My Big Canadian Adventure
I'm just back from a book trip to Canada, slightly heady and hazy with jet-lag, but with dozens of brilliant memories from the time I spent there. The excuse for the visit was that Bouchercon - the big mystery convention usually held in the US - was taking place in Toronto. But when more invitations arrived, we extended the trip into a proper book tour and ended up travelling across the country from Ottawa to Vancouver Island, taking in Bouchercon, a couple of writers' festivals, some magnificent stores and a spectacular library event on the way.
We started in Ottawa. It felt a very welcoming city, but perhaps that was because I caught up with my old friend Brenda Chapman, who hosted a conversation between me and her fellow crime writer Barbara Fradkin. The Writers' Festival event was held in a church and the pews were packed with enthusiastic readers. A great introduction to the city and the country.
Next stop was Toronto, where we met up with the Publishers Group Canada team. PGC works to distribute and promote Pan Macmillan's titles in the country and the wonderful Jen Lynch worked with Maura to plan the trip. It was down to their organisation that everything worked so well.
Bouchercon was a bonkers mix of social events, business and the chance to catch up with friends from all over the world. Along with the panels and interviews that made up the programme... Perhaps the high-light of the conference for me was my event with Louise Penny on the last morning. Louise is hugely loved in the US and her native Canada and it was an honour to be asked to interview her. One of the benefits of the role was that I binge-read Louise's Three Pines novels before my trip and realised again what a thought-provoking and clever writer she is.
We stayed in Toronto for a day after the Festival and headed out into the suburbs with Jen. After signing stock in a few stores, we were hosted to a lovely afternoon chat with customers in A Novel Spot, a tiny bookshop in Etobicoke. Then we hit the road again for a public library event in Oakville Ontario. I love libraries and this was a library event at its very best - a great theatre space in a community centre, a thoughtful intro by Florence, the librarian, and an independent bookstore to sell books. More importantly, the space was full of readers determined to have a good time.
The next morning brought a horribly early start and a five hour flight to Vancouver for the writers' festival there. The festival is held on Granville Island, with its food market, craft shops and performance spaces. It attracts writers from all over the world. Vancouver in the autumn seems a very rainy city, but the weather cleared just when it was needed - for the tiny seaplane ride to Victoria on Vancouver Island, and for the ferry ride back the following day, so we had magnificent views of the islands on both crossings. My final event was in Victoria in Munro's famous bookshop. What a way to end the trip!
Thanks to everyone who made the tour so friendly, fun and stress-free: Maura and Jen, the organisers and volunteers of the writers' festivals and Bouchercon, the team from Minotaur, my US publisher, booksellers and librarians. And most of all, thanks to the readers, who turned out to share their reading passions and who stood in line to get books signed.
The Seagull flies
There is no such species as a seagull. I don't know much about birds, but I do know that much. The Seagull, the title of the book published at the beginning of September is a completely fictitious art deco nightclub on the shore in Whitley Bay. But in the last few weeks, it's felt as if the novel and I have been spreading our wings and taking flight around the country.
Lots of the events were local, which was a real treat. A huge thanks to Helen Stanton of Forum Books and her staff for selling at some wonderful gigs. We've been to an art gallery at North Shields Fish Quay and The Word, the award-winning library on the south of the Tyne. There was a party in my local café and a murder mystery in the very spectacular Alnwick Castle Gardens.
Then we went further afield, first to North West England, to Merseyside, Lancashire and the Lake District and then to the west country, ending up where I grew up in North Devon for the Appledore Festival. Thanks to all the readers, booksellers and library staff who made it such fun. And next week we'll be crossing the Atlantic, to Canada, where I'll be speaking at the Ottawa Writers' Festival, at Bouchercon in Toronto, at a library in Oakville and events in Vancouver and Victoria. Do check out my author Facebook page and the events page of my website for details.
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.