Or should they have their own section in book shops? Waterstones in Sheffield has recently reordered their shelves to slot the crime in with the other fiction – and I don’t like it. Hatchards on St Pancras station have done it too. I can appreciate the argument in favour: it is all literature and perhaps if crime fiction has its own section this implies that crime is something different (and perhaps lesser?). But when I am in the mood for crime – and I so often am – I want to browse crime fiction and nothing else. I don’t want to have to scan all the other fiction too.
To make it worse, short story collections aren’t grouped together. I was looking for the new British Library Golden Age collection, Serpents in Eden: Countryside Crime, and couldn’t work out where it might be, until I thought of looking under E for Martin Edwards, the editor.
Please, Waterstones, go back to your old ways and put all the crime fiction together with collections of short stories at the beginning like you used to do. I’ll be more likely to find what I want and buy it.
After I blogged about Derek Smith’s Whistle Up the Devil I downloaded his other ‘impossible crime’ novel, Come to Paddington Fair. I was planning to save it, but soon succumbed and what a corker it turned out to be. I would definitely have included it in my list of favourite books set in theatres if I’d known about it.
The death scene in the final act West End play goes very wrong in front of a matinee audience to which someone has invited a Scotland Yard inspector, Steve Castle, and his friend, Algy Lawrence, the amateur sleuth who featured in Whistle Up the Devil. A gun has been loaded with bullets instead of blanks and a very unpopular actress ends up dead. The theatrical setting is very well done, and I was completely bamboozled by the puzzle. At one point I did have the faintest of inklings about how it might have been done, but I couldn’t bring it into focus and was completely and satisfyingly foxed. When the solution was revealed, it was both ingenious and yet – in a way – obvious: perfect.
I was sad to discover that Derek Smith wrote so little. Come to Paddington Fair was apparently only published in a small print run in Japan and wasn’t published in the UK at all. Given its quality, this seems extraordinary and I am so sorry that Smith didn’t write more. I applaud Locked Room International for making these these lost classics of the genre available.
A glass of wine on a Saturday evening and Young Montalbano or a slice of Scandi-noir on the box? Absolutely! Chocolate? Of course, as long as it is dark and expensive. A meal out (or cooked by someone else) is always welcome. Flowers? I love flowers and often buy them for myself.
And yet when all is said and done, there isn’t much to beat buying a brand-new paperback that you’ve been longing for – and that was what I did in the Sheffield branch of Waterstone’s last Saturday. Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries, edited by my friend, Martin Edwards, is the latest in the spectacularly successful series of British Library Crime Classics.
I have loved the Golden Age short story ever since I bought a copy of Tales of Detection, chosen by Dorothy L Sawyers (1936), many years ago in a second-hand bookshop in Oxford. In Murder at the Manor, Martin has managed to come up with some crackers, many of which I haven’t read before. Who wouldn’t want to read a story with the title, ‘The Horror at Stavely Grange’ (by Sapper) – or ‘The Unlocked Window’ by Ethel Lina White, which opens like this:
‘Have you locked up, Nurse Cherry?’
‘Yes, Nurse Silver.’
‘Every door, every window?’
Yet even as she shot home the last bolt of the front door, at the back of Nurse Cherry’s mind was a vague misgiving.
She had forgotten – something.’
Blimey! They certainly knew how to cut to the chase in those days. I’m rationing myself so that I don’t gulp the stories down all at once. I’m glad I won’t be on my own this evening when I plan to read this one.
I have to admit that this rarely happens to me. My first three novels, the ones featuring Cassandra James in Cambridge, were published only in hardback with shortish print runs (they are now all available as e-books, I hasten to add) and it’s mostly paperbacks in charity shops. The last one, Invisible, was available as a paperback, but only print on demand, so I was very interested to see a copy in a local charity shop. I wondered if it was one that I’d signed. It was. How did I feel about seeing it there? Well, I was glad to see that it had clearly been read, probably more than once or by more than one person, judging by its condition, and it was good to see it out in the world, looking for a new reader. And after all someone might buy it and read it and like it and seek out something else I’ve written.
That of course is the only way I’d make any money out of it. I often see half a dozen books by the same writer and I wonder how they feel. Even a tiny royalty on every book sold in a charity shop or a second hand book shop would make a big difference to a lot of writers, though I can’t ever see it happening. I suspect too that cheap books mean that people aren’t using libraries so much, where writers do at least get PLR. And then there is a danger with cheap (or even free) books, that they won’t be valued as much as they should be. I’d love to know how other writers feel.
And this reminds that my book-buying moratorium has – for now at any rate – changed my book-buying habits. It’s nearly a month since it ended, but I have been sparing in what I buy, am tending to buy new rather than second-hand, am getting more out of the library, and am still concentrating on my TBR pile.
I did buy a book this week, but let me explain. I’ve decided that there has to be one exception to my non-book-buying rule and it’s this: I really can’t go to a book launch and not buy a book. It just wouldn’t feel right. And to turn down an invitation to a book launch because I’m not buying books would be going too far. And my dear writer friend Sue Hepworth (see her blog at Suehepworth.com), who has been keeping an eye on me, says it’s Ok. She’s given me permission.
The occasion this week was the launch of James Brady’s Last Days of the Condor, a follow-up to his novel, Six Days of the Condor (filmed as the splendid Three Days of the Condor, starring Robert Redford). I’ll be blogging next week about James and the new book.
Meanwhile, more thoughts on not buying books. The saving of time and mental energy – not to mention money – is considerable. It has saved me from making decisions. I don’t have to loiter in bookshops, my finger doesn’t hover over the one-click button. I make a note of something I want to read and then I pass on. In theory. I did linger over Daniel Levitin’s The Organised Mind in Hatchard’s on St Pancras Station. I really wanted that book. But it is all about deferred gratification and I walked out without it. I will read it, but not yet.
Charity shops are the worst from every point of view. I might see something that is out of print and that I have wanted for ages. And they are so cheap. Best not to look, even though I am going in to donate bags of books. Yes, as well as not buying books, I am actually getting rid of some. Many are ones I bought from charity shops on a whim. Now I am reading the first few chapters and if it doesn’t grab me, it goes in the bag for the charity shop.
It’s three weeks now.
I got back from my holiday in France to find a treat waiting for me: a copy of The Starlings & Other Stories, edited by Ann Cleeves. A while ago I wrote about writing short stories to a brief and mentioned this anthology, to be published by Graffeg, an excellent small Welsh Press: http://bit.ly/1WGllMk. The stories are all inspired by David Wilson’s atmospheric black and white photographs of Pembrokeshire.
I loved writing the story and it was something of a departure for me: for the first time I’ve drawn on my academic specialism, Arthurian legend in the visual arts.
There are sites in Wales that have been contenders for Arthur’s court, for the lake where Arthur received Excalibur, and for the last battle. I wanted to draw on that potent myth and bring it into the present day and I hope I’ve succeeded with my story, ‘Weeping Queens.’ Reading the other stories, I was fascinated to see that I wasn’t the only one to be inspired by Wales’s rich mythological past. There are some great stories here, and it’s a beautifully produced book, too, with David Wilson’s extraordinary photographs as a bonus.
We are having a book launch at Waterstones in Wrexham on Saturday 5th September from 12.00-1.30. Do come if you can. For more about the book and the publisher go to https://www.graffeg.com/product/the-starlings-and-other-stories/. If you pre-order you can save £5!
Today my last post as featured author of the month is up on the Crime Readers’ Association website. It’s been fun. This week I’m writing about the great Fenland flood of 1947 and how it inspired my novel, Footfall. There’s lots more to see on the website. Do go over and take a look: http://www.thecra.co.uk/coming-on-to-rain-christine-poulson/
‘I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library,’ wrote Jorge Luis Borges. Me, too. When I used to work in Cambridge University Library I used to have a fantasy about hiding until everyone had gone home and the library was closed and spending the night there. It seemed to me that all the place lacked was a bed. If I’d only had that, I could have stayed there for weeks, never needing to leave. So when I was researching an article about independent libraries and came across Gladstone’s Library (formerly St. Deinol’s) and discovered that you could actually stay there, I decided I had to visit. It has taken me a while, and I’ve only been for lunch, but yesterday I finally made it.
I drove over to leave some Crime Writers’ Association papers for our archive, which is being housed and catalogued by the library, and to have a very enjoyable lunch with the Director of Collections, Louisa Yates, and Martin Edwards, the CWA’s archivist. The library didn’t disappoint: it is a wonderful Victorian Gothic extravaganza. The collection is mainly related to Theology and Victorian Studies but anyone can go and stay. It makes a great writers’ retreat and it has a very active programme of events, including a book festival, Gladfest, in September. There’s a lovely garden and the bedrooms look great. Now that I’ve managed to get there, I am sure I’ll go again – and next time I’ll take my toothbrush.
Find out more here: https://www.gladstoneslibrary.org/
Every Friday in June I am blogging on the Crime Readers’ Association web-site. Today I’m writing about whether I base my characters on real people. To find out, go to http://www.thecra.co.uk/christine-poulson-the-pig-and-the-sausage/
The CRA website was set up by the Crime Writers Association. It’s free to subscribe and is full of information about crime writers, new novels, and there are often giveaways, too. I’m delighted that I’ve been asked to be the featured author for June. This involves writing four blog posts and the first one – on the subject of where authors get their ideas – is on the web-site today. Do go over and take a look: http://www.thecra.co.uk/a-good-occupation/.