Friday, April 16, 2010

Changing places

Well, folks, I've finally decided to take the plunge and move this blog over to Wordpress - not least in response to Minnie's input about difficulties in leaving comments here.  We'll get all the links and archives and stuff sorted out shortly, but in the meantime you can find the all-new blog over here.  Look forward to seeing you there. 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Alibi and Murdoch Mysteries

Many of you will no doubt be familiar with the television channel Alibi which, uniquely, devotes itself entirely to crime drama. I've been impressed by the channel, not only because it provides an outlet for some excellent classic and contemporary crime series, but also because its marketing has made a genuine effort to engage with the crime fiction community (for example, in its involvement in the Crimefest convention last year).

The channel is currently promoting a new series of its exclusive show, Murdoch Mysteries, set in Victorian-era Toronto. Rather smartly, they've decided to support the promotion by involving members of the crime-fiction blogging world. As a result, I found myself approached to help publicise a competition linked to the series. Anything that helps raise the profile of crime-writing is fine by me, so I'm delighted to assist (and not only because in return they've promised me a Murdoch Mysteries cafetiere, which sounds like something any coffee-addicted crime writer should have).

On that note, let me have over the lectern to those good people at Alibi.

To celebrate the launch of Murdoch Mysteries Season Three on Tuesday 16 February, Alibi is giving you and a friend the chance to win tickets to a special preview screening in London. Hosted by Thomas Craig and Lisa Faulkner and with champagne on arrival you can be sure it’s one mystery that you won’t want to miss out on!

Detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) is back on our screens with a thrilling third series of Murdoch Mysteries. Set in Victorian Toronto, the series begins with William running for his life through the streets of Bristol, England where he meets a beautiful bar maid Anna Fulford (Lisa Faulkner).

Your prize includes a pair of tickets for you and a friend to a special preview screening of Murdoch Mysteries on Monday 15 February at the Soho Hotel, London. The lucky winners will arrive at 7pm, and will be offered champagne or a soft drink on arrival. Thomas Craig and Lisa Faulkner will also be there to introduce the episode and afterwards you will get the chance to ask questions to the both of them!

For your chance to win tickets, simply unlock this page by cracking the code

http://uktv.co.uk/alibi/competition/aid/633310

Can you figure out the question hidden in this code?

M U R D O U M D E E

Q W U I X C H L O S

E S H I S R T Y X U

Y I A Q W W H A T I

N E P I S T Y I U P

P Y I G W O D E 1 ?

Is the answer to the question...?

a. Wife

b. Memory

c. Notebook

For a clue to crack the code, click here

Entrants must be over 18, see the competition entry page for full terms and conditions. The competition closes on Tuesday 9th February at 23:59 and the winners will be notified within 24 hours.

 

Friday, November 13, 2009

It kills itself to explode

It's been a while since I gave you an update on the Mongolian death worm.  I notice that the ever-informative UB Post provided a comprehensive overview of the subject a few months ago.  The English is a little idiosyncratic but the article will tell you everything you ever wanted to know (and quite probably a little more) about the infamous worm and its supposed habitat. 

Friday, November 6, 2009

Phnom Penh should have been first

A little while ago I passed the news that Louis Vuitton was about to open a branch in Ulaan Bataar.  You've no doubt been desperate to know how that's been going, so I'll direct you to this splendidly dry assessment from Euromoney.  I was particularly interested to learn that Louis Vuitton sell 'emotions, not goods', which makes me wonder why they bother stocking all those bags and suitcases in their shops. 

The Euromoney piece also mentions Dale Choi's blog, which I'd recommend as a good source of information on various things Mongolian. 

Monday, October 12, 2009

Midnight-blue dwarf delphiniums

A couple more Mongolian snippets.  The first is a rather quirky piece by Tim Harcourt, who's apparently the chief economist of the Australian Trade Commission and who writes interestingly about some previously unheralded aspects of Mongolian life.  I suppose it's obvious that, in one sense, Chinggis Khann (or Genghis Khan) was the father of globalisation.  But it's less obvious that he was the father of free trade.  The second is a rather more conventional travelogue from the Daily Telegraph, which describes rather beautifully the extraordinary diversity of wild flowers in the northern mountains. And, just to support Tim Harcourt's broadly optimistic view of Mongolia's economic prospects, here's news that Louis Vuitton are to open a branch there. 

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Baggage-laden camels, yaks and horses

I've touched, particularly in The Adversary,  on the realities of the nomadic lifestyle in Mongolia.  Here's a brief but evocative account from the UB Post describing the nomads' preparations for winter.  And here's a piece from The Coloradoan about the Mongolians' relationship with their horses. 

 

Monday, August 17, 2009

All quiet on the northern front

Just a quick note to apologise for the silence on here for the last week or two.  I'm currently on holiday up in the Scottish Highlands.  Fine views of the Moray Firth, but unfortunately limited internet access until now.  The upside is that I've had plenty of time both to write and to read, including Jo Nesbo's latest in English, The Redeemer, and Steig Larsson's second Millennium book, The Girl Who Played with Fire.  I thought the Nesbo was terrific, while the second Larsson, while enjoyable,  left me as bemused as the first.  But I'll post some more considered thoughts soon.  In the meantime, I'll go and stare at the sea some more. 

Friday, June 12, 2009

Out of a Hole...

Just a quick note to thank everyone for their support and kinds words following yesterday's hacking of the blog, and particular thanks to Maxine Clarke for being kind enough to send me a copy of the Nesbo/Harry Hole posting which had been deleted.  Fortunately, we've been able to restore the missing items so, for the moment at least, everything's back to normal. 

Thanks also to webmeister John O'Malley for his usual speedy response and assistance. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Happy birthday, Will

As you're probably aware, today is Shakespeare's birthday (and, supposedly, also the date of his death).  I've always thought that almost any other nation, presented with the coincidence that its greatest writer's birthday falls on the day of its patron saint, would have been only too eager to declare a national holiday, but to my disappointment the English have always resisted the idea.  I'm disappointed, I should add, not for any nationalistic reasons, but just because it happens to be my birthday as well.

Still, the English do finally seem to be reclaiming St George and their national heritage from the far-right.  There's an interesting article in today's Guardian looking at the St George's day folk-music bash being organised in Trafalger Square by the Mayor of London, alongside a rather more radical commemoration of the Topuddle Martyrs being organised on the same day by Billy Bragg and Martin Carthy.  The article  touches on the rather depressing attempts by the British National Party to appropriate English folk music to its political aims. All the more reason, I suppose, to applaud Billy Bragg's notion of the 'progressive patriot'.

Elsewhere in the Guardian, the poet Ian McMillan draws our attention to the remarkable array of other poets who followed Shakespeare's example by dying on 23 April.  These include, apparently, Cervantes, William Wordsworth, Henry Vaughn and Rupert Brooke.  I'm not really a poet, but I have had a few poems published over the years.  So perhaps I should keep my head down today, just in case.

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!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Thompson's millennium bug

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. 

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy New Year (eventually)

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. 

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The John Sergeant of Crime...

I should have mentioned before now that the excellent Ampersand Agency blog has recently been discussing The Outcast.  And in the process seems to have cast me as the John Sergeant of crime fiction (I imagine that reference will mean very little to any non-UK readers, which is probably their good fortune...)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dial M for Mongolia

I was recently interviewed by William Kennedy of the UB Post, the excellent Mongolian English-language newspaper.  Regular visitors here will be familiar with the newspaper, as I frequently post links to items in its on-line version. 

William had been able to obtain The Shadow Walker through the good offices of Peter Weinig of Blue Bandana who, as regular readers will also know, is selling copies of the books through his Seven Summits shop in Ulaan Bataar (William apparently had to obtain a second copy as his first was stolen, which is an intriguing story in its own right...perhaps the seed of a future Nergui book...).  I was very pleased to be interviewed, and you can read the results in William's article available here

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Wicked Wakes Fortnight; or The Carnival Returns to Northern England

I should explain that headline for non-UK readers, and probably for a few UK ones as well.  In the industrial north of England, we didn’t have carnivals, at least not in the sense they’d understand them in Rio or Sao Paulo.  Instead, we had the Wakes Week, when the factories would shut down, working folk would decamp to the seaside, and the ‘wakes’ or funfair would come to town.  So, as Barbara Fister’s splendid Carnival of the Criminal Minds heads across the Irish Sea from its previous pitch at Declan Burke’s Crime Always Pays, its character mutates to adapt to Manchester’s dark satanic mills (see right).  And it’s here for two weeks or, as we say over here, a fortnight. 

If that’s all clear, I can slip off my clogs and get on with things.   When I first offered to host the Carnival back before this non-existent summer, I did wonder what I might have to say by the time the tents and caravans pitched up.  After all, most of my favourite crime fiction blogs have been well-covered by previous incumbents in the slot.  Fortunately, the ever-resourceful Declan Burke made a similar point and suggested that perhaps, from here on, we shouldn’t merely promote blogs, but also begin to discuss why we’re all here in the first place.  Well, fair enough. 

As Declan points out, the value of crime fiction blogging is that it provides space and resource to deal with a strand of fiction that generally receives limited, often ghettoised coverage in the mainstream media.  Mind you, we perhaps shouldn’t overstate that particular grievance – I’m very conscious that, by dint of the specialised crime fiction columns, my first two books received coverage in the mainstream press that many first-time literary novelists would kill for.  But there’s no doubt that many excellent blogs provide coverage that could simply never be offered by the conventional media.  And their influence is growing, as more readers discover them and publishers begin to recognise that this is a phenomenon that can’t be ignored. 

I’m intrigued also by Declan’s suggestion that we’re still in the process of developing a critical language to discuss crime fiction.  I think he has a point.  Earlier this week, BBC4 showed a retrospective of the BBC’s former arts programme, The Late Show, which included David Hare’s infamous ‘Keats vs Dylan’ interview (Dylan for me, incidentally, since you ask).  An accompanying skit, based on The Frost Report’s ‘class’ sketch, contrasted High, Popular (exemplified by a reference to Raymond Chandler providing a ‘ripping good yarn’) and Low Culture.  The punchline was that the High and Low Culture representatives went off to commission an arts show together, while the poor old Chandler enthusiast was left behind, ignored. 

That was from 1995, but I’m not sure much has changed.  My impression is that novels which display the traditional virtues of plot, character and atmosphere (but especially plot) remain undervalued by the mainstream media and that, conversely, many reviewers still display something of a cultural cringe towards what is perceived as ‘literature’.   I was struck by a passage in James Lasdun’s unenthusiastic review of Benjamin ‘John Banville’ Black’s The Lemur in last Saturday’s The Guardian.  In  preparing the ground for his pejorative comments on Black’s latest, Lasdun refers more positively to Black’s first two books, while accepting that ‘the solution to the various puzzles ...is fairly obvious, fairly early on, and intentionally so’.  His conclusion is that ‘both books leave one with the sense of a highly skilled literary novelist using the mystery format on his own terms and shaping it to his own purposes’.

Well, maybe.  I must confess that I was left with the sense of a highly skilled literary novelist who just isn’t particularly good at one aspect of crime fiction –  creating a tightly constructed plot with unexpected revelations that raise the narrative game.  Lasdun himself later acknowledges that the final twist in a crime novel should make ‘the villainy seem suddenly larger and more chilling than you ever imagined’.   There’s no particular reason why Banville – who’s a wonderful writer in other respects – should be good at this, any more than we’d expect Agatha Christie to be a fine prose stylist or to create complex rounded characters.  But let’s give credit where it’s due, and withhold it where it isn’t.  One might even begin by asking why The Guardian thought it worth devoting half a broadsheet page to a negative review of what is, by any measure, a pretty slight novella.

For all the constraints that Declan rightly highlights, the best bloggers are doing an excellent job in giving credit to crime fiction.  In turn, it seems to me, much crime fiction is doing a better job than its literary equivalent at writing about the world we live in.   Just thinking back on my reading over the last few months, I’ve found books dealing with Palestinian politics (Matt Rees’s The Bethlehem Murders), the tensions of a divided Ireland (Brian McGilloway’s Borderlands), sexual politics and violence (Steig Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), the Chinese occupation of Tibet (Eliot Paterson’s The Skull Mantra), the lingering legacy of World War II in Europe (Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast amongst others), the relationship between personal and political oppression (Christian Jungersen’s The Exception), colonial wars (Chris Simms’s Savage Moon) and international surveillance (Peter Temple’s In The Evil Day) – and that’s just a list produced without stopping to think.  Not all are great novels – though some are very good ones – but overall they display an engagement with modern life which makes much mainstream fiction seem positively escapist. 

 As a snapshot of the quality and quantity of the blogging coverage available, I’ve restricted my evidence just to material posted in the last few days.  Let’s start with Karen Meek’s extraordinary labour of love, Eurocrime, which posts a weekly selection of reviews.  Not only does the site devote considerably more space to the reviews than would be available in any generalist publication, but the reviews themselves are typically detailed, balanced and thoughtful.  Selecting any individual example is invidious, but as illustration consider this current one by Maxine Clarke of Petrona or this one by Sunnie Gill of Sunnie’s Book Blog.   The reviews are sometimes less polished than one might find in a conventional magazine, but there’s a refreshing care and honesty about the  critical responses.   There’s a similar thoughtfulness in Uriah Robinson’s latest posting on his Crime Scraps blog – a review of Philip Kerr’s March Violets which not only tells you everything you need to know about the book but also links it pertinently to the recent Austrian elections.  And, finally, another example of scrupulous reviewing – the always excellent Glenn Harper at International Noir.  In his most recent post, Glenn reviews Blood of the Wicked by Leighton Gage.  He doesn’t like it, but rather than using that simply as the basis for a smart-aleck review, he analyses, with some care, just what it is he doesn’t like.   I can’t imagine many reviewers taking the trouble to do that, just as I can’t imagine many journals giving them the space to publish the results, but it makes very interesting reading.  And, perversely, it makes me want to read the book.

So – a random snapshot reveals some excellent reviews of a kind that probably wouldn’t find houseroom in any traditional publication.  Peter Rozovsky’s Detectives Beyond Borders is, as always, a slightly different kettle of crime.  Peter doesn’t often provide straight reviews, but he regularly uses his insightful comments on books or authors as a springboard to provoke thoughtful and challenging debate.  Take a look at this recent posting, which riffs on Garbhan Downey’s book Running Mates (including some terrific quotes), to kick off a discussion beginning, with characteristic ambition, ‘What’s comedy?’  Not only that, but Peter also conducts some great interviews, like this one with John McFetridge.  Again, it’s  difficult to imagine many conventional publications devoting that much space to an interview with anyone this side of Barack Obama, let alone with a crime writer, but it’s all excellent stuff.  

I should, finally, spare a word for authors’ blogs.  We blog, of course, partly because we want to promote our books, but most of us are smart enough to realise that nobody really wants to read about that.  So we find ways of writing about other things, and throw in the odd reference to our own works when we think no-one’s looking.  I’m fortunate, in that the blog gives me the chance to introduce readers to the innumerable delights, curiosities and challenges of life in Mongolia, where my books are set.  That’s satisfying because it means I can provide more context to the events and themes I write about (and get good value from all the quirky research that never quite makes it into the novels). 

Others take a different approach.  My Cheshire neighbour, Martin Edwards – another former host of the Carnival – writes entertainingly about his own literary and other enthusiasms, particularly ‘golden age’ crime writing.  John Connolly tends to write mainly about the act of writing itself, but in a way that is never less than fascinating.  Declan Burke, as we’ve seen, is single-handedly promoting the entire Irish crime fiction scene.  Stuart MacBride just writes hilariously about whatever's in his head (some of which I'd be inclined to keep quiet about).  And my favourite is probably Colin Cotterill’s Diary – Colin’s a cartoonist as well as a writer, and his diary is not only very funny, it’s also brilliantly drawn.  All these writers are doing an excellent job, not only at promoting their own work, but also at promoting an awareness of the genre in a way that just wouldn’t be possible without the internet. 

Not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with conventional journalism or criticism – it’s just that it’s operating within the commercial constraints inevitably associated with conventional mass media.  And some journalists do also maintain excellent blogs.  One of my favourites is the blog produced by David Hepworth, one of the driving forces behind the UK’s estimable Word magazine (which has a fine blog of its own).  It’s not a crime fiction blog – Hepworth just writes, entertainingly, about whatever takes his fancy.   But this typically excellent piece on The Wire brings us back into moderately familiar territory - and, since it was originally published in Word, demonstrates that the new media doesn’t have it all its own way. 

Okay, then, this fairground owner’s off to play the villain in an old episode of Scooby Doo.  Next time, the Carnival’s off to another amazing single-handed enterprise, Gerard Brennan’s terrific  Crime Scene NI.  And to all of you who are virtual visitors to these western margins of Europe, I can only say: sorry for all the rain. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Third neighbours

Interesting new piece from the BBC about Mongolia's efforts to build relationships beyond Russia and China.  I don't know whether military exercises are necessarily the best way to build relationships, but then I'm not a politician. 

Monday, August 4, 2008

Oops!

A short apology to anyone who visited the Shadow Walker website recently - the front page was hacked and replaced by - well, let's just say something completely different.  The hacking took place while I was away for a couple of weeks, but normal service has now been resumed. 

And an equivalent apology to anyone who bought the books on the strength of the temporary illustration and was disappointed to discover that they were only crime novels...

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Ampersand Blog

No - not a previously undiscovered Robert Ludlum novel (see Peter Rozovsky's comment on my last posting...), but a new blog set up by my agent, the estimable Peter Buckman of The Ampersand Agency.  The blog is designed to stimulate interest in and discussion about - well, people like me, I suppose. 

Apart from yours truly, the Agency's clients include a number of crime writers - Helen Black, S. J. Bolton and Cora Harrison, amongst others - and a pretty diverse range of other authors.  So best wishes to Amy Wigelsworth who's maintaining the blog - give her a visit!