This post is a little late, as I came home and went straight down with the lurge, an ancient Scottish post festival tradition, and am only just beginning to feel some semblance of normality.
Not an issue though, I would gladly suffer for my Bloody Scotland going, such is the sheer pleasure it brings me.
I’ve posted here about the Friday night and the McIlvanney Prize (go Liam!) but it’s worth emphasising what a magical experience the torchlight procession is and how rocking the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers are.
A shout out too, to the Bloody Scotland cocktail supplied by sponsors, Stirling Gin, which always goes down a treat.As well as Alison Belsham, Sharon Bairden, Kelly Lacey and a host of others, it was also good to bump into Gordon Jackson Q.C., Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, who were the sponsors of the evening.
Also of note was the opportunity, I suspect not often to be repeated, to see Craig Sisterton in his finery.
Saturday presented lots of tempting options for the crime lover. As I’m currently waiting for a new hip, I was being careful not to overdo the number of sessions, but I’m delighted to say that the Bloody Scotland shuttle bus was a real bonus for helping me to get to the sessions I wanted to attend.
One of the great ideas at Bloody Scotland is the showcasing of new authors before the major sessions in the Albert Halls for this session, Heleen Kist reading from her novel, “In Servitude” which certainly got my attention!
CRIME WRITERS ON THE PSYCHOLOGIST’S COUCH
First up for me were Lin Anderson and Craig Robertson on the Psychologists’s Couch. Dr Kathy Charles interviewed both writers. Craig’s The Photographer is of course a very creepy book and he read from a passage in which his antagonist, a serial rapist, displays an arrogant and breath-taking display of entitlement. Craig says he wanted to show that entitlement and to highlight how the use of social media is helping to embolden trolls. He says he has bcome very conscious of safety on social media now.
Lin Anderson discussed the medieval origins of the sin eater, a contemporary version of whom is to be found in her book, Sins of the Dead. In medieval times, people often died so quickly that they did not have an opportunity to confess so the sin eater, who usually lived on the edge of a village, would be sent for to eat and drink over the body, seen as eating their sins. This is how the tradition of the wake evolved.
Lin’s book also features sleep paralysis, which in painting was often portrayed as a demon sitting on your chest. She suggested that sleep paralysis can be the basis for those who think they have been subjected to alien abduction.
Lin confessed to watching people all the time and was once, many years ago, the subject of a creepy train stalker. Kathy Charles wanted to know if these authors had anything of the antagonist in them as they write these characters with so much relish. Lin said she writes about what frightens her and that means that she can take on evil head on and make it right.
She also asked if pre-meditated murder could ever be justified. I’m not going to report on the answers to this one, as it feels to me that self-incrimination is fine, but dobbing in someone else is a step too far!
After the Albert Halls, it was a quick dash up to the Stirling Highland for their special Bloody Scotland set lunch with fellow bloggers Sharon Bairden, Noelle Holten, Sarah Hardy and Gordon McGhie. It was so good to meet Sarah and chat about all things books. It also gave Gordon the chance to distribute some of his Fahrenheit swag. It was nice to have a brief oasis of quiet among the murder and madness of Bloody Scotland.
ALEX GRAY’S NEW CRIMES
Then it was off to Allan Park Church for a jam packed session of New Crimes chaired by Alex Gray. Four authors, Olga Wojtas, Olivia Kiernan, Amer Anwar and Alan Parkes discussed their first crime novels, the inspiration for them and their characters.
Olga’s book, Miss Blaine’s Prefect features Shona McMonagle, a former pupil at the Marcia Blane School for Girls and now a librarian at Morningside Library. Olga was at James Gillespies, the inspiration for Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie when both the book and the play came out. The school was horrified as one of the teachers, Christina Kay, was an admirer of the blackshirts. Olga herself studied Russian at Gillespie’s and from the beginning knew that her book had to have three scenes – a Grand Ball, a duel in a forest and a scene on a train.
Amer Anwar, author of Brothers in Blood (initially published as Western Fringes) used to hang about in pubs in Southall hearing about gangs and dodgy dealings. A fan of Elmore Leonard, he saw similarities between his writing and some of the tales and characters he met in Southall. He wanted his protagonist to be an ordinary guy, dealing with the sort of crimes that you can read about every day.
Olivia Kiernan’s starting point for Too Close to Breathe was seeing her character as someone used to battling on behalf of victims and now she is herself a victim.
Alan Parkes’ inspiration came from a book of photographs he found in the Mitchell Library. Looking at Springburn whered he had been a boy, he saw how much had changed and so he embarked on a journey wandering around North Glasgow looking at the changes. Initilly he thought about writing a book on housing , before writing Bloody January.
So why, asked Alex choose crime? Alan likes a strong narrative arc and crime delivers that. It also offers a clear opportunity to write about the contrast between rich and poor and how the two worlds intersect through crime.
Olivia has always been fascinated by true crime and the psychology of crime. In her day job as a chiropractor she is used to working on case histories and working through diagnosis and that fits in really well with crime writing.
Amer got increasingly frustrated as his writing didn’t fit into any publisher’s category – he was too niche or not sufficiently niche. He was waiting for the book he wanted to read, but as no-one was writing it, he decided to write it himself.
Olga, famously, didn’t realise she was writing a crime novel. She’s a news junkie and she wrote her book as an antidote to the relentless tide of depressing news day in, day out.
Best thing about being a debut author?
Alan thinks it is seeing your book in a bookshop. For Amer it is having your work appreciated. Olivia loves seeing reviews talking about her character as if she were a real person. Olga loves signing books and once even walked into Foyles and said the immortal words “I’ve written a book and its on your shelves”. Fortunately they did the right thing and asked her to sign some copies.
And, asked Alex, the worst thing about being a debut author?
Alan – undoubtedly having to write another book. The pressure and expectation that comes with that and the knowledge that people will actually read it.
Amer took 8 years to write his first book – and that was all he needed to say! Olga suffers from imposter syndrome and Olivia finds that self-doubt never goes away.
So what’s next for these authors?
Olga has heard that Shona McMonagle may be planning to visit Fin de Siècle France; if Miss Blaine decides she acquitted herself well enough in Russia, though being Shona, she likely to think that she’s there to fight vampires. Olivia will also be following up with her Frankie Sheehan character in a new book entitled The Killer In Me to be published next April. Amer will be writing more of the fabulous Zak and Jags duo, and Alan’s next book to be published in February next year will also feature the return of detective Harry McCoy and be set in the 1970’s.
ORENDA POP-UP LAUNCH
After that excellent session, I hot footed it back to the Albert Halls for the now traditional pop up launch of Michael J Malone’s newest book, After He Died. I love Michael’s books. As a writer he is constantly surprising and you never know quite what his next book will deliver, but it is always worth waiting for.
Utilising my experience as a dodgy shoe salesperson at Glasgow Cross while at school, I love to help out selling books at this launch and meeting so many readers and authors who come along. It’s a great way to spend an hour and a half and there’s even a glass of wine to go along with the book.
Then time to sit down and enjoy the quiz, ably chaired by Craig Robertson and with teams Captained by Val McDermid and Mark Billingham respectively. What a hoot and the scoring was a work of art all on its own.
My last session of the day was London Calling with James Oswald, Ed James and Lesley Kelly. All three writers have set all or part of their books in London this time and this was a great opportunity to discuss the sense of place, why locations are important and to introduce us to their main characters. A real bonus was managing to get a proof copy (thanks Mandie) of James Oswald’s newest book in his Inspector McLean series, Cold As The Grave to accompany my purchased copy (now signed ) of No Time To Cry, the first book in the new Connie Fairchild series.
There was more I could have gone on to enjoy, but by that time I was in need of sustenance, so took myself off for dinner followed by a quiet (ROFLMAO) drink at the bar……*draws discreet veil over proceedings*
ADIOS, AUF WEIDERSEHEN, ARRIVEDERCI, AU REVOIR.
The mark of a great festival is when there are so many good sessions you want to attend and it’s hard to choose between them. Bloody Scotland certainly delivered that in spades this year. Though I’d usually go to the new writer’s pitching session ‘Pitch Perfect’, this was up against 2 other sessions I really wanted to attend. But I am so glad I went to the ‘Brexit’ session, properly titled Adios, Auf Weidersehen, Arrivederci, Au Revoir.
Four fabulous writers – Teresa Solana, Simone Bucholz, Sandrone Dazieri and Graeme Macrae Burnet talked to Gordon Brown what happens to the continent’s crime writers post Brexit next year.
First they discussed their books. Teresa uses crime fiction to portray her society and to make connections. She’s written short stories, full length novels and written about everything from vampires and ghosts to prehistoric serial killers. I don’t know her work, but she was a great panellist and I must find out more.
Simone talked about her protagonist, Chastity Reilly, a police officer now side-lined after she shot a gangster in his crown jewels. Her novels including Blue Night are full of multi-national characters because that reflects life in Hamburg or any big European city.
Graeme talked about his protagonist, Gorski, from The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau and The Accident on the A35, not a common name in France, though there are some, but a name which emphasises his outsider qualities. Gorski does not fit into the small town of St Louis in the Alsace, especially with the bourgeoisie. He is a protagonist who is insecure about his class position.
Gordon Brown pointed out, though there is a sense of place, don’t all these novels travel beyond boundaries? Simone Bucholz builds her world as she wants it to be – perhaps a little more romantic and a little more dangerous.
Teresa Solana did the smart thing and married her translator, so she is sure to get a great translation and she finds it helps a lot with the humour in her books which is one of the most difficult things to translate effectively.
Graeme regrets having been quite so rude about St. Luis, now that he has spent more time in it and found it to be charming, but he can ascribe the past views to his faux novelist, Raymond Brunet, who is the real author of both his Gorski novels.
The panellists had a terrific discussion about the ways in which crime is now globalised and how everything is connected. Sandrone Daziero, author of the amazing Kill The Father and Kill The Angel started writing at the end of the Cold War when everyone knew who the enemy was and where they were. Now technology enables money to travel and the Mafia is a globalised entity. As he said, Armies are everywhere but the real war is now fought by private contractors who send not only soldiers, but also hackers and analysts all over the world. So everything is indeed connected, there are no boundaries and the world has changed – and not in the best way.
Gordon asked about the impact of political change on their novels and the difficulty of addressing current events in a contemporary novel when things were so fast moving. Teresa did deal with the Catalan events in her recent novel, but as background, as a way of showing how crime and society interconnect.
Gordon tackled the Brexit question head on, asking if crime writers are more responsive than literary fiction novelists to current events and how they feel about Britain leaving Europe. There followed a really heartfelt and passionate discussion which left no-one in the room in any doubt that we had 4 writers who truly felt connected to each other and who knew for sure that those connections needed to grow and strengthen rather than become a lesser thing.
Graeme Macrae Burnet pointed out that Britain seemed to be going through a period of nostalgia right now; that it was no mistake that the most popular TV programme is a show about baking, set in a tent. Britain is experiencing a cultural impulse for the past and we are stuck in the 20th Century.
Simone Bucholz is an Auslander in Hamburg. She believes that as a crime writer she can react really quickly to changes. She says there is a massive change of culture underway that you can really feel and that as European Crime Writers, there is a need to stick together. Simone grew up with the idea of a European passport within her grasp, but all that has gone now.
Graeme talked about those writers due to come to the Edinburgh International Book Festival who were (shamefully for Britain) denied visas to attend. He made a passionate plea for the need for there to continue to be an exchange of ideas and experiences.
Sandrone Daziero says he reads internationally and he feels international. His government started with a fear of foreigners, now it is a fascist government and does not want foreigners but would prefer to see refugees and asylum seekers drown. He is scared for their future and sees Brexit as an aid to xenophobia.
This felt to me like the crucial panel of the Festival and one I was privileged to witness. I really hope we can continue to build European and international links whatever the future holds.
WORD OF MOUTH, PAGE BY PAGE
Three of the hottest crime writers in town are women and I was delighted to go to a panel with Sarah Pinborough, Elly Griffiths and Jo Spain, chaired by Liam Bell. Each writer read from the prologue to their new book. Sarah Pinborough likes to play with the idea that we think of ourselves as good people whereas she thinks we should start from the preconception that we are all evil, trying to do good. She likes to work around the lies that we tell ourselves and each other which we think we are being honest about, but which are still lies. She says you can’t lie to an audience, but you can lie to yourself.
Jo Spain enjoys contrasting what is on the surface with what is under it. Elly Griffiths loves to build in technology but says it doesn’t always work well on the page (though that’s certainly not true of her latest book, Dark Angel which has a great opener involving technology). Increasingly though technology is used in the solution of real crimes and that is bound to have an impact on crime novels.
The novelists discussed series fiction v standalones, with differing views. I asked, since the session was about word of mouth, whether they felt that social media helped them to sell books. Interestingly, although they each saw social media as a good place to connect with readers and other writers and a great place to procrastinate, not one of them thought is was a good medium for actually selling books.
I’m much less sure – especially since I came to two of these authors through social media. One for the publicists and marketeers, I think.
MURDER AT THE KNICKERAGE
I felt it extremely important to reflect my experience as someone who used to run the British Actors Equity Association Office in Scotland and Northern Ireland by attending the closing play of Bloody Scotland, written by our own Douglas Skelton. Starring Caro Ramsay, Theresa Talbot, Michael J Malone, Lin Anderson and Douglas Skelton, with cameo appearances from Neil Broadfoot, Alex Gray and Gordon Brown.
Suffice it to say that the acting was of immeasurable quality, the script was peerless and the audience had a whale of a time.
I wasn’t the only one who loved every minute. Ticket sales were up and audience numbers grew by 17% reaching 9985 compared to 8474 in 2017. That’s almost 10,000 people packed into 2 days and a night in Stirling. Pretty amazing eh?
As Bob McDevitt, the Festival Director said:
‘The sun shone and the stars came out for another record-breaking Bloody Scotland. I’ve once again been overwhelmed by the tremendous good humour and bonhomie exuded by crime writers and readers. We brought nations together, discussed different genres, drank some gin, sung a few songs and even before the festival was over people were booking hotels and looking forward to next.’
I was so sad to leave. It’s hard to believe there’s a whole other year to wait til the next one…..still, I did come back with some lovely signed books to keep me going!
Until next time…..