Peshawar, 1920: a taut and compelling mystery set against a backdrop of beauty and violence. MYSTERY IN MALAKAND out now from Attica
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Wednesday, April 24th, 2013
I was using an app on my iPad the other day. An entirely non-literary, practical sort of app, but I mistyped the word ‘colder’ and it decided to autocorrect to ‘Coleridge’.
After I’d stopped laughing (and wondering what ‘Coleridge weather’ might be – raining albatrosses?) – the geeky part of me (well, the literary geeky part – I’m all geek, but the type varies) wondered what a ‘Coleridge’ app might contain*. Perhaps:
- Opium dose tracker – chart your daily dose and associated hallucinations
- Shopping list feature: never forget your honeydew and milk of paradise again (see #1)
- Albatross identification guide
- Optional proximity alerts for boring wedding guests (Ed: I can see this one taking off – still relevant today), frightful fiends and men from Porlock
- A guide to stately pleasure domes
If poetry isn’t your thing, how about the Chekhov app, with a complete map of Moscow and advice on how to get there? Or the Dickens app, which lets you know which workhouses have the best gruel and which superintendents will let you have seconds?
Perhaps the most popular would be the Jane Austen app. A Mr Collins proximity alert might be of limited use (though his kind is not limited to the pages of a book sadly) but I can imagine a lot of popularity for a feature which lets you know when a single man, in possession of a good fortune, is nearby (and when he really is in want of a wife). Reviews warn against the Emma matchmaking feature, however, as users have found a number of bugs; the Miss Bates feature also has a tendency to crash the device by loading excessive text.
Any further suggestions? I’m sure Jasper Fforde’s characters, particularly Jurisfiction agents, would be very grateful for apps like this to guide them round the wilds of the BookWorld. Just don’t ask what’s in the Poe app – a guide to shops selling quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore and pallid busts of Pallas is the only safe feature I can think of.
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* If none of this makes any sense and you think I sound like I’m on opium, go and read some Coleridge. You won’t regret it.
Friday, April 19th, 2013
Death on a Longship author Marsali Taylor has fun in the elegant heart of Scotland’s capital.
I’d organised the two events simply by phoning to ask if I could come and do a reading while I was down in Edinburgh. Both organisers, Jill Marple at Stockbridge Library and Roanna Branigan at Blackwell’s Bookshop, were very positive about hosting an event, and I fixed up an afternoon ‘gig’ at Stockbridge, and the following evening at Blackwell’s, the only night they had free during the time I was down on the mainland.
For Stockbridge, I prepared a talk that began with reading the opening pages (11 minutes) then I planned to talk about how I wanted the book to show what village life is like on a small island – and to do that, I needed a protagonist who would be part of that, yet separated from it, which led me on to how I invented my main character, Cass. I’d tried deliberately to make her unlike me, yet wanted still to have a point of resemblance to let me ‘enter’ her – in this case, our shared love of sailing. I was going to go on to explain how villagers find things out, with a short reading to illustrate this – there’s no need for a police officer when Inga and the other ladies of the playgroup have decided to investigate! I’d then read a short passage involving Cass’s friend Magnie, a real local character with his traditional croft house, and talk about the connection all Shetlanders have with the sea. I’d finish with key strands of modern Shetland: the oil-rich infrastructure, illustrated by Cass’s dad talking about Lerwick’s amenities, and the wind farm debate. I practised it several times, pruning my notes each time until they were one side of A4 I could glance down at, and cutting it to 40 minutes, to leave time for questions.
What to wear…? I went for a favourite black sprigged dress, simply cut, with a swirling skirt. The beige flowers have little red bobbles in them, so I teamed it with a rapsberry shrug from Monsoon, red tights and cowboy boots, modern casual, but with enough of a heel to be ‘dress’. My poor hair has grown in enough to stand out like a halo, with curls – well, a wave. I added my silver Greek necklace and dolphin bracelet that I bought many years ago on Poros – I haggled for it successfully in Greek, though I’m still not sure I didn’t haggle the price up, instead of down!
I’d picked Stockbridge Library because they often hold such events, and are the nearest library to my Edinburgh Mum’s house in the West End. It’s a beautiful little library, at the far end of a tree-shaded walk beside the Water of Leith, and sited on a corner among Edinburgh’s famous Georgian sandstone tenements. Their community room has a lovely arched ceiling like a baby cathedral, and Jill had set out three large tables, with chairs and biscuits laid ready. We set out my books for sale at the back, and chatted until the guests arrived. As each person came in, they got a mug of tea or coffee, and soon all the set-out chairs were filled – over a dozen people.
Jill introduced me, and then I launched in. The guests were a lovely audience – very attentive, and at the end they asked a number of interesting questions, like what Shetlanders felt about the Scottish independence debate, and how they’d reacted to the recent ‘Shetland’ TV detective drama. I was very pleased that all six copies the library had bought were taken out straight away, and two more were bought. I told them all to be sure and post their reactions to the book on my Facebook page – I hope they will.
Stockbridge being such fun relaxed me for Blackwell’s. For people my age, that’s what used to be “James Thin’s”, on South Bridge, in the heart of the ‘Old Town’, among Edinburgh’s towering 13 storey tenements, black with three centuries of soot, and opposite the amazing Scottish Museum, where, aged seven, I marvelled at the enormous whale skeleton hung in the roof. Blackwell’s has continued Thin’s tradition for a wide range of Scottish literature, so it felt a very prestigious ‘gig’. To add to the sense of occasion, Roanna had wanted me to find another Shetland author, and Shetland’s most respected novelist, Robert Alan Jamieson, now Creative Writing Professor at Edinburgh University, had agreed to join me. It was lovely to see Robert Alan again – he’s a fellow west-sider, and we were joint editors on the Briggistane broadsheet some twenty years ago.
The events space at Blackwell’s is upstairs (travel, biography, humanities, religion), with a space for the performer, and a lectern, then chairs across the room. Our books were set out on a table, and wine was served. Roanna had expected around forty, and had to get more chairs out – an encouraging sign. Among the guests were my fellow Teresa Chris Agency author, Aline Templeton, most beautifully turned out – a bunch of Robert Alan’s students – a Dutch lady – several old friends – a Scottish QC, married to one of my school friends, who couldn’t make it – and, from Dundee, my former Scottish Literature tutor and his wife. Dr Robb is now one of the Saltire Prize judges – no pressure there, then! It was lovely to see so many friendly faces.
We were billed as ‘Meet the Vikings’, so my reading focus this time was on the modern signs of Shetland’s Norse heritage: in the boats, the festivals, the place names, the language – all in only 20 minutes! The Shetland dialect is like Scots of four hundred years ago, with a Norse vocabulary. I gave an example of how my character Magnie would have sounded if I’d let him greet Cass in full dialect, then explained how I’d tried to catch the feel of Shetlandic without losing my readers. Language is a key part of Cass’s life: during Death on a Longship, she talks in Norwegian to Anders and Mr Berg, in Shetlandic to Magnie and Inga, and in French to her mother, and I tried to catch a flavour of each of these without resorting to italicized words everywhere.
Robert Alan followed me with poetry in dialect and English. His voice is distinctive, because he uses his native Sandness accent – and in Sandness, in the 1860s, when a directive was sent from a Government Education department that ‘every effort was to be made to eradicate the Norse ooee sound at the end of ‘oo’ words’ (for example, too is said too-ee) then the Sandness folk replied with a polite version of ‘go boil your head!’ and so, alone in Shetland, kept that Nordic vowel sound.
After Robert Alan’s poetry, there were questions – and yes, the TV drama came up again! For the record, we all enjoyed it, though we each have a favourite ‘that wouldn’t happen!’ moment. My favourite criticism (on the social site Shetlink) was ‘Well, I ken for a fact they don’t serve biscuits like yon in the police station!”
My last writing-related excursion in Edinburgh was lunch with several CWA members in the Royal Overseas Club, half-way along Princes Street, with a spectacular view of Edinburgh Castle. It was awesome to meet writers whose work I admire – Alanna Knight, Lin Anderson, Chris Longmuir and Sara Sheridan – and they were very welcoming to the newest member of the crime community. I’m looking forward to the next Scottish Chapter meeting already!
Monday, March 25th, 2013
25 March 2013
Blackwells, South Bridge, Edinburgh is hosting a reading and signing by Shetland authors, Marsali Taylor and Robert Alan Jamieson, on 11th April from 6.30-8.00 p.m.
Death on a Longship
Marsali’s book Death on a Longship, published by Attica Books, is set in Shetland and features a heroine, Cass Lynch, who is a keen sailor, as Marsali is herself, and she’s drawn on her own expert knowledge for her fast-paced book.
Cass has talked her way into a job skippering a Viking longship for a Hollywood film. She’s convinced that this is her big break, even if it does mean returning home to the Shetland Islands she ran away from as a teenager to pursue her dreams of sailing. However, when a dead woman turns up on the boat’s deck, Cass, her past and her family come under suspicion from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Macrae.
Cass has to call on all of her knowledge of Shetland, the wisdom gained from years of sailing, and her glamorous, French opera singer mother to clear herself and her family of suspicion – and to catch the killer before Cass herself becomes the next victim.
Although Marsali grew up near Edinburgh, she has lived on Shetland since she arrived in 1981 as a newly qualified teacher. She still teaches, but only part-time, devoting the rest of her time to writing and exploring the Shetland archipelago in her 8m yacht, to her four cats and two Shetland ponies and to her theatre musician and composer husband.
Marsali qualified as a Scottish Tourist Guides Association tourist-guide in 2005, and is fascinated by the Islands’ history and culture . Her plays in Shetland’s distinctive dialect are published by FairPlay Press, and translated into English by DramaWorks.
Da Happie Laand
Robert Alan Jamieson grew up on the crofting community of Sandness and is both a novelist and poet, with several works of both to his credit. He writes his poetry in the Scots dialect of Shetlandic. Based in Edinburgh he is a Creative Writing tutor at Edinburgh University and is a Creative Writing Fellow at the Universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde. He co-edited the Edinburgh Review from 1993-1998.
Da Happie Laand, published in 2010 by Luath Press, is about a Perth minister who takes in a traumatised stranger calling himself ‘the son and heir to being lost’. When the stranger disappears, the events leading up to and following on from this are revealed. Shifting perspectives from a contemporary mystery to a history of Shetland and emigration it extends the idea of Scottish empire and diaspora imaginatively while addressing notions of being and belonging to 21st century Scotland.
For further information please contact:
01793 784344 /07770 754811
About Attica Books
Attica Books is an e-publisher run by authors and former publishing professionals with over fifty years of combined experience. Attica’s aim is to publish books that entertain, captivate and leave readers wanting more, without charging inflated prices. The publisher specialises in books that are quirky and often written by debut authors. http://www.atticabooks.com
A high-resolution image of Marsali’s book cover is available.
Friday, March 1st, 2013
Last weekend, Death on a Longship author Marsali Taylor did a reading at the RYA Scotland Big Weekend in Largs – and here is the write-up. Take her to sea, Marsali!
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I’ve only ever done readings within Shetland, so it was very exciting to be invited to read at the Royal Yachting Association ‘Big Weekend’ in Largs. I decided to indulge myself (and, I hoped, my listening fellow-sailors) with the opening of Death on a Longship, a talk about some of the more interesting moments in my sailing career, then a reading of one of the sailing bits from the novel, Cass’s voyage back to Shetland from Norway. Then, I thought, since I have the photographs, why not let a picture enhance the thousand words? I opened up powerpoint and set to work. An opening shot of the original of Cass’s longship – a cute toddler (me) in the family rowing boat – a teenager in a sailing dinghy – the place I capsized aforesaid dinghy and couldn’t get back in – out on the voe in my ‘big boat’, Karima – a map of my territory – and then a series of slides of the voyage from Norway to Shetland. Enough, I hoped, to have any sailor reaching for his Shetland Almanac. As a final touch, I made myself a badge with the book cover and time I was on; every little bit of advertisement helps. Attica had organised sending copies to RYA Scotland, and I made a price sign. Largs would surely have a charity shop for me to buy a tablecloth at, and I’d get a float down there.
Deciding what to wear took ages. I’d always promised myself a new dress from Monsoon or East for my first big reading, but I hadn’t reckoned on it being in a sailing venue. None of my sailing mates have ever seen me in a dress, and it would totally destroy my street cred. They’d start asking me to make the tea, instead of sending me out to do dangerous things on the foredeck, with the waves lashing over me, and the boat tilted so far that the sea’s half way up my boots. I compromised on a new pair of Monsoon jeans, stretchy and flattering, and a poppy-patterned East dress (via eBay) for the awards dinner.
The weekend was amazing. I spent Friday afternoon helping to assemble advertising ‘feathers’ and scaffolding for huge banners with pictures of gorgeous Scottish bays. I’d been told that only RYA tomes could be sold at the bookshop, but the Scottish head, James Stuart, waved that aside: ‘There’s a stand for you, give Jake your float.’ It was a tiered glass stand, which took three Death on a Longships on each layer – very eye-catching. In the late afternoon, my friend Jane took me down to the seafront, the kind of Scottish beach promenade I grew up beside, and we went into Nardini’s for a wonderful ice-cream sundae (details for the connoisseur: vanilla and toffee fudge ice-cream, with extra fudge pieces, whipped cream and stand-up wafers). A last bit of stand-constructing, a check that the laptop provided didn’t spit my memory stick back out in disgust, then the evening was spent having a meal with the RYA officials and volunteers and, of course, talking boats. We had to be up early to finish the last stands, then, after a huge breakfast, the weekend was launched.
My morning was spent with the Sailing Development Group reps. The RYA has split Scotland into regions, and now we’re having fun getting together across these. I picked up loads of ideas for encouraging youngsters. In the afternoon I listened to a talk on engines (the bane of my life) and learned to splice. The evening was the awards dinner, very formal, with name cards at the places. I’d been put with members of the Royal Northern Club – Northern as in Newcastle – who came out with openers like, ‘That was the trip where we had three lifeboat call-outs …’
My talk was on Sunday, and I only realised a minor problem when I had a last practice in my room, that morning. Microphone in one hand– book and notes to read from in the other – so how was I going to hold the powerpoint clicker? I went back to the stage I’d helped assemble and asked Nick, who was being ‘techie’ for the weekend. ‘No problem’ he said, brandishing a lapel mike. At 11.45, I held my breath as I slid my memory stick in – but it hadn’t stopped working since I tested it, and the microphone seemed fine too, once I’d found a pocket where I could slide the belt-loop clip.
I was just about set when a young mother asked me if my reading would be suitable for primary age children. The gull-pecked body on the second page was entirely unsuitable, though I suspected they’d love it. I showed her the description, and she sent them off to play on a boat, but stayed herself, along with several RYA officials, a woman married to a Shetlander who’d crewed for me in one regatta, and – he told me later – a man who’d learned to sail at the same club as me. I took a deep breath, gripped my book tighter, clicked to the first slide and began.
And it all went fine! They enjoyed the reading – asked questions I could answer afterwards – and bought copies of the book. A success!
One perk I hadn’t thought of was getting to rub shoulders with the real star of the event, Olympic silver medallist Luke Patience. He wasn’t at all the usual young-sailor gorilla, but small and slight, with a trendy asymmetric haircut, and charismatic blue eyes. I got one of the instructors to take a photo of us together – it might impress even my third year. He was really lovely – and he took away a copy of Death on a Longship. I’m going to be read by (reverently held-breath) Luke Patience …
Fame at last!