Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Oh, will ye no' come back again?

Yes, I will.  Next week.

This week I'm Q&Aing with the wonderful, writes-creepy-stuff-but-is-really-a-poppet, Todd Ritter on his fantoosh website cum blogspot.  His questions were fun, my answers display the usual dignified reserve . . .

Thought I'd add the Q&A now (14th Nov), for anyone else whose connection is so feeble that Todd's amazing website gives it the hiccups.

Catriona is a recovering academic, now a full-time writer, recently transplanted from southern Scotland to northern California.  The Dandy Gilver novels (six and counting) are set in a slightly imaginary time and place, made up of 1920s Scotland and the golden age of detective fiction.   www.dandygilver.com

Q. Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

The Proper Treatment of Bloodstains is the story I’ve been looking forward to as it came down the pipe towards me.  I started writing about Dandy Gilver when she was in 1922 and I was in 2001.  We were the same age then.  Now, ten years later, she’s six years younger than me.

Anyway.  The thing about 1926 was the general strike.  Reparations from Germany/cheap coal/denationalisation . . . the trick is to do all the research but put as little as possible of the boring stuff in the book . . . all led to a walk-out by the coalminers and a huge supporting shut-down.  For nine days, in May 1926, it looked possible, even likely, that Britain was going to see a workers’ revolt the like of which kicked off the Russian revolution.  We know that didn’t happen , but I was excited at the thought of writing about characters who didn’t.  Talk about tension. 

Also, for once it wasn’t too bonkers to have a private detective solve a murder.  During that nine days, anyone who stood still long enough got drafted in as a special constable to help the police.  Dandy was one of them.

Q. Did you need to do any special research for the book? If so, what’s one of the most interesting facts you discovered?

Okay, so the other half of this story is that during the nine days of the strike, Dandy is undercover as a servant in an Edinburgh mansion house, trying (and failing) to prevent a murder.  And it wasn’t so much that I had to do research as that I had to write the book to release all the research that I had done already.  I do a lot of traipsing around stately homes, castles and palaces (and I have the cheek to call it a day’s work) but impressive as the state rooms are, it’s the domestic offices that fascinate me.  Finally, in this book, I got to use all the treasure trove.  For example, did you know:

That the staircase leading to the bedrooms of the male servants was wooden so the family wasn’t disturbed by their boots clonking on the steps, but the female staircase had a layer of slate on top so that the family would hear the boots of any men who tried to sneak up there?

Also, I discovered that although jam and honey were kept in the larder (US pantry?) with the rest of the food, marmalade was kept in the cupboard which housed the boot polish and laundry soap.  I’ve no idea why.  I put this snippet in the book hoping someone would email me and tell me.  Nothing so far, but I’ll put it in my FAQs if I ever find out.

Q. Many people are content to just be readers. How did you become a writer?

So many different ways to answer this question . . . I’ll choose the one that makes me sound like an idiot, I think.  Right.  I revered writers, envied them, imagined being one ‒ all that.  I just had no idea how they did it.  I also spent a lot of my life in the midst of day-dreams of unbelievable length and complexity, with settings, characters, scenes and dramatic twists.  It took until I was 35 for me to realise that writing these down was how it was done.  See?  Moron. 

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Prepare to be amazed:- I read a lot.  I also garden.  I used to garden pretty well in Galloway; now I garden very badly in California.  I’m slowly turning my gardening vigilance from frost-protection to drought-proofing.  But it’s a humbling experience to know nothing again.  I love cooking (and the resultant eating) and so, because I’m vain, I run and cycle and swim.  If I could grow a tapeworm, I’d happily never run again.  It’s not about health: it’s all vanity.    

Q. What are you reading right now?

Bugger.  It’s never something obscure and impressive when you’re asked that question, is it?  Makes me think of when I went for a sign-up visit to my new doctor in Galloway and he asked “What did you eat yesterday?”.  I said “Ahhhh, yesterday’s not a good example, as it happens”.  He said  “Exactly”.  Clever man. 

I’m reading Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone, which is perfect reading matter while I’m pounding out a first draft because I could no more write an epic about an Ethiopian/Indian surgeon than I could grow a watermelon (it turns out).  So it doesn’t interfere.

There are some writers I daren’t look at while I’m writing a first drat – chipping it out of the ground without breaking bits off, as Stephen King puts it.  PG Wodehouse is horribly infectious.  So is Raymond Chandler.  And it’s depressing to write a crime novel while reading one written by a genius, so Ruth Rendell is out.

Q. If you were stranded on that proverbial deserted island, what five books would you want to have with you?

Right, well, BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs spots you Shakespeare and the Bible.  I always thought I’d take another copy of one –Shakespeare, it’s longer – in an exotic, unstudied language.  Then, falling back on my training as a linguist, I’d use the two texts to decode the new language and write a monograph.  When the shipload of burly rescuers hove into view around the headland, I’d have a completed work to wow the world with.  Well, to wow a few dozen grammarians with.  This plan might need some work.

Seriously?  1) Pride and Prej  2) John Irving’s The Water Method Man 3) Sunset’s Western Gardens (and I’d be up to speed for my return) 4) Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love and 5) – are we allowed collected works? – Dickens.  For the length.  I panic if I’m in a waiting room with nothing to read.  I’d go nuts on an island.

Q. What’s your favorite movie?

What’s that you say?  My favourite five movies?  Okay 1) North by Northwest (except for the cheesy last shot) 2) Moonstruck  (worst plot-envy of my life; it’s perfect) 3) Calamity Jane (I don’t care; I love her) 4) Mildred Pierce (the Joan one) 5) The Station Agent – this is a recent addition to my list of favourites, but I adore it.

Q. What’s your favorite food?

Leftovers.  Especially leftover Christmas dinner.  Specifically, very clear cold turkey gravy, set to a stiff  jelly, chopped onto hot buttered toast made with home-made bread, for breakfast, on Boxing Day.  Quite a lot of salt and insane amounts of black pepper.  With a strong cup of Yorkshire tea with whole fat milk in a white cup.  (Fussy, moi?)

Q. Cats or dogs?

Cats, cats, a thousand times cats.  I’m always surprised that people happily admit to preferring dogs – “Yes, I like an animal who looks up to me with slavish devotion”. Although, now I think of it, American dogs don’t understand my accent so when I say their names they treat me as a cat would.  I like it.

Q. Name one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you.

I dye my hair?  Kidding.  Ummmmm – there’s been a lot of accidental nudity.  I met the art director of an important UK publishing house when I had no knickers on.  And I once went to work without my skirt.  On a third occasion, I wore this weird-shaped dress to a party that was easiest dealt with in the bathroom by taking it off and hanging it up on the door hook then putting it back on again afterwards.  I forgot the last bit.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

One starrrrrr, shining in the darknesssssssss

I'm out and about again, guest blogging at Jungle Red Writers - eight smart and sassy women who write crime: it's like The View/Loose Women, with corpses.


If you've ever been laid low by a one-star review on Amazon: step right in, the doctor will see you now.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

It's not a cozy if you nail a kitten down . . .

. . . is the title of my blog this week, but it's not here.  It's on the Lipstick Chronicles site, at the kind invitation of the brilliant and beautiful Hank Phillipi Ryan.

But you know what?  Nailed-down kittens, schmailed-down kittens - controversy arose over the true nature of the turnip.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

. . . is hateful, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains recipes or graphic or gratuitous violence

I changed one word in this excerpt from Facebook's Statement of Rights and Responsibilities Para 3. Item 7.

Can you guess which?  No prizes.

Can you guess which word I took out?  What else is like graphic or gratuitous violence?  Just as shocking, just as pernicious, just as corrupting.  Why, it's nudity, of course.  As construed in the West.  Ankles are in, women's faces are fine, but breasts, bottoms are fiddly bits are out.  Facebook save us from pictures of what's under our own clothes.

I've never been able to get all that exercised about nudity one way or the other.  I'm amazed and amused to find out that breastfeeding mothers in my new country fling a tarpaulin over themselves in public (even the prudish Scots in the chill winds of home don't do that).  It never occurred to me to wear clothes in the Turkish baths, or to turn my back in communal changing rooms.  I've even been on a naturist beach.  Once.  It was nice not to have to do the beachtowel marenge to get dried and changed after swimming, but in the end I decided I'd rather wear bikini bottoms than sunblock.

One odd moment that afternoon in Norfolk was when a power-boat-ful of male morons came whomping across the bay to leer and jeer and do that bellowing noise that makes you think evolution has started running backwards.  They were having great fun until a little girl of about five, who'd been crouched filling her bucket at the water's edge, stood up and stared back at them, clearly wondering what all the noise was for. 
The leering and jeering snapped off like someone had pulled a plug; they fired up the engine and took off around the headland again.  I often wonder if they managed to reassemble the experience into a funny story in which they *hadn't* suddenly found themselves wolf-whistling at a naked little girl, or maybe an outraged story in which her naturist parents were the villains and they were just regular guys.  I hope not.

Anyway, back to Facebook.  Nudity is defined in a clear, no-nonsense way.  Photographs, paintings, cartoons, sketches: nope, no way, a strong and steady no.

And now I get to my point, possibly even slower than usual.  Facebook doesn't take the same steady line when it comes to hatefulness, threats, and incitement to violence.   There's a page on Facebook called "I know a silly little bitch that needs a good slap".  And that's one of the milder titles of pro-rape/violence pages to be found.

What's that creaking noise?  Ah . . . it's our old friend the free speech, censorship, humourless women wagon rolling onstage.

But here's the thing.  Facebook doesn't offer itself as a platform for unconstrained free speech.  It holds out against hateful, threatening or pornographic speech (I know a silly little bitch that needs a good slap).  It refuses to publish incitements to violence (I know a silly little bitch that needs a good slap).  It's against nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence (I know a silly little bitch that needs a good slap). 

I think the nudity clause is the only part of 3.7 that this page doesn't violate. 

If you'd like to see Facebook abide by its own rules even when it's only women who are the target of the hate, threats and incitements to violence, you can  sign the petition at: http://chn.ge/paURxW

Next week, light-hearted fun.  Promise.