BOOKS BY THE BEACH & OTHER STUFF

SCARBOROUGH BOOK FESTIVAL

It's been a hectic 2014 so far as I've set up a new book festival in Scarborough with co-director, Heather French. Books By The Beach is running 24-28 April and includes a star turn from JO NESBO. If you're so inclined, check out the website, www.booksbythebeach.co.uk.

Meanwhile, I've just done final proofs on THOSE WHO FEEL NOTHING, the fifth Brighton book, which comes out 23 May 2014; my standalone thriller, PARADISE ISLAND, is doing the rounds of publishers; and I've nearly completed my second e-novella to feature Sherlock Holmes and Jules Poiret - it's called THE FRENCH HOSPITAL.

Also on the writing stocks for this year is an updated version of my THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY; a long ghost story set in Paris, as yet untitled; and another Brighton book.

AND the Festival chairing season is already upon me. Onward and upward!!

ASPARA WRITING FESTIVAL LAUNCHED

10/11 May 2014

Very pleased to be running a writing workshop and giving a talk on 10/11 May at the wonderfully named Aspara Writing Festival, based in Evesham in the Cotswolds. This new festival, which has just launched its programme, actually runs from 23 April to 21 June and writers running workshops and giving talks over that period include a number of my old mates: Quintin Jardine, Simon Brett, Michael Jecks, Edward Marston, Judith Cutler and Stella Duffy.

I reckon I've got the best slot because the festival is named after the asparagus for which the area is famous and with luck it will be at its best whilst I'm there. Not that I'll be doing an asparagus-themed workshop or talk...necessarily. Full details at www.asparawritingfestival.co.uk

BLOODY SCOTLAND, STIRLING

13-15 SEPTEMBER 2013

The second Bloody Scotland was even more successful than last year’s debut festival. Ticket sales were up 43% as audiences flocked to see a terrific range of writing talent including LEE CHILD, JO NESBO, VAL MCDERMID, MARK BILLINGHAM, ARNE DAHL, DENISE MINA, STUART MACBRIDE, ANN CLEEVES and LOUISE WELCH.

Not to mention rising star MALCOLM MACKAY who won the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year for his second novel, How A Gunman Says Goodbye, despite being up against Ian Rankin, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves, Gordon Ferris and Val McDermid.

(There was a replacement bus service over the weekend because of railway engineering works. Denise Mina told me before the awards dinner she wasn’t so much worried about winning or losing as having to take the bus back to Glasgow in her posh gown.)

Audience members came from as far afield as Texas and Melbourne but most were Scottish. (CHRIS CARTER wondered if he’d leave the stage alive when he twice referred to being in ‘England’ in a panel he did with CRAIG ROBERTSON and moi on serial killers. I was more worried by Craig’s assertion that one in a hundred people are serial killers since there were over a hundred people in the audience…]

The weekend got off to a raucous and wonderfully scabrous start with CHRISTOPHER BROOKMYRE and MARK BILLINGHAM’s Friday night post-watershed double act. The audience loved the show – and it was a show, illustrated with slides even. They want to tour it but need the right venues in the right towns. They are shortly doing the Guildford Book Festival together. Are they doing the show there? ‘No, no, no, no!!’ Mark says – and you can see his point.

To be honest, I didn’t see too much after that because I was chairing three events a day on Saturday and Sunday. I caught the last ten minutes of VAL MCDERMID and STUART MACBRIDE (chaired by Craig Robertson) and it looked like knockabout good fun – later confirmed by audience members who enjoyed listening to the non-stop banter of three writers who obviously get on well.

So far as the events I chaired went – well, I believe they went very well. DENISE MINA and LOUISE WELCH were a perfect pairing. Two highly intelligent Glaswegians, both thoughtful and funny. They’d driven over together so were worried beforehand they were talked out. They weren’t. Denise’s defence of swearing as being necessary to help the rhythm of a sentence was witty and f---ing persuasive.

MR BILLINGHAM and Northern Ireland noir writer STUART NEVILLE made an interesting pairing. They spent a lot of time talking about twists in crime novels and how not to overdo them but I was most interested to discover that Stuart’s The Twelve is going to be filmed from a script by US talk show host Craig Ferguson (a Scot I remember doing stand-up on the comedy circuit in the Nineties) with Pierce Brosnan cast as the homicidal Gerry Fegan. Remembering Brosnan’s turn in The Matador that’s a film I want to see.

I’d interviewed ARNE DAHL, the Swedish author of the Intercrime series, at the Edinburgh Book Festival alongside ALEX GRAY and found him charming, thoughtful and witty. (Any person who can crack jokes in a second language impresses me.) He did admit that it was slightly odd talking about books – The Blinded Man and Bad Blood – that he wrote sixteen or so years ago. (Yes, it’s taken that long for British publishers to catch up to him.)

JO NESBO arrived for his early Saturday evening event looking shattered. In fact he slept on the sofa in the green room for half an hour until it was time to go on. But then he is in the middle of a packed schedule. His publishers had even arranged for books to be on sale on the train from Preston up to Glasgow so that he spent the entire journey signing them.

On stage, though, faced with an enthusiastic full house, he woke up and was really great. Among other things I got him talking about his relationship with his father, who had fought on the Eastern Front for the Germans during World War II because he was more anti-communist than anti-fascist. (A consequence of living in rabidly anti-communist America before the war.) On his return to Norway he had been imprisoned for two years for collaboration. He told Jo later that was fair enough.

I asked LEE CHILD about his father too – not because I repeat myself but because Lee had described his father in an interview late last year as a bigot and I wanted to explore that. I’d decided to focus on Lee more than Jack Reacher as there’s little new to say about the character. (I left the Tom Cruise questions to the audience as we’d explored those a lot at last year’s Bristol Crimefest.) So nice, easy-going Lee also talked about his teenage years in Birmingham as a scrapper, complete with knife and the headbutting skills Reacher has inherited.

Altogether a fab weekend so major kudos to ALEX GRAY, LIN ANDERSON and the team for putting it together. Looking forward to seeing how they top it next year.

DOUBLE WHAMMY WINNER

GRAHAM GREENE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL WRITING COMPETITION 2013

Almost on a whim and as a technical exercise I entered short pieces in the thriller and travel writing categories of this annual writing competition. Entrants were given an opening sentence (actually the opening line of Our Man In Havana) and had 750 words to continue it in whatever way they chose.

I'm very pleased to have heard that my entries won in both categories. (I now wish I'd entered in the third category too!). The award ceremony is on Saturday 28 September in Berkhamsted. Further details of the terrific festival on www.grahamgreenefestival.org

I've published both entries on the website here.

THE DEVIL'S MOON

COVER ARTWORK FOR FOURTH BRIGHTON BOOK...

...can be seen on my Facebook page. I'm too technically inept to be able to get a picture up on this site. The covers of the French translations are there too. And on Amazon, of course.

JOSEPH CONNOLLY

OXFORD BOOK FESTIVAL 20 MARCH NOON

Late request for me to interview Joseph. He is supposed to be on with novelist PAUL TORDAY but Mr Torday is ill so I'm filling in. It's fun being a sub - last time I did Oxford I did an In Conversation with LINDA GRANT at five minutes notice which we were both surprised worked out pretty well.

PETER JAMES & MICHAEL MARSHALL

FOYLES 19 MARCH 2013

Gearing up for what promises to be a great event, chairing these two thrilling writers and witty folk - who are also mates. Foyles, Peter and Michael - what's not to like? Especially when I can spend far too much money in Ray's Jazz on the top floor of the bookshop, just next to the event. Okay - let me rethink that.

FIVE CRIME SONGS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

CRIMESPREE

Only just seen a little piece I did for the great Crimespree website a couple of months ago...

FIVE CRIME SONGS THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

Bad boys and faithless women populated blues and country songs for decades. Broadway musicals have had their share, from the lovable petty crooks of Guys and Dolls through the switchblade gangs of West Side Story to the tiny crooks of Bugsy Malone and serial killer Sweeney Todd.

So, whittling my choices down to just five has not been easy but I tried to go for the unexpected.

1. EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE written and performed by Sting/Police

Sting’s anthem for stalkers remains a song of choice for wedding couples. Do they actually listen to the lyrics? Sting wrote it not in the throes of love but in the throes of possessive jealousy when his first marriage had just ended. “Every breath you take, every move you make, I’ll be watching you” is essentially a bunny boiler alert. This is a guy you want to take a restraining order out on, not walk up the aisle with.

2. PSYCHO KILLER written and performed by David Byrne/Talking Heads

The person described in this early hit for Talking Heads, the hip band of the late seventies and eighties, isn’t the cold, emotionless psychopathic type we’re now familiar with. This psycho killer can’t sleep because his bed’s on fire and you’d better not touch him because his nerves are inflamed too. But it doesn’t matter that the psychological profile doesn’t fit – lead singer/songwriter David Byrne with those unblinking eyes staring out of his bony face is plenty scary, thank you very much.

3. VAMPIRES written and performed by Paul Simon

Unlikely as it sounds from the “Bridge Over Troubled Water” guy, Paul Simon was already into minor criminal activity with his first solo album. When he and his friend Julio were down by the schoolyard they were smoking dope. With the stage show/album “The Capeman” he graduated to murder and, in fairness, rehabilitation. This fifties-set study of a Puerto Rican teen gang, the Vampires, co-written by Nobel Prize poet Derek Walcott, knocks West Side Story into a cocked hat.

The highlight of this particular song is an account of a fight between a skinny Puerto Rican and a big Irish kid “who looks like a ton of cold beef floating in beer.” I met Walcott once and, hoping to ingratiate myself with him, I gushed about how the word choice, the rhymes and the rhythm made this a truly powerful piece. (All of which is true.) He dismissed me with the words: “Paul wrote that one."

4. POTTER’S FIELD written and performed by Tom Waits

Tom Waits is the other poet laureate of America’s underbelly (Bruce being the first) and many of his early songs were inspired by a combination of film noir, Edward Hopper paintings and Charles Borkowski-like barflies. His “Invitation To The Blues” is essentially the first act of The Postman Always Rings Twice; his “Burma Shave” is Thieves Like Us.

“Small Change”, the title track of his second album, doesn’t mess around. Its first line is: “Small Change got rained on with his own .38.” His account of the young punk who got into an altercation by a jukebox is a short story masterclass in song. Much later, with “Trouble’s Braids”, on the album “Swordfishtrombones”, he spends about 90 seconds brilliantly describing the experiences of a wounded man on the run evading his pursuers before the man floats down a creek out of the song.

However, the one I like best is from his third album, “Foreign Affairs”. “Potter’s Field” is a story told by a stool pigeon who would “double cross his mother if it’s whiskey that they paid”. His nickname is Nickel and he knows where a guy is hiding out who stole half a million dollars in unmarked bills. The story is elliptical – the guy slept last night in a wheelbarrow “with only revenge to keep him warm” (and a siren for a lullaby)- but he also paid “a king’s ransom for a bedspread” sometime or other. And he may well be dead. If you want to find this fugitive, Nickel suggests you seek out Captain Charon, who sails from the Bronx across the River Styx. Wonderful stuff. I suspect Pelecanos and Lehane long ago listened and learned.

5. MACK THE KNIFE written by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht

No list would be complete without arch-criminal MacHeath from The Threepenny Opera. This guy is so cool he can even survive T S Eliot turning him into Macavity the mystery cat (and Andrew Lloyd Webber consequently turning him into a character in Cats). Bad, bad Leroy Brown, with his 32 gun and a razor in his shoe ain’t got nothing on Mack the Knife.

The song has been wrecked by so many (shame on Frank Sinatra) but I first heard the blowsy Bobby Darin version – it was one of the first 45 rpm singles I bought. On the label “Bertolt” is “Bert” and I assumed Bert and Kurt was just another Tin Pan Alley/Brill Building writing duo.

In the eighties, “Lost In The Stars”, a great collection of Kurt Weill songs sung by the rock royalty du jour, has Sting (who played MacHeath on Broadway) and Dominic Muldowney doing a great version of the song. Oh, the shark has pretty teeth, dear – and he shows ‘em pearly white. You betcha.

PROMENADE DU CRIME & LE DERNIER ROI DE BRIGHTON

FRENCH EDITIONS OF BRIGHTON TRILOGY

Babel Noir in France have now published the mass market paperback of "City of Dreadful Night" (known as "Promenade du crime" in France) with a neat little painting of suitcases at a railway station on the cover.

At the same time "The Last King of Brighton" is also out in France (Rouergue Noir edition) with a great noirish cover. It looks twice as thick as the English edition but maybe that's because my brilliant translator, Jean-Rene Dastugue, has added footnotes explaining Sixties UK pop music and British slang. We had a surreal exchange of emails in the course of translation as I tried to explain why a popular early Seventies joke was funny: "I thought Muffin the Mule was a sexual practice until I discovered Smirnoff"...okay, maybe you had to be there.

THE KILLER COOKBOOK

MY MURDEROUS RECIPE

Some months ago I was flattered to be invited to contribute a recipe to The Killer Cookbook to help raise money for Dundee University's Million For A Morgue scheme (www.millionforamorgue.com). This was foolhardy on the part of the editors, who've obviously never eaten round my place, but I came up with my signature dish involving stuffed chicken breast and undercooked lentils. (That last bit is not the recipe, it's just the way lentils always turn out when I do them.)

Anyway, no thanks to me, the recipe book has not only sold very well it has also been shortlisted in the Best Fundraising Cookbook in Europe category at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards (alongside Chez Maxim of Paris, in a slightly surreal turn of events).

The cookbook is a good read aside from the recipes.

Further details on:

http://www.cookbookfair.com/index.php/gourmand-awards/finalists-2013-gg/cookbook-finalist

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