Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Coming to America with R J Ellory – Part III “The Long Road Home”

Orion Dinner [Clockwise] with Larry and Lynn Block, Kate Mills, Linwood Barclay and Mrs Barclay, R J Ellory, Ed and Cathy Wright, Harlan Coben and Steve Hamilton.

Continued from - So after surviving a scary moment in downtown Baltimore Roger and I relaxed with some whisky.

One of the key features of the Bouchercon experience is meeting some of the American legends of the genre, such as Larry Block, Laura Lippman and her husband the great David Simon, Dennis Lehane, Thomas H Cook, George Pelecanos, Harlan Coben and I could go on and on. In fact the whole weekend for me was just one long party meeting colleagues friends and making new ones.

The American writers of course were in force, and what a friendly and approachable bunch they are. Many of them attended The Private Eye Writers of America [PWA] annual Shamus Awards Banquet. The prolific writing duo of Bob Randisi and Christine Mathews always throw a superb party, and this year was no exception. The venue was Baltimore’s Westminster Hall – the last resting place of Edgar A Poe. As the sole two Brits, Roger and I were treated like kings. It was also great to finally meet Charles Ardai, writer and publisher of the Hardcase Crime Series. The wonderful thing about these events is the sheer serendipity of things, as Charles and I ended up dining together, which was a delight as both of us have very demanding ‘day-jobs’ as Managing Directors of large business’s, but we both share a passion for crime and thrillers. And as we paid our respects to Edgar A. Poe at his graveside, I realised that it was a moment I will treasure as a crucial memory.

Sunday, Sunday

I have to hand it to Mark Billingham for being an exceptional toastmaster, as he was addressing upwards of 1,000 people at the opening and even more at the Anthony Awards brunch, and at each ceremony, his delivery was superb. Witty, funny and sidesplitting – Our local boy made all the Brits proud, as did the erudite John Harvey and Thalia Proctor fellow International, and Fan guests of honour. I was so pleased that booksellers and publishers Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald of Poisoned Pen Press were honoured with lifetime achievement awards, especially as they truly support British Writers breaking into the tough US market. George Easter winning the Dan Sandstrom award brought a tear to my eye, as well as George’s – as it was a complete surprise and well deserved. OK, so Roger and I didn’t win our awards, but hey, we were just flattered being on the nominations list, besides we just had a ball at Bouchercon, which is not about awards but about friendship.

Leaving Bouchercon is always melancholic, after meeting and making friends and forgetting the world’s economic woes for a few days; but typically for me, it was still a somewhat exciting end, considering the genre I love.

Naturally Roger and I thanked Judy and Ruth [as well as Jon and Jennifer] several times during the weekend for their passion and amazing organisational ability in pulling off an amazing convention.

The last night in Baltimore was made special by a wonderful post-Bouchercon dinner on the waterfront with Rap Sheet editor Jeff and Jodie Peirce, Linda Richards, Peter Rozovsky, Sandra Ruttan and her partner Brian with Roger and I attended.

“Sir do you always travel with 80 crime novels in your luggage?”

Now as happy as I am that airport security is tight to protect travellers from the threats posed by psycho terrorist nutters; one problem is that anyone with brown skin is often given ‘special treatment’ which is always a nuisance for me as I always get picked for that special treatment. This time the problem originated at Baltimore Airport when R J Ellory and I checked in on the Monday after the Bouchercon weekend. I was massively overweight on my luggage and so had to remove a load of the books I purchased during Bouchercon, and put them in a spare holdall to use as carry-on luggage. While I was reorganising my books we were advised by the check-in clerk that as we were changing planes at Charlotte for London, we’d have to collect our luggage at Charlotte and re-check it in after security at that North Carolina airport for our transatlantic flight. This should not have posed any problem as we had a 2 hour stop-over in Charlotte for the connecting flight. However things went really South when we arrived in Charlotte. We went to the luggage carousel and waited. It took a dreadfully long time for the bags to start circling the carousel. But no sign of our bags, and then as we noticed there were only three bags going round and round and all passengers had left the area, we wondered off to the information desk. There, the official checked our boarding passes and tickets and told us that our bags had been checked in through to London. Glancing at his watch, the official frowned and said “you guys better run, you have 35 minutes to make your flight.” And so we did. We raced up the stairs to security for departures, cursing the check-in clerk at Baltimore. I was sweating profusely as my holdall weighed a ton due to all the books.

So after the usual security routine of X-rays, shoes and belts off etc; Roger got through but I was sent into what I thought was another X-Ray machine, but was a bomb-proof glass cubicle. Once inside the door was firmly locked behind me. I had been [thanks to my "popularity" with Airport Security] 'randomly' selected for 'special treatment'. Then three TSA officers arrived and informed me that they wanted to ask me a few questions and then opened up all my luggage. In fact they were really nice guys. I informed them of my predicament as the airport tannoy was barking “Passenger Karim for London, your flight is boarding and your gate is closing in ten minutes”. They told me to relax and said jovially if I could run as fast as I could talk I’d have no problems making my flight.

Then one of them asked "Mr Karim do you always travel with 80 crime novels in your luggage?" at which I pulled out the Bouchercon Brochure and explained that I am an editor, reviewer and collector of crime fiction and thriller novels, at which they asked for recommendations for themselves; so we had a lengthy chat about various books and they noted down the books I reeled off the top of my head - Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Linda Richards’ Death Was The Other Woman, Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44, Nick Stone’s Mr Clarinet, Dennis Lehane’s Shutter Island, Sean Chercover’s Big City, Bad Blood, John Connolly’s The Unquiet, Micheal Crichton’s Prey and many others. The TSA [Transport Security Administration] men scribbled furiously as I reeled off titles of books I loved. They just loved my enthusiasm, but in reality I was in panic as the clock predicted that I’d miss my flight. My anxiety at this point was beyond heightened as the airport tannoy continued “Passenger Karim, please make your way immediately to Departure Gate D11, your flight is ready for departure”.

They only released me when their notebooks were filled with my book recommendations. I quickly packed up my books and luggage and noticed I had mere minutes to make my flight. The security men told me to run fast, and gave me directions to my departure gate. I had to run like an Olympian. The sweat dripped off me like I was under a shower as I took giant strides forward. I really had to sprint as I had 3 minutes to get onto the plane. The tannoy kept yelling "Mr Karim please make your way to Gate D11 immediately your flight is closing..." As I ran like a madman, I was shouting to people to get out of the way as I swung my big holdall of books on my shoulder. The strap cut into me as the bag was so damned heavy. As I ran, I worried that an Asian-looking guy holding a big bag slung over his shoulder running, and yelling to people to move out of the way in a US airport, could look like......hmmmm......not cool. It was lucky I didn't get shot by a trigger happy TSA person. But then again I guess I didn’t look Brazilian.

I only made it to D11 just as the airbridge was about to be closed off.....I thought I'd have a heart attack, as the sweat was pumping off me. Taking my seat, Roger Ellory was concerned at my heavy breathing and sweat pumping off my hair and remarked that my love of books could have proved dangerous. I laughed it off, and told him it all added to the many adventures of my life.

This proved to be a fitting end to one of the greatest crime fiction conventions ever. If you’d like to see more photographs of the event, Roger Ellory’s wife Vicky has kindly placed a huge array of our snaps on his website.

Extracts of this complete report have appeared at The Rap Sheet, Deadly Pleasures Magazine and The CWA Monthly Magazine Red Herrings. As lengthy as this report is, I missed a load of people I chatted to, drank with, laughed with, and generally wiffled around with but hey, Bouchercon is all about having a great time, seeing friends and making new ones.

If you’ve managed to read it all, man you must have now lost the will to live, or perhaps you’re enthused to make it to Bouchercon 40 in Indianapolis this fall – details here.

Lehane on your chest

Is the cold weather getting you down?

Is Global warming not working?

Is the 'credit crunch' disrupting your clothing purchases?

Fear not because Dennis Lehane has the solution as reported by The Boston Globe -

Dennis Lehane has found a novel way to raise funds for a cause he believes in. The best-selling scribe has joined with Protect.org to produce T-shirts featuring fictional names and places from his books. For instance, there's a T advertising Kenzie & Gennaro Investigations from "Gone Baby Gone," Ashecliffe Hospital from "Shutter Island," and Hurley's Drive-In from "Mystic River." Lehane's the latest author to work with Protect.org, a political lobby focused on protecting children from abuse and exploitation. Other authors involved include authors Andrew Vachss, Joe R. Lansdale, and Nick Hornby.

Read More

Monday, January 26, 2009

Coming to America with R J Ellory – Part II “The Mafia, I Shit ‘Em”

This is the second part of Roger and Ali’s excellent adventures in Baltimore and Part one can be accessed here

The Convention hotel was The Baltimore Sheraton, but we stayed at the overflow hotel which was the historic Radisson Lord Baltimore which was connected by a footbridge. This was a great move as it was within walking distance to the epicentre of activity, but also quiet enough to retreat when one needed time to come up for air.

The panels were all themed to music tracks, with me moderating a session on Alcohol and Crime Writing entitled “I can’t stand-up for falling down”; which was a lot of fun tackling a serious topic with Ken Bruen, Jason Starr, Elizabeth Zelvin, Michelle Gagnon and Con Lehane. It was helped by me drinking heavily during the discourse much to the amusement and alarm of my panelists. I was also on a book reviewing panel with Lee Child and others and again, one of the features of Bouchercon is that the panels fill to standing room only. There were so many that it would be unfair to name them all, except perhaps the funniest “Would I Lie To You” Featuring Mark Billingham, Laura Lippman, John Connolly, Chris Mooney and Karin Slaughter. The highlight was discovering that John Connolly has an erotic soft spot for the actor Daniel Day-Lewis.

There was a decidedly anglophilic feeling during the event as we had many Brits making the trek across the Atlantic; many for the their first Bouchercon such as Martyn Waites, Jason Goodwin, Tom Cain, Adrian Magson, Stuart MacBride, Sophie Hannah and Roger Ellory. While experienced hands such as Lee Child, Ann Cleeves, Martin Edwards, Val McDermid, Stephen Booth, Peter Robinson, Lauren Henderson, Mo Hayder, Peter James, Zoe Sharp and Natasha Cooper mingled with fans, editors and fellow writers. The Irish also came in force with Russel Mclean, Ken Bruen, John Connolly, Declan Burke and Declan Hughes all adding their Celtic touch to their US readers. The international flavour was added with Icelandic CWA Gold Dagger winner Arnaldur Indridason. Meeting him at a drinks reception was a real pleasure, as ‘Jar City’ [UK Title ‘Tainted Blood’] has to be one of the greatest European Police Procedurals I have ever read. To celebrate his appearance not only did St Martins Press organise a cocktail party in his honour, but also arranged a screening of ‘Jar City’ – a wonderful adaptation. Yes, there was a screening room and films all weekend on top of panels, drinking and parties. Talking of parties, the event was awash with them. Particularly pleasant were the St. Martin’s cocktail party, Meet the Brits, and Lee Child’s annual Jack Reacher bash in an Irish bar called ‘Lucy’s’. This was a real buzzing event, but in a rather ropey area of town, that caused an issue when Roger and I made our way back to the hotel through ‘The Hood’.

It was a rather frightening experience, but thanks to reading so many thrillers, and both knowing lines from the classic London gangster movie - “The Long Good Friday” - Roger and I put on our grimmest Jack Reacher whiplash smiles and spoke loudly in tough faux London Gangster accents. That was enough for the hooded Baltimore men to part the pavement and cross the road to allow us through.

Without sounding jingoistic, as tough as American gangsters are; there’s nothing scarier than a British Baddie to really put the fear of God into an American Baddie. Reading a lot of thrillers and crime fiction can have its upsides. However I must warn you, that snarling in a loud cockney accent on the streets of Baltimore is not really recommended unless you are prepared to imitate lines from the classic London gangster movie ‘The Long Good Friday’. So I whispered the plan to Roger, and then nudged him as the thugs approached, to get him into character and into cockney -

Ali - "Notice anything unsual? Different Nobbers, or the usual Wifflers?"

Roger - “It was a good night. Nothing unusual”

Ali - "Nothing unusual, he says! Eric's been blown to smithereens, Colin's been carved up, and I've got a bomb in my bloody casino, and you say nothing unusual?”

Roger - “When was this, then?”

Ali – “When was this then? When was this then? Is that all you can say you fucking Nobber! I'm glad I found out in time just what a partnership with a wanker like you would've been. A sleeping partner's one thing, but you're in a fucking coma! No wonder you got an energy crisis your side of the water -
The Mafia, I shit ‘em! the world's full of Wifflers!"

The Baltimore hoods just moved away crossing the street, while Roger did his best to keep a straight face as I trembled with fear [but the hoods assumed it was with anger]. It was lucky that Mike Stotter wasn’t with us, as he’d have started singing which wouldn’t have worked as an angry Asian version of Bob Hoskins is far more threatening and sinister, than a cockney chimney sweep from Boston.

When we got back to the hotel intact but shaking, Roger and I drank hits of Scotch on the rocks to reduce the leg trembles.

We had been warned by Laura Lippman in her welcoming address about how tough and dangerous Baltimore is at the edges. Lippman had advised us that although her hometown Baltimore is a lovely place, it does have 3 to 6 murders a week, and there are certain districts we had to avoid.

To be continued

The Bodies on the Webchat

As many know, I rate Jeff Deaver’s ‘Garden of Beasts’ as one of the greatest golden age thrillers of all time. But Deaver’s work is also high-tech. For those who have not read his excellent techno-thriller ‘The Blue Nowhere’ [2001], you've missed a truly scary novel. In keeping with the techno-theme it was with pleasure that I received an email from Eleni Fostiropoulos [Publicity Manager at Hodder & Stoughton UK] alerting me to a Waterstones webchat that Deaver is conducting tomorrow –

On Tuesday 27th January between 12 noon and 5pm, Waterstones will be hosting a live web chat with bestselling American crime writer, Jeffery Deaver from his US home, giving readers the chance to discover more about his work. Find out more...

Any queries to content@waterstones.com

Put your questions to Jeffery now!

And look out for Jeff Deaver’s latest – ‘The Bodies Left Behind’ which has a frightening scenario -

A spring night in a small town in Wisconsin...A call to police emergency from a distant lake house is cut short...A phone glitch or an aborted report of a crime? Off-duty deputy Brynn leaves her family's dinner table and drives up to deserted Lake Mondac to find out. She stumbles onto the scene of a heinous murder...Before she can call for backup, though, she finds herself the next potential victim. Deprived of her phone, weapon and car, Brynn and an unlikely ally -- a survivor of the carnage -- can survive only by fleeing into the dense, deserted woods, on a desperate trek to safety and ultimately to the choice to fight back. The professional criminals, also strangers to this hostile setting, must forge a tense alliance too, in order to find and kill the two witnesses to the crime...

Jeff talks about writing his latest thriller -

For more information about Jeff Deaver –

Click Here for a Shots Interview

Click Here for Jeff Deaver’s website

Click Here and Here to read about Jeff’s previous visits to The Harrogate crime festival

For Deaver fans, Eleni advises me that Jeff Deaver will be coming over to the UK in July for his new Kathryn Dance novel, Roadside Crosses.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Coming to America with R J Ellory – Part I “The Overlook Connection”

Last week, I had dinner with Roger Jon Ellory and his delightful wife Vicky. I brought wine to celebrate Roger finally seeing is work in print in the US. I was impressed to discover that his US publisher is in the legendary Peter Mayer of Overlook [US] and Duckworth [UK]. It appears that Overlook is publishing ‘A Quiet Belief in Angels’ [Roger’s breakout novel, and a 2007 Richard and Judy selection] in the Fall of 2009. A second book [yet to be named] will be released in 2010. Roger recently had lunch with Peter Mayer and was very impressed by him, and was delighted to be joining the US publishing house ‘Overlook’. Over lunch he remarked that ‘Overlook’ reminded him of the ‘Overlook Hotel’ in Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’, at which Peter told Roger of his own long term friendship with the wordsmith from Maine. I think that the relationship between Peter Mayer and Roger Ellory will be a big win / win for publisher and author, knowing them both as well as I do.

So as we tucked into Roger’s beef stew. I informed Roger that it was coincidentally thanks to Peter Mayer that I managed to get an exclusive interview with the reclusive and publicity-shy Robert Littell, one of Duckworth’s and Overlook’s most commercial writers. I knew it was Mayer who basically came up with the idea for Littell’s novel “The Company” – a fictionalised re-telling of the history of the CIA. Robert Littell told me at the time that it was Peter Mayer, his friend, publisher and editor who was behind [the curtain of] ‘The Company’ –

The truth is that the editor is always critical, because to launch yourself [into writing] a book that could take two to four years, you really have to be ardent about the project. You can't just write on a whim ... So Peter [Mayer] suggested that everything I had ever written was leading up to a big project, a saga that would take in the first 50 years of the CIA, right up to the end of the Cold War. He says my eyes widened with interest, and I thought, How could it be that it had never been done? Well, apart from Norman Mailer's Harlot's Ghost (1991). From the time I left lunch with Peter and had returned to my friend's house, I had pretty much figured out the book. I told my friend, the movie director Michael Ritchie, who is now sadly dead, about the project and how I could do it. Michael said, "You write it and I'll produce it." Pretty much after that, Peter Mayer was going to the Frankfurt Bookfair to sell the foreign rights so I could have enough money to write it for four years, because I had to eat. On the plane back to France, I wrote an outline for The Company -- I had never written such a detailed outline before, and I attached a letter: "Dear Peter -- Please find an outline of what the book could look like." The outline had notes, a précis, actual scenes -- I'd say 90 percent of the book was there in that outline. I thought it was a thrilling idea. Then Peter phoned me up from Frankfurt and said, "Well, we've sold it in Italy, in Germany, in Holland, England." And my response was "Oh Jesus ... I really have to do it now" ... And I spent a year doing nothing but reading and note-taking, and then I spent the next three years writing The Company. When Peter sent me the first proof copy of the book, I read the opening and thought, Where the hell did I get the nerve to launch myself into a project so daunting? Because when I started it, I just could not see the end.

Read the full feature here

Robert Littell’s “The Company” was adapted into a TV Miniseries in 2007. The surreal angle was that Roger’s own work [especially his latest] “A Simple Act of Violence” has a CIA theme striated across the hunt for a vicious serial killer –

Washington, embroiled in the mid-term elections, did not want to hear about serial killings. But when the newspapers reported a fourth murder, when they gave the killer a name and details of his horrendous crimes, there were few people that could ignore it. Detective Robert Miller is assigned to the case. He and his partner begin the task of correlating and cross-referencing the details of each crime scene. Rapidly things begin to complicate. The victims do not officially exist. Their personal details do not register on any known systems. The harder Miller works, the less it makes sense. And as Miller unearths ever more disturbing facts, he starts to face truths so far-removed from his own reality that he begins to fear for his life. This is a novel about trust, loyalty, and beliefs that are so ingrained which, when challenged, they leave people with nothing. Vast in scope, A SIMPLE ACT OF VIOLENCE is an expose of the brutality of covert operations, the power of greed and the insidious nature of corruption. It is also a story of love and trust that somehow managed to survive the very worst that the world could throw at it.

We toasted Roger’s success, and I thanked him for having my name in the acknowledgments page. I like Roger. His modesty and humility has not changed one iota despite his huge success. He always considers himself fortunate and places his success down to hard work and luck, however I have argued with him on several occasions, that his success is more down to his writing ability than luck; as well as his work ethic. If you care to glance at his blog – you can see for yourself that he lives to write, and he writes to live.

We plotted to return together to Bouchercon 40 in Indianapolis later this year as we had such a great time last year. We are the odd couple, as Roger is slightly reserved [despite doing a plethora of library events], while I’m more outgoing, but we both share the same world-view of reality, and our sense of humour about the absurdities of life are identical. In fact Roger said he plans to go to Bouchercon for the next 25 years and insists that I should be his travelling companion. Let’s hope we both live that long.

When we were finishing our coffee, Roger indicated that he is over in Washington D.C. next week with a BBC Film crew recording a TV special about the city of Washington following the win by Barack Obama. He again was very modest about this, almost embarrassed by this development. It seems that the BBC picked Roger for the TV special due to his setting “A Simple Act of Violence” in the US Capitol. I am so glad Roger has finally really broken through, but he is as modest as ever about fulfilling his dream, writing full time and being published in America.

So with stomachs filled with the Ellory stew, we laughed about our adventures last year at Bouchercon Baltimore, both thanking Roger’s wife Vicky for putting the photos of our adventures online. Click here to see them all. When the economic situation gets me down and depressed, I like to re-live the trip to perk me up.

The seeds for our Baltimore adventure started when Roger and I had met at the Heffer Bookstore’s annual ‘Bodies in the Bookstore’ earlier in the year, [the “Bodies” event was incidentally where I first met Roger] – we had agreed to attend Bouchercon Baltimore together – splitting the cost. This was a great idea, but seemed less so when I collected Roger from his house at 2am on the Wednesday before Bouchercon [to drive down to Gatwick airport for our transatlantic flight].

Despite the early start, it was delightful to have Roger as a travel companion especially considering the modern hassles of air travel these days. It was also rather weird reading his latest novel ‘A Simple Act of Violence’ on the plane while he snored away. Despite the various nominations [CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger] he has received over the years for his scribbling. He has yet to win an award from the CWA, but we were hopeful this year as he was nominated for a Barry Award for ‘A Quiet Belief in Angels’; and I was up for an Anthony Award – for my Special Services to the Crime and Thriller Genre. We both felt that neither of us had a chance of winning anything, but it was a good excuse to raise some glasses, which we did on the flight from London. We had a change of plane in Charlotte, which was an excuse for a few beers with our hamburgers in the airport lounge to relax after all the wiffling and nobbing associated with long-haul travel.

The surreal feature of this life is seeing colleagues in weird places. Roger and I had smiles on our faces when we landed in Baltimore as we spotted Stuart MacBride looking somewhat lost at the baggage carousel. Being an old hand at US travel and conventions and conferences, I asked Stuart to join us in our taxi to the hotel, congratulating him on his win at the ITV-3 Awards in London merely a few days before [where the three of us had met over a few drinks last].

It would be impractical to give a blow-by-blow account of the whole event, as I probably only sampled 10% of what was on offer, as the panel tracks were diverse with four panels on at any one time, as well as karaoke crime bar. From a practical perspective the organisation by Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik, and their horde of helpers [many surnamed ‘Jordan’] was excellent. The whole weekend ran like a well lubricated machine. The crime and thriller fiction world thanks in large part to the Internet, has become a global community of fans, and in Baltimore, the Uber fans as I like to refer to them were out in force. We had Jiro Kimura from Gumshoe Japan, Maggie Griffin, Jeff and Beth of Cincinnati Media, Janet Rudolf of Mystery Readers International, The Deadly Pleasures crew led by George Easter and Larry Gandle, Sarah Weinman, Dana Kaye, The Jordan clan from Crimespree, Jim Huang of the Drood Review, Peter Rozovsky, The Mystery News and Mystery Scene gang, Jeff Pierce from The Rap Sheet, Linda Richards from January Magazine, The Strand Magazine team, David Montgomery of Mystery Ink, Gangs from Dorothy L and Rec.Arts.Mystery [RAM], Maddy Hertbruggan and her cabal from 4-MA, Gerald So of Thrilling Detective, Sandra Ruttan and Brian of Spinetingler, Russel Mclean of Crimescene Scotland, Ayo Onatade from Mystery Women, as well as myself with many hats including my bullet-ridden Shots, Rap Sheet, Deadly Pleasures, Crimespree, Books and Bytes, Mystery Readers International and Red Herrings Hat[s]. I should also add that there were more bloggers than you can toss a mouse at and far too many to name here.

I was pleased to see despite the austerity measures facing the world, forward thinking British Publishers joined the Baltimore melee. I spotted Selina Walker from Transworld, David Shelly from Little Brown and Kate Mills from Orion Publishing. Coupled with more awards to celebrate the genre than any other event, such as The Barry, The Macavity, The Shamus, The Crimespree and of course The Anthony Awards that closed the event on a delightful Sunday Brunch. And let’s not forget the book sellers and dealers who cost me a fortune as the book room was as vast as one could have hoped for. But with the global recession heading to toward publishing, I did my bit to spend as much as I dared on books. As there is no competition among friends, we also had The Left Coast Crime gang extolling the virtues of attending their Hawaii event next year, as well as Myles Alfrey and Liz Hatherall touting the gathering with the delights of Bristol for next year’s Crimefest. I even got in on the act sporting my Harrogate tee-shirt with pride. Both Harrogate and Crimefest 2009 events in the UK look well worth attending.

To be Continued

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Best of Science Fiction

The Guardian / Observer continue their listing of the 1,000 novels you must read; so we’ve had the Crime Fiction list and now we have Science Fiction and Fantasy –

As a Philip K. Dick reader, I was pleased to see Dick represented though I was perturbed not to see ‘The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

[Graphic (c) Steve Young] This is one of my favourite pieces of art related to Philip K Dick and used for the Orion cover for The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch and entitled "Perky Pat Paraphernalia" by Steve Young

In Philip K. Dick's "The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch" the Mars colonists take a drug called Chew-Z to alleviate their suffering. To enhance the experience they use "Perky Pat" mins, small replicas of the world they have left behind.

Instead we have from Dick’s work –

Philip K Dick: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968)
Dick's novel became the basis for the film Blade Runner, which prompted a resurgence of interest in the man and his works, but similarities film and novel are slight. Here California is under-populated and most animals are extinct; citizens keep electric pets instead. In order to afford a real sheep and so affirm his empathy as a human being, Deckard hunts rogue androids, who lack empathy. As ever with Dick, pathos abounds and with it the inquiry into what is human and what is fake.

Philip K Dick: The Man in the High Castle (1962)
Much imitated "alternative universe" novel by the wayward genius of the genre. The Axis has won the second world war. Imperial Japan occupies the west coast of America; more tyrannically, Nazi Germany (under Martin Bormann, Hitler having died of syphilis) takes over the east coast. The Californian lifestyle adapts well to its oriental master. Germany, although on the brink of space travel and the possessor of vast tracts of Russia, is teetering on collapse. The novel is multi-plotted, its random progression determined, Dick tells us, by consultation with the Chinese I Ching.

Also there seems to some horror writers represented including one of my favourite dystopian novels –

Richard Matheson: I Am Legend (1954)
Robert Neville is the last man standing, the lone survivor in a world overrun by night-crawling vampires. But if history is written by the winners, what does that make Neville: the hero or the monster? Matheson's pacey fantasy charts its protagonist's solitary war against Earth's new inhabitants and his yearning, ongoing search for a fellow survivor. The ending upends the genre's moral assumptions, forcing us to review the tale through different eyes. Clearly this was too much for the recent Will Smith movie adaptation, which ran scared of the very element that makes the book unique

Also inclusion of Micheal Marshall Smith’s debut novel ‘Only Forward’ is a good choice indeed -

Michael Marshall Smith: Only Forward (1994)
Before his current incarnation as a thriller writer specialising in conspiracy theories and psychopathic gore, Marshall Smith wrote forward-thinking sci-fi which combined high-octane angst with humour both noir and surreal. His debut features a bizarre compartmentalised city with different postcodes for the insane, the overachievers, the debauched or simply those with unusual taste in interior design; as well as adventures in the realm of dreams, a deep love of cats and a killer twist.

Read the full listing from Today’s Guardian here -

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Sunday, January 18, 2009

1,000 Must Read Crime Novels from The Observer

The Observer is Britain’s Sunday edition of The Guardian which I read regularly, so I was delighted to find a wonderful supplement devoted to Crime Fiction, listing 1000 crime fiction novels that their editorial staff denote as ‘Must Reads’. The supplement with other crime fiction related materials is available online here

Photo Left Roger J Ellory [who made the Observer list] checking out Ali Karim's book purchases at Bouchercon Baltimore (c) 2008 A Karim

The supplement has a fine if somewhat esoteric introduction

"When I heard 'Humpty Dumpty Sat on the Wall' at an early age," PD James once said, "I thought 'did he fall or was he pushed?'" The classic mystery story is about a crime already committed, a past event the investigation has to reconstruct. A thriller involves a future threat to Humpty — an enemy's plan must be stopped. A thriller's thrills are frequent, whereas a crime writer can get away with one corpse. It's obvious which genres the Agatha Christie whodunnit and the 007 spy novel belong to, but between them are sub-genres — courtroom duel, psychological thriller, suspense novel, crime caper, criminal-centred fiction — not so easily classified. Part two of this seven-part series tries to reflect as much of the crime spectrum as possible, as well as the regularity with which literary novelists have made evildoers their theme. The difference? The latter break genre rules, typically eliminating the hero who solves or prevents crime. And they usually write more stylishly; but the recent rise of the literary crime fiction epitomised by PD James has made that distinction less clear.

This supplement is a wonderful cornucopia of essays and insight. It begins with crime-writer Nicolas Blincoe’s assessment of Agatha Christie – of which he picks his best

And Then There Were None (1939)
The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)
The Murder at the Vicarage (1930)
The Secret Adversary (1922)

The woman who would, one day, be known to practically no one as Lady Mallowan was born 10 years before the beginning of the 20th century, the unexpected and final child of F Alvah Miller, a wealthy American financier. Guess who? This is not the most obvious introduction to Agatha Christie, though it is true that her second husband, archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, was knighted in 1968, three years before Christie received her DBE. Christie's style, of course, managed to be both misleading and illuminating. The more pertinent of the facts above are that she was a young writer when the century itself was young, and that her bright and breezy style is at least half-American. Christie fills her novels with archetypal English ornaments and trappings, skilfully disguising her debt to popular American writing - a trick perfected by her near-contemporary PG Wodehouse. Christie and Wodehouse were both first published in America, though Christie was sufficiently out of touch with American politics to believe that Ten Little Niggers was a suitable title for a novel. The Saturday Evening Post changed the name to And Then There Were None on pre-publication serialisation in 1939. Read More

The Guardian’s Thriller Critic, Matthew Lewin looks at the Hard-Boiled settling on the two James’ – Lee Burke and Ellroy –

James Lee Burke: The Neon Rain (1987)
James Lee Burke: The Tin Roof Blowdown (2007)
James Ellroy: LA Confidential (1990)
James Ellroy: The Big Nowhere (1988)

The novels of James Lee Burke and James Ellroy are about as far as you can get from English country house murders and studious police inspectors. But they are removed too from the earlier tradition of hardboiled writers such as Mickey Spillane and Dashiell Hammett. There is a fury and desperation in this new writing that touches on the violence and depravity of our time as well as the grace and beauty of the best in human nature and the physical world.

James Lee Burke emerged from a long barren period (one novel was rejected 111 times) when he wrote The Neon Rain, the first of the enormously successful series featuring Cajun detective Dave Robicheaux and the Louisiana landscape. His style is intensely lyrical, even elegiac, and he has a unique ability to let his readers feel, vicariously, the sights and sounds and smells and gathering storm clouds of his beloved New Iberia parish. Robicheaux is complicated and troubled, often unsteady in a world of shifting morality, and he shares with his creator a history of alcoholism.

James Ellroy's career as the "demon dog of US crime writers" was kickstarted by the unsolved murder of his own mother in 1958, an event that has underpinned his life and his writing. He has suffered clinical depression, alcoholism, homelessness and had more than a passing acquaintance with crime before he found, in writing, a rather more productive way of venting his anger and relentless pessimism. His writing style is often fragmented and staccato with an almost telegraphic simplicity, but the plots are complex and almost all deal with the uncomfortable closeness of crime and policemen.

Read More

Spy writer and Journalist Henry Porter looks at Le Carre and Eric Ambler

On the cover of my old paperback of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is a quotation from JB Priestley's review: "Superbly constructed with an atmosphere of chilly hell." Both are true of one of the greatest spy novels ever written and the book with which the little-known young Le Carré, who had himself served in MI5 and was working for MI6 at the time of publication, superseded Eric Ambler, the author who had revolutionised spy fiction in the late 30s.

Read More

Andrew Lycett, looks at Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle – which is apt as he has an eye for writers and creations who have reached societies zeitgeist.

A Study in Scarlet (1887)
The Sign of Four (1890)
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902)

Arthur Conan Doyle alighted on the modern detective novel in haphazard fashion. As a young doctor, he juggled medicine and literature. When not attending patients, he turned out stories, often with a fashionable supernatural theme, for magazines such as the Cornhill.

After marrying in 1886, he felt he needed his name on the back of a volume. So, studying the market, he opted for crime
fiction - combining the sensationalism of Wilkie Collins with the sort of solo detective who had been attempted by Edgar Allan Poe (Dupin) and Émile Gaboriau (Lecoq). As Kate Summerscale showed in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, the spectre of crime was looming. Conan Doyle added his own ingredient: a consulting detective who used empirical reasoning to solve crimes. A mixture of questing individualism and science: what could be more late Victorian?

His first effort, A Study in Scarlet, combined two yarns - a murder in London and a romance in Mormon Utah - in a thinnish revenge plot. Its USP was characterisation: the brilliant, laconic detective Sherlock Holmes forming an engaging double act with his dim flatmate Dr Watson. Additional story ingredients such as detail, atmosphere and tension were spot-on.

Read more

Journalist, Broadcaster, writer and Harrogate Quiz winner - Mark Lawson looks at the work of the late Michael Dibdin

Ratking (1988)
Dead Lagoon (1994)
Dirty Tricks (1991)
A Rich Full Death (1986)

Readers generally don't need to be detectives to work out where a crime writer comes from: the author of a Chicago-based series tends to hail from the Windy City, and so on. But in this, as in many other aspects of crime fiction, Michael Dibdin (1947-2007) was exceptional. Educated in Ireland and resident in Oxford and then Seattle, he set most of his novels in Italy, the vividly imagined homeland of the detective Aurelio Zen, whom he followed through 11 books that extended the geographical reach and literary quality of British crime fiction.

The series began with Ratking, which introduced a sleuth who, even by the standards of British fictional contemporaries Inspectors Morse and Rebus, was gloomy and self-loathing, increasingly uncertain that he should ever have become a policeman.

This mirrored Dibdin's own ambivalence about being in the crime section of the bookshops - one of his non-Zen novels was a vicious parody of an Agatha Christie novel - and, as the sequence progressed, he began to give less attention to ingenious puzzles and solutions and focused more on the true glories of the Zen stories: a sensual feel for both the positive and negative aspects of Italian culture; the beauties of the landscape, art and food and the ugliness of the politics and gangsterism.

Read More

Ian Sansom looks at ‘unusual’ detectives

Rex Stout: The League of Frightened Men (1935)
Harry Kemelman: Friday the Rabbi Slept Late (1964)
Amanda Cross: Poetic Justice (1970)
Dashiell Hammett: The Thin Man (1934)

The first we hear of Mr Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet, he is reported to be beating corpses with a stick, to study the effects of bruising after death. After sharing rooms with him for a short time, Watson draws up a list of his roommate's very obvious failings: "1. Knowledge of Literature - Nil." Ditto his knowledge of philosophy and most other subjects. In his favour, Watson admits that he "Plays the violin well" and has an immense knowledge of "Sensational Literature". Holmes's apparent unsuitability for his role makes him the paragon of the unlikely detective.

Read More

Journalist Alison Flood looks at the sharp end of crime-fiction – The books most stolen from Bookshops.

Then the serious stuff of listing the 1,000 must read novels starts and due to size is split into three sections -

1000 novels everyone must read: Crime (part one)
From Nelson Algren to Bret Easton Ellis
1000 novels everyone must read: Crime (part two)
From RJ Ellory to Ed McBain
1,000 novels everyone must read: Crime (part three)
From Cormac McCarthy to Emile Zola

So as no doubt there will be debate, my first question is - "Where the hell is Dennis Lehane?" and no doubt there will others equally contentious writers missing.

On the positive front; any article that promotes reading, debate and insight, especially in the crime and thriller fiction genre is to be encouraged - Thank you Observer

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Dennis Lehane - The British Interview

Today in Britain's Telegraph Magazine is an insightful interview and feature article on Dennis Lehane by British Journalist and writer Richard Grant, interspaced with some great photographs of Lehane in Boston by Jens Umbach. The interview was recorded in Lehane's home city prior to his UK visit next month. In the article Lehane is very candid about his writing, the films of his work, how amazed he is by his good fortune, how his sales were helped by Bill Clinton, as well as Stephen King and the debt he owes them.

Left - Boston Writers Chris Mooney and Dennis Lehane at Bouchercon Baltimore 2008 © Ali Karim

To obtain a full copy of the Telegraph Magazine’s Dennis Lehane feature article click here

It is a real pity that this feature is not available online, so for followers of Dennis Lehane and his work, I have transcribed some of the key points from the article / interview which gives tremendous insight into this hugely important writer.

“It took me five years to write ‘The Given Day’ and I never want to go through that again. I swear to God. A year of research. Then three years writing a first draft which I hated and totally missed the mark. I had to rip out the entire centre of the book and re-do it. That took another year and lots more fear and self-doubt. Welcome to the job you know. That’s what they pay you for.”

Lehane talks extensively about why during his childhood he recalls the Boston Police strike and how it stayed with him -
“I had a good sense of all that, but I really grew up in 1940’s Ireland. My Father had 17 brothers and sisters, my mother had 13, and a lot of them were in Boston when I was a kid. It was very much a village feeling and a verbal culture. They would all get together every Friday and Saturday night and tell stories, and when they started singing, you knew they were drunk. It was great. Looking back, I can see how all the right ingredients to create a writer were there.”

Grant’s feature indicates that Lehane started writing with what he describes as ‘crazy focus’. He had been bored by journalism so –

“Finally I decided to pursue this writing thing and I got a scholarship to this small college in St. Petersburg. My parents really wanted me to be a lawyer or something, but they really gave me their unequivocal support. So off I went. I was 20.”

He adds amusingly –

“I was not going [to] be serving beers at the bar, like, ‘Hey, fucking Hemmingway, bring me a beer’. I wrote way more than anybody I knew, I threw it all out; I was attached to nothing because all I cared about was learning how to get better. I mean, I wanted to drink and get laid too, like anyone else, but on top of that was this intense feeling that I must get good at this, and then maybe I could publish.”

Lehane talks a little about the strength of his feelings when it comes to child abuse, which is a theme in many of his novels –

“I’ll break it down for you. I grew up in a pretty violent town at a pretty violent time. I’m a guy who will hit you back if you hit me. I will hit you as hard as I can and not apologise. But I do not have the gift or curse of fury. I saw friends who could not be pulled off, could not be reasoned with, could not be stopped. Gradually, as a kid, I began to make the connection, oh, he comes from a shit home. Then I got into social work at college. I worked with physically and sexually abused kids, and even beyond their horrendous stories I started seeing these kids who were victims of rape. And I started to think, how many people on Death Row were sexually abused? I bet it’s over 90 per cent. Because it adds one extra level of rage that the rest of us cannot even fathom.”

Not surprisingly, Grant who describes Lehane’s politics as ‘left of Canada’ on most social and political issues, is hardcore right-wing when it comes to Paedophilia. Lehane states his views and pulls no punches –

“First offence: Life in prison, no possibility of parole. I’ll give you steaks. I’ll give you a wide-screen TV, I’ll give you whatever you want in there, but you have lost your privileges to play in our sand-box. The risk to society is too great. These kids, their lives are over at 12. Statistically, they will lead marginalised lives with marginalised jobs, and they have a much, much higher likelihood of doing it to someone else. Paedophilia is a contagion. It gets passed on and it spreads and people who say it can be fixed have no knowledge of it.”

He adds “I’m without empathy for the disease. I don’t want to punish or hurt paedophiles, and after Mystic River I told myself that I’ll never write another book that hinges on paedophilia. I’ve said what I have to say. Now I’m done. Let’s talk about something else. In fact let’s get some lunch.”

Grant and Lehane continue the interview an Italian Restaurant.

Lehane orders Linguini and Clams and talks about getting an agent on the strength of ‘A Drink Before The War’ while still in college, and his agent sold it as he was graduating with a masters degree. Lehane returned to Boston writing his second novel Darkness, Take My Hand while being a valet parker and limousine driver. During that time Lehane got a further two-book contract and stated -

“It was just enough money to survive on if I carried on living like a student. It allowed me to write Gone, Baby, Gone, which was my first real success. Bill Clinton was filmed getting off Airforce One, in a heavily repeated clip, with the book [Gone, Baby, Gone] under his arm. That was a big spike in sales and name recognition. Two years later, Stephen King gave me some love, and that was the next benchmark in my career. I can’t say enough about Stephen King. Ask any writer. He is one of the most generous human beings out there. He’s gone to bat for the most obscure writers. He’s helped this writers’ conference I run down in St. Pete. What he has done to give back to the world of writing is titanic”.

I remember reading that Stephen King stated at the time - “In the miserably hot summer of 1999...the superb detective novels of Dennis Lehane--became a kind of lifeline for me.” And this line was used as a cover blurb on 'Prayers for Rain'.

Lehane talks about his biggest hit to date – Mystic River -

“It’s the most depressing book I ever wrote, in which everybody loses and you don’t even get any satisfaction finding out who the killer is. That’s the hit? Clint Eastwood wants to make into a movie? It doesn’t make any sense. I can only put it down to luck.” He continues “You can’t fall into that collective dream that people fall into when they watch a movie. If you’ve created it, you know it’s a fake. You’re watching artifice. Some of it is amazing artifice but the suspension of disbelief never happens. I just sit there feeling weird and I have to take it on faith when people tell me it’s good.”

Although writing a play Coronado, he talks at length about his work on ‘The Wire’ –

“My buddy George Pelecanos was writing episodes and he persuaded me to give them a call. They had to hold my hand a little bit at first. If you’re a novelist, you want to write great dialogue, and David Simon [the creator of The Wire] says the greatest piece of dialogue is in The Wild Bunch when William Holden says “Let’s go.” If everything that came before is working, that’s all you need to say, and anything more gets in the way. It took a while to understand that and it’s hard on a writers ego. We want to write a memorable line like, “What we have here is a failure to communicate,” not, “Let’s go”.

The article concludes explaining that Lehane is currently writing a TV series [of his own creation] as well as working on a new Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro mystery thriller [his first after a ten year hiatus on the series that made his name]. And after all the struggles to produce ‘The Given Day’, he has now decided that it will be the start of a trilogy. He wants to follow the families through prohibition, the great depression and beyond. Despite all the problems he faced while writing ‘The Given Day’, Lehane states-

“You’ve got to go into these things feeling positive, and right now I feel great. I know all the steps in front of me. This time there will be no lying on the couch in a ball thinking ‘How the fuck am I going to get them out of 1918’”

Buy ‘The Given Day’ here

To obtain a copy of the Telegraph Magazine’s Dennis Lehane featured interview by Richard Grant click here

Two other excellent and insightful interviews with Dennis Lehane from a few years back are available from January Magazine, firstly an exchange with Linda Richards where Lehane talks about Mystic River here and Karen Anderson’s interview about Prayers for Rain here

If you’ve not read Dennis Lehane – you are in for a huge treat so here’s his backlist -

The Given Day
Shutter Island
Mystic River
Prayers for Rain
Gone, Baby, Gone
Darkness, Take My Hand
A Drink Before the War

Note that Dennis Lehane is making a rare London appearance [with fellow NYT bestseller Tess Gerritsen] at Borders Charing Cross Road, London on Thursday 12th February 2009 at 1830 hours – More Details

And don’t forget the movie ‘
Ashecliffe’ is due for release this year based on his novel ‘Shutter Island '

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Goodbye Richard Stark

I have been feeling depressed lately, what with the end of the winter holiday, the continual bad news about the global economy, war in Gaza, and the terrible news about the passing of Donald Westlake taking their toll on my sanity and worldview of reality.

Today I feel a little better reading the outpouring from Westlake’s peers about what his work meant to them. I must thank Cameron Hughes and Jeff Pierce at The Rap Sheet for asking me to contribute to the Donald Westlake tribute. Part One and Part Two of the tribute can be accessed here. The comments at The Rap Sheet make for an excellent 21 gun salute to one of the greatest exponents of crime fiction. A fitting farewell to the creator of Parker, often imitated but never matched.

I have always been fascinated by Richard Stark and his Parker books which remain one of my all time favourite novels of the existential end of the crime fiction genre. Due to my love of the work of Stephen King; I was delighted in 1989 when King published ‘The Dark Half’ as it was a homage to Stark / Westlake. Westlake when quizzed about the Stark pen-name for the University of Chicago said -

With the novels, Westlake had a contract to do a book a year for Random House, so if I added a second publisher I would need a second name. By the time Tucker Coe came along, both Westlake and Stark had some reputation of their own, and an emotionally-grieving disgraced ex-cop, an open wound, didn’t belong to either of them.

Some years later, I had reached that point known by a lot of writers: What if I were starting now? In this changed market, would I succeed? So I tested the waters the same way Stephen King did with his
Richard Bachman novels: throw it out there under cover of darkness, and see what happens. That’s where Samuel Holt came from. (King told me once that, when his agent said they absolutely needed the pen name now because they were printing the cover, he was reading a Richard Stark and listening to Bachman-Turner Overdrive. It really is all incestuous.)

But let’s leave the last word to CWA Diamond Dagger winner Lawrence Block –

“Donald Westlake’s Parker novels are among the small number of books I read over and over. Forget all that crap you’ve been telling yourself about War and Peace and Proust—these are the books you’ll want on that desert island.”

Richard Stark and Parker will be missed and thanks to Quercus and the University of Chicago press for bringing his back his adventures back into print. Donald Westlake’s work will run forever.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Rankin's eye on Braille

I have always admired Ian Rankin’s work not just his writing, but also his attitude in helping others; so I was pleased, but not surprised when I read that Rankin is adding his weight behind a drive to get more books out in Braille for the blind, as reported by Alison Flood at The Guardian

On the 200th anniversary of the birth of Braille's inventor, bestselling crime writer Ian Rankin has launched a campaign calling on writers, publishers and booksellers to make more books available to the visually impaired.

Rankin is also backing an appeal to raise £2m to rehouse the UK's leading Braille printing press, the Scottish Braille Press, which is struggling to meet demand with its current premises.

Just 4% of books published in the UK currently make it into Braille, large print or audio formats, according to the Royal National Institute of Blind People, and Rankin - whose son attends the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh - hopes the campaign, which he is launching on behalf of charity Royal Blind, will unite the books world in improving access to fiction and non-fiction for the visually impaired.

Rankin, creator of hardboiled Edinburgh detective Rebus, said that Braille was a hugely important "gateway to education and inspiration". He added that "I support anything that can be done to improve access to reading in all formats from Braille to large print."

The Royal Blind appeal, launched to mark the bicentenary of the birth of Braille's inventor Louis Braille on 4 January, also saw a Braille passage from Rankin's bestselling novel Fleshmarket Close pinned to the walls of the real street in the centre of Edinburgh today, and the publication of a Braille version of his book Death Is Not the End.

Read more
Photo : Ian Rankin receives CWA Diamond Dagger Award in 2005 [Photo (c) 2005 Ali Karim]

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

16 Personal Tags

Linda Richards tagged me in a game to reveal some existential secrets about myself. I know that I appear a little bit of a mystery man with my reviews, interviews and articles. I enjoy the enigma about who I am as Josephine Damian and then Patti Abbott coined me ‘International Man of Mystery’, but sure, I will play the game and tag others.

Firstly the Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 16 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 16 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

1 – An outsider
Many people wonder about my ethnicity; well I consider myself an outsider, being British but of parents who originated in India. I have also English, Scottish, American, German and Irish members of my family, making us a real mix. This makes me an outsider looking in.

2 – Internationalist
After studies in Britain and the US, I have worked in mainland Europe, UK, Ireland, the Middle East and travelled extensively, but wherever I have travelled, there have always been books in my luggage. Travel and meeting people from other cultures and countries enriches my life.

3 – Anxiety
The only anxiety I ever suffer is worry about my family and not being surrounded by books. I believe a life without books is not a full one, as they allow you to view the world through someone else’s eyes. Books also help one overcome anxiety and depression. Reading fiction is also an important part of life, and enriches those who read. We all need to support the art of reading because it is important.

4 – Writing
I used to be represented by Curtis Brown [London] in the 1980’s but have not submitted any fiction in over a decade after my agent left and became an novelist in her own right. I continue to write fiction to amuse myself and plan to submit again this year [just when publishing is in crisis].

5 – Hannibal Lecter
I am fascinated by the work of Thomas Harris, and when I heard in 1999 that Harris was penning ‘Hannibal’ after a decade of Silence, I got so excited that I ran down the stairs screaming in excitement and fell damaging my back for three months. My father a retired psychiatrist often is amused by my fascination with Dr Hannibal Lecter.

6 – Feeling at Home
I love the crime / mystery / thriller community and feel ‘at home’ at conferences and conventions – in fact when I get depressed by the economic turmoil, I recall the wonderful moments I shared at Bouchercon Baltimore with Roger Jon Ellory. Those memories are very precious to me, and I feel in huge debt to Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik [and their helpers] for making that time so special.

7 – Conspiracy Theories
I am fascinated by conspiracy theories many of which are mad, but these ‘mad’ ones help disguise the ones that are real. In my opinion there are definitely ‘men-behind-the-curtain’, but we always knew that didn’t we?

8 – The Horror
I was a voracious reader of American Comics, Horror and SF as well as Crime in my youth. The first author interview I conducted was in the early 1980’s with the awarding Horror Writer and current President of the British Fantasy Society Ramsey Campbell for Comics Interview magazine. I feel privileged to have talked to Dean Koontz via Margaret Atwood’s LongPen as well as meeting Stephen King in 2006 when he came to London.

9 – The Admirable Michael Crichton
One of the reasons why I studied Science rather than English for my first degree was due to two men; the first being my father, and the second being to Micheal Crichton [both men of science]. I was very upset when Crichton passed away last year. I wrote at the time –

I have followed Mr Crichton's work for many years and even have a UK first edition of THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN - a book that got me excited about science. In fact Crichton was one of the reasons that I studied science. He influenced the direction of my life.I never got to meet him, and now curse at missing him last time he was in London when he came over to promote STATE OF FEAR. I had been invited by HarperCollins to a reception after a signing in the West End. Unfortunately there was a major clash in my diary as Crichton was over only for the weekend. I had to miss the event, and now I will never have the chance to tell him how important his work was to me.

I also wanted to tell him this story.There had been a gap in Crichton's publishing - due his movie work, then in either 1989 or 1990 my wife had a friend over the weekend and wanted me to take them to a huge mall that had opened in the area for a days shopping. I cursed as I hated shopping, but on entry to the mall, I noticed a bookshop 'Dillons' and in a big window display was a stack of 'JURASSIC PARK' by Michael Crichton. I got so excited and bought the book and told my wife and her friend to take their time shopping as I was going back to the car to read. They laughed at my excitement as I was raving - A NEW MICHAEL CRICHTON NOVEL I roared running back to the car. Anyway, 6 hours later my wife and friend came back to the car loaded with the clothes they bought. I was on the last chapter and told them to please get a coffee while I finished my book. When they returned, my wife sensed my excitement. I was raving that one of my favourite writers, and a main reason why I studied science at university had written the most amazing book. She asked me what it was about - when I told her the plot about the genetic cloning of dinosaurs, she replied in a statement that I often replay at dinner parties -"Ali, that sounds such a stupid idea, you read such rubbish, that will never sell, in fact that's why your own writing is always rejected, you read and write such uncommercial tripe. What a stupid idea, genetic cloning of dinosaurs indeed, I expect to see the book in remainder bins within a month....."

The rest they say is history

10 – Sustained Threat
As a ‘Batman purist’ I had mixed feelings about the new Batman movie ‘The Dark Knight’ which I consider a flawed masterpiece. I think the British Board of Film Classification [BBFC] summed up the movie well with its 12A classification using the term “Contains Fantasy Violence and Sustained Threat”. I love that term “Sustained Threat”. Words have power.

11 – Mike Stotter
I started working with Mike Stotter at Shots in 2002, thanks to Mark Billingham a former writer with Shots eZine [when it was a print publication]. Since then, due to the massive amount of material online, and the contributions of the webmasters Grog and Gary, as well as the large team of writers, reviewers and interviewers we have grown to be one of the key elements of the crime / thriller genre getting over 20,000 hits a day. I value my friendship with Mike Stotter more than even he realises.

12 – Coincidences
I am always staggered about the coincidences that arise in life of which a few of the most surreal are here and here.

13 – Obsessing over sHuTteR IsLAnD and Stieg Larsson
Need I say more? Perhaps I should add this also for completeness

14 – A Passion for Science
I love science especially Chemistry – this is due to the analytical nature of my brain and it helps me earn a living to augment the low level of income from my own writing currently.

15 – Strong Coffee
Without which I could not function. One of the key things about America I miss is US Coffee – the best.

16 – Why I like interviewing writers
Because you learn about life, and my favourite interview was the wonderful afternoon I spent with Robert Littell, a brilliant writer and a man of compassion and insight –

Ali : What were the high points, as well as the low points, of your tenure at Newsweek?

Robert : The high points were related to the work -- meeting and talking to influential people, like when I interviewed Henry Kissinger in the basement of the White House, [and had] lunch with [Zbigniew] Brzezinski when he was still a professor at Columbia, [before] he became national security adviser. So, when you met very influential people, you felt that you were discussing important world issues with key decision-makers, and these were the high points at Newsweek for me.

The low point came when I wrote a cover story on Chicanos. I went down to Texas and found a Chicano family who lived literally in a hole in the ground, and who stole their water from the white cemetery. And so I wrote this sidebar about this poor family as part of my story about the exploitation of Chicanos in Texas. We always read the letters to the editor in the hallway, so the week after the story appeared, someone had written a letter which went something like this: "Dear Mr. Littell -- That was a very moving story you wrote about the plight of the Chicanos in Texas, and I especially enjoyed reading about the family that stole their water from the cemetery. And I was wondering if you could let me know where I could hire a Chicano maid ..."

After leaving Robert Littell, Peter Mayer and Suzannah Rich [his publishers], the first person I spoke to was my mother who I called from my car and told her “Thank you for teaching me to Read”.

And now I am tagging Nick Stone, Mike Stotter, Martin Edwards, David Montgomery, and Roger Jon Ellory and here are the Rules of the Blog Tag – please reveal 16 facts about yourselves from behind the curtain.
I know I should tag 16 people, but I'm all for quality not quantity.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Return of Poe

Over the holiday break I enjoyed reading Michael Marshall’s creepy BAD THINGS, which is dedicated to Horror Supremo Steve Jones. Incidentally Jones emailed me about the launch of POE a collection that looks rather interesting -

The British Fantasy Society is pleased to be able to host the UK launch of Poe, a new anthology from Solaris that celebrates two hundred years since the birth of Edgar Allan Poe.

The book features "remixed and re-imagined"versions of Poe’s tales by such talents as: Pat Cadigan, Sharyn McCrumb,Kim Newman, Lucius Shepard, M. Rickert and Nicholas Royle.This free event will be held at the historic Ye Olde Cock Tavern on London’s Fleet Street. Ellen Datlow will be on hand to present readings byPat Cadigan, Kim Newman and Nicholas Royle with copies of the book available for purchase and signature.

POE: UK LAUNCH AND SIGNINGYe Olde Cock Tavern, 22 Fleet Street, London, EC4Y 1AA

Date: Saturday 31st January

Time: 2pm.

Nearest Tube: Temple (0.3 miles), Chancery Lane (0.4 miles), Blackfriars(0.4 miles)

British Rail: City Thameslink (0.3 miles), Blackfriars (0.4 miles), Farringdon (0.6 miles)

Incidentally I had the pleasure of dining at Baltimore’s Westminster Hall last year which was the venue for Robert Randisi’s PWA Shamus Awards Banquet. Many of you will know that Westminster Hall is the resting place for Edgar Allan Poe. Randisi managed to stage an appearance of Poe for the Shamus Awards.