One Lords’ blog to serve them all

I’m really enjoying the new House of Lords blog (Lord of the Blogs). Several peers post on the blog, but they don’t always agree or vote on the same side in debates, which makes the blog all the more fresh. It is a great way of fulfilling the Lords’ mission of greater engagement with the public, as well as a fascinating glimpse of what life as a Lord is like (not very Lloyd-Webberish, from my brief, but not brief enough, glimpses of "You can be Nancy" or whatever it is called). Back to the Lords’ blog. Here’s Lord Tyler:

"There I was, minding my own business on the long train journey from Cornwall after the Easter weekend, when my pager told me that there would be Government statement that afternoon. Nothing remarkable in that. A few minutes later a call on my mobile told me that I had to respond to it for the Lib Dems. Don’t panic!!"

Here’s Lord Lucas:

"Have just hosted the launch of parkingappeals.co.uk, Neil Herron’s (of Metric Martyrs etc) latest campaign. Millions of motorists may feel abused, hundreds of little organisations may spring up (like the London Motorists Action Group that I chair), but it takes a national effort to raise the funds needed to challenge the rampant council illegalities in the courts."

And here’s Baroness Murphy:

"The pace of blogging is hotting up no end, I see my colleague peers are joining us and that’s great. I try to persuade as many of my colleague crossbenchers as I can, I think I got Baroness Deech hooked the other day but failed with Lord Walton, who reckons as he’s now in his late 80s its too late to learn to use a keyboard. But I have lots of friends in late old age who find e-mail and the net a crucial tool for keeping in touch. I’ll keep working on him…"

It’s a scream. (As well as a truly great initiative.) Do sign up!

Make your nominations for Crimefest awards

If you are attending Crimefest this year, and I hope you are because I shall be there, you can now vote for the Crimefest awards. Until 25 April you can send in nominations for the Last Laugh award for the best British humorous crime novel published in 2007; and, on the same deadline, you can vote from a longlist for the Audible Sounds of Crime award. (Details for both available at this link.)

Bluestockings, brilliance and books

I was lucky that my couple of days off work to use up the last dregs of my "2007 holiday" coincided with Karen of Euro Crime’s availability today, so we went to the National Portrait Gallery to see an exhibition: The Bluestocking circle; Celebrating Modern Muses; and A Revolution in Female Manners. In a nutshell, the exhibition

"explores the impact of the original ‘Bluestocking Circle’, a group of celebrated women writers, artists and thinkers who forged new links between gender, learning and virtue in eighteenth-century Britain. These women were not just brilliant, they were exceptional, both for their individual accomplishments and for breaking the boundaries of what women could be expected to undertake or achieve."

Elizabeth Montague arranged the chairs of her salons in a semicircle where attendees were assigned places according to "talent and rank" (a challenge if one was considered to have one but not the other!), whereas Elizabeth Vesey, a more prescient harbinger of modern blogging, scattered cushions in the room so that there was "no zig-zag path of common impediment" to discourse.

The exhibition is informative about the lives of intelligent and independently minded women of these times (eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries) and their social salons and other groups. In their heyday, they wrote books, were artists and were painted as heroines and role models, often as characters from classical Greek mythology. Later, however, they were pilloried in cartoons as female freedom of speech fell out of fashion with the advent of the French revolution, and women with more comfortable, domestic values became a safer ideal than Mary Wollstonecraft and her ilk. The term "bluestocking" changed in the public mind from a compliment to an insult — even to this day it is a term of denigration, sadly – though not in my book. And while on the subject of books, you can buy a book of the exhibition — it is beautifully presented and looks very good, but it costs a hefty £18.99.

Historical scientific mysteries

At a time when there is a new prize or award announced, it seems, almost every day, it is worth reflecting on Humphry Davy, who was awarded the Napoleon medal to “promote and share scientific knowledge” at a time when England and France were at war. Davy pioneered electrochemistry, but is best known for inventing the Davy safety lamp for miners.

According to the Royal Society for Chemistry, which has just unearthed a 200-year-old letter revealing this information, in 1813, when the Napoleonic wars were still being hotly fought, Davy "undertook a dangerous voyage across the Channel accompanied by his wife Jane and his scientific assistant, Michael Faraday. It is presumed that the trio were arrested after stepping off a ship carrying prisoners-of-war from Plymouth to Morlaix in Brittany. They were only released when word was received approving their trip to Paris, where they met Napoleon’s wife Marie Louise but not the Emperor himself. Davy spent a total of two years travelling in Europe, in the course of which he identified iodine as an element for the first time."

After his death, Davy’s wife threw the medal into the sea, and the Royal Society for Chemistry has offered £1,800 reward for its return — but that’s another story.

(Via The Great Beyond.)

Sunday Salon: Petrona at Euro Crime

Sunday_salon_3The new Euro Crime reviews are up (a regular Sunday treat), including two by me. I didn’t get around to highlighting last week’s new reviews either, so here is the quartet from Petrona:

Until its Over by Nicci French: "well up to the usual standard – there are lots of nice touches and observations of London life which those who live there will recognise and enjoy. If you haven’t read French before, this title would be a good introduction to the author….. Astrid is an attractive heroine with whom one can readily identify, and the pace of the plot guarantees that you won’t want to put this book down until you have finished it."

A Small Weeping by Alex Gray: "Although I enjoyed this book, I felt that the police procedural aspects were quite weak on occasion. Lorimer is an interesting character, but he seems to spend most of his time with the profiler, rather than his police colleagues, in trying to solve the case – in the process, missing quite a few promising avenues….. the book is not helped by the expectations placed on it by the jacket blurb comparing Lorimer to Inspector Rebus (because they are both Scottish, one presumes): this series needs time to mature before these kinds of comparison can be made."

An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson: "Nicola Upson cleverly merges fact with fiction throughout AN EXPERT IN MURDER……Yet although clever, I find this juxtaposition of real and imaginary unsatisfactory, as I am constantly aware in the back of my mind that "Josephine Tey" is a fiction, but that some of what happens in the book was "real". Some aspects of the book are very sad and poignant, but I think they would have been even stronger in a wholly fictional construction, rather than in this half-fiction/half-fact way of taking a person’s life and some known events, then adding imaginary melodrama, characters, actions and feelings. The whole is, for me, a curate’s egg. Nevertheless, the evocation of London’s theatreland and the snapshot of life in Britain at that time seems to be very well-researched and conveyed."

Cold in Hand by John Harvey: "a very sad book, written by an author at the peak of his powers. Understated yet powerful, it is superb – this is going to be one of the very best novels I read this year."

There are other new reviews at Euro Crime, listed here (updated each Sunday). Particularly good ones in this batch are Karen Meek on Marek Krajewski’s Death in Breslau, and as previously mentioned but worth mentioning again, Norman Price on A Quiet Flame by Philip Kerr. Don’t just take my word for it, though, do check out Euro Crime’s great mix of books, news, reviews and all things Euro crime fiction.

Sunday Salon: thrillers, mostly in paperback

Sunday_salonIn the past couple of weeks I’ve read the latest paperback offerings of some of my favourite US or honorary US authors. A quick round-up:

Philip Margolin’s Proof Positive is well up to scratch: a thriller about a rogue criminalist, this book is as usual set in Oregon, featuring the local court and cop scene. This particular book features occasional regular Amanda Jaffe, but you don’t need to have read the earlier books about her in order to enjoy this one. A full review of the book can be found here at Mostly Fiction. Highly recommended: this author never fails to deliver a racy, pacy, no-frills, well-plotted read, with strong characterisations.

Similarly, Robert Crais delivers the goods in The Watchman, combining an exciting read with the close but sad relationship between LA private detective Elvis Cole and his associate, mysterious hard man Joe Pike. The Watchman mainly features Pike, here taking on the job of protecting a Paris Hilton type who has witnessed a crime. But Elvis features and a little bit more of the partners’ back-story is revealed on top of the urgency of solving the current mystery. All one can do really is hope it won’t be too long before the next installment.

Stephen White, too, is on good form with Dry Ice, in which psychologist Alan Gregory is targeted by a villain from a previous book. As well as the typically convoluted plots, the fun of the Gregory books is the obsessive secrecy: Alan can’t tell his wife Lauren much because of his exaggerated sense of client confidentiality; Lauren can’t tell Alan much because she’s in the DA’s office — and both partners are well aware of what the courts can make each one reveal about what the other has said. Their friend Sam, a local police officer, similarly can’t tell either Alan or Lauren about ongoing investigations. The fun comes when all three of them are involved in a case that overlaps with their three universes (as is very much the situation here), and although it turns out here that the strict ethics of the three main characters hasn’t prevented them from keeping secrets from each other or from doing illegal and unprofessional things on the quiet, who cares — it’s readable, exciting and a welcome addition to the series.

Lee Child, who isn’t American, writes about one, a quintessential modern cowboy, Jack Reacher– a serial drifter upholding the eternal moral law. Mostly I love his books but his current outing (not yet in paperback), Nothing to Lose, is a disappointment after an excellent first hundred pages or so. Sadly, the book then degenerates into unreality and a cycle of repetition, as Jack returns too many times to the town of suspicion to maintain credibility or even reader interest, as he seems invincible against the odds for no good reason. Of course there are highlights, but overall the book’s daft plot lets it down.

Reading for pleasure

Peter at Detectives Beyond Borders has started to read the excellent Mamur Zapt series of Egyptian police procedurals, by Michael Pearce.

Nemesis by Jo Nesbo comes to Glenn Harper at International Noir Fiction, hot on the heels of The Demon of Dakar by Kjell Eriksson. One thing both these authors have in common is that their books are being published in translation in what I can only call a perverse order, as Glenn explains.

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise reviews Not Dead Enough, by Peter James, and includes some interesting background about this author (an earlier progress report is here). Kerrie has also braved Heartsick by Chelsea Cain, the book with "that" promotional video (unviewed by Petrona).

The Fourth Man by K. O. Dahl gets the treatment at Material Witness.

Stephen Lang reviews J. G. Ballard’s haunting and prescient novel of "ruined London in the distant future", The Drowned World (one of those books that once read is never forgotten). John Self at Asylum reviews Miracles of Life, the author’s recently published, and well-received, autobiography.

Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell is devoured (with a touch of Ken) by dovegreyreader scribbles.

Martin Edwards muses on the mystery of Margot Bennett – why did she never publish another crime novel after winning the CWA main prize in 1959?

Good news for fans of Scandinavian fiction: see Euro Crime’s new categories and organisation, making it even easier to choose your brand of poison (or other murder).

Harum Scarum by Felicity Young sounds like fun at Crime Down Under.

Norman Price assesses Philip Kerr’s A Quiet Flame — the book and its context — over at Euro Crime. If you read only one review in this collection of links, I recommend this one. Not only is it an excellent review, but it provides a strong sense of the importance of history, and of remembering.

Uses of blogging: personal and professional

James Long writes on The Digitalist, the Pan Macmillan digital publishing blog:

"Michael and I have been talking through ideas for posts on this blog about blogging itself. These discussions range quite widely and you can expect some challenging words from Michael in due course.
I had a strong feeling, however, that I wanted to start the discussion around the theme of the uses of blogging – by which I mean the actual practical uses that people put this radically accessible self-publishing platform to. And my mind settled easily on Maxine Clarke, who is a friend and colleague at Nature Publishing Group, and with whom I’ve had a blogging connection for over two years now, as representative of this theme……
….Maxine has found a number of uses for blogging, and kindly agreed to write an article for The Digitalist, describing these uses, both in her personal and her work life.
In the first part of her article, Maxine highlights how book blogging has enriched her reading life; in the second part, she outlines some of the constructive uses of blogging in her professional capacity."

Well, what are you waiting for? 😉 I’d be delighted if you’d care to visit the Digitalist to read my article, featuring the left and right-hand sides of my personality.

Digital and online book-publishing news

Via Martyn Daniels of Brave New World (the UK Bookseller Association blog), the Bookseller reports that the literary agency PFD "is entering a print on demand relationship with Lightning Source which will enable it to bring back out of print works from its authors and estates and makes these available through Amazon and the two wholesaler channels of Gardners and Bertrams. This clearly throws the gauntlet down on rights reversals and opens up all sorts of potential opportunities for both authors and agents. By bringing these works back they effectively block publishers wakening up and doing it themselves and also are one step away from securing the full digital control of these works."

Mark Thwaite of The Book Depository, my other much-appreciated source of news about what’s in the Bookseller when I haven’t seen a print copy for weeks, links to an informative post "Ignore rejection slips, DIY is the route to go" at journalist Danuta Kean’s blog, and adds: "If the expectation from any new author is that their publisher will have much time or energy to really get behind their book and push it for all they are worth they are, in most cases, likely to be very disappointed. Taking the DIY route means taking on to your own shoulders the responsibility for getting other people thinking and talking about your book: it means getting a website up and running, and a blog, and a presence on the social networking sites, and touring the bookshops, and padding the streets."

And finally, for this post, John Reed at Publishing Talk highlights the spring edition of The Deal, the official magazine of the upcoming London book fair (edited by the same Danuta Kean cited above) recommending "Steve Hatch’s article “Communication Breakdown” for a few frightening statistics on the mismatch between publishers’ online spending and their customers’ behaviour", and providing an extract from his own article about social media.

Events at The Women’s Library

Via a friend and colleague, I today learnt about The Women’s Library in London, "a cultural centre housing the most extensive collection of women’s history in the UK. Access is free and open to everyone". She told me about a literature course, which sadly owing to other commitments I cannot attend, called Significant sisters: key fiction, key themes. The course, on Saturday 29th March and Saturday 12 April, introduces "key women writers exploring women’s roles in earlier periods, this two-day course will discuss two unforgettable anti-heroines via Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace and Edith Wharton’s Custom of the Country: a contemporary novel steeped in the nineteenth-century, and a satirical novel from 1913 that feels surprisingly modern. It is led by writer and lecturer, Lynn Knight, author of the biography Clarice Cliff."
The Women’s Library also has a well-established book group, "a welcoming and informal place to discuss a wealth of work by women writers. Please feel free to attend occasionally or regularly. Read the book and come to share your thoughts! Sessions £5 including wine, soft drinks & nibbles." Thursday 27 March, 6.45pm: Black Girl/White Girl by Joyce Carol Oates; 24 April: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley ; 29 May, Beloved by Toni Morrison; and 26 June, Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. Do take a look at The Women’s Library website for lots more events and services.