Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Sources of the Nile

Lake Victoria

Last week I wrote about David Livingstone and his six vanished years in search of the source of the Nile.  In a comment, Annamaria Alfieri suggested that the enthusiasm for this particular venture was motivated by Britain’s concern to control Egypt and thus the Suez Canal.  No doubt that’s right.  But the issue goes back much further than that.  There is a Latin saying: “Caput Nili quaerere,” which means “searching for the Nile’s head”.  It was used when someone suggested doing something ridiculous or impossible.  It reminds me of our saying: “You might as well fly to the moon,” which has also been outdated by technology.

Nile Delta
Headwaters of the Blue Nile
Speaking of technology, last week I suggested that a couple of hours with GoogleEarth is all one needs nowadays to solve these exploration issues.  So I decided to try with the source of the Nile.  Well, it only takes about fifteen minutes.  (It’s fun to do, but don’t cheat.  Turn off all the borders, roads, photos and the like or it will take you on an obvious tour down the river.)  
Start at the mouth in Cairo and work upstream from there.  It’s pretty obvious up to Khartoum in Sudan and then there’s a problem.  The river splits into two major tributaries, the White Nile and the Blue Nile.  The Blue, which actually carries the majority of water into the main river as well as the fertile silt, wends its way from Lake Tana in the highlands of Ethiopia.  So is that the source?  No, the definition seems to be that the source is the furthest connected waterway from the mouth.  The White Nile is longer, so follow it south through a huge swampy area in southern Sudan. (Yes, Sudan is like Botswana; very dry except where it’s wet.)   Then it crosses into Uganda and once more splits.  The Albert Nile empties from the lakes of the Great Rift Valley while the White Nile heads east and then south.  It exits from Lake Kayoga, which in turn is fed from Lake Victoria.  And that huge East African lake is to all intents and purposes the source of the Nile.  But, of course, one could argue that the longest river flowing into Lake Victoria is actually the source.  In 1934 a German explorer traced the Kagera river back to the hills of Burundi, and as recently as 2006 a British and New Zealand party claimed a spot in Rwanda as the actual source (i.e. that their source was further from Lake Vic than the German’s).  And that wasn’t easy.  The 2006 team traveled 4000 miles in 80 days and one member of the party was killed by rebels. 

Dhows on Aswan Dam
But it was the connection between a great lake and the Nile that the seventeenth century explorers sought.  A nice, safe water supply for the river, and plenty of accolades at home.

John Hanning Speke
In 1856 John Hanning Speke teamed up with Richard Burton (fresh from his trip to Mecca disguised as an Arab pilgrim) and set out in search of the source of the Nile.  It was a strange partnership; the men already disliked each other and had very different personalities – Burton flamboyant and Speke retiring.  Their earlier trip together had seen them both badly injured in Somalia.  My guess is that they went together because each was scared of the other discovering the source alone!  As with all of these explorations into “darkest” Africa, the trip was horrendous.  Both men became ill.  Speke went temporary blind and suffered greatly after trying to remove a beetle from his ear with a knife.  They discovered Lake Tanganyika, but Burton was too weak to continue.  Speke went on without him, discovered Lake Victoria, and declared it – correctly but with no real evidence – as the source of the Nile.

Richard Burton
Nile Catchment
He announced this publicly on returning to England, to Burton’s fury.  On a follow up expedition in 1860, he sailed the northern coast of Lake Victoria and found the Ripon Falls pouring water out of the lake.  Although he didn’t follow the water through Somalia, the evidence seemed conclusive.  But Burton was still pushing the Lake Tanganyika option.  (He wasn’t stupid, at one stage the Albert Nile was indeed fed from that lake, but it was blocked by volcanic activity in geological times.) Eventually a great debate was scheduled between the men before the geographical section of the British Association in Bath on 18 September 1864.  The day before, Speke went bird hunting and, climbing a wall with a cocked shotgun, killed himself.  There were rumors of suicide, but the wound – below the armpit – made that very unlikely.

The matter rested in limbo until our friend Henry Stanley of Livingstone fame confirmed Speke’s discovery in 1875.

Michael – Thursday.  

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Full circle

A butterfly flaps its wings.

In 2007 Romania banned horse carriages on its roads. As a result there were lots of unemployed horses around. Fast forward to 2013 and the food scandal that has rocked Europe. Turns out that the Romanian horses are showing up in lasagna and other prepared foods supposed to contain ground beef.
In Iceland we do not shy away from eating horse meat. We do like to know when we are being served it and would not like to be sold beef and get horse. I do not know if it was because of this or because we did not want to be any less vigilant that other European countries but Iceland decided to do testing of its own market. The results were pretty darn good for most of our producers as the ingredients proved to be in check with the labeling. There was only one exception actually, a company that specialized in making meat pies – that were supposed to contain ground beef. I am going to keep you waiting a bit before telling you what the meat pies actually contained.

Now the meat pie company will probably have to change its name. To be realistic there is no probably about it. They will have to change their name. And logo.
A logo here probably costs around 100.000 krona. This is about 800 dollars or 600 Euros. Hopefully the meat company will have some funds stashed away to fork this out.
Some Icelandic companies like one called „“ do not have such funds despite needing a logo. Either that or these guys thought they could be smart and get away with paying less by throwing a competition. It did not work out so well. The prize money, 10.000 kr, was considered insulting so the competition was bombarded by trolls and the competition page filled up with ridiculous logos. I spent over an hour laughing my head off at the submissions and the text that was added to explain what each logo represented - and what the artists said they intended to do with the money. In the end they increased the prize money and ended up with an OK logo. But here are some examples of the troll logos – 10.000 kr will not buy you much it seems:

So, what did the meat pies turn out to contain? Horse meat? Chicken? Pork? Rat? Nope, none of those. Turned out the meat pies had no meat at all. None whatsoever. They could not have had a bigger food shocker in Iceland than that. Horse meat would not have turned many heads but no meat - the company is going down.
Yrsa - Wednesday

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Guest Post - Tony Broadbent

Tony Broadbent is the author of a series of mystery novels about a Cockney cat burglar and jewel thief in post-war London that gets blackmailed into working for MI5.

His first in series, The Smoke, was named ‘One of the Best First Mystery Novels of 2002’. Booklist called Spectres In The Smoke ‘One of the best spy novels of the year’ and the book went on to win the 2006 Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award.’ The third, Shadows in the Smoke, was published in October 2012. Tony’s post of today London Peculiar – Of Times and Place is one of two. The second instalment, London Particular – Regarding A Murder Most Foul will be published here on the 12th of March. Here's Tony:

London. Just the sound of it is enough to stop you dead in your tracks. As V. S. Pritchett once wrote: ‘The very word has tonnage—like two thumps of a steam-hammer.’ And he’s not wrong. There are few cities that even come close—in history or in influence. London has gravity enough to pull most any story or conversation into its orbit—and everyone’s version of England’s capital city verges on the sacrosanct.

Of course with more than two thousand years of history to draw from, it’s not just the ‘Cool Britannia’ London of 1960’s Carnaby Street, The Beatles, and the Rolling Stones, or the modern-day London of the BBC’s coolly reimagined Sherlock—that people necessarily choose to revere. There’s Roman London, Medieval London, Elizabethan London, Restoration London, Georgian London and Victorian London to name but a few historically recognized periods. Then, of course, there are the London’s of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Pepys, Boswell, Mayhew, Dickens, Conan Doyle, and Henry James.
And all that before you even touch upon ‘Clubland’ London, London’s ‘Theatreland’, the London Underworld, or the unique peculiarities of London’s ‘The Great Fire’, ‘The Great Stink’, ‘The Blitz’, The Killer Fog.’

Every London it seems has its expert chroniclers and—gratifyingly—a good few of them mystery writers employing a particular period or locale as backdrop to their stories. The London of the Twentieth Century Moderns: Gerald Kersh, Margery Allingham, Patrick Hamilton, Norman Collins, Colin Macinnes, Derek Raymond, John Lawton, Jacqueline Winspear, Deborah Crombie—favourites all—and most all of them superb ‘first guides’ should you ever wish to venture into some fresh field or back alley of London’s fabled history.
Even I’ve claimed a little bit of London as my own. My own particular London—the postwar London of the late 1940s, early 1950s—a London that stretches from the East End to the West End, everywhere north of ‘the water.’ A bombed-out, battered, bloodied London. A London where everyone’s not only still trying to recover from the effects of the ‘Blitz’ and the deprivations of war but also coming to terms with the loss of Empire. Britain might well have won the War, but the country is to all intents and purposes bankrupt and the populace have no choice now but try and survive the peace.
All of which means it’s the London of stringent government austerity measures and rationing. A time when every single blessed thing—clothes, food, sweets, furniture, coal, petrol—is scarce and almost impossible to come by—and even beer has been watered down by Government mandate. It’s the London of the ‘Spiv’ and the Black Market, where luxuries as well as necessities, be it cigarettes or whisky, bars of soap or packets of razorblades, could only be had once it’d ‘fallen off the back of a lorry’—and everyone—high born or low—at one time or another—‘at it’ and ‘on the take’.

It’s a London chock-a-block full of theatres and cinemas, cafes and pubs, ‘five-shilling’ restaurants and eel-and-pie shops, of night-clubs and ‘spielers’ and out-of-hours drinking clubs—the London of street performers and buskers, of smoke-filled penny-arcades and billiards-halls, gymnasiums and boxing clubs—and ever-crowded speedway and greyhound and football stadiums.
It’s a London where trams and trolley-busses still trundle the streets and the docks are still the busiest in the world. A city where teams of brewer’s dray-horses pull huge wagons through city streets and rag-and-bone men can still be heard calling out for business from the top of their rickety horse-drawn carts even through the better parts of London. A London that’s still littered with numberless bombsites—that if not already pressed into service as temporary car parks, are carpeted with yellow dandelions, purple willow herb and constellations of tiny white-petals of ‘London Pride.’

It’s a London where, on a clear day, the view of St Paul’s Cathedral still dominates the skyline. It’s the London of the ‘pea-souper’ where wraith-like policemen garbed in long-white slickers ceaselessly tend hissing, wildly flaring green-hued naphtha lamps that throw eerie shadows onto soot-laden curtains of fog. It’s a city where streetlights are reduced to nothing but dim halos of dirty orange-yellow. And where lines of double-deckers, lost and forlorn, are forced to a standstill along Oxford Street and Regent Street—no onward journey or return to the bus depot at all possible.
To be honest though it’s a London as much built on sights and sounds drawn from newspapers and picture books, newsreels, television and films, as it is from family photo albums and family legend—inevitable, I’m sure, for any memories born of the latter half of the Twentieth Century. But whether real or imagined or received, it’s all grist for the London mill.

Which of course begs the question, does the London of memory belong to me or is it perhaps a London more shaped by H. V. Mortons’ engaging ‘In Search of London’, V.S. Pritchett’s wittily evocative ‘London Perceived’, or even Ian Nairn’s wonderfully eclectic ‘Nairn’s London’—each one, a well-thumbed companion of long-standing. Is it London as seen through the hawk-like eyes of more recent chroniclers: such as Dan Cruikshank, Peter Ackroyd, and Iain Sinclair.
As the protagonist of my tales, the rascally cat burglar and jewel thief, Jethro, says in ‘The Smoke’ when he again finds himself on a particular street corner: “But that’s the funny thing about London, it’s chock-a-block full of history and oddly enough, a lot of the time, it turns out to be yours.”
Truth is London is far too vast a subject for anyone to ever hope to capture completely. (Although, Peter Ackroyd’s remarkable ‘London’ comes damn close.) And I suppose—as Dan Waddell’s excellent past posts on Murder Everywhere have shown—in the end, London is whatever you bring to it—its history whatever you make of it—and exactly that and no more. It’s certainly all you ever get to take away with you when you leave.
Love it. Wonder at it. Ponder it. Take time to delve beneath its multiple surfaces and London will open up its wonders to you in abundance. Make no effort at all and London will leave you cold. It will simply retreat back into the shadows, safe behind its edifices of newly cleaned red brick and Portland Stone, and leave you to ponder its age-old reputation of being quite unfathomable—a cold-hearted, hard and wicked place—that goes by the name of London. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Carnival In Rio -- It Stinks

Not that it isn’t fun.

It is. But Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is, as most people know, a frenetic, energy-packed event.

There are literary tens of thousands of performers in the fourteen samba schools of the first category.

And the city is blessed with hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to share in the fun. Some nine hundred thousand at this year’s count.

All that dancing and singing is hard work – and arouses a mighty thirst on the part of participants and spectators alike. Some few drink water. But this is Carnival in Rio we’re talking about, the biggest party on the face of the earth. And what's a party without booze? So most opt for stronger stuff.


You can’t drink cachaça, vodka, or whisky, for five days and nights running – not it you hope to survive until Ash Wednesday.

So the drink of choice is beer. And beer, as everyone knows, has a way of making its way quickly from the mouth to the bladder, thereby creating a problem that’s getting worse from year-to-year, and one that the city fathers are struggling mightily to solve.

The wealthier classes, as is usually the case in Brazil, are privileged. If they come to see the samba schools perform, they generally do it from one of the expensive mesas da pista, tables in enclosed areas right next to the action where there is excellent service and where there are many facilities for the deposit of used beer, both receptacles it originally came in and the liquid that resulted from the drinking of it.

Or they watch from one of the camarotes, boxes generally hired by corporations for the use of their senior executives and clients and amply serviced in the same regard.

But the great mass of people bring their own beer, or buy it from vendors who move through the stands selling cans of the stuff. And, for toilets, they depend on the public facilities.

The discarded cans aren’t as much of a problem as you might think. They’re quickly carried away by informal recyclers, who collect them and deliver them to compacting facilities. It’s a quick way for them to earn a Real or two, because, this year, those cans added up to a total weight of  more than six hundred tons…

…more than half the weight of Rio’s famous statue of Christ the Redeemer.

The Big Problem is the chemical toilets. There were more, this year, than ever before, but there still weren't enough of them.

Result: a total of eight hundred and eight people were arrested on a charge of urinating in public. The total includes sixty-seven women. And those numbers reflect only the very few who were actually caught doing it.

The stench, in the area of the parades, persists for days thereafter and long-term residents of the area are not pleased.

A word of advice: if you plan on attending Carnival in Rio, make sure you reserve one of those mesas da pista.

Leighton - Monday

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Happy Year of the Snake!

I was born and raised in California, and I've always been happy about that. It's different here. I didn't realize this growing up, but culturally we're a lot more influenced by Mexico and Latin America and Asia than most other parts of the US (though this may be changing -- I take it you actually can get decent Mexican food in the Deep South these days!).

Chinese culture has been a part of California culture since the Gold Rush, and that influence has only gotten stronger in the last few decades with the huge influx of Mainlanders up and down the coast. Forget Chinatown--in Los Angeles we have an entire China Valley, a suburban sprawl of Chinese restaurants and businesses that includes Monterey Park, the US city with the highest percentage of Chinese Americans and just about any kind of Chinese cuisine you'd like, as good and authentic as anything on the mainland.

But I doubt if there's anywhere in the US where the Chinese influence is more bound up in a city's culture than San Francisco.

I love it. I've been staying in Outer Sunset, an area where many more recent Chinese immigrants have settled. There's a restaurant not far from here called "Mandarin Islamic," or in Chinese, “老 北京,” which actually translates to "Old Beijing," specializing in Northern Chinese cuisine, including my favorites, 羊肉串儿 and 孜然羊肉。Delicious! It's like Beijing, without the air pollution.

Tonight was a big night in San Francisco, the official Chinatown parade and festival to celebrate the Year of the Snake. And watching the parade, I really got a sense for how deeply rooted Chinese culture is in the civic culture here.

The Chinatown festival was a little disappointing. Lots of booths selling phone accessories and stamps and advertising cars, banks and other businesses, and not nearly enough snacks! Where were the dumplings? I was so craving dumplings. I retreated to the Comstock Saloon and had an Anchor Steam and a Po' Boy.

But I decided to stick around for the parade, and I'm glad that I did.

There were marching bands, and cable cars and vintage autos carrying local politicos. There were dragon dancers, and lion dancers. Lots of them.

Sponsored by elementary schools, high schools, martial arts organizations, businesses, government agencies. 

What I found particularly charming were the numbers of non-ethnically Chinese people who participated. Little blonde kids with Peking Opera makeup, Latino and black teens underneath the lions and dragons, big tall Anglo dads and moms walking behind the groups as chaperones, everyone setting off firecrackers and waving fuzzy toy snakes on a stick. 

It's a Chinese tradition, to be sure. But it felt like everyone in San Francisco's celebration.

I think it's what I love best about California. That we have this amazing wealth of tradition and culture here, and it's a bounty that we all can share. 

Maybe it's what I love about America, too. 

I think my favorite marchers may have been the Southwest Airlines ground crew following their float: 

After the parade, I caught the Muni back to Outer Sunset. My iPhone ran out of juice, or I would have gotten more and better photos. But waiting on the platform were a bunch of marchers from the parade.

Parents who'd been stilt-walkers, dressed in embroidered Chinese jackets and character costumes, civic workers carrying banners and 3-D cardboard signs of Muni trains, kids with their opera makeup and animal costumes. It was pretty damn cool.

Lisa -- Sunday...

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Houston Hodgepodge and a Cry for Help

A murder of crows.  I’d forgotten about that classification for a group of crows until standing under a tree in the Houston Zoo with my grandson, waiting for a Texas-size rain eruption (big, but fast) to conclude.  The sign across from us said “murder” and naturally caught my eye.  I’m sure there were signs elsewhere saying “peace,” “harmony,” and “love” but in my state (of mind, not Texas) all I saw was—here it comes—murder is everywhere.

I’d picked up a horrendous head cold from my grandchildren for which I don’t blame them a bit.  Despite clear and present runny-noses-warnings I couldn’t help but hug, squeeze, and smooch them.  I challenge any papou to resist a three- and five-year old tag team of les adorables grandchildren (a bit of Greek and French in keeping with the international nature of MIE).

Now, I sit at George Bush Intercontinental Airport  (named after the father, not the son) waiting to test the efficacy of all the decongestants I’m on, my mind in a total haze.  If I were in Colorado the locals might think I was high (taking advantage of its recent legalization of marijuana).  Here, they just think I’m a Democrat.

I should show them my ticket.  It has me flying to Salt Lake City.  Romneyland.  But only to change planes, then it’s off to spread cold germs to my brother and his family in Palm Springs. 

This is my last swing west before heading back to Mykonos at the end of April after my daughter adds another grandchild to the mix.  YAY.  Buy Kleenex stock.

Usually I’m on book tour at this time of year, but as my last book came out in June (Target: Tinos) and the new one won’t be out until September (Mykonos After Midnight), I’m just wandering aimlessly around the country bothering family along the way.

Next year will be different.  I have a teaching gig in January.  As I wrote about in detail earlier this week on the blogsite of my publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, I accepted an invitation from the President of my alma mater to teach a full credit course on any writing subject of my choice.

Washington & Jefferson College
My goal is to explore the Four Stages in the development of a mystery novelist: Wanting, Struggling, Attaining, and Enduring, in the hope of helping at least a few published, non-published, and aspiring writers reach their own conclusions on how best to shape their writing lives.  It’s about what to expect and where to find your highs among all the lows along the way to attaining the measure of success you’ve set for yourself.

I’m still working on the course outline, and though it won’t be a purely creative writing or survey course—too many good ones already out there—it’s still important to present an overview of the history of our genre, and in that regard I need your help.

What I’m looking for is a book that addresses the defining mysteries, ones students should at least be aware of in advance of the course.  I know that Declan Burke and John Connolly have a new book out there (Edgar nominated, Books To Die For) but aside from their effort, do any others come to mind?

It’s now time to board the plane and carry my haze on to the land of Cal-i-forn-i-a…where one in my state should blend right in.


Friday, February 22, 2013

The Confessions Interview

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.
Scoto Americano
 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.

11.  Is there a book you have never been able to finish?
Of Love and Other Demons!
Err, why did they not just run the tests?

Caro GB Friday 22nd Feb