Sometimes life is a bit strange as a crime writer. This was the thought sifting through my mind as I sat in a cold cupboard lit by a single bare lightbulb with a beardy type American by the name of Ryan Van Winkle for company.
Mano o mano.
He was holding a dead hamster to my mouth and probing me about dry ice cream.
It is a strange life.
All that is perfectly true, the hamster being the sound recording type. That’s the thing made of sound absorbing fuzzy fabric used to enclose the microphone. (Wind muff or a "dead cat" are other names for it)
It was all for a podcast for the Book Trust. The venue was the Mitchell Library which was old and stuffy in my day but now is all bells, whistles, security checks and technical stuff. It has silent carrels ( sound proofed cupboards!), where students can play the piano and/or sing to their hearts content with no noise pollution to the carrel next door.
Great for serial killing then I joked to my interviewer, who then turned round and checked the door. And the lock.
Mr Van Winkle was very nice but had made the mistake of thinking that I was nice also. When I started reading the prologue of Blood of Crows as requested, I saw his eyes shift again, looking for the door, the way out, any escape or weapon that might help him.
He was a scared man.
Once I assured him (lied) that I was only a evil dangerous psychopath on paper, he settled down a bit and his fists unclenched. He had one of those voices like melting chocolate and he carried a small brown case that had travelled round the world with him. It bore the scars of every missed train and every emergency dash to the toilet in this young man’s many travels.
I was talking about the murder is everywhere blog site and my writers group. He was saying that his friend wanted to be an astronaut and climbed a ladder 30 000 times as by that time he had shown that he could get to the moon- height wise at least. He told NASA this. They still did not want him. Ryan then told me that in space you have to eat dry ice cream.
So what is the point of going to the moon if you cannot have an ice cream, known in Glasgow as a pokey hat.
The podcast goes live at the end of February, once they have edited out the scraping of his fingernails on the door as he tried to escape.
On the back of that, the Book Trust gave me this confessions interview to do... thought you all might like to have a go at the questions. I have included the answers I gave them and some added rationale for the readership of this blog.
1. Do you ever mentally edit someone else’s work while you read?
Yes. I don't think I can help it. Equally, if I see a really great piece of writing I can’t help but think, why did I not write that?
Or do you ever think how the hell did that ever get published? My editor would have me up against a wall in a slapping competition if I had submitted that to her, I mean ehh?
2. What’s your opinion on reading in the bath?
It should be compulsory. I think there might be less war and violence in the world if people read more in the bath and chilled out a wee bit.
This question set off a whole sci fi novel plot about death in the bath, mass slaughter of E book readers, electrocution, the resurrection of the paper novel... have I hit on something here...anybody??
3. How do you react to bad reviews?
Sulk! I was once told the correct protocol is to sulk for 24 hours then re read the review and see if there was anything positive in it. If there is nothing positive it is a badly written review so don't pay any attention to it. If there is something positive, focus on that. Fortunately I don’t think I have ever had a really bad review.
I was once at a women writers conference in Italy ... the same question came up there and can I say some national traits came to the fore. The English ladies just nodded stoically, the Scots/Irish said they would deck the reviewer if they ever laid eyes on him but the American ladies said they rolled around in the garage floor, crying and weeping until they were resuscitated by cookies.
4. Where do you stand on spine breaking?
Well as an osteopath, I can speak as an expert and spine breaking is not recommended in any way, shape or form.
Although I could hire myself out to talented writers as an assassin, a chiropractic assassin to target bad reviewers...
5. Which author or fictional character would you most like to party with?
Well, no party but can I go out for a walk through a summer garden with Douglas Adams, Timmy from the Famous Five and Tarka the otter. Then we could meet Reginald Hill and P D James for a wee glass of white wine at the bottom of the garden. While there we can listen to Black Beauty chomping away at the grass beside us. We shall then tell each other extremely rude jokes.
If you ever met him you will know that Reg Hill was a lovely bloke, quietly charming with a lively twinkle in his cornflower blue eyes. A very humane and charismatic human being, sadly no longer with us..
6. Has a mutual like or differing opinions on books ever ruined or cemented a relationship?
Don't think so but although I do have two friends who think that 50 Shades is one of the greatest books ever written. I realise that I now try to analyse them when they talk and I am trying to figure out what is going on in their heads. I have also realised they watch TOWIE (tacky Brit reality TV) and they pride themselves on having lots of shoes that they have no intention of ever walking in. These shoes are made for looking at.
No further comment needed. Unless its by Nancy Sinatra who boots were.....
7. Have you ever pretended to have read a book to impress someone?
Well I have some friends (they write high end literary fiction) who think that I should write something proper (ie not crime) so I read the Shipping News by Annie Proulx and didn’t understand it. I then saw the film and thought what was that about? Then I tried to read 'Of Love and Other Demons...' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. That's the one about the rabies, so why do they not run the standard series of tests that will diagnose it? Or am I being way too logical. I know it’s magical, beautifully written but that lack of reality just doesn’t do it for me. I was told that I should educate myself better and learn to appreciate. Then my pal mentioned how much he earns for writing his literary fiction. ‘Is that all?’ I said.
Game, set and match to the crime writers I think!
One of these friends was Gavin Bell who was the Times correspondent in South Africa for many years and indeed covered Mandela’s release for that paper. He wrote the book ‘In search of Tusitala’ about the travels of Robert Louis Stevenson. He also wrote ‘Over the Rainbow’ about South Africa. I believe because of a Glasgow University connection and a friendship between Gav and Desmond Tutu, the latter is a Motherwell FC supporter. I have seen the photographs!
8. How do you arrange your bookshelf?
It arranges itself... the books I love are always on the floor, around the bed, under the bath (see question two) and under the dog’s basket. The complete words of Shakespeare is on the coffee table, pretty but unread.
There is nothing worse than going into a house and seeing lots of pristine books that have never been read.
9. If you could throw a book at a celebrity which book would you throw at whom?
Pippa Middleton. Celebrate. Can I fire it out a cannon rather than throw it. In fact, can I throw the entire Rise and Fall of The Roman Empire at her as well.
P middy, as the press call her, is the party planning sister of the future queen of GB, yes her with the bottom. She got, it is said, a £400 000 deal to write a book about parties. It bombed big style. I mean mega bombed. Within two weeks it was in the bargain bucket at £5. Original price £25.
It was my publisher.
10. Is there a book by someone else that you wish you’d written?
The Children of Men, PD James. Great book, great writing. What a brain that woman has.
I could have answered 50 shades so that I can retire and write useless books about how to have parties. Not that I am bitter. Not much.
Of Love and Other Demons!
Err, why did they not just run the tests?
Caro GB Friday 22nd Feb