Tag Archives: Scottish fiction

Snow is falling – special offer on A Kettle of Fish

Our tree is up and my shopping is (nearly) done! ¬†So to celebrate, I thought I could help you out with yours – ūüôā

Signed by the author (that's me)

Signed by the author (that’s me)

So, if you order ¬†A Kettle of Fish (and even if it’s a while since it come out, as far as I know, books do not go off or lose their appeal due to the passing of a few calendar months) ¬†from a well-known online retailer and have to pay postage,¬†¬†it will cost you ¬£8.99 + ¬£3 – a painful ¬£11.99*.
But hey, it just so happens I have some right here.
If you ask me to post you a copy, I will charge the you the same  Р£8.99 Рand include the postage. 

Or if you happen to be someone who sees me or can call in, the price is £7.50.

There’s¬†more about the book here and it had lots of nice Amazon reviews.

gandtree

This tree is bigger than it looks

And yes, it is still available on Kindle Рthis week at a paltry £1.15!
You can also order the paperback from booksellers, I just thought I might save you the trouble of going anywhere or doing anything other than contacting me here or via social media (Facebook or Twitter @AliBacon) to set things in motion.

Offer ends Friday 16th by the way.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS

Snow courtesy of WordPress.com!

 

* Of course if you are on an Amazon package or have a bigger order¬†postage won’t¬†apply. I’m just helping out anybody like me who only ever seems to order books one at a time, or who would like a signed copy!

 

A fictional trip around Scotland, starting with A Kettle of Fish

Reading and holidays go together like … well you can fill in your own favourite pairing, but how often does a book make a holiday or a holiday location add something to a book?¬†And before settng off, how often do we look for something set in the country or area we’re visiting? Not long after A Kettle of Fish was published, I heard of a site called Tripfiction¬†that helps readers match books and destinations. Such a great idea I registered Kettle on there straight away.

I’m delighted to say that in a week’s time and thanks to a link-up between Tripfiction and Anne Cater (another avid book blogger who has set up the Bookconnectors group) it’s being featured as part of a season on Scottish fiction. In fact it’s first up!

blogtourimage

Next Sunday August 23rd, it will be reviewed¬†by Joanne Baird, a book blogger from Portobello near Edinburgh¬†– well-placed to appreciate the locations!¬†¬† Here’s the complete schedule, or you can also get reminders via Twitter by following me @AliBacon or using #Bookconnectors or #aroundtheworld (yes, Scotland is only the start!)

23/08/15  Ali Bacon
Portobello Book Blog 
https://portobellobookblog.wordpress.com/

 24/08/15  Liz Gifford
Linda’s Book Bag Blog http://lindasbookbag.com/

25/08/15  Linda Gillard
Being Anne
http://beingannereading.blogspot.co.uk/

 26/08/15 Helen MacKinven
Reflections of a Reader  http://reflectionsofareader.blogspot.co.uk/

27/08/15  Susi Holliday
 Random Things Through My Letterbox  http://randomthingsthroughmyletterbox.blogspot.co.uk/

 28/08/15 Margaret Skea
Jaffa Reads Too
http://jaffareadstoo.blogspot.co.uk/

 29/08/15  Lucy Robinson
Sandra Foy: Reading Writes
https://readingwrites.wordpress.com/

30/08/15 Alison May
So Many Books So Little Time http://www.alwaysreading.net

01/09/15 Melissa Bailey
Grab This Book  http://grabthisbook.net/

02/09/15 Bobbie Darbyshire
TripFiction
http://www.tripfiction.com/

I haven’t met Joanne or seen her review but we’ve already enjoyed being in touch for this bit of online fun which includes a number of authors (Bobbie Darbyshire, Linda Gillard and Margaret Skea) whose work I can heartily recommend.

With all the hype surrounding new books it’s easy for an author to feel the one that’s beent there for a while has had its day. But ofcourse books, unlike yesterday’s newspapers, are there to stay.¬†¬† I’m grateful to Anne, Joanna and Trip fiction for the oportunity to bring A Kettle of Fish to a new audience – in Scotland or anywhere around the world.

Robert Louis Stevenson – a bit of a find

the Bookman 1913

Robert Louis Stevenson commemorative issue

My daughter unearthed this in an Oxfam shop a few months ago and just got round to bringing it home. It has all the fascination of an old book, or in this case and old magazine with a¬†hessian (?) cover and what I suppose is an old version of a ‘perfect’ binding, i.e. the pages that were once stuck together are now falling apart.

It’s a series of tributes to the writer and¬†also has some wonderful plates – photographs of RLS and his family and also of paintings illustrating his works.

Essay by Charles Lowe

Essay by Charles Lowe

 

I’m embarrassed at how little I know about a writer who has been a household name for his adventure stories and the unforgettable Child’s Garden of Verses, not to mention those BBC Sunday serials of the sixties. ¬† I can still see Alan Breck and David Balfour in black and white!

The other reason my daughter pounced on this is that one of the articles in the magazine was also written by an ancestor of ours who knew Stevenson¬†as a student in ¬†Edinburgh. I think reading the rest of the book – and more of¬†RLS himself – might be my first New Year’s resolution.

This plate carries the text from The Master of Ballantrae,
The words and music seemed to pour out of his own heart and his own past and to be aimed directly at Mrs Henry.”
Could be a good place to start.

Illustration of Ballantrae,

Illustration from the Master of Ballantrae, Hodder and Stoughton, W. Hatherell

The Physic Garden: too good to dissect

‚ÄėThe first time I saw Jenny Caddas she was taking a swarm of bees.‚Äô

The Physic GardenIt’s a great feeling when you fall in love with a book on the first page, or even the first line, and that’s what happened to me with The Physic Garden by Catherine Czerkawska. The voice is that of William Lang, speaking in 1802. But if the scene he describes is idyllic, we soon know that this is not to last. William, now an old man, is going to tell us how from this fine beginning, everything went wrong. In fact things are already going wrong, because the Physic Garden, owned by Glasgow University and where William will soon be head gardener, is already in decline polluted by the expanding type foundry, trampled on by marauding students (plus ca change!) and largely ignored by a medical faculty hooked on the new science of anatomy. But amongst the professors there is one exception, Thomas Brown, a botany lecturer, with whom William strikes up an unlikely and life-changing friendship.

William‚Äôs story is an essentially private one of an old man seeing how in his younger days he was too na√Įve, but still cannot entirely regret that naivety. But as in the best historical fiction the individual becomes a prism through which we view the whole place and time in which he lived. We feel the pressures on a young man suddenly becoming the bread-winner for his large family, his anger at a feckless sister, his concern over a sickly child, his hero-worship of his fine new friend. On a wider scale we see his disquiet at the apparent supremacy of surgery over physiological remedies and the new forms of sickness and poverty arriving in the wake of industrialisation. We also glimpse the radicalism he will embrace in his later life.

But mostly this is a book about friendship and although the romance hinted at in the first line plays a part, William knows there are more enduring forms of love. He reflects most of all on how he and Thomas Brown forged a bond that transcended social boundaries but broke apart too violently ever to be mended.

The pace is measured, the language has an elegiac quality, but this is not a pretty story. It is beautiful and sad¬†with just a touch of the macabre.¬†¬†It also contains the seeds of hope and of William’s eventual redemption. True to the form of an old man,¬†our narrator¬†thinks nothing of jumping forward or back in the story to explain something, or just to delay the parts that pain him the most. But this book is all about the voice, and once William had my ear, I was never going to stop listening.

One day I might think about how this book achieves what it does, but for now I’m just¬†going to sit back and admire it.

 

 

Northern Lights, Polar Nights

Polar%20NightsSoon it will be April when fellow Thornberrian Simon Hacker and I are joining forces for a World Book Night event, and so I thought it was about time I read Polar Nights, his comedy thriller set in the far North of Scotland which came out last month. From the outset it was clear that Simon‚Äôs prose was going to pack a punch (well he’s¬† a journalist, so is that¬†a pen name or a case of nominative determinism?¬† – I must remember to ask!) And the action was soon under way with a wonderfully salty-dog fisherman doomed (you need to say that with the right accent) to be an early victim of the iceberg that washes up on the coast of Sutherland complete with resident polar bear. The fisherman‚Äôs demise is the cue for the arrival of a host of characters winging there way to Wick, including doughty Rebecca, working for a satellite tv station and Dan, an environmentalist with an agenda of his own that soon expands to include Rebecca.¬†¬† The new arrivals ‚Äď (that includes the bear) also have to contend with an even more colourful cast of locals, including a gun-toting mad aristo, a dour policeman who may be mad too and a poet with a chip on his shoulder the size of Ben Nevis. And did I mention he was definitely deranged? Last but not least, we also get to meet the bear ( perfectly sane as bears go, just a bit disorientated). For a short time I thought I¬† might succumb to colourful character and punchy-prose overload but once the bear starts to move so does the story, and it really is a fun read with plenty of high jinks, simmering passion and just the right amount of plot convolution. Oddly it was the very un-mad Dan whom I found least convincing character, but then it usually is the baddies who get the best parts. And I‚Äôm glad to say it‚Äôs the bear who has the last laugh, or maybe ‚ÄėAw‚Äô moment. As a Scot who has failed to get past Inverness, I was also intrigued to get a glimpse of this most northerly tip of the British Isles.

Thriller? Well sort of, but there‚Äôs also a strong dash of romcom and after getting to know the bear I was a tiny bit disappointed the ending didn‚Äôt pose more in the way of questions. But this really is a fun read that will appeal to both sexes and anyone who’s more in teh mood for¬†a Highland Fling rather than a tranche of tartan noir.

By the way, for anyone on the right wavelengths (do they stil have wavelengths?) Simon is being interviewed by Claire Carter on Radio Gloucestershire on Friday March 15th at 3 pm. Should be interesting!

Turn of the Tide: Scottish history comes to life

Knowing this Scottish historical novel by Margaret Skea had¬† battled through the scrutiny of Authonomy authors and the Alan Titchmarsh People’s Novelist Competition, I was really keen to read it, but at first I was uncertain. The writing was polished and clearly backed up by detailed research but could I be gripped by this tale of warring¬† 16th century lairds? More importantly (wine with supper not always conducive to concentration!) could I remember which side they were all on? The¬† dialogue also has a formality that feels¬†authentic and distinctive but is occasionally a little hard to untangle. And so for a while I found myself making little critical notes as I went along, wondering if I would stick with it.¬†But its appeal gradually crept up on me and by the end I loved it to bits.

Turn of the Tide coverFollowing a horrific massacre, the young King James of Scotland asks that two warring factions of Scottish gentry – Cunnighames and Montgomeries ‚Äď should end their long-running feud. ¬†By now the reader has already been introduced to sympathetic (and not so sympathetic) characters on each side and understands the truce will be fragile to say the least. The jockeying for position at court is fascinating, and there are great set pieces like the hunt arranged for the king by one faction in which the others are equally desperate to make the right impression. ¬†This is very the human side of¬† history in which political affiliations turn on how much the king likes the gift of a poem or a favoured jewel and have huge consequences not just for the lairds but also for the women at home. It‚Äôs clear that the author has detailed knowledge of and empathy with them,¬† particularly Kate Munro, whose husband owes allegiance to the Cunninghame clan but is gradually drawn into friendship with the Montgomeries.¬† Munro frames the book, in at the initial kill and centre stage in the brilliant climax, all the more shocking as the conclusion of an otherwise measured tale.

The depth of research shines out in the details of costume, cookery, agriculture, childcare and the role of women, all of it throwing light on what has always been a murky and ill-understood period in my own mind and bringing the characters and their lives to shimmering life. This is a fascinating and engaging read with great visual effect. Bring on the sequel!

E-book and paperback from Capercaillie Books¬†(whose picture can’t be copied – understandable but irritating!)

The Stone Gallows

The Stone Gallows coverPicking up The Stone Gallows ¬†by C. David Ingram (Myrmidon, 2009) I wasn’t at all sure this was going to be my cup of tea. I don’t as a rule read crime, and although I make an exception for Rebus (mainly because¬†¬†Rankin’s¬†voice resonates with me¬†¬†on some deep level)¬†I’m finding I’ve started to lose¬†interest in the outcome of the plots.

The red-tinged cover of Ingram’s thriller also brought back memories of my only other encounter with ‘Tartan Noir ‘(Louise Welsh’s The¬† Cutting Room) which left me feeling decidedly queasy. And so it was probably a good thing that The Stone Gallows starts with a bit of a tease, when the line ¬†‘I was going to kill him’ turns out to be no more than the groan¬†of a¬†cop stuck on a stake-out with an irritating boss.¬† So far so good.

There’s plenty of the seamy side of Glasgow in this book, and it’s all¬†convincing enough for me to have spent¬†a few chapters wondering if my girlie sensibilities would last the pace, but¬† in the end I was¬† hooked by the freshness of the writing and the sheer¬†likeability¬†, despite his faults, of ¬†the main character, Cameron Stone, whose ex-cop cynicism is married to a¬† youthful vulnerability. Half-way through the book I realised that despite plenty going on, there was no single clear plot strand, but I was still totally engaged with the outcome, and thoroughly enjoyed the¬† twists and turns that brings it to a satisfying¬†end that deftly avoids the¬† happy ever after.

I guess there must be a lot of writers out there trying to carving out a¬† sub-Rebus niche in one Scottish city or another, and¬†¬†by having ¬†Cameron Stone say that his boss Joe¬†was thought to be ‘the copper Rebus¬†had been based on’, Ingram finds a neat way of acknowledging and dispensing with any debt to Rankin at one go.¬† But in any¬† event,¬†David Ingram has carved his own place¬†well. He made me¬†feel¬†totally at home in¬†Glasgow (a city I barely know) and I think that for all Cameron Stone’s readiness to use his fists (or any other weapon that comes to hand) I’d be happy to go back there with him for a sequel or three and to recommend him to more ardent crime fans.

One teensy weensy nit-pick – surely Stone’s son would be his ‘wee boy’ not his ‘little boy’?¬† And the nurse girl-friend was too nice by far. Still, knowing Stone’s luck, he’ll probably screw¬† that up too.

Scottish season

An extended sojourn with Scottish literature has kept these half-forgotten  words crowding in thick and fast.  Here are a few that might require translation.
Cowp   Рspill or tip
Warsle – wrestle or struggle with
Fykie – fiddly
Fankled – tangled (especially of wool or thread)
Havers, havering –¬† rubbish, ranting, talking like a mad person
Driech Рdull, dismal (e.g. of the weather, or on Sunday of  a dull sermon!)Swithering Рundecided, dithering  (state of mind, but also of the weather)
Stoater – something extremely big or impressive

And the land Lay StillMost of these¬†have been brought to mind by James Robertson’s And the Land Lay Still, where the dialogue replicates almost exactly what I heard around me as I grew up,¬† at least from the¬†older generation. Aside from the vocabulary I’m particularly enjoying the¬†difference in idiom, e.g. a ‘long lie’, rather than¬†a lie-in, ¬†and¬† somebody being ‘in¬†the road’¬† rather than in the way.¬† But my absolute favourite is the morn’s morn. As a child I remember unpicking this¬†apparent tautology to work out how it could mean¬†tomorrow morning.

And by the morn’s morn, I hope to have finished the book itself. It’s as¬†intricate and accurate a protrayal of post-war Scotland as anyone could hope for.¬† I admit it has also been something of a long haul, as I also found¬†with The Lacuna. But Kingsolver’s view of US history and politics had the advantage of a single and wholly engaging central character, whereas Robertson has a wider camera angle,¬†encompassing the familes of miners, tradesmen and the Scottish ¬†upper classes as they struggle to keep their feet in¬†the shifting sands of political power as well as¬†¬†economic and social change.¬†According to the blurb, the book ‘brilliantly blends the personal and the political’, but I think that there are moments when with so many charactes telling so many stories, and with Robertson intent on filling in all the¬† background political detail, the personal¬†gets lost. Depite it’s 600 pages, there are characters in the novel (like Billy Lennie and Barbara Gordon) whose stories are told in hurried exposition and who could have¬†had whole novels to themselves! But this, I think, is all part of Robertson’s plan, to paint some areas with¬†a broad brush while dwelling on others in loving detail.

The Lacuna, of course, has an ending that¬† makes a wonderful unity of it all, and¬†I’m hoping that Robertson will pull off something similar. ¬†¬†Even if he doesn’t, it’s a book that I suspect will stay with me¬†long after I have laid it aside, and is a uniquely authentic view of how present-day Scotland has come into being.

Happy Dawn Update – Monday 15th
Fabulous! Not only does JR draw all his threads together in¬†one climactic scene but also involves my very own Scotttish hero. That’s it. Five stars and no arguing.¬†Also an excellent omen for that other novel I am going to write. I might even start it soon.