Saturday, September 24, 2022

My Granddaugher Gavi's Big Day

 

 


Jeff–Saturday

 

Today is the Bat Mitzvah of my granddaughter Gavriella Tovah Siger, and I couldn’t be prouder of her!  She’s an accomplished and celebrated actress, improv comedian, musician, vocalist, and scholar. And tonight her party marking this milestone event is a Rock ‘n Roll celebration featuring her band!

 


For those of you who many wonder what is a Bat Mitzvah (pronounced Baht Mitts-vah), the simplest explanation is that it’s the coming of age religious ritual for a Jewish girl, as the Bar Mitzvah ritual is for a Jewish boy.  For a girl the age is twelve, and for a boy it’s thirteen. In Gavi’s case, Covid considerations delayed her ceremony for a year and a half.

 

The history of the Bar Mitzvah actually dates back to a fifth century reference in a religious text to a blessing recited by a father thanking God for freeing him from responsibility for the deeds of his son, based upon his son attaining an age that made him accountable for his own actions.  

 

How many fathers of all faiths still pray for similar debt relief. :)

 

The Bat Mitzvah celebration has its roots in 19th century European tradition but did not make its way to the United States until 1922. It now flourishes in many communities as a revered family occasion of great joy.

 

And that’s precisely what Gavi brings to all blessed to know her…great joy.

 


As her Zayde (grandfather) this day brings the promise of special joy to me, for perhaps now her parents will think of her as old enough to read her Zayde’s books!

 

I love you Gavi. We all do. Mazel Tov.

 

–Zayde

Friday, September 23, 2022

A sad, sad day.

 


I wasn’t one of the 4.2 billion people who watched the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II as it happened as I was either on a ferry or at 36 000 feet.

I caught up with it all in the wee hours of the morning at Keflavik Airport, which was dark, cold and largely deserted. It all seemed rather fitting.

On coming home, and being back at work, everybody coming in had an opinion, too much, too little, too long, too short… and who was the very tall guy at the front?

Overall, I’d gauge the mood as very respectful, with a little touch of humour.  Which is also rather fitting.

Now, all the footage has been analysed, the lip readers have had a good watch, re who said what to who and why has all been reported.

Here’s my ten things of note.

The naval ratings pulling the 2.6 ton weight of the gun carriage and coffin. There was 98 of them, lads and lassies. For every monarch’s funeral up to Queen Victoria’s funeral the carriage was pulled by horses. That day, the horses misbehaved – it was a bitterly cold day, and they got a bit ratty – and the navy took over, starting a new tradition.

A spider hitched a ride on the top of the coffin, emerging from the flowers and crawling across a white message card. Being rather tired I misread the headline, thinking it said Stornoway spider rather than Stowaway spider. I thought it was a flower. If it isn’t, it should be.

Apollo the drum house was trumpet horse for the day. He’s rather famous as he was bought from a farm in Wales while the TV programme The Queen’s Horses was being filmed. He was a big hairy youngster back then and has filled out to be rather fabulous. Riding a drum / trumpet horse involves steering, accelerating and braking using your feet – the reins attach to the stirrups.

The tall guy walking in front of the car – the one who looked a bit like Richard Osman was Paul Whybrew, leading part of the procession after the funeral. He’s six feet four inches tall. He was a long-standing member of the royal household and, seemingly used to sit and watch sport with her. She called him Tall Paul. I have no information if there was also a short one.

The slow walk by the procession. Metronomic and rather hypnotic.  A cannon shot heard every minute, and the mournful music, ended on The Long Walk at Windsor Castle. It was quite difficult to look away. I checked with my military friend ‘Wee John’, no friend of Tall Paul, and it’s a slow march except when used at a funeral. Then it is a funeral march. One leg pauses as it passes the other, and the foot should hardly lift off the ground. When standing still, the feet lift alternately creating a slight side to side movement, the muscle clenching helps to prevent fainting.

The initial proceedings, the pipes (Scots and Irish) started the day at a fair skelp of a march before they reached the Abbey.  My colleague, a staunch anti monarchist said she only cried four times, the first was when the massed pipes came down past the barracks, lifted their pipes and began to play. The arms (guns not limbs…) on that day were carried backwards as a sign of mourning. You may have seen the soldiers march with one arm across their back holding the front of the gun behind them. Alan used to play that tune in the pipe band (he was a drummer, he’d be marking the time of the march) and said they were going slightly faster than normal – part of the timing of the day no doubt.

 The lone piper walking out the church after the coffin had been interned was playing Sleep Dearie Sleep. That caused a few tears as well.

And of course, the two corgis at the end. Muick and Sandy. One was paying attention. The other lay down and looked like he was going for a nap.

And then there was Emma, the Queen’s Fell pony, 23 years old, standing, riderless as the coffin was driven past.  Emma did pick up her front hoof and stamp it twice as if she was doing a curtesy. But was probably bored and wanting a treat.

When I was at uni in London, in Suffolk Street just off Trafalgar Square. I lived in Pimlico. Every day for five years I walked along Birdcage walk across the front of the palace, down the Mall or through Green Park to get onto Trafalgar Square, so it was all very familiar to me.

On the downside? That previous weekend, most sporting events, if they went ahead at all, had two minutes silence.  Some Celtic supporters took the chance to chant, “if you hate the Queen clap your hands”. And much, much worse. The other side, Rangers responded with some chants about the Pope.  That’s why Glaswegians can’t really get their heads round rival  American football fans being nice to each other. It’s shameful, terrible, but the hostility, and the bigotry, goes back to the Battle of The Boyne. (1690).

And every piece of history on top of the coffin, is part of our, British, history.  A history maybe that we should not be totally proud of.  The stones on the crown and the sceptre that lay on top of the coffin signified that very clearly and drew criticism which is fair enough. 

But as a nation, there was true mourning. In many cases it was the transference of grief but still grief.  

And the nation did mourn.


Thursday, September 22, 2022

A little gem

Stanley - Thursday

This week I'm heading out of town for several book events - as one does when there's a new book to be revealed to the world. 

I have just returned from Cumberland, Wisconsin, which is about an hour and three quarters drive north east of Minneapolis. It is the first time I've been there, and I certainly hope it is not the last. I gave a talk about A Deadly Covenant at the Thomas St. Angelo Public Library, which had been recommended to me by a member of my book critique group, Barbara Deese.

Without her recommendation it is unlikely I would have known about it.


Cumberland has a population of approximately 2,200 people and is often called the Island Town because it is set on an island in the middle of a series of lakes in Western Wisconsin in the middle of farm country. As an aside, Wisconsin is known for cheese, beer, and dodgy politicians.

Cumberland. few decades ago

Cumberland Opera House

I didn't know what to expect as I drove up to the library. All my contacts had been enthusiastic and professional. But a library in a town with such a small population? 

I was very pleasantly surprised. The library was gorgeous. The original building was erected in 1906 with a grant from Andrew Carnegie, a man who needs no introduction. Recently a new addition was built to house the expanding library, funder largely by a half-million dollar grant from the Thomas St. Angelo Foundation. 








Thomas St. Angelo was a state representative of the Republican Party. When he died, he wanted much of his money to go to educating people. Hence the gift to the library.

My event was lively with plenty of question, mainly about Bushmen. I had brought my Bushman hunting artefacts to show off, since Bushman play a big role in our latest book.

This is one of the wonderful aspects about rural America, and indeed about rural areas in many countries - there are gems to be found. And the Thomas St. Angelo Public Library is one of them. Tomorrow I head farther north to the Spooner Public Library, Wisconsin, another gem in rural Wisconsin.

What makes these gems even more endearing is that both libraries have patrons who are big Kubu fans.

 

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Bloody great times in Scotland

The torchlit parade from Stirling Castle heads through the town on Thursday night

Craig every second Tuesday. 

I hope you're all having a good day as you read this, not just because I wish good things for readers in general, but because it's actually my birthday - and I'd love for everyone to have a lovely day. 

Firstly, apologies for a wee absence. Quite a lot of tumult in August, ranging from broken laptops to heart-breaking family medical matters. The latter has been and is the toughest to deal with, but it was the former that for a few weeks put paid to my posting on Murder is Everywhere, as old accounts and new devices decided they weren't fans of each other. In better news, I have plenty of fun stuff to chat about today, birthday aside, as I spent recent days enjoying Bloody Scotland. 

Sunrise, from Stirling Castle on Friday

For those who haven't been before (those who have know), Bloody Scotland is one of the world's best festivals, held each year - 2020 aside, due to COVID - in Stirling, which is both one of the newest cities in the UK (having got city status twenty years ago for the Queen's golden jubilee) and one of the most historic places, being a former capital, a royal burgh, and the home of Robert the Bruce's castle, perched atop a craggy (Craig-y?) cliff of volcanic rock overlooking lush plains laced with rivers and small lochs where famed battles between the English and Scottish happened in centuries past.  

Well, actually, some of those battles still happen, on the football field at Bloody Scotland each year, where Scottish crime writers battle their English counterparts in a fight-to-the-(not)death for honour, glory, and a shiny trophy. It used to be that other nationalities attending Bloody Scotland were drafted into either side, but as the festival has grown and national pride is on the line, that's been kiboshed. 

(Plus it saves fights about who gets Norwegian virtuoso Thomas Enger in their squad.) This year a new field was tried, and in a high-scoring, hard-fought contest Scotland emerged victorious, 6-4. 

Not sure if this is the shot where Liverpool crime writer, Fun Lovin' Crime Writers bassist, and stalwart England keeper Luca Veste busted his pinkie 

But before the football on Saturday afternoon (as well as during and afterwards), there was a whole lot of bookish greatness across what was Bloody Scotland's 10th anniversary. Festivities commenced on Thursday evening in the historic Church of the Holy Rude, which dates back nearly 1,000 years. History seeps from the altars, stone walls, stained glass, and wooden ceiling. As hundreds gathered to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Bloody Scotland and officially kickstart a wonderful weekend, we were standing in the space where an infant James VI was crowned King of Scotland in 1567.

Scottish crime writers Alex Gray and Lin Anderson, who helped establish Bloody Scotland a decade ago, with festival director Bob McDevitt in the Holy Rude. 

On the Thursday night, as well as seeing lots of old friends - and meeting some people in person for the first time who I'd only corresponded with online or via Zoom, eg US author Lisa Unger, which is always lovely - we got to enjoy the return of the famed torchlit parade from the front of Robert the Bruce's castle down through the historic streets of Stirling, to the Albert Halls where the prizes for Scottish crime novel of the year would be awarded: a debut category and the McIlvanney Prize for the Best Scottish Crime Novel of the Year (named after William McIlvanney, godfather of Tartan Noir).

Fancy seeing you here: running into US crime writer Lisa Unger
outside Stirling Castle as we prepared for the torchlit parade

After the excitement of trying not to trip and set ourselves alight during the torchlit parade, it was on to the prizes. Some outstanding books in the running this year, particularly the quartet shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize. I've been a past judge and judging chair of this award, but had no clue who might win this year out of THE HERETIC by Liam McIlvanney, THE SECOND CUT by Louise Welsh, A CORRUPTION OF BLOOD by Ambrose Parry, and MAY GOD FORGIVE by Alan Parks. 

Given the likes of 1979 by Val McDermid, THE DARK REMAINS by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin, and RIZZIO by Denise Mina - all superb books too - were also published in the past year or so, along with lots of other fabulous Scottish crime fiction, there's no doubt 'Tartan Noir' is in fine fettle.

Out of a strong field, WELCOME TO COOPER by Tariq Ashkanani (Debut of the Year) and MAY GOD FORGIVE by Alan Parks were revealed as this year's winners. Congratulations and celebrations. 

Alan Parks is revealed as the 2022 McIlvanney Prize winner

From there, the festival unfolded over the rest of that night and the next three days with dozens of amazing author panel discussions, plus fun events like Abir Mukherjee and Vaseem Khan's Night of a Million Games, and the Curly Coo extravaganza of music, craic, and whisky drinking. Of course, as anyone who's been to a crime writing festival knows, some of the best things happen away from the official programme - the catchups and meetings with authors and booklovers, the spontaneous meals, the great conversations, the random moments. Bloody Scotland was back in full force this year, celebrating its 10th anniversary with an extra day of events, and a full slate (eg last year's still-excellent festival didn't have the football, torchlit parade, Coo, or the welcome reception at the Holy Rude). 

It was a lot, in a good way. By Friday evening I'd felt like I'd already been part of a full festival weekend, and we still had the whole weekend itself to go. Huge bouquets to all involved, from director Bob McDevitt and the Festival Board who've steered the festival oh-so-well through its first decade of terrific events and significant growth, to all the volunteers, technicians, venue staff, and more. 

I'm grateful to feel like a wee part of the festival family, having been involved onstage for eight years in a row now, as well as being a past judge of the McIlvanney Prize. I'd highly recommend that any crime fiction lover puts Bloody Scotland on their to-do list (there's an online option for those who can't make it in person). With a weekend full of highlights, I could rave on for ages. So here's just a few wee pics.

Stoked to hang out with cool Aussie writer Emma Styles, who was 'spotlight' author before my first panel with Denise Mina, Elly Griffiths, and Imran Mahmood

Double-duty on Friday: in the evening I chaired 'Without a Trace' with
the fab Fiona Cummins, Alex Dahl, and Tim Weaver

Bestselling crime writers Martin Waites, CL Taylor, and Elly Griffiths showing
they're full of hot air as they try to win Vas and Abir's game show. 

One of many fab meals with fab people, this one a spontaneous late-night Italian
after a full Saturday of parkrun, panel watching, and other goodness. 

She'll be Write, Mate: a short-notice meet-up of Aussies and Kiwis at the historic
Nicky-Tams Bar and Bothy, originally opened in 1718

A lovely personal moment: a reader (Peter) saw me in the audience of an event and had a copy of our new anthology DARK DEEDS DOWN UNDER for me to sign.
Chris Brookmyre, Mark Billingham, and Luca Veste had the crowd in stitches
with several bawdy songs at the Curly Coo 

I had the pleasure of 'closing down' the festival in the Albert Halls on Sunday,
chairing 
the terrific trio of David Fennell, Liljs Sigurðardóttir, and Louise Welsh

Have you ever been to Stirling, for Bloody Scotland or otherwise? Are you a fan of crime writing festivals and meeting authors and readers? Please share your thoughts in the comments. 

Until next time. Ka kite anō. 

Whakataukī of the fortnight: 

Inspired by Zoe and her 'word of the week', I'll be ending my fortnightly posts by sharing a whakataukī (Māori proverb), a pithy and poetic thought to mull on as we go through life. This one was used by Michael Bennett onstage at Bute on Sunday, so seems appropriate:

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata he tangata he tangata! 

(What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people!)

With Ayo Onatade, chair of this year's McIlvanney Prize judges
and past judge of the Ngaio Marsh Awards (nice t-shirt Ayo!)

Monday, September 19, 2022

Annamaria Alfieri (she, her, hers)


Annamaria on Monday



At Bouchercon, many people’s badges gave only their names.  Mine gave my name and my pronouns.  When registering for the conference, it was optional to list pronouns.  I make no judgments about people who declined to list theirs.

 

During the conference, a few people looked at mine and shook their heads. I imagine, to some, displaying my pronouns labeled me as an extreme leftest.  I plead guilty to the leftist label, but I wouldn’t ordinarily call myself extremist.  Perhaps on this subject, tttyou might think I am. I’ll let you decide for yourself.  

 


 Here are my thoughts about gender.
The first thing anyone ever said about the vast majority of us was “It’s a boy.”  Or “It’s a girl.”   Almost invariably, those designation came with a set of expectations about how we would live our lives.  Until quite recently, those predictions were very different for people  designated as “boys" or as “girls.”  What clothes we would wear.  What personality traits would be fostered in us.  What games we would be encouraged to play.  What roles we would fulfill as adults.  How much schooling (if any) would be offered to us.  What sorts of work we would spend our days engaged in.
In “developed” countries,  over the past few decades, women’s choices in these regards have begun to broaden.  In much of the world, they are still extremely limited.
 And, then there is the matter of what gender we feel we belong in.  And who attracts us sexually. 


 

Some people do not align comfortably with the expectations that came with their gender designation.  They chafe at having to wear what is thought of as the proper clothing for people in their assigned pigeon hole.  Also, for some, their libidos do not respond only to those of the opposite sex.

 


In Western "Civilization,"  for millennia such people have been considered unacceptable.  Laws have been passed criminalizing as “unnatural” behavior that comes naturally to them  Their own parents have rejected them.  They have been vilified by their neighbors and condemned from the pulpits in their houses of worship.  They have had to hide when they followed the dictates of their natures.  Many have been forced into painful and disgusting “cures.”

 

There are also some people whose gender is not clear at birth.  They have been forced into one gender or the other.  Typically, their parents were forced to declare what gender would be put on their birth certificates.  Until very recently, and still in MANY places, there have been only two choices when it comes to gender.  

 

But what of the those people whose genetics do not conform?  And what of those whose innate nature is not heterosexual? 

Must they be declared unacceptable.

 

Finally, there is strong movement against punishing people for needing to be what they naturally are.   To help along this  eventuality, some of us declare our pronouns publicly as a signal to remind us all, ourselves included, that a human being is a human being.  That we all belong to the same species and that we all deserve to be full fledged members of society. 

Sunday, September 18, 2022

MAN PLANS, GOD SMILES, SATAN LAUGHS

(otherwise titled: I shall be dieting this winter…)

Zoë Sharp

 



I recall a friend sending me the following piece years ago. I’ve no idea what the title is, but at the time it made me laugh.

 

Now I view it more as a cautionary tale...

 

 

In the beginning, God covered the earth with broccoli, cauliflower and spinach, with green, yellow and red vegetables of all kinds so Man and Woman would live long and healthy lives.

 

Then using God’s bountiful gifts, Satan created Cookie Dough Ice Cream and Magnums.

 

And Satan said, “You want hot fudge with that?”

 

And Man said, “Yes!”

 

And Woman said, “I’ll have one too—with chocolate chips.”

 

And lo they gained 10 pounds.

 

And God created the healthy yoghurt that Woman might keep the figure that Man found so fair.

 

And Satan brought forth white flour from the wheat and sugar from the cane and combined them.

 

And Woman went from size 12 to size 14.

 

So God said, “Try my fresh green salad.”

 

And Satan presented Blue Cheese dressing and garlic croutons on the side.

 

And Man and Woman unfastened their belts following the repast.

 

God then said, “I have sent you healthy vegetables and olive oil in which to cook them.”

 

And Satan brought forth deep-fried coconut king prawns, butter-dipped lobster chunks, and chicken-fried steak, so big it needed its own platter.

 

And Man’s cholesterol went through the roof.

 

Then God brought forth the potato, naturally low in fat and brimming with potassium and good nutrition.

 

Then Satan peeled off the healthy skin and sliced the starchy centre into chips and deep fried them in animal fats, adding copious quantities of salt.

 

And Man put on more pounds.

 

God then brought forth running shoes so that his Children might lose those extra pounds.

 

And Satan came forth with a cable TV with remote control so Man would not have to toil changing the channels.

 

And Man and Woman laughed and cried before the flickering light and started wearing stretch jogging suits.

 

Then God gave lean beef so that Man might consume fewer calories and still satisfy his appetite.

 

And Satan created Mcdonald's and the 99p double cheeseburger.

 

Then Satan said, “You want fries with that?”

 

And Man replied, “Yeah, and Super Size ’em.”

 

And Satan said, “It is good.”

 

And Man and Woman went into cardiac arrest.

 

God sighed and created quadruple bypass surgery, available free on the National Health Service.

 

And then Satan chuckled and created the NHS Waiting List.




This week’s Word of the Week is vade mecum, a Latin phrase, which has no English equivalent but—translated literally—means ‘go with me’. It is used in reference to a book that is a wise and helpful guide through life—something one would be loath to be without. Your Desert Island book of choice, perhaps? To have written something that is considered a vade mecum would be the pinnacle of any writer’s career.


Saturday, September 17, 2022

Inspiration on a Septic System Afternoon

 


Jeff–Saturday

 

We returned from Greece with one (or two) cracked ribs (all mine)—courtesy of an utterly horrid Athens airport lounge design, dead batteries in all vehicles, a septic system that gave up the ghost (among other things) after 35 years of noble service (with plumbing problems to match),  no internet or satellite TV, a scramble to finalize a film deal, a rush to complete Kaldis #13, and a major happy family event to escape to in Texas for five days less than a week away.

 

And yet, what popped into my mind as the topic for today’s post was a question every author is asked more times than we can count: “Where do you get your ideas?”

 

Many authors have a standard—often comical—reply. In fact, I’m certain my MIE colleagues would love to share their secret sources with you, so don’t hesitate to ask them that question the next time you see them.

 

During my time as an adjunct professor of English, teaching mystery writing, I’d often say that inspiration springs from the most unexpected sources, leaving it up to you, the writer, to recognize it for what it is and build your work upon it.  I’d then give a line or phrase and say run with it. Create your story around this line. Precisely how, when, and where you choose to use it in crafting your tale is up to you.

 

Earlier this afternoon, I was chewing the fat with my buddy, Mike, while we worked on my septic tanks (actually, he worked and I chewed), he gave me the best example I ever heard of the random sort of line capable of driving every sort of mystery-thriller from comic to hard core noir. 

 


 

Mike is a true professional when it comes to many things, but his vast experience with septic systems gives him a special perspective on what lies buried beneath the surface of so many families’ true day-to-day existence.

 

Curiosity had me asking him for his most memorable experience in the septic system trade.

 

Without hesitation he said, “That’s easy. I’ve had the same experience several times. Every time unforgettable.”

 

He’d piqued my interest. “So, tell me already.”

 

“Sometimes curious homeowners like to hang around when I’m dragging the concrete cover off the top of their tank.  Often, they’re surprised at what’s floating on top.” 

 

Mike paused for effect.  “Several times curious husbands have stared into the tank and said —coronets please – ‘They’re not my condoms.’”

 

Any story lines come to mind?

 

–Jeff