Dancing to the Raven Black Quintet...
This is the Paris of idealistic adolescent dreamers and ad men. A cellar bar in the centre of the city - a real 'cave' with a low curved ceiling and white-washed walls. Champagne bottles in buckets of ice. A jazz quintet. Lots of beautiful intellectuals talking about books and politics. And me, neither beautiful or intellectual, but expected to make a speech all the same. I don't enjoy being the centre of attention - in fact I'm embarrassed by the large picture of me, grinning inanely, that's on the wall behind the band - but I'm hugely grateful to Francoise and Marie-Jeanne from Belfond for organising this fantastic event. A party to celebrate the publication of MORTS SUR LA LANDE (Telling Tales) and three of their other crime novels. The quartet includes a Belfond staff member and has called itself the Raven Black Quintet just for the evening. There is dancing apparently, but by then I've left, happy to return to my lovely hotel.
The Hotel L'Abbaye is something special. I stayed there last time I was in Paris, the guest of Belfond. It provides the base for interviews with journalists. It's right at the heart of the fashionable Left Bank, but when I wake in the morning I hear birdsong and water from the fountain in the small walled garden, not traffic. The staff are delightful, mostly middle-aged men, there's a log fire, good coffee and last night a little party to celebrate the arrival of beaujolais nouveau. (Although I think champagne and new red wine won't mix, I'm tempted to a small glass on my return).
For my interviews I have a great translator, Christian, but during the three days I feel that the language is returning to me. It feels like a sleepy cat stretching and coming back to life. I understand more questions, even put together some answers. So a new resolution: find some way of improving my French, so the next time I go, I might even join in the conversation
And DANCING FOR THE HANGMAN...
Martin Edwards has been a friend for a long time. I enjoy his series books, especially the Harry Devlin novels for their pace, humour and sense of place. I went to university in Liverpool and recognise the Scouse spirit. But in his-stand alones his writing hits a new level. TAKE MY BREATH AWAY is a witty satire on Blair's Britain, with one of the best first scenes I've read anywhere. Now his new book DANCING FOR THE HANGMAN has been published by Flambard, an independent press better known for its literary fiction and poetry. This novel considers the life and crime of Crippen - Martin is a meticulous researcher and is passionate about all forms of crimewriting. The fiction brings a new insight into the character and time of the notorious doctor and it contains some of Martin's finest writing. Definitely not to be missed!
I knew I'd want a holiday when I got back from the US. OK, all those publishers' parties and lunches might not seem like hard work, but have you ever tried being nice to people for 3 weeks without stopping? And for a real break where else was there to go but Shetland? The end of October was a bit late for peak migration, but Tim was easily persuaded. There might just be a few good birds to see.
It wasn't just a holiday for me. The fourth book in the Shetland Quartet is set in the autumn, so I wanted to get a feel again for these wild and windy days. I took my laptop and sat in the beautiful library of the Busta House hotel to write. I was distracted by the view - the garden leading down to the water - and the noise of the gale. Some days the weather was so dreadful that I didn't leave the building, just emerging from the library at regular intervals to eat (and drink). Tim didn't see any exciting birds but the food and drink kept him happy too.
On my birthday, we checked out of the hotel and went to the ferry terminal to get the NorthLink south, only to discover that it had been cancelled. The forecast was appalling, apparently and the boat was unlikely to go the next day either. Our friends Pete and Jan Ellis offered to put us up and our last, extra two days on the islands were lovely. Friday night is Chinese food night in the Sandwick Club, so we ate takeaway and drank champagne as the storm got more and more noisy. The next evening we were invited to their neighbours' home, another impromptu party. By then there was a steady gale force 10 wind, ferocious squalls of rain and no electricity. We sat by candle light and talked and laughed until late into the night.
The weather was still dreadful when I was made a member of the Detection Club, the day after I arrived home. A great honour and I was a bit daunted running through the rain to the Middle Temple Hall to the dinner. I knew there was some sort of initiation ceremony and I was determined not to giggle. The Detection Club was founded by the great Golden Age authors - GK Chesterton was the first president, Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie were members. In fact everyone was incredibly welcoming and giggling was positively encouraged. It helped that my old friend Martin Edwards was being 'done' too and I'd met up with him and his wife Helena beforehand. Bob Barnard introduced me with some very kind words. As to the ceremony, I think that should remain secret. But it does involve a skull. And candles. And a degree of dressing up.