On Pause Again – and More Books!

Sadly, I didn’t just bring back good memories and new friendships from Bloody Scotland, but also Covid. I started feeling a bit fluey on Tuesday/Wednesday, but thought I had caught a cold from my younger son. However, it appears that his cold is independent, and on Friday I tested positive, after several people who had attended Bloody Scotland had already announced they had fallen ill. It is optimistic to think that we can go back to a normal life in closed venues – it is, in fact, a lottery, and although I wear masks on public transport, I have to admit I did not wear one in the venues and probably not everyone tested for Covid before they attended the event.

So I just had quite a horrible weekend, and am not up to anything more intellectual than showing you pictures of the books I have acquired this month.

First of all, thank you to Stela Brinzeanu and her publisher Legend Press for the beautiful little parcel that arrived with the proper edition of the book Set in Stone (I previously read the ARC), a tote bag and a small jar of honey from Moldova.

I splashed out on quite a few books, although only two at Bloody Scotland (I did not have much room in my luggage and also my broken arm struggled with the tiny suitcase I did have).

The two I bought in Stirling were Last Girl Ghosted by Lisa Unger and The Killing Kind by Jane Casey, after attending their panel. I read them both half in Stirling and half on the train journey home, they were proper page-turners!

After the death of Javier Marias, I felt I wanted to acquire a few of his translated novels which I didn’t have, although for the time being I am reading the trilogy Your Face Tomorrow, which was already on my shelves but which I had never quite started properly. I have already read and loved Lolly Willowes, and I borrowed Winter in Sokcho by Elisa Shua Dusapin in the original French from my university library. I bought the collection of sci-fi-tinged stories Terminal Boredom after reading a couple of blog reviews, and I got two Tim Winton books after several of you started raving about him on Twitter following an article featuring an interview with him. As you can see, I am so easily led down the book-buying path…

I borrowed the Elizabeth George from the library on Tuesday and thought it would be just the thing for a Covid-stricken brain, but alas, her novels have been getting longer and longer, without any justification, so I very nearly abandoned it. Fish Soup is a Charco Press book that I did not have, but we’ll be reading it for our London Reads the World Book club, and I’ve liked the other Margarita Garcia Robayo book that I read, Holiday Heart. I didn’t get to hear Emma Styles at Bloody Scotland, but I sat next to her on the train back to London and when she described her debut novel set in Australia, No Country for Girls, I knew I had to get it. Think teenage Thelma and Louise in the outback!

Last but not least, the British Library has produced a beautiful illustrated volume of Poems in Progress, showing early drafts and manuscripts of famous poems by poets ancient through to contemporary. I saw my poetry mentor Rebecca Goss tweet that she was in it, and I didn’t need a second invitation.

There is one final purchase for this month (she said optimistically), which hasn’t arrived yet: Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black. I have to admit that I have never been able to get through the Wolf Hall trilogy, although I have much admired Mantel’s earlier novels, but did not own any of them.

Bloody Scotland? Bloody Good!

It was my first time at the Bloody Scotland crime fiction festival, held in the beautiful ancient Scottish capital of Stirling, and what a festival it was, in its tenth anniversary year and its first full reincarnation since the start of the Covid pandemic. Thus far, I’ve attended literary festivals mostly as an avid reader, occasionally as a ‘correspondent’ for Crime Fiction Lover, but this time I was also there as a publisher, Corylus Books, since one of our Icelandic authors, Óskar Guðmundsson, had been invited to join the panel Fair Cops and Foul.

But before I describe the panels I attended, including of course our ‘own’, I should describe two hugely embarrassing moments.

The first is that Oskar’s book The Commandments had not arrived (Waterstones is still experiencing supply problems with their changed software), so people had to make do with getting the bookmarks signed instead (and hopefully buying the book online afterwards). Lesson learnt: next time I will carry books to any event in my own suitcase, just to be sure, injured arm or no injured arm.

The second is that I had never met Oskar in person, so I only had his author photo to guide me. I ended up that first day approaching all the tall men with white hair and asking: ‘Are you Oskar?’ I must have become so notorious and obnoxious that when a group of people met Oskar in the bar later, they immediately said: ‘Ah, you’re the Oskar that woman kept looking for!’

This was the Oskar I was looking for – and someone brought their own copy of The Commandments from home to get it signed, so at least I saw ONE copy!

Filthy Rich: Jo Spain, Ellery Lloyd and Julie Mayhew

I came late to this panel on Friday, because of my missing book woes, so imagine my surprise when I walked in and I saw four people rather than the three that I was expecting and Steph Broadribb on the panel, whom I wasn’t expecting! I very nearly thought I had gone to the wrong event. It turns out that Steph was replacing Julie at the last minute, and that Ellery Lloyd is a husband and wife writing team. They didn’t talk that much about the rich and privileged (at least not the second half of the session, which was all I managed to catch), but I did get quite envious hearing about the way that the writing duo worked together, brainstorming plot points and each one writing one of the different POVs in the book.

Truth and Lies: Lisa Unger, Ruth Ware, Jane Casey

This was one of the best panels I’ve attended in recent memory, moderated in such a supportive and fun way by Jacky Collins of Dr Noir fame. The three authors clearly enjoyed each other’s work and built upon each other’s answers. A good discussion was had about strong heroines having to overcome the often peculiar challenges of the modern world: cyberstalkers, online dating, running away and creating a new identity etc. I enjoyed it all so much that I bought their books immediately afterwards and got them signed: clearly, I am the ideal target audience of such festivals.

Vaseem and Abir’s Red Hot Night of a Million Games

Mick Herron, Helen Fitzgerald and Luca Veste facing the barrage of questions from Vaseem Khan.

Vaseem Khan and Abir Mukherjee are not only very talented (and likeable and mischievous) writers and excellent podcasters, they clearly are destined to become spectacular gameshow hosts (out-Osmaning Richard Osman in reverse?). They somehow managed to persuade or coerce six crime writers to be on their quiz show. They were such good sports, miming, singing, acting, answering questions and occasionally simply collapsing in helpless giggles, as we all did in the audience.

Martyn Waites as Hannibal Lector, CL Taylor as a librarian and Elly Griffiths as (obviously!) Boris Johnson.

Cosy Makes a Comeback: Martin Edwards, Jonathan Whitelaw, SJ Bennett

Martin Edwards is not only a walking encyclopedia when it comes to Golden Age crime (he is also the consultant to the British Library Classic Crime series), but also a prolific crime writer himself, but he is not very keen on the term ‘cosy crime’. Ultimately, the subjects are all quite dark (murder, punishment, despair), and there is quite a bit of variety within the genre itself. Although the panel argued that cosy crime never really went away, it is currently experiencing even more of a boom, perhaps as a result of the beautiful British Library series, or the new attempts at cosy crime of Richard Osman, Rev Coles and others. In fact, Jonathan Whitelaw said he deliberately chose to write in this style with his Bingo Hall Detective, featuring a son-in-law and mother-in-law detecting duo, because of Osman’s success. Meanwhile, SJ Bennet, who writes a series featuring the Queen as an amateur detective, managed to escape the obvious question: will she continue writing this series now that the Queen is dead?

Moderated by the new MC Beaton, RW Green.

Fair Cops and Foul: Mari Hannah, Óskar Guðmundsson and James Oswald

We missed the Scotland/England football match, sadly, but it was worth it for this thoughtful and entertaining panel, ably moderated by artist and journalist Frankie Burr. The trio talked about a sense of social justice and other common sensibilities in Scotland, Northern England and Scandinavia, about portraying strong, stubborn women in their fiction, and whether they feel like police apologists after some recent events.

But there is so much more to Bloody Scotland than just the panels – although I did feel that they were particularly well chosen and carefully put together (I have attended some fairly random ones at other crime festivals in the past). There is the football match (Scotland won 6-4 this year, and both sides the bruises to show for it the next day), the Torch Procession (which I didn’t catch this year, as it was on Thursday night), music and whisky love at the Curly Coo bar (some surprisingly talented musicians among the crime writers). And, of course, the beautiful setting of Stirling itself. Well worth spending a few extra days!

The view from the castle.

The St Rude Kirkyard from the other side of the castle.

Robert the Bruce statute in front of the castle. By way of contrast, the Rob Roy statue near the Albert Halls was awful – looked like he had a nasty skin condition.

Above all, I enjoyed meeting old friends and making new ones.

With Ayo Onatade of Shotsmag.

With Dr Noir Jacky Collins

With Marcia of Lizzy Siddal blog fame, who kindly took many of the pictures I have included here today.

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that, unless you are a huge publisher who can spend massive amounts of marketing money, or a celebrity author, the only way to raise your profile within the crime fiction community is by word of mouth and by attending these kind of events and networking. You may well see me next at Capital Crime and Iceland Noir!