Nearly publication date
... and it's a little bit frantic at the moment! But I thought you might be interested in a piece I wrote recently for the Pan Mac crime website Thin Blue Spine:
I don’t hesitate to take liberties with locations. The atmosphere of the place is far more important to me than the details of street names, shops or pubs. Those things can change, after all, and I hope that my book will be in print for a long time.
The Seagull is partly set in the place where I live. Whitley Bay is a faded seaside town on the coast east of Newcastle. Since we first moved to the North East in the mid-eighties the place has changed dramatically. Then the seafront was the place for wild partying; the streets leading up from the beach held nightclubs and bars, music blaring into the roads. At weekends and bank holidays the pavements would be jostling with scantily clad young women and men, moving from one venue to another in a kind of ritual dance, singing and drinking. Then the Spanish City fun fair was already past its glorious best, but, in the shadow of the great white dome, it still opened each evening to Dire Straits' Tunnel Of Love. Kids clamoured to be taken inside. Going 'down Whitley' was a rite of passage. It was where teenagers from the surrounding villages first got drunk and first stayed up until the early hours of the morning. It was sleazy, tacky, but very much alive.
Now, some of the streets which once held the rowdiest clubs are almost derelict. The buildings are boarded up or are being demolished. Grass pushes through the concrete where once people sat outside drinking, pretending they were in Ibiza or Majorca. Soon the buildings will be replaced by apartment blocks. Sometimes, the residents in the smart, genteel streets to the north of the town, who once complained about the visitors' rowdiness, now moan that the place is dead. But I sense a real optimism. Young families are moving into Whitley Bay attracted by the sandy beach and the good schools. A yoga centre has taken over the empty station buildings and there's a community garden. One street holds its own contemporary art exhibition, allowing strangers to wander in and out of their houses to look at the installations. We have a tiny independent cinema and there are good places to eat and drink. And we have our own brewery, just off the seafront where once people partied. That brewery has created Seagull beer to celebrate the book and the town. It's a very good brew.
The Seagull is the name of a night club that never existed. In my head, it was an art deco palace, sleek and curved like a luxury liner. There are still a few deco houses on the road that leads to St Mary's Island and perhaps they triggered my imagination. The lighthouse at St Mary's no longer guides ships into the Tyne, but it's a symbol of the place and it too plays a major part in the story.
I love where I live and perhaps The Seagull is my most personal book. I enjoyed writing it. The plot takes us back into Vera's youth and explains a little more about her relationship with her father. A couple of days ago I was talking to Brenda Blethyn, the magnificent actor who plays the character in the ITV drama. She said she’d loved the novel, but found reading it a weird experience: "It was a bit like reading about my own past."
Vera goes to Harrogate
The Theakston's Crime-Writing Festival in Harrogate has become a massive event in the publishing world and I was delighted to take part again this year. It's easy to take the warmth and generosity of crime readers and writers for granted; we KNOW we're friendly, supportive and that we like to party. It's only when we see the reaction of outsiders that it really hits home. This year I brought some very special friends to Harrogate. Brenda (Blethyn, who plays Vera in the ITV drama) and BBC Breakfast's Steph McGovern had been there before, but Kenny Doughty, who plays Vera's sidekick Aidan was a newcomer.
It started on Friday night at the Pan Macmillan barbecue. The rain held off, the wine flowed and Brenda, Kenny and Steph arrived just in time for food after filming all day. Then we found The Seagull ale. My wonderful publicist Maura had contacted a little brewery in my home town of Whitley Bay and asked them to make a special beer to celebrate the publication of the book of the same name. That too is set in Whitley Bay. The beer will be available at my tour events in September. We did sample a few on the night of course, just to check that it was fit to send out.
Our panel was on Sunday morning and we spoke to a packed hall. Steph chaired beautifully, Brenda showed her amazing talent for comedy and Kenny spoke rather movingly about what it meant to be part of the Vera team. Later he told me how overwhelmed he'd been by the reception we all received and by the obvious affection the audience had for the show. Television actors don't usually have the chance to meet their viewers, and we forget how lucky we are to get to know readers and other writers at festivals like Harrogate.
So a huge thanks to Elly Griffiths and the programming committee and to all the festival staff for their welcome, their efficiency and for another terrific Harrogate.
Tallinn HeadRead Festival
Yesterday I arrived back from the small and very beautiful city of Tallinn. I'd spent five days there as the guests of the HeadRead literature festival and came away with a sense of Estonia as a country that loves books and writing and sees all forms of art as a means of developing an outward-looking and tolerant community. After all, their resistance to the former Soviet Union during their fight for independence took the form of singing! Estonian folk songs had been banned under the regime, but nearly a third of the population - 300,000 people - came together at an impressive amphitheatre outside the city to sing them. As one of the people present told me: 'they couldn't arrest us all.'
Authors from the UK sometimes have the sense that book sales define them; the pressure to sell seems more important than the stories we have to tell or the quality of the writing. In Tallinn that was very different. All the invited writers had been translated into Estonian and the festival was organised largely by our publishers, but the population is very small and the event certainly wasn't about getting people to buy our books. It was about bringing people together to talk writing and ideas.
We spent a lot of time together - on a bus trip to a pretty village on the north coast, on a city tour and at various Embassy and official receptions. We ate together, drank (quite a lot) together and we laughed together. There were poets from the US and Galicia, a French cartoonist and a Dutch literary prize-winner. The Brits included a celebrated historian, two children's authors, a Booker nominee and a writer of horror and fantasy. And there were the Estonians, warm, welcoming and determined that we would all have a great time. I made firm friends and I can't wait to go back.
USA, here I come...
A week today I'll be in Seattle, the first stop on a real, US book tour to celebrate publication there of Cold Earth, the latest Shetland novel. You'll have gathered from previous entries that I love travelling and I'm starting to get very excited about this trip. Although it'll be a whistle-stop tour, I'll be going to places I've never seen before and more importantly I'll be meeting new readers and new booksellers and sharing their passion for crime fiction. If you love detective stories as much as I do, and if I'm anywhere near your home town, it would be lovely to see you.
So here are a few more details: On Thursday April 20th, I'll be in the Seattle University Bookstore at 7.00pm. I've been to Seattle once before and loved the chilled, almost European feel for the place. It seems like a good place to begin - not too much of a culture shock. On Friday 21st, I'm speaking at a dinner organized by Copperfields Books in San Francisco. I'm afraid this event is already sold out, but I'm sure I'll be signing stock, so do go along to the bookstore over the weekend if you'd like a copy with my signature. On Saturday 22nd at 2.00pm I'll be in Southern California, chatting about my love of Shetland and the inspiration behind the Jimmy Perez novels in Anne's Book Carnival in Orange.
Sunday April 23rd takes me to Murder by the Book in Houston. I'll be there from 3.00pm - what nicer way could there be to spend a Sunday afternoon? I visited the store years ago, when Dean James was still in charge and I remember it with great affection. That Texas visit inspired one of my early George and Molly books - it was called High Island Blues and it's still available as a download from Bello press. (Definitely not my best novel, but might be interesting if you're a birder...)
On Monday 24th, I'll be in another iconic independent mystery bookstore - Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona, run by the inspirational Barbara Peters. I can remember wandering round the shop when I was a relatively new author, thinking how terrific it would be to have a US publisher and see my books on the shelves. I'll be signing there from 7.00pm-8.00pm. Please come along and make my day! If you can't get there though, I'm sure there'll be some signed copies to buy later in the week, or if you'd like a personalized copy, let the store know in advance.
On Tuesday 25th I'll be flying north to Kansas City MO, to speak in Rainy Day Books at 7.00pm. I'm very much looking forward to this one, because the owners have been great supporters, especially of the Shetland books, right from the start. The following day I'll be in McIntyre's Books in Fearrington Village, NC, which looks like a delightful place to end the tour.
After that I won't be flying home immediately though. I'll be at Malice Domestic, probably the most friendly and welcoming crime convention, in Bethesda, MD. I'll have the great pleasure of interviewing conference honouree, Elaine Viets. If you're there, please track me down and say hello. Also, thanks to the kindness of the production team which makes VERA, I've offered a rather special prize to the charity auction this year, so do check that out too.
Then it'll be home. To write. And sleep.
Diamonds are a girl's best friend
It was wonderful to find out a little while ago that I'd been awarded the CWA's Diamond Dagger. This is a very special award given for a lifetime's achievement, and presented by the community of crime-writers to which I've belonged from the beginning. The presentation will take place at a dinner in October. Just because it's for a lifetime's achievement, that doesn't mean that my career's over! I'm busier than ever and still writing and I can't imagine a different way of life. But it's a huge honour and I'm very grateful to the CWA committee and membership who suggested I should receive it.
This year marks another great milestone - our 40th wedding anniversary. When I married Tim, I had the sense that our life together would never be boring and that's certainly turned out to be the case. We've lived in some wonderful places and made some terrific friends and he's supported me throughout my writing. Our family has grown - we now have six grandchildren - and our daughters have become fierce and compassionate women. So we needed something out of the ordinary to celebrate 40 years together. We decided on a trip to Tanzania. I'd been there before to visit the school where Ruth my youngest daughter stayed on a student exchange, but it would be a new country for Tim.
I loved every minute and my head's full of images that I'll remember for ever. There was the night we stayed at a tented lodge on the edge of the Serengeti. There was a thunder storm and lightning flashed around the plains and in the morning there were the tracks of lion and buffalo outside the reception building. We saw all the big animals - lion, cheetah, leopard, hippo and rhino - and migrating herds of wildebeest that were a spectacle in themselves. Groups of elephant, giraffe and zebra came so close to our vehicle that we could see every detail, and on one magic afternoon we saw African hunting dogs - and that's a creature so rare that the friend who arranged the trip had never seen them before though this was his 25th visit to the country. I'll remember the Tanzanian friends we made too - Martin the bird expert and Moses and Vincent who shared their knowledge with such generosity and looked after us so well.
Arriving back in the UK it was an immediate return to earth with Aye Write in Glasgow and the Bothy Book Festival in Portsoy. Thanks to Alex Gray and her husband for their hospitality and for driving me right across Scotland. Then yesterday I was at the London Book Fair, catching up with lots of overseas publishers and agents. Now, after all those jaunts, I need to write. There's a Shetland novel to get back to. Look out for a Tanzanian short story, though. It's called Moses and The Locked Tent Mystery and it'll appear in the CrimeFest anthology.
2017 - Bring it on!
A lot happened last year. Politically, it seems as though there's been a shift in the way many of us see the world. Suddenly, it's OK to be rude about people we dislike, to dismiss the views of experts, to be taken in by news stories so outrageous that they're unlikely to be true. There's always been a tendency to give moral value to our own prejudices, to choose to read the papers that make us feel comfortable rather than those that challenge our world view. But this is on a different scale, disagreeable and dangerous. I hope for a kinder, more reasoned, more open-minded new year. I know I rant about the importance of libraries, but these places house impartial information as well as stories that give us glimpses into lives very different from our own. In 2017 we will need them more than ever.
Personally, 2016 was so busy that it seems a bit of a blur. There was travel - to book festivals in Phoenix, Arizona, Dubai, Reykjavik and throughout the UK. To libraries and bookshops and prisons. There was the Big North Book Run, sponsored by Pan Macmillan, and bringing together libraries in the north east, writers, readers and the fabulous Forum Books, based in Corbridge. This collaborative model of reader development seems to be something that could be rolled out throughout the country. After all, we all need more readers! I celebrated my 30th year of being published and my 30th book. It was an honour to be Libraries Champion for World Book Day.
Now it's time to look forward. There will be more travel - a US tour starting in Seattle and leading up to Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Maryland, a Canadian tour after Toronto's Bouchercon and a visit to Estonia for the Tallinn Literature Festival. There will be a new novel - The Seagull, featuring Vera Stanhope and set in my home town of Whitley Bay. And I'll be writing my very last Shetland book. VERA will be on our screens again and a new series of SHETLAND will be filmed. Exciting times!
So a huge thank you to the readers, booksellers and library staff who have supported me throughout 2016, to the team at Pan Macmillan, to Sara my agent and Maura my publicist. There are unsung heroes, like the Pan Mac reps who chauffeur me about and Roger and Jean who look after my website. And my Murder Squad mates, who turn out for gigs and provide a bed, gossip and beer. I can't wait for 2017 and look forward to working with you all again.
I love islands - that's probably already clear from the setting of my books, my travel writing and this blog. After such a hectic October really I should have had a quiet time at home, but islands tempt me; I'm lured back to them. I was lured back to Iceland Noir by the chance to meet up with wonderful friends and a strange, wild but somehow intimate landscape. I was still deciding whether or not to go when I obtained an Icelandic publisher, the small press Ugla (which means Owl) and Hidden Depths was shortlisted for the Ice Pick award for best translated novel. Then I felt I had to be there to support Jakob, my new publisher.
I'm so glad that I went - despite one sleepless night when the music in the night club next to the hotel continued until 5 in the morning. It was cold, with flurries of sleet and ice underfoot, snow on the mountains that surround the town. But in the Nordic House, there was the warmth of greeting old friends - Icelandic, British and Scandie - of bookish conversations and a shared sense of adventure. Jakob had worked as a journalist and arranged interviews with radio and TV as well as newspapers and magazines. It felt as if every encounter was a real conversation, rather than an interview. In Iceland, it seems, books still matter. Marion Pauw won the Ice Pick Award for her crime novel translated from the Dutch. It sounds a fascinating novel and a real challenge for the translator -Ragna Sigurdardottir - and I look forward to reading it in English.
I was at the first Iceland Noir and it's grown in scope and popularity, but some traditions remain the same, and that's what makes it a friendly and informal festival. A few of us gathered at Ragnar's house for an Icelandic Christmas supper and then everyone was invited to Yrsa's home for a party. Celebrations went on well into the early hours. On Saturday night there's always a Gala Dinner; at our table Iceland's first lady chatted crime fiction with a bookseller and an agent.
Then came the surprise ending, the unexpected twist to the tale. Ragnar announced that I'd been given an honorary award for Exceptional Contribution to the Art of Crime Fiction. I was astonished and delighted. There was a plaque and a beautiful Icelandic woollen blanket. I will treasure them both and of course I'll be back in two years time. If you love books, the company of readers and writers, and a landscape to take your breath away, you should be there too.