Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Kitab Tour in India

Sujata Massey
Kitab is the Urdu/Hindi word for book and is pronounced just as it sounds. I find it a lovely word.
So, too was my recent book tour in India for A Murder on Malabar Hill, A Perveen Mistry Investigation. You might notice the similarity in title to The Widows of Malabar Hill, my novel which came out this past January from Soho Press in the US. That's because it is the same book, retitled by my South Asian publisher, Penguin Random India. They wanted to make no bones about the fact it is a mystery.

Signing at Crossword Books in Ahmedabad

India doesn't have a large number of indigenous mysteries, but it has billions of regular readers. In fact, 43% of Indians report reading books every week for pleasure. The world's fastest growing economy has had a leap in the number of boys and girls in K-12 education. As a result, the largest selling category of books in India is educational. It makes sense: parents are investing in their kids.

A Murder on Malabar Hill was hitting the shelves at the same time a very big bestseller was launching from the same publisher. In a sense, it was like my recent experience of having Widows released at the same time as the White House tell-all Fire and Fury. I was sitting in a car with a sales rep whose phone would not stop ringing with orders from booksellers wanting one thundered to one thousand copies of Exam Warriors.

The startling thing about this children's educational book is that its author is India's prime minister, Narendra Modi. Exam Warriors hits publishing's sweet spot because is a how-to study workbook for children. features 25 mantras for studying and reduction in stress. It includes yoga exercises and is illustrated in cartoons. Priced at a bargain 100 rupees (about US $1.60)  it is affordable to many and published in English and Hindi.

Blogging Meetup in Gurgaon

Back to A Murder on Malabar Hill. So far, it's just in English, and it costs a lot more than the Modi book--399 rupees. My novel is being published in English, and one of the amusing aspects to the copy edit was turning American English into British English. Some revised spellings of words for India were practise for practice, and jewellery for jewelry.

With English language being a subset of India's vast book market of 22 official languages, I was interested to see that brick and mortar bookstores were nevertheless dominated by English language books. The majority are Indian authors writing in English, but Dan Brown is big, too.

I enjoyed a number of bookstore visits in Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad. One store in Mumbai was actually called "Kitab Khanna." With my limited Hindi, I thought the store name meant something like "books food." However, the way Khanna is spelled in the store name makes the meaning a "Book Box."

That's RJ Sarthak Kaushik of Radio Ishq 

Visits to places like the independent bookstore Kitab Khanna, as well as multiple locations to the small chain stores Crossword, Om Books, Full Circle Books and Bharison's, were a very special opportunity. Sales reps for these stores brought me in to sign newly-arrived books and talk about the book's heroine to the salesclerks, who'd be better able to explain it to customers. This has never happened to me in the United States I also did radio interviews on 3 different pop FM radio shows, two of which were syndicated.

I did have a couple of book talks and signings, but they were not in bookstores. No--in India, a book signing is closer to theater!

At right, actor Aishwarya Jha-Mather dressed as Perveen Mistry

My biggest event was in Delhi at the intimate OddBird Theatre within an old mill complex in the Chattarpur district. My editor had arranged for a talented local stage actress to read a chapter of my book aloud. The actor, Aishwarya Mathur-Jha, had dressed in an antique lace sari and arranged her hair in a curled updo typical of the time period for Parsi women. She became my character, Perveen Mistry. Her reading was powerful and had the large audience spellbound. For me, it was magical to hear my written words uttered by someone with the right accent and intonations. It's a concerted effort for me to write dialog in Indian English; so when I heard the Aishwarya's dialog sounding as natural and passionate as she made it, I was heartened. All I had to do after being transfixed by Perveen Mistry on stage was chat about the book with  RJ (radio jockey) Sarthak Kaushik, as radio hosts are called. Lots of jokes and good fun.

The second book event was in Mumbai. This was an interview with a journalist, Jane Borges, who was working on an article about the book that came out a few days later in a newspaper called Midday. Jane's interview and my reading was held at a small cafe where every table was set with delicious cookies. It was a small event, but the questions were good, and so were the treats.

Another event that was a new thing for me was a meet-up with book bloggers. About ten bloggers--all quite friendly with each other--showed up to the new Bharison's bookstore in Delhi's posh Gurgaon suburb. They'd read advance copies and peppered me with good questions. Many selfies and even a short film made by one blogger appeared very quickly after the event.

Speaking of social media, the publisher shared the surprising news that movie star Amitabh Bachchan had tweeted a photograph of his adult daughter reading in his home. If you zoom in on the book in her hands, it turns out to be A Murder on Malabar Hill. Somehow, this woman had a copy of it before it reached the bookstores. Nobody could figure out how.

Perhaps it's just pure marketing magic. I  met with some future marketing geniuses--India's business students--at the Indian Institute of Management Udaipur's Leap Year Literary Festival. The kids had taken their Sunday to sit and listen to six of us: authors, comedians and screenwriters talk about our work. It was a pleasant surprise that business students would care enough about creative writing to organize a writing festival.

But this is India. After all, the prime minister has written a dozen books!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

sometimes it's the food....

Maybe it's always the food...the ingredients, the preparation and breaking bread with those close to us that bonds people and place in a special way. Looking for something else I came across these photos today. Now, I'm feeling peckish...maybe Caro and Zoë will correct me on that, but actually starving and got transfixed by photos from Paris and the Berlin trip.
 Berthillon - best ice cream in the world - imho - located on the Ile Saint-Louis produces ice cream gateau...and my friend brought these treasures for dessert.
 Old fashioned sweet shop in Montmartre that begs an encore visit
 My pal Inga in a socialist resto in Berlin - the hearty winter soup was wunderschön
 Oysters at le Baron Rouge near Bastille
 Donna attacking the charcuterie in paris
 A layered seafood mille-feuilles...amazing and somewhere on the Left Bank.
Felafel on the street in the Marais the way it should be eaten.

Cara - Tuesday

Monday, February 26, 2018

Africa 2018: Lions and Kubu

Annamaria on Monday, but largely off Wifi

I left this lion in Florence...

...and found these in Tanzania...

 Lake Manyara, where they sleep in trees...

...and where some of the lions are edible.

Then on to South Africa and Olifants with Michael...

...and, of course, a close-up of Kubu!

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The not-so-nice bits of Nice

Zoë Sharp

Writers must make for strange travelling companions. And crime writers must make for the strangest travelling companions of all. Mostly, we are not there simply for the view. When I visit anywhere that I’ve pencilled in as a possible location for a novel, I’m looking for something specific – something that could only happen in that place, or where the place dictates the action to begin with. I generally want to see the grubby backstreets rather than the tourist hotspots.

Take my trip to France earlier this month, for instance. On the homeward leg, I was due to fly out of Nice, which presented the ideal opportunity for some on-the-ground research.

Nice is a beautiful city on the Mediterranean, if you discount the package jets flying into the beachfront airport at regular intervals during the day. The Promenade des Anglais runs from the airport for 7km along the seafront. Known to locals as “La Prom” it is a place to stroll, cycle, skate, or sunbathe, and to be seen doing so. Until the Bastille Day attack of 2016, that is.

I was interested to see a bit of La Prom, but mostly to check what additional security barriers and precautions had been brought in over the last two years. London bridges these days have concrete and steel central reservations worthy of a motorway.

Mainly, though, I wanted to see the harbour. Or, more particularly, the boats therein. Ever since I lived aboard as a child, I’ve been fascinated by yachts, from the traditional to the sleekly modern.

Their ports of registration were interesting to note. The majority were from the Channel Islands or Malta, and the reasons behind that will make intriguing further reading for me, no doubt.

The big money had clearly been spent on power rather than sail, although when you have so many multi-million-pound floating gin palaces about the place, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees.

On the far side of the harbour were the smaller local boats. 

And the lovely traditional fishing boats. Is there still a living to be made from tiny crafts like these, I wonder?

And then, of course, was the gated marina, where boats jostle on floating jetties. I’ve always wanted to know just how often some of these ever actually go to sea.

Simply getting in and out of the harbourside involved barriers and cameras, but I get the impression this is more to ensure you pay for your parking than for security.

I haven’t yet mentioned the elephant in the water, which was taking up one whole quay to herself, and that was the Quantum Blue, looming over everything else on the waterfront.

This 340ft mega yacht – or is it a super yacht? – is Russian owned, Channel Islands registered and reputed to have cost $250,000,000. It must be like having a cruise liner all to yourself.

Personally, doing my sailing with engines rather than sails, and five storeys off the water, is not my idea of fun, but thinking about the kind of person who commissioned, bought, and owns this vessel, gets my creative juices flowing.

What about you? Are there any specific bits of a foreign place that always seem to draw you in? What do you look for first?

This week’s Word of the Week is Pantagruelian meaning enormous, and originating in the late 17th century from Pantagruel, who was the giant in Rabelais’s novel of the same name.

Coming up next week is not really an event as such, but it is the launch of CULPRITS: The Heist Was Just the Beginning, edited by Richard Brewer and Gary Phillips. The book is an anthology, but not in the usual way. The editors wrote the opening set-up – the heist and the complications that followed. The contributors wrote what happened next, and I’m proud to be a part of it. If you're on NetGalley, you can order a copy for review now.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Reviving Inspiration


As some of you may know, this past Wednesday I had shoulder surgery and won't be able to type two-handed for a while. So here's a blast from the past. this originally published February 11, 2011 and is only slightly modified from the original to account for a better video experience.

These days, searching the news for anything positive about Greece makes me appreciate the position of social director on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg: it’s all about the crisis, stupid.

But if you look hard enough, you’ll find what assures us who know and love Greece that no matter what happens in that tortured/torturing bit of central Athens known as Parliament, Hellas will survive. 

This week I found my inspiration on the website in a film credited to Gladiator 33111. 

Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou
It was an aerial video tour high above some of Greece’s most beautiful and enduring landscapes.  I’ve seen other film before, some with subtitles and a guidebook soundtrack, others set to the music of Vangelis.  You don’t know Vangelis?  Think Chariots of FireBlade Runner and of one of the greatest composers of electronic music of all time. 

But this is the best one I’ve found at capturing in fifteen minutes the essence of what is Greece.  Done in high definition video and set to largely traditional music, it briefly touches upon the environs of Athens, then drifts out to sea and on to Mykonos and Delos before soaring on to other islands (mostly Cycladic) and mainland sites, passing over Macedonia, Mount Athos, Meteora, Delphi, Olympia, and so many others. Here it is:

By the time it’s over I promise you will be at peace.  To remain that way, I suggest you stay away from all news for as long as you can stand.

I have one more inspirational site/sight for your consideration.  It’s a photograph I took three days ago from the same window in my New York City office as I watched the World Trade Center Twin Towers crumble on 9/11.

Centered in the photo is the new One World Trade Center on its way to reclaiming a dominant position in Manhattan's skyline.  Ninety floors up, fourteen more to go.  Proof that we in the US can survive catastrophes too.

God Bless America.  God Bless Greece.


Friday, February 23, 2018

The Monster Of Glamis. (PC Version)

Glamis Castle

We are rather good at castles.  Here is the one that belongs to the Bowes Lyons- or the family of the Queen Mother as  they are better known.   It's been there since the 10th Century and the family keep adding bits on.

All these pictures are from the same room in the castle. Something is happening there on Saturday, a huge crime writing event called Crime At The Castle. We Scots like to do what is says on the tin. 

I'll tell you more about the castle later, all the bits and bobs and who killed who and why and who got  the blame. ( Usually the English).

The Glamis ( pronounced Glayms) is famous for one thing.

And the thing that it's most famous for was not mentioned at all during the private tour we had last Sunday.

Not even hinted at!

And the secret lies in this room.

But as I am a crime writer I am not going to tell you that story for a few weeks yet. I am going to tell you the story that we were told  as we were walking round the castle. And it is all about this very room. 

I couldn't bear to keep quiet about this.

The castle is famous for having one more window on the outside than on the inside. 

It does have over 170 rooms and a lot of very small windows.

The story now is that  the duke ( somewhere around 1500 give or take a century or so) was fond of playing cards, Gambling in fact.

It was his pleasure to gamble away  a Saturday night in the company of his friends, in a room to the rear of this suit of armour.

A butler type person would come and get him at 11.59 on a Saturday night as gambling is forbidden on the Sabbath.

On this particular night he was winning a lot of money and as his butler told him the time, the Duke looked down at his winning hand and said 'Turn Back The Clock.' 

So he did, and the duke played on, and on, winning and winning..

Then there was a knock at the door of the castle...

A tall dark stranger strode up the stairs and into the hall, asking to join the  game..

He did, and  they played on, drinking whisky, dealing the cards...

 the tall dark man was the devil of course

 they are still in there, playing cards, winning the money
 the duke and the devil

 they are walled up in a room  at this part of the castle. you can see the different brick where the door was sealed by the devil himself.....
  and we could still hear them you know...
in there...

 That is the PC version. The real, true version is much more poignant.
More next week.
Now, where are my playing cards, and my sledgehammer...

Caro Ramsay 23 02 2018