It’s a pleasure to welcome Leigh to my blog today. I thoroughly enjoyed her new novel, Blood Axe, and found myself slowing down so that I didn’t get to the end – and the solution – too quickly. We know from the beginning that the killer has adopted the persona of a Viking warrior intent on pillage and murder. Russell adroitly shifts suspicion from one person to another and I didn’t guess the outcome. DI Ian Peterson is a sympathetic protagonist and York is a suitably atmospheric setting for the sinister events of the novel. All in all, a rattling good read. I began by asking Leigh:
After such a successful series featuring Geraldine Steel, what made you decide to go in a new direction with the Ian Peterson series set in York?
It was the success of Geraldine Steel that encouraged me to write a spin off series for her sergeant, Ian Peterson. He had become a popular character in his own right, and my publisher was interested in my writing a second series. I spent some time deciding where to set his series. York is a really interesting and inspiring place, and setting Ian Peterson’s investigations there gives me an excuse to keep returning to the city. Also, Ian Peterson wanted to live a long way from his in-laws in Kent.
How do you manage to keep both series going? I’m envious! What’s your writing routine?
Since giving up my day job to write full-time, I seem to be busier than ever before. I am often asked about my writing routine but, to be honest, ‘routine’ is not a word that springs to mind when thinking about my writing process. With all the editing, meetings, library visits, literary festivals and general promotion that goes on, I rarely have a day completely free for writing. Since moving over to working exclusively on my ipad, it has become a little easier, as I can write anywhere – on planes, trains, on the beach, adding a few pages whenever I have time. It would be disingenuous to claim that it’s not really hard work, but I enjoy every minute of it!
A favourite bookshop?
This is a difficult question, because any bookshop is fine with me! There is nowhere I would prefer to be. That said, I’m also a great fan of libraries, and I think online suppliers provide a useful service to readers who can’t get out easily, so I have no problem with sites like Amazon. I think what matters is that people – especially youngsters – are encouraged to read as much as possible.
What single thing would make your writing life easier?
More hours in the day would be a great help. Failing that, I would like to be able to manage on four hours sleep a night. As it is, I struggle to fit everything in. There is always so much to do! Fortunately, I work well under pressure and like to keep busy.
Tell us something about where you like to write.
I am probably at my most productive when sitting at my desk, but my favourite place to write is definitely in bed! My new series which launches next year starts in the Seychelles, and I have to admit I was also very happy to spend a couple of weeks writing on the beach beside the Indian Ocean. With my ipad, I am lucky that I am not tied to any one location and can enjoy writing anywhere.
Thank you, Leigh! To find out more about Leigh and her novels, go to www.leighrussell.co.uk.
It is two months today since I began my book-buying moratorium – and I am still going strong. It was most difficult at the beginning, when I was trying to break the habit. There was a danger that I just would buy more DVDs instead – they too are so cheap in charity shops – even though we have too many that we haven’t watched. So for the time being I am avoiding charity shops, except when I go to drop books off.
I can’t remember when I last bought so few books. I think it must have been before I was earning a salary. I wonder if over the years I have spent more on books than on clothes. It seems quite possible.
I’m not making the inroads into the TBR pile that I’d like. I find that I’m reading books from the library a lot. I’ve just finished Agatha Christie’s Come Tell Me How You Live about life in Syria with her archeologist husband, which I got out of the London Library, and that made me want to read Death Comes as the End, which she set in Ancient Egypt. That one I already own and I am halfway through.
The collection of poetry by my good friend Anca Vlasopolos (pictured above) arrived yesterday and is one of the few exceptions that I’ve allowed myself (the other was a book I bought at a launch). It is attractively produced with charming illustrations and abstinence makes this even more of a treat.
. . . Stellan Skarsgård – or, should I say, John River, the leading character in River. This BBC crime drama, scripted by Abi Morgan, has been perhaps the stand-out show of the year for me, even I wasn’t totally convinced at the beginning. A policeman who sees dead people? How was this going to work? Hadn’t we been here with Sixth Sense?
But I was won over as this dark, complex, richly textured drama unfolded (once I had got over a policeman – even a Swedish one – having such a stylish flat in central London). Skarsgård was inspired casting, totally convincing as a man whose troubled mind manifests itself in hallucinations, the kind of person you sometimes see arguing with invisible people in the street. The rest of the cast was also first-rate, especially Nicola Walker, River’s police partner, the mystery of whose death torments him. Adeel Akhtar as River’s sympathetic new sidekick and Lesley Manville as River’s long-suffering boss were also excellent. The final episode last Tuesday was very touching – no spoilers – and entirely satisfying. I’ve pre-ordered the DVD – there could be no greater complement! – so that I can watch the whole thing all over again.
Last week I visited this exhibition at the British Museum. It covers a period of twelve centuries from 30 BC, when Egypt became part of the Roman Empire, to AD 1171 and tells the story of the shift from the traditional worship of many gods to the monotheism. When Constantine was converted to Christianity, Christianity gradually became the dominant religion, only to be displaced by the Islamic invasion of the seventh century. There was also a Jewish community.
There is a lot to take on board from the informative panels and I found this fascinating, but of course the objects are the stars of the show: textiles, coins, manuscripts, jewellery, pottery. It wasn’t always the most precious or the showiest objects that have stuck in my mind. Egypt’s hot, dry climate allowed things to be preserved that in other cultures have vanished. It was touching to see a stripy child’s sock, a toy horse, and a mummy portrait of a little girl, who had died aged seven.
Although there was occasional tension and violence between the different communities, there were long periods when the communities lived peacefully side by side and were influenced by each other in their arts and crafts.
I came out of the exhibition thinking of the words of the Quaker, William Penn, written in 1693, ‘The humble, meek, merciful, just, pious, and devout souls are everywhere of one religion: and when death has taken off the mask they will know one another, though the divers liveries they wear here makes them strangers.’ At the week-end after the events in Paris, it was good to hold on to this thought. The exhibition is a timely one and I recommend it. It runs until the 7 February.
A few post ago I wrote about reducing my TBR pile by culling those novels that I decided not to read. Well, here are a couple that made the cut. I read both on my e-reader, where unread books were also accumulating: fatally easy to buy them and just as easy to forget you’ve got them. I’m glad I didn’t forget these.
The Chessman is Dolores Gordon-Smith’s new Jack Haldean novel, one of a series set in the 1920s. She has quite a following and deservedly so. In the first chapter, we are introduced to Sir Matthew Vardon, such a deliciously unpleasant character that I was delighted when he kicked the bucket in chapter two, and not surprised that there are rumours that he was helped on his way. It is just the first of several deaths and soon Jack Haldean is brought onto the case. The period detail is deftly handled and the plot kept me guessing. Every time I thought I had worked it, another twist showed me that I had got it wrong. A rattling good read.
Snowblind is the first novel by Icelandic writer, Ragnar Jonasson. He has translated sixteen of Agatha Christie’s novels, and the set-up here is one that Christie herself might have employed. It is a classic closed community plot. Ari Thor is a young policeman who takes up his first job in Siglufjorour, a fishing village in Northern Iceland. It’s the middle of winter, it’s dark all the time, and snow has blocked the road tunnel that is the only way in. When young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and close to death, and a famous local writer is found dead in the local theatre, the tiny police force are on their own. Great stuff! Everyone, it seems, has a secret and I have to say, I did guess one of them. No matter: it was an engrossing read and a very promising debut. Snowblind is ably translated by Quentin Bates, no mean crime writer himself.
One thing about having children later in life: no danger of settling into a comfortable middle-age (or even old age, come to that). I find myself doing things I otherwise wouldn’t dream of doing. Thus it was last Saturday that I found myself settling into my seat at the Odeon Sheffield next to my teenage daughter waiting for the credits for the new James Bond movie to come up.
When they did, the years fell away. I was Blackpool in – well, when? – sometime in the early sixties – and my mother and my brother and I were watching Goldfinger. We are having a few days in Blackpool to see the illuminations, have a cheeseburger in a Wimpy Bar, and put pennies in the automata at Blackpool Tower. I suspect that was the only time I have seen a Bond movie at the cinema and now here I was all these years later, watching one again with my own daughter.
And this was definitely one for the big screen. The opening sequence took place in Mexico city during the carnival for the Day of the Dead and was stunning. There was everything you expect in a Bond movie: lots of explosions, collapsing buildings, helicopters, chase scene in the Alps, flying cars, damsels in distress and I lost count of how many people Bond had shot. Ben Wishaw was excellent as Q and had some of the best lines. There was a softer side to Bond this time and Daniel Craig looked gorgeous. I didn’t worry too much about the plot, such as it was, just sat back and let it all wash over me. An excellent half-term treat as well as a trip down memory lane.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I have decided to abstain from buying books for three months. I began on the 24th September and I have been more or less faithful to my vow (I’ve bought a book at a book launch and a friend’s newly published poetry collection – I wanted to support her right away and not wait until the end of my moratorium). There have been other times when I have been very sorely tempted, but I haven’t succumbed.
Maybe this is why last night I dreamt I had bought two books! I’d done it before I remembered that I wasn’t supposed to and I wondered how I was going to explain this on my blog. Perhaps I could give the books away as presents? Then I realised I was dreaming and woke up feeling relieved. And which books were they? A small navy blue hardback World’s Classic collection of the Father Brown Stories of G. K. Chesterton and a second-hand paperback of Agatha Christie’s Murder is Easy. Why these in particular? I have no idea. For one thing I already own both of them. Murder is Easy is pretty good, but not one of Christie’s absolute best. I love the Father Brown stories, but I don’t need another copy of that either. I was buying them on a trip to Thailand, a place I’ve never visited. The mysteries of the unconscious . . .
It’s clear though that abstinence is getting to me. Perhaps next time, I’ll sleepwalk to my computer and find in the morning that I have bought dozens of books on-line.