery ward after my circumcision after the nuns discovered I'd drawn cartoons of them on the wall behind the curtain.

Len - I once had a very long conversation with the King of Norway about Newcastle United.

Colin B - I am personally responsible for the Nolan Sisters reforming.

Alternative Bios

Chris Ewan had the idea for the Millennium Trilogy several years before Stieg Larsson began writing the series, but he’s never claimed any royalties because he’s such a nice guy. But he’s no pushover, either, and if Stephenie Meyer doesn’t pay up soon, his legal team are going to tear her a new one. Born and raised in Professor Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, he currently lives in your home, in the small back bedroom you rarely go into. He generally keeps himself to himself, but sometimes he likes to watch you sleep. He never touches you, though. He leaves that to the guy who lives in your attic.

Colin B - I once sat on a wall beside Matt Damon; Matt Damon failed to recognise me. I'm the only man in history to have been sued for libel by the Boys Brigade. Things have been much better since I got out of prison. (NB - most of Colin's is actually true).

Many authors write under a pen-name and live their life under their real name. Len Tyler writes under his real name and does his day jobs under a variety of aliases. Those familiar with Len's film work, for example, will know him as Daniel Craig. As Jenson Button he regularly drives for Maclaren. Finally, if you were watching a certain wedding at the end of last month, you will probably have caught a glimpse of Len in his latest day-job as Leghumper the Royal corgi.

Colin Cotterill, after years of dreaming of becoming a woman, was rejected by the surgical assessment team for being 'too manly'. He used the operation money instead to bribe a publisher into printing his first book. He then bribed a few hundred people into buying them and has been pumping money into the readership pool ever since. Asked if he has no shame he replied, 'no'.

I'll post more reports over the next few days.

In the meantime - thanks to friends old and new for making it such a great weekend. Too many names to mention, but you know who you are. I really had a brilliant time and am still basking in the warm glow of happiness. Crime fiction fans and writers are just the nicest people. And big congratulations to Adrian and Myles for putting on such an excellent convention.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

Pre-Crimefest Summary

A very brief post today. I'm down in Bristol helping with CrimeFest preparations (a very grand term for acting as Adrian's skivvy. Today I have been putting together prize book bags (every panel has a book giveaway). This evening I will be stuffing envelopes for delegates. In the meantime, I am drinking one of Adrian's enormous cocktails. Delegates - expect to get the wrong things in your envelopes.

I'm moderating two panels on Friday:

I Was A Male Warbride - Confessions of A Crime Fiction Author - with Chris Ewan, Helen Fitzgerald, Douglas Lindsay and Steve Mosby at 11.20. I set them homework - all they had to do was write the first paragraph of a story featuring an animal protagonist. Based on what I have already seen, anyone with good taste should not attend this panel.

The Last Laugh Award Shortlist Panel - with Colin Bateman, Colin Cotterill, Chris Ewan and L C Tyler at 2.10pm.

So, just a few wee snippets in the meantime.

A review of Kate Atkinson's STARTED EARLY, TOOK MY DOG.

Quintin Jardine at Waterstone's in Livingstone on June 8th. Before that, Christopher Brookmyre talks about WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED, in Glasgow on June 6th.

Denise Mina will be appearing on the BBC2 Review Show's monthly book programme on May 27th. And a review of the TV version of FIELD OF BLOOD.

More about Ian Rankin and the scholarship.

And he's not Scottish, but here's a great article on, and interview with, one of my favourite authors - Colin Cotterill.

I hope to have time to post while at Crimefest, but if not, see you all after the weekend.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Friday Late, or Sunday Early?

This was supposed to be Friday's post, but blogger ate my post, so here it is now.

Christopher Brookmyre talks about WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED. And an interview with Val McDermid. And don't worry - the video starts in French but Val speaks in English.

Lots of lovely film news in the Helen Fitzgerald household - good on you Helen and Serge.

Philip Kerr talks about FIELD GRAY and about Bernie Gunther's Berlin.

Alexander McCall Smith will be at the Ayot Literary Festival in June. And a review of THE SATURDAY BIG TENT WEDDING PARTY.

A review of Gordon Ferris' THE HANGING SHED.

An excellent article on Denise Mina and THE END OF THE WASP SEASON by Doug Johnstone.

And, finally, an old photo, but a good one.

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Wednesday Randomness

The lovely Russel McLean has news of some events in Dundee:
"As part of the whole series of crime events, Dundee Waterstones now has Denise Mina on Thursday 19th, Quintin Jardine’s only full event (he’ll be doing stock signings elsewhere) for the new Bob Skinner – GRIEVOUS ANGEL - on the launch date (9th June) and of course Chris Brookmyre on the 22 June. All at 7pm, all at the Steps Theatre, Central Library, Wellgate Centre, Dundee. All free, too, with tickets at the library and of course at Waterstones, 35 Commercial Street. "

Tony Black is doing an event at Stonehaven Library on 19th May. They do, however, have the name of his protagonist wrong. And Tony features a story I'd rather my Mum didn't see, over at Pulp Pusher.

Yvonne Klein reviews Philip Kerr's FIELD GRAY at

The Big Issue talks to Denise Mina about FIELD OF BLOOD. Excellent stuff.

Ian Rankin treats students to a scholarship and lunch.

Monday 9 May 2011

Today it's all about Pulp and Cake

Today was a lovely day. I have delicious new shoes. And I spent most of the day alternately working on the screenplay I've been wanting to finish, and reading Colin Cotterill's brilliant LOVE SONGS FROM A SHALLOW GRAVE. All whilst wearing my new shoes.

I watched the first part of Denise Mina's FIELD OF BLOOD on TV last night. For those of you who didn't get it (I believe it was only shown in Scotland), you can watch it here (not sure how long it is available for). It was excellent, and I'm looking forward to part 2 tonight.

More video with Irvine Welsh at PEN World Voices Festival. And, on radio, Val McDermid talks about The Mermaids Singing.

If you're an M C Beaton fan, you may want to make sure that your library has applied for these.

The Tarantino Version - a delightfully nasty little short story from Douglas Lindsay.

Excellent news about a film adaptation of Helen Fitzgerald's DEAD LOVELY. Congratulations Helen!

A review of Louise Welsh's NAMING THE BONES. And Louise Welsh talks about Rigoletto.

An essay by Allan Massie in the Wall Street Journal on Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels.

A review of Charles Cumming's THE TRINITY SIX.

Forget all the Super Injunction news, the Scotsman reveals that Ian Rankin eats cake. Shocker.

And, finally, brilliant news - the lovely Tony Black has brought back Pulp Pusher - this time in the form of a blog.

Thursday 5 May 2011

What I Read in March and April

First of all, I've been given 2 weekend passes to Crimefest (worth £140 each) to give away on the blog. If you would like to win one or both (I can give them away singly or as a pair) then either leave a comment below, or send me an e-mail, telling me who your ideal panellist would be and what you would like to hear them talk about.

I didn't have as much time as I would have liked for reading in March and April, but what I did read was excellent. I also read a couple of excellent manuscripts which I haven't listed here.

Published: originally 1999
Publisher: Kindle
Setting: Scotland
Protagonist: Barney Thomson
Series?: Second
First Lines: 'Brother Festus. An honest man. Weird name; honest nonetheless.'
Barney Thomson - Scotland's unluckiest and most endearing serial killer - is on the run. Not only is he being hunted by the police for several murders he didn't commit (as well as a couple he did, but they were accidents, really they were), he's also being hounded by the Press and is the subject of dramatic headlines such as Thomson Slaughters Ninety-Eight Women in Terror Week (The Sun), Wave of Naked Bank Robberies Pinned on Thomson (The Herald) and How Barber Surgeon Made Goram Let in Five Against Portugal in '93 (the Daily Record). When it comes down to it, all Barney is really guilty of is being rubbish at small talk, fancying his sister-in-law and being a tad dull.

He decides to seek refuge somewhere where his heinous crimes won't have been heard of. Enter Brother Jacob of the Holy Order of the Monks of St John, who is soon treating the other monks to some excellent barbering (Brother Cadfael, Sean Connery in Name of The Rose, Christian Slater in Name of the Rose, F Murray Abraham in Name of the Rose - you get the idea). Unfortunately, he just happens to have chosen a monastery where everyone has their own secrets (is it only Brother Mince who remembers the harsh winter of 1938 and the rumours of cannibalism?). Not only that but Barney appears to be surplus to requirements - the monastery already has its own serial killer.

Fast, funny, twisted, over-the-top and bloody good fun.

Published: 2010
Publisher: Kindle
Setting: Various
Protagonist: n/a
Series?: Anthology
First Line: 'You wake up in a sweat.' from the story by Josh Converse
I already mentioned this anthology in a previous post - it's chock full of great stuff. My favourite part of it is Jimmy Callaway's 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). I love Jimmy Callaway's writing - both fiction and non-fiction. And 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. What more could you want?

THE BASTARD HAND - Heath Lowrance
Published: 2011
Publisher: New Pulp Press
Setting: Mostly Mississippi and Tennessee
Protagonist: Charles Wesley
Series?: Standalone
First Line: 'My Apocalypse began without the fanfare you might expect.'
So says drunken, violent drifter Charles Wesley - a man who hears the voice of his dead brother and who should really be back in the Institution he ran away from. You have been warned. What you really don't need when you're already as crazy as they come is to meet the Reverend Phineas Childe - ostensibly a Man of God; in reality a man out for himself - a man who uses his 'calling' to enjoy wine, women and song - heavy on the wine and women, not so much on the song. Think Robert Mitchum's Harry Powell in Night of the Hunter - only even more warped, manipulative and scary (which I didn't think was possible). Wesley - against his better judgement - is persuaded by the charismatic preacher to accompany him to the small rural town of Cuba Landing, where Childe is the new pastor. God help Cuba Landing, because Childe certainly won't. Heath Lowrance serves up a brilliantly nasty slice of tough, gritty noir served with sides of retribution, weirdness and ugliness. Delightfully warped and dirty - yum yum. No characters to root for - just a cast of deliciously noxious characters. No happy endings, just truculent, indecorous pleasure in a tale told with great gusto.

THORN IN MY SIDE - Sheila Quigley
Published: 2011
Publisher: Burgess Books
Setting: Mostly Holy Island and Northumbria
Protagonist: DI Mike Yorke
Series?: First
First Line: '"Non." One word of defiance. Spoken quietly but with an unbreakable finality.'
After a few months down south, DI Mike Yorke is glad to be going back home to north-east England. There, he gets involved in a truly bizarre and horrific case. I don't want to say too much about the plot because one of the pleasures of this book is seeing how everything unfolds, but it's a gripping tale of missing children, horribly flogged corpses and much, much more. Really well drawn characters - especially the troubled street kid, Smiler, who Mike sort of adopts. I really look forward to reading more about him in future books. The Holy Island setting is intriguing and atmospheric. Great stuff.

Published: 2011
Publisher: Byker Books
Setting: Various
Protagonist: Various
Series?: Anthology
First Line: 'It began when Harold urinated on his cavalry twill slacks.'
What can I say, those radge lads at Byker Books have done it again. The stories, as ever, run the gamut of the mad, the bad and the sad in the 19 short stories and 1 novella. Reading this slim volume is like taking a pleasant night-time stroll, only to find yourself in a dark alley with 20 sweaty, grubby, sweary nutters all peeing on your shoes. It's difficult to pick favourites, but I think the ones that stayed with me longest were Paul Brazill's A Man On The Run, Darren Sant's Backstreet Redemption, Martyn Taylor's Bridge Builders, Ian Ayris' Contagious and Blaine Ward's The Islets Of Langerhans, but each story offers its own special delectation. Demented, unhinged, coarse and indecent - I'd definitely like to spend a night out with this lot.

Have a lovely weekend, Dear Reader.

Wednesday 4 May 2011

All news is good news

For those of you who followed my Alaskan Misadventures blog while I was there, you may be interested in Alaska Dreams Travel Far. A film crew is following the students of Stony River's Gusty Michael School, which I visited last year, as they prepare for a once in a lifetime trip to California. I am so thrilled for them all. They are very special people and I miss them every day.

Errrrrrrrr...Crimefest shortlists have been announced. Congratulations to all the nominees. I am so chuffed to be in such brilliant company.

Paul Brazill conducts a short, sharp interview with Ray Banks.

Chris Ewan talks about his TV deal.

Irvine Welsh talks about ECSTACY.

Stuart MacBride talks to the Vancouver Sun.

Christopher Brookmyre is appearing at the Reading Festival of Crime Writing in September.

The LA Times reviews Philip Kerr's FIELD GRAY.

Shadow and Act wants to bring back the TV version of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

Aly Monroe with a wonderful blog post, as ever.

Monday 2 May 2011

A Comma Would Definitely Help

Ian Rankin votes Green and receives underwear from Pythons.

Lots about the TV version of Denise Mina's FIELD OF BLOOD, including a couple of video interviews with Mina. Also a piece on her new book THE END OF THE WASP SEASON.

A review of Stuart MacBride's DYING LIGHT.


A fact meets fiction crime story set in Glasgow, Manchester and London.

Doug Johnstone - crime writer, musician, man of many talents - has a new EP out.

And, finally, I love this - facebook responses to spelling mistakes.