Friday, 19 September 2014

The Scots: Wha's Like Us ...

It was during the eighties when I could first afford to buy my own books, instead of borrowing from the library. There was something about that growing collection that thrilled. At first, the ranks of books grew on the floor of my bedroom ....and then there was more than enough for me to justify me buying that first bookcase from MFI.

I still have those first books. Stephen King, Wilbur Smith, Jean M Auel, Ursula Le Guin, Stephen Donaldson, Eric Van Lustbader etc etc ... and the eagle-eyed among you will note that there’s not a Scot among them. A thought which prompts a shameful memory. I used to go into bookshops and walk quickly past the Scottish section. From somewhere I had grown the impression that if the writer was Scottish, it must be crap.

At my school in the seventies the only books we got to read were either American or English: Shakespeare or Steinbeck. Robert Burns’ poetry books were wheeled out once a year, but almost apologetically and without any effort to explain what the strange Scots words actually meant. There was no context given, we were simply expected to wrap our tongues around the odd collection of vowels and consonants. Although we spoke Scots on the playground, this was actually like a foreign language.

Our History lessons focused on certain topics that were likely to come up in the exams. Subjects like the Industrial Revolution, The French and Russian revolutions, The Boer War and the First World War. Again, note the lack of Scottish themes. We weren’t taught our own history.

Around this period TV was gaining traction and it became the social norm for families to gather round the television to watch the news (beamed in from London) and popular entertainment programmes (beamed in from London and the US). There were very few Scottish accents.
Admittedly, there were a handful of Scottish TV programmes but largely and especially in the early years they were of the tartan and shortbread variety and the production values – even to my unpractised eye –were second rate. BBC Scotland received (and still does) a fraction of the funds that Scots contribute to the TV licence fund. All of this confirming yet again, that if it came from Scotland, it was poor.

Demonstrate often enough to a child that it is too wee, too poor and too stupid and it will soak it up and accept it as fact.

(I actually heard two guys talking in my local gym and one used this as a reason to his mate as to why he was voting no. See. Imply it often enough and they will believe.)

In subsequent years we have Thatcher – a boom and bust economic cycle – a trumped up war in the Middle East – and now a government that has inclined so far to the right in recent years it’s a wonder Big Ben doesn’t have a lean to compete with thon tower in Pisa.

The impact of this kind of cultural stifling is subtle and yet, to my mind, far-reaching. I make no claim to being a social anthropologist, but I would contend that this is exactly the kind of situation from which our famous Scottish Cringe was born and has thrived. Throw in our Calvanistic propensities and it’s a certainty.

 Never heard of the term? It has its own page on Wikipedia, from where this quote comes …
…“a sense of cultural inferiority felt by many Scots, particularly in relation to a perceived dominance of English or anglocentric British culture, partly due to the importance of London, within the United Kingdom.”

One of the reasons I wrote the book, Carnegie's Call was to challenge this and to contribute to the conversation that would take us beyond it, to grow into a self-confident nation – for we are a nation – ready to take its place in the world on its own terms, not as the northern region - a narrow tartan backwater, as one pro-Unionist described us - of a larger state.

I don’t think such an inherited inferiority complex is unique to us Scots, but many other countries are able to work through it with an acceptance of their culture and shared identity and an ability to express their reality through self-determination.

In my view, there were lots of compelling reasons for us Scots to accept a state of independence, but for me, this was the most important one. I took in the arguments on the currency, the economy, our defence capabilities, our role on the world stage and thought, aye, fair enough, we can work through all that, but why is no-one talking about this?

With self-government would come self-confidence. It’s much more important than the pound/ euro/ groat in our pocket. To a nation that has been stifled in many ways, for more than 300 years  it is beyond price.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Wot I Read in July

The Dark Blood – AJ Smith

This is the 2nd in The Chronicles of the Long War series. (FYI - The Black Guard was the first.) And it is bloody brilliant. I do love me some epic fantasy and this book delivers on all angles. A carefully constructed world – just familiar and yet different enough to engage – great plotting, wonderful baddies and heroes you want to spend time with. Not read any fantasy for a while? Get stuck into this.

Cold in July – Joe R Lansdale

This book, from which the movie was made, had me scratching my head and asking, why the hell have I not read everything this man has ever written? He is tremendous. His characters are as quirky as a frog in a hat and his prose sharp and telling. Go read it already.

Walter Mosley – Rose Gold

A Walter Mosley release is an occasion in my house. What can I say, I’m a fan. And in this book, one of my favourite ever characters to be committed to print – Easy Rawlins – is back on the case.
Wonderful stuff.

Jay Posey – Morningside Fall

Legends of the Duskwalker Book 2 – follow up to “Three” the 2013 release from Angry Robot. This is sci-fi, but if you are not a fan of that genre don’t be put off – it’s gritty, truly action-packed and in your face. The action just does not let up for 400 odd pages. Just begging to be made into a movie!

Dominique Manotti – Escape

Two men escape from prison in a rubbish lorry. They part company, with Carlo heading to Milan and Filippo trekking over the mountains. Carlo is killed in a shoot-out with armed police and Filippo pitches up in Paris where he takes to writing a story Carlo told him in prison. A publisher loves it and it becomes a sensation throughout Europe. But the police don’t believe it is fiction – and the brown stuff goes splat onto the fan.

Manotti is a gifted writer, racking up the tension nicely thankyouverymuch. She also adds a touch of social, economic and political history for those readers who expect more from their authors than “just” action.

Deon Meyer – Cobra

Benny Griessel is back!!! Yeah, it’s totally worth three exclamation marks. Meyer is one of the best out there. He conjures up a tension that will have you reading into the wee hours. Go on, pick up one of his books. The man is a crime-writing genius.

1914 – Goodbye to All That (Writers on the conflict between life and art)

You have to stretch yourself as a reader now and again, yeah?  So get your baby blues stuck into this. It’s a truly fascinating collection of essays from a bunch of writers not afraid to give it some up close and personal stuff. You will be moved. You will be fascinated. Trust me.

What about you? What have you enjoyed reading this month?

Saturday, 5 July 2014

June reading ... King, Ellory, Chaouki, Miller, Finder

I'm slipping up - only read 5 books this month. My excuse? The World Cup. Great, innit.

Anywho, here's what I read last month ...

Mr Mercedes – Stephen King

I just love me some Stephen King and yet again the man kept me enthralled while I was inside the pages of his mind. Here, he switches genre and we have a crime novel with a hugely engaging cast of (among others) a retired cop and his misfit friends.

Societal misfits are a strong part of the book and by having such character types at either side of the good versus evil divide, King provides a fascinating counterpoint.

And extra kudos to a man who has had such an extraordinarily successful and long career that he can reference his own work within the pages of a new novel. Yup. Loved it.

Carnival of Shadows by R J Ellory

The blurb goes  … It’s Kansas, 1959. A travelling carnival appears overnight in the small town of Seneca Falls, intriguing the townsfolk with acts of inexplicable magic and illusion. But when a man's body is discovered beneath the carousel, with no clue as to his identity, FBI Special Agent Michael Travis is sent to investigate.

And the scene is set for a book that tickles the intellect as well as your emotions. Again, a fascinating mix of oddball characters with a strong sense of time and place that Ellory combines with themes of trust, belief and the common man versus governmental forces to wonderful effect. 

The Star of Algiers by Aziz Chouaki

Moussa Massy dreams of being a star. A Kabyle singer in 1990s Algiers, Massy engages his audiences with a fusion of Arab and African melodies with American pop music. At 36, he desperately wants to marry his long-term fiancée and escape from the tiny apartment he shares with thirteen other members of his family.

He's signed by one of the hottest nightclubs in town and his dreams appear to be coming true. But this is short-lived: when the fundamentalist Islamic group FIS is elected to power, the city is enflamed with corruption and violence. As he fights to save his dreams in a society steeped in fanaticism, Massy’s passion for music turns to rage.

In animated, clipped prose, The Star of Algiers portrays the difficult truths of a country in persistent turmoil and vividly shows the aptitude for despair and loathing of those who have nothing left to lose. 

Powerful and thought-provoking, particularly when given that this book was published 12 years ago, and when daily news bulletins remind us that little has changed – and we see the rise and rise of fundamentalism.

Suspicion – Joseph Finder

Danny's teenage daughter Abby is the light of his life. Her mother died last year, and he is desperate to keep everything as normal as possible. But the situation is bad. Danny can't afford the private school Abby adores, and he can't bear to tell his daughter he has failed her.

By a stroke of luck, Danny meets Thomas Galvin, the father of his daughter's best friend and one of the richest men in Boston. But when Danny accepts a loan from him, the authorities turn up at his door. Now he has a choice. Face prison, or become part of a sting operation to bring down his new best friend – and one of the most dangerous men in the country.

A rollercoaster (excuse the cliché) wrapped up in the form of a book – this is a great ride – an ordinary guy in an impossible situation which has you constantly asking – what would I do? Perfect holiday reading

The Falcon Throne – Karen Miller (release date 9 September ’14)

I do love me some epic fantasy and as a long-time fan of Karen Miller I was keen to see what she would be up to next and boy has she come up with another cracker.

Want warring families, loveable, but flawed heroes and villains you will love to hate? Enjoy a plot with more twists and turns than a Tour De France stage? (Sorry. It’s on the TV as I write this.) Form an orderly queue here.
My only quibble is that there was some skimming, but this was a proof and hopefully will be tightened up before publication. Nonetheless, that didn’t distract from what was  essentially great fun and a cracking read.

That's what I read this month - what have you been reading? 

Monday, 2 June 2014

A Book Lover's May - with Black, Cross, Robertson, Carey, Sinclair and Thomas

YAY - who loves books!!!

Here's what I read in May ...

Tony Black – Artefacts of the Dead (out in July '14)

Jeez, how busy is this guy? He's not only prolific, he's bloody good. (Makes me sick.) In this book, Tony is back on the crime beat.

DI Bob Valentine is back at work after a near fatal stabbing. The corpse of a banker is found impaled on a stake, in the town dump. (Playing to the gallery there, Tony, eh?) Somebody is making a statement and it's up to Valentine to find out who.

As usual, Black's writing is on the button – great characterisation, strong set plays and a pin-sharp commentary on the current lack in society. If you like a puzzle and a writer with intellect, TB is your man.

Mason Cross – The Killing Season

Mason is a new boy on the scene – and boy does he come roaring out of the blocks with a doozy of a thriller. There's enough excitement here for even the most jaded of adrenaline junkies.

Carter Blake is a fascinating dude and someone you will enjoy spending time with. Just let everyone know you are busy – close the laptop lid, switch off your phone, turn off the telly and settle in for an exciting ride.

For fans of Lee Child and Matt Hilton – yes, its that good. Can't wait to see what he does next.

The Girl With All the Gifts – M R Carey

If you fancy a slice of different – give this book a read. The blurb says it's like a cross between The Walking Dead and Kazuo Ishiguro – and that quite neatly sums it up.

A fungus has infected mankind turning most of them into zombie-like creatures, called Hungries – yet some of the children infected manage to retain their humanity – alongside their hunger for human flesh.

The girl of the title is one of the infected children – who has the hunger, and a near genius IQ. She's part of a government run installation, designed to research for a cure. Until a group of human survivers wreck the place and … you'll need to get the book to read what happens next.

If you switched off at the word “zombie” - don't worry, this is safely the most original slant on that sub-genre I've come across. It's fast paced, thrilling read – part chase/ thriller/ horror/ SF – ach, don't worry about the label. I loved it.

(nope, it's Craig)

The Last Refuge – Craig Robertson

Robertson cleverly combines Tartan and Scandi noir in what could possibly be his best book yet. I thoroughly enjoyed this, which is just as well as I'm going to be interviewing the man himself at a couple of events.

The writing is descriptive when it needs to be and succinct when that it required. Strong characterisation and strong set-pieces tied in with a nice line in humour.

I'm wondering if Craig is being paid anything by the Faroes tourist board – I certainly wanted to visit after I read this. Indeed, if any aspiring writers out there are struggling with the concept of “sense of place”, then you should get yourself a copy of this book, like, now. Quality work from start to finish.

Blood Whispers by John Gordon Sinclair

I might have been seen rolling my eyes when I first heard that yet another celeb was writing a novel and I read JGS' first novel Seventy Times Seven with a sceptical eye. He very quickly won me over and I realised that I was reading the real thing from the first paragraph.

This, his second novel is even better. Fair to say, I raced through it and bloody loved it.

We have a gutsy, sharp as a tack heroine, Glasgow gangsters, CIA dirty tricks and an Eastern European drug lord. His heroine, Keira Lynch is one of my favourite new fictional characters – with one of the most unusual back-stories you will come across in the genre.

Right, Gordy, get cracking. When can we see your next book?

David Thomas – Ostland

Wow. Just wow. I'm in awe of writers who use research for a novel in such a way. You know while reading it that the research has taken the form of an iceberg. We see enough to convince, while realising that the author knew so much more about his subject.

Also, this is a book that has the holocaust as its theme and if you are going to tackle that particular subject you really should have something different to say and Thomas certainly has.

Our character is seen first as you young man in the 1930's Germany working as a police detective chasing a serial killer. Then we see him as a war criminal in the 60's being investigated for war crimes. A ploy that toys with your feelings. When you first see the man, you like him, you're drawn to his work ethic and intelligence and then ... Very clever and hugely effective.

This is a stunning book. Painful to read, but important. As the man says … lest we forget.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Introducing ... Bill Daly

MM - Hi Bill, welcome to May Contain Nuts. You have 7 words. Describe your new novel:

BD - Adultery, drug-dealing, murder in contemporary Glasgow.

MM - You have another 21. Tell us some more:  

BD - Psychopath on the loose, an assassination in Kelvingrove Park, a planned terrorist atrocity – all set against a background of religious bigotry.  

MM - Why write crime?

BD - The kind of books I most enjoy reading are humour and crime, so it seemed natural to try writing in these genres. 

MM - I don’t normally ask about a writer’s age - but I’ll make an exception with you – what age are you?

BD - I bet you wouldn't have asked that question had I been female! :-)   I've just turned 70.

MM - So, you are in your second flush of youth - what took you so long - and please tell us about your journey to publication? I’m sure a few of aspiring readers will be inspired by it.

BD - While I was working, I wrote humorous articles for various newspapers and magazines, but it wasn't until I retired that I found time to try my hand at writing novels. In fact,
Black Mail is the first novel I've had published by a conventional publisher, but I previously self-published a humorous spy novel, entitled The Pheasant Plucker.

I live in France and when The Pheasant Plucker went on sale in the local bookshops, the Professor of English at Montpellier University happened to pick it up and he was sufficiently impressed with the use of language in the book that he decided to make it a text book for his course in Applied Foreign Languages. The students have to study two books over the course of a year, so he decided to make it a 'Scottish year', the other text book being Ian Rankin's Fleshmarket Close.

At the end of the year, the students were asked to vote on which book they preferred (you may be able to infer the outcome, otherwise why would I be telling the story?). Now I would be the first to admit this wasn't a level playing field - it was more like a pitch with a forty-five degree slope: a light-hearted romp where the action takes place in the students’ home town, versus a gritty Edinburgh-based murder.
I suggested to my publisher that he might like to put a strap line of "Voted better than Ian Rankin" on Black Mail, but for some strange reason he declined. I think he was worried that Ian might sue.

MM - Just turned 70 and your debut (traditionally published) novel is just out. I'm sure a lot of aspiring authors out there will take great heart from hearing that. What’s next for Bill Daly?

BD -My publisher wants we to write a series of Glasgow-based crime novels featuring DCI Charlie Anderson.  The second in the series, Double Mortice, will be published early in 2015 and I'm currently working on the next one - so I'm being kept pretty busy.

MM - You live in France, why not set your book there instead of Glasgow?
BD - My first novel, The Pheasant Plucker, was set mainly in France, but Glasgow is the ideal setting for Tartan Noir. Noir Français somehow doesn't have the same ring to it.
MM - Oh, I don't know. Peter May said he couldn’t write about Scotland until he was living elsewhere. Is that how you feel?

BD - I've never felt like that. But the circumstances are different. It's more than thirty years since I left Scotland - and when I was living there, I wasn't doing any writing. But I get back to Glasgow three or four times a year, so in many ways I don't feel I have ever left.  

My thanks to Bill for his time. You can find buying information about Black Mail here for readers in the UK. And The Pheasant Plucker can be purchased HERE

Thursday, 1 May 2014

April Reading - Fishman, Pizzolatto, Zander, Burnet, Johnstone, Welsh, Iles and Daly

A Replacement Life – Boris Fishman (out in September)

Slava Gelman wants to be a great writer, but can't get past his job as a researcher at a New York magazine. Then his beloved grandmother dies, and his grandfather corners him with a request: to write a few Holocaust retribution claims that aren't quite true. Slava is reluctant, but when he gets into it, his semi-fictional accounts of a generation's real suffering turn out to be the best writing he has ever done - and a surprisingly wonderful way for Slava to reconnect with his family and his own roots. . A beautifully evocative, warm, witty and emotionally powerful debut novel.

Galveston – Nic Pizzolatto

From the creator of True Detective … Roy Cady is by his own admission 'a bad man'. With recently diagnosed lung cancer and no one to live for, he's a walking time-bomb of violence. Following a fling with his boss's lover, he's sent on a routine assignment he knows is a death trap. Yet after the smoke clears, Roy's would-be killers are dead and he is (mostly) alive.

Before Roy makes his getaway, he finds a beaten-up woman in the apartment, and sees something in her frightened, defiant eyes that causes a crucial decision. He takes her with him on the run from New Orleans to Galveston, Texas.

The writing has a clarity and lyrical quality that had me in awe. This is noir with a warm and beating heart. Loved it.

The Swimmer – Jaokim Zander – out in July '14

An ex- US soldier now living in Sweden is called to a late-night meeting with a former army colleague. Before his friend can explain why he called him out, he is shot by a sniper. And so sets off a cat and mouse chase through a snow and storm-bound Sweden.

The multiple viewpoints gave me some trouble at the start, but once I got my eye in the chase was on and I gobbled this book up like a starving man at a buffet. Apparently this book is everywhere in Sweden right now – come the summer, I expect it to be every bit as popular over here.

The Dead Beat – Doug Johnstone

We're in present day Edinburgh. Martha is on her first day's work experience on the obit desk, when the journalist who normally worked there phoned in his own obituary before killing himself while still on the phone.
There's a lovely slice of black humour right there to kick off this cracking read. I raced through this book about families, lies, secrets and revenge - quite possibly Johnstone's best book yet. More over at Crimesquad

The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins – Irvine Welsh

First off, this book has got as much to do with Siamese twins as Trainspotting had to do with, well, Trainspotting. What it is, is a book about a personal trainer who goes just a wee bit overboard while training a client. Well, more than a wee bit, to be honest. She goes postal.

This is fun and funny and written in a way that only Mr Welsh can manage. Not for the faint-hearted, but then you knew that already.

Burning Natchez – Greg Iles

Its so great to see Mr Iles back with a book. This man tells a fantastic tale and if you haven't read him before, you should seriously sort that out.

We are in present day, Natchez which is south of the Mississippi and the sins of the past are about the crash down on a few of the locals. The book was inspired by a series of unsolved race murders during the 1960's and that harsh history is brought to life in this fascinating and utterly consuming novel. It's a bit of an epic at 788 pages – and I lost a Saturday and a Sunday to it. Quite honestly couldn't put it down. LOVED it. Full review over at Crimesquad

The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau by Graeme McRae Burnet (pub date - 17 July '14)

The central conceit of this is that the “book” is a found manuscript, translated by the author, Burnet. It tells the tale of the disappearance of a young woman from a small town in France near the Swiss border and how one of the town's male inhabitants is affected by this event.

I am not an expert on modern French literature, but I have read a few crime novels translated from the French and Burnet has completely nailed the tone, colour and sly wit that I enjoyed so much from the natural French authors.

This is a novel that allows the story to unfold at its own pace, so not one for the plot hungry among you - but certainly one for those who enjoy a more measured and cultured read. 

The main character, Manfred Baumann is beautifully and convincingly drawn and you can't help but be drawn into his gradual disintegration. More over at next month.

Black Mail by Bill Daly

Last, but in no way least, we have a new boy on the crime scene giving us a satisfying slice of tartan noir. Along Glasgow's grim streets - according to Daly's vision – one can find an intriguing mix of sexual affairs, corrupt businessmen, revenge, incest, paedophilia, IRA sympathisers and the titular blackmail. Who knew? There's lots going on here and it's all very well orchestrated by Daly. A hugely enjoyable read and well worth your hard-earned.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Mightier than the sword - the power of books

At the end of the Cambridge launch of The Guillotine Choice a young man approached me at the signing table to say hello. As he stepped closer and bent forward so that our heads were at the same level, I realised that he had something to say that he felt really strongly about.

He introduced himself – shook my hand with great warmth – and said, I can't thank you enough. What you are doing is incredibly important.

I was taken aback – and humbled by the passion in his voice.

Since I started this book I knew what Bashir and I were embarking upon had an importance beyond us. A man, that a huge region of Algeria called father, was, with luck and a fair wind, going to have his incredible story highlighted to the world - and the family would have something to go to the French authorities with and ask for an apology and a pardon.

This young man in front of me was about to indicate that the book had significance even beyond that. He explained that he was Algerian and that the experiences of his countrymen and women had been ignored, not only across the world, but in the countries that really needed to talk about it – France and Algeria. He went on to say that official estimates are that around 1.5 million people died in the struggle for independence and that if one was to consider those who lost their lives throughout the time of the French colonisation of his country, it would not be outside the realms of possibility to suggest that the number of dead would be double this.

He went on to ask that if this was the number of dead – how many other people had been damaged by the conflict? Had his country ever recovered? How many people with untold stories were there in Algeria?
We don't talk about this, he said. We don't teach it in our schools. Our politicians don't even acknowledge it. 

How are we going to move on from the past if we don't face it?

He looked at the queue waiting to have their books signed lining up behind him aware that people were waiting to speak to me. He shook my hand again and said – so, thank you, I pray you and Bashir's book helps the conversation start and the healing to begin.

You can get the book here.

And here's where I hand over to you, dear reader. If you enjoyed the book and appreciate what we are trying to achieve with it, please be our advocates. Talk about it to your friends, urge them to read it for themselves - review it online in all the usual places. The more successful the book is the more realistic our aims become.

With thanks,
Michael & Bashir

Monday, 21 April 2014

The Guillotine Choice in the media

I thought my two or three regular readers might like to read some of the coverage that my new book has been getting from the media.

Above, you can see a poorly produced copy of the photo that appeared in my local newspaper, The Ayrshire Post.

Here's what  The Edinburgh Reporter made of my launch evening in Looking Glass Books in Edinburgh just last week.

I'm prepared to push aside my feelings for this particular newspaper, for a moment at least, to highlight their article about the book and what we are trying to achieve. Go here!

Also doing their thing was The Sunday Express

And Bashir's local newspaper also got in on the act. Click here!

Other newspapers also featured the book and the story, most notably NME, but I can't find any links to post for them.


Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Wot I Read in March - Pelecanos, Black, D'Lacey, Connolly, Campbell, Boyden, Rafferty

George Pelecanos – Right as Rain

I do like a Pelecanos novel. You pick one up and you are guaranteed some fine storytelling. This one was first published in 2001 and the version I read was a re-issue in 2010, what with his publisher giving his covers a wee makeover.

So, here you've got sex, violence, strong characters, razor-sharp dialogue, social issues and a ridealong feel to the story. If you haven't read a Pelecanos book, man have you got to get yourself sorted out. Go get one, like now.

Tony Black – The Last Tiger

In this, his next book (out on the 1st of May)Tony Black demonstrates what a talented and versatile writer he is. We're in Tasmania with a family of immigrants and the father is paid to hunt the very last Tasmanian tiger - and his son is horrified. His prose is at times spare and at times poetic as Tony delivers up a fascinating and moving novel about family ties and the truths we don't want to face.

The Book of the Crowman – Joseph D'Lacey

Every bit as good as the first Crowman book. The only disappointment I received from this one was when I finished it. Fans of S/F Fantasy I order you to check this guy's books out.

John Connolly – The Wolf in Winter

JC simply never fails to deliver. Crime/ thriller fiction of the highest quality – all served up with Connolly's excellent prose and a soupcon of the supernatural. Loved it. Full review over at

Karen Campbell – This is Where I Am.

Oh. My. God. Where do I start with this one? Am I going to run out of superlatives? Astonishing. Affecting. Powerful. Absorbing. At one point I was reading this in a cafe and had to discreetly wipe a tear from my cheek. This book deserves to be HUGE bestseller. World, you should be ashamed of yourself that so far it isn't.

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden.

Man, have I been spoiled this last month. Another wonderful book. It's 1640 in the New World. The lives of a Huron brave, an Iroquois girl he steals in retribution for the murder of his wife and children – and a French priest, come together. The sense of time and place conjured by Boyden is utterly convincing, the drama and conflict unflinching. I am in awe of writers like this. Stunning.

Myra: Beyond Saddleworth by Jean Rafferty

In a word: fascinating. With this novel, Jean Rafferty imagines that Myra Hyndlay was released from prison as an old woman under a new identity, rather than die from ill-health as she did in real life. A difficult read about one of the UK's most infamous serial killers, written with huge skill and insight.  

Monday, 10 March 2014

Birthday boy

My regulars will remember lots of posts on this here blog, back in the day, about my son when he was younger and much more entertaining. And when I could be truthful when calling him the wee fella.

He's had a birthday recently. 16. And he's no longer a wee fella. He's got a good 4 inches on his old man.

Anywho, in honour of this I thought I would offer you both a reprise.

This blog was posted nearly four years ago ...

Conversation #1

The wee fella said – after I gave him a good morning hug as he approached the breakfast table (well, THE table. I don’t have a table for like, every meal) – Daaaad, your breath stinks – pause – and your teeth are yellow.
Me – that was harsh.
The wee fella grins – it’s called tough love – grins even wider and finishes with – bitch!

Conversation #2

It’s my latest health kick and I give myself one day per week off the healthy stuff and eat absolutely anything I want. On this occasion I had a pizza – grand pan, meat feast – from a well known pizza chain. I’d mention them by name but I want some freebies first. (You know who you are. See my agent. Please.) Washed down with lashings of cola. From another well known company. Same rules apply ...Company Beginning with P.

I was munching into said pizza and fancied a wee top up to my cola. The cola was in the kitchen. I couldn’t be arsed going for it. I never ask the wee fella to be my gopher as I used to hate it when I was a kid. 

Besides, in the few occasions I have made such a request he moans like I’ve asked him to do a shift up a chimney. However, I had my sloth on and thought I would give it a go.

Me – could you fill up my glass, son? (I point helpfully to the cola bottle visible through the kitchen door.
TWF – (grunts, stands up) S’pose.
Me – after he has poured a paltry two fingers worth – thanks.
TWF – Why didn’t you get it for yourself?
Me – I wanted to see if you would do something for me.
TWF – I do something for you every day, Dad. (BIG grin) I give you a reason to live.

And nothing changes.


Sunday, 2 March 2014

February Reading

Here's wot I read in February ...

Stoner by John Williams – Well it had to eventually. The hype got me. Lost classic they said and everybody and their aunty is jumping in to agree. But sorry, Stoner didn't do it for me. I can see why people might be getting so excited about this book – it is full of insight and elegant prose BUT the main character, the titular Stoner, needs a bloody good slap. He's far too passive, allowing nasty colleagues at work to undermine him and most unforgivable of all, allows his manipulative wife to ruin his daughter's life. Where was the character development? The worm should have turned and then the title of lost classic would have been well earned.

The Stillman by Tom McCulloch – Middle-aged man, barely tolerated by his wife, his son's behaviour is getting weirder by the day, the island of Islay is in the grip of a winter storm and letters arrive from Cuba from his long-dead mother. Lyrical, touching and funny. McCulloch conjures a great sense of place and a fascinating description of a man and a marriage on the slide.

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts – A friend of mine was banging on about this so much I had to find out what he was on about – and boy am I glad I did. What a fantastic read! This is an epic, full of characters you are bound to fall in love with and a depiction of Bombay so authentic that when you put the book down and walk out your front door you almost expect to be faced with a dancing bear, a huge traffic jam and the cast of a Bollywood movie.

Sure, it's not perfect. The author's prose tends to the purple and his philosophising can at times come across as a lecture – but set these grumbles aside and you are in for a great time while reading this book.

Sense of Direction – Gideon Lewis Kravs

A fascinating travel memoir as young Gideon goes walkabout , quite literally, looking for a sense of direction on his life on the Camino and in Japan. He portrays his own actions with an admirable honesty and with wry humour. I found his internal monologue hard work at times, but that says more about me and my lack of erudition. All in all, well worth a read.

Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

Epic fantasy that fans of George RR Martin and David Gemmell will lap up. I lost a Sunday to this book. Quite literally couldn't put it down. Loved it!

Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer

Clever, clever lady that Belinda is. I love it when an author takes risks and comes up with a wholly original plot. This book won a slew of awards. Now I understand why. Great stuff!

The Deep Dark Sleep by Craig Russell

Quality stuff. Imagine that Bernie Gunther is now Canadian and living and working in 1950s Glasgow and you have some kind of idea what is going on here. Has everything I look for in a crime novel – characters you want to spend time with, humour, strong prose, pace and a plot that keeps you guessing. In a nutshell? High quality stuff. Oh, I said that already.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

A Bibliophile's January

I'm trying to read more this year and spend less time on the time thief that is social networking. (What do you mean, good luck wi' that?)

Anywho, here's wot I read in January.

Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey – first in a fantasy/ horror series. A cracking read. And the good news is that I don't have long to wait until book 2 is available. Book of the Crowman is out on the 7th March. Yes!

Water Music by Maggie Orford – another excellent crime writer from South Africa. She was on my radar after her appearance at Harrogate Crime Fiction Festival a couple of years back. Absorbing and well written. Released 27 Feb.

A Mad and Wonderful Thing by Mark Mulholland - a debut novel from the clever Aussie publisher, Scribe. In turns elegaic and disturbing. Pulls of that trick of making you sympathise with a character who does some truly awful things. Has a genuine OMG moment. Out in April. One to watch.

The Shining by Stephen King – for some reason I haven't ever read this. Needed to be rectified after reading Doctor Sleep in December. Genuinely chilling. He is the master. 'Nuff said.

Mongol by Uuganaa Ramsay – if you don't shed a tear while reading this you need to see a heart surgeon like pronto. Ask for a scan just to make sure you don't have a breeze block in there instead of a heart. Provides a fascinating glimpse into an alien culture, pays tribute to a dead infant and kicks off a campaign about the use of the word “mongol”. No wonder Uuganaa was previously voted Mongolian Woman of the Year.

The First Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks & Tinker Lindsay – A former buddhist monk/ ex-cop becomes a P.I. in L.A. As unlikely as it sounds, it works. Thanks to a light touch on the Buddhist stuff and sharp dialogue and plotting. Great stuff!

The Fault on our Stars by John Green – teens and cancer don't make a comfortable reading and could easily turn out to be mawkish. But not for a writer as talented as this guy. You will laugh and you will cry.

I'm sure there's something among that lot to interest you?


Saturday, 18 January 2014

Review - Long Way Home by Eva Dolan

The blurb reads like this …

A man is burnt alive in a suburban garden shed.

DI Zigic and DS Ferreira are called in from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit to investigate the murder. Their victim is quickly identified as a migrant worker and a man several people might have had good reason to see dead. A convicted arsonist and member of a far-right movement has just been released from prison, while witnesses claim to have seen the dead man fighting with one of the town's most prominent slum landlords.

Zigic and Ferreira know all too well the problems that come with dealing with a community that has more reason than most not to trust the police, but when another migrant worker is attacked, tensions rapidly begin to rise as they search for their killer.

How much did I enjoy it?

I know it’s the first month of the new year, but if I read a better debut in the next 12 months I’ll be hugely surprised, cos Long Way Home is a faultless, thoroughly engrossing debut that already has the feel of a long established series of novels.

As the cliché goes, the devil is in the detail and Dolan is already adept at pinpointing just the right information and in the right amount that makes us believe in her characters and immerse us in the setting.

Zigic and Ferreira are well-drawn pair of characters and duo I would be more than happy to spend hours of reading in their company.

This is a police procedural with heart and conscience. Yes, the puzzle is important, but much more telling is way the author depicts the lives of those caught up in people trafficking and the those who pray on them.

I couldn’t be more impressed – this is a stunner - and I can’t wait to see what Dolan does next.

Shell out your shekels HERE

Friday, 10 January 2014

QnA with my bud, Gill Hoffs

(Here's Gill's grinning fyzzog)

  1. So, what you pimping these days?

A tale of gold and grim reality, “The Sinking of RMS Tayleur: The Lost Story of the Victorian Titanic”. It’s about an enormous luxury ship that left Liverpool 160 years ago this month for the Australian Gold Rush only to sink in mysterious circumstances two days later, a few miles from Dublin. Although the ship was literally a few metres from land, close enough for ropes and spars to be got across to form temporary bridges, more than half of the people on board died including virtually all of the hundreds of women and children. Shipwrecks were common then, an accepted risk to travellers, and around three vessels were reported wrecked in British and Irish waters every day. But this particular shipwreck made the papers around the world, with thousands of articles written on it at the time. I’m amazed that it isn’t better known today.

  1. How did you come across such an amazing story?
Quite by accident. I was in the museum in Warrington, where I live, looking at shrunken heads and the like, when I saw a cabinet of shipwreck artefacts including crockery and a porthole. Now, Warrington is an inland town and the stretch of Mersey near my house is so shallow you can see discarded bicycles poking out and sometimes wade across when there’s a drought, but according to one of the curators ships had been built here. One of them, the RMS Tayleur, was the largest ship of her type at the time and certainly the most luxurious, and he suggested I look her up online. When I read some of the survivors’ accounts I wept until I was a snottery mess, and didn’t think I should ever look at them again for the sake of my sanity (and my over-wiped nose), but I just couldn’t stop thinking about the people on the ship.

  1. How long did it take to research and write?

Hmm … about two years, start to finish. That’s including the research for a short piece on one of the children on board, submitting a proposal to my lovely publishers Pen & Sword, and editing. And we moved house to Scotland and back while working on it, too. But I don’t feel like it’s quite done yet, even though I’ve just watched it being bound and turned into actual factual books.

(here's wot Gill's so excited about)
  1. Your previous outing into print was a collection of short pieces, did a longer piece of work involve any different challenges?
The short piece on the Tayleur is actually included in my first book, “Wild: a collection” (published by Pure Slush), so “The Sinking of RMS Tayleur” could almost be seen as a sequel. Yes, I found it more challenging to judge pacing and the arc of the chapters and the book as a whole in the longer piece, but luckily my editor, Jen Newby, let me work on the book until I was happy with the flow.

  1. Where can we buy a copy?

You can purchase it from Pen & Sword HERE, bookshops including Waterstones (with or without the apostrophe) and WH Smith, online retailers, and also Warrington Museum and the Ocean Explorer Centre near Oban. Plus there will be talks and events about the Tayleur and Victorian sea travel (and maggoty food, yum!) at various locations throughout the UK where you can pick up a copy and probably cake, too. I’ll be posting details on my site and social media closer to the time, or you’re welcome to email me at to find out more.

  1. What was your biggest writing “learn” from this project?
To take care of myself physically while I work instead of just pushing on, and to organise my notes better while I work instead of constantly putting it off ‘til later then panicking when I can’t find the precise survivor quote that I need. And to hide my printouts from my son unless I want them illustrated with bums and killer crabs.

  1. What's next?
Raising awareness of the Tayleur tragedy – many of these people were heroes and they should be celebrated, not forgotten – and, as you put it, pimping my book. I’m researching the Mary Celeste for a thriller, and other shipwrecks and Victorian sea travellers in case they would suit another nautical nonfiction book, and still writing short pieces, too. I’ve sent a maritime thriller set in the 1930s out to agents so my fingers, toes, eyes, and legs are crossed for the time being, and apart from that I’m reading and watching a ton of DVDs and crappy TV. And preparing for an appearance at the Other Worlds Convention (you can get info on this event HERE) alongside my fellow writers Kevin G. Bufton and Die Booth in Warrington in April. And trying to get rid of the writers’ arse that’s developed from too much Nutella and sitting at my laptop. And sleeping.

Ways to keep in touch with Gill ...

- Search Gill Hoffs on Facebook.
- And connect with her on twitter @GillHoffs