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Monday, November 03, 2008

Writers' Rituals

Between travelling around France and the USA to book signings and finding the time to write each new book in The Enzo Files series, it gets less easy for Peter and I to find a space in the schedule to offer our Creative Writing Course in France, so in the meantime, as I've just been appointed Feature Writer for the Freelance Writing section of the online magazine, Suite101, I've got the opportunity to cover a wide range of topics of interest to writers. It seems like the ideal place to offer Tips and Advice.

Talking to some of Peter's fellow mystery and thriller writers, it became apparent that the secret to starting and finishing that book you want to write, is to develop habits, rituals and routines, which help to take the pain out of getting the words on the page - or into the computer. I've written a series of articles about "Writers' Rituals". Take a look at what they had to say, here...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

...and it won't change my life. Yeh right.

First time novelist Aravind Adiga from India has won the Booker Prize worth 50,000 UK pounds (around 100,000 US dollars) and stated on BBC Radio that it won't change his life.  

Oh Puhleeze.... Am I alone in thinking that this statement displays an extraordinary poverty of imagination?  

What is he thinking?  He's a first time author, and his book has just won what is possibly the world's most prestigious literary prize.  That alone pretty much guarantees that his life won't be the way that it was, or would have been without it.  Or maybe I'm missing something...

Maybe his face is usually filling TV screens and newspapers.  
Maybe he's used to having a nice big pot of money in the bank.  
Maybe he'd already sewn up his next few publishing deals, and had a guarantee in his contract that his books would be promoted and piled high in all the bookstores.  
Then yup, you can certainly see how winning a massive literary prize wouldn't affect your life much.  

Apparently his book centres on a man who dreams of rising up from his simple life as a teashop worker and driver, and bettering himself.  What would that take, I wonder?  Clearly a lot more than a bank account full of money and instant international fame, if its author is anything to go by...

Monday, June 16, 2008

"The pen is mightier than the sword"

...wrote Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Today President Mugabe was explaining in the Zimbabwe "Herald" why he wouldn't be giving up power no matter what the ballot results show, "We shed a lot of blood for this country. We are not going to give up our country for a mere 'X' on a ballot.  How can a ball point pen fight with a gun?"

So I guess the jury's still out on where this leaves the machete...

Sunday, April 27, 2008


You know, sometimes I become aware how weird it can be, living here...

So we were at one of these book salons / festivals last Sunday.  Every place seems to have one - from the huge ones like Paris and St Malo, to tiny villages.  First of all I should explain - signing books in France is a lot different from signing books anywhere else.  In most other countries you turn up for an hour or two at a booktore, maybe give a talk, sign books for a line of people, then sign a pile for the store to sell to collectors, then you leave.  

In France, each book salon is a once-a-year signing-fest for that location.  It can last anywhere between one day and one week. and fans arrive to meet many many authors, get a chance to talk to them one-to-one about their writing, then leave laden with enough personalised copies of books to last them till the following year.  Whether it's a local village hall, or one of the enormous exhibition centres, the set-up is the same.  A local bookstore or bookstores invite the authors and supply the books.  The authors sit at desks piled high with their produce like stall-holders at a farmers' market.  And often, they're expected to be "on duty" all day, or all weekend, to talk and sign books.
Last Sunday, it was just for a day.  In a tiny village in the middle of deepest, darkest "La France profonde".  
Le Chef only agreed to go because it was just 20 minutes away and it was a fund-raiser for a local organisation.  Amazingly, the place was packed, people had traveled from miles around.  They crammed into the village hall and squeezed along the rows, sometimes making five or six circuits of the hall to makes sure they got a chance to see all the authors and scrutinise their work.
But here's the thing that's really French... a priority here, is everyone's nourishment.  So these things always close down for lunch.  There were so many writers that the village's little inn had to take them in two sittings, but that didn't mean they were going to make lunch less elaborate.  No no, oh no, not at all.  We had soup, followed by a platter of cold meats and paté, followed by chicken casserole and rice, followed by cheese, followed by dessert, and then coffee to finish it off.  Throughout the meal there was a never-ending supply of carafes of soft, quaffable red country wine.  It was not "haute cuisine" but it was a fantastic example of real rustic, country fare, well executed.

The people at the table around us were rather shy and hesitant until they established...
1) that we could speak French
2) that we were Scottish and neither English nor Dutch (sorry to the English and Dutch out there, but according to the French you have a reputation for not integrating here very well - so other nationalities reap the benefits)
3) that le Chef first fell in love with the area 33 years ago and returned every year until we moved here full time the door creaked open enough to let us proceed to Stage Two

What's Stage Two? Well we had to try to pass the "fitting in to France" quiz, during the meal...
What did we think of the bread at the restaurant? What did we think of the soup?  Did we know what "chabrol" was?  Le Chef poured some wine into his soup plate when he had finished, swirled it around to get the last of the soup, then lifted the bowl to his lips and slurped it up.  Big smiles all around!  He's a Chabrol Man! We were doing OK so far.  

The chicken casserole was a very traditional recipe, were we acquainted with it?  Of course we were, we said, we ate it for the first time at a village party years ago.  Oooh - points for knowing the dish and bonus points for attending village parties. 

Then came the cheese test, how many local cheeses did we know?  Well really, how could we live here and not have tried every cheese from this region and all the surrounding ones!  We ran through them all.  But did we like them?  Mais bien sur!  And what did we think of Cabecou?  Ahhh... when it came to Cabecou (little round goat's cheeses) I had to express my preference, not just for the cheese, but for a certain local producer, Monsieur Estip of Autoire.  Of course this meant points won for knowing and having a preference, but points deducted, because my preference conflicted with the questioner's own preference.  His favourite maker, he explained couldn't produce Cabecou all year round as he refused to freeze milk!  And since no respectable producer can have milk all year round, the others must be freezing theirs!

So we moved from local cheeses to cheeses from faaaaar away, i.e. Normandy.  What did we think of Camembert?  We said we liked it of course.   At this point, one man at the table who had been silent, suddenly came to life - aaaah Camembert.  You haven't lived if you haven't tasted the best Camembert.  We said we'd tasted some truly exceptional Camembert.  The main interrogator wasn't convinced.  He told us you can only get the best by going to where it's produced.  Aha not so, I said.  When le chef was being inducted as a Chevalier for Gaillac wine (surely lots more bonus points for that one!), there was a banquet and one group of guests at the banquet was a delegation of Camembert cheese producers who had brought with them their best offering (la creme de la creme...?) for everyone at the banquet to savour.  Touché!  The Camembert lover thought, then, in that case, we had definitely been privileged.  He then went on to share with us his secret source for the best cheeses in the area - which turned out to be our favourite cheese stall-holder at the Bretenoux market.  Well!  He could hardly believe it!  I think that means we're friends forever!  Not to mention getting record-breaking scores on the integration quiz.

Which made me think about those TV ads that we take for granted in France, which you simply wouldn't see in the USA or UK.  No I don't mean the ones for shower gel or shampoo which show girls displaying an awful a lot more than Janet Jackson at the superbowl.  

No no.  I mean the ones where four or five extremely large and hunky man-the-hunter types are out in the woods together.  Fatigued - presumably from stalking the deer and wild boar - they sit for a moment on some conveniently placed fallen tree trunks.  They look at one another, and with no need for words, get out their Laguioles (fancy folding knives that all real men carry here), pull out their baguettes, and start to pass around the cheese.. creamy Camembert... crumbly Roquefort... whatever... they pop it into their mouths and savour it.  With knowing smiles they chew and nod at one another.  "Does life get any better than this...?" is the unspoken message... "Out in the woods with my mates.  My baguette in my hand, and cheese melting on my tongue."  

You know, now that I think about it... maybe they're not hunters... maybe they're lumberjacks... Whatever.  Here's the really weird thing about living here - I watch ads like that, and they don't seem odd to me...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tour Dates for PETER MAY - USA 2008

What have I been doing lately?

Well this, mostly...

Latest confirmed dates for the PETER MAY - USA 2008 tour...
  • THOUSAND OAKS, CA: Saturday, February 16th: Mysteries to Die For, 11am
    - talk & signing
2940 Thousand Oaks Boulevard
Thousand Oaks,
CA 91362
Telephone: (805) 374-0084
  • NEWPORT BEACH CA: Sunday, February 17th:
    - WINE TASTING + talk & signing
Ê To be confirmed
  • SAN DIEGO CA: Monday, February 18th: Mysterious Galaxy, 3.30pm
    - WINE TASTING + talk & signing
7051 Clairmont Mesa Blvd.
San Diego,
CA 92111
Telephone: 858-268-4747
Toll-Free: 800-811-4747
ÊFax: 858-268-4775
  • SAN DIEGO CA: Monday, February 18th: Alliance Francaise and Mysterious Galaxy, 6pm
    - WINE TASTING + talk & signing
511 West Valley ParkwayÊ
CA, 92025,
Telephone: (760) 489-8666Ê
Fax: (760) 489-8663Ê
  • LOS ANGELES CA: Tuesday, February 19th: The Mystery Bookstore
    - Drop-by signing
The Mystery Bookstore
1036-C Broxton Ave.
Los Angeles, CAÊ 90024
phone: 310-209-0415 or 800-821-9017
fax: 310-209-0436
  • LOS ANGELES CA: Tuesday, February 19th: Alliance Francaise
    - WINE TASTING + talk & signing
10390 Santa Monica Boulevard, Suite #120
(Beverly Glen and Santa Monica Blvd)
Los Angeles,
CA 90025
ÊTelephone: 310-652-0306Ê
Fax: 310-652-0338
  • SAN MATEO CA: Friday, February 22nd: M is for Mystery, 7pm
    - WINE TASTING + talk & signing
86 East Third Avenue
San Mateo,
CA 94401
Telephone: (650) 401-8077
Toll-free: 888-405-8077
  • CORTE MADERA CA: Saturday, February 23rd: Book Passage, 7pm
    - talk & signing
51 Tamal Vista Blvd
Corte Madera, CA 94925
Telephone: (415) 927-0960
  • SACRAMENTO CA: Sunday, February 24th:
    - WINE TASTING + talk & signing
Ê To be confirmed
  • SCOTTSDALE AZ:Ê Tuesday, February 26th, 2008: Poisoned Pen with Barnes & Noble and Alliance Francaise
    - WINE TASTING + talk & signing
10500 N Shea
Scottsdale AZ
details from the Poisoned Pen...
Telephone: (480) 947-2974
  • TUCSON AZ:Ê ·ednesday, February 27th, 2008: Clues Unlimited
    - WINE TASTING + talk & signing
123 South Eastbourne
Tucson, AZ 85716-5317
Telephone: (520) 326-8533Ê
Fax: (520) 326-9001
  • HOUSTON TX:Ê Tuesday, March 4th, 2008: Murder By The Book and Alliance Francaise
    - WINE TASTING + talk & signing
427 Lovett Blvd
TX 77006
Telephone: (713) 526-1121
  • BOULDER CO: Wednesday, March 5th: High Crimes, 7pm
    - talk & signing
946 Pearl Street
CO 80302
Telephone:(303) 443-8346
  • DENVER CO: March 6th - 9th, LEFT COAST CRIME
Adam's Mark Hotel
1550 Court Place,
CO 80202
Hotel Telephone: (303) 893-3333
Hotel fax: (303) 626-2542
  • DENVER CO: Thursday, March 6th: Murder By The Book
    - talk & signing
1574 South Pearl St.
CO 80210
Telephone: (800) 300-2595Ê (toll free voice)
Telephone: (303) 871-9401Ê (voice in Colorado)
  • DENVER CO:Ê Friday, March 7th, 2008: Alliance Francaise
    - talk & signing
571 Galapago St
CO 80204-5032
Telephone: (303) 831-0304
  • MINNEAPOLIS MN:Ê Tuesday, March 11th, 2008: Undle Edgar's
    - drop-by signing
2864 Chicago Ave
MN 55407
Telephone: (612) 824-9984
  • MINNEAPOLIS MN:Ê Tuesday, March 11th, 2008: Alliance Francaise with Once Upon A Crime
    - WINE TASTING + talk & signing
604 W 26th St,
MN 55405
Telephone: (612) 870-3785
  • ROCHESTER NY: March 14th - 16th:
    - WINE TASTING + talk & signings
Ê To be confirmed
  • NEW YORK NY: Tuesday, March 18th: Partners & Crime
    - drop-by signing
44 Greenwich Avenue
New York, NY 10011
Tel: 212-243-0440
Fax: 212-243-4624