Saturday, September 25, 2021

Not What You Expected

Annamaria on Sunday???

Urgent message from Susan: "I hope I am not waking you – I just realized this is my MIE week and I am MIA – I am in Hokkaido on a hiking trip in the inn where I'm staying has no Internet. I have just enough signal to get a text out but I can't get a blog posted.  I'm very sorry!! Will you please light yours up early if it's ready?"

It turns out that they were supposed to have Wi-Fi at the hotel, but as Susan describes it, it stops working if you blow your nose. I have obviously said yes. Susan sent me a couple of pictures show me where she is. I have her permission to share them with you. The first is the mountain she just climbed:


The second is the Onsen of the inn where she is staying ay the base of the mountain, where she will be soaking while I am doing her job for her today.



Here, along with the photo of Susan above, are a few more of Japan that I cherish as souvenirs from my time with her there nearly three years ago.





I usually write my blog on Sunday, but this week I would have been doing it on Saturday anyway. You see on Sunday I am going out to the Chianti, where we will be celebrating the 90th birthday of a very dear friend.  So while Susan is soaking in hot spring water, I will be drinking wine and dining fabulously on delicious, home-made Tuscan food.  If this isn't enough to make you so green with envy, here are the pictures that I had planned for my Monday blog. I had intended to call it 'For You, Kathy. Others May Also View." And to dedicate it to said Kathy, one of our most faithful and articulate MIE subscribers. 

You will notice that there is food among these, but no pastries. A promise is a promise, and I had promised Kathy that I would not tempt her with gorgeous photographs of succulent, creamy, sweet, delicious,  beautiful-to-behold pastries that are so plentiful here that one can barely take thirty-steps along a street without coming across another gorgeously arranged window full of them!  But it isn't only about goodies here.  It's also about this!













Fall in (love with) Florence!

Eureka, I am Inspired!

 


Jeff–Saturday

 

I’ve started writing my next Kaldis book. So far, I have this killer opening:

 

“He regarded himself as a swashbuckling pirate awash in Mediterranean adventures. Part Errol Flynn, part Johnny Depp, and part good old Hyman Diamondides.  Trouble was, Hyman lived in Brooklyn, and the only boat he’d ever been on was the Staten Island Ferry, an experience that still terrorized him.”

 


I’m serious folks. Honest.  I cannot say where that opening will take me, but something about it sparked the magical process that inspires so many artists to create.

 

Those words may never see the final version, but they’ll undoubtedly serve as my guide for negotiating clear-eyed through vast stretches of seductively easy prose, battling bare-knuckled against seemingly insurmountable plot obstacles, accommodating characters with rebellious minds of their own, and resisting the narcissistic draw of on-the-nose preaching.  Yes, in those opening three sentences I place blind faith that the writing gods, in their wisdom and alchemy, will bring me once more to the Promised Land of a finished book. Amen.

 

Having attained that good mood, I shall not risk losing it by commenting on any of the many deservedly comment-inducing matters of the day. Instead, I shall share with you a half-dozen jokes posted in READER’S DIGEST as among “The Most Hilarious Jokes of All Time, According to America’s Beloved Comedy Writers.”  They may not be to everyone’s taste, but what is?

 

Joke #1 [All cartoons by Brandon Specktor] 

 


A turtle is crossing the road when he’s mugged by two snails. When the police show up, they ask him what happened. The shaken turtle replies, “I don’t know. It all happened so fast.

Joke #2


A poodle and a collie are walking together when the poodle suddenly unloads on his friend. “My life is a mess,” he says. “My owner is mean, my girlfriend ran away with a schnauzer, and I’m as jittery as a cat.”

“Why don’t you go see a psychiatrist?” suggests the collie.

“I can’t,” says the poodle. “I’m not allowed on the couch.”

Joke #3


A priest, a minister, and a rabbi want to see who’s best at his job. So they each go into the woods, find a bear, and attempt to convert it. Later they get together. The priest begins: “When I found the bear, I read to him from the Catechism and sprinkled him with holy water. Next week is his First Communion.”

“I found a bear by the stream,” says the minister, “and preached God’s holy word. The bear was so mesmerized that he let me baptize him.”

They both look down at the rabbi, who is lying on a gurney in a body cast. “Looking back,” he says, “maybe I shouldn’t have started with the circumcision.”

Joke #4


A man is walking in a graveyard when he hears the Third Symphony played backward. When it’s over, the Second Symphony starts playing, also backward, and then the First. “What’s going on?” he asks a cemetery worker.

“It’s Beethoven,” says the worker. “He’s decomposing.”

Joke #5


Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He’s not breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls 911.

“I think my friend is dead!” he yells. “What can I do?”

The operator says, “Calm down. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”

There’s a silence, then a shot. Back on the phone, the guy says, “OK, now what?”

Joke #6


A guy spots a sign outside a house that reads “Talking Dog for Sale.” Intrigued, he walks in.

“So what have you done with your life?” he asks the dog.

“I’ve led a very full life,” says the dog. “I lived in the Alps rescuing avalanche victims. Then I served my country in Iraq. And now I spend my days reading to the residents of a retirement home.”

The guy is flabbergasted. He asks the dog’s owner, “Why on earth would you want to get rid of an incredible dog like that?”

The owner says, “Because he’s a liar! He never did any of that!”

That’s all, folks.  For this week.

PS.  Just to remind you last minute shoppers, only five days remain to purchase an e-book version of my tenth Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis novel, THE MYKONOS MOB, across all e-book formats for $1.99 via this link.

--Jeff

Friday, September 24, 2021

Reflections of the picture box

 Somebody once wrote in a song

"I've travelled every country

I've travelled in my mind

It seems we are on a journey,

A trip through space and time."


Ok so it's not Dylan but English wasn't their first language and I've always kind of liked it. Especially at times like this, confined to four walls ( missing Bloody Scotland!!) and yearning for the freedom of lockdown.

It's all a matter of perspective.

I went for a wander through the picture box file on my laptop and came up with this series of photographs. Between selecting them and uploading them to the blog, they appeared in reverse order.

I'm  not going to tell you where it is, I think that will become evident very quickly, and if you don't recognise it, that might be because it wasn't your kind of town.

This was our last stop before we went off to live the high life  and ate a baked potato.

I think at this point we had walked 17 miles around this beautiful city.


The main hall of the Natural History Museum. I like the way Terry Dactile on the left is photobombing.


Many of the stuffed exhibits  had painted backgrounds. I had seen these before of course but there was something about the artist/designer of these that I found intriguing. 

 I think this might be up the road from me.  Obviously simplified so the eye is attracted to the beasties. But how alluring is it?  Right now, I could stick on my walking boots and climb into that picture.

Does Africa look like this?  

The left hand side of the previous picture.  It seems a busy corner, this part of Africa.


This was the walk to the museum.
It was bitter cold,  with a wind that could cut glass.
But look at that sky.

The big city scape.

It looks like Bouchercon time of year.




We spent a long time watching something a bit weird.
The tops of these buildings were blowing hot air (or something) out into the atmosphere that turned into shaped clouds, empheral beings that drifted on the wind to fade and die.

Stunning colours.


"Sweet home, Chicago"

started with a song lyric so I may as well finish with one!

Caro Ramsay



Thursday, September 23, 2021

Ivory

 Stanley - Thursday

Elephants are my favourite animal. I love their sense of family and community, their sensitivity, and their sense of humour. So, the word 'ivory' evokes myriad reactions in me: anger, disappointment, longing, awe.



Anger

Although the threat of extinction of elephants is not as great as of rhinos, as depicted in Michael and my thriller, Shoot the Bastards (Dead of Night outside North America), there is growing concern about the future of these magnificent animals. I have found it difficult to nail down reliable statistics, but it seems as though anywhere between 10,000 and 30,000 elephants are killed each year for their tusks. With a total African population of about 350,000, experts fear the current rate of poaching exceeds reproduction, resulting in population decline and eventually extinction.

[With international bans in place on the sale of ivory and declining source and street values of ivory, it appears that elephant poaching has declined from its peak of about 10% in 2011 to around 4%. A year of COVID lockdown has also helped.]

I am also angry at the corruption that exists in some countries and organisations allowing the whole enterprise to continue.

Disappointment

I am disappointed by two things with respect to the illegal trade in ivory. First is that people feel the need to continue to buy ivory products, thus driving the need for poaching. Second, I am disappointed that there are so many people in poverty that some are easily tempted by traders to kill the elephants. Alleviating the poverty will reduce the incentive to get involved in the illegal trade.

Longing

Whenever I see ivory, I long to be in the bush. I am fortunate to share a bungalow in a private game reserve abutting the great Kruger National Park in South Africa. The is nothing that can compare to sitting in an open game vehicle surrounded by a hundred or more elephants. Scary? Yes, because of their immense size. It does make one's heart rate rise to have 5 tonnes of elephant a metre or two from the car. Exhilarating? Yes, because they are so magnificent. They can be amazingly sensitive - I have seen one gently move a little terrapin out of the way of other elephants coming to drink at a water hole. And they can be dangerous, easily capable of flipping a vehicle over if roused. 

I am longing now because I haven't been in the bush for over a year.

Awe

When I started thinking about today's blog, I wanted to talk about a piece of carved ivory that I have that was probably carved at the end of the nineteenth century. I love it just as much for a beauty of the ivory as the remarkable beauty of the ivory itself. As I thought about it, all these emotions flooded into me. I couldn't isolate the piece from the rest. And, of course, I am fully aware of the irony of owning and loving something made from a substance I want to prevent others from owning. I salve my conscience with the hope that the tusk from which my piece was carved came from an elephant that died of natural causes. 

The piece is a bowl from the Ekiti area (Owo kingdom) of the Yoruba in what is now Nigeria. It lies between the two famous centres of art, Ife and Benin. The bowl probably belonged to a person of high status and was used for keeping personal adornments. The carvings include flute players, a prisoner on a rope, crocodiles, hand-held fans, and probably a portrait of the owner.





My plan is to give it to the Museums Commission of Nigeria when I die. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Feeling Bloody wonderful in Scotland

Welcome back! Five continents of crime writing on show in a hybrid event before a live in-person and online audience: Sergei Lebedev, Claudia Pineiro, Femi Kayode, and David Heska Wanbli Weiden beamed in, and I was onstage solo in the Albert Halls. 

Craig every second Tuesday.

"Kia ora and gidday everyone."

Those five words are how I've opened my fortnightly Murder is Everywhere posts this year, but long before that they were how I'd often open book festival author panels I'd had had the pleasure and privilege of being asked to chair over my years based in the UK. A wee nod to my antipodean heritage, wherever I was onstage in various towns or cities in England, Canada, or Scotland (and even occasionally back in New Zealand, pre-pandemic). 

On Saturday afternoon I got to say those words onstage for the first time in two years, and it felt bloody great. And a little surreal. That was all thanks to the marvellous team behind Bloody Scotland, a festival that is deeply entwined with my British life - I attended for the first time mere days after arriving at Heathrow, and every year since. Even last year I chaired a panel, on my birthday from my living room, as part of the online Bloody Scotland. 

Preparations for the return of real-life Bloody Scotland were a little different; books aplenty and also COVID testing (along with vaccination requirements)

Stealing the words of my six-year-old daughter, I was 'nerva-cited' about hopping on the train to Stirling for this year's Bloody Scotland. It had been exactly two years since my last book festival (I usually attend several each year), and 18 months since my last real-life event of any kind, a book launch in London a few weeks before the first lockdown. 

I was looking forward to seeing everyone who'd be there, and being part of the festival, while being a wee bit hesitant about the few hours cooped up with strangers on the train to get up there, the COVID test I needed to take beforehand (an author or two had to pull out in the lead-up to the festival, having tested positive), and how I'd feel being back somewhere I love so much, but would in curtailed form compared to many great 2014-2019 memories. 

Masks inside, social distancing, limited crowds in big venues, a few key events not happening etc. How would it feel? Oh, and it would also be my first festival appearance since my own first book was published during the pandemic. 

Nerva-cited indeed. 

Within a few minutes of checking into my own hotel, I ran into editor
Ben Willis outside the festival hotel, the start of a weekend full of
wonderful catch-ups with friends old and new. 

Within moments of arriving in Stirling, any nervousness had evaporated. It felt like coming home. I ran into editor extraordinaire Ben Willis outside the festival hotel, The Golden Lion, and while we were catching up, several other people we knew wandered past, including crime writer Sarah Hilary. The two years apart evaporated. It felt good to be back. Later on that evening for the McIlvanney Prize announcement then the Fun Lovin' Crime Writers we were masked and audience numbers limited inside the Albert Halls, but those differences were quickly tuned out and it just felt like another fantastic Bloody Scotland festival. So good to see everyone, to be together again. 

Craig Russell makes history, becoming the first two-time winner of the McIlvanney Prize, for HYDE, his gothic tale inspired by Stevenson's classic. 

The Bloody Scotland organisers had created a really wonderful line-up of events for this year's festival, a mix of in-person onstage sessions, and having authors beaming in from other parts of the world. Bloody Scotland had gone fully hybrid, with digital passes to individual sessions or the entire weekend meaning anyone around the world with an internet connection could access some amazing panels. That's something I think many festivals will (hopefully) do in future, allowing them to be more inclusive for authors and readers/audience alike. 

Of course there's a huge cost to doing this in a high-quality manner, which many who've enjoyed free Zoom panels throughout the pandemic - I've participated in several myself - may not grasp. Bloody Scotland had a highly skilled team of professionals involved, creating videos, mixing sound, and managing the livestreams. Kudos to them all. 

My 'return' to in-real-life chairing was suitably hybrid too, after 18 months of online events and chairing Zoom panels. I was stoked to be asked to chair what was effectively a 'five continents of crime writing' panel, with Russian author Sergei Lebedev (UNTRACEABLE), Argentinean crime queen Claudia Pineiro (ELENA KNOWS), Nigerian author Femi Kayode (LIGHTSEEKERS) and Lakota Sicangu author David Heska Wanbli Weiden (WINTER COUNTS). What a line-up! It was momentarily a little strange being onstage alone (see photo at the top of this post) but boy did it feel fantastic to be back in front of an audience, and feel the enthusiasm from everyone there. 

My book Southern Cross Crime among some very fine company following
the Around the World in 80 Deaths panel at the Albert Halls

Pre-festival, I'd been curious/concerned about how book sales would be affected, with restricted audience numbers and the festival bookseller not having full pop-up bookshops with everyone's books all there at each venue, all the time for regular browsing and buying, like in years past. Instead, a table of the particular panelists books would be there after each event. I was particularly concerned about my own first panel, given none of the authors would be there to sign their books. But I needn't have worried - Sergei, Femi, David, and Claudia were so wonderful and created such a buzz with our conversation, that loads of their books were bought - sold out in a couple of cases! 

I even got to sign a few copies of my own book, SOUTHERN CROSS CRIME, for readers for the first time - some who bought it at the festival, and some who'd brought copies they already had to Stirling for me to sign. Thanks to everyone who stopped me and said nice things. It meant a lot, after a strange old year of everything being online. 

My first-ever reader signing: stopped on the street even before I'd done any panels. Kia ora!

As those of us who've been blessed to attend some great crime writing festivals in the past know, the panels and programmed events can be awesome, but its the things that happen in between that really make festivals special too. The random moments, the meals and conversations and spontaneous hang-outs with various people who are all gathered there together in one place due to a shared love of creativity and storytelling. That's what we haven't had during the pandemic, despite some really terrific online events that are oh-so-valuable too. 

As I was doing my first-ever book signing on the street, a few other authors and booklovers I knew walked past. More catch-ups and great conversation. It turned out Finnish author Antti Tuomainen was going to wander up to Stirling Castle, since it was his first time here (I'd met Antti at several other festivals). I had a couple of hours before my panel, so I offered to show him around historic Stirling - so for the next couple of hours a Finn and a Kiwi explored Scottish history during a crime festival, before heading onstage for our respective panels that afternoon. 

Finnish crime writer Antti Tuomainen enjoying the view over Stirling Castle

That's the thing I've maybe missed the most about crime festivals, the unplanned moments that happen when you're surrounded by interesting, creative people. There's a buzz at a festival that lingers after you leave. I always love interviewing people who are passionate about what they do - whether authors or sportspeople or lawyers or charity workers etc - because I find it inspires me to delve even more into my own passions and the things I care about.

So I've missed that festival buzz the past couple of years, despite some terrific online events. Looking ahead I hope we can have the best of both worlds: real-life moments on the ground along with lots of amazing onstage panels and events that are made even more accessible to many who can't be there, via streaming and digital passes etc.  

I think Bloody Scotland had a pretty great mix this year, and that's down to the organising team and board -  including the likes of Bob McDevitt, Fiona Brownlee, Lin Anderson, Gordon Brown, Abir Mukherjee, Craig Robertson, Alex Gray, and others - plus the tech staff and dozens of wonderful volunteers. 

They made magic. 

Since we couldn't have our usual 'Crime at the Coo' singalong event on Saturday night, the Fun Lovin' Crime Writers graced us with an acoustic set following the quiz in the Albert Halls, with a video screen nod to friend-of-the-festival Mandy Silver, owner of the Curly Coo

For those who missed it over the weekend, you can still nab a digital pass and watch the likes of Stephen King chatting with Linwood Barclay, Karin Slaughter's superb interview with Louise Welsh which closed the festival on Sunday evening, the Red Hot Chilli Writers fun-filled live podcast event, and so much more (including my Around the World in 80 Deaths panel on Saturday afternoon, and our hilarious Sunday morning event with 'masters of monstrous characters' Liz Nugent and Stuart MacBride) until the end of the month. 

It was a wonderful weekend. Kia ora rawa atu (thanks heaps) to everyone involved. Can't wait for 2022. 

What are some of your favourite book event memories? What festivals would you love to attend one day?

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.

Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi
(With your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive, ie everybody has something to offer, and by working together we can all flourish.)

A hangi is a traditional Māori feast where people come together to share food that has been cooked on hot stones underground.