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

Saturday 29 June 2019

Ballater Bugle and a short story

Quick post to say that Ballater Bugle 6 went out today with a Ketil short story, 'What Halfdan Deserved', so if you haven't received it and were expecting it - or would like it - let the masters know at contact@kellascatpress.co.uk!

Tuesday 11 June 2019

Orkneyinga Murders 2 - A Wolf at the Gate

On pre-order now!

Ketil had not intended to return to Orkney, but when you work for Thorfinn Sigurdarson, you obey orders. Thorfinn wants him back to help with a visiting Abbot from Saxony, escorted by an old colleague of Ketil’s. Then people who know the Abbot start dying, and Ketil must once again work with his friend Sigrid to find out why – and to face dark memories from his own past.


It'll be on Kobo and Smashwords after 3rd July - after because on the day itself I hope to be launching the paperback in The Orcadian Bookshop, Kirkwall, and not in front of my computer! But soon.

If  you enjoy it, please leave a review where you bought it!

Monday 3 June 2019

May reading

Here we are -

I'm just managing to keep up to my New Year resolution! My non-fiction this month was read in a cupboard while waiting for someone - very glad I had a book with me.

Raising the Dead, Andy Dougan: A very interesting book on the scientific background – and context – to Mary Shelley’s Modern Prometheus. Very much Glasgow-orientated, this looks at the experiments in resuscitation that took place in the early 19th century, focussing on the apparent revival of one victim of execution and the experiments carried out on his body in Glasgow in 1818. Let down by the editing (I’m surprised at Birlinn: one sentence repeated in two places in one paragraph, plus lots of typos), this is a thoroughly researched but very readable account of the time – I read most of it in one sitting.

Non-crime fiction: I was lucky enough to chair the double book launch at Aberdeen's Mayfest for John Bolland's Fallen Stock and Helen Steadman's Sunwise - and for the latter it was important to read the first book of the pair, Widdershins, so three non-crime books!

Fallen Stock, John Bolland: Martin Malone mentions ‘blue-collar muscularity’ but that would be to deny the delicacy of language in this collection of poetry from a north east oilworker turned poet and artist, for yes, he’s an accomplished artist, too – I loved the landscapes in particular, which you can see on his website. John’s originally from Glasgow, but has been up here now for a number of years and appears to have taken to the Buchan claik very nicely, as any poet would. Now, I say he has a delicacy of language but there is also a great deal of humour in the collection – I particularly liked the simple astonishment of the title poem, 'Fallen Stock'. Lots of variety here and plenty to think about, too. I think you probably have to get this from the publisher, Red Fox - no trace on Amazon.

Widdershins, Helen Steadman: my non-crime fiction, I suspect, for May. Very well written, with beautifully handled dialogue. The research that must have gone into this is impressive: the feel for the time period, not to mention two different settings and the complex beliefs and superstitions are completely convincing. There was delightful description – her portrayal of a stillroom was particularly enticing, though she doesn’t hold back on the rougher stuff, too. Much of the description is not for the faint-hearted. The wilfully stupid and ignorant John and the occasionally daft Jane are well opposed and set up for the sequel, with a twist in the tail to make it more enticing.

Sunwise, Helen Steadman: This follows on closely from Widdershins – not the initial plan of the writer, but the characters came and grabbed her, and you could sense it happening. Sometimes charming, sometimes disturbing, and very firmly set in its time and place – don’t expect an easy ride, though!
Now, to crime. One crime writer has dominated my reading this month, one I should have read a while ago.

The Various Haunts of Men (Simon Serrailler, #1)

The Various Haunts of Men, Susan Hill. I’d read other, non-crime books by Susan Hill before and enjoyed them but for some reason had steered clear of this series. The benefit of that is that I now have the rest of them to look forward to (there are ten, with another coming out in October, I gather – I’ve now bought the second). Of course the writing is delicious, the characters drawn finely, but the plot is rewarding too and its several strands are handled beautifully. And although in essence this is a book about a serial killer, at least two of the victims are given their full story, not portrayed simply as the next in line. The ending is properly shocking and I am itching to read more – and isn’t that what you want from a crime series?
The Pure in Heart, Susan Hill: Straight off on to the second one. Some new characters and mostly old ones to start with which was good – I needed to find out what was going on in the Serrailler family. Then a small boy is abducted and the plot starts in earnest. The characters are so well drawn I already felt I knew them, and some of the scenes are absolutely heart-wrenching. In a way, Cat and Chris Deerbon are the heroes at least of this and the preceding book: Simon is a flawed character, and not entirely sympathetic. Again, though, I really want to read on. This is a series about people, written by a fantastic author, and the crime is almost incidental, though it’s notable that almost everyone who appears is beautifully and richly portrayed, whether perpetrator, observer or victim. This from a crime fiction perspective is clever, because it’s not always easy to spot what is going to happen.
I then read the third, and am on to the sixth already. It is fascinating to see the way Hill portrays what seems to be a perfect, Aga Saga family in the first book then breaks it to pieces as the books continue – in some ways one can’t help feeling that Freya had a kind of lucky escape. In many ways the books flow into each other so it's a little hard to remember where one ends and another begins, but that doesn't make them in any way hard to read - they feel more realistic that way.

Now, there were others, too!

Broadland (DI Tanner #1)

Broadland, David Blake: A mixture to start with, but an appealing one: new man on job, young daughter dead, but he’s trying to accommodate himself in the unfamiliar surroundings of a friend’s boat while he looks for a flat. The office politics while he fits into a new police station are quite amusing and well depicted, though I wondered at the DC’s instant attraction to and flirtation with her new colleague. The plot was good except that there was one link I made that I felt the police should have made much earlier – after that, things moved fast and although there was a bit of jumping about, the book reached a pretty satisfactory end. I’m inclined to read more.

Wild Fire (Shetland Island, #8)

Wild Fire, Anne Cleeves. I wasn’t so keen on poor Jimmy Perez in this book – thought he was unkind and unsympathetic – but I found all the other characters so intriguing that I charged on through it with great enjoyment. Good work – hope her next series is as intriguing, though I shall miss Shetland.

The Health of Strangers (Health of Strangers, #1)

The Health of Strangers, Lesley Kelly: Set in a somewhat dystopian future in a time when bird ’flu has wiped out about a million people and the Health Enforcement Team, staffed by those with immunity, make sure that the population does not miss its health checks. The disappearance of a German student who may be linked with an evangelical church or drugs that purport to protect against the virus leads Mona and her colleagues into a complex investigation uncovering all their own weaknesses and prejudices. All paid-up members of the awkward squad, they do start to worm their way into your affections, mostly through their deep dislike of each other. Edinburgh in plague times is imaginatively and well-portrayed, and this is a series I intend to follow further. Slightly surprised to see Marlborough spelled Malboro, but hey.

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra (Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation #1)

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, Vaseem Khan: A well-written and very sedate start to a series. Chopra is an unexcitable, solemn man and the book is loyal to him. Ganesha, the elephant he has unexpectedly inherited, is also rather quiet and sober. If anything Chopra seems to resist any urge to liveliness on the part of his wife, his mother-in-law, and his potentially overbearing neighbour, never mind any fast-paced police investigation. Everything, despite being set in one of the busiest and over-populated cities in the world, is extremely calm. Indeed, in the end it comes over as a cosy book, which surprised me. I think I’ll read more, but at least now I know what to expect.
Well, there we are for May. In my own little secret writing world I'm trying to write a short story and finding very little time to do it; waiting for the cover for A Wolf at the Gate (Orkneyinga Murders #2); and toying with the plot for a stand-alone that someone has suggested to me.  Looking forward to launching A Wolf at the Gate in July!