Tight writing deadlines in the last few months have meant I’ve got way behind on my blog – so please excuse me if I now have a quick catch-up to shoehorn in two articles I wrote for the Tetbury Advertiser in November and December, before I run out of 2022! This article was written for the November 2022 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser. I’ll post the December one tomorrow.
A recent free concert at St Mary’s, Tetburyby the St Cecilia’s Singers provided a lightning tour of four hundred years of Anglican choral music, from Tallis to Tavener. Listening to the music, I gazed up at the soaring windows and ceiling, remembering from school history lessons that Gothic architecture was designed to draw the eye heavenward. St Mary’s high box pews reminded me, as box pews always do, of earthly coffins. Memento mori all round, then.
Last week went by in a bit of a blur for me, but included attending two very enjoyable events that you might like to know about.
I must admit after having spent a large part of this year so far organising the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival, it was bliss for me to attend events as a member of the audience, and to sit back and enjoy myself rather than rushing about making things happen.
Ali Smith at Tetbury Book Fest
The week kicked off with the new Tetbury Book Fest, run by the Yellow-Lighted Bookshop at the delightful Tetbury Goods Shed, a small-scale events space on the site of the former and sympathetically converted former Tetbury railway station. This Cotswold market town, just a few miles up the road from me, was filled with party atmosphere, its annual Wacky Races event, in which locals race home-made go-carts around its street, having taken place a little earlier that day.
At Tetbury, I really enjoyed a talk by Ali Smith, one of the country’s most highly-regarded authors. She doesn’t do many public events like this, but the Yellow-Lighted’s ever-persuasive Hereward managed to lure her along. She was there to talk about her latest book, Spring, but it was also inspiring to hear her talk about her love of books and reading,
“My books are nothing to do with me once I’ve finished them,” she said. “Books belong to us all individually as well as communally.”
She passionately advocated rereading books – a great excuse for those who, like me, like to keep books they’ve enjoyed in case they want to return to them later.
“Books are different to us on rereading ten years later,” she observed, and I completely agree.
I was also chuffed to learn a new word from her: intertextuality. This means the act of referring to other texts within a book. I do that a lot in my Sophie Sayers series (Sophie works in a bookshop), mostly for comic effect, but it’s pleasing to know there’s a formal name for it.
I didn’t take a photo of Ali because she is very shy and it would have felt intrusive, but I had a nice chat with her while she was signing her book for me, and was pleased to be able to tell her that the previous week I’d been with Dr Gerri Kimber, whom she thanks in the acknowledgements section of Spring, when she came to speak at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival about Katherine Mansfield, referenced in her book.
My week ended with four days in a big Bristol hotel at CrimeFest, a huge international writing conference that draws authors and readers from all over the world. The hotel felt a bit like a crime scene itself, with stripes of colour-coded tape stuck to the carpets to guide you through winding corridors and deserted ballrooms to specific events. I would not have been surprised to find a chalk outline of a body along the way.
As well as a tempting bookshop, there was a stall selling crime-related props designed for use at murder mystery parties or launches of crime novels. The closest they had to a real weapon was a chocolate gun, but much as I love chocolate, even that made me shudder whenI heard the vendor saying breezily “Kids love them”. I really don’t want to see a child with a chocolate gun in its mouth. Ugh.
The CrimeFest programme is packed, with several strands of events running simultaneously all day long. In between socialising with crimewriting friends, I attended the following sessions across the four days:
Whose Story: Unique Voices and Unreliable Narrators
They’ve Been in My Head for Years: Writing a Long-standing Series
Writing Elsewhere: Using an International Setting
Don’t Make Me Laugh: Humour in Crime Fiction
Contemporary Issues: Reflecting How We Live
Crime Fiction Legacies: Desmond Bagly, Campion, Holmes and More
A Light Touch: Writing Traditional Mysteries
Unlikely Alliances: Partners, Sidekicks and Friends
The Indie Alternative
Each panel had three or four speakers plus a moderator, all published authors, some long-established bestsellers, others closer to the start of their crimewriting career. The standard of moderators and speakers was very high, with only one of the panels descending quickly into self-promotion.
The authors who particularly captivated me were all people whose books I’d never read, but that’s about to change:
Norwegian novelist Gunnar Staalesen, writing the same series for 43 years
Felix Francis, son of the more famous Dick Francis, continuing his legacy, with his own name on the cover of his books but underneath the strapline “A Dick Francis Novel”!
Mike Ripley, an irrepressible author of comic crime novels and also continuation author for Margery Allingham
Janet Laurence, a dignified and gracious lady who talked with great authority about the Golden Age of Crimewriting – I could have listened to her all day
Beate Boeker, a delightful German who says her name in a certain dialect translates as “Happy Books” – talk about nominative determinalism!
Charlie Gallagher, a serving police officer writing bestselling police procedurals
These last two provided a sobering reminder that crime doesn’t only happen in fiction.
Spoiled for choice as to what to read next and unable to choose between all of these, I bought instead a book I’d been meaning to read for ages: Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Crimewriting – the perfect follow-up to my current read, Janet Brabazon’s biography of Dorothy L Sayers.
But it’s a fair cop, I confess: on arriving home, I immediately went online and bought secondhand from a charity retailer the first in Vaseem Khan‘s series. Well, what’s not to love about baby elephants?
Another week, another festival! This week I’ll be chairing a panel on cosy crime novels at theOakwood Literature Festivalin Derby; going to a musical evening in Avebury based on Beatrice Parvin‘s historical novel Captain Swing and the Blacksmith, and attending the Spring event for Stroud Short Stories. And in between times, I may even get some writing done! Full report to follow next week…
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I make no secret of the fact that I hate February, with its dull, short days, and no redeeming feature besides brevity. At least January includes my birthday (the day I’m writing this). But by February, I am usually pining for blue skies, bright flowers, and green leaves, instead of grey, grey, grey, and I’m longing to flip the calendar to March.
But this year my attitude has changed after reading some books about early polar explorers, including Michael Palin’s Erebus: the Story of a Ship. These books have given me a new perspective not only on the frozen north and south but also on my home turf.
Armchair Travellers All
Although few of us have come close to the North or South Pole, these days we all feel we know what the Arctic and Antarctic landscapes looks like, thanks to television documentaries. Not so for the early explorers. Obviously there was no television, but even photography was in its very infancy. The daguerrotypes taken of officers before the Erebus set off in search of the North West passage were the very latest in 19th century technology. Only in the 20th century did we start to see photographic evidence such as the remarkable work of Frank Hurley, whose accompanied Shackleton and others. The only visual records of the Erebus’s journeys north and south are the crew’s drawings and paintings.
According to Michael Palin, one of the crew in the Erebus’s early 19th century polar voyages was startled at his first sight of icebergs, expecting them to be clear, like ice cubes in a glass of Scotch. They’d never seen Antarctic penguins, either, although they might have spotted variants native to South America, South Africa and Tasmania on their way south.
Picking Up On Penguins
But how much more remarkable would a penguin find the Cotswolds? There’s so much here that is completely absent from the Antarctic: trees, grass, and other terrestrial plants and flowers; stone walls dividing fields; rolling green hills instead of stark mountains; roads and automobiles; four-legged animals; and, for the most part, people.
Set a penguin down in the middle of Tetbury, or anywhere in the Cotswold countryside, and its mind would surely be blown by the extraordinary display of colour, texture, shapes and sizes, even in the middle of winter, compared to the whites, blues and greys down south. If you wanted to break your penguin in gently, you could show a bit of camaraderie by wearing a dinner suit, and find it a field carpeted with snowdrops.
So this year I have a new strategy to stop me succumbing to the February blues. Instead of bemoaning the grey winter days, I will try to view the local landscape through the eyes of a visiting Antarctic penguin. The transformation is remarkable, like the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy opens the door of her black-and-white house to reveal the glorious Technicolor Munchkinland.
Even so, I’ll still be craving the spring.
If you’d like a bit of spring reading to cheer you up, Springtime for Murder, Sophie Sayers’ fifth village mystery, could just hit the spot. Available in paperback online and to order from all good bookshops, and also as an ebook for Kindle. For more information, and to read the first chapter on my website, please click here.
In this month’s Tetbury Advertiser, I’ve been revisiting one of my favourite topics: eponymous buying, inspired by the purchase of a book that shares it’s name with a local shop.
What’s the connection between Tetbury and Vincent van Gogh?
No, it’s not the starry starry nights, the abundance of sunflowers (in the florists’ at least), the wonky-legged chairs in certain cafes, nor even the occasional pipe-smoking man seen wandering through town in a straw hat. It’s one of the shops – The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, named after Lewis Buzbee’s delightful book, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, which weaves together a memoir of his life as a bookseller with the history of books and bookshops. Continue reading “Painting the Town Yellow”→
A post celebrating wedding anniversaries and other special occasions – with tips on how to pick a date for your wedding
Writing this month’s column for the Tetbury Advertiser in the run-up to my parents’ 62nd wedding anniversary, I’ve been thinking about how we choose and mark the days we wish to celebrate.
How to Choose a Special Day
My parents’ choice of wedding date has always struck me as the romantic ideal: 21st March, the first day of spring, subtler and wiser than Valentine’s Day. If a Valentine’s marriage ends in divorce, that day is forever blighted with a reminder of rejection.
For some events we must take pot-luck. My brother had the good fortune to be born on Midsummer’s Day – surely the perfect birthday, half way between two Christmases – whereas my sister’s Trafalgar Day birthday was fitting for the first-born of my father, then serving in the Royal Navy. Continue reading “Celebration Time”→