Friday, July 30, 2021

What Color Are You?




In one way or another, that’s a question being asked all over the world—or if not spoken aloud, is certainly front and center in the minds of those aware of current events.


Are you red, orange, or green? In other words, are you from a region or country where individuals are at a high risk of Covid infection (RED), at a moderately elevated risk (ORANGE), or at a low risk (Green).  The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has its map that’s updated every Wednesday.


In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC) employs five colors to warn of the level of community transmission by county—not country.  High (Red), Substantial (Orange), Moderate (Yellow), Low (Blue), and Insufficient Data (Grey).


On top of that, many states in the US have their own color charts for coding Covid matters within their borders. Confusing?


Covid Color Coding Chaos in US

I don’t know what the talk is in your neighborhoods, but over here, Covid and its variants overwhelmingly dominate virtually every conversation.  “Are we still orange?”  “Is there a chance at being classified yellow?” “What happens if we’re red?”  “What should we do if our home country (or county) is red or headed that way?”


You get the idea.


Europe is beginning to take things seriously. That’s good.


The US…not so good, at least not yet, but much of the rest of the world is in far worse shape; and as long as that is so, we all remain at risk.


Frankly, I’m tired of the conversation…tired of the ridiculous postulations put out there for resisting vaccinations…and fed up with those who say why get a vaccination when you can still contract the disease?  That’s like asking a cop why do you wear a ballistic vest if you can still get shot, or a driver, why do you wear a seat belt if you still can get in an accident? 




Bottom line, I don’t care what color you are, just get vaccinated so that the maps move away from the red, portending futures a hell of a lot ROSIER for all of us.


‘Nuf said, stay safe, and be sensible.




PS. A big shout out to our blogmate Kwei Quartey on winning the Shamus Award for Best First Private Eye novel, “The Missing American.”


Jeff’s upcoming events

Wednesday and Thursday, August 11& 12
Fish & Olive Gallery—Halki, Naxos Island, Greece
European presentation of A Deadly Twist on the island where it is set
Learn more

Thursday, August 26, 5:00-5:50 p.m.
Bouchercon 2021—New Orleans, LA
New Orleans Marriott—La Galeries 2, 2nd Floor
Moderator, Mystery of Crafting Thrillers Set in Foreign Lands

Friday, August 27, 11:00-11:50 a.m.
Bouchercon 2021—New Orleans, LA
New Orleans Marriott—La Galeries , 4-5. 2nd Floor
Panelist, Thrillers in the World of Politics

The power of water

Scotland was in the grip of a heatwave last week. I was either at work or I blinked but I missed it anyway, and with covid and ‘staycations’ Scotland has been very busy with people who have no real idea how to behave themselves, or they just have no respect for the countryside.

Sujata's post on Wednesday reminded us of the alluring and healing power of water. I like it, I like to be beside it when it's quiet, but not when it’s crashing around. Waterfalls that look like Grey Mare’s Tails  ( we have a few) are fine. Niagara, while wonderful,  was a bit busy and rather dangerous. Ditto with big waves. 

I can, at a push swim for two miles. In a swimming pool. I think I’m an OK swimmer ( though compared to Adam Peaty etc I swim more like an aged platypus with an ill fitting prosthesis). I would never attempt the latest craze of ‘wild swimming’.

Everybody seems to be doing it- the sale of wetsuits has rocketed as has hospital admissions for hypothermia. As Billy Connolly correctly said, ‘Just go up a bit and turn right, that’s the Artic Ocean.’

It’s cold. In lochs, even after the hottest summer, the water will wait until September  to heat up. Usually, the top inch is OK, below that, the unacclimatised human body  starts to shut down it’s peripheral circulation. And, the west coast lochs,  are dangerous with  huge underwater  slabs of rock close to shore but step off  that and there’s no bottom for tens of metres.

Last weekend, 6 people drowned in Loch Lomond itself. I think I wrote about it  in Tears Of Angels, that weird current, the blackness of the water,  the way it chills the blood.

My friend, who is a nutter, wants me to go wild water swimming with her. She’s in a  women’s only facebook group, and this is a ‘thing’ to prove  err…. Not sure what to call it now.. that xx chromosomes are just as good as xy. I pointed out two things to her a) xx survives longer in cold water due to more subcutaneous fat and b) she can’t swim.  But that’s not what it’s about, it’s about taking your clothes off round a campfire at midnight,  holding your arms up and walking into the water to ‘dip’.  They need to wear neoprene gloves and socks to prevent circulatory issues. So, once in the water at Duck Bay, a recognised safe area to swim,  they dip under, up to their necks and move around, waving arms back and forth. Am I right in thinking that pike are stealth predators?  With very big teeth? Anyway, all this was sounding a bit Wickerman to me so I’ll still with churning out lengths of the pool  which is like distance running; the mind shuts off from time and stress and leaves space for thinking about killing folk.

You can also buy a tub for home dipping, a large rainwater bucket really but I have puddles in my garden that I could rent out.

 After the heatwave,  within minutes of me finishing work for a two day writing break, the heavens opened. It rained for a day, solidly… like real rain, windscreen wipers on double  and can’t see when  driving type of rain. So once it stopped we headed out hoping to catch the River Orchy in angry mode,  hoping to see high water and flooded bridges. But no, the earth was so dry, every last drop was soaked up.  

The River Orchy

Three wild haggis having a showdown with some sheep.

I love this wee hut. Usually it's miles from any other human but with tents now £36 and the price of Airbnb rocketing,  there were tents within shouting distance, illegally sited and  evidence of camp fires all round. It seems to be a thing now to put up a tent and just walk away and leave it when you head home. The cost of this, like the wild swimming, to wildlife is high.

The famous Bridge Of Orchy. There were twelve tourists ( Italians ) hiding behind the wall for me to take the picture.

The long road to nowhere.

Signs like this are everywhere. Mountain rescue and the fire rescue need access so why would anybody park in front of a gate?

And signs like this as the locals have had enough.

And, inevitably these. 

Caro Ramsay

Thursday, July 29, 2021

A Death in the Family redux

Stanley - Thursday

We have always said that the backstory of the fifth Detective Kubu book, A Death in the Family, is the growing influence of the Chinese in Botswana. (Unfortunately, the track record of the Chinese projects is spotty at best. You can read about them here.)

It took me a long time to realise that there is a second, equally important backstory.

In the book, a Chinese-run mine near the town of Shoshong wants to expand. One of the ramifications of this is that the chief and his counsellors have to consider a request from the mine to relocate some of the locals to another area. In typical African fashion, the chief calls the people in the area to attend a kgotla - a town hall meeting if you like - to discuss the proposal. 

The kgotla quickly deteriorates into chaos as the unemployed youth in the area challenge the chief and his old counsellors, demanding that the mine be allowed to expand because of the jobs that will become available. The elders of the group caution that to do so would destroy the culture of the town - that earlier promises the mine made to provide modern homes for those who had to be moved were never kept  A riot ensues, and people, including the chief, are killed.

This second backstory - the clash of cultures and generations - is not new, of course, and can be seen playing itself out time and time again.

Moving from fiction to fact, I have been reading for some time about an area called Xolobeni on the spectacular Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Nearly twenty years ago, a very large deposit of rare minerals (ilmenite, titanium-iron oxide, rutile, zircon, and leucoxene) was found there. An Australian company, Mineral Sands Resources (MSR), applied to mine an area about 1.5 km wide by 22 km long (about 1 x 16 miles). The rights were granted in 2008, suspended after legal action, and officially revoked in 2011. In 2015, the company applied once again through one of its subsidiaries, Transworld Energy and Resources.

Mineral-rich Wild Coast land

In 2016, MSR told its shareholders that the South African government supported its application. The Department of Mineral Resources disputed this claim, and in 2018, the high court ruled that mining could only take place with the informed consent of the Xolobeni community or if the state expropriated the land.

The Minister of Mineral Resources applied for leave to appeal the ruling but, to date, the state has not pursued the appeal. Since a 2019 meeting in Xolobeni, which ended with teargas and rubber bullets, the minister has not been back to the area.

As with the situation at Shoshong in our book, the possibility of having a mine has split the community.

Residents within the mining area are for the most part small-plot farmers, and there is great concern about water. MSR estimates that it will use 13 to 15 million tons of water every year. Most people rely on streams for their water, and only one in five households rely on a water service. They would be devastated if their water sources dried up.

Small-plot farmer

Streams are often the only source of water.

The locals also believe the land they have is not only their source of food but also a heritage they can pass on to their children. Often the land has been in the family for generations.

Those opposing the mine have been supported by several organisations, which have provided legal and organisational assistance.

In favour of the mine are those desperate for jobs. The unemployment rate in the area is over 50%, with the average wage in the area being about US$100 per month, some of which comes from servicing the tourist industry. So the idea of a mine providing employment is very appealing. However, it is interesting to note that an environmental impact study conducted in 2007 by MSR's parent company noted “The potential direct employment opportunities for the local community are likely to be limited,” because of the lack of required skills.

In the associated environmental management plan, the parent company said: “The community who will be most severely impacted by the proposed development are unlikely to benefit significantly from the permanent employment opportunities associated with the mine.”

Despite the poor prognosis for the community, it is understandable that those without work would want to take a chance that the mine would help them.

The whole process seems to be on hold at the moment, however people opposing the mine are claiming that politicians and businessmen are buying into the project - a situation, they say, bodes no good for the community. 

As was the case in our book, violence has reared its ugly head. For example, Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Radebe, the chairman of the Amadiba Crisis Committee, one of the groups opposing the mining, was assassinated, and others opposing the mine have either died in mysterious circumstances or have been threatened with their lives. There have been startling allegations that the police have purposefully impeded the investigation into Radebe's murder. For more on that, read here.

Sikhosiphi ‘Bazooka’ Radebe

I fear that there will be more violence to come.

I don't know what the solution is, but I would advise the residents of Xolobeni to insist that all promises are kept and completed before the issue is finalised. That is, if they are promised new homes and equivalent land, they need to see those before agreeing to move. Otherwise, like at Shoshong, they may find themselves worse off than than they were before.

You can read more about the situation here.

(Much of the information for this blog came from an article in South Africa's Daily Maverick titled Xolobeni: where the discovery of rare minerals has led to violence and murder by Daniel Steyn and Nombulelo Damba-Hendrik)

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

A Breath of Fresh Air

 Sujata Massey

What is it about wind at the shore? It's the most soothing caress. When you add in the eternal sound of crashing waves, and an endless blue expanse of sea and me, that's a perfect moment.



I drove a few hours with my family to Lewes, Delaware for a whole week in mid-July. We are not "downy ayshun" people, as many Marylanders are. When our children were young, we never had the funds to travel to Maine or the Eastern Shore or the myriad other places Baltimoreans visit to escape humid temperatures over 90 degrees in July and August. We were OK with it. But I always had a dream...what would it be like to spend some days in a beach town?

I came to appreciate Lewes (pronounced Lewis) when I was invited to participate in the History Book Festival held annually by the Lewes Public Library. There was the odd coincidence of my having named a British male character as Simon Lewes in my 2013 historical novel, The Sleeping Dictionary. At that point, I only knew that Lewes is a town in Sussex, the area of Britain where I was born. It struck me as particularly pleasant-looking name, and that's all I can say for my subconscious.

As I said, a couple of visits to Lewes, thanks to the library, made me start to feel a kinship for this charming town. Since its beginnings with a failed Dutch settlement in 1631, Lewes grew into a busy 19th century fishing town. Because of the odor coming from fish canneries, it escaped tourism until the latter half of the twentieth century. This was the canneries closed, and people from neighboring states realized the Lewes cottages were as adorable as those in Annapolis and Georgetown--and a lot less expensive, both for summering and for year-round retirement.

Through VRBO, we found a 19th century cottage painted a happy yellow on a quiet street a couple of miles from the beach.There was a mix of longtime residents and newer people on the street, and there was zero party scene. We couldn't have better weather--hot, but not unbearable. A couple of evening storms along the cape kept the humidity low and temperatures in the 80s. 

My favorite ritual was coffee in the garden, followed by an hour's walk along the Lewes-Georgetown biking and walking trail, which was built on the path of a former railway line. Later in the daytime, I'd go with family and friends for short trips to both Lewes’s small public swimming beach, and the wilder, less crowded beach within Cape Henlopen Park. I had overpacked the fridge with food brought from home and made one visit to the Wednesday morning farmer's market for tomatoes, peaches, and eggs. Never had to set foot in a grocery store. A few friends came to stay for one night, and after they'd gone, one of my sisters arrived from Minnesota to occupy the spare bedroom across the hall.


Perhaps the most magical spot in Lewes is the wildest: its cape. Cape Henlopen State Park encompasses the meeting point of the Delaware Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Formerly military land, this 5,193 acre expanse was turned over to the Delaware park system, who have done a splendid job preserving habitat. An elevated trail that allows visitors to walk or ride over uninterrupted, wild habitat. Gazing down from the elevated trail near Gordon's Pond, I was impressed by a group of large spiders with eye catching gilded backs. I learned they were belong to the species known as Argiope Aurantia, a much lovelier name than what most people call them: Black and Yellow Garden Spiders.

At Cape Henlopen, I saw faraway dolphins jumping out of the waves. Elsewhere in Lewes, black vultures swooped down from the sky to keep watch on garden activities . Cawing seagulls reminded us of the ocean, wherever we went. We looked up at the sky, with hats on our heads, but no masks. 


Many times that week, I thought of my late daughter. I imagined her body surfing in the ocean,  lazing in the hammock, and yelling at me to come look at the dolphins. She was beside me when I lifted from the oven her favorite summer dessert, peach cobbler. I envisioned her and her brother strolling down the boardwalk at nearby Rehoboth Beach, searching for French fries,and throwing the leftovers for the gulls. But I was also in the moment during the majority of the week at Lewes. I loved roaming the town and trails with my sister and having coffee with my husband at six in the morning in the garden. I was delighted by my son’s surprise reunion with his friend who sprang from the sand to give him a hug. Strolling by myself, I spent hours pondering the intricate color combinations on the cottages, and when I was tired, I lounged on the picture-perfect porch of our rental reading escapist novels. 


I didn't look at the news all week. Upon returning to Baltimore, it all came crowing in. I learned the Delta variant of the Covid virus was surging everywhere in the United States--even Maryland, where I live, and we have a 70 percent full vaccination rate. Even a few vaccinated friends had caught the variant. It seemed like the summer idyll was a brief respite that would be replaced with a return to social distancing.


This means, for me, it’s time for a sea change. I decided against attending the BoucherCon mystery convention in New Orleans this August. I started masking again when I visit stores and the gym. 

I'm glad I went to Lewes when I did. And I can console myself that I can still have some of the rituals that became precious there, starting with coffee on the porch at six o'clock, most mornings now through Labor Day.

On Thursday Aug 5, 2021, Sujata and her author friend Susan Elia MacNeal will interview each other about their respective new historical mystery novels, THE BOMBAY PRINCE, and THE HOLLYWOOD SPY. The free live video event sponsored by Madison Street Books in Chicago takes place at 7 p.m. Central Time. Pre-register by visiting the Madison Street Books website .



Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Thankful for murderous minds

Hanging out with a motley and multinational crew at Harrogate in 2019: Nigerian author Leye Adenle, Professor Liam McIlvanney, Kiwi author Vanda Symon, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, myself, and Amer Anwar

Craig every second Tuesday.

Kia ora and gidday everyone.

So over the weekend there was an hesitant-yet-exciting 'return to normalcy' for the crime writing community with one of the world's leading crime fiction gatherings, the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, taking place live and in person, after going fully online in 2020 due to the global pandemic. Many precautions were in place - social distancing, masks and more - despite the Tory government in the UK pronouncing 'Freedom Day' earlier this month (against most scientific advice and common sense) and removing most protective restrictions. 

Unfortunately I was unable to attend Harrogate this year, so watched on with some degree of FOMO as many old friends I haven't seen for a couple of years all gathered together and seemed to have a really wonderful time. It seems that while lots of precautions were taken (people being double vaxxed, distancing and masks, spacious outdoor tents for events, restrictions on entry etc) and the usual, famous Harrogate vibe couldn't crack on in full force, that for everyone who went this was a really amazing event. And a bright light at the end of a long tunnel of cancelled festivals, missed book launches, Zoom-only gatherings with fellow passionate crime writers and readers. 

I'm hesitantly hopeful that in the months to come we'll be able to gather a little more, cautiously of course. While I've thoroughly enjoyed a wonderful array of online events over the past 16 months (eg our recent 'Four Critics Four Continents' review of the year's best books, which is the kind of thing unlikely to happen pre-COVID), I really miss our crime and thriller writing tribe. It's a wonderful community overall, full of creative and generous people. I always come away from events feeling invigorated and inspired. And while I certainly appreciated them 'back then', and knew I was lucky to get to the many things I did (even though I missed a lot as a stay-at-home Dad too), I think all of us may now have an even greater appreciation for the good times we get to spend in person with good people.

What a wonderful honour - this overgrown kid from New Zealand got to chair an amazing panel of New York Times bestsellers and award-winning storytellers at Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, in Toronto in October 2017. Kate White, myself, Kathy Reichs, Linwood Barclay, David Bell, and Michael Bracken

Nothing's guaranteed. None of the things that seem a usual, common part of our life will last forever, and they can be torn away unexpectedly. So in that vein, I thought I'd spend today's post just sharing my deep appreciation for the broad crime writing community and all the wonderful events, from book launches to crime panels at arts and books festivals to library events to a wide array of crime writing festivals and conventions big and small. I

I'm thankful I've got to meet and hang out with so many murderous minds. I've learned so much, had so many great conversations and 'remember for a lifetime' experiences. I'm a lucky guy. Kia ora rawa atu (thanks heaps). 

Here's a wee sprinkling, a photo essay of gratitude. 

Torchlit parade, Bloody Scotland, September 2019

So, let's start at the end, so to speak. I didn't know at the time of course, but Bloody Scotland in late September 2019 wasn't just my final book festival of an extraordinary year that kickstarted back with the first-ever Rotorua Noir in January (and included my first appearance onstage at Harrogate, great times at Newcastle Noir and Crimefest, and my first appearances at Noireland and Bute Noir, as well as getting to interview Val McDermid one-on-one on the big stage before a sold-out crowd at Edinburgh Book Festival) but would be my final festival for a long, long time. 

Here's the torchlit parade on the Friday night from historic Stirling Castle, with a front row including Denise Mina, David Baldacci, Manda Scott and 'Ambrose Parry' (Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman). I'd had the honour of walking alongside Liam McIlvanney, Denise Mina and Val McDermid at the front the year before - this time I'm tucked a row or two back (you can see my head between Denise and David). Fun times at a wonderful festival. 

Meeting the dashing Jeff Siger at Iceland Noir in late 2014

A really cool festival that I got to attend in 2014 is Iceland Noir, a wonderful smaller event that had a terrific vibe and some amazing people. It was the first time I met some of my fellow Murder is Everywhere writers, including Jeff Siger and Annamaria Alfieri. I also tried Hákarl (fermented/rotted shark), explored some of the volcanic landscapes, and had a fun chat with bestselling crime writer Peter James when we unexpectedly ran into each other while soaking in the geothermal wonders of the Blue Lagoon. I was hoping to return to Iceland Noir last year, but of course that didn't happen. One day again, it's a wonderful wee festival. Well worth a look when possible.

Fifteen minutes later, I was onstage, chairing a crime panel... 

While there's always lots to look forward to in a festival programme, things planned well in advance, some of the fun is the spontaneous events that occur, and live long in the memory. I may have taken that slightly too far at the Hamilton Garden Arts Festival back in February 2012, where I'd been asked to chair the crime writing panel (Kiwi crime novelists Paul Cleave, Ben Sanders, and Vanda Symon, true crime writer Scott Bainbridge). Relaxing with some frisbee beforehand, I threw a little hard, and high, for Vanda, who'd be tall if she were a hobbit. Paul's favourite frisbee that'd been thrown in several countries, slowly floating further and further into the lake. Oops. 

A quick dip, drying myself with the festival director's dog-hair-covered towel from the back of their station wagon, and we were away racing for what turned out to be a really fun panel. And a festival none of us would ever forget - I know, the others keep reminding me now and then, years later. Oh well. Fun times with great people. 

Chairing the 'Land Down Under' panel at Newcastle Noir in 2019

Hmm... you may be starting to think all I do at festivals is get up to hijinks. And yes, the frisbee and torchlit parades and thermal pools (not to mention the late-night conversations, midnight swims, backup singing for Fun Lovin' Crime Writers and other such things) are all tonnes of fun. But I do sometimes 'work', though can we really call it work when it's so much fun? I've been blessed to chair crime writing panels at many amazing festivals and crime conventions in a few countries. Here's one with some fellow Kiwis and Aussies at Newcastle Noir in May 2019: Vanda Symon, Nathan Blackwell, Rachel Amphlett, Helen Fitzgetald, and myself. It was raucous, full of laughter, sweary, tonnes of fun, and we gave out antipodean chocolate biscuits to the audience. What more could you want?

First of its kind: Rotorua Noir opened with a pohiri at Te Papaiouru marae in Ohinemutu

Having experienced so many wonderful crime writing festivals in the UK and beyond, I'd been keen for a while to create something like that for my home country, where there were often crime writing panels as part of big literary festivals, but there was nothing like Harrogate, Bloody Scotland, Iceland Noir, Crimefest, Noireland, Bouchercon, Newcastle Noir, Deal Noir,  Left Coast Crime, Malice Domestic and all the other wonderful events specifically celebrating our wonderful crime & thriller genre, and bringing together the 'crime tribe' for a (long) weekend.

Once again, I was lucky, getting to join forces with fellow Kiwi Grant Nicol, who I'd also met at Iceland Noir in 2014 (Grant was living in Reykjavik then), to create Rotorua Noir, New Zealand's first-ever crime & thriller writing festival. We aimed for 'small but awesome', akin to Iceland Noir or Bute Noir etc, and it was brilliant. We sold out months in advance, and despite a few things going wrong on the weekend (authors getting sick and not being able to show up on the day, internet difficulties creating a very stressful afternoon for me ahead of the Saturday Night Quiz, etc), it went better than we ever could have hoped. We combined that wonderful 'crime tribe' vibe with Aotearoa stylings to create something I think everyone who attended will remember for a long time. 

A multi-national crew or mystery lovers: Sibylle (Germany, lives in USA), Craig (Kiwi lives in UK), Jacky (UK), Alan (Australia), Kati (Finland) and Kiwis Vanda Symon and Michael Bennett

It was a real privilege and honour to be able to share something like this with Kiwi authors and readers, and with several visiting guests from overseas (Finland, Iceland, Scotland, England, Switzerland, Australia, the USA etc). 

And for those who've asked off and on since, yes, post-pandemic, Rotorua Noir will be back (I also didn't realise at the time that would be my last visit home for two and a half years and counting. Life turns unexpectedly). 

Realising that my 'photo essay' is becoming more wordy than I intended as I reflect in gratitude, a few quick hits: 

Strangers on a train - bumping into Laura Lippman as we disembarked, after I'd been reading Laura Lippman from London to Harrogate in 2016 with no idea she was a few seats behind me.

As delightful as our first meeting on the train was, this is one of Laura's favourite photos. We decided to use the 'big green chair' when I interviewed Laura, and thereafter it became a thing. I conducted several author interviews there in 2016, 2018, and 2019

After chairing panels on lots of assorted topics (legal thrillers, screen crime, European crime, etc) and author mixtures, and doing some cool one-on-one onstage sessions too, it was a real privilege to get to showcase Aussie & Kiwi crime writers a bit at several UK festivals in 2018 and 2019, including here at Harrogate: me, Vanda Symon, Jane Harper, Christian White, Stella Duffy

In recent years the Fun Lovin' Crime Writers band has become a welcome fixture at UK crime writing festivals, and they've dragged a host of people onstage for backing vocals. At Bloody Scotland in 2018 it was my turn along with Stella Duffy, Simone Buchholz, and Lilja Sigurdardottir, among others. 

A criminally inclined crew at the London premiere of season 1 of Bosch: Ali Karim, Michael Connelly, Ayo Onatade, Mike Stotter, and myself. 

Early days: onstage at the Christchurch Writers Festival in 2012 following a crime debate event then the presentation of the Ngaio Marsh Award to Neil Cross (Graham Beattie, Paul Cleave, myself, Neil, Ben Sanders, Ruth Todd, Michael Robotham, and Vanda Symon) 

Playing with fire: with Val McDermid, Liam McIlvanney, and Denise Mina at Bloody Scotland in 2018

Barely scratches the surface, but I think that'll do. It's strange times we're living through, where so much is unavailable to us, yet at the same time I'm finding myself profoundly grateful for many things, and perhaps even more appreciative for some of  the things - like crime festivals and book events - that I've been blessed to experience and enjoy over my years. An interest turned passion that's opened so many doors and brought me so much. I hope I've given plenty too, and will keep working to do so. 

Thanks for reading. Sorry if it got a little indulgent today. I'm just feeling reflective and oh-so-grateful after all the updates from friends and fellow crime-lovers at Harrogate over the weekend. 

What are some of your favourite memories or stories from crime and mystery events? 

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.

He hono tangata e kore e motu; ka pa he taura waka e motu
(Unlike a canoe rope, a human bond cannot be severed)

Monday, July 26, 2021


Annamaria (She, her, hers) on Monday

 It was a few years ago that I first attended a conference where attendees were asked to identify which gender pronouns they preferred to have applied to themselves.  I had been prepared for the experience because I had been clued in by the incomparable podcast whose praises I regularly sing.  RadioLab had, shortly before, broadcast a series called "Gonads." These fascinating episodes present, in detail, what happened inside our mothers' bodies during and after conception that eventually led to each of us becoming individually and uniquely us.

Aside: "Gonads," as applied to male anatomy, is a word that has taken on comic proportions in English.  But both males and females, for the most part, have gonads.  In women, we call them ovaries.


An early episode of "Gonads"details how most of the time the fetus develops with either two X chromosomes or an X and a Y.  Most of us have learned that women have two Xs and men have an X and a Y.  But healthy human beings sometimes come along with other combinations.  Two Xs and a Y.  Two of each. An X and two Ys.

Some of these combinations give rise to people who don't fit comfortably into some of the constructs of society's forced gender designations.  Somewhere along the path of human evolution, cultural norms evolved that compelled people, not only into two gender categories, but into gender roles.  And worse yet into "acceptable" patterns of sexuality.  Babies'  gender was declared at birth, in some cases arbitrarily, and any deviation on their part from their given designation was labeled as deviant.  And, as we all know, punished unmercifully.  This is true of all gay people, regardless of chromosomes, who came into this world with a sexual preference perfectly natural to them, that society thought it had the right to punish.

Because the English language uses gender-specific pronouns, speakers have made assumptions about the gender of people. Mistaken assumptions have sometimes caused embarrassment and pain.  Hence, the new practice--in the USA and perhaps elsewhere--of asking people what pronouns they prefer to be used in their case.  I was recently at a party, conversing with lesbian couple that I know.  A person, newly introduced to me but unknown to my women friends, took a chair near us, and without preamble demanded to know my opinion of this "they, them, she, her stuff."  I admit that I was hyper-sensitized by the company I was keeping at that moment.  I spoke gently but I said what I really think: that the current practice is a way of righting a past wrong.  That the designations and their appearance in people's signatures gives encouragement to those who, until now, did not feel that society welcomed them as full-fledged members.

In the past few days I have begun to wonder how this process is working itself out in countries where the local language employs gender grammatically.  In Italian, a language I did not acquire until after the age of 40, mixing up the gender of a noun can have effects similar to using the wrong tone for a word in Mandarin.  Una mostra is an exhibition.  Un mostro is a monster.  Added to my difficulty when learning Italian was that that French, which I learned first, uses gender in similar ways.  But the same thing can be masculine in one and feminine in the other.  It's la mer in French, but it's il mare in Italian, where some words that end in O are feminine.  It's la radio, not il radio.  And pronouns that apply to people can change depending, not on the sex of the person, but on the level of familiarity between the speakers.  One uses tu with familiars and small children, and Lei with strangers.  But lei means "she" in the third person.  That polite form of "you" is written with a capital, but you can't see the capital letter in speech.

Then there are languages that follow Latin and also have a neuter grammatical designation.  What happens there?

I wonder: How are speakers of languages other than English trying to be culturally sensitive to people who have been forced into uncomfortable gender roles?