New Year, New Reads
I get sent lots of proofs for endorsement, but often even the ones which catch my eye remain unread - I'm too busy, too tired, too disorganized to work through them. Sometimes I start a novel to find that, even though it might be beautifully written, it's just not to my taste. This Christmas however, I went on a real holiday, a week in the sun with time to spend with my family and to relax on the beach or by the pool with a good story, and every one of the books I'd taken with me were brilliant. It felt as though I'd won the lottery.
The first I'd bought for myself. Louise Penny is a good friend and I love her Inspector Gamache series, but she's a New York Times bestseller and needs no endorsement from me! Kingdom of the Blind takes us to Three Pines in the winter, to snow and warm fires and the friendship of a close community. But as always, with Penny, darkness and shards of ice lie within the heart of families and individuals. This is a story of betrayal and risk and I was captivated as always.
Alice Blanchard is another trans-Atlantic writer with the skill to create and explore small communities. Trace of Evil is the first book I've read and I'm grateful to Minotaur Books for sending me the proof. It's set in rural up-state New York, a small town where everyone thinks they know everyone else - they all went to school together after all - but there are secrets that somehow come to the surface and explode the myth of friendship and support. Natalie Lockhart is a great protagonist and I hope there are more books in the series.
Mel McGrath's book The Guilty Party, is about toxic friendship too I admired this book more than I can say, from a technical, writer's point of view, but also for its honesty and the emotional punch in the gut, the outstanding reading experience. It's set in London and in the island of Portland in Dorset and over different times, but it's never confusing. Every character and every incident is clearly drawn, beautifully written and even though the narrators have their own agendas, their own attempts to justify a contemptible act, we're swept along by them. We hope we would never have behaved as they did, but we almost understand.
The last of my list of recommended reads for the new year is Scrublands by Chris Hammer. Since the success of Jane Harper's The Dry, I've been sent a few Australian crime novels, but I've found this by far the most interesting and accomplished. Hammer is a journalist and so is his central character Martin Scarsden. It starts dramatically; a priest comes out of his church and shoots five members of the congregation who are waiting outside for the service to begin. A year later Scarsden is sent to explore the impact of the tragedy on the drought-ridden, inward-looking community of Riversend His arrival triggers more violence, and his image of himself as a journalist and a man is undermined. This is a perceptive, beautifully written book as well as a compulsive page-turner.
Happy New Year to you all. I hope you come across as many fantastic books as I have in this first month of 2019. Look out for a new season of Vera beginning on January 13th and a new season of Shetland coming soon after.
A Tale of Two Cities
In the last few weeks I've been to two European Book Fairs, one in Helsinki and one in Bucharest. I'm published by small presses in Finnish and Romanian, and I was very happy to go along to help promote the books - and to visit cities I'd never previously visited. The fairs were public events, with author talks and lots of discounted books, and in both exhibitions the crowds turned out big style. It was great to sense the excitement of readers, the passion for reading.
A friend recently gave me a book called 'Debatable Lands' about the shifting border between England and Scotland and it seemed to me that both these cities were in debatable lands too. Over the centuries they've been part of different empires and alliances. In Helsinki road signs are in Swedish and Finnish, both national languages, and united Romania celebrates its centenary only this year. Of course there are differences: Helsinki seems an efficient, affluent city with great public transport. Romania is still blighted by the excesses of the Ceausescu era - he was overthrown during the 1989 revolution - and there are huge and rather ugly monuments to his vanity. The traffic is, apparently, the worst in Europe. But there is a similar spirit, I felt, especially in the young people. They don't feel so weighed down by tradition as we are, so complacent. The people have had to be adaptable and defiant to survive. They understand the need to forge links with neighbours.
While Scandinavia has a tradition of crime fiction, in Romania it isn't considered real literature. There is an intellectual tradition of philosophy and ideas and in the book fair, most titles were non-fiction or literary fiction. Very worthy. But crime has been discovered by young people as something new and interesting and perhaps a little subversive. At the fair and at the private launch party for The Seagull (Pescarusul) I was delighted that it was young bloggers and journalists and students who turned out. They still take their literature seriously though - I've never been asked in the UK if my title referred to the Chekhov play, but the question turned up a number of times in Bucharest...
Thanks to my publishers Crime Scene Press in Romania and Karisto in Finland. I received a magnificent welcome in both places. There was wonderful hospitality - I ate local food, drank too much and listened to many stories. In both cases, I returned to the UK having made new friends.
And Wild Fire at home...
It has been a totally bonkers month. If someone had told me ten years ago that I'd be touring the country with a book, talking not just to readers but to journalists and interviewers, on radio and TV, it would have been unbelievable, a strange fantasy. I'm still pinching myself.
It started on the first of the month with radio 4's Saturday Live, an easy chat with the presenters and other guests. Then it was overnight on the ferry to Shetland and a series of events (which I loved) and of interviews (which I found a bit exhausting). But it was Shetland and the weather was glorious and lots of my friends were there. And I was very looked after by my wonderful publicist. Next, it was Orkney and a chance to catch up with more friends and more readers.
We headed south to Norwich then, and to Bury St Edmund's and on to London and the launch party hosted by the magnificent Goldsborough Books. There was Shetland food and Shetland gin: the gin distillery Shetland Reel based in Unst has created a delicious Wild Fire gin - and Cathy Geldard played the tune for Jimmy Perez. We stayed south for David's Bookshop in Letchworth Garden City, for the Reading Ahead launch with Unison, then bobbed up to Harrogate for a great joint event with the library and Imagined Things Bookshop. Back to London for two more library gigs: Bourne End and Uxbridge. And we ended our tour of the south with a lovely evening at the Chiswick Book Festival (more food thanks to Marion Armitage and more gin).
In the middle of the month we were north again. Far from the Madding Crowd bookshop in Linlithgow is delightful and their events, fuelled by home-made cakes, are always a sell-out. The storm hit as I arrived in St Boswell's, and then blew its worst while we travelled to Perth and Dundee, but still staff and readers turned out. It was the same in Falkirk and in Waterstone's Glasgow Sauchiehall Street. Thanks so much to everyone who battled the weather to come to join us. By the time we arrived to The Edinburgh Bookshop the sun was shining and it was calm again. We had morning coffee and scones and cakes and chatted to a very welcoming crowd.
By now the tour was almost at its end but there was a quick flight south so I could do Graham Norton's show on radio 2. I was a bit scared about this, but he was relaxed and welcoming and very warm. Thanks Graham! Back to Scotland and Stirling to catch up with my friend and fellow crime-writer Louise Penny. A wonderful Bloody Scotland event, packed to the rafters with readers chaired by the incomparable Alex Gray.
Now I'm home, with a few days to catch my breath before heading to Forum Books and the Wigtown Festival at the weekend. The fun bit about being a writer is making up the stories and meeting the readers and I'd like to acknowledge the team that makes it all happen behind the scenes - the editors, marketing team and my wonderful publicist Maura. And particularly the regional sales people, who are on the road making contacts with booksellers and smoothing the way. Thanks to you all!
Wild Fire Down Under
Wild Fire, the latest and last Shetland novel, will be published on Tuesday September 4th in the US and on Thursday September 6th in the UK. Of course I'll be in the islands to celebrate and to thank all the locals who have helped me throughout the series. But in Australia the novel came out a few weeks early to coincide with my visit to the Bendigo Writers' Festival. Bendigo is a couple of hours inland from Melbourne and the festival is friendly, informal, a little quirky, a bit like the former gold-mining town that hosts it. The world-wide launch of the book was in the small library at Boort, which was tiny, very rural, and where I felt completely at home. It could have been Shetland: people had travelled from all over the region to celebrate the extension of their library, the mayor was there, and the whole community turned out. And there were home-bakes!
Lemn Sissay, the brilliant poet and advocate for children in care was at Bendigo. It was great to meet him and to see how his performance moved the people lucky enough to be in the audience. I came across some terrific Australian crime-writers for the first time and caught up with Penelope Curtin, an old friend from Adelaide, who interviewed me. Without exemption, the writers, volunteers and organisers were welcoming and efficient.
From Bendigo my fabulous publicist Yvonne Sewankambo and I moved on to Brisbane, a beautiful city that was new to me. I very much enjoyed talking to Sarah Kanowski of ABC for their Conversations programme. We did two library events in suburbs of Brisbane - one in Chermside and one in Carindale. I loved these, the enthusiastic readers and library staff. Thanks to everyone who turned out to make them such a success.
Then it was the long flight home, and a few days to catch my breath before the Edinburgh Festival event with Dougie Henshall on the 25th, and the beginning of the UK Wild Fire tour.
Spring in the States
Malice Domestic is a convention, based in Bethesda Maryland, devoted to traditional mysteries. Over the years I've made great friends there and it feels like a family reunion each time I go. This year was a bit different though, and very special, because I was at Malice with Brenda Blethyn, aka Vera Stanhope. The convention had given her a Poirot Award and she'd agreed to go to collect it in person. From the welcome cocktail party to the final Agatha tea, we all had a ball. It was terrific to see the affection for the character I created almost twenty years ago, and Brenda was, as we knew she would be, generous, funny and insightful. Thanks to the Malice Board and to all the participants who made us so welcome. And to the Minotaur team and my UK publicist Maura Wilding who made a very hectic schedule run so smoothly.
Malice was special too, because it saw the return of Canadian writer Louise Penny, following the death of her beloved husband, Michael. We live an ocean apart, but Louise and I have become good friends and when my husband died at the end of last year, Louise was there to support me. She has a huge readership in the US - her books regularly top the New York Times Bestseller list - so when she suggested that I join her for two events in Washington DC and NYC, I knew we'd have a great audience. And so we did, not just in numbers but in the warmth of the response.
Louise's generosity extended to including me in her circle of friends, and I'll remember those informal post-event dinners, the laughter and the gossip, long after I've forgotten the details of the tour. I stayed in her beautiful apartment and the morning of my departure, we walked in Central Park. The first glorious day of the spring. Sunshine and friendship. A trip to treasure.
A return to where it all started
I'm writing this in Fair Isle. I flew in with my great friend Ingirid Eunson four days ago for a two night stay, but the weather closed in and we're still here. Fair Isle is where my love affair with Shetland started more than forty years ago. I've come to say farewell to Margo and Bill, who were so kind to me when I first arrived. They're about to leave the Isle to be closer to their daughter. It's also where I met Tim, so it's a way of saying goodbye to him too.
We're staying in Skerryholm, a croft at the south of the island with Florrie and Jimmy. There's a view of the South Harbour and the wheeling beam of the lighthouse comes into my room at night. When I first came into Fair Isle, Jimmy's father was skipper of the mail boat, The Good Shepherd. Jimmy had very dark hair then, so it's natural that he thinks of himself as the original Jimmy Perez. And perhaps he is. He has the same mix of authority, wisdom and compassion. And a terrific sense of humour.
Having extra time in the Isle means that we've caught up with all our old friends. Ingirid used to live here -she and Jerry ran a croft and the shop - so she's even more attached to the place than I am. We've met new babies and folk who are quite elderly now. Stewart, who makes beautiful spinning wheels, celebrated his 94th birthday yesterday.
The final episode of the drama SHETLAND aired on Tuesday in the UK. (If you live in the US look out for the series later in the spring). I watched it with Ingirid, with Margo and Bill and Florrie and Jimmy. We ate Jimmy's lobster and drank champagne and cheered at the end when it was announced that the show would run again. The cast and the crew will soon be back filming. I hope the weather treats them more kindly.
Tim Cleeves 1951 - 2017
Be more Tim
Tim didn't always have it easy. He grew up in a loving family, but from adolescence suffered from bouts of acute depression. It wasn't until he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder in middle-age that his moods steadied and life became more settled.
His illness never stopped him though. It didn't stop him travelling or being open to new experiences and new people. It didn't stop him laughing or being passionate about conservation. His enthusiasm, willingness and openness enabled him to cook phenomenal curries, to be a loyal Dylan fan and to always love the sea, regardless of its condition.
Tim had a great sense of possibility. Everyone he met had the potential to be a great friend, every bird he saw had the potential to be a great rarity, and on every trip, there might just be 'the big one'. Tim had a very delicate stomach and whenever he went abroad he would catch a bug, but that never stopped him travelling again and again and again, from Uzbekistan to the Antarctic and Bolivia to China. Every Saturday he watched the football results convinced that today the Rovers might win.
With all of that in mind, we're determined to be more Tim: to take risks, be open to new possibilities and not let the fear of being hurt or rejected prevent us from approaching people and ideas with an open mind and an open heart. To dance, and cook, and drink, and walk, and perhaps break the rules every now and then.
Written by Tim and Ann's daughters, Ruth and Sarah -
with a little help from Ann.