Lexie Conyngham's Blog: writing, history and gardening.

Monday 17 September 2018

Tomb for an Eagle - available to preorder now!

Preorder link here! Well, if you're reading this first thing on Monday morning British Summer Time, give it a few hours, but some of us have to go to work and let the wheels of Amazon grind slowly while we're out selling books to students.

In the mean time, some of you have been asking -

Why Vikings?

A fair question! Bear with me, particularly if you're really into 19th century crime. It may not be as bad as you think!

As with any decision, it’s complicated, and starts in April 2017. I was helping my mother move house, and an old neighbour, whom I had not met since childhood, popped in to say goodbye. Talk went round to writing historical crime fiction, and he said ‘Oh, have you written anything to do with Vikings? I love Vikings!’ I explained gently that I did nice decorous early 19th century stuff, not hairy raiders for whom the art of crime solving might have been a bit of a luxury. But the idea lingered …

Summer holiday, heading down to Yorkshire. Though I’d visited York many times, my main interests had been Roman and mediaeval, and I’d never been to Jorvik.  In the course of looking at things to do, I found that the Viking centre had been badly damaged in floods at the same time as Ballater had been struck, but had just reopened. I decided to take a look, though already the idea of a Norse / Viking crime novel was growing in my mind. Jorvik was terrific, and on the train journey home I began reading about Vikings. A Viking crime novel set in York? Well, maybe: or Norway, which I also enjoy visiting? I carried on writing the third Hippolyta, and pondered.

I’m a devotee of the Out of Doors programme on BBC Radio Scotland at half six on a Saturday morning. One Saturday the presenters were following the newly-laid-out St. Magnus pilgrim route in Orkney. I’d been to Kirkwall a few times, but didn’t know that much about St. Magnus, or had forgotten about it. A Viking crime novel set on Orkney?

So the work began. I started with the Orkneyinga Saga, and Richard Hall’s Exploring the World of the Vikings, simple books to help me see if the idea was feasible. I tried my hand at nalbinding and tablet-weaving, and knew I would have a wool-worker in the book – I could already see her. I added Judith Jesch’s Women in the Viking Age to find out a bit more about what my wool-worker would be like. I did a trawl on Pinterest, trying to distinguish over-enthusiastic ‘reconstructions’ from actual museum pieces and carefully researched models: clothing, buildings, weapons, tools, gaming pieces. I went to the National Museums in Edinburgh and made a close study of the Galloway Horde and some Viking silver. I contacted Fran Hollinrake, custodian of St. Magnus’ Cathedral and, fortuitously, a friend from university, and began to plan a research trip. On her recommendation I borrowed The World of the Orkneyinga Saga, a fine collection of scholarly papers on Orkney and Norse rule, which expanded my reading list no end.

At Christmas I was given a stern-looking bear, now named Magnus, to remind me to get on with my work. No need: I was hooked. I had not done such an intensive study for years. I began to ‘audit’ (sit in on) a first year History course at the university on Vikings, sitting eagerly in the front row with plot ideas bubbling as I took notes – probably scaring the lecturers. And gradually, the book – or will it be a trilogy? or a series? - began to take shape.

Fran reminded me about Dorothy Dunnett’s King Hereafter, which I read when I was still at school and which features Thorfinn Sigurdarson who is also a prominent character in the series. To my shame I couldn’t remember too much about it and I’ve been reluctant to reread it while I’m writing, so any similarities are either coincidental or buried so deep in my memory that they are unconscious copies! If they appear, I apologise, and will go back some day to sort it out!

Anyway, the first draft of the second one, A Wolf at the Gate, is now written, and I hope it might appear in the new year - in the mean time it's back to the 19th century for me!

Friday 7 September 2018

Crime Tour of Scotland: Glasgow

A bit late for my August date with the crime tour, but this time it’s Glasgow and Denise Mina.

Garnethill (Garnethill #1)

Being a big fan of Taggart, I dashed to read Denise Mina’s Garnethill when it first came out and eagerly devoured the series – I’m alarmed to see that it is now published as ‘Vintage’. It is gloriously, properly, Tartan noir, with the right touch of macabre humour, and I relished the leading character of Maureen with her multiple troubles - waking with a bad hangover to find your boyfriend in the next room with his throat cut is not a good start to any day.  I also read Sanctum, a standalone, which is one that really gets under the skin – years later, though I’m hazy about the events in the book, I can still feel the atmosphere of it. I have not yet, I must admit, ready any of her Alec Morrow series, but that’s a treat in store! 


Denise Mina is busy on the Tartan Noir crime scene, contributing short stories and other work to collections and collaborations, and she’ll be at Bloody Scotland later this month.

I don’t know whether it’s that early influence of Taggart, or whether it’s because I lived in Edinburgh, but I feel that Glasgow is a better setting for tartan noir than Edinburgh is. I suppose people like the Jekyll & Hyde view of Edinburgh, the posh surface and the dark underbelly, but Glasgow has that black humour, the dry one-liner, that somehow is not quite Edinburgh. It’s not the nasty place it might have been in the 1950s and 1960s – it was an early City of Culture - but there is still a substantial roughness to Glasgow, a defiant self-sufficiency. Glasgow, therefore, sits comfortably in a good number of crime novels, whether it’s only part of the whole as in Peter May’s Lewis books or Libby Patterson’s Hebridean Storm, or a complete background as in Lin Anderson’s excellent Rhona McLeod books. There are also Pat McIntosh’s terrific Gil Cunningham books, set in mediaeval Glasgow – Glasgow houses the third oldest university in Scotland which makes it the fifth oldest in the U.K. It’s a sprawling city with a rich and diverse cultural and industrial heritage. In fact, there is room, I should have said, for a good bit more Glasgow crime on the fiction scene.

The Harper's Quine (Gilbert Cunningham, #1)