Cuppa and some Scottish shortbread with Oscar de Muriel – The Strings Murder

photo (13)

To say we’re a little nervous today is an understatement. We are sitting in an empty room with barely a stick of furniture in it except a small table and two chairs. There is an old violin lying on the table, its bow propped beside the chair nearest to us. To the right of us and dominating the room is a fireplace that is in desperate need of a clean…..and the thought of this frightens us.

The room is silent – this dark, wooden floored room in the darkest house in Edinburgh that we’ve ever seen. Glad there’s two of us otherwise I know I would be out of here by now. This is the setting of Oscar de Muriel’s novel The Strings of Murder, about murder, intrigue and supernatural goings on.

That violin catches my eye again and a shiver whistles down my spine..

It’s then that I hear the music…softly at first but its rising tone distinctive. A haunting melody played on…oh ho…a violin and the music is getting closer and closer.. I shoot a look at the table and the violin is still there…but where is the bow?

There is now the sound of beating – but I realise it’s my heart measuring the extent of my anguish…for the violin music is getting louder…closer….so close…it’s as if it’s in the room with us…..

And then the door opens and Oscar de Muriel is standing outside grinning away with a violin in his hand. oooh if there was anything in this room to throw I would have done  😉

If you’ve read the book The Strings of Murder, then this scene setting will explain how much we were engrossed in this book and how when Oscar invited us to Edinburgh, we jumped at the chance….literally as it turned out!

(We allow Oscar to sit down and get comfortable. He’s brought  Scottish shortbread and tea with him so we’ll forgive him for the scare)

Hi Oscar!


Edinburgh is a strong character in your novel. What made you set it there?

Very early on (and I mean within minutes of coming up with the main premise) I decided I didn’t want to set the story in London – as much as I like the capital, I think it’s been overused in Victorian fiction. My mind immediately went to Edinburgh. I love that city. I’ve been there a million times and whenever I visit I don’t want to leave. Besides its great atmosphere and history, it justified all the English vs Scottish humour I just love to write.


You’ve really nailed the English Scottish banter between the two policemen! It’s very funny indeed. When you first visited Scotland did this or the accents not faze you at all?

Not at all. Something about the UK I find fascinating is how you can travel 10 miles and encounter completely different accents and dialects. Frey may have slandered the Scottish speech, but as a former musician I love how rich and resonant it is.


Oscar's Edinburgh (pic from the man himself)
Oscar’s Edinburgh (pic from the man himself)

Which Scottish food do you like and which will you not try? ( there was  a funny quote to haggis in the book so we wonder if this will come up…..)

First thing that comes to mind is raspberries in a boozy cranachan.

Being Mexican, people are always surprised when I tell them I really like British food. I must admit haggis was a bit of a dare, though. In Mexico we have a similar dish (moronga) but, at least to me, haggis beats it every time, with the oats and all the spices. I wish I could put an addendum in the book: Frey is a fussy upper-class snub and he of course hates haggis, but that’s just him!


The violin is a mysterious instrument in this story. What are your own experiences of the violin? We know you play but why did you decide to involve this in your novel?

Being a musician myself helped a lot. There are parts of the book I think only a violin player could have come up with, like getting a rash on your neck when you play for too long!

I’d had this idea in the back of my head for nearly ten years. My violin teacher told me the legend around Tartini and his Devil’s Trill Sonata, and I always wanted to weave that into a story. I never found the chance until I needed a first case for Frey and McGray. It simply belonged there.


Will you set a novel in Mexico at some point?

I have several ideas and two finished drafts in Spanish. Mexico has a very rich history and there are several periods I’d like to explore. The 19th century was particularly interesting, and Mexico interacted with the rest of the world in fascinating ways.


Did you find something out about Edinburgh in your research that surprised you?

The main surprise was how little the city has changed (layout wise) across the centuries. You can pick up a map from the 1880s and quite happily find your way. That happened to me when I jumped onto the aforementioned bus to Morningside, a few years ago.


Edinburgh old town (Pic from Oscar)
Edinburgh old town (Pic from Oscar)

Will we be returning to Edinburgh with Frey very soon?

Yes! I’m working on the finishing touches of the second book. It will be released early 2016 and the plan is to have a new adventure every year. I will not only explore Edinburgh though; there will be trips to Lancashire, the Highlands and London. I’m really looking forward to do that writing.


Where is your favourite place in the city?

Hard to pick, but I’d probably go for Arthur’s Seat. How many wild mounts can you find in the middle of a bustling city?

Ah Oscar it’s been a grand chat but this place still makes me nervous. Can we go outside now? I need to leave this place

So with that we’re off… Oscar leading the way….but as soon as I go to close the door, I hear an enormous whoosh – the fireplace has emitted a hazy fog, filling the room. Coughing and screaming, I exit the house in a hurry. Oscar and his violin are nowhere to be seen…

Pint and a packet of crisps with Christopher Fowler – Bryant and May books

If you think you know London, then you haven’t read the great Bryant and May books set in London which showcase the undiscovered London – the time, place and settings that you may not have come across before. And what a journey these books take you on! Back in time and steeped in the true character and essence of the city, Bryant and May are your perfect guides.

Christopher Fowler
Christopher Fowler

So, we’re thrilled today to greet Christopher Fowler on the booktrail today for a pint and a packet of crisps. More ‘London’ that a cuppa and a cake we thought.

Hi Christopher. Thank you for meeting up with us. (we’ve met in the Crutch Friars pub which is very close indeed to one of the locations in the book The Burning Man – a rather grim location if truth be told, but it’s very exciting to be here!)

The Bryant and May books are a rather recent discovery for us but we’ve read quite a few since! What a great concept and the camaraderie between the two characters is a lot of fun.

burning man

You really capture the essence of London in this novel  – with the history of riots and the Great Fire. What inspired you from this period in particular?

Good question – I’d read a lot about riot and insurrection in London, especially ‘King Mob’, the idea that Londoners have a right to go out on the street and protest. I worry that we’re losing our interest in politics and have been made too docile to do this again.

A grand but old house near the Thames. Pic courtesy of C Fowler
A grand but old house near the Thames. Pic courtesy of C Fowler

Which part of London, or sight do you admire and enjoy writing about the most?

Probably the Square Mile and around the river. Also I love the East End, which reminds me of how Camden Town used to be, where I grew up. Camden is now just a dumping ground for tourist coaches – the real fun is in the East.

The Square Mile
The Square Mile

Bryant and May are a good double act – what is it you like to write about them?

I love it when they argue and then find ways of meeting each other halfway, just as you do with a great friend who often annoys you. It doesn’t stop you from being friends. I’m suspicious of people who agree with each other too much. We can have opposite opinions and still connect.

London and the St Pauls Skyline as seen in the books. Pic courtesy of C Fowler
London and the St Pauls Skyline as seen in the books. Pic courtesy of C Fowler

Should there be a Peculiar Crimes Unit today? can you tell us a little more about it?

Actually I’m surprised there isn’t one. The PCU is London’s most venerable specialist police team, now based in King’s Cross. It’s a division that was founded during the Second World War to investigate cases that could cause national scandal or public unrest. My father was a scientist who worked in an experimental wartime communications unit. He and his colleagues were very young, and couldn’t have realised that they were working towards a discovery that changed the world. The full story is told in my memoir ‘Paperboy’, which he sadly didn’t live long enough to read.


Would you invite Bryant and May to a dinner party and who else would you invite?

I’d have all the detectives who aren’t as well known as Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple, like Dr Thorndyke, Gervase Fen, Mrs Brady, Albert Campion and Sir Henry Merrivale. Look ‘em up!

Then Christopher gets out an old notebook and shows me a quote that he’s written down and kept close to hand. Plus a later comment from his mother really inspired his crime writing in a very unique way!

There’s a great quote from Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the bouncing bomb that destroyed the Ruhr dams in WW2, who said, ‘There is nothing more satisfying than showing that something is impossible, then proving how it can be done.’ That was what interested me about mystery writing from an early age. Well, that and my mother saying ‘If you write a book it will remain in the library long after you’re dead.’ If you have read my memoir ‘Paperboy’ you’ll know it’s typical of her to say ‘after you’re dead’ to a nine year-old.

Well, as Christopher heads to to the bar to buy another pint and no doubt some prawn cocktail crisps we’ve mentioned we’re rather partial to, we’ll leave you with his details so you can get in touch with him or browse his website and have a gander around what we’re calling Fowler’s London.

Twitter –

Facebook –

PAul hardisty

On location with Paul E Hardisty – The Abrupt Physics of Dying

PAul hardisty
Paul Hardisty

I am due to meet Paul Hardisty for a chat about his new and debut thriller. We’ve arranged to meet on a dusty beach to recreate the feel of the story in Yemen. He’s also explained that the food he’s bringing instead of our usual cuppa and a cake will require an outside location. What can he mean?

Well, as soon as he appears into view, I know what he means. He’s brought a fish. Freshly caught it seems. Now I understand the need for the beach. Then I notice it’s not cooked – he directs me to a pile of twigs, bringing more and piling them up – then he starts to explain how we’re going to cook this thing. From nowhere he gets out some salt flakes and spices. As it cooks he gets some newspaper from his bag and some flat breads which he places on the sand ready. No washing up he winks.

What’s for desert? I wonder. Should I have brought a cake? We have eye balls to enjoy he says…..I am not sure what to say to this. I hope its a sweet Yemeni cake of some kind just with a strange name.

Hi Paul! The fish is ready and I’m told to rip it off in pieces like Bear Grylls. The fish is looking at me suspiciously. I fear the Yemeni cake might not happen….

Your background as the Director of Australia’s National Science Agency has certainly given you the insight and the knowledge of your subject. But what made you want to write your debut eco-thriller?

My engineering and science background is a major influence on my writing.  The projects I have worked on around the world, and the places that work has taken me, have been a source of inspiration and experience.  In the case of The Abrupt Physics of Dying, acts of willful destruction of precious water that the poorest people depend on, sparked the story.  The drive to write, however, has always been there.  I have published a couple of technical books, dozens of  scientific papers.  I even wrote an environmental newspaper column for five years for the Cyprus English language daily.  But in the background has always been the fiction, accumulated in stacks of notebooks lining my shelves since I was young.  

Wadi Hadhramat Yemen
Wadi Hadhramat , Yemen

The book is set primarily in Yemen. What kind of research did you do to portray the land and its people?

I worked all over Yemen, from Sana’a and Aden to the Masila and Hadramawt, over a fifteen year period in the eighties and nineties.  It was a wild and dangerous place then, still is now.  And as I went, I wrote.   It’s the kind of place that burns itself into your brain, and the memories of the people and the places are still there fresh and real and present.  One of the problems was that there was too much that I wanted to put in, had to cut a lot out.

Yemen is not a country covered much in literature so what can you tell us about Yemen and a country and its people?

Yemen is a lost place, a country and a people still only hanging on to the very edge of the present.  It’s almost as if the magnetic pull of the past is continually drawing them back.  Traditions, religion, harsh and inaccessible country, fiercely independent heavily armed tribes, the unremitting dry – all these things pull them back in time, and make Yemen the place it is.  I’ve never seen a more harshly beautiful place, but a lot of what you see makes you want to cry.

The subject of your novel is very current – but you portray both sides of the argument of the terrorists and the oil company – what do you hope people will take away from your novel?

I hope people will enjoy the story and the language, get a kick out of spending a bit of time in Yemen, go along for the ride – there’s a lot of action.  I’ve tried to concentrate on that and not let the themes overwhelm.  The themes are there, but as an undercurrent, I hope.  Money, oil, power, greed, betrayal, trust, faith – these are the main themes.   When faced with a situation that is clearly wrong, how far would you be willing to go to do the right thing?  And what is the right thing, in this modern world, when you are in the middle of an ancient place where the rules are very different?  In my writing I’m trying to blend science and literature, action and ethics, make it as real as I can.  

We love the way you’ve woven the Arabic language and the numerals into the book. Do you speak Arabic yourself? Which languages do you speak and does that help with your writing?

French is my mother tongue.  That’s what I grew up speaking, reading and writing. I even learned my science and math in French. I also studied Russian and Latin when I was a kid at school, and later, Spanish.  I still have trouble sometimes when speaking English: I know the French word I want to use, but can’t find the English one.  I worked in the Middle East for a long time, and worked pretty hard for a while at learning Arabic. It wasn’t much of a success.  I know enough to make people there smile.  My Turkish is better (it’s a much simpler language).  Knowing other languages, and, for instance, being able to read Maupassant in the original French, I think makes you a better writer.

The flag of Yemen
The flag of Yemen

Your backstory is just as impressive if not more so than Claymore’s. What has been a highlight or a memorable moment from your own work?

The chance to live in many different places, go there not as a tourist but working with the local people and having the time to let the places really get into you so you can feel them, so that they stay with you, has been great.  I’ve been very lucky.  Early in my career, still in my twenties, I started an engineering consulting firm with four partners. We spent the best part of 20 years building it up to a thousand-person enterprise, sold it in 2006.  Working for ourselves allowed the freedom to go after the kind of work we wanted to do in the paces that interested us. I was young and did things you can’t and would not do now.   A few highlights:  spending time with Yuruk Kurdish nomads on the Turkish-Iraqi border, eating with them, learning their language, falling in love (for a very short time – it was always going to be impossible, and dangerous);  finally finding the woman who by some miracle was made for me and eloping with her to Ghana in West Africa where I’d been working rehabilitating village water wells, and getting married in a village ceremony deep in the forest in a tiny village, our nuptials toasted by the village chief;  crawling up the to the edge of a river at night in Ethiopia, drunk and the world spinning, and looking out across into Eritrean rebel held territory as the Mengistu regime was falling, hearing the gunfire up and down the valley and the tracers looked so beautiful, like night rainbows. 

Can you tell us anything about your next book and where it’s set?

Orenda books has just agreed to publish the sequel to ‘The Abrupt Physics of Dying’ – it’s called ‘The Evolution of Fear’.  The first chapter of the sequel is included in the back of Abrupt Physics.  It’s set partly in Istanbul (my favourite city in the whole world, where I’ve spent a lot of time), and in Cyprus, in the Med, where I lived and worked for about eight years.  A fascinating place, with a history so deep and complex that once you get into it, feels like a maze with no exit.  The conflict between Turkish-occupied North Cyprus and the Greek south is the backdrop.  Evolution and extinction, life and death, renewal and loss are key themes.

Thanks very much Paul for meeting and having a chat. And for bringing that Hamour fresh from the Red Sea. I have quite honestly not tasted anything quite like this before. (We passed on the eyeballs funnily enough)  Oh what a taste and what a book!  Thank you for taking us to Yemen and for sharing your experiences and the history of the country. Quite a journey!

You can connect with Paul via twitter – @Hardisty_Paul  and his website –

Orenda Publishers –  and @OrendaBooks

Ann Morgan - author

Reading the World – Cuppa and a cake with Ann Morgan

ann morgan

To say that the excitement at the booktrail today is high is an understatement. For this morning we had brunch with the lovely Ann Morgan of Reading the World fame. She is the inspiring lady who set herself the task of reading a book from 196 countries. Imagine the TBR pile!

Some countries didn’t have many English language texts available but Ann set herself another challenge of finding them and find them she did. She reached every single one of her destinations and read herself around the world.

How inspiring is that? What a literary traveller and what a booktrailer!

so we’re having an international brunch today – sausages from Germany, Cheese from France, Crackerbread from Sweden, bacon from Denmark and of course Cake and a cup of tea…..we chat with Ann…

Reading the world? Literary explorers? Yes please!
Reading the world? Literary explorers? Yes please!

The Olympics of 2012 was one of the inspirations to read books from several countries. You chose the UN recognised states plus Taiwan – 196 countries in all. WOW!

What was the hardest  book to track down?

Because there aren’t books from every country on the shelves of any bookshop, I often had to rely on unpublished translations sent to me by authors or translators. When it came to the Portuguese-speaking nation of Sao Tome & Principe, I exhausted every option I could think of – I emailed students on gap years, doctors on placements there, charities working in the region and everyone said that they didn’t know of a Santomean book available in English. In the end, the only way I could think of to get hold of a book I could read was to ask volunteers to help me by translating a short-story collection specially. Amazingly, lots of strangers around the world replied, offering their services and, within six weeks, I had the entire collection to read.

Your project of reading the world is really inspirational. What do you hope that people take away from your  book and inspire them to do in their own reading?

Thanks. I hope it inspires people to venture further in their reading and not to be scared about not knowing enough or being cultured enough to tackle books from far-flung places. It’s easy to feel intimidated by books that are different to what you’re used to and to feel that you are not knowledgeable enough to read them but the truth is there is no such thing as a world-literature expert. With thousands of books published each day, it’s impossible for one person to keep up with everything that’s out there. Even the most well-read person will only ever get through a fraction of a percentage of what’s available. That can feel daunting, but it’s exciting too.


Which of the countries would you now like to go to having been there via a  book?

I’d be happy to go anywhere. But one of the places I really liked the sound of was Bhutan. I read Kunzang Choden’s ‘The Circle of Karma’ about a female Buddhist’s mental and physical pilgrimage to find peace and enlightenment. The country sounded beautiful, set high in the Himalayas, and I have since learned that it is often rated one of the happiest nations on earth, which is intriguing.

Have you travelled somewhere purely because of a  book you’ve read?

No. For me the link between reading and travelling isn’t straightforward. Quite a few of the books I read were not set in the countries in question. British writers write about other places all the time, so I didn’t see why I should expect the authors I read to stick to stories set in their own nations. For me, the quest was about discovery, accessing voices and exploring mindsets and ideas rather than building up a picture of the physical world. I don’t think one book (or even several books) can stand for a place. Each story is a partial, subjective account. You get very different things from actually going somewhere.

Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur

During your journey – who did you meet that inspired you in particular and why?

I met a lot of very inspiring people – both virtually and face to face. One person whose kindness I will always remember is a woman called Rafidah who left a comment on my blog shortly after I launched my appeal asking people to help me by suggesting what I should read from different parts of the world. She lived in Kuala Lumpur and instead of simply making a a suggestion, she offered to go to her local English-language bookshop, choose my Malaysian book and post it to me. It was such a kind thing to do for a stranger more than 6,000 miles away that it really inspired me to embrace the project and give it my very best efforts. In fact Rafidah’s kindness proved to be the pattern throughout the year: time and again people I didn’t know did research for me, sent me unpublished translations of books that I wouldn’t have been able to read otherwise and even, in the case of the world’s newest country, South Sudan, wrote me something to read.

Camilla Lackberg book in Swedish and English
familiar translated fiction. What about the rest?

Why is reading translated fiction important to you? Sad that only around 3% of books are translated fiction. Do you think it puts people off for some reason? Which country is underrated in your opinion?

The latest figures show that around 4.5 per cent of fiction, poetry and drama published in the UK and Ireland is translated – not a great deal more than 3 per cent, but slightly better.  I think people are often intimidated by translated books because they fear they won’t know enough about the cultures and traditions they come from to understand them properly. One of the problems is that that 4.5 per cent is not spread evenly across the planet, so they are many countries that have little or no commercially available literature in English translation. Portuguese- and French-speaking African countries are particularly hard to find translations from and several of the less affluent South American nations also have very few books in English.

From your list – Which  book stands out if any?

It’s impossible to pick one out. I have a list of ten favourite commercially available reads (but there were also some extraordinary books that aren’t available to buy – yet):

Albania – Ismail Kadare Broken April

Canada – Nicole Brossard Mauve Desert

Czech Republic – Bohumil Hrabal Too Loud a Solitude

Mongolia – Galsan Tschinag The Blue Sky

Myanmar – Nu Nu Yi Smile as they Bow

Pakistan – Jamil Ahmad The Wandering Falcon

Serbia – Srdjan Valjarevic Lake Como (limited availability)

Sierra Leone – Ismael Beah A Long Way Gone

Tajikistan – Andrei Volos Hurramabad

Togo – Tete-Michel Kpomassie An African in Greenland


Which country are you dying to revisit via fiction?

I’ve already revisited a lot of them and continue to do so as people are still coming to my blog and recommending books. The list on the site contains all the valid recommendations I’ve had to date and I expect I’ll be working my way through them for years to come.

Wow, Ann that is an impressive list  – and that’s only 10! We also love reading books from writers of different countries and also those set in various countries around the world as you really are travelling in a sense if not only from your armchair. When you travel there for real, it’s a different kind of excitment and we love both!

We agree that if you don’t read translated fiction you are definately missing out. Translators enable us to read so much more that otherwise we wouldn’t have access to. Well, unless you learn a language of course and you can do that with reading books! A great linguistic guide as well as a travel one.

One last question if we may – A dinner party with 5 writers of any nationality living or dead, who would you choose?

This would be different depending on what day you catch me, but today’s list is:

– T été  Michel Kpomassie

– Nicole Brossard

– Vladimir Bartol

– Patricia Highsmith

– William Shakespeare

Which  book are you  reading now?

‘The Flea Palace’ by Elif Shafak.

Best  book in translation?

I can’t begin to answer that…

Thanks Ann. Hope you enjoyed the international brunch in your honour! We’ll just finish up here eating Swedish cake and some French fancies so whilst we do that – why don’t you check Ann’s Twitter account –  @Annmorgan30 and her blog here –

Where I travel to Blackåsen Mountain to meet Cecilia Ekbäck – Wolf Winter

Swedish Lapland 2015

There were only six homesteads on  Blackåsen Mountain  so finding the one where I was going to be meeting Cecilia Ekbäck to talk about her novel Wolf Winter should not be that difficult. Getting here had been though, what with the snow that seemed to envelop everything, even mu thoughts. But the husky dogs took me part of the way and then my Swedish snow books took over as I trudged up the mountain, past the Kings Throne, over Goat’s Pass and right to Cecilia’s door

Here was the map she gave me –


But she’d promised me Princesstårta a Swedish cake used for birthdays, celebrations and well any day really. I’ve always loved Sweden and when you add cake to the mix, well….

I approach the nicest looking homestead there  – and Cecilia is there ready to greet me. We go quickly inside where a log fire is burning and she gives me a blanket to wrap around me. Then comes the cake –

cake 2

And then the questions I have for Cecilia –


1. You were born in Northern Sweden, Swedish is your first language and your parents come from Lapland. How much did this influence the setting of your book and your ability to recreate it on the page?

Massively!  I think my childhood is in this story in the shape of the setting, the culture and drivers such as the Church. The stories of my parents and grandparents are in there. The fear we felt growing up is in there. The characters are spun from people in my past. The plot is all imagined.

2. Swedish Lapland in the 18th century – you paint a picture of hardship and suspicions of witchcraft. Did you research old Swedish folklore for the book? (any stories in particular?)

A lot of the folklore is still there. I researched – read everything I could find, but the most valuable information I got from the interviews with my grandmother and her friends. And I remembered stories from my childhood. We grew up with tales about sprites and fairies, like the ones about ‘the boy on the bog’ who would steal your things if you had bad thoughts…— or Santa Claus who was not a large, jovial man dressed in red but a small, grey goblin who lived in the barn and who would punish you if you did not treat him right.

3. Is Blackåsen Mountain based on a real place in particular? Where in Lapland do you envisage the mountain and the landscape?

Blackåsen Mountain doesn’t exist as a physical place, but its nature is something I remember from my childhood: a combination of the places and memories I have from Hudiksvall, where I grew up, Knaften and Vormsele, the two small villages in Lapland where my grandparents lived, and Sånfjället, a mountain close to the Norwegian border, where our family had a cabin. Blackåsen is the embodiment of what I felt like growing up in the north of Sweden. It represents the fear, the doubts, the religious fervour, the loneliness and the need to fit in and to belong.

I imagine the mountain to be 70 kilometres inland of Luleå town – as I state in the very loose sequel I am writing right now and where maps are an important part of the tale.

Luleå town centre
Luleå town centre

4. Tell us more about the existence of the homesteads

As part of its nation-building in Lapland in the early 17th century, Sweden encouraged colonialisation and a lot of land that had previously been used by the indigenous people, the Sami, (referred to as ‘Lapps’ throughout Wolf Winter, as that was the name used at the time) was distributed to new settlers. Today a ‘homestead’ is more about the ownership of forest rather than houses. These estates are inherited, and it can be a hugely emotional issue in families – who gets to take them over.


5. Setting is vital to your story. How important do you think setting is in fiction in general? How did you go about recreating Swedish Lapland on the page?

My grandmother used to say, ‘I don’t think I’m living in Lapland as much as Lapland is living in me.’ And growing up in northern Sweden, its setting has made its mark. The long winters, the six months darkness, and the seemingly endless forest landscape – contrasted with the summer midnight sun, the hot weather and the absolute explosion of flora and fauna; one season is lived as quietly as the other is, exuberantly. This, our setting, governs, to a large part, the rhythm of our lives and imprints itself on our psyches. I am not certain I had to recreate it on the page, as much as just ‘let it flow,’ if you see what I mean?

Perhaps because of how powerfully we are marked by it, place—in the broadest sense of the word—has taken on a big role in Scandinavian crime writing and contributes to its uniqueness. The location where the scene is laid—the architect of the experience in the mind of the reader—is more than simply a supporting element in much of our fiction. I believe that this is why Scandinavian crime writing has such a broad appeal, blurring the line between highbrow and lowbrow forms of literature

In WOLF WINTER, I wanted ‘place’ – the mountain – to be almost a character in its own right. It felt right to give it a voice in the interludes. Blackåsen Mountain watches the settlers. It doesn’t care. It is dispassionate. It has already seen many of them come and go and it will see many more come and go after them. I brought this ‘place’ down onto the characters and let it impact them to the full.

As for setting in fiction in general, I think it is always important. Setting impacts characters, their drivers and mood.

wolf-winter copy

6. The role of the church and the priest in the community was fascinating to learn about. Where did you learn of this?

Again, I read whatever I could find – history books, local books, such as Om Tider som Svunnit [About Times Past – author’s translation of title], by Wolmar Söderholm, 1973, produced locally in the town of Lycksele to celebrate its 300th anniversary.

I wanted one of the characters to have direct links to what was going on in a broad national context and the priest Olaus Arosander is thus someone who has been close to the king. Olaus would have been very influential in his local community. Priests taught, preached, punished, conducted national registrations (from 1686 priests were required to conduct yearly catechetical hearings and keep records of births, marriages and deaths in church books) and also played a vital propaganda role. They had to explain the necessity of the wars to their parishioners and draw links between the parishioners’ sins and poor war performance, and vice versa. The wars would later come to have another consequence for the church. Pietist tendencies were reinforced by Swedish soldiers who returned after having been prisoners-of-war in Russia with a more personal kind of faith, enjoying meeting at home, leading each other in worship and Bible study. In response, the Konvetikelplakatet, a law forbidding ’unofficial’ religious gatherings was passed, with fierce punishments for those who dared to defy it.

7. The character of Maija who is Finnish is a tough and fearless woman. Do you think she embodies the qualities you would have needed to survive in such an environment?

In so many ways, yes. Maija has a number of traits from the women in my family – stubbornness, strength, wisdom – qualities indeed needed to survive in a harsh world. But she is also flawed, human.  She wants well, she is passionate, but proud and so much remains unsaid. I resonate with her – as a mother, as a daughter and as a woman. 

With thanks to Cecilia for braving the cold on the mountain to talk to me today. And I will never forget my visit to Blackåsen Mountain- her grandmother was right when she said -‘I don’t think I’m living in Lapland as much as Lapland is living in me.’ That’s how the book affects you.  Follow Cecilia on Twitter: @ceciliaekback and on Facebook: karinceciliaekback

hej då!

Cuppa and a rather posh cake with Kate Beaufoy -author of Liberty Silk

Today is the day that the lady who wrote this wonderful book comes round to Booktrail towers in her Liberty Silk dress and dainty shoes to share the story behind the story with us. It really was a book that made an impression on us – based on real life and the author’s grandmother no less! Given the nature of the novel and the time period in which it is set, we have the posh china out that normally is just reserved for royalty and have ordered a rather fine looking dress cake . Oh that’s enough polishing the cake forks….here is Kate herself…

Kate Beaufoy in the photographic style of Liberty Silk
Kate Beaufoy in the photographic style of Liberty Silk

Hi Kate, How honoured we are to have you over here today! It’s great to see you – your novel Liberty Silk was a firm favourite of 2014 here at the booktrail and it told a wonderful story! Thank you for bringing your photo album to show us as well.

liberty silk

What a remarkable story this is and based on real life? Can you tell us more about your story?

The inspiration for the novel came from letters my grandmother wrote whilst on honeymoon in France and Italy in 1919. My grandparents met while doing war work in Rouen just after the Armistice. They fell in love at first sight, and were engaged just five weeks later. The backstory is based on these letters; however, the rest of the story is fiction. My grandmother in reality had such a carefree life that I had to make things a little more difficult for her, so as to lend the narrative some dramatic tension!

Kylemore Abbey School - Liberty Silk, page 243
Kylemore Abbey School – Liberty Silk, page 243

What kind of research did you do of the locations in the book?

The Irish locations I was already familiar with, especially the area around Kylemore Abbey, where both Lisa and Cat were educated: my daughter boarded there. Sadly, I didn’t make it as far as Hollywood, but I did travel to Italy, where I followed the route my grandparents took, as prototype backpackers. They spent some weeks in Florence – the pension they stayed in is still there, overlooking the river Arno – my grandfather made a sketch of the view. In the Piazza della Repubblica I sat at the terrace of the café where they celebrated my grandfather’s birthday, and where Jessie gave him the beautiful sketchbook that features in the novel. 

Antibes, 1920s - Liberty Silk page 321
Antibes, 1920s – Liberty Silk page 321

How did you ‘get into’ the time periods? Paris in particular

I am one of the few people I know who actually hates Paris! Any time I have visited, there have been rail strikes or museum strikes or it has been raining nonstop, and I can’t stand the snootiness of the Parisiennes. However, reading about the city was fascinating; biographies of Coco Chanel, Ernest Hemingway and Picasso were particularly helpful, and George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London was an invaluable insight into the seedy underbelly of the city.

The Hollywood sign. Until 1949, it read ‘Hollywoodland’. Liberty Silk, page 86.
The Hollywood sign. Until 1949, it read ‘Hollywoodland’. Liberty Silk, page 86.

As for Hollywood – I have countless books set around the time of its glamorous heyday, which were invaluable for research purposes. Writing the book gave me a great excuse to re-read Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, many of which are set in not just the places, but also the eras I covered.  

Are all the characters based on real people? Can you tell us more about your grandmother?

She was a true adventuress! One of the first women to graduate from Cambridge, she was passionate about the arts: in later life she hosted a literary salon in her house in Edinburgh. My grandfather – Scotch – was indeed an artist: he was the template of the rather sexy art master in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Celebrities in the novel – Coco Chanel, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Lana Turner, Picasso, Don McCullin – appear as themselves. The Greek Count, who is the most sinister of my cast of characters, met my grandparents in Florence. He was travelling with a beautiful child, and my grandmother genuinely feared for her wellbeing.

liberty silk

Do you own a dress from Liberty’s?

Yes – the actual evening dress that features in the novel came from Liberty, and now belongs to me. It was handed down from my grandmother, along with other artefacts that provide key plot points in the novel – the cabochon sapphire ring, the Egyptian charm, the leather-bound sketchbook and – of course – the original cache of letters. You can see images of all these heirlooms on

the Liberty Silk dress as featured in the novel
the Liberty Silk dress as featured in the novel

If you could buy something from Liberty’s what would it be and why?

I would love to have the chaise longue that belonged to my grandmother reupholstered in archive Liberty print.

Which song or songs could we listen to when reading the novel – to get us in to the mood for the change of setting?

What a great question! It would have to be Ragtime for Jessie; Big Band dance music for Lisa, and Jimi Hendrix or early Rolling Stones for Cat.

And with that the cake is further demolished and we put a record on the gramophone and start up a ragtime number. Before we know it we’re both out of our chaise longues and dancing to the music. Best leave it there I think. We could be here a while. Take it away!

Location location location with Morgan McCarthy

The author of Strange Girls and Ordinary Women, Morgan McCarthy has popped round to see us as she loves to talk about the settings of novels. Well, we’ve got the maps out, put the kettle on and got the photograph albums ready  –

Morgan McCarthy
Morgan McCarthy

Location and setting in a novel are essential  – colouring the whole story and evoking all kinds of emotions. Reminding a reader about their own travel experiences, a holiday, a childhood memory of some kind. Inspiring the reader to go somewhere.

A book can transport you anywhere
A book can transport you anywhere

So how does an author decide on a location and how do they evoke it in their writing? More importantly how do they research it?

Hi Morgan, thank you so much for popping over. The cake and tea are on the table but to be quite honest the maps cover the table and Morgan’s books are the centre piece instead of the usual flowers. This is going to be a good discussion!

So, Morgan, do you write about the places you secretly want to go to? and then go for research? I would.

All three of my novels feature some time in other countries, and only about 90% of this has to do with me wanting to go on holiday to those places. 😉

In The Other Half of Me, Jonathan and Theo grow up in a wild and isolated estate in Carmarthenshire, overlooking the sea. This was inspired by my childhood trips to visit my aunt, in which I fell for the greenness of the land, the empty white beaches and the rare (in every sense) beauty of the Welsh summer sun.

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To research the heroine Persephone’s childhood home in my second novel, The Outline of Love, I drove around the Scottish Highlands looking for a landscape that felt utterly alienating and desolate. Poor Persephone: I found an area in the Assynt Peninsula that not only met the criteria but exceeded it, and plonked her house right in the middle of it. No wonder she was so desperate to leave.

For Strange Girls and Ordinary Women I upped the sunshine levels, travelling to Madeira to research Vic’s life as an ex-pat working at a hotel. I found time in between my note-taking and obsessive photography to get a little pool-time.

So dare I ask where you are planning to set book 4?

I think I may set this in the Maldives. There may not be much going on in these idyllic atolls, but this is fiction and I can fix that. Murder in the Maldives! Along with some snorkelling and sunbathing. That could work.

Yay! An author after our own hearts. After Wales, Scotland and Madeira it’s all set to get more and more exotic. Morgan we salute you – picking lovely locations and planning to set a murder in an idyllic beach setting for a novel to mix both business and pleasure. I think you should have cocktails and coconuts in the novel too – oh and sunloungers and palm trees and maybe a nice looking man……

This dreaming I mean planning could go on for some time so we’ll leave it there whilst I go and find a mini umbrella for Morgan’s fruit smoothie I’ve just served in a coconut shell.  Well nothing like encouraging an author along the right path is there?

Cuppa and a cake with Rachel Joyce (The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy)

Rachel Joyce is one busy lady – she’s been travelling around so many fantastic blogs on her official Queenie Hennessy tour that she is in need of a  nice cuppa and a cake we thought. The poor lady must be gasping for a cuppa! So, we invited her around to booktrail towers and while we didn’t have any cakes to hand, we did do a Granny spread of chocolate biscuits fanned out on a plate as we used to have as a child. We added serviettes, and a cup for Rachel with The Gaffer written on it (quite apt we thought)

The plate of treats
The plate of treats

Hi Rachel! Ah you must be exhausted! Come on in and put your feet up – I’ve bought some new slippers you might want to use to treat your tired and weary feet. And I’ve some questions in in exchange for cake. Now I’ve warmed the tea pot. Would you like milk? Sugar?


Got so much to ask you. Queenie’s story is such a brilliant companion to Harold’s side of the tale -Why did you feel that it was important for  Queenie to have a voice? Why did you want to tell her side of the story?

After the publication of ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ I began to feel that I had missed an essential part of the story; after all it is a book about journeys and destinations and Queenie’s journey is the biggest one of all. I couldn’t have included Queenie’s voice in the first book because the tension lies in the fact that we, like Harold, don’t know if she can keep living whilst he walks. But I did feel that the story had to be completed. That Queenie had to have a life and a voice. It is like telling the story in reverse shot. It requires the balance.

Embleton Bay courtesy of Rachel and Queenie
Embleton Bay courtesy of Rachel and Queenie

What did you do to find the perfect home for Queenie in Embleton Bay?

I had a picture in my mind of where Queenie lived – the beach house and the view over the sea – and so I kept going back to that part of the Northumberland coast. The day I found Embleton Bay I felt a huge rush of excitement. It was as if my imagination had suddenly become real.

Tell us a little bit about Queenie

She is a woman with secrets. I love the idea that just because she didn’t say a lot in Harold’s car, it doesn’t mean she hasn’t hundreds and thousands of words and thoughts inside her. She has a robust wit too. I like that.

The scenes in the carehome were very sad to read. How were they to write?

They didn’t feel sad to me because there is also humour. Having visited hospices, it was important to me to present them in a very positive light. The patients are not there to die. They are there to live until they die. And they do. They grab life by the neck and hang on. There is nothing but the joy of the present moment.

On Harold’s route, what are the main stopovers that you would recommend for a booktrail?

I like all of them. Once you write about a place or a person, I can’t help but care for it.

Where do you think Queenie would like to visit?

I wish I could take her to a tea dance at the Waldorf.

The shoes Queenie would wear at a tea dance
The shoes Queenie would wear at a tea dance

Queenie and Harold’s story is about a letter which starts a journey – have you ever written or received such a letter? Do you think the art of letter writing is a forgotten art?

I have never received quite such a letter – though I have received letters that I keep. Shortly before he died, my dad wrote to me. It doesn’t quite make sense to me, his letter, which makes me think he was already in a different place. And I still have the last Christmas card my grandfather sent me. My husband and I exchanged a whole load of faxes after we first met. I keep those in a shoebox, although I was devastated to find when I last looked that most of the writing has faded to almost nothing. I suspect texts and emails have to some extent replaced letters and postcards – but if want to say something important, I still try to write a letter.

Heart map courtesy of  Queenie herself
Heart map showing Berwick courtesy of Queenie herself

Do you know Berwick well and if so what do you like about it?

I don’t know it well though of course I have visited. I gave a talk very early on about ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ at the library and I have been back since, just to walk around the town.

On your tour of bookshops and signings, are you travelling as far as Harold? hehe

We are definitely covering as many miles! I try to walk every day in each place we visit, just to get a sense of where I am, but I travel the spaces in between by train or car. (Otherwise I will never get the chance to write another book.)

Thanks Rachel. I’ll put the rest of the chocolate biscuits in a box for you to take away with you  – the wagon wheels and the mint viscounts. We won’t eat them. I don’t know why we buy them to be honest….

Thank you so much Rachel for popping over. You can keep those slippers you borrowed – they’re new. Your feet need a rest after all that walking.

As Rachel leaves, there’s a whisper of a voice on the wind as I close the front door of Booktrail Towers…

It says….

49134d7cd421f2d578bd2d5523b2f274Rachel has now returned to her home at on twitter – @QueenieHennessy and on Facebook –