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.

 

Book Launch for #DeepDownDead

I started my Christmas reading with Steph Broadribb’s  Deep Down Dead and it gave me a feisty attitude to see me through the tricky holiday period. So I was delighted to attend the official launch for the book at Waterstone’s Piccadilly last night.

I want someone to look at me the way Steph looks at Karen in this picture...
I want someone to look at me the way Steph looks at Karen in this picture…

Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books never does things by half: this was an Americana-themed night, with Bourbon, Hershey’s candy and corn-bread on offer. And, of course, the by now traditional cake (which is not just a pretty icing, immaculately put together, but also delicious).

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Steph herself was in great form, and Martyn Waites got her to share stories of bounty-hunting training in California, exploring theme parks in Florida and how she acquired her shooting skills but needs to update her tasering skills. She also told us about her love of country music and cowboy boots.

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There was such a good turn-out of writers, bloggers, publishers and readers at the event – a testimony to the love and esteem that Steph has built up via her blog at Crime Thriller Girl. Asked whether her reviewing has changed now that she is a published writer herself, Steph said she hoped she hasn’t become either harsher or more lenient, but admitted that she just has far less time to read and review. However, she said book blogging is a wonderful way to get to know people and to push yourself to read more broadly.

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I finally had the chance to catch up with authors such as Quentin Bates, Rod Reynolds, Fiona Cummins, Lisa Hall, Louise Beech, Jane Isaac, Susi Holliday and A.K. Benedict, as well as stalwart bloggers and reviewers such as Barry Forshaw, SonyaLiz Barnsley, Vicky Goldman, Joy Kluver. Plus so many more that I didn’t get a chance to bump into. Ah, well perhaps at a crime festival soon… However, I can foresee it will be harder and harder to keep up with all the releases once I get to know more and more authors, as I feel obliged to read their work so I can make intelligent conversation.

How many writers can you spot in one picture: Quentin Bates, Barry Forshaw, Daniel Pembrey...
How many writers can you spot in one picture: Quentin Bates, Barry Forshaw, Daniel Pembrey…

I tried to dress up for the occasion, but by the end of the evening, hobbling back on the Tube and train, I was somewhat regretting the high-heeled cowboy boots (well, more Spaghetti Western boots).

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Thank you all for a lovely evening, especially Orenda Books for the invitation and Steph for giving us something to celebrate: the book itself!

The Bird Tribunal: Norwegian Chill

the-bird-tribunal-vis-1Agnes Ravatn: The Bird Tribunal (transl. Rosie Hedger)

A book so ice-cold and chilly, that you will have to stop reading and put on an extra jumper! A sense of growing menace and discomfort on every page, yet it achieves all that without any hardcore violence or shocking language. It is so civilised, so discreet, barely a few ripples on a very calm fjord, belying the treacherous waters below.

It is also an extremely claustrophobic read. Yes, most of the action takes place outdoors, in a rather beautiful natural setting, but this is nature at its most sinister. The violet mountains of the fjord seem to close in on the remote, run-down property where Allis works as a housekeeper/gardener/cook for the mysterious Sigurd Bagge. The garden is ‘a grey winter tragedy of dead shrubbery, sodden straw and tangled rose thickets.’ There is an infestation of mice, but the traps she sets catch nothing but birds. Robins crash against the window panes, there are locked doors of Bluebeard memory and remnants of burnt objects in the woods. Even the full moon is not romantic, but tainted by a lunar eclipse. Yet Allis chooses to ignore the threats, most of the time, focusing instead on the gentle lapping of the water, the balmy summer evenings, sharing an occasional bottle of wine with her employer.

Another fjord picture from visitnorway.com, because I can never resist one...
Another fjord picture from visitnorway.com, because I can never resist one…

The claustrophobia is heightened by the fact that there are only two characters circling each other, swooping in and out, like rapacious birds. Their actions are strange and unpredictable. Bit by bit, we eke out pieces of Allis’ story, how she is trying to escape from the notoriety which surrounded an affair she was embroiled in. Her desire to go underground and hide, her instant attraction to the Heathcliff-like moodiness of her employer, her curiosity about his missing wife and her utter revulsion at the nasty gossip hinted at by the local shopkeeper all show her to be a less than reliable narrator. We also find out more about Sigurd, but only from their conversations; we are never in his head. The dream-like atmosphere is further emphasised through their storytelling. Allis tells Sigurd about Norse myths, especially the story of Balder, god of patience and forgiving, and how mischief-maker Loki seeks to destroy him. Meanwhile, Sigurd talks about a bird tribunal, something that seems half-imagined, half-real.

The way this book builds up tension, the currents of feeling rippling below the surface, reminded me of two other Scandinavian novels: Therese Bohman’s Drowned and Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver. This is calm, collected prose, where you need to allow every word to sink in, so precise and exquisite in its English incarnation (and probably in its Norwegian original). Or perhaps it’s poetry…

Another winner from Orenda Books, proving they have books for all tastes and all seasons.

 

The Biggest Book Haul Ever?

My days of basking in ample shelf space may be over. I still have to venture into the dark recesses of my loft, but I nevertheless managed to fill in all available gaps buying books as if there were no tomorrow. Att the same time, my boys and I are such a constant fixture at our local library that we think they might start dusting us down together with the furniture.

Since moving back to Britain, I’ve bought 20 books (and I’m not counting the review copies I’ve received). That’s nearly 3 per week on average, but actually works up to more than that, as the first three weeks I was out of action, still travelling and nowhere near a bookshop. So it’s really 20 books in 4 weeks, which (with the most fancy mathematical footwork in the world) still comes to 5 a week. Madness, I tell ye, madness! (But probably to the delight of booksellers in London).

The Visible...
The Visible…

Initially, I thought there were just 14, most of which I bought in Waterstones Piccadilly when I attended a few events there. These include: Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter; The Outrun by Amy Liptrot; How to be Brave by Louise Beech; Breach (Refugee Tales) by Olumide Popoola and Annie Holmes (Peirene Press), because they are all heart-wrenching and therefore very much suited to my current state of mind. Poetry, of course, because that is not so easy to find abroad: The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy; Bloodaxe Books’ Staying Alive anthology; the winner of the Forward Prize 2016 Vahni Capildeo and the Best First Collection winner Tiphanie Yanique (not so much because they are winners, but because they write about gender and expatriation, two subjects so dear to my heart); and the enigmatic Rosemary Tonks. Finally, to round off my bookshop extravaganza, I also bought Teffi’s Subtly Worded, after so many of my favourite bloggers recommended Teffi.

I’ve always been a Jean Rhys fan and own most of her books in slim Penguin editions from the 1980s, But one can never have too much of a good thing, so, following the #ReadingRhys week, I’ve bought a collected edition of her early novels (Voyage in the Dark, Quartet, After Leaving Mr Mackenzie and Good Morning, Midnight), her letters and a biography by Lilian Pizzichini.

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Then there are the random books I bought off Amazon (I try to limit my purchases there, but occasionally get distracted): a collected edition of some of Margaret Millar’s best novels; Super Sushi Ramen Express by Michael Booth, because I love Japan, its food and travelogues in general; Get Published in Literary Magazines by Alison K. Williams because… well, I keep on trying.

Finally, there are the ebooks, which I barely even count anymore, as they are not so ‘visible’. I’ve downloaded two Tana French books (because I’ve only read two of hers and want to try more). I couldn’t resist the offerings of two of my online friends: an escapist love story set in Provence by Patricia Sands and pre-ordering Margot Kinberg’s latest murder mystery.

wp_20160920_13_33_02_richLet’s not forget the ARCs I’ve received, and my book haul is even greater than the one in Lyon earlier this year. I’m behind with reviewing the atmospheric The Legacy of the Bones by Dolores Redondo, so I hope Harper Collins are patient. Thank you to Orenda Books, who sent me Louise Beech’s The Mountain in My Shoe, Michael J. Malone’s A Suitable Lie and Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal (transl. Rosie Hedger), which all look very promising indeed. And, after quite a deep chat with Zygmunt Miłoszewski earlier this week, I can’t wait to read his book Rage, so thank you Midas PR  for providing me with a copy of that!

wp_20160922_20_37_52_proAs Stav Sherez was saying last night at Crime in the Court: Twitter is an expensive habit, as it’s full of book recommendations from people whose opinion you respect. (Yes, I still blame him and Eva Dolan for half of my noirish purchases.)

I dread to add up the exact amount I spent, but if we calculate an (underestimated) average of £5 per book, you realise the full extent of my folly! It takes no great psychologist to realise that there is something deeper at work here beneath my simple and pleasurable book addiction.

 

 

 

Two Recent Orenda Book Titles

It’s hard not to have favourites among publishers, although I primarily choose books and authors rather than from publishers’ catalogues. However, Virago (for women writers), Tuttle (for Japanese writers), Faber & Faber and Penguin Classics were my childhood favourites, and in recent years I have been impressed by Europa Editions, Gallic Books, Peirene Press, World Editions and Istros Books for their commitment to fiction in translation. One publisher who is unabashedly dedicated to genre fiction, especially thrillers and crime fiction, is Orenda Books and I have mentioned before how much I admire founder Karen Sullivan’s drive and energy in finding and promoting writers in the UK and abroad.

What is interesting about Orenda is that their list is made up of books which personally appeal to Karen, so they feature quite a mix of styles and subjects. Not all of them have sparked my interest, but the ones that have been in my ‘preferred genre’ have all been great picks, a surefire combination of commercial appeal and good writing. I will just mention here Nordic noir such as Ragnar Jonasson and Kati Hiekkapelto.

The two most recent titles I’ve read have been somewhat different, something which I would hesitate to label ‘psychological thrillers’, although they have their fair share of thrills and twists. They are stories which rip your heart and make you think long and hard.

jihadiYusuf Toropov: Jihadi – A Love Story

This is not the easiest of books to read, partly because of its themes (terrorism, random savagery, betrayal, misguided ideology – all uncomfortably close to real life and what I perceive the whole ‘war on terror’ to be), but above all because of its structure. The ‘document’ is largely written by a dead man, Thelonious Liddell, an intelligence officer accused of being a traitor, and is interspersed with comments very much like Post-It notes by a psychologist, who we gradually realise is in fact his wife Becky, herself an intelligence officer.  But it’s worth persevering with, because it  is unquestionably an important book for our times, a read that plunges you into the icy water of the costs and failures of ‘the war on terror’.

Thelonius’ memoir contains passages recounting significant moments from the point of view of two other characters whom he meets in the course of his assignment: Fatima, the devout interpreter, and the American soldier Mike Mazzoni, a nasty bully. Points of view, of course, which he is guessing at, which he cannot possibly know, but which sound very plausible (although the psychologist’s comments make fun of them). They really add to the story, but it does mean that you need to concentrate and read carefully. There are so many complex layers and allusions, that you probably need to read the book two or three times to get all the nuances.

And a word of warning for those of you who cannot bear cruelty to animals: in addition to descriptions of flechette attacks on civilian population, and some graphic scenes of torture, maiming and killing (on both sides of the divide), there is also a sad moment when Thelonious has to watch his cat Child die.

inherwakeAmanda Jennings: In Her Wake

I read this in one breathless go, just couldn’t stop, the story is such that it takes you along on a voyage full of suspense, sadness, poignancy, drama. It is the story of a family – two families in fact, and the secrets and pressures which nearly tear them apart. When Bella’s mother dies, her father seems quite broken, about to share something with her but then changing his mind. A series of shocking discoveries makes Bella realise that everything she thought she knew about her life was wrong.

Her search for the truth takes her to Cornwall and another deeply damaged family. But reading the book as quickly as I did does not do it justice, because the writing is very subtle and perfectly judged. Throughout, the settings are conveyed with a great sense of atmosphere – not just Cornwall, but the Old Vicarage, the Bristol bolthole. The characters are complex and vividly described, behaving consistently but also in surprising ways – much like in real life.  Some scenes very nearly made me cry, both by what was said and what was left unsaid. 

There is also a dream-like, almost supernatural strand to the story – as enticing and mysterious as the sirens singing to Ulysses. A book which can be read on many levels: a romping good tale of unanswered questions and suspense, but also a poetic, thoughtful piece on the intricacies of human relationships, loss, regrets, identity and lost dreams.