I love my book group. It is one of a number attached to Sheffield University and as well as a core of longstanding members, we also have a shifting membership of visiting academics and postgrads. Just to mention a few nationalities, we have or have had in the group women from France, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Norway, the Netherlands, the USA, Ghana, Mexico, Columbia, Japan, and South Korea. We always ask visitors to suggest novels from their own country and have had some fascinating reads as a result (and also some delicious food when they have hosted the group).
A friend who doesn’t belong to a book group says that she wouldn’t like not having a choice about what she reads. I see that. For me, though, that is the part of the point. If it wasn’t for the book group I’d probably be subsisting on a diet exclusively of crime fiction with the odd rereading of Trollope or Jane Austen thrown in. Nothing wrong with that, exactly, but I feel it is a good thing to read more widely and encounter books I wouldn’t otherwise have known about. Ones that have stayed my memory are Patrick Modiano’s Rue des Boutiques obscures, Orphan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence, and Taichi Yamada’s Strangers, an extraordinary Japanese ghost story. And another example is our current read, A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, which I absolutely adore, though I doubt I would have picked it up in a bookshop.
So: a good book, good company, and a glass of wine. A highlight of the month and an essential part of my reading life.
What about you? Do you belong to a book group? Any particularly memorable reads?
One of the books on my Christmas list was Shaun Bythell’s The Diary of a Book-Seller – and what a great read it turned out to be. The frustrations of the book-seller’s life are many and they include customers who browse and then buy the book from Amazon online. At one point he shoots a broken Kindle, mounts it in the style of a deer’s head, and hangs it on a wall in the bookshop with the inscription ‘Amazon Kindle Shot by Shaun Bythell, 24 August 2014, near Newton Stewart.’
I am not tempted to shoot my own Kindle, but this has got me thinking about little I use it. There was a honeymoon period when I first got it five years ago, when I used it a lot. I do still take it on holiday with me, and sometimes to read on the train to London, but at home weeks can go by without my opening it. At one time I used to read it in bed when I couldn’t sleep, but now I listened to an audiobook instead. I’ve realised that the light from the screen keeps me awake, and so I don’t read it last thing either. And it seems unwise to read it in the bath . . .
In all sorts of ways I am happier with a print version of a book, especially if is a book that I want to re-read. I like to be able to flip back and forward. I like the book as an object, the cover, the look of the type on the page. If it’s not a book I’ll want to read again, I still like a print version that I can take to a charity shop so that someone can buy it and perhaps be introduced to a new writer and go on to buy their other books.
It seems I am not alone. There was a lot of publicity last year about a drop in e-book sales and a resurgence of the printed book. So, how about you? E-book or (as I think of it) real book?
I had a lovely time on Tuesday at the launch of my new book, Cold, Cold Heart, at Waterstones in Sheffield. Books, wine, good company: what more could one want? A little bit of entertainment, perhaps? I decided to provide some in the form of a quiz about Antarctica, the setting for the novel. There were ten multiple choice questions and the prize was a copy of the latest CWA anthology, Mystery Tour, which I’ve mentioned before on the blog.
Here is a sample question: which of these will you not find in Antarctica?
A) Emperor penguin, B) Polar bear C) Leopard seal. D) Minke Whale.
That was perhaps the easiest. The winners got seven out of ten so the bar might have been set a bit high, but it was a lot of fun.
There was a good turn-out, especially for a miserable January evening, and there was a mix of good friends and perfect strangers.
I want to thank Russell, the events manager at Waterstones, for organising the event and enabling me to celebrate the publication of Cold, Cold Heart in style.
. . . and really, what could be better than a party in a book shop?
The launch of my new novel, Cold Cold Heart, takes place at the Orchard Square branch of Waterstones in Sheffield. It’s on Tuesday 23rd from 7.00-8.30 pm, which is also the date of publication in the US. There will be wine and, as the novel is set in Antarctica, there will be some Antarctic-themed entertainment. All are welcome. It is a ticketed event and you can find out more here: https://www.waterstones.com/events/book-launch-cold-cold-heart-by-christine-poulson/sheffield-orchard-square
I hope to see lots of old friends there, and some new ones, too.
BEFORE: Peter’s journals stretching out of sight to the front door
Over the fifty years since Peter had first been a student at the Architectural Association he had amassed hundreds and hundreds of architectural journals and magazines. In many cases there were more than one copy, because he had been a contributor to so many over the course of his career. He had written over 500 articles and was Architectural Journalist of the Year in 1992, the year that I met him. After he died in August 2016, it did weigh on my mind that one day most of them would probably have to be thrown out. Schools of Architecture would already have runs of them and I couldn’t think what could be done with them.
But now I am thrilled to say that they have found a home. In September I had an email from Steve Parnell, now at Newcastle School of Architecture, whose Ph.d on architectural journalism Peter had supervised. Steve was planning a project by and for students called the MagSpace, and would be very happy Peter’s journals. What, all of them? I asked. Yes, all of them.
One week-end it took me a day and a half – with assistance – to assemble journals and magazines from various corners of our house. On the Monday morning Steve briefed a small group of students: they had until 4 o’clock on Friday to design the lay-out of the MagSpace, plan the shelving, make it in the workshop, assemble it and arrange the journals. On Monday afternoon Steve drove down from Sheffield in a van, we loaded up the journals, and he took them back to Newcastle.
It is wonderful to think that they will be used and enjoyed instead of gathering dust in the attic. It is poignant to think of Peter buying the earliest ones as a student – at a time when he was very hard-up – little knowing that one day he would be such an eminent critic and historian and that the magazines would be consulted by other young people at the start of their careers. I am glad that the baton should be passed on in this way. And he would so much have approved of the students participation in planning and making the space. It is perfect in every way and I want to thank everyone involved.
AFTER: the Magspace with the students who made it and Steve (second from the left).
Think of this: a place where each night lasts for months and so does each day. The mean annual temperature is −57 °C. It’s a place where money isn’t important because there’s nothing to buy. There are no children or old people or land mammals and only one species of insect. There are no trees or shrubs or flowers, no fresh fruit or vegetables or meat or milk or eggs . . .
It is indeed an awful place, but awe-inspiring, too, and the perfect place to get my series character, Katie Flanagan into terrible trouble. If you’d like to read more about it, here is the link to my post for the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine blog: https://somethingisgoingtohappen.net/2017/12/20/great-god-this-is-an-awful-place-by-christine-poulson/
This is my last post of the year. It only remains for me to wish my readers and blog friends all that they would wish for themselves and their families in 2018. See you in the New Year!
The photo of the ramparts of Mount Erebus is courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Do you enjoy crime fiction? If so, do you subscribe to the Crime Readers’ Association? If not, I’m sure you’d find it worth your while – and it is free.
The CRA is the readers’ arm of the Crime Writers’ Association (of which, by the way, I am once again Membership Secretary). Subscribers receive a bi-monthly edition of an entertaining online magazine, Case Files, along with all kinds of interesting features and articles from CWA members. In addition, subscribers receive a monthly newsletter containing updates of special events, crime reading (and writing) opportunities, book launches, author insider news, competitions and giveaways.
I am plugging this in a not entirely disinterested way as I am delighted to be Author of the Month on the CRA website and I have written a short piece in the December newletter about my new novel and its Antarctic setting. If you would like to take a look at the CRA and perhaps subscribe, go to: https://thecra.co.uk/about-the-cra/
The members of the CWA are a convivial lot, often to be found propping up a bar somewhere, and none more so than the committee members, who had their Christmas lunch early in December. There was only one Santa hat, so of course it had to be worn by our highly esteemed chair, Martin Edwards. My neighbour’s Rudolph burger (actually beef, I believe) came – most appropriately – with a dagger already plunged into its heart.
Kate Jackson, a fellow crime fiction aficionado, who blogs at https://crossexaminingcrime.wordpress.com, has started a splendid new venture, Coffee and Crime, a book box subscription service that you can receive as a one-off or monthly. Each box contains two surprise vintage mystery novels, related goodies, such as notebooks, tote bags, coasters, a sachet of coffee, and a newsletter.
After seeing the book box reviewed by Moira at Clothes in Books, I just had to order one. This is what I saw when I opened my box yesterday and what a treat it was, so beautifully presented and with such intriguing contents. My books were Phoebe Atwood Taylor’s Figure Away (An Asey Mayo Mystery) and Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Door. I hadn’t read either of them – in fact I haven’t read anything by either writer and I am looking forward to trying them. (You can tip Kate off about which writers you already have plenty of). It is a terrific idea and I hope it is a great success. I shall be taking out a subscription.
To find out more, follow this link: http://www.crimetime.co.uk/cold-cold-heart-christine-poulson-talks-crime-time/.
No-one knows about contemporary crime fiction than Barry Forshaw whose splendid website, Crime Time, has interviews, reviews and all the most up-to-date news. He is also the author of a fine series of books that include Nordic Noir, Euro Noir, and Brit Noir, all of which I have on the shelf by my desk.
It’s always a thrill when publication day arrives. All the hard work and waiting is over and here at last is the book! Plans for a launch are in progress, but meanwhile, I’m a guest today on Sue Hepworth’s splendid blog, Fragments from a Writer’s Life, and you can go to http://SueHepworth.com to hear about what I’m reading at the moment, the book I wish I had written, the book I am most embarrassed at not having read and more.
Sue and I are having a lunch together today and it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that a glass will be raised . . .