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/.
‘One evening in 1969, [Ted Heath] the Leader of the Opposition invited five of Britain’s leading trade unionists, among them Vic Feather and Jack Jones, to dinner at his Albany flat . . . to his guests’ delight Heath was persuaded to show off his new piano, and even played a couple of short pieces. “Then Vic Feather called out, ‘Play “The Red Flag” for Jack,’ Jones recalled, ‘and the leader of the Tory party played Labour’s national anthem. It put the seal on a jolly evening.”‘
I love this story from Dominic Sandbrook’s State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-1974. It shows Ted Heath in a very unexpected and rather sympathetic light. I came of age in the 1970s and it is fascinating to read a social and political history of a period that one has lived through when young. 1970-1974 spanned the Heath government, one of almost unmitigated disaster: terrorist atrocities, the miner’s strike, power cuts, the three-day week. One of the more memorable episodes was the Poulson scandal: absolutely no relation, but the newspaper headlines caused mirth among my friends.
A huge amount of ground is covered in this immensely readable book: Mary Whitehouse, football hooliganism, Britain’s entry to the Common Market, glam rock, the first edition of Cosmopolitan, the publication of The Joy of Sex, decimalisation . . . At times nostalgia threatened to overwhelm me. It ends on Heath’s unexpected defeat in the election of 1974, which made very interesting reading in the run-up to the next week’s election. I can’t wait to read the next instalment.
Well, not quite that, but I will be travelling for the next two weeks and won’t be blogging. At least, now that I have an e-reader, I don’t have to ponder about which books to take. I can take ALL OF THEM. Au revoir, dear readers.
My writing life – in fact, my life generally – would be so much poorer without my friend and fellow-writer, Sue Hepworth. Since we first met around fifteen years ago, we have each read and commented on everything the other has written and been each other’s staunch supporters in the vicissitudes of the writing life. It is lovely to have her as my guest on the blog today. I began by asking her:
What comes first for you: a theme, plot, characters?
Theme and characters arrive together, and the characters bring along snippets of dialogue with them. I’m in the habit of collecting interesting bits of conversation that I overhear. I write them in my journal word for word, and then when I start a new book, I look at these notes and decide who is going to say what. It helps me to develop my characters. Take as an example this comment my husband made when I was getting over the flu – “Well, you look a tad less corpse-like this morning. You look as if you might be climbing out of the pit of illness, not cavorting in the bottom.”
The plot comes after theme and characters. It’s less interesting to me but I know it’s vital: it’s plot which grips people from the outset and keeps them turning the pages.
What’s your writing routine?
My best writing days are when I start writing in bed, any time after 6 a.m., as soon as I’ve had my first mug of Yorkshire tea. Then after a couple of hours, I have a quick breakfast and get up and go to my study. I like to write until one o’clock. Then my brain is fried and I need fresh air, practical activity or company.
BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU is about a long term marriage where the husband has Asperger syndrome. What drew you to that subject?
My husband and grandson have Asperger syndrome (now simply termed autism) and although there are currently a lot of fictional characters in popular culture with it, there is a lot of caricature which is unhelpful to a true understanding of the syndrome. It is a spectrum disorder, which means that whilst there are basic characteristics which all people with autism share, there is huge variation in specifics and in degree. On first meeting my husband or grandson you would have no idea they were autistic. They are both charming, polite, articulate, and friendly, with a firm handshake and able to look you in the eye. They also have a great sense of humour. Only after spending a day with them would you begin to see their different way of looking at what we take for granted, and also begin to appreciate and understand some of the stresses they experience just by being in the social and sensual world.
I am making the ebook of BUT I TOLD YOU LAST YEAR THAT I LOVED YOU free this weekend (27th-30th March) to support World Autism Awareness Week.
A favourite bookshop?
The Tattered Cover in Denver, which I go to when I visit my son in Colorado. It has a wonderful selection of adults and children’s books, friendly knowledgeable staff, and plenty of comfortable places to sit. I once read a huge chunk of Graham Swift’s Light of Day in there when it was too hot to be outside and I had some time to spare. Yes – I did buy the book!
What single thing would make your writing life easier?
Constant rain – day in day out – would help. I am an outdoorsy kind of person, and if it’s a warm, sunny day I have to fight the urge to go out and garden, or more likely, go for a ride on my bike.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am adapting But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You for television – four one hour episodes. It’s been challenging as well as huge fun to learn a new way of telling a story. I’ve enjoyed it so much, I may go straight to a screenplay for my next project and bypass the novel stage entirely.
There are times when I just don’t have the energy to tackle something new, and a return to old favourites is exactly what I need. Michael Gilbert is fitting the bill at the moment. To read his novels is to take a masterclass in crime fiction. He wrote a lot: over 400 short stories and around three dozen novels, as well as radio and TV plays. He wrote almost every type of crime novel: police procedurals, classic whodunits, thrillers. To all of them he brought a superb sense of pace, tight plotting and a dry sense of humour. What’s more he had a day job as a lawyer and wrote as he commuted into London. He was a founder member of the CWA. Rather wonderfully, he was Raymond Chandler’s UK lawyer. Rather less wonderfully he went to the same school as my husband, some considerable time before.
If he specialised in anything it might have been the one-honest-man-brings-down-corrupt-organisation plot. In The Crack in the Teacup, a small-town solicitor comes up against local government corruption. In The Long Journey Home it is an engineer who crosses swords with a corrupt international company in league with the Mafia. Of this sub genre I particularly like The Final Throw: corrupt financial empire brought down by – well, I’d better not disclose by whom in case you haven’t read it. Of the classic whodunits, The Black Seraphim, set in a cathedral close (a setting I plan to use myself one day) and the splendid Smallbone Deceased (set in a lawyers’ office in which a body is found in a deed box) are particular favourites.
Gilbert had a long career and died in 2006 aged 93. I bet he was great company and I am sorry I never met him.