Archive for the ‘Readers’ Category

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And there’s more…

November 9, 2013

They say you should put the important information at the top of a piece, just in case nobody reads any further, so here it is -

I’ll be at Calne Library in Wiltshire this Tuesday evening with the irrepressible Ben Kane, author of Roman military fiction and owner of a pair of repro Roman boots that walked Hadrian’s Wall last summer and helped to raise thousands of pounds for charity. You won’t have to donate to come in – just pay £3 for a ticket. Phone 01249 813128  to book.

I’ll be in Bristol Library at  7 pm Wednesday with Robert Low, Mike Williams and Kylie Fitzpatrick,  This is a FREE event but you do need to book –  0117 9037200

These are the last two events for this year. It’s been an enormous pleasure to meet so many readers, writers, bookshop and library staff  on my recent travels, and to reconnect with real people beyond the desk and the computer (which is not to insult the family and friends here, but it does sometimes seem as though the entire business of writing is a fantasy world that I just make up to fill in the hours while other people are out there doing proper jobs).

We were in some splendid venues, but my plans to take lots of photos were thwarted by a failure to pack the camera.  Here, with apologies, are the best of a bad bunch from the phone.

First – on the right, the leg bones of an elephant. I can’t remember which sort of elephant, but a trip to the excellent Eton College Natural History Museum will tell you. It will tell you many other fascinating things too. On the left, me. The photo was taken by Karen Maitland, author of marvellous medieval thrillers and not at all responsible for the fuzziness around the edges. We were there talking about Ancient and Medieval medicine as part of the Thames Valley History Festival, which runs until 17 November.

Elephant leg bones at Eton Nat Hist museum

Next up – Heffers Classics Festival, held in the university Law Faculty at Cambridge. To say I was nervous beforehand would be an understatement, but it was a fantastic day with loads of good speakers – if they do it again next year, I’d very much recommend it.

Heffers Classics Festival

And finally – this is the Bamfylde Hall at Hestercombe Gardens, near Taunton – one of the venues for the Taunton Literary Festival, being run by the enterprising folk at Brendon Books until 19 November.  Luckily I was early, as the local lanes have to accommodate cows as well as cars, and cows do not move very fast.

Bamfylde Hall Hestercombe

After this… I really do plan to get some writing done.

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What a weekend!

October 25, 2013

Sometimes I can’t believe the amazing places writers get to sneak into.  Next weekend I’ll be privileged to be involved in three fabulous events.  If you’re anywhere near any of them please do come and join us. I’ve mentioned the first two before, but here they are again -

Friday 1st November – at Eton Natural History Museum, talking Leeches and Prayer with Karen Maitland as part of the Thames Valley History Festival. I’m told the museum has real leeches. I hope they’re deceased.

Saturday 2nd November in Cambridge, talking Romans at the Heffers Classics Festival, an event with Seriously Impressive Lineup. And me.

And now… Sunday 3rd November at the Taunton Literary Festival  talking more Romans with Ben Kane and Anthony Riches. What a treat!  We’ll be in the Bampfylde Hall in Hestercombe Gardens:  just the place for a day devoted to historical fiction.  Some of the ticket options include lunch and of course, since it’s the West Country, there’s always the chance of a cream tea.

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Events, dear boy,* events

October 12, 2013

[*or girl - Ed.]

For those of us who sit hunched over a computer all day, a chance to get out and meet real people is very exciting. I’ll be taking part in  several events over the next few weeks so if you’re able to join us, please come and say hello.

16 October – 7.00 pm at Barton Library (Barton le Clay, Bedfordshire) “Writing the Romans” with Henry Venmore-Rowland. Henry is the author of “The Last Caesar” and “The Sword and the Throne,” bringing to life the tumultuous events of AD 69 when Rome had four emperors in one year.

17 October – 7.00 pm at Putnoe Library, Bedfordshire – Crime Through Time. I’ll be discussing the appeal of the Romans and the Tudors with Rory Clements, author of the John Shakespeare series (yes, John is the brother of the more famous William, and a great character in his own right).

November

1 November, 7.00 pm – “Leeches and Prayer – the Medicine of the Past” part of the Thames Valley History Festival.   Join me and Karen Maitland, author of the superb “Company of Liars”, at the Natural History Museum in Eton College – a venue where we are promised real leeches.

2 November –  Heffers Classics Festival – in association with Cambridge University’s Festival of Ideas. Such an honour to be invited! (When you see the lineup you’ll understand what I mean.) I’ll be talking about “Stories in Stones” – the tales that have slipped down the gaps of history. That will be the (relatively) easy part. I’ve also agreed to speak for Dido in a balloon debate about who was the greatest character in Classical Mythology. I’m still wondering why I said ‘yes’ to this. Unlike everyone else on the panel, I’m neither a classicist nor an Oxbridge graduate. Surely poor Dido has suffered enough? Details and tickets here.

Also in November – an eager horde from the Historical Writers’ Association will be descending on libraries to help celebrate  The Reading Agency ‘s History Month. Here’s my part in it:

7 NovemberUPDATE – the  afternoon visit to Honiton Library in Devon is now CANCELLED – sorry! But I will be doing the following visits the week after…

12 November – an evening at Calne Library with Ben Kane. Ben’s a very entertaining speaker so it should be good!

13 November – on a panel at the beautiful Bristol Central Library with the Vikings, two 19th century women, and the British Special Forces. Or at least their representatives – Robert Low, Kylie Fitzpatrick and Mike Williams.

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And the winner is…

August 21, 2013

Thank you to everyone who took time to read the Blog Hop post, and especially to people who joined in and kept me entertained with some great comments and questions.

Congratulations to Russ, whose name was first out of the ‘hat’ to win a copy of the Ruso book of his choice. Russ, my email may be stuck in your spam filter, so please get in touch.

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Murder in the Library

May 6, 2013

Illuminated graphic with shadow of hand clutching dagger on library shelves

I’ve been saving this one for now because it wouldn’t do to post two exhibitions at once, even though we did rush from one to the other on the same day. The British Library isn’t far from the British Museum, so we hurried up there to have a look at their Murder in the Library display, an A-Z of crime fiction which runs until 12 May. Below are some heavily-edited highlights.

S is for Sherlock Holmes.

This manuscript of a Holmes story suggests that Conan Doyle was a much neater and more decisive writer than some of us. To be fair it wasn’t clear whether this was the only draft or a final fair copy, but it does raise the question of whether our patterns of thinking have been changed by working with endlessly-tweakable text on screen.

4 Conan Doyle ms

MS of “The Adventure of the Retired Colourman,” published in 1927

Incidentally, I’ve just finished reading Peter Guttridge’s “The Belgian and the Beekeeper,” where a detective not unlike Hercule Poirot meets Sherlock Holmes, now a retired recluse who keeps bees. The newcomer suggests the Great Detective may have been somewhat naive about Doctor Watson’s intentions – why is Holmes now living in poverty while Watson is wealthy?  Exactly how many wives DID Watson have, and what happened to them? Peter Guttridge exploits some of the inconsistencies in the Holmes stories to joyous effect.

T is for True Crime

These are a couple of early books about the Road Hill House Murder, which continues to fascinate modern readers in  Kate Summerscale’s “The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher.”

Books about the  Road Hill House murder showing a plan of the house

The penny pamphlet on the left is written by “A disciple of Edgar Poe”, who clearly had a keen sense of marketing. I’m considering issuing my next book as “a disciple of J K Rowling.”

G is for the Golden Age

The time where everyone looked like this, or wanted to:

3 Golden Age

J is for jigsaw mysteries

Do the jigsaw, solve the mystery. These aren’t unknown today, or at least they weren’t when a friend bought me something similar in a charity shop.

5 Jigsaw puzzles

N is for Nordic Noir

…which goes back further than some of us realise: Maj Sjöwall and Per Wallöö were publishing their Martin Beck novels in the 1960’s.

8 Nordic Noir

O is for Oxford

…where  M is for Morse, who gets a whole display cabinet to himself. Here are three famous faces. Not shown is Colin Dexter, but I’m told he appears somewhere in every episode, which means I can no longer do the ironing during repeats as I have to see where.

7 Morse

Z is not for Aurelio Zen, but for Zodiac mysteries, but let’s end with this:

1 Intro

The quote from Raymond Chandler sounds much like an essay question. I will add one word. “The detective story is a tragedy with a happy ending.” Discuss.

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Ruso at the Seaside for World Book Day – 7 March

March 4, 2013

I’ll be deep in the Celtic heartlands to celebrate World Book Day this Thursday, taking Ruso and Tilla  to Ilfracombe Library.  Dug the Iron Age Man (not a character, but a facial reconstruction) will be there too. There will be an element of suspense to the proceedings, for me if not for everyone else, as I foolishly said I would dress up in Roman Lady kit and am now wondering whether I will get through the evening without falling over it.

To find out, join us at 6.30 pm. Tickets are £2 and you can get them from the Library.

 

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Oh Deary

February 16, 2013

Terry Deary’s views on public libraries made alarming reading this week. Others have replied far more cogently than I could, so if you want a proper response, Julia Donaldson’s article in the Guardian is a good place to start.

Still, if Deary’s comments re-ignite the debate about public libraries, it won’t be a bad thing. We need to continue that debate while there is still a service to discuss. What we’re currently suffering is a haphazard dismantling of a fragmented service as small local battles are fought – and often lost – all over the country.

I worked in a public library for twelve years. I’ve seen the good that libraries do. If you can afford to buy all your books and have internet access, maybe you don’t need to go to one, but for goodness’ sake, why wouldn’t you? Libraries have far more books than most of us could ever afford, they’re (usually) warm, they’re friendly and safe, and they’re full of people who love to read! What’s not to like? (And yes, I know bookshops used to offer most of this. If you still have one that does, you’re very lucky.)

Conversely if you have no money of your own to buy reading material – and many people, especially children, haven’t – where else can you go? Even 50p at a charity shop is beyond some budgets. “The Internet!” is not an answer if you’re six years old, you have several brothers and sisters and everybody wants the computer at once.

Nobody’s saying the Library service doesn’t need to change in the light of the current upheaval in the book trade. But we only got to where we are by a long struggle. Abandoning all that hard-won ground now would be a dreadful mistake.

A while ago I did some digging around to find out the story of just one local library in my area. Some of the arguments may sound familiar:

1850

The Public Libraries Act gives boroughs the power to open free public libraries

1893

(No rush, as you see) –  a letter in the local paper gives twenty reasons why a library would be a Good Thing, including, “Because for young people of both sexes a Public Library affords some place to which they can go, instead of loitering aimlessly about the public streets.”

1899

The Council vote against a Public Library, despite popular support which claims that, “The poor people here are very fond of reading,” and, “The people of this town… have been unfairly handicapped in the pursuit of knowledge by the absence of such an institution.”

The local papers are divided:

“The speeches of the members proved… that many of them know nothing at all about the question.”

“The decision was a wise one… while there were so many costly necessities, in the shape of loans for drainage, water supply and street improvements looming.”

“The public will always clamour for anything they can see a chance of getting for nothing.”

1905

Mr Carnegie (founder of the Carnegie Trust) offers £3000 towards the cost of a library. This sparks a public meeting, at which -

“Mr Pile said they should put every opportunity of improvement in the way of the young men of the town.”

(Cheers)

“Mr Dadds said that public libraries were a failure nearly everywhere.”

“Hear, Hear!”

“What did they read in these libraries?”

“Rubbish!” came the reply.

(There may be something in this. For a fee, the local subscription libraries were offering titles like, “Miranda of the Balcony,” “Maid with the Goggles,” “Further Adventures of Captain Kettle,” “Iris the Avenger,” and “Mrs Erricker’s Reputation”.)

1914-18

The Great War interrupts everything,

1925

There is a hold-up acquiring the land. The Carnegie Trustees want to see some action.

1933

A local campaigner points out that “no one with a leaning towards culture would oppose a free library” and finally…

1934

Hooray! The Library opens, after forty-one years of campaigning.

It’s still open now.

Long may it remain.

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It’s 2013! And the free books go to…

January 1, 2013

Happy New Year to everyone,  and thanks so much to all of you who entered last year’s draw to win a copy of SEMPER FIDELIS. Almost the final act of 2012 here at Downie Towers was the drawing-out of three names from a “hat” that looked remarkably like a bag.

The winners are:

Sian  – from Cambridge

Wayne – from Durham

Sue E. – address t.b.c.

Congratulations! You’ll be receiving a signed copy of SEMPER FIDELIS very soon.

Sorry to everybody who didn’t get one. I’d hoped to be able to tell you by now when the book will be published in the UK but I still haven’t got a date.  Anyway, as soon as I know what’s happening I will attempt to splatter it across the internet. (That’s when I’ve stopping dancing around the living room and shrieking with delight.)

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Postmortem on Bodies

July 23, 2012

No report on the very enjoyable Bodies in the Bookshop day here, because it’s over at the Mystery People website, complete with photos.

Incidentally, what an august venue the Cambridge Union is! And how glad and guilty I felt to be there, while  only fifty miles away, tougher members of the Historical Writers’ Association were facing the flood water at Kelmarsh.  Such a shame.  I hope this won’t put English Heritage off running the Festival of History again next year, because it’s usually a marvellous weekend.

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Reshuffling the Bodies

July 6, 2012

A few changes to the programme for Bodies in the Bookshop, so here’s the official email, hot off the internet this morning -

Bodies in the Bookshop 2012
Saturday 14th July from 10am
The Cambridge Union Society, 9A Bridge Street Cambridge CB2 1UB (link to: http://www.cus.org/about/where-find-us)

Join us in the Cambridge Union for our biggest crime fiction event of the year! This year Bodies in the Bookshop is relocating to the Cambridge Union (link to: http://www.cus.org/) where we have a fantastic line-up of crime authors who will be taking part in a series of themed talks and panel discussions.

The Union Bar and Cafe will also be open all day for food, drink and socialising and the traditional drinks reception will take place in the bar at 6.30pm.

10am Crime Through Time I
Jane Finnis, Ruth Downie and Patrick Easter take us on a journey through time and space as they talk on historical crime fiction from Ancient Rome to Nineteenth Century England.

11am Experts in Murder
Nicola Upson, Catriona McPherson and Laura Wilson give us a glimpse of a pre-war world of murder and mystery which their canny heroes and sharp heroines set about solving, while Sally Spedding adds a more sinister edge to the historical theme.

12 noon Poison in the Parish
Settle in with Ann Purser, Veronica Heley, Rebecca Tope and Jayne Marie Barker who will be discussing mysteries with a distinctly English and traditional character.

1pm Break for Lunch
Lunch will be available at the Union Cafe
1.30pm Crime Through Time II
Follow Ros Barber and Rory Clements to the criminal depths of Tudor England while Chris Nickson and Robin Blake transport us the 18th century and Peter Moore sheds light on the true crimes which took place in a rural Georgian village.

2.30pm Scene of the Crime
Jim Kelly, Alison Bruce and Elly Griffiths discuss their novels set in Cambridge and the surrounding area, bringing crime a little too close for comfort.

3.30pm International Intrigue
Roger Morris, Edward Wilson and Adrian Magson take us from prerevolutionary Russia to 1960s France via the Cold War. Detectives, spies and mysteries abound.

4.30pm Comic Cuts
Len Tyler and Suzette Hill in discussion on the funny side of crime.
5.30pm Death in a Cold Climate
Leading crime fiction expert Barry Forshaw and Quentin Bates, author of a crime fiction series set in Iceland, explore the growing popularity of Nordic Noir and Scandinavian settings. Listen out for ideas on what to read after Stieg Larsson

6.30pm Drinks reception in the Union Bar

Tickets: Adults £10, Concessions £7

Call 01223 463200 or come to Heffers to buy your ticket.
For more information email events.tst@heffers.co.uk or visit the Bodies in the Bookshop facebook page or our blog at bodiesinthebookshop.wordpress.com

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