In another lifetime, I used to be a regular visitor to the Harbour Arts Centre in Irvine, which then was home to the lovely Borderline Theatre Company. So it wasn’t hard to find my way back to this very pleasant space, located on the front of Irvine’s harbour. I found myself humming as I approached…Irvine, I’m in Irvine, and my heart beats so that you would hardly know…. Anyway, I was of course there for the Tidelines Book Festival, a festival which can fairly lay claim to having a first class programme of authors. I was only there for the Saturday, but the festival actually lasts for three days and puts on events for a wide range of readers, both adults and children.
As I arrived, lots of children had just come out of a session led by Mark Smith entitled ‘Slugboy Saves the World’ and it was great to see so many little superheroes who had clearly really enjoyed their session.
Pleasantly located, with a very nice café in the heart of the centre, what better way to spend a day than in the company or readers and writers?
First up on my list was the exceptional Su Bristow, whose book, Sealskin, based on the legend of the Selkies, was such a huge hit when it launched at the end of last year.
Interviewed by Alison Craig, Su was fascinating and quite enthralling when she talked about what inspired her to write Sealskin and how her own life experiences had contributed to the themes of the book.
I loved this book so much that even though I have it on kindle I just had to buy a hard copy and get Sue to sign it – that’s how good it is.
But I’m not going to expound on this in any depth, because Sharon Bairden has already done so on her blog – and as her ability to share is limited right now, I’m going to suggest that you nip over and read her account of the session at her blog Chapter in My Life.You can purchase Sealskin here : Orenda Books Amazon Waterstones
The second session I attended was for a book I’d been keen to know more about since its launch and as I hadn’t been able to attend the Edinburgh Book Festival session, it was a real delight to be able to attend a discussion about Nasty Women, published by 404 Ink and originally published as a crowdsourced enterprise.
The title, is of course, taken from that horrible Trump quote about Hillary Clinton.
It was both a joy and an inspiration to listen to Jonatha Kottler and Laura Waddell talk about their experiences of writing for the book which is a selection of writing by women on what it means to be a woman in today’s world. Both Laura and Jonatha were full of praise for the passion and inspiration of the editors behind the project, Laura Jones and Heather McDaid and how every woman who worked on the book very much felt that it was a collaborative project.
Each woman came from a different perspective and each wrote about quite different things, but all felt very supportive of each other and the project as a whole.
Laura Wadell’s piece is very much about what a Scottish working class girl faced when she wanted to try and break into the world of the arts and media – and in her case, publishing, something she has now achieved very successfully, but which in the 21st Century was a lot harder for her than you might imagine – in what is supposed to be, but clearly is not, a classless society.
As Laura says; “It is not our stereotype and it is not, for the most part, our reality……a lack of stories told from our perspective has lent itself to dull, flattened portrayals that do not reflect the reality of diversity ”
Jonatha’s essay is entitled ‘Fat in every language’ and she spoke engagingly and with humour on being larger than whatever the norm is. But living comfortably in your own skin and not for the expectations of others, is what her piece is about, alongside the reality of how fat people are commercially exploited.
Nasty Women covers a range of voices and a whole host of different and diverse experiences, from experiencing racial divides in Trump’s America, to sexual assault, Brexit, pregnancy and more. These are the women who share their real experiences and hold the truth to account in the midst of a global society where inequality and intolerance is bubbling to the surface.
This is why I think Nasty Women is a really important book for me, and as Margaret Attwood said on the cover why it is “an essential window into many of the hazard strewn worlds younger women are living in right now’.
My final session of the day was just delightful. Three of the nicest men in crime fiction were chatting about Nordic Noir.
Gunnar Staalesen, the grandfather of Nordic Noir and celebrating 40 years of writing about his protagonist, detective Varg Veum, was paired with the massively talented Thomas Enger, writer of the Henning Juul books.
Both were in conversation with our own Michael J. Malone, whose House of Spires has just been published. All three are published by Orenda Books, so you just know that they are all going to be exceptionally well written.
Gunnar Staalesen began writing at the age of 17 and published his first book at 22 – an experimental novel inspired by the work of Jack Kerouac.
What really introduced him to the idea of being a crime writer though was the work of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, to whom he is very quick to pay a fulsome tribute. Reading the Martin Beck books introduced him to the possibilities of writing crime and he began to read and be inspired by the books of Chandler, Ross McDonald and Dashiel Hammet.
He credits Sjöwall and Wahlöö as the writers who really began to stir the interest of academics and newspapers alike and sparked off the interest in Norwegian crime. Then, in 1974, Norway’s biggest publishing house held a competition for a new crime novel and Gunnar entered and came second.
This led to the publication of his two police procedurals, published in paperback, not hardback as was usual for other genres, but that had the happy fortune of making his books more instantly affordable.
Then he came up with the idea of translating the idea of the American P.I. into a Norwegian setting and thus Varg Veum was born.
Thomas Enger was only 4 when Gunnar published his first book! Thomas’ father was a teacher who really wanted his son to read the classics, but that didn’t really interest him and when he read his first crime novel at the age of 15/16 he knew he had found his genre and was hooked for life.
He read the books of Gunnar Staalesen and Henning Mankel as well as many others. He saw that others had found a way of telling their stories through crime novels and that a good crime story could be a way of seeing ordinary society through the stories, utilising language and that crime literature could be just as good as any ‘serious’ literature.
As Staalesen says, throughout time from Dickens onwards, people want to hear big stories well told, whatever the genre.
Enger is writing a series of 5 books about the journalist Henning Juul, which delves into the depths of Oslo’s underbelly, skewering the corridors of dirty politics and nailing the fast-moving world of 24-hour news.
Enger’s protagonist lost his son in a fire in their apartment. Each Henning Juul book can be read as a stand-alone in that each has its own mystery or mysteries, but throughout each book is the running theme of Juul searching for his son’s killer.
Enger has built a fair bit of himself into his protagonist; both are journalists, both compose music and Juul lives in an apartment not at all dissimilar to Enger’s own. But there are of course serious differences, not least that Juul is quite grief stricken over the loss of his son. His wife, Nora, has managed to get back to work and in doing so has been able to process her grief and move on, but Henning spends two years and a lot of Aquavit just staring at the walls.
Enger does though like to mix humour with his darkness to temper the effect of the blackness.
So what is it about Scandi Noir that grabs us so firmly? Perhaps, the authors speculated, it is the fact that they create their fiction over a series of long, dark wintery nights which whisper their melancholy?
Or maybe it is the fact that nature is always present around them. Whether in Staalesen’s Bergen or Enger’s Oslo, there is always a view of nature to surround you.
Enger agrees that it great that fantastic authors have put Scandinavian writing firmly on the map, but points out that it can also create unrealistic expectations especially hrough the marketing. So the temptation to call a new voice ‘the next Jo Nesbo’ is huge, when of course the new authors style and voice may be very different indeed.
It was a fantastic discussion, lightly and ably chaired by Michael Malone and was a great end to a brilliant day.
My huge thanks to Tidelines and to Michael Malone for their help and to all the authors who I was able to meet and chat to – you are all fabulous.
Put Tidelines in your diary for next year. You won’t regret it.