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.
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).
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.
When Janet Hutchings, the editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, asked if I would read one of my stories to be recorded as a pod cast for their web-site, I was very happy to oblige. ‘Roller-coaster Ride’ was the story we agreed on, and it’s one that’s close to my heart. It was inspired by a visit to the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen. My mother had long wanted to go and I took her to Denmark for her 80th birthday and we visited it not once, but twice. Once darkness had settled over the famous pleasure garden and the air was filled with the screams of teenagers on the roller-coaster, it had an unexpectedly sinister aspect and in the way of crime writers I jotted down an idea for a short story.
Though I did eventually write the story, my mother didn’t get to read it. She died two years after our visit. Still, we had Copenhagen and she did see the Tivoli Gardens. Writing the story was a way of revisiting them and reliving our time there. My mother makes a cameo appearance. You can listen to me reading the story here: https://www.podomatic.com/podcasts/eqmm/episodes/2017-11-01T10_18_39-07_00
In Muriel Spark’s splendid novel, A Far Cry from Kensington, the narrator, Mrs Hawkins, finds herself at a dinner-party sitting next to a retired Brigadier General. She gives him advice on how to get down to writing his memoirs. Get a cat. She explains: ‘Alone with the cat in the room where you work . . . the cat will invariably get on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp . . . and the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect you sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind the self-command it has lost.’
The advice bears fruit. Three years later the Brigadier sends her a copy of his war memoirs. ‘On the cover was a picture of the Brigadier at his desk with a large alley-cat sitting inscrutably beside the lamp. He had inscribed it “To Mrs Hawkins, without whose friendly advice these memoirs would never have been written – and thanks for introducing me to Grumpy.” The book itself was exceedingly dull. But I had advised him only that the cat helps concentration, not that the cat writes the book for you.’
Here is my own writer’s companion, sitting among the reference works.
. . . but I can’t resist posting a picture of the new additions to the family. They arrived three weeks ago. The little one is nearly four months old and she is called Holly. The big one is nearly seven months and he is Freddie. They’re not related, but became friends at the rescue centre so we decided to take them both. They are sweet little cats and it’s a bonus that they are so chic in their matching black and white.
Today my new novel is out. I am delighted with the great job that my publishers have done and it was a thrill to get my advance copy. What a terrific cover! I couldn’t be more pleased with it.
I turned to the acknowledgements and there at the end was this: ‘and last but not least, my husband, Peter Blundell Jones.’ Those were the last words in my book, written, of course, months ago, before we knew that Peter was ill. How fitting they are. That is all I really want to say for today. But if you’d like more, I’ve been interviewed over on Sue Hepworth’s blog, and you can read the post at www.suehepworth.com
Someone very close to me is very seriously ill. I’m taking a break from the blog.
Time for another list. My good friend, Moira (Clothesinbooks.com), and I are sharing eight of our favourite novels set in universities and colleges. Here are mine:
- Josephine Tey, Miss Pym Disposes (1947). Not just one of my favourite novels set in a college, but one of my favourite novels, full stop. I will be astonished if Moira doesn’t also choose this one. Miss Pym, who has had unexpected success with a work of popular psychology, is persuaded to give some lectures at Leys Physical Training College, where her old friend, Henrietta, is now head. There is a nasty accident in the gym and a student dies – or is it an accident? Lucy Pym at last uncovers the truth in a truly startling denouement. The depiction of the college and its students is wonderfully convincing and entertaining.
- Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sawyers (1935). I’ll be pretty surprised if she doesn’t choose this one, too. This scarcely need an introduction. Harriet Vane returns to her alma mater, the all-female Shrewsbury College, in Oxford for the annual ‘Gaudy’ celebrations. A series of malicious pranks includes poison-pen messages, obscene graffiti, the destruction of a set of proofs. Enter Lord Peter Wimsey . . .
- Tuesday the Rabbi Saw Red by Harry Kemelman (1973). Rabbi Small has had enough of the bickering of his congregation in the Massachusetts town of Barnard’s Crossing, and jumps at the chance to teach a course on Jewish Studies at Windermere Christian College. Soon someone lies dead, brained by a plaster bust of Homer! I love this series. The Rabbi is an engaging character, humane, perceptive – and stubborn. The mysteries are interesting, too, and are solved by some special bit of insight on the part of Small – usually springing from his rabbinical learning.
- Emma Lethan, Come to Dust (1968). The Emma Lathen novels were written by two economists, Martha Hennisart and Mary J. Latis. They feature as their investigator John Putnam Thatcher, urbane Vice-President of the Sloan Guaranty Trust, and how quaintly old-fashioned it seems that a banker could act as a moral touchstone. In Thatcher’s work he is involved in approving investments and the novels employed a wide range of business setting. In this one it’s the Ivy League Brunswick College and its alumni association. There’s a dead student and a missing bond worth $50,000.
5. Wonder Boys by Michael Chabron (1995). The joys of the comic campus novel: libidinous lecturers, hapless students, unwritten books. The variation here is that Grady Tripp is a lecturer in creative writing and his unfinished book is a novel with the title, Wonder Boys. Chabron’s novel, takes place over the single weekend of the yearly Wordfest conference and involves a collapsing marriage, a pregnant mistress, a stolen car, a dead dog, a tuba, a boa constrictor named Grossman, the ermine-lined jacket in which Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio, and more, much more. Very entertaining and in the end, rather touching,
6. Changing Places (1975) by David Lodge. Philip Swallow and Professor Morris Zapp participate in their universities’ Anglo-American exchange scheme, Philip heads for California and sundrenched Euphoric State university. Morris arrives in the rain-drenched university of Rummidge (a thinly disguised University of Birmingham – where I began an MA that very same year). Academic pretensions on both sides of the Atlantic are mercilessly skewered . . .
7. Eating People is Wrong (1959) by Malcolm Bradbury
‘Tell me, do you like this hairstyle? Be frank. I can have it done again somewhere else.’
‘Darling, I was going to ask what happened to it?’ said a man in a bow-tie. ‘You could have fought back. Or did they give you an anaesthetic?’
‘You should have seen what he did to my dog,’ said the lady.
A novel from the same decade as Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim and was also inspired by the University of Leicester, incidentally my own almer mater. It’s funny and sad and more generous in spirit than Lucky Jim.
8. And so, finally, not a crime novel, or a comic novel, John Williams’ Stoner (1965) is a celebration and an affirmation of the value of universities and of the life of the mind. On the face of it William Stoner’s life has not been a success: he is an academic who makes no great impact either through his teaching or his writing. His marriage is a failure, more, a kind of hell, and his much loved daughter eventually becomes an alcoholic. Yet his love of literature redeems him and in an interview quoted by John Mcgahern in the introduction to the splendid, Vintage edition Williams described Stoner as a hero, who had a very good life. ‘He had some feeling for what he was doing . . . he was a witness to values that are important, The important thing in the novel to me is Stoner’s sense of a job. Teaching is to him a job – a job in the good and honourable sense of the word. ‘A beautifully written novel, pitch perfect in tone.
So, I’ll post a link to Moira’s splendid blog, when her post is up and I am longing to see what she has chosen. And here it is: http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk. Not a single overlap!
Something that has surprised me a little bit recently: a couple of old friends who’ve told me that they have gone over entirely to ebooks. One is my dear friend, Pauline, whom I’ve known since we were eleven. Books and magazines were and are an important part of our friendship (Pauline is my most loyal reader). As a teenager she had a splendid collection of Superman comics and we used to read Agatha Christie and work out the solution on paper. Dear, dead days . . . She has still got her books from childhood. I don’t think she’ll mind my saying that technology is not her thing, but she has run out of room for books, so now she reads ebooks pretty much exclusively. The other person is my old university friend, Gary. He is technologically savvy, so it’s not such a surprise to learn that he reads everything on his iPad. His wife, though, reads only print books. And I have to say that is my preference, too.
I wonder how many others have thrown in their lot with one or the other. I’ve had an e-reader for three years now, and after a honeymoon period, I have settled on print as my default position. I do use the e-reader when travelling or on holiday and it is also useful if I can’t sleep or wake up early and don’t want to disturb my husband. It is real luxury not to have to get up and go somewhere else to read. So I wouldn’t be without it. But as a general rule, I would rather have a book in my hand. Any book in which you might want to move back and forwards, which I tend to do, is much better read in print. I also have a regrettable tendency to get a certain way into a book and then leave it, coming back to it days or even weeks later, and it’s much easier to skim a print book to remind yourself of what’s happened so far. A print book, even a humble paperback, can be an attractive object. A print book can remind you of the friend or lover who gave it to you – or the time in your life when you bought it or first read it. You can’t write a sentimental inscription or a declaration of undying love in an ebook. I like a book to take up space in the world (though I realise that it is also an argument in favour of e-books that they don’t take up space). I like to see a book on the shelf waiting for me to read it – or reread it. And if I’m not going to read it again, I like to give it to a friend or take it to a charity shop and set it free to find another reader.
So there it is. Print for me. How about you?