On holiday in France a couple of weeks ago we were strolling around the lovely little town of Le Crotoy on the Bay of the Somme, when we came across this: a redundant phone box that had become a book exchange. There was nothing that tempted me, but it was nice to see a copy of an Ellis Peters’s novel there, especially as I was planning to be in Shrewsbury the following week and that is the town most associated with her and her books.
There is a particular pleasure in finding books in unexpected places. Last summer I spent a happy quarter of an hour browsing among the books offered for sale just inside the English Church on Lake Como. That time I came away with a copy of an Ed McBain novel and a Pan edition from 1966 of Victor Canning’s The Scorpio Letters. (Victor Canning has been having a bit of a moment over on Moira’s splendid blog, ClothesinBooks.com.) I discovered Elizabeth Taylor when I picked up a copy of A View of the Harbour in Austin’s second-hand furniture emporium on Peckham (long since closed): I had gone to buy a wardrobe, which I did, but I also came with a new author. My copy of Michael Gilbert’s Fear to Tread came from the second-hand book shop at Killerton, a wonderful National Trust garden in Devon, that we used often to visit when my mother-in-law was alive and our daughter was small. It is freighted with precious memories. So is my copy of Christie’s Murder on the Links, picked up at another NT house, Standen, on a rare trip out with just my husband, the year before he died.
What unexpected find sticks in your memory?
The Good Wife is not a good title. I feel confident in saying that as it put me off watching the series when it was first on TV. Later, sampling it on Netflix, I loved it and I am now on series 5. It’s not easy to put my finger on why the title put me off, but it sounded dull, not my cup of tea, a ‘woman’s drama.’
Titles are important – and it can be very hard to come up with a good one. There are simple descriptive ones: The Sopranos, Anna Karenina, Tristram Shandy. They get the job done, but are not exciting in themselves. There are titles that tie a series together, as with the late, great Sue Grafton’s alphabet series. There are evocative titles: The Wind in the Willows, Snow Falling on Cedars, Tender is the Night. And there are also terrible titles: Ruth Rendell wrote an excellent novel with the title, The Face of Trespass. What does that even mean – as my children say – and what were the publishers thinking? Readers might not be aware that though the writer is consulted about the title, they do not have the final say (and it’s the same with the cover).
Publishers sometimes give novels different titles in different countries, which can be confusing. This happened with my first novel, which was published as Dead Letters in the UK. My American publishers didn’t care for the title and asked for some suggestions. Among other titles I put forward Murder is Academic (not altogether seriously, if I am honest) and was taken aback when that was the one they chose. Recently we picked a novel by Karin Fossum for our book group. When I got home, I couldn’t find The Indian Bride on-line. That’s because it is the US title. In the UK it’s Calling Out For You, which I think is better for a crime novel (it has a different cover, too).
Titles are on my mind at the moment because I’ve been trying to think of a working title for my next novel. I can’t go on calling it Novel Number 7. It’s like calling a baby Child Number 7. I read somewhere that The Pigeon Tunnel was a working title that John Le Carré regularly used, until he finally used it for real. With me working titles tend to stick, so I’m keen to find something resonant. And besides once a novel has a title it starts to develop an identity.
What puts you off in a title and what attracts you? Over to you for examples of titles that you love – or hate.
This was the view from our landing window last week after the arrival of the Beast from the East. The snow has all gone now, thank goodness. Although it was so beautiful – what fabulous icicles – it was also very inconvenient. I didn’t get my car out for a week and like many other people I had to cancel a lot of plans. I know, I know, if I lived in Canada or Russia or Finland, I’d think nothing of it. But I don’t live in any of those places and several winters can go by without this kind of snowfall and bitter cold.
One or two friends pointed out that things could have been worst and that at least I wasn’t stranded in Antarctica like the main character in Cold, Cold Heart. Which leads me on to a bit of PR and a couple of bargains. The e-book of Cold, Cold Heart has been reduced for a limited period to £4.19. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cold-Heart-Snowbound-stone-cold-killer/…/1782642161.
And Deep Water, the first in series, is a snip at £1.19 ($1.49 in the US), also for a limited period. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Deep-Water-Christine-Poulson/dp/1782642145
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.