Monday, January 26, 2009
Friday, January 23, 2009
I happened to be in London earlier in the week and, with half an hour or so to spare between meetings, found myself in the vicinity of Leicester Square. In the past, that's the point at which I'd have made a visit to the excellent Murder One on Charing Cross Road, idled away some time browsing through the racks, and emerged with at least one book I wouldn't have found anywhere else. I've been doing that, given half a chance, for much of its 20-odd year existence.
I did the same this time, of course, but it was a poignant visit because, as we all know, Murder One is due to close imminently. The credit crunch bears a little of the blame - in that it hindered Maxim Jakubowski from selling the business as a going concern, as he'd hoped. But the real culprit, lurking in the drawing room with the lead piping, is the internet. The likes of Amazon, Abebook and Alibris may be a boon to those of us who buy too many books, but they're increasing sounding the death-knell for the independent bookshop - particularly, I imagine, for the specialist shops like Murder One. Ten or fifteen years ago, Murder One was pretty much the only place where I could easily buy, for example, US editions of crime books. Now, I can buy them at the click of a mouse.
I suppose that's just progress. But something's been lost along the way - the sheer serendipitous pleasure that comes from browsing in a good, thoughtfully-stocked bookshop. Whenever I've visited Murder One, I've come away with something that I would never have found through Amazon or its equivalents. However much the on-line bookshops try to recreate the sensation of bookshop browsing, it's never quite the same without the physical dimension. I've bought dozens (hundreds?) of books from bookshops just because they caught my eye and looked interesting. I don't think I've ever done that with Amazon, however much information they throw at me.
I did it again this week, coming away with a Donald E Westlake I'd not read - something I'd never had bought on-line because it wouldn't have occurred to me to look for it.
So - with the possible exception of its impact on my bank balance - the loss of Murder One and its equivalents is a great sadness. I was glad I had the chance to pay one last visit, and also that I finally took the opportunity to say hello to Maxim Jakubowski - in all my visits, I'd never had cause to disturb him if he was in the shop - and to wish him and his staff well. I understand there are plans to try to continue the mail order side of the business - I hope so, and I hope they succeed in giving their larger, but much more anonymous, competitors a run for their money.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Just before the turn of the last century, the great guitarist and songwriter Richard Thompson was asked to contribute to a Playboy magazine listing of the best songs of the last millennium. Being the sort of person he is, Thompson chose to take this literally and supplied them with a list of his favourite tunes of the previous 1000 years. Being the kind of magazine it is, Playboy didn't bother to publish it.
Thompson, though, decided to use this as a springboard to launch a show in which he takes a journey, quite literally, through 1000 years of popular music, beginning in the 12th century and working his way up to the present day. He's been performing the show off and on for a few years now, mainly in the US, but I was fortunate enough to catch one of his few previous UK performances of it in London three or four years back. I thought it was stunning - entertaining, informative and with some quite terrific music. It's difficult to think of anyone else in the world who could have pulled it off. Thompson combines an enormously wide-ranging knowledge and love of popular music in its widest sense, with the apparent ability to play absolutely anything at all on the guitar. The show is essentially just Thompson on acoustic guitar and vocals, backed by Debra Donkin on percussion and backing vocals and Judith Owen on vocals and occasional keyboard. But between them they tackle everything from Henry Purcell to Nelly Furtado, quite brilliantly.
Thompson has finally brought the show properly to the UK, and I saw it last night at the Lowry in Salford. The show has evolved since the previous version I saw, with a whole new selection of popular songs - everything from a song supposedly written by King Richard I in prison to the aforementioned Ms Furtado's Maneater (with a middle section sung, in Latin, in the style of medieval church music). Highlights included a note for note version of Abba's Money - possibly the most staggering guitar playing of the night - as well a quite wonderful version of the traditional The False Night on the Road. And, to end the evening, the most exhilarating Beatles medley you can imagine.
The tour's not finished yet so if Thompson comes to a venue near you, don't miss it. If you do, go and buy the DVD and CD (which are of the earlier show I saw rather than this one, but equally unmissable - especially Thompson singing Britney Spears). You won't regret it.
Friday, January 9, 2009
Many thanks to Maxine Clarke for giving this week's postings a very nice plug on her always-excellent blog. I'm not sure about Maxine's suggestion that I should post more often - some might say the opposite... But one of my new year resolutions is to do just that, so don't say you haven't been warned.
I thought I'd conclude this little sequence of postings by thinking about some of the stuff other than crime fiction that I've enjoyed over the year. Interestingly, when I started to think about other fiction I'd read in 2008, many of the books that had made an impression - for example, Catherine O'Flynn's eerie What Was Lost or Sebastian Faulks's Engleby - turned out to be crime fiction in all but marketing category. Taken alongside the growing tendency for 'literary' novelists - John Banville, Susan Hill, Kate Atkinson and even Faulks himself with the Bond franchise - to move into the crime/thriller field, this suggests that there's something in the wind, but I'm not sure what.
I've also worked my way through a lot of non-fiction during 2008, much of it as research for the book I'm currently working on (more of that later). But I thought it was worth highlighting a couple of recent reads that, in different ways, I found particularly inspiring. The first was actually a re-read - and not for the first time. It's wonderful book of collected essays by the novelist, Alan Garner, which was published under the title, The Voice That Thunders. Most people know Garner best as a children's writer - we all grew up on The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, The Moon of Gomrath and Elidor - although he's not really been that for a long time. His most recent novels, Standloper and Thursbitch, are very much aimed at adults, and are extraordinary creations. Garner's never been prolific, but I think it's arguable that he's the most interesting English novelist working today. The Voice That Thunders is a marvellous companion to his novels - a series of beautiful written, tremendously thought-provoking essays, at least a couple of which are likely to change the way you think about the world and landscape around you. Sadly - outrageously - the book is currently out of print and second-hand copies seem to command absurdly high prices. But if you can find a copy in a library, don't pass it by. (Incidentally, if you're looking for a tenuous crime fiction connection, Garner's editor for many years was Christopher MacLehose of the MacLehose Press, UK publishers of Steig Larsson).
The second is also a book of essays, though much more readily available. Over the Christmas break, I've been working my way steadily through Clive James's monumental Cultural Amnesia, which he subtitles Note in the Margins of my Time. Most are aware of James as presenter, witty autobiographer or TV critic, but not of his further incarnations as, for example, rather good poet or serious cultural critic. This book focuses very much on the last of those roles - it's a massive collection of short essays each of which begins with a quote from a significant cultural figure (ranging from philosophers, artists and writers to Hollywood stars). Sometimes the essay actually concerns the figure in question, but often the quotation is the starting-point to a wider ranging discussion. The core theme of the book is the continuing struggle between James's notion of liberal democracy and the various forms of tyranny that would seek to stifle it. The overall effect is to produce a unique cultural history of the 20th Century. You don't have to agree with everything James's writes (I don't), but he always writes it beautifully - elegant, provocative, mind-expanding. And the sheer intellectual enthusiasm is as bracing as a cold January day.
I had thought about saying something about music in 2008, but in truth there wasn't a great deal new that excited me (I'm thinking of the popular stuff here - my appreciation of classical music, although sincere, tends to be stifled by my complete and utter lack of anything that could be dignified as knowledge. I know what I like, though.)
Possibly my favourite album of the year, largely for sentimental reasons, was Robert Forster's The Evangelist. Forster was formerly one half of the Australian band, the Go Betweens, alongside the late Grant McLennan. The Go Betweens' music meant a lot to me, and McLennan's solo work meant even more (his album, Horsebreaker Star, is a small masterpiece). In May 2006 - is it really that long ago? - I was on the train to London and opened a copy of The Independent to be faced, out of the blue, by McLennan's obituary, following his death from a heart attack at the age of only 48. I'm not generally emotionally much affected by the deaths of celebrities I've never met, but this one caught me by surprise. Apart from the personal tragedy for McLennan's family and friends, there was a real sense of artistic loss. The Go Betweens, after a period apart, were back recording and were better than ever. And now it seemed that McLennan's unique mix of the joyous and the melancholic had been silenced forever.
But not quite, as it turned out. While the Go Betweens were no more, and Forster had partly reinvented himself very successfully as a journalist, this year he finally released a new solo album. Better still, it's not just a solo album because three of the songs were completions of work that Grant McLennan had begun before his death. Even without the weight of sentiment that inevitably lies across it, it's a lovely record - restrained, heartful, deeply moving. A worthy tribute to Grant McLennan. And the high spot is McLennan's song, Demon Days, which Forster finished and sings as the perfect tribute to his late partner. Even if you don't buy the album, download that song and give it a listen. Dry-eyed, if you can.
The other musical high points of the year were largely live ones. Finally seeing Nick Lowe live. Having the opportunity to witness one of Leonard Cohen's majestic performances. Having another chance - shifting literally from the sublime to the ridiculous - to see the increasingly marvellous Half Man Half Biscuit perform (they also had a great CD out in 2008). Actually, there was quite a lot, now I come to think of it.
So what does 2009 hold? Well, little good, by most accounts, though I'm generally an optimist by nature. From a personal perspective, The Adversary will be out in the US in March (with that great cover), and The Outcast paperback will be out in the UK soon afterwards. I'm currently working on a new book which I'm hoping will be the first in a new series - I don't want to say too much about it just yet except that it's not set in Mongolia and, in some respects, it seems to have become unexpectedly topical.
And, just in case Nergui fans are getting anxious, I've also got a fourth Mongolia book all planned out. Although the books always develop considerably in the writing, I'm excited about the way this one is looking. There are some challenging times ahead for those characters...
Anyway, a very happy New Year to you all. Now we've put 2008 to bed, let's get on with 2009. I've got a feeling it may not be so bad after all.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Well, the snow came and went, the skies clouded over, the temperatures rose, and now we're somewhere closer to a normal damp Cheshire January.
I'm a little conscious that I've so far ended up talking about fewer books than I'd intended, due to my rambling ways. So today perhaps I should just begin with a quick resumé of some of the books that have, one way or another, stayed with me from 2008. First, as a long-standing Reginald Hill fan, it was a bumper year as the ever-prolific Mr Hill gave us two books to delight in. The latest Dalziel and Pascoe, A Cure for All Deseases (intriguingly retitled The Price of Butcher's Meat in the US) unexpectedly combined the contrasting wisdoms of Andy Dalziel and Jane Austen. Possibly a more lightweight addition to the series than some, but still a joy to read. I really don't know how Hill manages to be so prolific and so consistently good. This year he also gave us a new Joe Sixsmith, the wonderfully titled The Roar of the Butterflies. The Sixsmith books are generally less substantial and more playful than the Dalziels, but I thought this was great fun. In an odd way, it reminded me of the wonderful Duffy books that Julian Barnes used to write as Dan Kavanagh, and there's little higher praise than that.
What else? Well, I finally got around to trying Brian McGilloway's much-praised Borderlands, the first of his Inspector Devlin series. A good down to earth cop with - praise be! - a wife and family, and a terrific bleak setting. I'm looking forward to reading the next ones. Another down to earth cop who's also, so far, managed to hold on to his family is Chris Simms's Jon Spicer. Chris is actually a neighbour of mine (quite literally), and the world and characters he describes are the ones I see around me. I haven't got to his latest, Hell's Fire, yet. but its predecessor, Savage Moon, was his best so far - combining a strong mystery with an intriguing exploration of Britain's colonial legacy in Kenya.
Shifting gear again, S J Bolton's Sacrifice is a fascinating mix of Gothic thriller and police procedural, set in a splendidly sinister Shetland. I suspect I'm not really part of the target demographic for this book - just an inkling from the way she describes the handsome, charismatic doctors - but, as a long-time fan of The Wicker Man, the concept appealed strongly to me. It's a great read, which nicely balances some border-fantastical ideas with believable characters and settings, concluding with a plot-twist which I found genuinely chilling.
And still that's just scatching the surface. But I suppose my greatest enjoyment this year came not so much from new discoveries as from getting to grips properly with a couple of authors I'd previously tried but, for whatever reason, hadn't fully appreciated. The first was Jo Nesbo. Nesbo's books have been very heavily promoted in the UK over the last couple of years. I tried The Redbreast initially and enjoyed it, but didn't find myself rushing to read more. I'm not sure why - it was readable enough, with an intriguing lead character in Harry Hole and at least one plot twist that left me breathless. But, in line with Maxine Clarke's comments, the plot was a little too convoluted, the pace perhaps slightly too meandering. This year, though, for some reason I picked up Nemesis and started to read. All the same criticisms could be levelled at it - perhaps even more so with regard to plot convolutions. But I found myself engrossed, mainly by the character of Harry Hole. While he very much fits the familar middle-aged, alcoholic, disillusioned cop template, he has a wit and sense of corporate mischief that most of his equivalents lack. I'm always intrigued by the tensions of corporate life - which are present in the police as much as is in any other organisation - and Nesbo writes beautifully about these.
I also like the fact that Nesbo dosn't pull any punches - for example, Hole is a genuine alcoholic, whose life totters on the edge of chaos, rather than just someone who drinks too much Scotch when the going gets tough. I'm looking forward to reading The Devil's Star - which also means that, quite by accident, I've read these three books in the right order, rather than the order in which they were published. There's been a lot of criticism of various publishers for issuing translated books out of order - I guess it's for commercial reasons and generally doesn't matter too much. But here it does because, as well as each individual story, there's a wider plot which develops across the novels.
Just as I got to grip with Nesbo in 2008, I also finally got round to reading Fred Vargas properly this year. I'd read Seeking Whom He May Devour a couple of years ago (mainly because I was staying in France near where it was set). Again, I'd enjoyed it but hadn't felt urgently impelled to read more - partly, I think, because Vargas's Detective Commissaire Adamsberg felt almost like a peripheral figure in the book. Earlier this year, though, I tried Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, and enjoyed it enormously. As with Nesbo's books, the real joys lie in the characterisation, particularly of Adamberg himself. Vargas's plots tend to be - well, slightly batty, to be frank, but that's clearly deliberate. She's having fun with the genre, and that's always (okay, almost always) be to encouraged. My only slight reservation about Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand was that it was largely set in Canada, rather than France. I was left with a sneaking sense that I was missing something in not witnessing Adamsberg in his natural habitat.
That was confirmed when I read Have Mercy on Us All. This is set in a Paris that's as evocative as Simenon's, and I thought it was tremendous - playful and chilling at the same time. Yes, the plot's as bonkers as ever, but in a way that somehow seems to be exploring some profound issues. In this book, Vargas reminded me of Margery Alllingham at her best - Vargas's eerie Paris matching the London of Tiger in the Smoke or Hide My Eyes. In my book, praise doesn't come much higher. Still not sure about those English titles, though...
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
Another fall of snow during the night. From the front of the house, the spread of the distant Pennines looks spectacular, but it still feels like a good time to stay inside and look back. Particularly back to last summer when the sun was shining (occasionally, at least) and we were all still under the illusion that there was some money left in the world.
I seem to have read a lot over the last year – and, as ever, all kinds of stuff. I always have at least one book on the go and often more, and I prefer to vary what I’m reading, moving from fiction to non-fiction , or from crime fiction to non-crime fiction. I have a friend who, when he finds an author he likes, ploughs rigorously through the complete oeuvre, ideally in chronological sequence, until he’s exhausted the seam. (This does mean, incidentally, that he spots inconsistencies that aren’t evident to those of us who read, or for that matter write, in a more fragmented manner. Just ask him some time about John Rebus’s musical tastes.) I can’t do that. Even with my favourite authors, I’d rather eke out the pleasure, vary the texture with something different.
I also like reading stuff – again, fiction or non-fiction – related to where I happen to be or what I happen to be doing. A minor literary high point of the earlier part of the year was reading Phil Rickman’s The Fabric of Sin while staying in an atmospheric cottage in the centre of Ledbury in Herefordshire. Ledbury isn’t Rickman’s Ledwardine (which is in several other parts of Herefordshire altogether), but it was close enough to give the book an additional frisson. I’ve said this before, but if you haven’t yet discovered Rickman’s Merrily Watkins books, do yourself a favour and give them a try. They’re something quite unique, tottering gently on the border between crime and supernatural fiction, but always staying just the right side of the fantastical, with a range of terrific, fully believable characters. And, although the notion of a female Anglican vicar sounds as if it might stray into Richard Curtis territory, they’re anything but cosy. I haven’t got to his new one, To Dream of the Dead, yet so that’s a treat for 2009. Incidentally, could someone explain to me why the BBC bothered to make the risible Bonekickers (the first episode of which carried some uncanny echoes of The Fabric of Sin) or the dull Apparitions, when they could have done an adaption of the Merrily Watkins books instead?
Rickman happens to be a Quercus stablemate, though my enthusiasm for his books long predates that. Another Quercus book which I read in situ, as it were, was Martin Walker’s splendid Bruno – Chief of Police, the first in a series about a small-town cop in the Dordogne. I took it to read while staying - well, in the Lot region, actually, but that seemed close enough. (I perhaps at this point ought to point out that, perhaps contrary to the impression I’m giving here, my life isn’t one long holiday – it’s just that I tend to read more on vacation.) I was a little worried that Bruno – Chief of Police might turn out to be a little too Year in Province with endless descriptions of enviable foodstuffs and irritatingly idyllic lifestyles. There’s a little of that, of course – and I’d have been disappointed if there wasn’t – but not enough to get in the way of a thoroughly entertaining story and set of characters. Bruno’s a terrific creation, and I’m a sucker for stories where the streetwise locals get one over on the bigshots from the city, which is a recurrent theme here. My only minor reservation was whether the darkness of the underlying plot-line sat a little incongruously with the general light-heartedness of the book, but I know others found it a welcome counterpoint. Thoroughly recommended, anyway.
I’m conscious that this is beginning to sound like a Quercus log-rolling session – though actually I bought both the above books with my own ill-gotten money. So let’s move on to something else. One of my other discoveries this year was Matt Rees’s Omar Yussef series, its Palestinian setting now rendered tragically topical again by current events in Gaza. The first in the series, The Bethlehem Murders, is a terrific depiction of everyday life in the eponymous city. I suppose some might question whether a crime novel is an appropriate vehicle for writing about life in Palestine, but it works because the crimes in question emerge directly from the tensions, passions and challenges that lie at the heart of the wider conflict. Yes, it’s a gripping read with an engaging central character, but above all, it provides a clearer insight into life in Palestine – from a purely human perspective – than any amount of political or journalistic analysis. That, I think, is one of the things that fiction is for.
I seem to have done it again – written a lot, but covered only three books. Oh, well – more tomorrow. In the meantime, the snow seems to have started to thaw and the weather has reverted to the lifeless grey monochrome that one normally associates with January in the north west of England. Perhaps the natural order is slowly being restored.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Late afternoon, on one of the coldest days we've had in the UK for quite some time, and I've just been for a walk outside. There's a thin layer of snow on the ground, the air is eerily quiet, the sky drained to a strange translucent orange-pink . It feels, out there, as if everything is temporarily suspended, frozen in time.
A good time to take stock, then. I've just been glancing back through some of the books I've read over the past year, piled on shelves (or, in some cases, just piled in piles) in the loosely-arranged chaos that passes for my office.
Unusually for me, this year I did read one or two high profile books more or less as they appeared - notably Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 and Steig Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Both were heavily promoted, not to say hyped, and I think in both cases this was more or less justified, though I was left with slight reservations. Smith's book caused a particular furore by being long-listed for the Man Booker, with Canongate's Jamie Byng dismissing it as 'a fairly well-written and well-paced thriller that is no more than that'. Actually, I thought that Mr Byng had at least a fraction of a point. While I was pleased to see any thriller getting within spitting distance of the grand old prize, I was a little surprised that it should have been this one. Child 44 is grippingly readable and provides an extraordinary and harrowing depiction of life in the former Soviet Union, but it is a relatively conventional thriller, with perhaps a little too much reliance on unlikely coincidence and 'with one bound he was free' heroics. In the end, I felt that the thriller elements risked cheapening the very real power of the set-piece descriptions of Soviet tyranny. Still, we should cheer the long-listing as a real step towards breaking down the literary hegemony. Perhaps one day we'll get a chance to see a book like Peter Temple's The Broken Shore on there.
Steig Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo arrived here as a genuine phenomenon, having already sold millions in Scandinavia. I must confess that, much as I enjoyed the book, the reasons for its runaway success slightly eluded me. It's a fine book, certainly, but to me its qualities didn't immediately sing out 'best seller'. But then, as you'd rightly point out, what do I know? The book nearly combines a locked room mystery, social and sexual politics, and a couple of highly-engaging, if slightly unlikely, lead characters. Lisbeth, the girl herself (incidentally, particularly given Larsson's focus on sexual politics, shouldn't that be 'woman'?) is an extraordinary character, and I very much look forward to discovering more about her in the succeeding books. Maxine Clarke, in her comment on on an earlier posting, wonders whether Lisbeth is something of a male fantasy figure. Well, definitely not for this particular male, but she's a terrific character nonetheless.
My only reservation about the book was its oddly discursive nature. Larsson takes us down some pretty unexpected by-ways on his way through the plot - many are interesting but a few feel decidedly out of place (I recall an extended discription of the specification of the hero's laptop, which managed to be even less interesting than it sounds). There's been speculation about whether Larsson's untimely death prevented tighter editing of the books. Perhaps that's the case - certainly I imagine the finer details of the laptop would have been blue-pencilled. But, in a way, the book's digressions are part of its charm, and one of the reasons why its commercial success is so heartening. This is the opposite of a formulaic Da Vinci Code thriller, where every short chapter ends on a carefully calculated cliff-hanger. Larsson takes a while to meander through the plot, but on the way allows you to lose yourself in the minutiae of the world and the characters he creates. And that, I suspect, is why the book has made such an impact. I'm certainly looking forward to the next installment.
I seem to have written at some length already, and still managed to discuss only two books. There's a whole pile of other volumes sitting over there to be discussed but, rather than wear out my welcome, I'll pause here and wait till tomorrow to add the next installment. See what I mean about carefully calculated cliff hangers?
Monday, January 5, 2009
I seem to recall that, a few years ago, some academic with too much time on his hands calculated the most depressing day of the year to be 24 January. My recollection (I'm sure you'll correct me if I'm wrong) is that the supporting 'evidence' was one of those meaningless pseudo-mathematical formulae that do nothing more than confirm the blindingly obvious - in this case, the fact that, on top of all the other winter miseries, by 24 January the credit card bill for Christmas will have just popped through the letter-box.
Be that as it may, it's always seemed to me that this first day back after the Christmas and New Year break is usually the most depressing, even for those of us who don't quite have proper jobs to go back to (I do things as well as writing to earn my living, but they don't generally involve me having to turn up at the same office every day). And this year the bleak open steppes of the new year look even more unnerving than usual - especially, perhaps, for those of us who don't quite have proper jobs to go back to.
There's no doubt that 2008 was an extraordinary year. For me, some domestic factors compounded the strangeness of what was going on, but frankly the wider world needed no help in the surrealism department. The novelist James Meek provides an excellent, and nicely provocative, summary of some of the main points of the year's madness in today's Guardian.
Above all, 2008 confirmed my long-held suspicion of financial 'experts'. The truth really is that, to borrow William Goldman's famous phrase, 'nobody knows anything'. Almost nobody saw the crash coming - and certainly not with this speed and ferocity. And now we discover that, all the way along the line, most of these ludicrously overpaid individuals didn't even have a clue what they were really playing with. Funnily enough, it turns out that we ordinary citizens - the ones who kept saying, 'You know, call me stupid but I can't really see how this works' - were right all along. Which reinforces another of my long-held views - that you can persuade a man (I'm not so sure about a woman) of anything, provided he's clever enough.
The only good news, at a personal level, is that, through a mixture of cussedness and inertia, I've managed successfully to ignore most of the financial advice I've been given over the past decade. With the result that my finances are now in a much healthier state than might otherwise have been the case.
With that off my chest, I can perhaps look back at 2008 with less Osbornesque anger. Actually, financial meltdown aside, there were some very good parts to the year for me - the paperback of The Adversary, the publication of The Shadow Walker in the US and Germany. and the UK hardback of The Outcast. I suppose the highest of the high points was the starred review of The Shadow Walker in Publishers Weekly, but that was one of quite a few.
More widely, 2008 seemed to be another pretty good year for crime fiction. I'm one of those people - I think there's probably a self-help book about us - who Buy Far More Books Than They Can Read (though never self-help books, as it happens). The result is that I tend to pick up on books pretty randomly, as the whim takes me. This year, though, I did manage to read some highly promoted new crime as it appeared, and a fair few others at least before they had disappeared entirely off the critical radar. And, on top of that, I finally managed this year to get to grips properly with a handful of writers who came burdened with friends' or reviewers' recommendations - in most cases, as itturned out, entirely justified.
Having whetted your appetite, though, I'm going to pause here before this posting becomes novel-length in its own right. But I'm planning a daily posting at least for the rest of this week just to compensate for the long hiatus over Christmas. I only hope you can contain your excitement.
Welcome back. My apologies to anyone still out there for the lengthy silence over the Christmas and New Year period. I spent the holiday in North Wales in the glorious Llyn Peninsular and had every intention of posting regularly but the remoteness of the location proved too much even for the wireless mobile technology. Well, that's my excuse. But I did get to walk on a wild windswept beach on New Year's Day - there are few better ways of blowing away the excesses of the night before and setting yourself up for the year to come.
Apologies also to anyone who noticed a few oddities with both the website and the blog over the break. Once again, we seem to have been beset by some human gremlins who, for some unfathomable reason, have decided that it's worth hacking into the site from time to time. I'd have thought that any self-respecting hacker would be busy trying to infiltrate the CIA or MI6, but it seems not. Anyway, all back to normal for the moment, though I'll need to replace and correct some of the content on the website so please bear with me.
And, for what it's worth (probably not much), I will be back very shortly with some thoughts about the past year and perhaps also about the year to come.