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

Sunday 23 February 2020

Granite Noir - last day

Sunday, and Lee Randall is starting to look marginally more relaxed. Life intervened in the morning, but in the afternoon I made it to the two o’clock session, which I had not been expecting. Lexie Elliott and Peter Swanson talked about the influence of the Golden Age on their writing, chaired by Anne Clark who was a good, balanced chair. Both books sounded worth a read – good trad mysteries, too – but I couldn’t stay to grab signed copies. I was glad to catch the Local who preceded this session, Pam Shand, too, and had a nice chat with her later in the Authors’ room. Once the session was done it was up to report for duty and to be introduced to Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman, Ambrose Parry to their readers, and Bryan Burnett of Radio Scotland who was to chair the session. The other writer had not shown up as yet and Lee was trying hard to pretend to be chilled about it. The chat was pleasant, and then Laura Purcell was tracked down – her plane had been delayed, and she hurried in and grabbed a cup of coffee before we headed down to the theatre for a sound check. I discovered that the inimitable Lesley was signing the session – there’s a first for me!

The session was packed and, despite Bryan Burnett’s efforts, was tilted a little towards Ambrose Parry as the better-known author, but Laura Purcell was good value, too. And fortunately she chose to wear her pretty grey sparkly sweater, because her option had apparently been the same top as me, which would have been slightly embarrassing! Marisa Haetzman is rather nice and witty, too, and Chris Brookmyre comes across as a bit of a different character when he’s one half of Ambrose Parry. She clearly loves her history, as does Laura Purcell: as with so many historicals there is much, much more research done behind the scenes than ever appears explicitly in the finished book.

As I waited to meet a friend coming out of the session a very kind lady came up to tell me how much she likes the Viking books – if she’s reading this I can tell her what I should have told her, which is that I hope the next one is coming out this summer!

And that’s me done with Granite Noir for this year – even more enjoyable than last year because I made myself be, as one of the other Locals said, ‘very outgoing’. It doesn’t come naturally but once I start I’m all right – and once I’m up in the spotlight with a microphone I’m perhaps a little too happy!

Saturday 22 February 2020

Granite Noir Day 2

Day Two – patchy, this one! I missed the James Grieve and sundry pathologists talk this morning as I had to take people places, and I would have had to miss the end of it anyway as it finished in the Lemon Tree at eleven and I had to be in the library reporting for duty at eleven. So I trotted straight to the library instead.

This was a good event. Last year I struggled to see, and did not succeed in seeing, all the other Locals. This year we had a joint event with only one missing as she was doing her Lemon Tree reading at the time – actually we had two missing in the end as one failed to turn up. But the eight of us sat round the table in the green room nattering about each other’s writing and experiences, before we had to go and read out our stuff. There were maybe twenty or thirty in the audience which wasn’t bad as it was snowing quite heavily around 9.30 when people would have been heading out, and it was a non-ticketed event so they lost nothing by not showing up. All very different pieces of writing, which made for an entertaining hour.

Off to the Lemon Tree, then, and left my coat upstairs (best function of Authors’ Room – cloakroom) and went to buy some lunch in the bar. Only as I queued did I realise that there was an event about to start in the bar, a talk on Peterhead Prison to which I had not intended to go. But I found a seat near the back, tucked into lunch and settled down in the semidarkness – a chance to rest my eyes but the talk was far too interesting to fall asleep to, covering some notable offenders jailed there, dirty protests, riots quelled by the SAS, the origins of the prison and of the first state railway, a little line used to take prisoners between the prison, a local quarry, and the huge breakwater they built over decades at Peterhead Harbour.

Then it was back upstairs to the studio where we were again missing an author – John Lincoln could not attend. But C.M. Ewan and Susan Lotz were there, chaired by Jackie Collins. The conversation really flowed, to the extent that the chair could relax from time to time and part of the reason for the session, the use of pseudonyms by authors, was hardly touched on until audience questions began. C.M. Ewan had promised his wife he would give up writing if he had not had any success by the age of thirty, and when he was twenty-nine he put in a book for a competition sponsored by Susan Hill. Susan Hill rang him at work to tell him he had won – a week before his thirtieth birthday. Susan Lotz had stories to tell too about heroin addiction, living on the street in Paris, and fighting for justice in South Africa with the worst-dressed lawyer in Johannesburg – now her husband.

Then I had a bit of a gap – there were lots of overlapping events today so if you started on one set you were sort of stuck with it and it was hard to jump to the other set. But there was an interesting looking talk on at the Art Gallery from 4 to 5.30 which fitted in nicely, so I retrieved my coat, took a glass of the Authors’ Room’s really nice orange juice, and walked to the Art Gallery. Unfortunately the talk was fully booked, but I hadn’t really been into the Art Gallery since its recent refurbishment (used never to miss an exhibition), so I took the chance to look around. It has been partially rebuilt, and it’s very odd – you move from the very familiar to the totally strange and back, seeing well-known paintings in new settings and finding that the roof has been raised a whole new storey. Better lifts but worse stairs!

Anyway, 6p.m. saw us back in a busy Music Hall for another headline act – Stuart McBride interviewing Ben Aaronovitch. This was a little spoilt by some sound problem at the start – it was as if they were mumbling, but it did clear up and a very funny hour followed, where he roundly condemned BBC executives, followed by politicians; they nearly came to blows over the use of the Oxford comma; the ranking of Ace as possibly the worst Dr. Who assistant ever was debated; and Peter Grant was likened to a Weeble. There was also some discussion of role-playing games and the possibility of a Rivers of London / Call of Cthulhu blend – I heard one woman later in the street say, ‘I didn’t even understand some of the questions!’ The audience was quite a mixture of crime fiction fans and fantasy fans, and there was a huge queue for book signing afterwards. I didn’t stay, though I still want to know where he got the name Daniel Hossack from for one of his minor characters – I know, as I’ve said before, where my Daniel Hossack (Murray’s manservant) found his name!

Friday 21 February 2020

Granite Noir Day One (well, Two)

I didn't go to last night's event so here's today, the first full day (starting at noon). Drinks reception this evening, so trying to be coherent!

First event today was Deborah Masson and Heine Bakkeid, chaired by Stuart Cosgrove, an imposing man in a teeshirt over a large torso, tapering down to cuffed jeans, alarming trainers and no socks. This was particularly obvious as he jiggled his feet so much. That said, he was an excellent chair, bringing wit and intelligence to the conversation and neatly including the Local in the Limelight that kicked it off (an assured performance by UKCBC's Neil Lancaster). Hania Allen was also supposed to be on the panel but had come down with a bug, unfortunately. Deborah is Aberdeen's latest crime fiction writer, with Hold Your Tongue doing well - One Eye Open is apparently next. She received some teasing from the chair about her phone calls to doctors at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary concerning the effects of having your tongue cut out ... this could be why I have hesitated to read this book, but I now have a signed copy so had better get on with it!

The chair had the nerve to ask what I'm sure many want to know - is it possible to make a living from writing crime fiction? Heine reckoned it was a rule of thumb that in Norway twelve people at a time can do so, and he has just joined them. Deborah reckoned she was going to move to Norway, calculating that her advance would pay for baked beans for her family for a year.

I did want to talk to Deborah but the woman in front of me in the signing queue was one of those ones who continues their conversation with the authors when they're already signing your book, so I only managed a word or two (apparently she has a character called Lexie in the book and I'm guessing from her face that it doesn't end well), then contrived some Norwegian with Heine who has put something in my copy in Norwegian I haven't had the chance to look at yet!

In the authors' room I picked up my bag of goodies (books, a pen, and a buttery), then turned round and found myself facing Jackie Collins, Dr. Noir of Newcastle Noir fame. 'Jackie!' I said, taken by surprise at recognising anyone. She gave me a big hug, obviously under the impression that we'd met before, so we had a good chat about her trip from Newcastle and the distinctive flavour of Granite Noir - she's so kind! I also met Fiona Campbell and Harry Fisher, two other Locals.

In the second event I sat with a friend and some of her friends, too, who had been present at the University of the Third Age book group event I did last spring. This was Jackie's event, Newcastle Noir at Granite Noir, bringing a panel from that event to ours. Oddly, this was Icelandic writers whose work has not yet appeared in English (both are being translated by Quentin Bates, UKCBC member and excellent crime writer in his own right). Again we were missing one, Jonina Leosdottir, but we had Solveig Palsdottir and Oskar Guthmundsson. Oskar, very tall and prematurely white haired, is an optician in his day job - why did I find this a little disturbing? - while Solveig was an actress. She did look very familiar - my friend and I could not place her. Jackie kept a good conversation going including some readings in both Icelandic and English, and some interesting discussion of what it was like to set crime novels in a small community - advantages and disadvantages. The Local who started this event was Norma Beaton, a woman with over sixty published short stories under her belt but who told me afterwards that her novel was making very slow progress. I really admire people who can do a good short, and her tale of the death of a bus station manager was excellent!

I decided it would be a good idea to pick up a book by the other person (apart from Ambrose Parry) who will be in the panel I'm attached to on Sunday, so I found The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell, and after a chat with Lee Randall, who schedules us all and makes us feel welcome, I retreated to the bar and read for a bit.

Then it was time for the third panel. At it I met the lovely couple (whose names I still don't know) that I met last year who are such enthusiasts for Granite Noir and book themselves into the hotel opposite as soon as the dates are announced. It was very good to see them again! The panel concerned topical events and their effect on crime fiction, and was chaired not by the alarmingly energetic Fiona Stalker as advertised but by Kathryn Harkup, purveyor of poisoned high teas at other Granite Noir events. This was an intelligent conversation with Alice Feeney, Dorothy Koomson and Sarah Hilary about how current events influence their writing and are portrayed in it. This explored the emotional truths behind headlines, how fiction can examine feelings and ideas that journalism and other factual writing does not have the luxury to consider, the advantages and disadvantages of a long lead-in to a book’s appearance on the market when it deals with current events. I was slightly distracted by the man a few empty seats down from me who clenched and released his fist over and over during Fiona Campbell’s reading.

Then it was off to the civic reception. Last year this was clearly divided into ‘real authors’, ‘BBC Scotland types’ and ‘locals’ (writers, librarians, archivists and academics). This evening it was much more integrated – I had a chat with Lee Randall, then with Deborah Masson and her friends, then with Stuart McBride and Jackie Collins, then with Harry Fisher, John Bolland (poet, mostly) then with some academics, then with James Grieve, the pathologist, and his wife Nicola. Then we all mooched into the Music Hall to see, amazingly, Sara Paretsky being interviewed by Denise Mina. I mean, good heavens! She wrote her first V.I. Warshawski novel in 1982! And she’s still going strong – must read some more of them. Lesley, the amazing sign language interpreter, did this event as she has done Granite Noir before – how she keeps a relatively straight face is beyond me!

Right, better go into recovery now or I shan’t be in a fit state to do some running between the Lemon Tree and the library tomorrow – oof!

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Interview with author Carmen Radtke

Carmen Radtke is the author of two historical mysteries I have loved, 

The Case of the Missing Bride: An Alyssa Chalmers mystery (Alyssa Chalmers Mysteries)
The Case of the Missing Bride

Glittering Death: An Alyssa Chalmers mystery
and Glittering Death

- there are others, too, for you to explore! So I asked Carmen if she would mind telling us a bit more about them and about herself.

So, Carmen, your first Alyssa book was inspired by a real event - can you tell us more?
I’d just read that one of Jane Austen’s aunt had been sent on a bride ship to India, together with other surplus women of good family (she made an excellent match) and idly researched. I came upon one paragraph, about a group of brides who were sent from recession-stricken Australia to the new colony of British Columbia. They never made it. They were last seen when the ship arrived for a stop-over in San Francisco. The boat they travelled on was by all accounts horrible. I’ve tried to give them the future they should have had and a much more comfortable ship.

Yes, that long sea voyage (I'm glad it wasn't me!), and then the second book is set in gold rush Canada. How do you do your research to make these settings come alive?

Read, read, read. For The Case of the Missing Bride I took it as a sign that I found a book with private letters from Melbourne covering exactly the period I needed as soon as I had conceived the idea. And then I discovered a journal published by a ship’s surgeon. He’d crossed the seas in the 1890s but gave me great insights. Hence the deck quoits!

Personal accounts are wonderful because they tell you all the little things going on behind closed doors. I also love old newspapers and early advertisements and finding out about mundane things like the price of bread and butter, and how much people earned. Or medical treatment – especially interesting because there really was an epidemic in British Columbia at the time the brides should have arrived. And it was fun to research how the gold would have been assayed.

Without spoilers, if you can, what's your favourite scene in The Missing Bride? 

The hurricane! I was on a ferry from Germany to England once during a gale force 11 storm, and I lived through the worst earthquakes in the history of Christchurch, New Zealand, so I remember the panic only too well. I also enjoyed that Alyssa proved herself more than equal to the judgmental doctor in that storm.

You're clearly immersed in your work! What drew you to writing - and why historical crime?

I’ve always been writing, since I was a child. Later I became a newspaper reporter which explains my love for research. The books I loved most as a child were classics like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, and Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, and later Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. The historical aspects allow me to hopefully make sure that people and their situation aren’t forgotten. Like the brides, who, one century later, were dismissed by one journalist as unwanted and undesirable anyway (which is of course plausible when the church selected them and paid for them to have a better future!) The crime, or rather cozy or traditional mystery, part helps with restoring balance. I don’t like to say justice, because while there can be retribution, there will never be proper justice for innocent victims. But it’s a great way to get rid of my anger over the unjust treatment of people or societal ills. Sorry if this sounds dogmatic, but I promise at least on the literary side there will be fun in these themes as well.

I'm still a big fan of Dickens and Dorothy L. Sayers, too! Do you write novels full time?

I also write free-lance content articles on a variety of subjects. It’s nice to see something that’s finished within a few hours!

Apart from Christie, Sayers and Dickens, have other writers influenced or inspired you?

Lots! I still adore Jane Austen, the Golden Age mystery writers, and modern ones who write historical mysteries like Rhys Bowen. Alyssa owes a lot to her Molly Murphy. For me, one of the questions was, how do you solve a crime with few clues and no modern things like finger-prints? Especially when you can’t go to the police and you struggle as a female to be taken seriously at all? The incomparable Terry Pratchett is a constant source of wonderment when it comes to stating sad truths about our society and our history while being wickedly funny.

He's much missed, isn't he? Have you hobbies that feed into your writing, or give you a break from it?,
I love movies and theatre – after all it’s stories! So going to the cinema is one of my favourite things. And I’ve taken up tap dance. We’ve spent the last months working on a fabulous routine from La-La-Land which brings me back to movies... I also love travels. There’s so much world out there to discover.

Tap dancing - I'm in awe! Well, important question: where can people find you and your books?

My books are available on all the major platforms and with luck in book stores. A Matter of Love and Death is out now as an audiobook too. Ask for it in your local library!

My website, which is very much a work in progress, is www.carmenradtke.com

If anyone wants to chat with me, find me on Twitter as @carmenradtke1

Or on Goodreads www.goodreads.com/goodreadscomcarmen_...

and Bookbub @scribbler25

Thank you very much, Carmen!

Thursday 13 February 2020

The Slaughter of Leith Hall - preorder now!

Just a quick post to let you know that The Slaughter of Leith Hall (stand alone novel) is now available for preorder and will be out on Monday! Here's the link if you're interested.


Thanks as ever to my lovely beta readers, Bryony, Jill, Kath and Nanisa!

Monday 10 February 2020

Cover reveal - The Slaughter of Leith Hall

'See, Charlie, it might be near twenty year since Culloden, but there's plenty hard feelings still amongst the Jacobites, and no so far under the skin, ken?'

Charlie Rob has never thought of politics, nor strayed far from his Aberdeenshire birthplace. But when John Leith of Leith Hall takes him under his wing, his life changes completely. Soon he is far from home, dealing with conspiracy and murder, and lost in a desperate hunt for justice.

Coming soon - next week if I'm lucky!

Saturday 1 February 2020

December / January reading, etc.

Feeling a bit saggy today - I have finished the first draft of The Slaughter of Leith Hall and printed it out (printer not happy with me) so I can edit it on a train journey on Tuesday. I shall try not to think about it in between.

Partly because of it a

Partly because of this, and partly because I've been laid low by the winter lurgy, I never posted my reviews of December's reading - and my resolution to read a factual book and a non crime fiction book in December went rather by the wayside. I did pick up a book in Amsterdam that was factual and have read it, but that was mostly in January!

I'll start with that, which was Geert Mak's Amsterdam: A brief life of the city, translated by Philipp Blom. This is a terrifically readable history of the city, full of anecdote, irony, and humour, and packed with (for me anyway) useful information and information I sort of hoped was useful because it was going in anyway. One of the least onerous bits of reading for research I have done recently.

Then crime, crime, crime ...

The Janus Stone (Ruth Galloway, #2)
A Room Full of Bones (Ruth Galloway, #4)

EnElly Griffiths: The Janus Stone and A Room Full of Bones I suddenly realised that there were early ones in this series I had somehow missed, so went back to plug the holes with great delight. It does go to show, though, how easily the later books in the series can be read as standalones, even if it’s better to understand the overarching plot. The Janus Stone was excellent, and I loved the beginning of A Room Full of Bones – there was something in it though that left me – can’t quite put my finger on the word. Not disappointed, as such, not confused, but I sort of felt that some of the answers were a bit bundled together at the end. Nevertheless I enjoyed both books very much, and will now go on to my next Galloway Lacuna.
Black Diamond (Bruno, Chief of Police, #3)

Black Diamond: Martin Walker. Truffle hunting in the Dordogne and Chinese versus Vietnamese immigrants feature here – a good complex mixture. Bruno’s love life is as complicated as ever and his cooking as accomplished.
Lethal White (Cormoran Strike #4)

Robert Galbraith: Lethal White I do enjoy these, though I know many don’t. She can certainly spin a yarn, though the device towards the end of sitting explaining the whole plot to the murderer in the hope of postponing being shot was maybe a bit overdone. There are many who would say that this book could have been comfortably pared down to the action if all the constant detail of the relationship between the two characters were omitted, but I enjoy it: it is an excellent portrayal of the narrative we often have in our thoughts of what others must be thinking of us, and how wrong that often is. Funny and frustrating, and a good read.
The Shape of Lies (DCI Tom Douglas, #8)
The Shape of Lies: Rachel Abbott. Another excellent read in her Tom Douglas series – likeable cops, woman in distress, but beyond that they are not at all samey and you can’t really be sure what is going to happen. In this case, watch out for the ending!
The Relentless Tide (DCI Daley, #6)

Denzil Meyrick: The Relentless Tide Here’s one with an archaeological slant as well as time slips back to 1994 (1994? Wasn’t that just last week?) and earlier incidents in Jim Daley’s career, also of course featuring the endearing Brian Scott. I doubt he would like to be called endearing. A good complex plot with a satisfying ending.
Glittering Death: An Alyssa Chalmers mystery
Glittering Death, Carmen Radtke: It was lovely to be back in the company of Alyssa and her friends and admirers as they arrived in Canada to find their husbands and new challenges amongst the prospectors. Historical details are beautifully woven in as the women join the community of men and find partners while dealing with new problems, an outbreak of smallpox and the reappearance of an old acquaintance.A very satisfying story indeed.
Lady Justice and the Raven
Lady Justice and the Raven, Robert Thornhill: One of those eccentric books with photographs to illustrate the story – and eccentric in other ways, too. This one is heavily and openly influenced by Poe, but is sort of amusing, too, with random characters wandering in and out much as they would in a real community. No one has much back story explained, and the latter part is rather randomly attached. For those who don’t like that kind of thing, a warning that the book ends at about 83% and the rest is general guff.
Murder by the Minster (Kitt Hartley Yorkshire Mysteries, #1)
EnlMurder by the Minster, Helen Cox: I thought this was a jolly good tale, essentially cosy but with some darker aspects. Kitt, the heroine, is a woman of mystery with occasionally just a little too much bitterness and back story, and the police, unencumbered by anything like normal procedure, are good company as we investigate a serial killer of, for once, men. It’s a very good yarn with some interesting characters and a nice bit of romance thrown in, as is appropriate in the circumstances. I hope to read the next one.
Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong: The adventures of Constable Mavis Upton (Mavis Upton Book 1)
Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong, Gina Kirkham – could have done with a good edit, though I suspect this is deliberately left as ‘Mavis’’s authentic voice, but this is a cracking yarn of someone starting their police career slightly late in life. Maybe not an actual laugh a minute, but a fairly good aim at it, as well as rather moving and extremely interesting, if oddly paced. It really is very endearing.
Midwinter Mysteries: A Christmas Crime Anthology
Midwinter Mysteries, Keith Moray et al.: A good collection, perhaps weighted towards the Victorian (note: Sandringham not a royal residence until much later), which is no bad thing. Some crackers here, if you’ll pardon the seasonal pun. I enjoyed Marilyn Todd’s story and M.J. Logue’s 17th century one, though it’s invidious perhaps to pick out one or two from a very entertaining collection with a seasonally spooky edge.
Death in the Lakes, Graham Smith: Quite an interesting start, with a body found during a wedding celebration in a ruined house, arranged ritually. The detective from whose perspective the narrative runs is new to her department and coping with a strong female boss and an unpleasant immediate superior, as well as trying to employ her own intelligence and lateral-thinking skills. However, the book is gloomy and humourless, and I found it very hard to sympathise with Beth, even as I quite admired her, and she’s often given excessive praise for really quite obvious conclusions. She’s just too good to be true, in every respect: her more senior colleagues wouldn’t be confiding everything to her and humbly accepting her advice unless they’d been as Rohypnoled as the victims. They even let her take over interviews without prearrangement when she’s by far the junior officer. Things are over explained and there’s a good deal of repetition, and I wasn’t convinced by a number of the characters. And what age is Beth? Surely they can’t have been hushing people in the children’s section of Penrith Library when she was small? Several of the reviews mention ‘The Silent Dead’ so I imagine this book has also changed its title somewhere along the way – a pity, as Death in the Lakes evokes a Lake District setting which I must say, apart from the narrator occasionally mentioning how much Beth loves Cumbria, escaped me completely. And what was the stunning twist?
Death in Profile (Hampstead Murders #1)
Death in Profile by Guy Fraser-Sampson: Well-written, and the characters are interesting: given it’s another police procedural and I probably shouldn’t read several of them at once, I found that these three, Death in the Lakes, Death in Profile and Thorn in my Side (not yet finished) were all distinctively different. This one had an unusual tweak which I suspect everyone would see coming but which was compelling nonetheless. After that, the book takes a very different and compelling turn, cleverly done. I worked out one major twist very early on but not the other one, and enjoyed the ride very much though I suspect being a fan of Dorothy L. Sayers helped!
A Shadowed Livery (Inspector James Given Investigations #1)
Charlie Garratt, A Shadowed Livery: Set in 1938, this one has an interesting start with an account of judicial hanging. Then we’re off to an odd apparent murder-suicide at a manor house. The first person narrator is pleasant, interesting, intelligent, and the setting of the threatened start of what we know now to have been the Second World War makes for a good backdrop. Then we discover that he is Jewish, and things take on a new depth. Perhaps it was because I had just visited the Holocaust and Jewish museums in Amsterdam, but I found it fascinating – it’s a good traditional crime mystery with an unusual background which I believe continues to develop in the series. I hope to read more.
Now what?

Well, I've decided I need a bit of a rest and I have a heap of lovely new (in some cases secondhand) books on Vikings to read. I've got Granite Noir coming up later this month when I'll be reading from The Slaughter at Leith Hall. I'm still trying to do an audiobook (waiting for my voice to come back after this cold), but I did say I was going to try that last year and nothing came of it!

As for reading, I thought I might try each month this year to read a book or author I feel I should already have read. But that's already gone by the wayside! I shall still give it a go, for some of my projected list, anyway (partly because someone has lent me a book for this purpose and I can't give it back unread).