Bloody Scotland… Bloody Brilliant

This year was the year that I attempted four… yes, four, different crime festivals: Dark and Stormy (Brighton, May), CrimeFest (Bristol, June), Theakston’s Crime (Harrogate, July) and the last one for me this year – Bloody Scotland, in Stirling.

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 13.58.54

As with all the others, the whole weekend whizzed by in a blur of book-talk, meeting old friends and making new ones, drinking, exploring the town, and the obligatory hangovers – although for me, this was one of the least liver-damaging festivals I’ve attended (despite the late nights in the bar). I must be getting old…

Here are just a few of the many highlights:

  • Mark Billingham and Stuart MacBride doing a Points of View style, readers letters event. Highlights include: audience participation of Skeleton Bob ‘not suitable for children’ reading by Stuart, Mark’s tales of upsetting various audience members and digging himself into very deep holes, and of course, Stuart’s International Stovie Champion award.
  • Haggis and Tattie Scones for breakfast. As a Scot living in London, I don’t get to stuff myself with my home-foods as often as I would like… so I made up for it there. This was followed up on Saturday morning with a hilarious chat with authors Neil White and US-based Scot, Dirk Robertson, who once received a review headlined ‘I can’t believe this shit got published’ and has been mistaken for his ‘adult entertainment’ namesake on more than one occasion.
  • Interviewing Kati Hiekkapelto who was launching her debut novel The Hummingbird at the weekend. This was my first face-to-face author interview, as I usually do them via email. Luckily I was able to enlist the services of CrimeThrillerGirl as my trusty scribe (I recorded it too. Interview will be live as soon as I’ve been able to bear listening to my own voice).
  • The Scotland vs England football match – which took place on a bowling green in the grounds of an old hospital… I tried to live tweet a commentary, but it was such a fast-paced game that it was a bit of a challenge. Not as challenging as it seemed for the England team though, who lost 13-1 despite the distractions of Arcadia’s Karen Sullivan in a football strip and Dirk Robertson’s impressive barnet.
  • Women in Crime Fiction (Lin Anderson, Catriona MacPherson and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, chaired by Donna Moore). The key message I took from this was a simple one – factual crime is always much, much worse that anything that a crime writer could come up with. It IS brutal, why try to dress it up any other way?
  • Luca Veste, Michael J. Malone and Martyn Waites (chaired by Mark Billingham) – funny, a bit sweary and the revelation that not only does Luca desperately miss Brookside, Mark’s wife has actually lived there. Sort of.
  • Ian Rankin and Kathy Reichs. A fantastic chat between two top authors. Kathy’s life is fascinating and the rapport between the two made for an entertaining hour in the beautiful Albert Halls. I don’t recommend the very steep ‘short cut’ down from the Stirling Highland though, unless you’re wearing Spiderman’s sticky shoes. This was followed by a interesting conversation with CrimeThrillerGirl, Mason Cross and Katy Loftus from Avon… there’s talk of a new genre-crossing crime novel featuring a christian cat detective (on a train). I really hope someone decides to write it.
  • Pitch Perfect. The event where aspiring crime writers are invited to pitch their novel ideas to a panel of editors. I had two friends pitching in this, so I will avoid bias by saying that all seven made a brilliant effort. Interesting to see that all were women (as were the panel) when there is so much talk about the lack of female writers/publishers… The winning pitch featuring a Forensic Geologist was a worthy champion. I’m not too sure about the last one though… which seemed to be an X-Files, Geo-Warrior, Sci-Fi Comedy. But I’m sure there’s a market for that somewhere…

It was great to mingle with the authors, bloggers, publishers, reviewers and event organisers in the bar. Well done to the whole team for a fabulous event. Can’t wait for next year.

Introducing… Kati Hiekkapelto

I’m delighted to share a guest post with you from debut crime novelist Kati Hiekkapelto. Kati’s novel, Hummingbird, has been translated into English by David Hackston and published by the fantastic Arcadia Books. The novel will be launched at Bloody Scotland (19-21st September), where Kati will be appearing with Scots authors Craig Robertson and Malcom MacKay. I will also be meeting her there for an exclusive interview for Shots Magazine. I’m reading Hummingbird at the moment, and I’ll tell you now – it’s an absolute cracker!

Over to Kati to tell you a bit more about herself and her writing – enjoy!

Kati Hiekkapelto (Photos: Aki Roukala)

Screaming seagulls. Thousands of wild geese, ducks and cranes gathering on the fields before flying back south. Silent forests full of berries, mushroom and game. Autumn wind. Green is turning to yellow and red, leaves are falling down, nature is getting ready for the winter.

Sea surrounds my island. Calm and stormy sea, different color and mood every day. Mood of my soul.

I am Kati Hiekkapelto, a writer, punk singer and performance artist. I live on an island called Hailuoto in Bothnic Gulf, Nothern Finland in an almost 170 years old farm house.

My first novel, Hummingbird, will soon be coming out in English. It is a crime fiction novel about a young policewoman, Anna Fekete, who lives somewhere in Northern Finland, in an imaginary seaside town without a name. Anna is an immigrant from former Yugoslavia. She escaped to Finland with her mother and older brother during the Yugoslavian civil war at the age of 10. Ethnically she is Hungarian. There is a relatively large Hungarian minority still living in Serbia and Anna´s hometown is Magyarkanizsa, which is a real place.

Anna starts her job as a crime investigator after being in uniform for years. It is not necessarily easy to be a woman in a male dominated workplace, and being an immigrant woman can be even more difficult. Anna has to face lots of prejudices, especially from her partner Esko, who is a middle aged, alcoholic, typical Finnish redneck man.

A jogger is found shot by a shotgun in a remote jogging path near the sea. Police find a necklace in her pocket. It is an amulet of an ancient Aztek god, The God of Death. When another jogger is found with the same amulet in his pocket, police begin to fear that a serial killer is in their midst.

At the same time a young Kurdish girl calls 911. She says her father wants to kill her, but later she denies everything. Anna remains suspicious about the honour related violence and even when the police have to stop the investigation, she keeps her eyes on the family in her free time. Anna starts to have sleeping problems and burn out symptoms, and difficulties at work and in her private life. Too much smoking and drinking, and not doing her regular sports anymore, doesn’t help.

Hummingbird is the beginning of series about Anna Fekete. The second novel came out in Finland in last February. I hope it will be in English too! It is a story about illegal immigrants, drugs, gangs, impossibilities and possibilities to go back home; how these possibilities are so enormously and unfairly different within different people.

My main interests as a writer are in questions of immigration, minorities, being an alien, losing the mother tongue, racism, and human rights. I have written my Master’s Thesis on racist bullying among young immigrants in Finland, I have worked as special education teacher for immigrant pupils. My personal life is full of foreigners. I have lived in Serbia in Anna Fekete´s Hungarian hometown and I speak fluently Hungarian. So, these themes are familiar to me although, I myself belong to the majority and therefore I´m also part of the oppressive machine. But as an artist I feel that my duty is to give voice for those who don´t have it yet in our society. Perhaps that was one of the reasons I started to write crime fiction. In Scandinavia crime fiction has a long history of being position-taking in social problems. My punker background supports this. I have been some kind of an activist since I was 12 years old. I want to give my readers something more to think about than just who is the murderer.

The main reason for me to write, after all, is the passion. Writing is an inner must that I cannot escape. It is my way of thinking, breathing, surviving, creating, suffering, enjoying, living. Writing is my forest, my sea.

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 11.08.36

Sam Alexander is… Paul Johnston!

After weeks of torture from Arcadia Books and the #WhoIsSamAlexander campaign, the author was finally revealed yesterday on the Bloody Scotland website – cue much ‘ah, I should’ve guessed’ shouts from the crime writing readers and writers who failed to get it right 🙂

Sam Alexander is none other than CWA Dagger Award winner Paul Johnston, author of three bestselling series of crime novels, including Greek detective Mavros.

Bloody Scotland will be hosting Sam Alexander aka Paul Johnston at an exclusive event during Book Week Scotland 2014 in November. You can read the full press release here.

Sam… Paul… (Pam?!) has kindly supplied some further info on some of his cryptic answers from last week’s interview below:

*

Other authors I was pleased to be identified with include: William McIlvanney, Sophie Hannah, Laura Wilson, Laura Lippman, Mo Hayder, Mark Billingham, Martyn Waites, Stav Sherez (the last three kept shtum, but Stav forgot and almost blew it…), John Connolly, Denise Mina, Helen Fielding, Irvine Welsh, Lee Child, Colin Dexter and AL Kennedy. Not so keen on Agatha Christie (didn’t you know? She’s living in a grace and favour apartment in Buckingham Palace). Or Stephanie Meyer, though to be fair I’m hardly her target audience. Arthur Conan Doyle’s my hero and, being a spiritualist/ spirit, he did nudge my elbow a few times, but he was revolted by the sex and violence (this from an author who cut off an engineer’s thumb and sent a snake through a hole into a young lady’s bedroom…)

– It was also pleasing that there was a pretty much equal split between female and male authors. I was paranoid that my female characters weren’t convincing.

– The person who suggested Jeffrey Archer also guessed who I was. Her reward is to be killed in the sequel to Carnal Acts. [*evil laughter* – SJIH]

Although there have been cops in all three of my previous series, Quint Dalrymple, Alex Mavros and Matt Wells are basically private eyes (Wells is a crime novelist, for pity’s sake…). So tackling the police procedural was a big issue. It was why I invented Corham and the new force – so I could set up a world that isn’t quite ours. That didn’t stop a particularly bilious critic attacking me for getting dog licences wrong. I’m sorry, in my fictional world they still exist. (Neat get-out clause, non?)

Cancer – I’ve had surgery and other therapy three times, so Heck’s a wimp.

Rugby – I was a keen player when I was young and have mentioned the sport in other novels.

Albanians – having spent much of my time in Greece, I’ve met plenty of Albanian immigrants and have educated myself about their country. Of course, only very few Albanians are gangsters – just as well, as the Albanian clan-based mob is seen as more vicious than the Italian equivalent. Matt Wells, crime novelist hero of my third series (The Death List etc), wrote a series starring an Albanian detective called Zog Hadzhi. Amazingly, it wasn’t a success.

Scotland – mentioned since I’m from Edinburgh (in England, according to Glaswegians). Some people spotted the Scottish link and went through every Scottish writer they could think of. Except moi. (Apart from a couple of bright sparks, including the doomed individual mentioned above.) Until earlier this year we had a family house in the Scottish borders, so visiting Northumbria was easy.

People trafficking – it’s a major contemporary social problem, but I think I was also drawn to it because I’ve spent so much time abroad. Clue – ‘Do they miss home?’ When you’re away from your place of birth, you automatically start to think about your ties to it.

I do share some qualities with Joni and Heck, though probably more with the latter. I enjoyed writing Joni – apart from the paranoia mentioned above – because I was able to combine my experience of women I’ve known plus use my imagination. Oh, and nick stuff from female cops in other people’s novels. Actually, I didn’t do much of the latter – I wanted to go my own way. And then there’s the wish fulfilment. I wish I’d been as good a rugby player as Heck (I was a fly boy out on the wing, carefully avoiding the hard-man stuff), I wish I’d won an athletics blue (I didn’t have the nerve to go for a trial, even though I’d been a reasonable long jumper and sprinter at school); and I wish I had their integrity. For good reason, readers like cops in leading roles to have a coherent system of ethics. Those of us who only write about them can be much less ‘good’.

More people were involved in the writing process – this refers to the fact that I recently finished a PhD in creative writing at St Andrews University, and Carnal Acts was the novel that I submitted. Well, a third of it – the rest of the thesis consisted of me arguing myself in circles about the main issues in the book; the so-called critical section. So I went into great detail about the issues of pseudonym, plot, character, genre, gender, the body, race and class. Hope that isn’t too obvious in the novel… The book’s dedicated to my professor Gill Plain. She kept me right, especially on issues of gender, the body and race. I learned a huge amount from her and her colleagues and think I’m a much better writer since doing the PhD.

The main structural difference between Carnal Acts and all the other novels I’ve written is the short chapters. That didn’t happen till the second draft. I – and my agent and my prof – felt the story wasn’t moving quickly enough and brief, filmic scenes seemed to do the trick. Let’s hope a producer picks the book up… [I hope so too! – SJIH]

The lawnmower quote – it’s from the old, good Genesis (with Peter Gabriel), a song called ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’ – I mentioned it as a tip of the hat to my pal Mark Billingham, who’s an even bigger fan than I am. The lyrics are barking, which is what we want…

The sequel to Carnal Acts has now been commissioned by Arcadia Books – see what a good publicity campaign can do! It’ll be out next July (if I manage to write it in time…)

Actually, I don’t mind Swedish meatballs. [Glad to hear it – SJIH]

Yes! I’m Paul Johnston. ‘No, I’m Paul Johnston and so’s my wife.’ Actually, I like having two writing personas. Hang on, why stop there? Stand by for persona number 3 – I’ve always wanted to write full blown science fiction. As Margaret Wells (got to let my daughter Maggie have a crack of the pseudonym whip – ow – since my son’s name is Alexander.) Hello? Arcadia Books? Can you hear me?

*

Thank you, Paul – I hope Carnal Acts continues to fly off the shelves 🙂

Find out more about Paul at his website: www.paul-johnston.co.uk. He can also be found on twitter.