The subject for my first blog selected itself. One of those rare things in life that seemed like a good idea at the time. And actually turns out to be a fantastic idea!
The idea formed in my mind as a tiny inkling at the Crimefest in Bristol 2012. I was moderating a panel for the very first time and I was determined to be a good moderator. I had done all my preparation - read two novels of each of the writers, read blogs, made six pages of notes, composed what I thought were witty and insightful questions. It was an international panel discussing novels set in Sweden, Botswana, Italy, Denmark, New York and Scotland. Plenty of topics of discussion there you might think; weather, landscape, culture and language. And it was going well, but not wonderfully well. It was not sizzling... and I was fast running out of my witty and insightful questions. Then I happened to mention food, mostly because I had noticed that Ewert Grens of the Swedish Police force managed to fight crime in three novels nourished by one cinnamon bagel. That observation sparked the panel to chat like a cage load of bagel starved monkeys. Obvious when you think about it. Music has always been the easy way to colour in characters a little better, but it is food that really flavours a character - if you pardon the pun. Gone are the days when detectives could sit in an armchair at four in the morning, moping about their pathetic love life while musing about serial killers and listening to jazz or progressive rock.
Food does the job so much better and if you are clever you then sign a deal for a cookery book with the recipes used in the novel. My pal did that with his Turkish detective and a well known supermarket chain.
My characters, like the New Yorkers, are too busy fighting crime to eat. They grab a bite (bagel or fried egg sandwich) and go! But Kubu from Botswana and Nick Costa from Italy seem incapable of going a chapter without a three course dinner, wine included.
The panel in Bristol finished in great style, nearly overrunning which is always a good sign.
That evening Professor Sue Black of Dundee University’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification was having a reception for her Million for a Morgue Campaign. Ten crime writers have signed up for the campaign and the one with the most votes online gets the morgue named after them. Except Lee Child of course, in his case it would be the Jack Reacher morgue. Each vote costs a pound. Some writers are also offering character names for auction. Very tempting to have a Los Angeles stripper with the same name as your 80 year old mother in law.
Sue and I have one thing in common – we both believe that knowledge of anatomy is everything. Without that you are nothing as a doctor or a pathologist or a physio. She had asked Dundee University for two million pounds for a new training morgue. The Uni said if she raised one million, they would match it. And the campaign was born. Sue wants a training morgue that uses the Theils method of embalming which is essential for the type of work that these people do.
And what do they do?
Well when I was doing my forensic training I had to view some scenes of mass genocide; thousands of bodies all to be identified. And we must never forget that every single one of those bodies is a person. There is always somebody sitting at home waiting to hear news. Good news is good. Even the worst news allows the start of a grieving process that will bring closure. The nightmare is in the ‘not knowing’.
Sue was involved in Srebrenica, the Tsunami of 2004 and the genocide of Rwanda. She is good at this stuff and she knows the value of a morgue of this kind.
I recall the scenes of that massacre well. Imagine an aeroplane hanger full of thousands of wallpaper pasting tables. That was in 2005, there was 8000 bodies and the process of identification and sending those bodies back to their families still goes on today.
The vision of that was still in my mind as Sue and I were having a laugh at Bristol. I said that judging from my panel a cook book about murder and munchies might go down well.
And we laughed.
Then she introduced me to Emily, her project manager.
Who edits cook books.
Then there was a wee Bob Geldof moment and we were off!
I asked my fellow writers on the panel for recipes. The Scots writers responded immediately as they got an email from Caro and Emily. My pit bull is called Emily. What Emily wants Emily gets....
A touching point is that everyone offered their services for nothing. Steve Carrol, a caricaturist drew pictures of us. The art designer, Joby went to town with clever little cultural references such as the decapitated gingerbread man from Shrek. There is no method in these recipes, they are executed. The patterns on the side of the pages are DNA profiles if you look closely enough.
And I got to be cheeky about all my fellow crime writers which was a bonus.
We have since found out that the book has been shortlisted for a prestigious cook book award. The vote is in Paris at the end of February.
That news came through to me on Facebook first so I thought somebody was having a laugh. Then Emily ( the project manager not the pit bull!) asked me if it was true. I had no idea until I was watching the news at night and after all the doom and gloom of credit crunches we waited for the heart warming story of a pregnant panda or donkey with acne that had won the lottery. The newsreader was a perky wee lassie with Goth tendencies. She smiled sweetly and asked ‘Have you ever thought of making black pudding with human blood?’
And then we knew it was true.
Check it out at www.millionforamorgue.com. You can cast your vote and /or donate there if you wish.
Oh and one last health and safety issue- don’t serve the vodka tomatoes at your book launch if you want the audience retain any motor function. At the Glasgow launch they were crawling out, but God they were happy!