Thursday, June 28, 2007

(Much) Stranger than Fiction

Some of you may have been following the case of the murdered Mongolian model, Altantuya Shaariibuu.  I haven't referenced it here before, because (I suppose) of a degree of unease at the risk of trivialising a genuine and tragic death.  But, as the trial in Malaysia proceeds, the more extraordinary the story appears.  I'll refrain from further comment, but the Asia Sentinel provides an up-to-date summary of the case here (though I do wish they'd dignify the victim with a description other than 'Mongolian beauty').

Friday, June 22, 2007

Pete Atkin

Another digression down the by-ways of my interests, but never mind.  I mentioned a while ago on here an impending gig by Pete Atkin, a sadly underrated songwriter who writes songs with the more famous Clive James (controversial critic of crime fiction).  The concert, which took place last night in Bristol's splendid St George's, was noteworthy because it constituted Pete's first performance with a band for some three decades. 

And a quite stunning performance it was.  Pete was backed by piano, double-bass and drums (and his own acoustic guitar).  Some of the songs - most originally recorded in the 1970s and only sporadically available on CD - were radically reworked, others just given a delightful polish.  But the effect was to give a whole new sheen to the wit and craft of James's lyrics, to the strength of Atkin's distinctive melodies and, above all,  to Atkin's understated brilliance as an interpreter of the songs.

I'm sorry only that most of you missed it.  But the good news is that Pete's taken the opportunity to re-record a selection of his greatest misses with this band and other equally gifted musicians, so there should be a new CD in the new couple of months.  Details will no doubt appear here



Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Alan Garner

Nothing to do with Mongolia (except perhaps through a loose shamanism connection) or indeed crime fiction, but - well, it's my blog so I'll talk about what I want.  I had a fascinating evening last Friday listening to a talk delivered by one of my literary heroes, the great Alan Garner.  Garner is probably still commonly thought of as a writer for children - and, given that his first four books constitute four classic children's novels, that's probably fair enough.  But his more recent work, from 'Red Shift' to 'Strandloper' and 'Thursbitch', explores territory largely untouched by any other novelist - history, myth, identity, landscape - in a prose of extraordinary intensity.  Friday's talk - delivered in the atmospheric shadow of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope in the heart of Garner's Cheshire, as the rain beat down around us - was characteristic of his work.  It ranged from personal reminiscences about the creative process, through family history to archaeology and mythology.  Impossible to summarise, but if you want a taste, it's worth tracking down Garner's sadly out-of-print book of essays, 'The Voice that Thunders'

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Adversary

Well, there it is.  I delivered the final edits of 'The Adversary' to my good friends at Quercus today.  I'm very pleased with it.  I say that, not (I hope) in any spirit of arrogance, but just on the basis that, if I didn't like it, there wouldn't be much chance of anyone else doing so.  But I do, so I hope you will too.

And, these things being as they are, I'm already well under way with the third Nergui book.  With a working title of 'The Outcast', it's - well, no, I think I'll leave that just for the moment and go and enjoy the evening sunshine instead...


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Court Report

It's been a little quiet on here over the last week or two, partly because we've been rejigging the blog to block the growing influx of spam.  I'm assuming that you don't really want endless links to pictures of Lindsay Lohan on here...?

I've also been working on the final edits of the second Nergui book, 'The Adversary', available for pre-order now on Amazon.  The excellent cover can be seen both on Amazon and in the gallery here. 

'The Adversary' introduces some new characters, including some potential romantic interest for Nergui.  I'll say no more than that.  Except to add that she's a judge.  So, to whet your appetite, here's an interesting article on the Mongolian legal system.  Well, what did you expect?  Lindsay Lohan?  

Anyway, Mongolia has apparently been taking advice from Texas on how to run its legal arrangements.  As Judge Spurlock rightly points out in the article, they're both cowboy cultures and they both eat lots of meat.  Any further comment would, I think, be superfluous.

Oh, and don't forget the paperback of 'The Shadow Walker'.  All good bookshops and all that, or at Amazon.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Location, location, location...

I do hope that I'm not responsible for this...

Between the Lines - Interview with Paul Blezard

Meant to post this link before now, but I'm only just catching up with myself. For anyone who might be interested, here's a link to an interview I did with the excellent Paul Blezard for his 'Between the Lines' show on OneWord radio. There's a small charge to download it, I'm afraid, but if it's any consolation I don't get a penny...

Tap Dancing

One of the problems of writing about Mongolia is that it's sometimes a challenge to keep up with the reality. Here's something that could easily form the plotline for a future book. And the picture could form the basis of a caption competition, I suspect.

And here's an excellent interview with the heroic environmental activitst Tsetsge Munkhbayar, referred to in my posting on 23 April.

Khan Do - Protecting the Environment in Mongolia

Marvellous to see that action is now being taken to address some of the environmental issues referenced in 'The Shadow Walker'.  The story of Tsetsegee Munkhbayar is extraordinary, and he's clearly a highly deserving recipient of the Goldman Environment Prize.

Soap star

One of the problems of writing fiction is that it's often hard to keep up with real life.  I don't think I could ever have come up with a character like this.  And just how does a 'post bout soak' turn ugly? 

Mr Bad Example

One of my aims on this site is to raise awareness of Mongolia - its history, its culture and its current state - by linking to relevant news stories and articles. There's some serious and important stuff out there, but this isn't either. I was just pleased to see that The Sopranos' Uncle Junior is doing his bit to help keep me in material for future books...

Clive and Prejudice

Clive James's New Yorker article on crime fiction seems to have set the cat among the proverbials.  Those provoked by his provocative article might be provoked even more by the slightly different, and rather blunter, version that appears on his website

Clearly, entertaining as the article is, I don't agree with James's conclusions.  But, as the lady more or less said, I wouldn't, would I?  However, I'm still intrigued by the suggestion, which I don't really think James follows through, that there are fundamental differences between genre fiction and 'literary' fiction (I'll leave the definition of the latter to someone else).  I think this is right.  If nothing else, genre fiction almost inevitably operates in a context of conventions and reader expectations.  Think of those tiresome lists of the 'rules' that crime writers should follow.  It's possible to subvert the conventions - the late Michael Dibden was a master of such subversion - but that has to be a conscious act.  And it's often in the face of reader resistance.  If you doubt that, take a look at the mixed Amazon reader reviews of Dibden's delightful Back to Bologna

But these conventions also impose discipline.  Crime writers are compelled to plot tightly and, by definition, to engage with big themes and intense emotions.  Those who do it best - from Raymond Chandler to Peter Temple - produce fiction with an intensity and energy that's rarely found in contemporary 'literary' fiction. 

At the risk of drifting (further) into pretentiousness, and to take an analogy that Clive James the poet or lyricist might appreciate, perhaps it's the difference between writing a sonnet and writing free-verse.  In theory, there are limits to what you can do with a sonnet, whereas the potental of free verse is infinite.  But most free verse is unreadable, and the best sonnets are transcendent. 

By the way, did I mention that the paperback of The Shadow Walker is out in the UK today (3 May)?

Dove and Theft - Clive James on crime fiction

An interesting New Yorker piece by Clive James which begins with a consideration of Henry James's 'The Wings of the Dove' but rapidly (and perhaps understandably) moves on to a wide-ranging overview of current crime-fiction, taking in the late Michael Dibdin, Donna Leon, Andrea Camilleri, Benjamin 'John Banville' Black, Gene Kerrigan and others on the way.  There's a slight sense that James (Clive, not Henry) is just reviewing what he happens to have read recently, but the piece offers some interesting insights and provocations.  In particular, he points to the increasing emphasis on distinctive locations in crime fiction - difficult for me to challenge that one.  He's also interesting on the potential tensions between the demands of 'literary' and 'genre' fiction, however we might choose to define those terms. I'd be interested to hear James's views on my Quercus stablemate, Peter Temple.

Incidentally, those who like Clive James's writings may be interested to know that his partner in musical crime, Pete Atkin (the pair have been writing excellent songs together for some 40 years, largely unnoticed by the world at large...more information here and recent CDs can be purchased here) is performing with an acoustic band in Bristol on 21 June 2007.  This is Pete's first performance with a band in an awfully long time, so is likely to be quite an occasion...details here

The Shadow Walker paperback

Just a reminder that The Shadow Walker appears in paperback on 3 May. Our good friends at Quercus have done an absolutely splendid job with the design, as you can see here. Available, of course, from all half-decent bookshops and from Amazon.

'Michael Walters's Blog' - The Shadow Walker

Michael Walters is the author of the Nergui novels – a series of crime thrillers set in modern-day Mongolia described by Maxim Jakubowski in The Guardian as

‘a worthy new series in the making'.

The first in the series, The Shadow Walker , was described in The Independent as ‘compulsive reading...the descriptions of Mongolia are richly enjoyable'. The Guardian added that ‘Walters ably brings his uncommon setting to teeming life', while The Sunday Telegraph described the books as ‘an intriguing police procedural, with a formidable sleuth'.

The books focus on Nergui, a senior official at the Ministry of Security and Doripalam, the head of the Mongolian Serious Crimes Team. These two central characters are surrounded by a diverse and growing cast of supporting players – Drew McLeish, a CID officer seconded from the UK ; Tunjin, an aging, overweight and alcoholic detective; Radnaa, an elegant female member of the judiciary; and many more...

The website aims to provide an introduction to the books, excerpts and reviews, links to information about Mongolia , and anything else that takes our fancy. And feedback on the books or the site is always very welcome.