Orenda Roadshow Comes to London Piccadilly

I always knew Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books was a formidable woman and a passionate publisher, but she really outdid herself this evening. Where else can you see 15 excellent and diverse writers, from 7 different countries (8 if you count Scotland), all in the space of two hours on a Wednesday night in central London?

The concept was simple but effective: each writer introduced themselves and their book briefly, then each read a passage. There was a bit of time for Q&A at the end, but time just flew by and I could have listened to them for hours. They are a fun bunch of writers, who have gelled together really well and build upon each other’s words at public events. While it was predominantly a psychological thriller/crime fiction sort of evening, there are also some authors who have written outside that genre: Su Bristow with her poetic retelling of the Selkie myth, Louise Beech with her heartbreaking portrayals of children and Sarah Stovell with the story of an obsessive love which reminded me of Notes on a Scandal.

Four Nations Game. From left to right: Gunnar Staalesen and Kjell Ola Dahl (Norway), Michael Malone (Scotland), Sarah Stovell, Matt Wesolowski, Steph Broadribb (all England), Kati Hiekkapelto (Finland).

This was followed by an enormous and delicious cake, aquavit to celebrate the National Day of Norway alongside more usual beverages, and lots of informal mingling and book signing.

Aren’t they all gorgeous? Sometimes I think Karen picks them for their looks as well as their talent. From left to right: Kati Hiekkapelto, Thomas Enger, Paul Hardisty, Louise Beech, Johanna Gustawson, Antti Tuomainen, Stanley Trollip from the writing duo Michael Stanley, Ragnar Jonasson, Su Bristow and Karen Sullivan.

It was great to also meet some of the others on the Orenda team: editor West Camel, distribution group Turnaround, cover designer Mark Swan. There were familiar faces of bloggers as well. Karen has managed to create a real feeling of community and genuine enthusiasm around her authors and publishing house, which feels more like family than corporate care.

Antti and Ragnar contemplating nautical tomes at Waterstones.
Two more Nordics for you: Ragnar Jonasson and Kjell Ola Dahl.

On the way there I was musing about Orenda’s ‘brand’. Karen makes no apologies about offering entertainment, but it is page-turning, original, good entertainment, rather than one relying on ‘more of the same cliché-churning drivel that is currently making money’, which some of the publishing giants are turning out. I may not love all of the books equally (I am not a huge action thriller fan, for example), but I have not disliked or left any Orenda book unread. I can count on them to entertain and enlighten, make me laugh and cry, while some of them have become huge favourites.

Of course I already owned all of the books, thanks to Orenda’s wonderful habit of involving bloggers and reviewers pre-release, but that didn’t stop me buying a few more to be signed or to give to friends. I also started Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski on the train on the way to the event and was so riveted that I did not stop until I finished it last night (or early this morning, rather).

Matt with his original, inventive debut novel.

The Roadshow will be stopping at Crimefest in Bristol next, so go and see them there if you get a chance. Congratulations to all, and I can’t wait to see what you are all up to next.

 

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WWW Wednesday 18 Jan – What are you reading?

I saw this on Hayley’s book blog  Rather Too Fond of Books and I was so impressed by the quality and quantity of her reading that I thought I would join in for once. (I may not be able to make a habit out of it).

WWW Wednesday is a meme hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words. It’s open for anyone to join in and is a great way to share what you’ve been reading! All you have to do is answer three questions and share a link to your blog in the comments section of Sam’s blog.

The three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

A similar meme is run by Lipsyy Lost and Found where bloggers share This Week in Books #TWiB.

________________________________________________________________________

Currently Reading:

My reading speed has decreased of late, as all the global news is having a bit too much of an impact on me and sucking up my time. So everything I write about here will probably take me more than a week. However, I usually manage to have more than one book on the go and this week it’s:

exiledKati Hiekkapelto: The Exiled

From the blurb: Anna Fekete returns to the Balkan village of her birth for a relaxing summer holiday. But when her purse is stolen and the thief is found dead on the banks of the river, Anna is pulled into a murder case. Her investigation leads straight to her own family, to closely guarded secrets concealing a horrendous travesty of justice that threatens them all. As layer after layer of corruption, deceit and guilt are revealed, Anna is caught up in the refugee crisis spreading like wildfire across Europe. How long will it take before everything explodes?

My verdict: Interesting to see Anna on her ‘home turf’, which no longer quite feels like home, making comparisons between Finland and Serbia, and also witnessing the refugee crisis first-hand. It’s a much warmer, personal tale rather than the police procedural of the previous books in the series. This was sent to me by Orenda Books quite a while ago (it came out in November), but I hadn’t got around to reading it. Although it’s a Finnish writer, all of the action takes place in Serbia, so I don’t think I can count this towards #EU27Project.

axatFederico Axat: Kill the Next One (transl. David Frye)

From the blurb: Ted McKay had it all: a beautiful wife, two daughters, a high-paying job. But after being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor he finds himself with a gun to his temple, ready to pull the trigger. Then the doorbell rings. A stranger makes him a proposition: why not kill two deserving men before dying? The first target is a criminal, and the second is a man with terminal cancer who, like Ted, wants to die. After executing these kills, Ted will become someone else’s next target, like a kind of suicidal daisy chain.

My verdict: You can see why I could not resist this premise – very intriguing. Of course, I don’t expect things to go according to plan. It will all get very nasty, I’m sure. Written with dry wit (as far I can tell, I’m only two chapters in). This one will be reviewed on Crime Fiction Lover.

fallinawakeAlice Oswald: Falling Awake

In her seventh collection of poetry, Oswald returns to her classicist training: Orpheus and Tithonius appear in the English landscape, there are surprising encounters with nature on every page, there are riffs on instability and falling (don’t we all feel that at the moment?). These are poems to be read aloud. Which is just as well, since I have this on e-reader and I always struggle with the formatting of the poems on the page, so I am progressing very slowly with this one. But it’s had no end of poetic distinctions: winner of the 2016 Costa Poetry Award, shortlisted for the 2016 T. S. Eliot Award, shortlisted for the 2016 Forward Prize. Part of my plan to read poetry every week.

Recently Finished:

Coincidentally, two books with orange covers.

bombsBrian Conaghan: The Bombs that Brought Us Together

From the blurb: Fourteen-year-old Hamish Law has lived in Little Town, on the border with Old Country, all his life. He knows the rules: no going out after dark; no drinking; no litter; no fighting. You don’t want to get on the wrong side of the people who run Little Town. When he meets Pavel Duda, a refugee from Old Country, the rules start to get broken. Then the bombs come, and the soldiers from Old Country, and Little Town changes for ever.

My verdict: I borrowed this one from the library for my son but took a peek at it, after I heard that it won the Costa Book Award for Children’s Literature. I don’t usually read much YA, I find it a little too twee at times and chasing trends. And although this has the dystopian background that is so prevalent nowadays, it is less about playing dangerous games or fighting in an arena, and feels more like living in Stalinist Russia. More realistic, and a sympathetic look at the plight of refugees.

Stav Sherez: The Intrusions

intrusionsFrom the blurb: Detectives Carrigan and Miller are thrust into a terrifying new world of stalking and obsession when a distressed young woman bursts into the station with a story about her friend being abducted and a man who is threatening to come back and ‘claim her next’.

Taking them from deep inside a Bayswater hostel, where backpackers and foreign students share dorms and failing dreams, to the emerging threat of online intimidation, hacking, and control, The Intrusions pursues disturbing contemporary themes and dark psychology with all the authority and skill that Stav Sherez’s work has been so acclaimed for.

My verdict: For a day or two, I was too terrified to approach my computer again and engaged with extra caution on social media. It’s a plausible and terrifying scenario that Stav Sherez brings to life here. I thought I had grown sick of the serial killer meme in fiction, but this is a very different twist on it. The initially hopeful but ultimately sad, transient population of London really got to me and I love the author’s poetic style. Side note: I would love to read more of Geneva’s own poetry and her mother’s.

Up Next:

For review:

stasiwolfDavid Young: Stasi Wolf

From the blurb: East Germany, 1975. Karin Müller, sidelined from the murder squad in Berlin, jumps at the chance to be sent south to Halle-Neustadt, where a pair of infant twins have gone missing.

But Müller soon finds her problems have followed her. Halle-Neustadt is a new town – the pride of the communist state – and she and her team are forbidden by the Stasi from publicising the disappearances, lest they tarnish the town’s flawless image. Meanwhile, in the eerily nameless streets and tower blocks, a child snatcher lurks, and the clock is ticking to rescue the twins alive . . .

Really enjoyed the first book in the series ‘Stasi Child’, so I can’t wait for this one, even if it brings back some traumatic memories of reprisals.

From my Netgalley reduction imperative:

outlineRachel Cusk: Outline

From the blurb: A woman writer goes to Athens in the height of summer to teach a writing course. Though her own circumstances remain indistinct, she becomes the audience to a chain of narratives, as the people she meets tell her one after another the stories of their lives.

Beginning with the neighbouring passenger on the flight out and his tales of fast boats and failed marriages, the storytellers talk of their loves and ambitions and pains, their anxieties, their perceptions and daily lives. In the stifling heat and noise of the city the sequence of voice begins to weave a complex human tapestry.

I am the one who gets to hear all of the life stories on planes, trains and buses, and the anthropologist in me is fascinated by everyone, so this sounds perfect. I’ve read mostly non-fiction by Cusk, so am curious how this will go.

Finally, for the #EU27Project:

nomenNo Men No Cry – anthology of Lithuanian women’s literature

A collective of women writers, translated for the first time into English, aiming to portray ‘the experience of contemporary woman, experience that is closely related to actual cultural and historical phenomena and which contemplates a woman’s search for identity and highlights a woman’s ironic stance towards traditional female values, such as marriage, childbirth and home-making.’ I know so little of Lithuanian literature (and so little has been translated), so this looks like a good base for exploration.

Women in Translation Month: Crime Fiction

WITMonth15Bibliobio is organising another Women in Translation Month this year, a challenge with very few prescriptions other than to read as many women authors as possible. I’m reading plenty and I hope to review a good few. Today I am heading to northern climes, where the nights are long and the mood is often dark (at least in crime fiction).

 

DrownedBoyKarin Fossum: The Drowned Boy (transl. Kari Dickson)

With Karin Fossum you know that it’s never just about the crime and its detection/solution, it’s always about the people, the motives and the consequences. This book addresses a difficult subject: a toddler drowning and parents being suspected of having harmed their child, with the added complication that this is a child with Down’s Syndrome. 

As always, the author makes us question our own assumptions. The father and mother have very different styles of grieving, but no one is unmarked by the little boy’s death. Inspector Sejer is, as always, melancholy, measured and trying hard to fight his prejudices (while also relying on gut instinct). The ending does feel a little contrived, although it will probably feel satisfying for most readers, but the journey there is what Fossum is really interested in. And what a thoughtful and unsettling journey it is.

For a guide to the previous Inspector Sejer novels, have a look at this great article on Crime Fiction Lover.

DefencelessKati Hiekkapelto: The Defenceless (transl. David Hackston)

For my full review of this book, see Crime Fiction Lover. This is the second in the series featuring rookie detective Anna Fekete, a Croat of Hungarian origin who came to Finland as a child to escape the war in Yugoslavia. I am pleased to say that this second novel lives up to the promise of the first one and indeed surpasses it. The action takes place in a town in Northern Finland and, as in the previous book, we get a real feel for the place and the changing of the seasons.

The characters of the two main investigators, Anna and her ‘old dinosaur’ of a colleague Esko, are given more definition and depth. We see them both as more vulnerable and lonelier than in the first book. Although they may be said to represent the sad, loner cop cliché, they come with some added extras. Anna is unsure of where she belongs, torn between cultures, lonely but professing to like the non-interfering and aloof nature of the Finns. Like them, she doesn’t know any of her neighbours. Esko meanwhile tries to forget about his ex-wife and the pains in his chest, and dreams of escaping to a quiet, self-contained lifestyle in the woods. But, of course, they have a case to work on: in fact, several cases – drugs, gangs, murder and a hit-and-run, all ultimately linked.

The most moving part of the novel is the story of Sammy, a refugee from the persecuted Christian minority in Pakistan, who has followed the same route into Europe as the heroin that’s smuggled in (and which is no stranger to him either). When his asylum application is unsuccessful, he goes underground and starts playing with fire, Subutex and unsavoury characters.

I love the ‘social critique’ style of crime fiction which seems to be on the rise now, and this is a great addition to that school of writing.

 

 

All About that Bass: ‘Feminist’ Songs and Crime Fiction?

Over the past few weeks, there’s been no avoiding the infectious, 50s inspired (musically speaking) song ‘I’m All About that Bass’, sung by the talented singer/songwriter Meghan Trainor. She has made chart history in the UK by being the first act to make the Top 40 based on her internet streaming presence alone. [Just as an aside: this twenty year old has been writing music since she was 11 and has released two albums already, plus worked as a songwriter and producer for others.] I love the witty anti-Barbie doll video and ‘any body is OK’ rhetoric, but it has given rise to some controversy, with some saying that the singer is either ‘thinny bashing’ or that she does not go far enough in her feminism. Anyway, here is the song itself, make up your own mind (but be warned, it is quite addictive, so you may find yourself singing it all day).

The song did get me wondering about whether there is such a thing as ‘feminist crime fiction’. This is a trend which perhaps dates back to Modesty Blaise and the first VI Warshawski novel, and was then continued with characters such as Kinsey Millhone, Lisbeth Salander and Zoe Sharp’s Charlie Fox. Most of these heroines are what is known in American circles as ‘kick-ass’, i.e. they usually pack a revolver and have advanced knowledge of at least one or two martial arts.

But what about those who are more ‘everywoman’ than ‘superwoman’? I’m thinking of women who excel at their jobs (policewomen, forensic pathologists, psychologists, whatever they are) but are also ordinary and vulnerable, one of us, in short: Kay Scarpetta, Ruth Galloway, Jane Rizzoli, Lacey Flint, Geraldine Steel, Kate Daniels. I’m sure you can think of many more from TV series. Has it almost become a cliché to feature the ‘strong female detective’ (or investigator with some links to the police) with a commitment problem and demons from the past constantly haunting her?

Two recently read books highlighted this similarity – and it goes beyond the English-speaking world. Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Hummingbird introduces Anna Fekete, member of the Hungarian minority in former Yugoslavia, whose family came as refugees to Finland when she was a child. She is embarking on her first non-uniform criminal investigation position in the north of Finland and has to contend not just with a violent and seemingly unsolvable case of serial killings, but also sexism, racism and tense relationships with members of her family. Meanwhile, back in London, Kate Rhodes introduces Alice Quentin, psychologist who sometimes works with the Metropolitan police, who has escaped an unhappy and abusive childhood and now seems to have a knack for stumbling upon murder victims. Both women receive threatening messages, both find release in running and both seem somewhat oblivious to personal danger.

I am always excited to encounter a new female investigator, and can even cope with the clichés of lonely single life, damaged childhoods and obsession with the job or case in hand. After all, some of us non-investigators are cat owners who come home to empty fridges on occasion. But it would be a shame if this became the ‘shorthand’ for strong women and, implicitly, of feminist crime fiction. Because these women are not strong – they are still vulnerable, even though they are resilient and have overcome their past (to a certain extent). Strength is also about being content, being happy, having nothing ‘missing’, but ‘all the right junk in all the right places’ and celebrating that! Which is why I am currently in love with Cathy Ace’s middle-aged gourmand no-nonsense Welsh heroine Cait Morgan.