May 2014 / 4 posts found
Whenever I’ve appeared at festivals as a panellist or speaker, I think I’ve been guilty of just enjoying them and not realising the hard work that’s gone into putting them on so that people like me can talk about books and drink alcohol. (Those two things aren’t necessarily in order of festival importance).However for the past three years I’ve been on the organising committee of Bloody Scotland, the crime writing festival held in my home city of Stirling. Now I KNOW how much work these other festivals put in in order to make it look easy.
Preparation for the next year’s event starts almost the moment that the previous one ends and it’s a constant process of ideas, invites, acceptances and refusals, cancellations, tantrums, alcohol abuse and occasional diplomacy. Committee meetings increasingly become a bonfire of the profanities. It’s sort of fun.
I can’t say who’s in our line-up for this September as the programme isn’t launched until June 4 but it’s looking very good. As well as a bunch of bestselling crime writers from across the globe (from ten different countries as things stand) we are also planning a few very different events that will be taking place away from our usual venues. In fact, they are in three particularly unusual and historic locations. More later.
Anyway, suffice to say I’ll fully appreciate the work done by the organising committee of Crimefest this week. It should be a good one.
But if there is a tiny, hardly-worth-mentioning drawback of sorts then it’s signing books. Not when people buy them and thrust them under your nose – that bit’s perfectly fine. More than fine. It’s really quite good.
Stock signings aren’t usually quite so much though. Not when you have to sign hunners of them at once. (For anyone outside Glasgow, hunners is an official term for any number greater than 47). I know, I know, this is ridiculous whining and I really am glad I have to sign them because the alternative is not signing them.
But last Friday morning, complete with post-pub quiz hangover, I had to sign 850 of them. That was officially hunners. Thankfully the good folk of Harper Collins warehouse in Bishopbriggs, namely Marie and Neil, looked after me. They made sure I got the medicine I needed to cure my sore head – black pudding, haggis, sausages, potato scones and fried egg. It was great.
Duly fortified and fattened, I scrawled my signature on all 850 books that were destined for Scottish stores. It took just a bit under three hours and by the end my right hand was in as good a shape as Abu Hamza’s. It was all worth it though and Marie and Neil’s chat took most of the pain away. They passed on tales of previous signing visits by the likes of Michael Barrymore and Chris Eubank that I couldn’t possibly repeat unless bribed.
The shiny new hardback copies of The Last Refuge are now winging their way to bookshops all over the country. If you wanted to buy one then that would make me happy.
I interviewed the brilliant John Connolly at the Tolbooth in Stirling for a Bloody Scotland pop-up event. We had a great turnout and John entertained them royally in that annoyingly effortless Irishy storytelling way of his. The night was topped off by drinking beer and playing dominoes with John and his publicist in a local pub. That’s the rock n’ roll lifestyle of a crime writer for you.
That was followed by a night of Murder Most Entertaining which was held in A’The Airts in the town of Sanquhar in Dumfries and Galloway. The entertaining bits were done by fellow authors Lin Anderson, Michael J Malone and Douglas Skelton. There was quite a bit of talk about sex if I remember correctly and Lin said a number of naughty words.
A couple of nights after that, I was back south again, this time in the company of Ian Rankin at the Queen’s Hall in Hexham. A capacity crowd of 350 turned out to see Mr R as part of the Hexham Book Festival. I was asking the questions and judging by the response after the event and the laughter during it, everyone seemed to enjoy it. No dominoes this time but a curry in the company of crime-writing compadres Mari Hannah, William Ryan and Alexandra Sokoloff. Oh and more beer.
This week I’m off to Bristol for Crimefest where I’m on a panel entitled “An Irishwoman, A Welshman, An Englishwoman, A Scotsman, & An English Moderator Walk Into A Book”. Basically, it’s Ruth Dudley Edwards, me, Jasper Fforde and Sheila Quigley talking about a sense of place under the direction of Simon Brett.
After three days in the south-west, I will have just a couple of days for my liver to recover before the launch of The Last Refuge on Thursday May 22. It is being held in Mediterranea in Stirling at 6 and there will be Faroese music, strong Faroese akvavit and (if I can get it here on time) traditional Faroese food. In case you haven’t worked it out, the book is set in the Faroe Islands. Michael J Malone will be in the chair and quizzing me on the book wot I wrote. Tickets are free and available from Waterstones Stirling.
After that, I am making appearances at a trio of Waterstones stores. Namely Falkirk on May 24, Ayr (with Michael J Malone again asking questions) on May 28 and Kirkcaldy (with Frank Muir) on June 5. Then I’m taking part in Readers Day in Kirkintilloch on June 7, Waterstones Argyle Street on June 20 talking about islands as crime settings along with Simon Sylvester and Alex Gordon. I’m back in Argyle Street on June 26 to referee a panel between teams of crime writers from east and west Scotland. June finishes with a gig at the West End Festival in Glasgow on the 29th. I’m at Cottiers along with Lin Anderson and Russel D McLean.
There’s other stuff too including speeches to a primary school graduation and a rally to Save Gillies Hill, and a night to raise money to combat MS in Kelso. July… actually let’s worry about July when it happens but it includes a wedding in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco and, of course, the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. Rock n’ roll.
1. There’s barely any real crime in the Faroes.
Surveys have shown that the Faroe Islands have the lowest crime rate in the world. There has only been one murder on the islands in the past 26 years. Not exactly rich pickings for a crime novel you might think.
And yet that’s partly what makes it irresistible. To take something so pure and mess with it. Who can resist leaving bloody footprints on that perfect patch of untrodden snow? Oh, just me then.
Setting a crime novel in Los Angeles or Johannesburg, or Glasgow come to that, where crime is plentiful, is like shooting fish in a barrel. The fun is setting it where there are considerably more barrels of fish than crimes.
2. The language is baffling.
Even to the neighbouring Danes (neighbouring being 700 miles away across the North Sea), Faroese is pretty impenetrable. It is famously non-phonetic and subsequently very difficult to pronounce. When the audio version of the book was being recorded last month, I had to set up a comical chain of contacts to allow the narrator to get the help he needed to pronounce the likes of Undir Bryggjubakka or grindaknivur.
The narrator is an Irishman, formerly from Cork and now living in New York and I put him in touch with a woman in the Faroes who I knew via a woman in Copenhagen who I knew thanks to a woman in the US whose family came from Cork. It all made perfect sense at the time.
However tHowever Hhe Faroese language is as fascinating as it is confusing. There were words that I recognised as meaning the same as words we use in Scots – we both use kirk for church, for example. And I learned that a whole string of ‘domestic’ words, like those for cat or dog or for cooking, derive from Celtic, while ‘wild’ words such as those connected with hunting, come from the Nordic – just as the female and male inhabitants trace their DNA to the same Celtic and Nordic roots respectively.
3. It’s even wetter than Scotland. And that’s saying something.
It rains 300 days a year in the Faroe Islands. That soggy statistic is slightly misleading in that it need only rain for a minute somewhere on one of the eighteen islands to count as a rain day but it’s still a fair reflection on what you might expect.
Not that it rained all the time during the eight days I was in the Faroes researching this book. It also snowed twice.
It occurred to me as I stood on the rain-lashed port in Torshavn that I could have set this book somewhere warm and dry. That I could have been doing research in Las Vegas or the Maldives. I thought this about twenty times every day.
However, there is a compelling reason to love the Faroese weather, however harsh and miserable it can be. The weather is responsible for having constructed some of the most dramatically stunning scenery on earth. The wind, rain and sea have fashioned incredible sea stacks, countless waterfalls, jaw-dropping fjords and mesmerising hillsides. If you are planning to kill someone then where better than somewhere that is as beautiful as it is bleak?
So how do I get past the moral dilemma of setting a book there? By trying to understand it.
The hunting of pilot whales until they are beached and slaughtered is undeniably brutal and makes a sickening if spectacular sight. The sea turns blood red and the carcasses are lined up to be divided up among the local populace.
To resist that, as a crime writer, would be beyond me. To understand it, without condoning it, and to lay out the conflicting arguments, is something I can do.
5. Fans love Scandinavian crime fiction but have enough of them heard of the Faroes…
This is a tricky one. When I announced I was going on a research trip to the Faroe Islands, responses fell into roughly three categories. Those that thought I was going to the South Atlantic (Faroes and Falklands seem to confuse people), those that thought I was going to Egypt and those who actually knew where the islands were. I hope by the time I’m finished, the latter category will have grown a bit.
There is much about the Faroes that will recall some of the more desolate settings found in Nordic noir. Wind-battered and drenched, stark and remote, the landscape breeds stoic, determined people. It is a truly remarkable part of the world where man and land and sea are in constant conflict, where the ocean seems determined to wash it away one grain of sand at a time.
Not, of course, that the idea is to attempt to replicate Scandi crime novels. I couldn’t and wouldn’t do that. This is very much an outsider’s view of the Faroe Islands, a stranger’s look at a strange land. Like my protagonist, John Callum, I learned to love the Faroes, rain and all. I’ll let him say it for me…
“My initial downbeat impressions of drizzly, uneventful Torshavn had been lost on the wind. I now saw a different town, full of colour, vibrancy and charm. I saw calm, friendly, undemonstrative people who would go out of their way to help you.
“I had even grown to love the rain and shrug at the wind as they did. The weather wasn’t foe, it was friend, something that you could always rely on; only the form of its appearance was in doubt.”