For me one of the stand-out exhibitions of last year was Troy: Myth and Reality, which I saw at the British Museum a couple of weeks ago. There are some stunning objects – the vases in particular – and it was wonderful to revisit the stories of the Iliad and the Odyssey. I had a grammar school education which meant doing five years of Latin, but looking back I feel it would have been more useful and interesting to have studied Classics more broadly and to have read texts in translation. Through my degree in English Literature and History of Art I did become familiar with the Greek myths and legends, but it wasn’t many years later on holiday in Greece that I decided to read the Iliad from beginning to end and just experience it as the fantastic story that it is. A couple of years later on holiday in Crete I did the same thing with the Odyssey.
There is something very special about reading a story in the place where it originated. In my journal I transcribed this passage from the Odyssey: ‘Alcinous ordered Helias and Laodomas to dance by themselves since no one could compete with them. Polybus, a skilled craftsman, had made them a beautiful purple ball, which they took in their hands, and one of them, bending right back, would throw it towards the shadowy clouds, and the other, leaping up from the ground, would catch it skilfully, before his feet touched earth again.’ I noted that the next day on the beach I saw two bronzed young men in tiny swimming trunks doing the exact same thing as Homer had described it somewhere around three thousands years ago. My copy of the Penguin Classics edition with its creased spine and water-stained pages is a momento of a great holiday.
The exhibition at the British Museum runs until 8 March. It retells the stories through objects and paintings, examines the historical basis for the existence of Troy, and draws parallels with the present day realities of brutal warfare and its victims. I thought it was wonderful.
Season’s Greetings to all you readers, writers and bloggers out there
and may you have a wonderful 2020!
Our garden in the snow (not this year, I hasten to add!)
It’s a busy time of the year, but I’ve taken time off from writing Christmas cards to be interviewed by writer Sue Hepworth on her splendid blog. You can find the interview here: http://www.suehepworth.com/2019/12/mystery-and-suspense.html .
I’ve been so busy writing guest posts and articles for other people’s web-sites to promote my new book that I haven’t had time to write anything for my own!
However, you can go to Martin Edwards’ splendid blog, Do You Write Under Your Own Name, to read about where I got the idea for An Air That Kills: http://doyouwriteunderyourownname.blogspot.com/2019/11/an-air-that-kills-by-christine-poulson.htm
and to Barry Forshaw’s highly informative and entertaining crime fiction website, Crimetime.co.uk, for an article about the research I did, specifically, on how to murder someone with a mosquito:
Finally, for Female First, I’ve contributed to a feature called, Seven Things I Want My Readers To Know About Me: https://www.femalefirst.co.uk/books/christine-poulson-an-air-that-kills-1218145.html
Normal service will be resumed soon.
My new Katie Flanagan mystery, An Air That Kills, comes out on Friday. An author’s work is not over when she has delivered the final draft to her editor, or even when she has sent back the corrected proofs. Far from it. There is still all that is involved in trying to promote the novel. So for the last week or two, I have been writing pieces for other people’s blogs and web-sites. I’ll be putting up links as they appear. And this time there is actually a blog tour – which is a thrill! I’ve never had one before!
Soon I’ll be getting back to the next writing project, but for now I’ll try to make the most of my little bit of time in the spotlight and as for Friday – the bottle of wine is already cooling in the fridge. Of course I hope the book will do well and I am very grateful to my lovely publishers for the effort they have been putting into PR. And I love the striking cover design. But for now, whatever happens, simply being published and having a new book out will be ample reason for raising a glass or two.
Writing a novel involves spending an awful lot of time on one’s own. It can be difficult to meet other writers and that is where the Crime Writers’ Association is such a godsend. I joined in 2002 when my first novel came out and through the CWA I have made some very good friends. They have helped to keep me going through the inevitable ups and down of a writer’s life. And there’s the opportunity just to hang out with other writers at conferences – I have been to the Lake District, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Hereford, Shrewsbury, Lincoln. We are a famously convivial lot. But the stellar event in the UK crime-writers’ firmament is undoubtedly is the Daggers Dinner, held this year on 24th October at the Leonardo City Hotel in London. The photo shows me and my friends, Sarah Ward (left) and Kate Ellis (right) quaffing prosecco. Kate won the Dagger in the Library that evening. The winner of the Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year was M C Craven for The Puppet Show.
The following week-end I headed up to Newcastle to hear my short story, ‘Safe as Houses,’ read brilliantly by Janine Birkett as one of three stories on the programme of Haunted: Ghost Story Readings for Halloween at the Lit and Phil (a Newcastle Institution – in every way). The other too were a Victorian shocker, ‘The Phantom Coach’ by Amelia B Edwards, and the disturbing ‘Three Miles Up’ by Elizabeth Jane Howard. It was all great fun. The other reader and the producer, Stephen Tomlin of Demiparadise Productions, is shown here with me and Janine.
So now it’s back to earth . . . But there’s the CWA Christmas Party and a spring conference in Torquay to look forward to.
If you are a crime writer, I hope you’ll consider joining us. If not, you could join our sister group, the Crime Readers’ Association, for free and receive news and reviews every month: http://thecra.co.uk.
Some years ago I was invited to submit a horror story for an anthology. The brief was that it must include some aspect of contemporary technology. I said doubtfully to my husband, ‘I’m not sure this is my thing.’ His reply was bracing: ‘You’re a writer, aren’t you? So write something!’ And I did. The story, ‘Safe as Houses,’ was duly published in Phobic: Modern Horror Stories, by Comma Press. It begins with a woman hearing a baby crying over a baby monitor. But there’s no baby in the house. . . I scared myself writing it! That’s part of the fun.
A few months ago I was contacted by an actor, Stephen Tomlin, to ask if ‘Safe as Houses’ could be one of three ghost stories to be included in a series of Halloween readings that he was planning for the north of England. I was delighted to agree and I’ll be attending one of the performances at that Newcastle institution, the Lit and Phil on 1 November. I am looking forward to hearing something that I have written performed by a professional actor – a first for me.
For details of the other venues and how to book tickets, go to www.demiparadiseproductions.co.uk
I don’t go in for bingeing on box sets. I am happily working my way through the 33 episodes of Inspector Morse, but I am strict about watching only one an evening. They last around an hour and forty minutes, so though I am sometimes tempted to go on to the next episode, it’s not so hard to resist. However binge-reading is another matter.
The hot weather made me think of those summer days long gone when I would go into a kind of trance and read for hours at a time. The years between sixteen and my mid twenties were my great reading years. I was doing an English A Level and then an English degree, followed by an M.A. and then a Ph.D. I was supposed to be reading, but even given that, I did read an awful lot. One summer I read all the Shakespeare plays that I hadn’t already studied and I mean ALL of them.
I can’t read like that these days – just as I can’t sleep until noon. Rarely do I succumb to the charm of a book and neglect everything in order to finish it. The last time I surrendered to a novel and spent the week-end reading it was when we picked A Gentleman in Moscowby Amor Towles for our book-group. All those years of work and child-rearing have got me out of the habit of long sessions with a book. Though I do still read a lot, it tends to be only on holiday that I can spend a whole afternoon with a novel.
But having said, there is a kind of binge-reading to which I do succumb. A couple of years ago, I discovered Mick Herron’s Slow Horseson my Kindle. I had bought it – perhaps because I met him at Crimefest – and then forgotten about it, as tends to happen with e-books. It was both gripping and darkly funny. By time I had got round to reading it, the deplorable Jackson Lamb and the sorry crew at Slough House were several adventures further on. In the long ago pre-internet past I would have to go to a book shop (remember those?) to look for the next instalment, and I might have had to order it. Or, if I was in low water financially, all too likely in those days, I might instead have gone to the library (an endangered species now). But now it is the work of seconds to buy someone’s whole back catalogue in order to devour them one after another. So in that sense I am a binge-reader, and though it is great to be able to finish one novel and go straight on to find out what happened to the characters next, perhaps something is lost too. There is a pleasure to be had in anticipation and delayed gratification (not to mention the importance of supporting book shops and libraries).
Having said that, if anyone should be tempted to download all Mick Herron’s books – or mine for that matter – please don’t feel you must hold back.
This is a second posting – I don’t know what happened to the first one. It mysteriously disappeared shortly after it appeared on my blog.
I am working my way through the entire box set of Inspector Morse DVDs, all thirty-three episodes, rationing myself strictly to one an evening. And how well they still stand up: well-plotted, well-scripted, excellent direction and photography, the glorious setting of Oxford, and above all the superb double act of the brilliant John Thaw with Kevin Whately as his sidekick. The supporting cast is excellent, too. Every episode is stuffed with familiar names – there’s even John Gielgud in one. The whole thing is such a class act. There is also the fun of spotting Colin Dexter appearing, Hitchcock-like, in every episode.
It is hard to believe that the the first one aired in 1987. These were the days before mobile phones and the internet made the work of the police – and the crime-writer – more complicated, and yet on the whole they have not dated very much. The most startling aspect is the women’s clothes: shoulder pads so enormous that they almost have to turn sideways to go through doorways. Did I once dress like that? I fear I must have, but memory has drawn a merciful veil over what I actually did wear. I was reminded of another way in which life has improved by an episode in which Morse is at a college dinner. At the end of it the woman sitting next to him lits up a cigarette while she is still sitting at the table: unthinkable these days! It is the little things that make you realise that, yes, this was thirty-two years ago.
PS Have just heard the sad news that Barrington Pheloung, who wrote the atmospheric score, has died.