Tuesday, 29 March 2011

An Interview with Anne Hamilton author of A Blonde Bengali Wife

“Well, they all said that Bangladesh would be an experience. I don’t know about you, but this is the first time I’ve slept with someone three minutes after meeting them.”

For Anne Hamilton, a three-month winter programme of travel and “cultural exchange” in a country where the English language, fair hair, and a rice allergy are all extremely rare was always going to be interesting, challenging, and frustrating.  What they didn’t tell Anne was that it would also be sunny, funny, and the start of a love affair with this unexplored area of Southeast Asia.

A Blonde Bengali Wife shows the lives beyond the poverty, monsoons, and diarrhoea of Bangladesh and charts a vibrant and fascinating place where one minute Anne is levelling a school playing field “fit for the national cricket team,” and then cobbling together a sparkly outfit for a formal wedding the next.  Along with Anne are the essential ingredients for survival: a travel-savvy Australian sidekick, a heaven-sent adopted family, and a short, dark, and handsome boy-next-door.

During her adventures zipping among the dusty clamour of the capital Dhaka, the longest sea beach in the world at Cox’s Bazaar, the verdant Sylhet tea gardens, and the voluntary health projects of distant villages, Anne amasses a lot of friends, stories...and even a husband.

Having loved the book, I thought it would be nice to have a wee chat with the writer, Anne Hamilton and post the results here for my discerning readers ...

Me - You have 3 words. Pitch me A Blonde Bengali Wife.  

Anne - Jolly Good Story, or Bangladesh for Beginners, or Ways With Rice...

Me – Now (how generous am I?) you have 21 words to play with.

Anne – Ok. A Blonde Bengali Wife lives a hundred lives beyond the poverty, monsoons and diarrhoea of Bangladesh and charts a sunny, funny and unexpected travel memoir.

Me – That’s 25, sheeeesh. How did you get from a working holiday in a new (and unusual) destination to a book?

Anne - It was never meant to be a book, just a personal diary, scribbled by torchlight, to while away long evenings and to help process this mental whirlwind of a trip.  Everything about Bangladesh was new, foreign, exciting, overwhelming; so how terrific would it be, I thought, to have a record to look back on in 5 or 50 years time.  Once back home, I was at risk of becoming a total Bangla-bore and soon my all friends knew all the anecdotes. 

Sitting on a train one rainy Monday, I realised what better way to accost perfect strangers with it, than to write a book... Like a woman in love, I wanted everyone to know everything about this little-known, little-understood, often underestimated, fabulous country.

Me – Which begs the next question from a travel illiterate like myself, why the feck did you choose Bangladesh? 

Anne - You might equally ask ‘why not’? 

Me – Ok, why not?

Anne - It was a purely random choice.  The organisation with which I was working – VSI Ireland (known internationally as SCI or Service Civil Internationale) – was seeking volunteers for India, Nepal and Bangladesh.  There were others interested in India so I discounted that; Nepal was suddenly the subject of a Foreign Office advisory as the Crown Prince had attacked the royal family causing international borders to close, so that left Bangladesh.  Since I had no idea as to its capital city, national language, currency, religion... I decided I should learn, and learn by going there.  I was way out of my comfort zone and couldn’t decide if I was adventurous or ridiculous.  Even now, I’m not really sure whether the book answers that question!

Me – Having become familiar with Bangladesh – and it has to be noted that all of the proceeds from the book will be going to the charity “Bhola’s Children” – more of which later - what do you see as the future for this country? 

Anne – The future? Bangladesh is a country of many sides.  It’s topology means the annual extremes of weather and subsequent social and health problems, can’t be ‘cured’, just planned for and dealt with accordingly.  But it’s a country of 140 million people, it’s one of the most poverty-stricken places in S.E. Asia, and whilst it is a democracy in name, nepotism is rife and the government and the opposition – whichever of them is in power – are in a constant state of bickering.  On that level it looks bleak.  But there are local initiatives, charitable organisations, inspiring individuals, which are slowly effecting change in small but significant ways.  In recent years, the arsenic contamination in water is being addressed, girls are more likely to attend primary school than ever before, the infrastructure – building of bridges rather than relying on waterways – has begun to progress. 

There are many organisations like our own Bhola’s Children, tiny in the great scale of things but making a huge difference to local communities.

Me – Most writers have half a mind – or at least half a dozen brain cells continuously thinking about their next project. What’s next for you?

Anne - Writing has taken something of a back-seat to motherhood over the last seven months.  The  BLOG  has wobbled along and I've continued with a PhD in Creative Writing, the outcome of which will be a novel.  This is located on the island of Cyprus (another place I know reasonably well) with two interlinked story lines, one contemporary, one set during the 1974 war there.  In the meantime, I'm paying the bills with some tutoring and embarking on a project as a ghost writer.

Me – You can’t leave it like that ... Ghost writer? And if you were a real ghost (c’mon guys I have to stick in a silly question somewhere) which ghost would you be?

Anne - As the age-old saying goes, if I told you the identity of the ‘ghostee’, I would have to kill you... Actually, I don’t know the protocol of naming names just yet, so all I’ll say is that the lady is an ex pro-golfer and glamour model who has a very lively story to tell.  Kiss n tell blockbuster?  Misery memoir?  Learned biography?  You might ask but I couldn’t possibly comment... 

But if I were to be a proper ghost, I’d want to be a freelance one.  You know, flitting between hauntings,  a white sheet here, a headless horseman there.  Better still, have you seen that TV programme ‘Quantum Leap’ where a guy called Sam jumps in and out of people’s lives and changes history?  I’d like that job.  Or I’d like to be an angel, but definitely not the plain-clothes sort, a proper one with wings and a halo.

Me – Wings and a halo. Right. Anywho ... tell me about your time in Cyprus – and did you manage to elicit any marriage proposals there? (He cunningly brings the interview round to an anecdote told in The Blonde Bengali Wife)

Anne - Cyprus is fascinating – how many of the clubbers in Agia Napa know they are in a country that has the last divided capital city in Europe? Cyprus is Aphrodite’s love nest, is year-round sunshine, is archaeological heaven, is Cypriot-Delight in a sticky box picked up in the duty-free after a fortnight’s clubbing.  

But dig deeper than the Dionysian mosaics and find that Aphrodite was enmeshed in an incestuous, dysfunctional family, there is snow in the Troodos mountains at Easter, and is your box of sweets really Turkish Delight or Greek?   Or I could just say no; no marriage proposals, in fact no proposals at all, indecent or otherwise.  But then again, I had so many in Bangladesh, it would have been sheer greed to seek out more...

Now for the advert folks – A Blonde Bengali Wife is a wonderful book. It details with affection the challenges faced by a fascinating country and an equally fascinating people. The prose is a delight and chimes with poetic sensibility.

Given the troubling nature of the lives of many of the people you read about in the book this is never a difficult read due to Anne’s light touch and hugely readable style – but don’t think that for a moment she swerves from telling it like it is. She talks about the characters she encountered on her journey with honesty, affection, warmth and humour. Believe me you will not leave the pages of this book unchanged.

You can buy the book BY CLICKING HERE

And if that is not enough to get you to release some of your hard-earned – all profits go to the charity that was set up as a direct result of Anne writing this book. And you can learn more about BHOLA'S CHILDREN by accessing the link.

Saturday, 26 March 2011


Those clever peeps at Five Leaves Publications have announced their plans to re-launch their Crime Express imprint in April.

There are four novellas hitting the stands on the first of next month –

Claws by Stephen Booth is the story of DC Ben Cooper’s assignment to the Rural Crime Squad. He steps into the middle of an age-old conflict on the wild Peak District moorlands, where not all the victims are human.

Graven Image by Charlie Williams is noir at its best. Brothel bouncer Leon has to rescue his daughter from Graven, but everything goes wrong. Badly wrong.

Not Safe by Danuta Reah is a powerful story about a detective’s investigation into the apparently closed case of a refugee’s brutal murder.

California by Ray Banks is gritty and dark, it follows parolee Shuggie Boyle’s increasingly desperate attempts to get from California (Falkirk) to California (America).

At £4.99 each these small but beautifully formed works of art are ideal for those long boring journeys into work, soaking up the bubbles in the bath or even those inevitable long waits in dentist waiting rooms.

The novella is a much ignored literary format these days and an ideal one for the crime genre, so hats off to Five Leaves for having the cojones to give us fans of the genre another way of getting a fix. They deserve our support so hie ye off to   CRIME EXPRESS  and give your credit card an outing.

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Talking of writing...

It’s that time of year again. The mists dissolve and the writers gather round the large room to hear words of support and wisdom from other more experienced writers.

Yup, it was Scottish Association of Writers’ Annual Conference time.

We call it the S.A.W. (We’re people too, you know. We use shorthand.) Except the hotel had signs at the door that read SAW. For the want of a series of full stops we assumed the appearance of a horror movie convention.

And that’s the power of the full-stop, my good people.

The speakers were excellent, the adjudicators worth their weight in the proverbial shiny material and the committee did their usual sterling job of making it all possible to bring these people together.

Jane Wenham- Jones was the special guest on Friday night and she was a hoot. She talked about a number of things that should be important to writers, including those old chestnuts of persistence and belief. She also talked about being searched at the airport on the way up from England and being worried that the searchers might find her lipstick-shaped vibrator in her hand luggage. Only her and the airport security people know whether this was a gag or not. Whichever it was, it had more than a few people chuckling.

Saturday’s speaker was Peter Kerr. The writer of several non-fiction books and several crime novels. He had a quiet charm and warmth about him that made him a very easy man to listen to. (Mind you he did take a while to get to the point.) His non-fiction books detail the years he took his young family to live in an orange farm on the island of Majorca.

One of my favourite anecdotes in his speech was when he recounted some of the adventures he and his family had while learning to speak the language. (You know us Brits. Few of can be arsed with the whole multi-lingual thing) It was a new year. His wife was in the local fishmonger’s – who unbeknown to her had just had his haemorrhoids dealt with. In her best Spanish she wished the fishmonger a Happy New Year. Except the Spanish word for “year” and “arsehole” are frighteningly similar, and she chose the wrong one.  Needless to say Mrs Kerr got an ear full of Catalan to go with her sardines.

Oh and during the course of the weekend I met up again with a little Irish lady – who I’ve known for a good few years and she told me her nephew is John Connolly (Every Dead Thing etc) Do you know him, she asked? Know him? I choked on my Glenmorangie over ice. He’s only one of my favourite authors. The next ten minutes passed in a pleasant fog/ day dream kinda thing where little Irish lady introduces me to JC and a bromance ensued. He’s now my new best bud, I’m riding his successful coat-tails and not the least bit embarrassed.

Then I ordered another whisky... and the mists claimed the halls  and everyone went home. 

Until next time.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Pants on fire...

I'm guesting over at Crime Central. Why don't you clickety click HERE for a wee nosey.



Monday, 7 March 2011

Book Review: Star Island by Carl Hiassen

I reviewed this recently over  at Crimesquad.com  - there's more good stuff on the Crimesquad site. Why don'tcha pop across for a nosey.

(BTW - apologies to UK readers. The Amazon link is stuck on the U.S. version and I really can't be arsed looking into  how I should fix it. So there.)

Anywho, the blurb reads as follows...

Twenty-two-year-old pop star Cherry Pye is attempting a comeback from her latest drug and alcohol disaster. Ann DeLusia is Cherry's 'undercover stunt double', standing in for Cherry whenever the singer is too wasted to go out in public. But, one night, Ann-as-Cherry is mistakenly kidnapped from a Miami hotel by an obsessed paparazzo named Bang Abbott.

Cherry's entourage comprise of the world's pushiest stage mother; a perverted record producer; nipped-and-tucked twin publicists;  and a bodyguard who has a weed-strimmer as a part of his prosthetic arm. The task for this collective is to rescue Ann while keeping her existence secret from the public.

Will Bang achieve his fantasy of a private photo session – a la Marilyn Munro - with Cherry? Will Cherry sober up in time to lip-synch her concert tour and promote her new album, Skantily Klad? And will Ann escape from Bang Abbott and Cherry's shadow?

My humble opinion reads thusly...

Nobody does it quite like Hiaasen and in Star Island he carries on his tradition of making his reader laugh while tweaking their conscience. This is a book I would have loved to have the wit and intelligence to write.
Star Island is a laugh-a-paragraph romp through South Beach, Florida, but it is much, much more than that. It is a great big V-sign to the celebrity culture that seems to fill our every waking moment. You want to see the paparazzi get their comeuppance? Get yourself down to your local bookshop and pick up a copy of this book.

Crime fiction as a genre is one that normally trades on a realism that’s sharp enough to cut your nails with, but with Hiaasen you have to set that notion aside as soon as he starts describing his characters. 

Kooky, is only the half of it.

Chief nut-job this time round is Bang Abbott; the depiction of a character so vile he will have every paparazzi dialling their lawyer. He’s fat and rancid (washing gets in the way of stalking time, dontcha know?) and his moral condition is permanently dialled to “Couldn’t Give A Flying Fuck”. He has only one thought in his mind: to get the one photo that will ensure his fortune.

We first meet Cherry Pye, the star of the story when she is vomiting into a silver-­plated ice bucket, en route to hospital after swallowing vodka, Red Bull, hydrocodone, birdseed and stool softener in the drug-enthused belief that she might be reborn as a cockatoo. Getting the picture? But not to worry. Ann DeLusia, Cherry’s “undercover stunt double,” is already on the job, impersonating the dozy diva while Ms Pye is driven off to rehab.

Given the larger-than-life aspect of most of his characters, Hiaasen could be accused of assembling a cast of caricatures, but he is so deliciously funny, as a reader you really don’t care. The satire and the humour is all.
I could go on... and on and frequently do when I’m talking about a Carl Hiassen novel, but you should really find out for yourself. Newbies to Hiaasen, I envy you; familiars, you are in for more wonders.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Book or Movie???

(Denzel Washington and whatsisname in Cry Freedom)

For me the book will always win in a competition against the movie.  The total immersion of the book – getting right inside the characters’ mind makes the book a winner for me every time.

There are occasions, however when it is a close run thing.

Here’s my top ten... in no particular order, cos I can’t be arsed putting them in any particular order...

Shawshank Redemption – Morgan Freeman and that other guy give great performances in the famous jail drama.

Cry Freedom – first time I remember seeing Denzel Washington in a movie. Impressive South African accent, DenZEL. The movie was based on the books Biko and Asking For Trouble by journalist, Donald Woods which highlighted the plight of Steve Biko, the anti-apartheid activist. Directed by Richard Attenborough.  Important piece of film-making from Dickie.

Schindler’s List – Ralph Fiennes was utterly convincing in this. Think if I’d seen him in the street afterwards I’ve have been on the phone to the Nazi hunters.

No Country for Old Men – loved the book, loved the movie. Watched the movie first. Perhaps that’s where the trick in this book versus movie thing lies. If I read the book first, the movie is usually a letdown.

Lord of the Rings – see above and this is the exception ‘cos I read the book sooooooo long ago, as a teenager. And Peter Jackson did an awesome job.

Trainspotting – gave the world smiley-fella, Ewan MacGregor.

The Silence of the Lambs – and the serial killer franchise really took off. Harris has a lot to answer for.Think I preferred the book, Red Dragon.

L.A. Confidential – a classic. ‘Nuff said.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly – this is one where the movie actually enhanced the book. Yes, it can happen. If you don’t know the story, the author of this book was hit by an illness. All he could move was his eyelid. He worked out a sort of morse code and narrated this book by blinking to a friend. A reminder of how resilient and inspirational people can be when struck by tragedy. You've got to read/ see this.

Oh... and then there’s The Godfather, The Shining, The Green Mile, (maybe Stephen King should have his own list) The Prince of Tides, The Bourne  Series, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, In Cold Blood, Papillon, To Kill a Mockingbird, Winter's Bone ... awfurfecksake why did I start this?

Any faves of yours missing from here? Or are there any books you’d like to see being given the Hollywood treatment?