Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Crimefest 2009

I managed to miss the first Crimefest convention in Bristol last year because it clashed with another prior commitment, but I'm very much looking forward to attending this year's from 14-16 May.  The organisers have put together an impressive and diverse programme, ranging from luminaries such as Michael Connolly, John Harvey and Andrew Taylor, all the way down to - well, me, I suppose. 

I've been invited to take part in two panels.  The first is 'The Big Heat: Police Procedurals' moderated by Edward Marston with participation from, as well as yours truly, Stephen Booth, Alison Bruce, and Pauline Rowson.  The second is entitled 'Border Incident: Crime in Foreign Climes' , is moderated by Paul Johnston and features Chris Ewan, Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Anne Zouroudi.  A pretty varied mix of writers in each case, which I'm sure will provide the basis of a fascinating discussion. 

There are countless people I'm looking forward to meeting there, including esteemed writer/bloggers such as Martin Edwards and Declan Burke, both of whom I've corresponded with virtually but not met face-to-face.  I'm also pleased to see that the list of attendees includes various stars of the crime fiction blogosphere, including Maxine Clark and Peter Rozovsky, who are regular virtual visitors to these pages.  Looks like the makings of an excellent weekend.  If you want to find out more, all the details are here.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Adversary US

Thanks to those good people at Berkley Prime Crime, I've just received advance copies of the US edition of The Adversary, which is published on 3 March.  I've written before about Richard Tuschman's terrific cover for this edition, but to date I'd only seen the proof version.  The final edition lives up to all my expectations - beautifully produced by Berkley.  Sincere thanks to Leis Pederson and all her colleagues at Berkley!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The usual suspect

I can't resist drawing your attention to this, but probably best if I refrain from any comment. 

But where's Trumpton?

One of the wonders of the internet is how much effort some people (who arguably have a little too much time on their hands) put into providing on-line materials that most of us might deem not strictly necessary.  I've written on here before about my fondness for the fine Birkenhead band, Half Man Half Biscuit.  Now it appears that an enterprising soul called Stuart Vallantine has produced a Google map detailing every location (and there are many) mentioned in their songs. 

Monday, February 16, 2009

State of the Nation

I've written here before (as well as in the novels) about Mongolia's strong, if sometimes problematic, sense of national identity.  I was interested to see, therefore, that money has recently been allocated to establish a new History Museum of the Mongolian State

A more worrying depiction of one particular strand of Mongolian nationism is provided by Kirril Shields's recent discussion of right-wing and neo-Nazi groups in Ulaan Bataar.   Their goals and ideology sound confused and half-baked, but the trend is a worrying one, particularly as, like the rest of the world, Mongolia is facing harder economic times

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Nergui, Joe Leaphorn and the scent of spring

It wasn't a deliberate reference on my part, but one or two reviewers have noted some similarities in personality between Nergui and Tony Hillerman's Navajo policeman, Joe Leaphorn.  I'm flattered by the comparison, of course.  But this UB Post article on Mongolia's alcohol problems suggests that the similarities may not be entirely coincidental. In the course of a discussion about whether  alcoholism is determined more strongly by ethnicity than by demographics, Loring Brace, an Anthropology professor at the University of Michigan, is quoted as stating that Mongolian’s closest genetic link is to the Navajo Tribe.  I don't know whether that's true, though I'm aware of theories suggesting that Native Americans may be descended from Asian peoples who migrated across the Bering Strait land bridge during the Ice Age.  But it's nice to think that there might be a link between these two rather enigmatic detectives.

Elsewhere, the UB Post provides a fascinating account of Mongolia's forthcoming national holiday, Tsagaan Sar  or the white month, which celebrates the beginning of spring.  Tsagaan Sar is a festival of white foods such as dairy products and rice (as the picture above demonstrates), and involves a range of intriguing rituals.  I was particularly taken with the ceremony of  'Muruu gargakh' or  'Starting your footprints'.   This is based on the principle that starting your life in the right direction will bring luck for the year to come - and we could all do with a bit of that in these dark times. 

Monday, February 2, 2009

A wealthy widow, bandits, a king’s buried jewels, a missing map

I sit here writing in the midst of winter weather that seems positively Mongolian, though rather milder and damper (Ulaan Bataar is currently sunny, I believe, but overnight temperatures drop below -20).  This is apparently the UK's worst snowfall for 20 years and inevitably much of the country has ground to a halt. 

It's a little while since I provided any Mongolian snippets,  I should draw your attention to a piece that appeared on the BBC website over the weekend, exploring the growth of Christianity in the country.  Meanwhile, true to form, the UB Post provides a story that you just couldn't make up.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

In the bleak midwinter

I don't suppose January is anyone's favourite month, but for me this year's has turned out to be, in some ways, even more depressing than usual.  In quick succession, we've lost a number of individuals who, at various points, played a significant part in my cultural life.  The first was Patrick McGoohan.  I was too young to see The Prisoner on its first outing, but as a teenager I was transfixed by a repeat showing.  It struck me then, and it still strikes me now, as an extraordinary piece of popular television - pretentious, perhaps, but with an imagination and daring that seem largely to have disappeared from UK television.  Even a series like Life on Mars seems rather pale by comparison. 

The second loss was that of John Updike.  As a teenager and undergraduate, I read endlessly (I still do, but somehow the impact isn't the same now).  At the time, it seemed as if the US was where the real action was - I subsequently learned that there was plenty of action going on over here as well, but usually with fewer pyrotechnics.  And the writer who made the most impact on me, along with the very different Thomas Pynchon, was Updike. Updike, more than anyone, seemed to write about a world I recognised, albeit refracted through a dazzling prism.  The Rabbit books remain, I think, the finest chronicle of ordinary, middle-class America in the 20th century.  

The deaths of McGooghan and Updike were, I suppose, not entirely unexpected.  Neither perhaps, in a different way, was that of the singer-songwriter John Martyn, but somehow it still came as a shock.  Martyn's was anything but an abstemious lifestyle, and stories of his drinking are legendary, and yet one half-expected him to go on forever.  His early albums were one of the soundtracks to my adolescence, and his music remains as glorious as ever.  One can speculate forever about whether Martyn's addictions were a necessary condition of his talent.  Martyn thought they were, but then of course he would.  The truth is probably that his talent and his excesses were simply all part of one complex personality.  The relationship between them was perhaps not a causal one, but a more restrained figure might never have explored the distinctive musical territory that characterises his finest work.