September 23, 2011

An interview with Keith Walters

Hersilia Press @ 3:20 pm

Keith runs a wonderful blog at http://booksandwriters.wordpress.com/ which is one of the best sources for all things crime fiction. Since he’s used to interviewing authors I thought I might ask him to be on the other side and answer a few questions, which he very kindly agreed to: that will give you an idea of the busy life of a crime blogger. Crime *fiction* blogger, I mean….

What’s the strangest thing that happened to you in an interview?

Maybe not the strangest, but certainly the most memorable.
A few years back (quite a few in fact as was in my college days, writing horror film and book fanzines – yes this was pre-internet!) I had the privilege of being asked to interview Jay Clarke (one of the Canadian team of lawyers that write collectively as Michael Slade) over lunch at Langhams Brasserie.

A great lunch and a lovely chat with a very like-minded guy.  But, perhaps too like-minded as we both loved horror movies and when we got to discussing those and the magazine, Fangoria, his publicist admitted to feeling a little green around the gills and left us to get on with it :)

The day was topped off by the fact that, as we’d had such a great conversation, in the evening at the launch party, Jay spotted me amongst the crowd of the much more professional press guys and called to me. I was a bit gob-smacked, but not as much as those in the room who were clearly wondering who the hell was this ‘kid’ amongst them.

It was great to interview CJ Box over breakfast at Harrogate this year – but I was so embarrassed when a few other attendees (including author David Jackson) were about to sit with us and then I had to ask if they would mind giving us a while.  They were very understanding and gracious – I must get a bigger tape machine as I don’t think they realised I was interviewing at the time.

What’s the best perk of being a crime blogger?

Where to start? I don’t think I could single one out.

Obviously it’s great to receive free books – that’s a given. To get them in advance of publication is a greater bonus and an honour too, and there’s nothing better than somebody telling you via twitter or on a blog comment that they are going to or have bought the book based on a review you’ve written.

Then there are the book events, the launches and the special memories – those at Goldsboro Books in London are always fantastic and draw great crowds, and when there’s something a bit different, such as the Jack the Ripper tour walk for the launch on SJ Bolton’s ‘Now You See Me’, it will stay in the mind for years to come as a really memorable and fun evening.

Meeting crime writers in general is always a great time guaranteed – genuinely the nicest bunch of people you could hope to meet.

And, of course, without the blogging (and twitter, plus the support of many) I wouldn’t have won the ‘blogger in residence’ gig at this year’s excellent Harrogate Crime Writing Festival.

We may not have won the quiz, Ilaria, but we can’t have everything :) [I have to butt in here and add that Keith and I were on the same quiz team…. we didn’t win, but we didn’t do too bad…]

Crime fiction blogging seems to spin off into all sorts of  other things I never would have had the opportunity to do before – this year I attended and took part in the World Book Night launch, attended the filming of three episodes of the TV Book Club, and have written for the We Love this Book website – so, all good and thoroughly enjoyable stuff.

Conversely, what’s the worst aspect of being a crime blogger?

I wouldn’t really necessarily call it the ‘worst’, but maybe the most difficult, if that’s okay to twist things a little? That would be time – or lack of it.

There really are so many great books out there that, with the full time sales job I hold down to pay the mortgage, bills and keep the kids in shoes, sometimes a few chapters and I’m asleep on the sofa far too early some evenings.

This is all, without a doubt, self-inflicted, however, particularly as I also delve into YA books every now and again (something my 11 year old daughter is now assisting with on our JNR version of the blog), so some days more YA books arrive than crime fiction titles to review.

It’s also a bit of a challenge to make sure a balance is being struck and that all the lovely folk who look after us bloggers are getting an even spread of reviews – there’s nothing worse than a site that looks like every review is a book from the same publishing house.

I have invested in a dry wipe board, just to keep a better track on what I’m doing so that I can switch off from the day job in the evenings and take a look at what I ‘really’ want to be doing.

A great hero or a great villain? [IM: I am indebted for this question to the wonderful Dan Holloway, author of The Company of Fellows as one of his ‘how long is a piece of rope’]

In life, the great hero would have to be my Dad.  If I can be half as good a Dad to my kids as he is to me then I would have done a pretty good job.

In crime fiction, my author hero would likely be the late great Ed McBain – I love the ensemble work of the 87th Precinct novels and the man was so prolific – my bookshelves of his work shout at me to get my own books written.

For a crime fiction character, my hero would probably be Charlie Parker from John Connolly’s excellent novels – he has just the right balance of being a haunted character whilst also being tough and ready to do his bit when required – and I just love the way those books tread the border between crime and the supernatural.

For a villain – I will avoid real life and authors and go with a character only, and here’s where I go more horror than crime I guess, with Annie Wilkes from Stephen King’s masterpiece Misery. Although, I guess the title villain may not strictly apply in that case as she clearly believes she is only acting in the best interest of the author Paul Sheldon and his work – as chilling as that becomes.

What’s the book plot you’d rewrite? 

Ooh – good question.

To be honest, I wouldn’t profess to thinking I could do anything to improve on anyone who’s actually had something published.

But, there are lots of books where I guess I would have preferred the ending was different of the plot changed in some way.

In some ways, although I absolutely loved Justin Cronin’s The Passage, I was sad when the first section of the book ended and I felt rushed years ahead as I wanted to stay in the first section for longer – maybe for that whole book – especially as it was the first of a trilogy.

What’s the best idea you’ve had which has gone (so far) unappreciated by everyone else?

Well, nothing that I’d take to Dragons’ Den if that’s what you mean.

In terms of writing, I have completed NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) for the past few years.  Two years ago my children expressed an interest and wanted to know what I was writing, so I changed tack and chose to write a childrens’ fantasy book featuring them. It meant that, every night at bedtime, I got to read them a few pages and then got their feedback and ideas as to where the story would go next – cheating in a way, but I felt that was a pretty good idea to keep them happy and to get the book written.

If I’m allowed two, then I also changed the design on the architects’ plans when we had a loft extension a few years back, to put a turn in the new staircase rather than a straight run – this resulted in me gaining a lovely little office and reading space – a bit selfish, but I thought it was a good idea :)

Tidy desk or messy desk?

A bit of both really.

I like nothing more than getting organised.

Today for example, my desk (which is actually now our dining room table) is covered in paperwork from the day job to file away for next week along with the work laptop, calculator, car keys, work bag and several phones, along with a pile of books received today, this laptop and paperwork relating to book-ish things.

So, right now it’s very messy, but I will no doubt spend a couple of hours this evening getting everything organised in the expectation that this will be the weekend where I get stuff done. Then my wife will come home, the kids will start fighting, washing up in the kitchen needs doing and dinner to be sorted out – and my nice tidier desk will sit like that until it’s time for Monday to hit with vengeance.

Most stupid question you’ve ever been asked? (no, you can’t answer with “this one”!)

That’s not a stupid question, but it is the toughest of the bunch.

It doesn’t relate to books or writing, but to somebody taking dictation (from a cassette machine) at a place I used to work.

The guy on the tape had asked the temp to type a quote (we repaired shop signs) and he’d said ‘Two engineers attending site and carrying out repairs…’. The temp actually asked me if what she’d typed was correct, clearly not engaging brain before showing it to me.

She’d typed ‘Two engineers attending site and carrying out some bears’ !

September 15, 2011

The Glitter Scene by Monika Fagerholm

Hersilia Press @ 1:54 pm

The Glitter SceneThe Glitter Scene by Monika Fagerholm

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I received this book, courtesy of the publisher, I was a little puzzled as it was described as a murder mystery but the cover was unlike any other murder mystery book I’d seen. At this point I have to admit that I am a bit of a font and book nerd and the cover of this volume is absolutely beautiful – not just beautiful to look at, it is tactile as well (one point scored for the supporters of the “kindle-will-never-replace-that”). But I digress.

I started reading and I kept thinking I was missing words. The style of this book is so peculiar it was like reading Ulysses all over again: you will see what I mean when you read the book. It is like modern art or contemporary classical music: it takes a while to understand, and you think it’s really weird, but amazingly it all works, and eventually you do understand it, a little while after having closed the book. Which is exactly what happened to me.

I don’t think you can summarise the plot, as it is anything but linear: there are different points of view, flashbacks and overlap between them. It is an “impressionistic” book in that you have to let the words take you where the author wants you, the reader, to be. The characters are viewed from their own point of view and the point of view of one other character in the story: there isn’t an omniscient narrator that we can rely on and trust, to help us form an opinion of the characters. This prevents empathising with them, but makes the reader be the narrator him/herself: it is almost as if the story is unfolding in front of our very eyes, with all its complexities, emotions and lack of objectivity.

I liked this book once I finished it – it is, more than a story, an experience or an emotion.

The translator has done a brilliant job for a book which must have been a very difficult assignment indeed.

View all my reviews

September 8, 2011

Il Giorno della Civetta by Leonardo Sciascia

Hersilia Press @ 6:30 pm

Il giorno della civettaIl giorno della civetta by Leonardo Sciascia

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It is impossible to do justice to a book like this, which has become a classic and in the opinion of many (me included) should be compulsory reading at school. It is the first Italian fiction book to deal with the mafia phenomenon, which is nowadays commonly accepted as a reality of many societies (not only Italy) but when Sciascia was writing, it certainly wasn’t.

The book deals with the murder of an entrepreneur, Colasberna, at the hands of the mafia. Carabinieri Captain Bellodi, who is originally from Parma in the north of the country, is determined to identify the culprit, but despite the murder having taken place on a crowded bus and in a public place, no witnesses come forward and nobody has heard or seen anything. Bellodi meets the local Godfather, who assures him the mafia doesn’t exist, a concept repeated in Parliament where a politician claims it is an invention of the communists. The real culprits have unassailable alibis and the murder is declared a crime of passion, attributed to the lover of Colasberna’s wife.

Sciascia is ground-breaking not only because he is one of the first gialli writers, but also because he writes about contemporary criminal reality, which he knew well as a Sicilian and as a member of Parliament. He also is one of the first writers to have a strong impegno, the socio-political commitment which is a denunciation of everyday real life, where justice is not always made. In this book, as in many others (especially Italian) there is no “happy” ending (as much as a book with a murder can have a happy ending), no closure, no sense that justice has been made. And this is exactly why these books have become classics.

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