There was so much I didn’t manage to get to Granite Noir. I’d have loved to make Val McDermid being interviewed by our First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. I really wanted to hear Tina Baker discuss Make Me Clean and I’m really sorry to have missed Louise Swanson/Beech talking about her new book, End of Story. But you can only do what you can and I did manage to fit in some truly excellent sessions
Telling the Tales of the Past
First of these was a conversation chaired by Katalina Watt with the incredibly talented Johanna Gustawsson and the equally erudite Vaseem Khan.
The Local in the Limelight author was Donna Ewen who read a harrowing extract from her book, The Long Drop.
Johanna discussed her amazing book, The Bleeding which is set over 3 time periods and features 3 very different women. In 2002 in Quebec Maxine Grant is returning from maternity leave after giving birth to an unplanned baby. She is called to a crime scene just an hour from Montreal where a teacher stands accused of murdering her husband. Maxine, who has recently lost her own husband and is parenting a teenager and a new baby single-handedly, takes on the investigation.
In 1949, in post-war Québec, Teenager Lina’s father has died in the French Resistance, and as she struggles to fit in at school, where she is being bullied, her mother introduces her to an elderly woman at the asylum where she works, changing Lina’s life in the darkest way imaginable.
And then in 1899, in Paris. Lucienne is a Canadian forced into marriage when very young. Lucienne’s two daughters are believed dead when her mansion burns to the ground, but she is certain that her girls are still alive and embarks on a journey into the depths of the spiritualist community to find them.
Vaseem was talking about The Lost Man of Bombay, the latest in his excellent Malabar House series set in 1950’s Bombay. The era is an incredibly important and traumatic one in India. Just a few years after the assassination of Gandhi and during the horrors thrown up by partition, this is India in a state of flux. Persis Wadia has newly qualified as India’s first female detective and no-one in authority knows quite what to do with her. So they send her to Malabar House, the place where they send all the misfits, renegades and rejects.
Vaseem explained that he wanted to write about the changing relationship between Indians and the British after partition, now that Indians had their own agency. So he has Persis solving her crimes in the company of Archie Blackwood, a forensic scientist who has come to India to help the Indians set up their own forensic science laboratory.
Vaseem told us that though many Brits departed India after partition, many thousands still remained and Indians did still need an economic trading relationship with Britain, but that led to the sense of entitlement and the same British attitude to Indians still prevailing. Vaseem has tried to present a balanced narrative though, showing that there were Britons who stayed and tried to help during this period while conveying commentary from the Indian perspective which is not something that there is much of. So his books try to balance history with his world building.
Johanna also talked about the respect needed to be given to historical accuracy and told us that she does a lot of research. In particular she is interested in the treatment of women through these time periods and how women found ways of ‘loosening their corsets’ through these times.
Vaseem was illuminating on some seldom known facts – indeed he has a section at the back of his books that tells readers what in the book is true. So for example, The Henry Classification system of fingerprinting was devised in India. George Everest never went anywhere neat Everest. He strives fir an accurate portrayal of both sides of the story.
Johanna is interested in how women’s voices have come through throughout history; how they have found a voice from being consigned to the shadows and how some of that came through finding a voice through spiritualism, a belief in ghosts and in some more aristocratic circles, Satanism. She finds it fascinating that there are paintings now in churches that come from this tradition. She had not intended The Bleeding to go the way it did, but she got side-tracked while undertaking research and found the book ‘A Treaty of Witchery’ from the 1930’s (with recipes!) that really helped to put women’s voices into perspective.
The pair had a fascinating discussion about the role that religion plays in their respective books as well as their different approaches to getting down to writing and what sparks off their ideas.
New Scottish Crime
Our Local in the Limelight author was Kenna Anderson reading from her work, Bobby Was Gone.
A panel with Doug Johnstone, Chris Brookmyre and Denzil Meyrick was always bound to be a sell-out occasion and so it proved. With Denzil on screen and Doug and Chris on the sofas, chair Fiona Stalker was in fits of laughter just like the rest of us as they discussed their respective books.
First up was Chris Brookmyre who revealed that he first had the idea for his book The Cliff House in 2014, but that it was in lockdown that the idea began to take shape. Spurred on by information from Kim Kardashian that she was taking her group of friends to a private island during lockdown, Chris mused to himself that he’d like to go that island and kill them all…! But that sparked the idea of a hen party on a private island and the relationships you make with friends solely because of their proximity. How well do you know them?
Denzil is now on his 10th DCI Daley and DS Brian Scott book. He has books that are Daley books and books that are Scott Books. The Death of Remembrance is definitely a Brian Scott book. It goes back to his early career in the Force and, says Denzil, explains why there’s a reluctance in the senior officers to trust Brian. Denzil finds that drip feeding the backstory makes for an interesting and revealing picture of a character.
Doug Johnstone discussed the 4th book in his Skelfs series, Black Hearts. This series is about 3 generations of women in the same family who run a funeral business alongside a private detective agency.
Doug talked about his time as a writer in residence at a funeral directors and the respect that it gave him for that industry. His books deal with different kinds of grief and how we deal with that. He also likes the idea that as PI’s these women don’t really know what they’re doing as that makes for a better story.
Fiona quizzed Denzil about the forthcoming series based on his Daley books and on which Denzil is an Exec Producer. Though he can’t say much about the series due to a non-disclosure agreement, it is known that Game of Thrones’ Rory McCann is set to star as DCI Jim Daley in a TV adaptation with award winning writer/director Anthony Neilson. He did though offer some hope to avid readers that it wouldn’t be too long before we see the series… ‘not years’ was as close as we could get to a time.
The three authors discussed their approaches to writing. Chris Brookmyre sees it as akin to stage magic and misdirection. So you start with the illusion and work out what you are trying to conceal as well as trying to pinpoint what guesses the reader will make. It’s important, he says, not to cheat the reader. The conclusion has to be satisfying; has to be earned.
Doug says he’s now more of a planner than he ever used to be and that’s what writing a trilogy (*now grown to at least 5 books) has taught him. He started this trilogy because he deliberately wanted to expand his writing palette from one story stand-alone novels. He finds that building in story layers is a lot like spinning plates. Doug spends around a month on making notes and jotting down ideas then he makes a list of scenes. With a tendency to overwrite, he says he loves the editing process when he can cut the words right back.
Chris Brookmyre dictates as he walks, but writing with his wife Marissa has made him much more of a planner than he used to be.
Denzil generally knows the beginning middle and end of his books before he starts writing but sometimes the killer changes. He tells us that in his next book even he found the ending unexpected!
On characters, Denzil says that every policeman has worked with a Brian Scott, but that Jim Daley is a more reserved character. Doug likes to use music as part of his storytelling to help express character’s personality. He cited his character Dorothy, a drummer in her 70’s and he is making her ever more of a committed musician in his next book when Dorothy becomes part of a band.
Chris and Denzil agree that music helps to define character whether through a playlist or as in the case of DCI Daley on TV, through original music.
BOLD NEW VOICES
I love hearing from debut authors and discovering my next reads. Caelin Steed, Kitty Murphy and Rachelle Atalla were chaired by Bryan Burnett. Kitty Murphy’s book, Death in Heels is a book set in a Dublin drag club called Trash.
Cailean Steed was brought up in Aberdeen and now lives in Helensburgh. Her debut novel, Home, is a read-in-one-gulp thriller about a young woman’s desperate attempt to rescue her sister from the cult they both grew up in, and is about memory, belonging, and finding your true home.
Rachelle Atalla is Scottish-Egyptian novelist, short story writer and screenwriter based in Glasgow. Her debut novel, The Pharmacist, is set within a nuclear bunker, where Wolfe is one of the lucky ones. She’s safe and employed as the bunker’s pharmacist, doling out medicine under the watchful eye of their increasingly erratic and paranoid leader.
They discussed what book festivals mean to authors (a great deal); what it means to meet up with your writing and reading tribe after writing in solitary conditions and how fabulous it is to be in a place where the buzz and excitement around books and authors is so palpable.
They talked about the excitement of finally seeing your words in a book – of finding someone who isn’t your cousin reading your book.
Cailean wanted to write from the age of 4. Rachelle was a community pharmacist and was looking for a creative outlet. It was sheer luck that she chose creative writing and fell in love with it. Kitty loves drag and really wanted to write about that world.
Each author read from and discussed their books and I must say that not only did they all sound fantastic but each author was so supportive of the others work. It was a real delight to meet them all together.
Now that the Festival has ended we can see what the impact has been. Events across the Granite Noir programme, including the two shows at His Majesty’s, enjoyed an attendance of almost 11,500, which together with an additional 3,000 visits to the Curriculum of Crime exhibition at the Music Hall, brings the total 2023 Granite Noir audience to just under 15,000 making it the most successful Festival so far.
The enthusiastic Aberdeen audience was swelled by visitors from all over Scotland and the UK and as far afield as Switzerland, Germany, France, Poland and the USA making it a truly international event.
I really enjoyed my visit. Put it in your calendar for next year!
One thought on “Granite Noir Part Two 23- 26 January 2023 @APARachel @GraniteNoirFest”
Vaseem Khan’s book sounds very intriguing. Glad you had a good time Mary.
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