Friday, May 25, 2018

Bristol; Sun and Snowflakes

 The replica wooden boat in the harbour at Bristol

Me in the sun. First time this year. 

 Quiet, early morning along the harbour wall.

Nobody about, Not even Jeff photobombing.

The swing bridge opened to let the fireboat pass. 

Opps, need to get back for a panel 

                                 This panel was dotted with the F word, the B word and the C word.

 Not from either of the two pictured here.

Or any Glaswegians.
As far as I know nobody complained.
 On another panel Ruth Dudley Edwards said something that a lot of people complained about.
I wasn't there so I don't know what the complaint  was, but the word 'trannies' was used.
Yet, I will type the Trannie word but not the C word.
I don't know I what context the T word was used.
Maybe I don't know why it is so offensive in itself so forgive me if it is.
And we do have a transgender in the family, she doesn't object to it. Maybe  transvestites do, but it's never come up in conversation.
But nobody died, so we should all move on.

 We were quite happily wearing masks of the royal family - note that I am married to Felix Francis!
This is probably treason.

Then I found out that there was a movement on social media which mentioned banning Ruth from moderating at Crimefest.
And facebook has been very busy with it all, largely supportive of the complainers. I don't want to use the word snowflake but people did find the comments Ruth made highly offensive and said so on facebook.
Yet, when I have asked folk to their face what they think, they say 'Some folk are too easily offended.'
So speak out then!
Nope. Too many of the PC brigade out there.
Respecting that they don't want their thoughts being made public, I won't mention them here by name. 
But it's interesting that perception of power.
Like I said, nobody died.

My panel were lovely, no swearing, nobody being offensive.
 Well,  not that they told me but Felix was chatting about his sexual technique at one point.
You had to be there to hear it. 
A good titter had by all,
 No censorship here.
That is a dirty word indeed.
a very dirty word to me. 

A busy hall. One lady sneaked in late and fell over the cable.
No panellists or audience members were harmed during the panel. 

Me, Felix and the very talented Emma Elgar.
Who I always wanted to call Edgar.

Steve Mosby and Robert Thorogood, no sweary words here 

The globe on bright sunshine.

 And back to the boat!

Caro Ramsay  25 05 2018

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Power of Silk

Sujata Massey
Sujata is on deadline this week, so this is a rerun of an earlier post. She's unpacked the dress for summer!

Roopa Pemmaraju and Lily Hargrave's design

A week ago, I walked down to the consignment shop near my house and picked up a fashion mystery.

The mystery came in the form of a long dress of purple-blue printed silk crepe lined in cotton. The stitching was minute and clearly done by hand. Examining the dress, I flashed back to my first long dress and blouse custom-stitched for me at a tailor’s in Hyderabad when I was ten years old.

But the pattern was unusual. The silk was printed with thick black brushstrokes that burst like a tree over my legs. The design was not pretty; it was strong and vibrated in a way that reminded me of something strangely familiar, but that I couldn't identify. The label read Lily Hargraves for Roopa Pemmaraju.

I’d never heard the names, but the funky silk dress fit perfectly and was an unbelievable $68. I snapped it up and was soon on the Internet searching its provenance. 

Within ten minutes I had some solid information that told me I'd made a very special buy. Roopa is an Indian-born designer who’d had her own fashion label, Haldi. She left India to move to Melbourne, Australia, with her husband for his IT job. Roopa became inspired with the idea of bringing Australian aboriginal art into fashion that would be a far cry from the cheap cotton T-shirts sold to tourists. However, her interest wasn't welcomed by gallery owners and artists. I mentioned T-shirts? Many indigenous artists have been exploited by Australians and others who copied their designs without paying them.  

Roopa Pemmaraju

But Roopa had a vision of a business model that was different. I'm going to call it the Indian artisan model. Throughout India, there's been a longstanding tradition of custom clothing making--and certain villages are known for a certain kind of block printing, or silk weaving, or cotton embroidery. 

A Gujarati textile with folk motif has great energy

These niche technique are prized, and the regional artisans are celebrated by contemporary designers who ask them to do finishing touches such as embroidery around a neckline or hem. Mahatma Gandhi, who advocated wearing handspun clothing as a way of resisting the British in the early 20th century, would be smiling today if he could see the "desi chic," "ethnic-cool and "modern handloom" fashions that are the rage.

The Fab India chain that sells clothes for all ages and sizes stitched from silks and cottons hand-loomed by people in rural communities. Also well-known are Anokhi and Cottons Jaipur, retail chains that specialize in fashion made from cotton woven, dyed and block-printed in Rajasthan. A high-end designer, Ritu Kumar, has spent the last quarter century collaborating with Kala Raksha, an organization in India supporting hereditary artists, and several other regional textile weavers and embroiderers. Last year in India, I was pleased to buy a Ritu Kumar kurti (woman’s tunic) with a meticulously hand embroidered placket typical of the Kutch region of Gujarat. But the coloration is subtle and works well with the modern printed silk fabric.

Fine hand embroidery on a Ritu Kumar kurti

Back to the Australian-Indian collaboration: How could an Indian woman new to Australia convince aboriginal artists to work with her?

Here's what Roopa did.   She pledged to give credit where it was due. She offered put the artist’s name on each of her garments. Remember the mystery of two women's names on my dress label? Here is Lily Hargraves, a “desert walker” in her nineties who’s one of Australia’s top aboriginal artists. Her paintings are exhibited around the world and sell for thousands of dollars.

Lily Hargraves

Lily's full name is Lily Nungarrayi Yirringali Jurrah Hargraves, although she's most often known in art circles by the short Anglo name. She was born in the Northwest Territory in 1930 and having had a number of very hard jobs throughout her life, began painting in the tradition of her ancestors about thirty years ago. Lily is recognized as a senior Law Woman, which means she is an officiant of Waipiri indigenous culture--and her story is fascinating. And here are some of her paintings from the online museums and galleries in Australia. Looking at her work made me realize that's a tree on the front of my dress.

Looking through Roopa’s designs since the 2012 collection that included my “Lily Blue Dress,” I've noticed that indigenous artist names are continuing to decorate the dress labels. Additionally, the design label is donating 20% of her profits to aboriginal groups. And the India connection also helps artists, because the silk is printed and embroidered in India at Roopa's artisan workshop in Bangalore. The subtleties of clothing construction are overseen in India by Roopa's co-artist, the acclaimed designer Sudhir Swain. The most recent collection—Resort 2018—was just shown in Australia a week ago and shows a riot of glorious abstract floral motifs merging with gauzy, gilded Indian silk. 

Roopa Pemmaraju 2018 collection

Some might argue that fusing two cultures like this degrades the original. But fashion by its nature is an evolution.

Mahatma Gandhi told his followers a century ago what you choose to wear delivers power.  Just this spring in Europe and America, women have been attacked for wearing traditional Muslim clothing items like the hijab and abaya. Given this context, wearing the textiles of international designers and artisans feels like another way to show resistance.

 Books in Bloom, a literary festival with authors from around the world, takes place in downtown Columbia, MD,  on Sunday June 10. Sujata is speaking at 11 a.m. Visit the Books in Bloom website for more details.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Marseille Confidential

I've just come back from Marseille. The Mediteranean city of shutters on pastel buildings, that special light from the sea and boulliabase.
Here's some photos:

That's the Chateau d'If on the island straight ahead - remember the Count of Monte Christo who was imprisoned there?  Turns out it never really has been a prison but Dumas took literary license.
And the incredible fish!
 And la Caravelle where the real Marseilleise go to eat and where below a scene was filmed from the beginning of the French Connection.
 Here's a rowdy bunch in a cafe on the Vieux Port. A flic, a gangster, a member of the film commission, a British diplomat and a postman who I got to hang with. Can you tell which is which? Hint the flic and the gangster (11 years in prison) were collaborating on a screenplay that they were taking to Cannes. Of course.
Tuesday - Cara

Monday, May 21, 2018

Herstory: The Women Who Made Me a Historical Novelist

Annamaria on Monday

Anya Seton

I was fourteen when my mother borrowed Katherine by Anya Seton from the Paterson Public Library.  I was about to graduate from elementary school and until I entered high school, allowed only books from the children's section--all of which I had already read.

My mom had long-since given me permission to read the books she borrowed. So that Saturday, after finishing my chores, I was lying on the living room floor reading a historical novel for the first time.  Mom's friend Carmel came in for what they called, "Coffee and."  As she passed into the kitchen, Carmel said to my mother, "You know, Ann, that girl is never going to find a husband if she always has her nose in a book."

Little did she know that I had, within the half-hour, read the line, "Her lips were drawn to his like a moth to a flame."  The Katherine of that great book (on the BBC's list of the 100 best British novels of all time) was Katherine Swynford--the mistress of John of Gaunt.  From their children (legitimated after their later marriage) descended the Tudors, the Stuarts, and the current British royal family.

Aside: The past weekend's big wedding was hailed as a huge departure from the post-Victorian marital niceties.  But like all royalty, the English throne sitters have always had some pretty sexy skeletons their closets.  But let's get back to my first historical novelist heroine.

Anya Seton was born in 1904 not on that sceptered isle she wrote about, but on the one where I now live--Manhattan, New York.  She grew up in toney Cos Cobb, Connecticut.  I guess her novels get to be called "British" because her father was English-born.

Her historical romances were best sellers.  Two of them--Dragonwyck (1944) and  Foxfire (1951) were made into Hollywood films.  Her novel Katherine is a classic of the genre.  That one historical novel got me hooked for life.  Whenever I have mentioned it at a library or conference as one of the books that influenced me, it always gets a big round of applause.  I still own a copy--one that I bought at a library books sale when I was in high school.  It is held together with rubber bands.  I will never part with it.

Sigrid Undset 

My High School English teacher recommended Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter to me for my summer reading.  The trilogy is comprised of three novels, originally published individually.  They all tell of Medieval Scandanavia--the life of Kristin from birth till death.  The writing is so vivid that decades after the last time I read it, I can still picture the landscape, the buildings, the bed built into a closet that Undset described.

Born in Denmark and brought up from the age of two in Norway, Sigrid Undset began her writing career after the death of her father when she was just sixteen.  Her first attempts at historical fiction garnered rejections from publishers.  At age twenty-five, already a member of the Norwegian Authors' Union, she turned her pen to contemporary novels--almost all, stories of women adulterers.  She gained notoriety and high sales figures.  But in her heart she still wanted to write of history.

She made her way to Rome, married, and lived there for a number of years, achieved her writing heart's desire, and eventually returned to Norway.  The three novels of the Kristin Lavransdatter series were published between 1920 and 1922.  Undset won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1928.

Depressed, in the wake of the devastation of WWI, she incurred the wrath of her countrymen by converting to Catholicism.  In the face of the occupation of Norway during WWII, she--an avowed anti-fascist--escaped to the United States, where she lived in Brooklyn Heights.  She returned to Norway after the war.

I still have my copy of Kristin Lavransdatter, the one I bought secondhand when I was in high school.  It is 1069 pages--three novels in one volume.  I will never part with it either.


These two brilliant women converted me once and for all.  I still read contemporary fiction.  But when my hand reaches out for a book, much more often than not, my soul directs it to stories that will bring me into the past and make me feel as if I am there.  And when my imagination wants to make up a story, it is always drawn to the long ago and far away.  Always. 

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Dennis Nilsen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer

Zoë Sharp

May 12th 2018 saw the death in prison of notorious British serial killer, Dennis Nilsen.
Dennis Nilsen in 1993
For those of you who don't know the story, Nilsen was arrested in February 1983 and eventually convicted of killing six men between December 1978 and January 1983. It is thought he actually murdered as many as fifteen, mostly homeless young homosexuals, who he lured back to his home and strangled, drowned or hanged.

Born in Fraserburgh in November 1945, from all accounts Nilsen had a relatively happy and stable childhood. The son of an Aberdeenshire woman and a Norwegian soldier who had travelled to Scotland to fight with the Free Norwegian Forces.

Nilsen, together with his older brother and younger sister, saw little of his father during his childhood. The couple divorced when he was three, but the young Dennis had a close relationship with his maternal grandfather and was apparently devastated when the old man died of while out on his trawler in 1951, when Nilsen was only six.

At puberty, he claims he began to realise his homosexuality and was mocked by his older brother. His mother remarried and had another four children with her second husband, but it is reported that, after a rocky start, Nilsen got on well with his stepfather.

He joined the army in 1961 as a member of the catering corps. During his military service, he was posted overseas to West Germany, Cyprus, Norway and South Yemen. While in Aden, he witnessed the deaths of fellow soldiers in ambushes and was kidnapped by a local taxi driver, who beat him unconscious and put him in the boot of the car. Nilsen fought back and survived the attack.

Nilsen in the army catering corps
It was in Aden that Nilsen claimed to have had his first sexual relationship, with an Arab youth. He also stated that he began to fantasise about having sex with a partner who was either unconscious or dead. He experimented with female prostitutes while serving in Berlin but apparently was not impressed by the experience.

Nilsen left the army in 1972 and lived back at home with his family briefly, before deciding to join the Metropolitan Police. He moved to London to begin training and was posted to Willesden Green station the following year. When his father died, leaving him a small legacy, Nilsen decided to resign from the police and became a civil servant in May 1974. He worked at two employment centres, where his main task was to find employment for unskilled labourers.

In November 1975, Nilsen helped prevent a 20-year-old man, David Gallichan, being beaten up outside a pub and took him back to his room in Cricklewood, where Nilsen learned that Gallichan was gay and unemployed. The two decided to look for a flat together almost at once, and moved into the ground floor of a property in Melrose Avenue in Cricklewood, where they also had exclusive use of the garden.

The two London properties: Melrose Ave (l) and Cranley Gardens, where Nilsen's crimes took place.
The pair redecorated the property, with Gallichan doing much of the work while Nilsen was the breadwinner. For a while the couple appeared contented, but the relationship began to show signs of strain, and in 1977 Gallichan moved out.

Nilsen admitted to loneliness and excessive drinking. On December 30th 1978, he encountered 14-year-old Stephen Holmes in a local pub, where the youngster had been attempting to buy alcohol. Nilsen invited him back to Melrose Avenue, where the two drank heavily. The following morning, Nilsen woke to find Holmes asleep on his bed and claimed he was frightened the youth would leave him alone over New Year. He strangled Holmes unconscious and drowned him in a bucket of water, then hid him under the floorboards for eight months. Eventually, Nilsen burned the body on a bonfire in the garden in August 1979.

In October 1979, Nilsen attempted to strangle a Hong Kong student named Andrew Ho, who had gone back to Nilsen’s flat for sex. Ho managed to escape and Nilsen was questioned by the police, but Ho did not press charges.

In December 1979, Nilsen met Canadian student Kenneth Ockenden in another pub. The Student was on a tour of England, and Nilsen offered to show him the sights before inviting him back to Melrose Avenue. Nilsen claimed he did not remember exactly when he strangled Ockenden, using the wire from a pair of headphones while Ockenden listened to music. Afterwards, he photographed the body in various poses before bagging it up and hiding it under the floorboards.

Several times over the next few weeks, Nilsen retrieved Ockenden’s corpse and sat next to it watching TV and drinking.

Some of the police evidence against Nilsen, including knives, ligatures, and the cooking pot in which he removed flesh from body parts.
In May 1980, Nilsen met 16-year-old Martyn Duffey, a catering student who was sleeping rough near Euston Station after hitchhiking to London from Birkenhead. Duffey was tempted back to Nilsen’s flat by the offer of food and a bed for the night, at which point Nilsen strangled him with a ligature while sitting on his chest, and then drowned him in the kitchen sink. He bathed with the body, moved it around the house, and then kept it in a cupboard before stowing it, yet again, under the floorboards.

Nilsen killed again in August, and again every month until February 1981, although only one of these victims was identified—26-year-old William Sutherland. Using some of the butchery skills Nilsen had learned during his army catering career, began dissecting the bodies and disposing of the parts on regular bonfires in the garden, adding old car tyres to try to disguise the smell of burning flesh. Indeed, the flat itself was starting to smell by this point, and Nilsen reportedly had to spray constantly to try to get rid of the insect infestation caused by the decomposing bodies.

In September 1981 Nilsen found 23-year-old Malcolm Barlow slumped against a wall outside Melrose Avenue. He called an ambulance for Barlow, who was released from hospital the following day and called round to thank him. After plying Barlow with food and drink, Nilsen manually strangled him and hid the body under the kitchen sink—presumably, there was no more room under the floorboards.

In mid-1981, Nilsen’s landlord required him to move out so renovations could be carried out on the property. The day before, Nilsen got rid of the parts of his last five victims on his final bonfire, again topped with car tyres.

Police searching the rear garden at Melrose Ave
Nilsen moved to a top-floor flat at Cranley Gardens in Muswell Hill in September 1981. Here, he had no under-floor hiding space and no garden access, so for two months he tried not to kill any of his visitors. Then in November 1981 he attempted to strangle 19-year-old student, Paul Nobbs, but did not kill him.

In March 1982, he brought 23-year-old John Howlett back to the flat and, when Howlett fell asleep on Nilsen’s bed and could not be roused, Nilsen attempted to strangle him with an upholstery strap. This caused a huge struggle, during which Howlett almost succeeded in strangling Nilsen before being overpowered himself, although not killed. Nilsen later finished Howlett off in a bath full of water.

He tried to kill 21-year-old Carl Stottor by strangling and drowning him, but Stottor survived. Nilsen convinced the youth that he had become entangled in the zip of his sleeping bag during a nightmare, and that Nilsen had revived him.

In September 1982, Nilsen met 27-year-old Graham Allen while hailing a taxi. Invited back to Muswell Hill for a meal, Nilsen strangled Allen while he was eating an omelette Nilsen had prepared for him, then stored his body in the bath for three days before dissecting him on the kitchen floor.

Nilsen’s final victim was 20-year-old Stephen Sinclair, strangled with a tie-and-rope ligature when he fell asleep listening to rock opera in Nilsen’s flat after heavy drinking in January 1983. Nilsen slept alongside the body before dissecting it, storing various parts in plastic bags about the flat. As with the previous victims at this address, he tried to dispose of some bits by flushing them down the toilet, even boiling the hands and heads to remove the flesh.

Inevitably, this method of disposal played havoc with the drains. In February 1983 Nilsen wrote to the letting agent to complain that the drains at Cranley Gardens were blocked. When Dyno-Rod were called in, they discovered human flesh and small bones. The police were called in and the remains traced to the pipes leading from the top-floor flat. One of the small pieces of skin recovered revealed evidence of a ligature mark.

Dennis Nilsen under arrest in 1983
Nilsen was quickly arrested after body parts were discovered still in plastic bags in his flat. He confessed to the killings and was initially charged with the murder of Stephen Sinclair. Other charges followed—another five counts of murder and two of attempted murder. Nilsen was convicted at the Old Bailey in November 1983 and sentenced to a minimum of 25 years. This was replaced by a whole-life tariff by the Home Secretary in 1994, a punishment Nilsen apparently accepted.

He died in HMP Full Sutton in Yorkshire, aged 72.

This week’s Word of the Week is sanguinary, meaning involving or causing much bloodshed, bloodthirsty, or flowing or stained with blood. From the Latin sanguinarius, meaning bloody, from which we get exanguination, a severe loss of blood. Not to be confused with sanguine, meaning cheerfully optimistic, hopeful or confident.

Zoë’s upcoming CrimeFest events: