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

Monday 22 February 2021

Granite Noir Day Three


A late start on Sunday and I popped into an event with Candice Gaines and Isla Traquair, talking to Theresa Talbot about their rather different true crime podcasts. I hadn’t originally intended to go to this as I’m not so interested in true crime, but I was intrigued by their different approaches to what they do and the reasons they do it. Having been tangentially involved in a project a few years ago highlighting the many missing First Nation women in Canada and the unidentified, unclaimed murder victims from the First Nation peoples, I was interested in Candice Gaines’ efforts to bring similar cases to light in the U.S. concerning people of colour, using a podcast – she is approached by family or friends of a victim, rather than going out looking for cases. Isla Traquair on the other hand goes back to older cases and subjects them to a very detailed ongoing investigation – not necessarily unsolved crimes, but ones where perhaps our perspectives and attitudes might have changed since. They covered how they deal with the traumatic things they read and the possible dangers of what they do, and how they seek some kind of resolution for all those concerned.

Then it was time for a panel on revenge, with Alex Clark interviewing Lesley Kara, Stina Jackson and Eva Bjorn Aegisdottir about their most recent books. A good discussion on the instinct for revenge, the best revenge plots, the harm revenge can cause even to the avenger, and the distinction between revenge and vigilantism. So nice to see Stina’s cat!

Next Peter May. This is an author I haven’t read much of – only his Lewis trilogy – but I think it might have been my favourite event. Bryan Burnett is excellent at ‘just chatting’, even though I know he’s done his research. I loved how May spoke about ‘writing for’ his characters, as if he were helping them out, and I loved how he valued the depths of his own research. The account of how he had written his most recent book was fascinating, and he was amusing (if clearly still a little irritated) at the antics of his own publishers over the years. As someone who has also always known that they wanted to write I enjoyed his account of that, too. A session where you really felt you learned something.

That was my last session – I might listen to Baldacci later, maybe not.

My verdict this year? It was easy to become distracted, particularly after a few sessions, and check what was going on elsewhere on the web while continuing to listen (and call it multi-tasking). I couldn’t help wondering what it was like, too, for the authors, doing this in their studies / sitting rooms / kitchens, conscious of other members of the household listening in, perhaps, and very conscious of not knowing how the audience was reacting. And no off to the bar afterwards to chat, no flopping for a post mortem in the green room. Yet I felt the organisers came up with a great programme and created the atmosphere of the real-life festival as well as they could, and the additional pleasure of watching it remotely with friends and relations who can’t normally be here for it was welcome. The interviewers were stoical in dealing with the quirks of online conversations and kept everything flowing remarkably well. But I hope we’re back in the Lemon Tree, the Library and everywhere else next year!

Sunday 21 February 2021

Granite Noir Day Two


Granite Noir day two:

Never have I had time to bake eighty-nine ginger biscuits (they keep for ages and it’s between two households, anyway, honest) on the morning of Granite Noir. Yet this year I could have my laptop chattering to me as I finished off the last few batches, then set the yogurt going and retire to knit another sock while listening to Theresa Talbot interview three newcomers, Femi Kayode, Saima Mir and Susie Yang. All three books sound pretty interesting – if I were there I suppose I might have splashed out on the paperbacks and had them signed (well, not Saima’s as it’s not out yet), but instead I looked on Amazon and thought one was a bit pricey but ordered the other. Not so good for book selling. I’m feeling a bit mean. But on the other hand I often don’t have time to queue to have books signed, and I’m not a great collector of signed books, so I might not have bought them anyway. I thought Theresa did a good job of balancing the three authors and coping with the occasional glitch.

Right, midday and I’ve realised I should have read more small print – I wanted to go to a workshop on developing characters over a series but it was limited numbers. There’s always something I forget to book! Shame, as the chap leading it is also a historical crime fiction writer, D.V. Bishop. I don’t know about him, but I need mutual support!

A terrific session at 2pm with S.J. Watson, Catherine Ryan Howard and Will Dean, chaired by Bryan Burnett whom I met last year. I remember seeing Will Dean’s first ever event at Granite Noir a few years ago and he’s gained assurance since then – all three of them were amusing and informative. I liked Will saying that the most valuable thing he ever wrote was his first novel, which he worked on and worked on and sent to agents and it never went anywhere – he’ll never publish it, he says, but it was his writing school.

 Straight on from that was Val McDermid talking with Andy Miller and John Mitchinson about Josephine Tey, chiefly about her book Miss Pym Disposes, which was one I’d never read (loved Brat Farrar, The Singing Sands and Daughter of Time, but I can’t remember The Franchise Affair so I’ll go back to that, too). A strange woman, Tey, leading a double life of domesticity in Inverness and theatrical weekends in London, different friends, different clothes, everything.

Then at 6, when I’d sorted out a new batch of knitting (taking a pause from socks) I watched Camilla Lackberg interviewed by Alex Clark. Entertaining, though she looked very monochrome in her black and white room! She’s a productive author with, she says, a strong work ethic, and she seems to be into everything – a film company here, an investment company there, five children, two series and standalones. I’m feeling like an under achiever …

Lastly, while we ate pizza, we had Jo Nesbo, interviewed by Jackie Collins (Dr. Noir) who had some technical problems to start with and had to recover from a flustery beginning. Some good questions came up about language, translations, and different perceptions of words in different countries. I wish my Norwegian was as good as his English – and I also rather wish he had taken his cap off. It was a bit distracting.

Zoom headache – enough for one day.

Friday 19 February 2021

Granite Noir Day One

 Traditionally I write something for Granite Noir - traditionally, however, it isn't on line and I'm running back and forth to the Lemon Tree or the Music Hall or the Central Library or wherever and grabbing a cafe coffee in between. 

This evening, however, I'm in my armchair with a hot toddy, watching on my laptop. The cat is occasionally watching over my shoulder, there's no one coming in late to squirm into an empty seat beside me, and there's no to and fro between speakers and audience, sadly. But here we go:

Not the typical Granite Noir and Day One is really Friday evening, not Thursday evening. Being able to go and top up my hot toddy between sessions, but having to involve No.3 Cat in the entertainment, is definitely odd. The first session was Stuart MacBride and Ian Rankin, chaired by Fiona Stalker – Stuart against a strange greenscreen of a sideways cat. I felt Stuart didn’t come across as humorously as he usually does – Zoom makes us all more sententious – and it took a while for these two prominent authors and broadcaster to relax and settle into the whole business of being away and present at once, and to work round the ‘here we are in a pandemic’ subject to things we’re actually interested in.

Next session – Alex Clark interviewing Attica Locke. I’m not saying I want politics to swamp Granite Noir, but this was a good session, looking, with remarkable balance, at Trump, modern America and black lives mattering, but not without reference to writing and reading and crime fiction. Lots covered here! And I think I want to sit down and have a coffee, or glass of wine, with Attica Locke. She just seems like great company.

And now I don't even have to walk home!

Tuesday 9 February 2021

January's reading

 I might have missed a few here moving between laptops, but they can always be tagged on to February!


Wilding, Isabella Tree: I made the mistake of reading the introduction, which I think is usually to be avoided. But moving past that this is a tremendously readable account, if alarming in the details about current farming practices. There is more in the way of statistics than of poetry, but that is not what this book is about: it is more about a possible way forward, particularly in the aftermath of Brexit, in making farming and conservation work together for the benefit of both, in terms of biodiversity, water management, soil enhancement, and food improvement. I hope those with power in the right places pay a bit of attention.

Suddenly He Thinks He's a Sunbeam

Suddenly He Thinks He’s aSunbeam, Adey Grummet: An Australian singer finds herself married to a man with a vocation – an actual vocation to become ordained as a priest at the higher end of the Anglican church. This is a very amusing as well as moving account of coming to terms with the effects her husband’s change of life will have on her own career, behaviour and circumstances – just watch out for some slightly dated attitudes to certain parts of society, and believe they are in the end well-intentioned.

Places in the Darkness

Places in the Darkness, Chris Brookmyre: This is very sci-fi. I mean, I know, the setting is a space station, and I was up for quite a bit of technological scene-setting, and I certainly had it. But then the characters kick in and it’s a crime fiction book, so if space stations are not your thing, then just have patience. I thought it lacked some of the humour of his other books, but the plot is beautifully complex and leads you into thoughts about artificial intelligence, the vulnerability of memories and the ultimate ethics of police work in a corrupt society.

The Curator (Washington Poe, #3)

The Curator, M. W. Craven: The relationship between Poe and Tilly is the main reason for reading these books – it is at once hilarious and touching. But there is much more besides: the plot is well woven, the secondary characters lifelike, even the animals real people.

Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime

Forensics: The Anatomy ofCrime, Val McDermid: An approachable treatment of the subject for an intelligent beginner. The book is divided into chapters on facets of forensics – fingerprints, blood patterns, forensic anthropology, etc., and the history of the facet is covered before going on to what is happening in the field today. If you’ve already read Sue Black’s All That Remains some parts will be very familiar, but there was plenty still to bookmark and come back to. There is also a good index and bibliography.

Surface Tension (Seychelle Sullivan, #1)

Surface Tension, Christine Kling: I read this because it was free, and set in Florida, which I needed for a reading challenge. I sort of didn’t expect to enjoy it, but I did. It’s based near Fort Lauderdale, and it is action-packed from the start. If, like me, you have little idea of which end of a boat is which, you can just run with the high-tech description for a bit and be reassured when the body is found. But there’s a real sense of the author’s deep familiarity with the whole coastal scene in Florida, historically as well as contemporary. In some ways it bears comparison with Marsali Taylor’s excellent crime novels set on and off Shetland: the heroine is just as scarred by her past, if not more so, but she really knows her boat-based community. The book is much darker, though, and with more in the way of shorts, sex, and mangrove swamps.

Adventures of the Yorkshire Shepherdess

Adventures of the Yorkshire Shepherdess, Amanda Owen: Having heard a good deal about the series on television, I felt well-disposed to this lady and her family, and was not disappointed. Apparently this isn’t the first book, but it was very enjoyable: you could be there with the family in their disappointments, sorrows and laughter. I might even look out some more in the series!

See Them Run (Detective Clare Mackay, #1)

See Them Run, Marian Todd: Well, this one feels as if it’s set in St. Andrews, which is a good start. I liked the main character, who is in Fife to escape something awful that’s happened in Glasgow (and why not?), though it’s likely to follow her. Not quite sure about the senior officer who comes tramping in to take charge, or the general dynamics in the police station, but I think they’re likely to develop over future books. For once, the non-police characters are more rounded and interesting, particularly the victims and their families.

The Starless Sea

The Starless Sea, Erin Morgenstern: A young man finds an uncatalogued book in his university library and in it reads a story about himself. This drags him into a mysterious world of books, of painted doors and hidden doors and lost doors, of underground rooms and bees and swords and keys. The occasional flash of dry humour is very welcome. There is a magical style to this book, a love of stories and intertwined stories, that fills your head with half-caught ideas for stories of your own, and in the end the plot actually works.

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #13)

The Limpopo Academy of PrivateDetection, Alexander McCall Smith: I’ve lost track of this series a bit, but enjoyed this one. It’s the mixture as before, with Mma Makutsi endlessly ambitious, Mma Potokwani concerned for her orphanage, the unexpected arrival of the famous Clovis Andersen, and Mma Ramotswe and her lovely, patient husband Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni behaving with reason and kindness to everyone.

The Wolf in the Whale

Jordanna Max Brodsky, The Wolfin the Whale: There’s a bit of confusing use of capital letters around the beginning of this, but it settles down into a story with a mythical feel to it, full of legends and rituals in a tiny Inuit community that has lost a large proportion of its young men in one bad accident and is no longer viable. The survival of the rest, the desperate longing to meet another community, and the coming to adulthood of Omat, the main character. Some of the description is beautiful, magical and mystical, and some is harsh as befits the hard landscape. When rescue seems to appear it is not the bright future they hoped, and Omat is left alone to try to save the community in the face of more than one enemy. Encounters with Vikings and native Americans lead to confusion and danger, and long journeys across ice, tundra and forest. Some elements of the fantasy side seem to become lost and the whole thing ends rather suddenly, but it was an interesting read.

Well, as I said, more to come next month! Meanwhile I'm nearly a third of the way through Hippolyta VI, The Corrupted Blood, and excitingly an audiobook of Tomb for an Eagle is in production as we speak. It's all go here!

Thursday 4 February 2021

Book tour: Surge on like a River!

 Today I'm delighted to be helping out with the blog tour for Surge on like a River, by Bharathy Bhaskar, translated by V. Shyamala.

Surge On Like a River is the English translation of the Tamil book titled ‘Nee Nadhi Pola Odikondiru’, originally written by Bharathy Bhaskar, a Chemical Engineer and an MBA, who is a banker by profession. She is also a popular columnist and speaker, and a household name in Tamil homes, thanks to the debates and shows she has spoken in. The essays are written in a simple, engaging style, and filled with profound insights. These nuggets of wisdom primarily draw from the author’s life experiences and her empathetic observations of the people and situations around her. This English translation by V. Shyamala captures the lively nature of the original, bringing it to a wider audience with the idea that the readers who do not know Tamil should not miss out on the wonderful collection.

Bharathi Baskar is a Tamil Orator who is popular for her humorous debate talk shows called Pattimandram.com, telecasted on Sun TV. She is also an anchor for the daily talk show called Vaanga Peasalam at 7.15 a.m from Monday to Wednesday on Sun TV. Bharathi Baskar is also a Senior Vice President at Citi Bank, Chenna.

V. Shyamala is a cost accountant, a homemaker, and a writer. She loves to weave stories and
is on a continuous quest to seek new and creative ways to teach children. When not writing, reading, or thinking up stories, Shyamala mentors CIMA students, strives to workout, loves tweaking South Indian heritage recipes and translates Tamil words to English. She is also a member of AWIC (Association of Writers and Illustrators for Children) and volunteers at a local library twice a week.

My review:

This collection of essays is strongly indicative of the problems faced by women in India today, notably as mothers, daughters, and daughters-in-law. There is good advice here for mothers of rebellious daughters, and for the clearing out of unwanted clutter from fridges, handbags and minds. Apparently universal are the problems caused by advertising cliches, the perfect housewife and mother, the perfect body, the perfect face. More localised are problems arising from strictly segregating boys and girls during education, or from encouraging women to have no say in or knowledge of the household finances. Generally sensible, basic advice is given in elegant Indian English, with occasional short poems and anecdotes. It is an easy, gentle read except when she is dealing with the incidences of sexual assault and unwanted sexual advances so prevalent in Indian society at present. One thought-provoking chapter deals with female friendship, its closeness and the threats to it, another with motherhood. An interesting read.