Saturday, 28 May 2011

Bristol Crimefest

Just got back from the marvellous Crime Fest in Bristol. Such lovely people and I’m sure a region only develops an accent like that in a county where there is little rainfall. Great city with a cool and froody vibe, I think it must be the coffee house capital of Western Europe.

The flight home on Sunday night was iffy in the extreme; the gale of the following day was starting to flex its muscles. The poor wee sqeesyjet was buffeted around, aiming vaguely for a strip of concrete somewhere to land on. As the cabin bounced about – so did my dinner. Both HWMBI and Christopher Brookmyre were nose deep in their respective books and had no idea of the ‘Diehard 2’ type drama going on outside as I imagined Charlton Heston having to abseil into the cockpit to rescue us and get the cabin crew pregnant. As the plane made a reappearance through the clouds, so my dinner thought about making a reappearance through my mouth. The plane got down safely, I got onto the tarmac and felt the fresh air on my face; then into the terminal building to get to the loo and pour cold water on my wrists...only to be confronted by a baby’s bottom covered in poo. The mother was holding it up by its ankles and swinging it round, scraping away at its hind end with a paper towel.

I made it to the loo but only just.

My Crime Fest panel was, in my humble opinion and the opinion of others, one of the best of the convention. The chemistry of the panellists seems to be the main consideration that either makes it work or not work. We had the enigmatic one (Yrsa, think of Lund from “The Killing” and you would be close, that dark eyed Scandinavian ‘when can I escape for a fag’ look!); the clever one (M.R Hall. He was a barrister in a former life. All my friends that are criminal lawyers in Glasgow are all scarred and tattooed. But Matt is highly intelligent and very measured in comment, weighing each word); the cheeky one (me); and the charismatic rogue (John Lawton…the Bill Nighy of the crime writing world. Another bright bloke but more of a ranter than Matt… ranting with big words and he sounds like he knows what they actually mean. He used the word ameliorate twice in the panel. I’d like to put John Lawton and Jeremy Clarkson in a room and see who wins the fight.) It was well balanced with lots of humour flying back and forth, and intellectual comments (not from me I hasten to add). We were chaired by Martin Edwards who has a great knack of making the panel seem fluid while asking the questions the audience would be interested in. He doesn’t just ask the next question on his list ( some moderators do…even if it totally breaks the chain of a conversation and then the panellist has to say…. “But I’d like to pick up on that earlier point”). He makes sure everybody has their say without making it seem like an interview – more like a casual but informative chat. I was sitting next to him and saw his notes…it’s a much more complicated process than it looks.

Well I’ve ordered all their latest books. John Lawton is the only one I’ve not read yet but “A Lily of the Field” is next on my reading list.

The hotel was lovely as usual but good God it was expensive. Thirty gazillion pounds for internet and another twenty million for a gold plated breakfast – we nipped round the corner for a fried egg roll and a double latte (for £2.50). One fellow delegate had given up on the banquet to save a few bob and then realised that she was even more dosh buying a round of drinks at the bar. My bill, interestingly also included a round at the bar. I pointed out at reception that I hadn’t been in the bar the entire time that I had been there. She looked up what it was…a burger and a lager…exactly what a vegetarian non-drinker would order! The man standing behind me said quietly in disbelief “a Glaswegian who has not been in a bar…?”. He will be appearing in my next novel buried in a bunker with a golf club stuck where only a qualified proctologist should go – with latex gloves. But no Vaseline.

More later. All the gossip about Paul Johnston’s moustache and why it’s worth nearly three hundred pounds!!

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Baldernock Linn


Just been twiddling around with plot lines and time lines for book five and getting a bit green with envy at fellow writers who spend a whole day here and there, talking to folk and making copious notes. For me it's a good look on the internet and a chat with everyone I know ... and somebody always knows somebody who will help out. This time it was the father of HWMB (he who must be ignored) who grew up near Baldernock and knew the site of my fictional dastardly deed very well. It's called Baldernock Linn. In my youth it was an open stream, caves visible but not easy to get to, having to pass along a four inch wide ledge above a six foot drop to the water before coming to the mouth of the second and much deeper cave. I can remember as a five year old being terrified out my wits as two friends of the family passed me from hand to hand over the (what seemed to me at the time) gorge where I could fall to my death. Like I say it's six feet at most. It's very overgrown now, and that makes it all the more spooky, it's almost dark at the bottom of the gully in early summer, the air is thick, full of insects and the only noise is the constant running of the waterfall that speeds like a curtain over the mouth of the caves.

I didn't hang around, strange feeling that somebody is watching us and I wanted back to the car. When we got there, there was a man standing at the car with a rifle. He seemed a pleasant chap, he and HWMBI exchanged a few pleasantries while I hid in the car. I was convinced he was going to shoot us and roll the burning vehicle down into the gully where we would lie undiscovered for years and be nibbled at by fish. Sometimes I think having an overactive imagination is a curse. The man with the rifle was a farmer of course, trying to protect his lambs from the crows.

Well that's what he told us.

I drove off at high speed in search of lamas and latte.


Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Been very busy again, the business partner decided to go up the Amazon backwards in a canoe with no paddle. We thought this was very brave as they normally panic if they are not in sight of L K Bennett or Starbucks. We thought this was even braver when they came back photos of spiders as big as a human head... and that was in the sleeping quarters. I have trekked the High Atlas in Morocco but all we had to content with was a very drunk Shetlander and a donkey with irritable bowel syndrome.

And things have gone well with the play for Radio 4, the edit for book four is back while I am researching book five. It was always my intention to brutally slaughter somebody on the beach at Whitby in book five ... which was a bit daft as I had never been to Whitby in my life but being a Bram Stoker buff I thought it was rather an enchanting idea. So we booked to go and have a look see - but then had to cancel due to commitments with Radio 4. So we rebooked, not realising it was the Easter weekend we would be away ... as would every Tom, Dick and Harry with their pit bulls, tattoos, chips, Range Rovers and an awful lot of Lambrettas. I had already committed myself to the story, indeed I had already written that part of it - the body lying on the cobbles on the beach, the waves tickling the stones - that chattering noise pebbles on a beach make as the water advances and retreats ... and the body is lying there, being lifted a little with each incoming wave.

I was very happy with that. Until we got there and the beach is of course, sandy. I would like to point out before you lot do, that research has told me that parts of the beach could be either ... but the one bit I wanted, was defo sandy.

While standing there, it became apparent that I couldn't use it anyway, as I had the action in the book. Whitby is built on tiny inlet, there is a perfect view from the surrounding high ground of anything that goes on anywhere on the beach.
Including murder.

It has to be said that the initial impression was not good, it was so busy the cars could not drive down the street due to the crowds on the road and dogs on very long leads getting caught between the cars. It was hot, noisy and very smelly. But then so was Venice probably on that day. It was brutally hot. We drove straight through the town at 0.5 miles an hour and up to the sanctuary of the abbey where I rethought the start of the book - the grass, the ruins, the wind, trying to imagine it all at night and it was perfect for my scene of gory death and destruction. Looking one way at the sea, just a haze of mist in the heat, the other way led to moors that a Bronte would be proud of.

Later, once the crowds had gone, we descended on Whitby (for chips!) and were treated to a thunderstorm worthy of a special effects Oscar. Lightning screeching across the bay, dark clouds rolling in from the sea, the thunder clattering in the distance. The sky was opening and closing allowing shafts of bright sunlight to radiate through, prisms of gold through the sky ... and they shone right on the ruins of the abbey, high on the cliff, silhouetted against the darkening sky behind. It was so beautiful people stopped on the pier to watch the clouds dance over the abbey, not minding that they ( and their chips) were getting soaked through. It was absolutely spectacular. It felt as though Dracula was talking to me, I could hear the voice of Mr Stoker on the wind. I said so and "he who must be ignored" immediately sniffed my Irn Bru to see if there was any alcohol in it. He has no romance in his soul.

In that mood Whitby was a very beautiful place indeed. And worthy of a good murder high on the hill.

I'm busy on the edit of book four, a very different book from book three but still in the Anderson and Costello series, the editor thinks it's 'remarkable, weighty and absorbing'. And I did worry whether is was a natural progression from Dark Water or a departure... but they are happy it's a forward progression in my writing. It was one of those books where the book is written , it gets sent off and then you read in the paper that it has really happened ... but I'm not telling you what but it was a bit worrying!!

We are off to Bristol soon to attend the great Crimefest - that's the one I got in the lift with Jeff Lynsay of Dexter fame and he admitted that he was quite scared of me. I don't really think that was a response to my literary endeavours, I think was just somebody had told him I was from Govan. This year I'm on with Yrsa Sigurdardottir .. if you haven't read her do so ... M R Hall from the tv (The Redeemed, Kavanagh QC amongst others) and John Lawton (Lily of the Field). I'm a big fan of the first two but not so familiar with John's work ... but that's the joy of these festivals you meet people as people ... and then it turns out they are great writers as well.

At the moment I'm trying my first Bryant and May mystery, it was a patient that put me on to them, New Tricks but very good, very funny and very humane, a lovely writer with a light touch an all round good egg ... you see that's what happens when you drive to England listening to Agatha Christie, you end up saying things like 'all round good egg'. Well it's now four and twenty past the hour, I'm going to have a tisane and some devilled eggs ... Not!