Friday, May 29, 2009

At one point I had to throw my shoes

After George Bush, newly-elected Mongolian President Ts.Elbegdorj becomes another victim of shoe throwing.  The perpetrator, one E.Delgermurun, explained (and I use the word very loosely): “I was drunk and at one point I had to throw my shoes. I did not have any intentions. Just wanted to throw. When President George W.Bush visited Iraq, he was thrown a shoe as well.”  It sounds as if he might have intended the shoes as a gift.  In any case, he presumably found that his escape was rather hindered...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Mongolia's Obama?

It didn't exactly dominate the media here in the West, but Mongolia elected a new President at the weekend.  Here's an interesting, if perhaps slightly fanciful, piece from Globalpost comparing the new President, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, with Barack Obama.  And here's what the BBC had to say

Friday, May 22, 2009

Books you have to read: 'Putting the Boot In'

I'm delighted that the Rap Sheet's regular 'books you have to read' column this week features my review of Dan 'Julian Barnes' Kavanagh's splendid, if long forgotten, Putting the Boot In.

Thanks to J Kingston Pierce for publishing the review.  And, if you haven't come across Kavanagh's Duffy books, they're well worth tracking down.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Crimefest 2008: more or less recovered now

I think even I can justify only, to adapt Maxine Clark's elegant phrase, a triphasal recovery.  I've been interested by Declan Burke's take on Crimefest.  I've some sympathy with his views on the panels, though I don't really agree with his view that such conventions are primarily about the business of marketing.  I suspect that only the bigger names and the terminally optimistic would approach Crimefest mainly as a marketing opportunity.  While I'm never averse to shifting a unit or two of product, for me Crimefest was essentially an opportunity to meet like-minded readers and fellow-writers and to engage in some friendly interchange on the subject of crime-fiction.  With the odd glass of wine or beer.  Or two.

I've more sympathy with Declan's view that writers talking about writing isn't very interesting.  If the panels discussions simply focus on promoting individual books/authors, they rapidly can become uninteresting.  The most successful panels, in my view, were the ones that, by accident or design, ended up discussing some more general topic or ranging across a number of authors.  Peter Rozovsky points out, in a comment on Declan's posting, that one of Declan's own panels ended up debating some important aspects of copyright and intellectual property (and, personally, I was also much taken by Declan's citing of Enid Blyton as a literary influence - you and me both, Declan).  In a similar vein, I very much enjoyed the final day's panel, chaired by Martin Edwards, with Steve Hague, M R Hall, Brian McGilloway and Caro Ramsay, which ended up discussing various aspects of authorial technique - plotting, point of view and so on.  I found it fascinating, both as a writer and as a reader. 

There's a lot more I could talk about , even just from my own panels - Leighton Gage discussing Brazil,  Yrsa Sigardordottir discussing Iceland, Stephen Booth pointing out that a realistic police procedural would comprise 250 pages of paperwork before a member of the public phones in to identify the culprit...

But I've recovered now, so I can start thinking about next year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Crimefest 2009: still recovering...

A few more random thoughts on Crimefest.  There was an enormous amount of good stuff and I'm conscious that, in picking some (personal) highlights, I'm inevitably excluding numerous other excellent sessions.  But, for what it's worth, here are a few of the sessions that particularly lodged in my brain.

First, there was the session on forgotten authors on Thursday afternoon, chaired with characteristic aplomb by the frighteningly knowledgeable Martin Edwards (who also, quite deservedly, took home the Crimefest Mastermind trophy despite receiving only a single point - and a round of applause - for naming all the past presidents of the Detection Club).  It's chastening to realise, not just that authors are forgotten, but that current celebrity is not necessarily an indication of future longevity.  Which in turn raises the question of why some authors survive while others - equally famous in their day, perhaps even equally talented - disappear into the mists of time.

Second, there was the fascinating session on translation, featuring Don Bartlett, 'Reg Keeland', Tina Nunnally and Roz Schwartz.  I was left filled with admiration, not only for their skill and professionalism, but also for the integrity and creativity they bring to the task - the balance between being true to an author and finding the creative mechanisms to reflect that author's voice in a new language.

Third, and last for today, there was John Harvey's session.  While many of us were disappointed that Bill James was, in the end, unable to participate, a solo Harvey gave splendid value for money.  I admire Harvey for countless reasons - not least because he's made a career as a professional author in a world which seems to have rendered full-time writing nearly untenable.  That would be reason enough to admire him even if he were just a journeyman.  But, of course, he's also one of the most gifted crime writers we have.  And, on top of that, he appears to display consummate taste in everything from literature to music to, well, Nottingham.  If he wasn't so charming, I'd probably hate him. I was surprised that, as Harvey comments ruefully on his blog, so few came along to the session.  But everyone else missed a treat. 

More tomorrow, I should think.  I haven't even got on to my sessions yet (which is probably just as well). 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Crimefest 2009: the recovery phase

Well, I got home from Bristol's Crimefest last night, and immediately felt like taking another weekend off.  But it was a thoroughly enjoyable few days. 

There were countless highlights for me, and I'll write more about them in the next few days.  But it was very pleasing finally to meet a whole raft of virtual acquaintances - Maxine Clark, Karen Meek, Martin Edwards, Peter Rozovsky, even the mysterious crimeficreader - and discover that they are all real people after all. And all utterly charming. 

I ought to add particular thanks to Edward Marston, who not only moderated the first of my panels superbly, but also went some distance out of his way to make a newcomer feel at home.  And of course thanks to Adrian and Myles, the organisers, and their colleagues  - I've attended many conferences but rarely one that seemed to run so smoothly.  I imagine they were paddling frantically below the surface at times, but to participants the whole event exuded swan-like elegance and calm. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Possibly not the most popular day in the Mongolian calendar?

Given the problematic state of the UK's finances, here's an initiative that Gordon Brown might consider adopting...

A gown made of lettuce

I'm afraid that it was news to me that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (or PETA, as we all know them) run a 'world's sexiest vegetarian' competition.  But, given that they do, I'm pleased to see that Mongolian singer Nominjin is in the running for the Asian title.  And, if you think I've posted this story only so I could use the headline above, well, you could be right.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Crime fiction and the paradox of capitalism

There, I knew that title would grab your attention.  The phrase 'paradox of capitalism' was actually taken from an interesting article in today's Guardian by Timothy Garton Ash.  Ash's article, about the status of global capital, touches on many issues, including the semi-serious proposition that those responsible for the curent financial crisis might be accused of 'bankslaughter'.  His conclusion, drawing on Max Weber and Daniel Bell, is that there is a fundamental tension at the heart of capitalism, in that "the production side depends...hard work, punctuality, discipline and a readiness to accept deferred gratification" whereas  "the demand side...depends on [people] being self-indulgent, expansive, pleasure-seeking and given to living in the now".

It's an interesting argument, but I was more struck by a passing comment, earlier in the article, about the financial crisis: "not for the first time, novelists (such as Tom Wolfe) and filmmakers (such as Oliver Stone with his Wall Street, featuring Gekko) were ahead of economists and political scientists in identifying the disorder".   From my recollections of The Bonfire of the Vanities and Wall Street, I'm not entirely sure whether Wolfe and Stone really identified the disorder, or were simply joining in the party.  But Ash's comment did ring a bell in respect of some of the crime fiction I've been reading recently. 

In preparation for attending the Crimefest convention in Bristol (14-17 May, details here), I've been proving that I'm not entirely "self-indulgent, expansive, pleasure-seeking and given to living in the now" by dutifully reading books by as many as possible of my fellow panelists.  Not, of course, that it's in any sense a duty as, without exception, the books have been thoroughly enjoyable. 

But, particularly in reading reading books set in disparate parts of Europe such as Yrsa Sigurdardottir's My Soul to Take (Iceland) or Anne Zouroudi's The Taint of Midas (Greece), I've been struck by the premonitions of the financial crash.  Both of these books were, I presume, written before the worst of the downturn and so make no explicit reference to the crisis.  Both books, though, appear aware of the fragility of a bubble which, as it turned out, was on the point of popping.  Interestingly, too, both books address the paradox that Ash describes.  Sigurdardottir's highly entertaining book is set in a struggling new age health spa which wonderfully embodies all the dysfunctionality of a society which has accrued more money than sense.  Zouroudi's equally enjoyable novel explores a financial corruption that depends on the exploitation of free-spending tourists.  Both books contain plenty of barbed commentary about a species of capitalism which, as we now know, was teetering on the edge of collapse. 

It'll be fascinating to see where crime fiction goes next.  Wherever it is, I suspect we'll be a step or two ahead of the politicians.