The highlight for me was the talk by crime writer Sophie Hannah. Her talk was entitled The Nuts and Bolts of Crime Writing and she did indeed talk about her own writing techniques. She starts with an irresistible plot hook, usually some psychological obsession. There is often a strong component of real life. Her latest book Did you see Melody came about because of an incident when she was given the wrong room in a hotel which was already occupied by someone else.
Details matter, such as choice of names for characters. As the new novel is set in the USA she chose a name which was pronounced differently in the UK. The inspiration for the book came as a result of a case which was reported widely in the USA but not in the UK.
She is a great planner and writes the whole book in note form before she does her first draft. Provided the events she describes can happen at least once she was ready to use that for her plot. She described how when she was searching for an agent and publisher, she received advice about how unlikely her plots were and she was almost ready to give up when her husband suggested she tried a man who would just say yes or no. So she did. He said yes and sold the book before she’d signed anything.
She wasn’t interested in cataloguing urban crime. She didn’t like red herring, but preferred the reader to mislead themselves. There are those Poirot books as well and she told us how she came to be asked to write those by Agatha Christie Ltd. Perhaps that’s another post.
She was an interesting speaker, her talk highlighted by personal reminisces, often very funny.
I am going to digress from the excitement of London and tell you about the sleepy town of Budleigh Salterton. I say sleepy as everything is closed by seven o’clock. However for a few days each year it is alive with talks on literature, biography and memoirs, politics and power. I didn’t go to all the talks but every day I went to something.
Grammar has never been my strong point and I hoped a talk by David Crystal might give me some tips on how to get it right. But, no we were treated to a thesis on the verb ‘to be’ or perhaps ‘not to be.’ Later that day Hilary Mantel ( the festival’s president ) talked about writing history as fiction and the journey she has been on as her novels were transposed to the theatre and television.
The next day I went to a workshop on writing a family memoir. I was hoping to get some help in finding sources for a possible novel about my grandfather. We did get some information about that and I hope I can pursue writing a fictionalised account of my family in due course. Then a look at contemporary fiction Amanda Craig’s The Lie of the Land and Paula Cocozza’s How to be Human. The talk centred around the issue of keeping a novel truly contemporary when it can take a few years to write. In the evening we had the privilege of hearing the lawyer Dr Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, talking about her experiences at the hands of her country’s government.
By Friday morning we had moved from writing about the present to writing about the past as Sarah Perry (The Essex Serpent) and Tim Pears (The Horseman) talked about their novels. They talked about how their stories developed. Sara Perry said for her the facts served the story and she kept her research to a minimum as it was second to the impetus of the story. The sense of place was important to both writers. Perry described her book as a love letter to Essex, the county where she was born. Tim Pears was brought up in Devon and he said he relied on his memory of the place.
Lucy Hughes Hallet who is well known as a biographer talked about her novel Peculiar Ground. The novel was very character driven and she liked to have them slightly on the outside of the events as that gave them perspective. Then we were back to memoir and two different authors writing about their family life and in particular their fathers. The books were Keggie Carew’s Dadland and Miranda Doyle’s A Book of Untruths.
On the political front a talk by Bridget Kendall on the Cold War. Not only did she provide her own perspective on the events of that era but also, as a result of making a programme for Radio 4, from those who experienced it first hand. Finally Alan Johnson talking about his life in politics as an MP and a Minister in the Blair/Brown governments.
Next year the Festival takes place from Wednesday 19th to Sunday 23 September.
We had always wanted to visit Carlyle’s House in Cheyne Row Chelsea and this summer we finally got there. When Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane moved there it was in an undesirable part of Chelsea. They paid the princely sum of £35 per year. The house is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carlyles-house It has been kept much as it was during his time – very Victorian. Virtually anybody of importance in 1830/40 visited him and his wife, including Dickens, Robert Browning and John Ruskin His books are very rarely read today, but he was the founder of the London Library and instrumental in the establishment of the National Portrait Gallery.
Today this is one of the most expensive parts of London but many of the houses are simply investments, not homes and a large number stay dark and uninhabited from one year to the next. When I first moved to London I lived in the next road, Lawrence Street, in a very similar house. I loved this part of London.
One of the pleasures for me of London is the unexpected meeting with someone of interest. We were upstairs in the house when the warden came into the room. She lives in the house and I asked her if she felt haunted by the presence of such an influential man and his equally important wife. She said she did feel their influence. We went on to talk about the area. She remembered the wine merchant’s in Justice Walk and the Cross Keys Public House before it became a gastro pub. The houses were all occupied; a mixture of young and old, city lawyers and bohemian artists. The nearby Kings Road the place to be for fashion. We reminisced for a while, before leaving one of my favourite places.
Last Night I went to see the ROH’s production of Verdi’s Otello. It was a brilliant performance by the chorus and the star Jonas Kauffman.The story is timeless, but I was struck by how it provides insight into a different situation that is affecting our world. Otello is a brilliant soldier and leader of men who is persuaded by Iago to believe his wife is unfaithful. so I found myself asking why did he allowed himself to be misled. We know he is a ‘Moor’ living in a foreign land, married to a ‘white’ princess. He has doubts about his identity and his right to be where he is. Is there not a similarity with those well educated young men who are cajoled into believing in a corrupted form of Islam and are used to attack their fellow citizens? Shakespeare can still teach us lessons.
Perfect Remains by Helen Fields
The book opens with a body being burnt on a remote Highland mountain so that all that remains are the victim’s teeth and a fragment of silk. The body is believed to be that of a successful Edinburgh female lawyer. The murder is the first investigation lead by DI Luc Callanach who has just joined Police Scotland from Interpol. When a second woman is abducted, this time a cleric in the Church of Scotland, the investigation is hampered by a criminal profiler who insists they are searching for a sex offender
The identity of the killer and his motives are known throughout the book. It is the question of whether he can be identified and caught before he kills anyone else that creates the suspense.
The character of Callanach is well developed as we learn about his background, half Scottish, half French and the reason for his leaving France and Interpol. His relationship with his fellow officers is explored with real insight, particularly that with his fellow DI Ava Turner.
It is difficult to say more about the book without giving away the turning points in the story line. I certainly enjoyed reading it.
I have always read a lot of books, even when I was working full time at the Bar, but unless you have time to spend at a library and want to wait for that particular book you want to read to be available they do cost quite a lot of money. Amazon has done a lot to make my addiction to books affordable, but it looks to me as if there is a shift in the cost of reading.
I have been puzzled for some time as to why the Paula Hawkins’s novel was for sale as a hard back at £7.99 when it was first published. I thought about it again when I received and email from Amazon about a book by John Fairfax called Summary Justice. I was interested in reading the novel as it is set in England and within the Criminal Justice System. I looked at the price of the book and to my surprise, the hardback was £11.89, the paperback £8.99 and for Kindle £8.99 as well. That seemed high to me so I decided to do a bit of research using the Amazon charts for best sellers in crime. This is what I found.
War Cry by Wilbur Smith
Hardcover £13.00 Paperback £7.99 Kindle £12.99
The Fix by David Baldacci
Hardcover £11.89 Paperback £6.40 Kindle £9.44
The Black book by James Patterson
Hardcover £13.60 Paperback £7.99 Kindle £9.99
The Girl Before by J P Delaney
Hardcover £4.99 Paperback 7.99 Kindle 6.49
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
Hardcover £10.00 Kindle £9.99
So what is going on? Well, that second Paula Hawkins novel is not available in paperback yet and the price difference between the hardcover and the ebook is 1p. Which is the reader going to buy? Is the publisher trying to push the reader into buying the hardcover because the number of sales to reach the bestseller list is fewer than for a paperback? Why are these popular authors books being priced at either the same or more for the ebook than for the paperback? Are traditional publishers trying to push sales of ebooks down? I assume as there is no printing cost, no paper to buy ebooks should be cheaper. Am I wrong? Or are publishers prepared to take the reading public for a ride and screw them for as much money as possible? Any thoughts?
PS I didn’t have time to look at literary fiction in the same way but Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan shows the same difference in pricing policy.