Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Deck the halls …

Illustration by Willgard Krause

It's the time of the year for gift-giving, so give us your book suggestions please!

by Dietrich

Coming to the end of the year, I wanted to share some memorable reads from the past months. While I haven’t included any books I’ve already recommended in earlier posts, I found the hard part was picking a few from a long list of great books. The ones I ended up with are not all new, and they’re not all crime, but they’re all highly recommended. So, here goes:

Another Kind of Eden by James Lee Burke, published by Simon & Schuster, 2021. “She wore a black blouse with a white lace collar and had an animated sternness about her that suggested a conjugal situation similar to waking up each morning on a medieval rack.”  

Getting to the root of all evil from the master of description transports readers to the American midwest of the 1960s with another great novel. 

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead, Doubleday, 2021. “Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked, in practice and ambition.”

A brilliant tale of heists, shakedowns and rip-offs in Harlem in the 1960s.

Taste, My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci, published by Simon & Schuster, 2021. “Now, I am not one who is necessarily drawn to the Michelin star. Often I find that many of the restaurants that have earned this coveted award are a bit fussy, to say the least, and I’ve left a few of them completely famished, as I have never found pretentiousness very filling.”

A charming memoir filled with stories from the actor’s life both in and out of the kitchen.

Billy Summers by Stephen King, published by Scribner, 2021. “He has no problem with bad people paying to have other bad people killed. He basically sees himself as a garbageman with a gun.” 

It’s a crime novel you won’t be able to put down.

Maid by Stephanie Land, published by Legacy Lit, 2020. “It seemed like no matter how much I tried to prove otherwise, “poor” was always associated with dirty.”  

A touching and inspiring memoir of one woman’s will to survive tough times.

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan, published 2018 by Knopf. “My current life, I realized, was constructed around an absence; for all its richness I still felt as if the floors might give way, as if its core were only a covering of leaves, and I would slip through, falling endlessly, never to get my footing.”

An epic tale of a field slave’s escape from a Barbados sugar plantation in the 1830s.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, published by Penquin, 2018. “Autumn leaves don't fall, they fly. They take their time and wander on this their only chance to soar.”  

It’s part coming-of-age, part crime novel, and it’s well told.

The Devil All the Time by Donald Ray Pollock, published by Doubleday, 2011. “Some people were born just so they could be buried.”

A dark, but solid debut novel.

The Right Mistake by Walter Mosley, Basic Civitas Books, 2008. “So if you shoot me in the back how’s that gonna make you into a man? Socrates asked then. “How yo’ son gonna learn yo’ last lesson if you sneak around and bushwhack me?”  

The third in a great series centering on the life and times of Socrates Fortlow. 

Paula Spencer by Roddy Doyle, Viking Press, 2006. “It’s the only thing sexier than a sexy woman. A sexy woman cooking fuckin’ sausages.”

The sequel to The Woman Who Walked Into Doors takes focus on the once booze-soaked life of battered wife Paula Spencer, picking up ten years after the death of her husband.

I Married a Communist, by Philip Roth, published by Vintage in 1998. “Why, emotionally, is a man of his type reciprocally connected to a woman of her type? The usual reason: their flaws fit.”

Follow the story of Ira Ringold as he falls victim to the McCarthy witch hunt of the 1950s. 

Cool Hand Luke by Donn Pearce, Fawcett Books, 1965. “I wish you'd stop being so good to me, Cap'n.” 

A classic that stands the test of time, about a prisoner on a Florida chain gang who refuses to get with the system.

All the best to one and all for the Holidays. I look forward to the coming New Year with the terrific crew of writers here at Criminal Minds.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Reading for Mental Health


Reading for Mental Health in 2021, by Terry Shames

 In keeping with our tradition here at 7 Criminal Minds, I’m going to recommend some books I’ve read this year. This has been a particularly chaotic year in my life, so I really depended on my reads to keep my mental health. 

 Most of the books I’ll mention are mysteries, but there is one non-mystery that really grabbed me. Thank you to all these authors on my list for taking me out of my chaotic world and setting me firmly in the world of fiction. 

 So here’s my list: 

 I’m going to start with a non-mystery. I just finished reading Amor Toles’ The Lincoln Highway. It was very different from his blockbuster A Gentleman in Moscow, but just as compelling.

It grabbed me and held on. I can’t imagine a book better-suited for soothing the spirit. It’s a “road trip” novel and a “wise boy” novel and a book that gradually breaks your heart, but also has a healthy dose of hope. It’s about bravery and foolishness and the consequences of impulse. In short, I highly recommend it. 

 Vera Kelly is Not a Mystery, by Rosalie Knecht. Winner of the Sue Grafton Award, the book is witty and sharp, and solidly written. This writer deserves more recognition. 

 The Paris Diversion, Chris Pavone. A sequel to The Expats. You don’t really have to have read the first one to enjoy this. It’s clever with compelling characters and an ingenious plot. A really good read. 

 Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding, Rhys Bowen. Everyone should know by now that I’m a sucker for Bowen’s Lady Georgiana series. This is one of the more entertaining entries, answering the question: Will Lady Georgie actually marry the intriguing Darcy? A solid plot, and lots of fun. 

 One by One, Ruth Ware—fellow author Susan Shea gave me this one to read and I was so grateful! It’s a great locked-room mystery. Ware is an author you can trust to come up with a great plot and intriguing characters. She also does dread really well. One red herring after another builds the sense of suspense. 

 The Distant Dead, Heather Young. This was a great book. Young never disappoints, but this was above and beyond. It’s poignant and unexpected. Nominated for an Edgar. 

 Bone Canyon, Lee Goldberg. A good, solid mystery with a likable protagonist. I found it particularly interesting because he does Los Angeles (my new location) extremely well. As I read the book, I felt like I knew the canyons. And Goldberg knows how to do characters! 

 Conviction, Julia Dahl—very tightly woven story of trouble between Black and Jewish neighbors in New York in the early 90s. A young man is convicted of a crime against a Black family, and many years laterthe convicted man begs reporter Rebekah Roberts to help him prove he didn’t do the crime. Rebekah is a great character and the plot solid. 

 Please See Us, Caitlin Mullen. This book was totally original, heartbreaking, beautifully written. It won the Edgar for Best First novel. If this is her debut, I can’t wait for her next book. 

 The Guide, Peter Heller. A sequel to last year’s The River, this tale was every bit as good. I love Heller’s writing. It’s spare and clean, and poetic. It hardly matters what the mystery is because the writing is so gorgeous. But in fact, the mystery is well-crafted and doesn’t disappoint. 

 The Deep, Deep Snow, Brian Freeman. Nominated for an Edgar, it was very well written, with a solid plot and good characters. It’s a clich茅 to say that a mystery is about “secrets” in a town; but Freeman takes this trope and enriches it. 

 The Darkest Evening, Ann Cleeves—I haven’t read a lot of Cleeves, although I have watched a lot of the Vera series. I find the books different from the series, and in many ways I like the books better. The character of Vera is richer. This book is a good example. 

 I’ll mention one more book: Darling Rose Gold, by Stephanie Wrobel. I hesitate to recommend it because I despised the man characters. But I couldn’t put it down. It compelled me forward—which I suppose is why it was nominated for an Edgar.

Happy Reading, Everyone. And Happy Holidays to All.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Book Ideas for Your Holiday Shopping!

 It's the time of the year when gift-giving is being considered. Book suggestions please!

Brenda Chapman starting off the gift-giving recommendations.馃憤馃巹馃巺

So many great books this year to choose from! With the lockdown, I had a chance to do lots of reading and will give my top picks. I cannot pretend to have read every good book out there, so my choices in no way diminish the value of any other book published this year or past years. Hopefully, amongst the ten bloggers on this site, we'll have read widely enough to give some terrific selections for you or others on your gift list.

I indulged in my usual round of crime fiction reads and have two that stood out for me. My local independent bookshop owner at Perfect Books recommended Jane Harper's The Dry, and I have to say that this is one of my favourites. Harper is a print journalist living in Australia (originally from the UK), and this is her debut novel. A solid plot and stunning setting gets my two thumbs up. I'm keen to read more by Harper.

Dietrich Kalteis's novel Triggerfish is of the hard boiled variety, and as entertaining a read as you'll find. In a nutshell, an ex-cop is out on his boat with a date when he witnesses a submarine smuggling in drugs in a secluded harbour on the British Columbia coast. The trouble is he's been spotted too. Lots of action and fast-paced suspense.

In the humour category, Indians on Vacation by Thomas King is well worth a read. An older Indigenous married couple Mimi and Bird travel to Europe to retrace an uncle's footsteps to find the treasure he supposedly left there years before. Bird has numerous physical ailments and doesn't want to travel but Mimi keeps him visiting tourist sites. The story is filled with both humour and pathos.

In the excellent writing, moving and tear at your heart category, I choose Indian Horse, a second Indigenous story by another Canadian author Richard Wagameese, who sadly is no longer with us. This is the story of Saul Indian Horse, who grows up in a residential school and despite this becomes an all-star hockey player. The book is haunting, disturbing, in the end hopeful, and beautifully told. I pretty much recommend anything written by Wagameese.

In the biography/autobiography category, my choice is Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Not being into late night television. I didn't know much about Noah, but this autobiography about growing up poor and black in South Africa makes me want to invite him home for dinner. A twist, real life ending - his story is eye-opening and never dull.

In the literature category, The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett gets my thumbs up for a thought-provoking, well told read. It's the story of twin girls who grow up in the deep South. They're black but could pass for white and each of them take a very different path in life.

I read several domestic-thriller type books and Lisa Jewell's The Invisible Girl about a missing seventeen year old is the one I enjoyed the most. An interesting, twisty plot. Some of the domestic thrillers I read this past year are too disturbing for my taste, but you might have another view. 

So, that's all from me this 2021. I wish each of you a warm, wonderful holiday season with friends and family. May we all have a healthy, happy 2022 with lots of good books on our bedside tables!馃摉馃摃

Twitter: brendaAchapman

Facebook & Instagram: BrendaChapmanAuthor

Friday, December 3, 2021

Happy J贸lab贸kafl贸冒i冒 from Skye by Josh Stallings

Q:  If you could spend whatever winter holiday you celebrate anywhere in the world, where would you be? Close your eyes and describe the scene. 

A: The Isle of Skye. 

I can smell the cold clean brine of the Hebridean Sea. Waves roll more than crash on this part of the Waternish peninsula. The sky is grey, I pull up the hood of my duffle coat. The temperature would be considered cold in Southern California, but I prefer to call it “fresh.” Maybe it’s my Nordic blood. There is a Swedish saying, “There is no bad weather, just the wrong clothing.” Then again my Danish grandmother used to say “Don’t trust the Swedes, they have frogs behind their ears.” And Bel-Ami a Norwegian shield maiden, likes to taunt them with, “A thousand Swedes ran through the weeds, chased by one Norwegian.” As this is Yule or Jul, the time of winter solstice celebrations, perhaps we should throw a Yule log on the fire and leave petty taunts for another day. 

Erika and I are staying in a B & B run by a retired officer from a London Armed Response Team. Whilst recovering from a horrendous attack he learned to throw pots, and has become a rather good potter. His wife is an underwater body recovery expert. For breakfast they serve groaning platters of meats, eggs and oatmeal, with a healthy side dish of stories from their lives.

After a healthy stomp through the heather, and trot up the beach to check out a local artist’s work, we return to our room with its quilts and view of the coast line, for what is the greatest winter celebration ever, J贸lab贸kafl贸冒i冒, or Book Flood. Icelandic and only dating to 1944, it is one we can all get behind. It involves giving and receiving books, drinking hot chocolate by a fire, and reading to each other. Perfection. 

2021 has been a difficult year for so many of us. Much time spent helping friends and family members. Erika and I didn’t get nearly enough time to be together.. And that is why I am drawn back to a trip we took to Scotland. We are absolutely boring travelers. We find a good bookstore or two. Buy some local writers. On an earlier trip I discovered Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory, finding his work was well worth the cost of plane fare. If you find yourself in Scotland I suggest House. Tree. Person. by Catriona McPherson and The End of the World Running Club, by Adrian J. Walker. Books found, we walk in the mist holding hands and snooping on how the natives live. We lie in bed reading late, nudging one another to share a lovely or powerful passage.


Growing up, my mother believed for Christmas, the only thing excess needed was more. Lacking funds, she made doll’s dresses and pajamas and Robin Hood capes. Every year she would take us to F.A.O. Schwarz in San Francisco, just to look at the beauty and wonder of it all. We were Quakers, but that didn’t stop her from crashing a Catholic midnight mass. Latin let us avoid any spiritual conflicts and simply enjoy the pageantry.

Looking back, I see that as wonderful as this was, it made me feel uncomfortable. No, anxious is how I felt. The pressure to make that one day a year set all wrongs right, prove familial love, finding the right gift to say all this, was too much weight for any holiday to hold. 

On our first Christmas together Erika explained the concept of unplugging the Christmas tree. Dialing back the crazy excesses. Enjoying time together. What an insane thought. But it is what I long for. I want the extravagance of a good book, a log on the fire and beloved friends and family share it with.

Where ever you are my dear readers, I hope the the spirit of J贸lab贸kafl贸冒i冒 fills your heart and home.   

Thursday, December 2, 2021

First Fifteen, by Catriona

If you could spend whatever winter holiday you celebrate anywhere in the world, where would you be? Close your eyes and describe the scene.

I'm not going to answer the question. A. Because I'd only sob and B. because I've got a book coming out and so I'm going to talk about that. (Kind of.)There's a sort of connection, mind you: I wouldn't object to spending Christmas and New Year in any of the places where I've set the fifteen (fifteen! I means seriously, fifteen?) Dandy Gilver novels published to date. Here's my dazzlingly low-tech map of Scotland for starters. Take a squint and guess where Dandy and I are each from.
If you guessed we're from 1/4 and 2/14/5, you're right. I look like a lazy researcher, but it just so happens that I was born in an ancient wee burgh, stuffed to busting with history, and nine miles from the capital city, which also has a fair bit of this and that (volcano, 11thc castle, 12thc palace, 18thc centre that's a UNESCO World Heritage Site ... you know the kind of thing). I plonked Gilverton where it stands (1/4) so that Dandy would be in the middle and she wouldn't spend her whole life driving to cases. The roads are bad enough today, I thought. Imagine them in the 20s. This was staggeringly dumb, of course. I could have missed the driving out. Ah well, hindsight, eh? When I look at where I've sent Dandy and her sidekick, Alec, on those terrible roads, the blank bits jump out at me. What happened to the big chunk north of 9 and 13? Am I allergic to the west? And the islands? There's work to do, clearly. But here's a look back at where we've been so far.

She darts about a bit in this one. I didn't know there were going to be more so I had her visit my two favourite places - Edinburgh and Galloway - but the heart of the book introduces Gilverton in Perthshire, Dandy's family, friends, servants, and Bunty the dog. The mystery might be an apprentice piece but I nailed the setting, if I say so myself. Look here for bios and flooplans

I couldn't resist it. In Queensferry, the village where I was born and where my parents still live, a man gets covered with burdock seeds on one Friday every August, and walks the town being given sips of whisky by everyone he meets. Imagine if he fell down dead. Poisoned. What a list of suspects there would be.

Over the river from Queensferry to the Kingdom of Fife and the fictitious village of Luckenlaw (Locked Hill). I flattened the real village of Upper Largo to make space for it. Why didn't I just set the book in Upper Largo? Search me. 

Back at Gilverton for Christmas, along with a small family circus who've circled their wagons there to see out the off-season. This one was mostly sequins and weather, but the research was fun.

Nothing fictitious here. This book is set inside No. 17 Heriot Row, in the New Town, in Edinburgh. Handily enough, Robert Louis Stevenson lived there so you can get in and poke around, which is one of my favourite bits of my generally pretty lovely job. 

And back to making it all up again! I thoroughly enjoyed razing two of the ugliest buildings in Dunfermline and putting two beautiful rival department stores there instead: House of Hepburn and Aitken's Emporium. I'd shop in both. 

This was supposed to be set in Ayr, but I wrote it while I was stranded in California waiting for my greencard and Ayr was too big to write without feet-on-the-ground research. So I shifted it down the coast to lovely Portpatrick, which I know like the back of my hand. Every brick, every cobble, every rock is real. 


The Moffat Hydro is long gone - so I used it as a setting, secure in the belief that no one would write and tell me what I got wrong. And there was an unexpected bonus. I wanted a ghost for the story. I was prepared to make one up. But I checked to see if there were local ghosts I could dragoon. There were four.


Best setting of the bunch. Hands down. Crovie in Aberdeenshire looks exactly like this - tucked into the cliff like a seagull on a ledge - and the church on the hill with the skulls of vanquished Danish Kings set into the gable wall is real too. 


Typical Edinburgh - it took me ten books to go to Glasgow. It's Scotland's largest city; at the time these books are set it was known as the second city of the British Empire; and it's stuffed with stories. But it's Glasgow, as Edinburgh people would say. My dear, it's Glasgow. What fun it was to write about a West End dance hall and a snooty merchant in his villa and the very underbelly that makes Edinburgh folk clutch their pearls. (I didn't do it deliberately, but did you notice that I put it in the wrong place on the map and had to add an arrow? Typical Edinburgh.)


Hm, this might be the exception to my claim that I'd spend Christmas in any of my book settings. There's not a lot of razzamatazz on the Lanark Moor. In the book, there's even less - just a psychiatric hospital full of shell-shocked soldiers, a convent full of orphans, endless dun-coloured grassland, and twenty nuns. 


Very different story with the setting of this one. It's in a real castle - Caerlaverock, near the English border - and it's a lot more colourful than the nunnery. A troupe of theatricals are staging Macbeth in the castle keep on a balmy summer evening. It was a different play I went to see there in real life but the meadow flowers (and midges) were just the same.


Yet again, with this story about a family wedding in the country, one of my most apparently outlandish settings is absolutely real. Applecross, the houses featured, the hills and the hellish road (see pic below) - all there to be visited. Even the wild history of St Maelrubha didn't need much of a nudge to get as Gothic as I could have dreamed.


I can walk to this setting - Cramond - from my mum's house. The castle is there, the cottage is there, the island is there and you can stroll over at low tide (hat tip to Agatha Christie). The wee tiny house on the island is still there too. Two of the mills are in ruins but there's a public footpath that skirts their sites. Of course the pubs are real. And Dandy goes on a jaunt to the science campus of Edinburgh University. It tickles me too, that she visits a bookshop in the book. And that bookshop now sells the book. I'm easily amused.


Next week, this comes out in the US. And - ahem - it would make a lovely Christmas present. Tell you what, if you buy one one for someone for Christmas, let me know and I'll send them a card too. 

But back to setting. It's located very squarely in the real city of Dundee, with lots of street scenes and a murder in Dudhope Park. I don't know Dundee all that well, which is probably why I made sure to walk in Dandy's footsteps and drive her routes to check that the plot worked. I'm so glad I did. I found real treasure on that research trip: a street so narrow I had to have Dandy and Alec slip along it, feeling not quite safe

and a beautiful architectural survival from the time when Dundee was a seafaring city above all else:

 Isn't that grand?


Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Nadolig Llawen by Cathy Ace

DREAM: If you could spend whatever winter holiday you celebrate anywhere in the world, where would you be? Close your eyes and describe the scene.

Maybe 1965? Rosy cheeked, wasn't I!?

I grew up celebrating Christmas, and continue to do so, though my celebrations have become more secular as the years have passed; I think the last time I attended a church service on Christmas Eve/Christmas Day was about ten years ago. The norm, since I’ve lived in Canada, has been for Husband and I to have Christmas Day alone, with phone calls to our families in Wales during Christmas Day, with our Canadian family visiting us on Boxing Day (NB: yes, Boxing Day is a Big Deal if you’re from the UK).

Last year there was no large family gathering in Canada, and we doubt there will be this year either (part of our family lives in the area adversely affected by the tragic flooding we’re experiencing here in BC at the moment, so we’re not making any specific plans at this time because road closures and gas rationing mean they can't get to us). I mention all of this because it might help you understand why I am about to say this…I know my dream is impossible, but…

Maybe 1966? Ready for Scottish dancing
at the church hall...and those cheeks!!!

In my entire life, I have only celebrated Christmas in two locations: at home in Wales, or at home in Canada. For me, Christmas and home are synonymous...which is problematic when you have family ranged over two continents. Thus, I honestly don’t care about the location of my dream Christmas, nor do I care about the food being served (though turkey with all the trimmings would be nice, thanks), or the gifts (except hugs…hugs ARE gifts, right?)…I’d just like these people to be present, please:

My mother and late father (as they were about twenty years ago…everyone else can be just as they are today); my sister; my husband; all our Canadian family, including our six grandchildren; my brother- and sister-in-law, their children, spouses, and grandchildren. That’s it. Oh, and can we please have the ability to watch as many Morcambe & Wise and The Two Ronnies shows from the 1970s, please? Thanks.

My first or second Christmas, I believe...
 TV rented from Rediffusion

As luck would have it, I was given the chance to talk to the wonderful author Alexia Gordon about Christmas tradtions that mean something to me in this podcast - so if you want to know more about why the smell of Brasso means Christmas to me (yes, Brasso!) check out this link: Alexia Gordon's Authors on the Air podcast

Nadolig LLawen (that's Happy Christmas in Welsh) – from me and mine to your and yours, Cathy x

PS: If you'd like to read books through the Holidays, maybe try one of mine? Lots of my books are set in Wales, or you could travel the world with Cait Morgan! CLICK HERE!

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Ah, Cabo...

 If you could spend whatever winter holiday you celebrate anywhere in the world, where would you be? Close your eyes and describe the scene.

From Frank

We've spent several winter vacations in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, at an all-inclusive resort. Closing my eyes, what do I sense?

Eighty degrees every day. Sunshine. 

Several pools. The beach. Volleyball. Water polo. 

Music playing, everything from classic rock to Mexican folk... with Toby Keith's "Cabo San Lucas" in heavy rotation.

Good food. Not the greatest wine but it's beer weather, and Dos Equis is good. 

Friendly people, both staff and other guests.

A good book all day while sitting next to the pool and soaking in rays and sipping drinks.

Shows in the evening, surprisingly high quality.

A day trip to an island out in the bay.

More good food and beverages.

My wife, able to relax and let go some of that teacher stress. 

Our good friends whose trip overlaps and who we don't see nearly enough.

Ugh. I have to stop. Only a few weeks ago, I canceled our reservation at the resort, as well as all the other logistics -- dog boarding, flight watch, all of it... my wife's sister and husband were originally coming but canceled back in September. Our friends still haven't decided whether they're going. Our dog is old and hasn't done well with boarding in the past. Travel in a still-Covid world isn't pleasant, and restrictions at the resort, while smart and necessary, don't make for a fun way to spend a vacation.

So, we're out. Winter vacation ain't happening. Thus, when I close my eyes, instead of Cabo, I see...our living room. And the hope that one of our binge-worthy shows will have new episodes to stream.

Maybe next year...



I mentioned a good book as part of the Cabo equation. I usually took two with me, figuring that I'd finish at least one in the five days we spend there, mixing in reading with all the other activities. If you find yourself wanting a winter read, may I offer my latest River City installment, Dirty Little Town?

You can get it now on Amazon or other platforms.

Times are tough for the River City Police Department. The city budget is collapsing, forcing an already understaffed department to contemplate laying off cops. The community is upset over the handling of recent events, and their anger is impacting the agency from the ground up. Negotiations with the police union are somehow both heated and stagnant at the same time. To "fix" the problem, the mayor appoints a new chief, but the cure may be worse than the disease.

Worse yet, a killer is stalking the streets of River City, targeting vulnerable women. Rookie detective Katie MacLeod is assigned to assist in the effort to stop him but the case is stymied.

Somehow, the men and women of RCPD have to put aside all of the distractions and focus on their jobs – to serve and to protect.

Takes place in 2003.

Monday, November 29, 2021

I'm Dreaming of a Paris Christmas

 Q: If you could spend whatever winter holiday you celebrate anywhere in the world, where would you be? Close your eyes and describe the scene.

- from Susan


My answer might be different every year. As an adult, I’ve spent Christmases in Bali, Paris (twice), Santa Fe, The Big Island of Hawai’i, and New York City. Every place did it differently. The Balinese have strong spiritual practices but at Christmas, they’re only catering to Westerners, so it’s all ersatz, decorative, with a desire to please. Santa Fe is famous for farolitos (candles in paper bags) that stud the tops of walls, line pathways, and make for a sensational show against the adobe. Spanish and Pueblo cultures aren’t the same at all, but they co-exist nicely. I think the corn dance we went to around New Year’s day at the Taos Pueblo is a winter dance.


It’s something they do in Hawaii: use every holiday excuse to set off fireworks. In the evening – and this took place on Christmas night the year we were there - people bring out their beach chairs, make spiked rum punch, and enjoy the cacophony. The kids dance around madly, screeching. No “Silent Night” here!


New York’s my hometown, and the holiday magic is familiar to everyone. I recall my wobbly ice skating evening with Tim at Rockefeller Center’s rink, incredible, animated, musical store displays, waltzing to a full orchestra in the main lobby of Grand Central Station, and an incredible roast beef and Yorkshire pudding dinner at the kind of restaurant you go to only on rare occasions.


But if I could choose right now, it would be Paris. Sometimes it snows. There are chestnut sellers and accordion players on the little bridge behind Notre Dame. There are lovely decorations – often in colors we don’t associate with Christmas – pink, blue, silver – and the huge atrium and dome inside Galleries Lafayette, concerts in old stone churches, fabulous, warm food everywhere, and that je ne sais quoi that is Parisians at their most Parisian. And the presents for sale! Such artistry, luxe, beauty. Bonus: It snowed on Christmas Eve once, big, dry flakes that tumbled down slowly and created as much more magic as we could stand! 

Ah, yes, Paris it is in my 2021 dreams. 
Joyeux No毛l!

Friday, November 26, 2021

An Appetite for Construction (of sentences)

 by Abir

Share your favourite writing snack or drink – one that gets you moving when you're stuck or allows you to relax after a time spent “butt in chair.”


Well this is an interesting question. It seems almost tailored to me because I’m fat and lazy and rely on a conveyor belt of snack and hot beverages to get me through the day. So let’s start at the beginning.


I’ll get up at around 6.30 and make my wife a coffee. Me making her the first coffee of the day has become a bit of a ritual in our house. She makes pretty much everything else in terms of meals and snacks for both of us, but by making her that first cup, I’m both in the good books (she doesn’t like to get up early) and am storing up good karma for the rest of the day.


I won’t drink coffee that early. I used to, but then I read an article on the internet (so it must be true) saying coffee first thing was bad for your blood pressure. So I stopped. Instead I’ll have a cup of green tea (which tastes like hot, liquid seaweed – but I don’t really notice cos my tastebuds don’t come to work till 9am) and make myself a bowl of porridge. The secret to good porridge is to let the oats soak for at least an hour apparently, but who’s got time to soak their oats for an hour when you’ve got coffee to make for the wife and kids to resuscitate, feed, dress and shove out of the front door in time for school? Not me. I just let them soak (the oats, not the kids) for about five minutes; six on a good day.


So anyway, let’s assume we all make it through to 8.30am without any disasters such as the kids not finding their shoes or setting fire to the house. That’s when a degree of peace descends. The two idiots are on their way to school. The wife has generally popped out for a quick trip to the high street. Guildford has a lovely high street, by the way – all cobblestones and ye fake olde English facades. It’s just a shame the shops are so expensive.


So I’ve got the house to myself. I’m loaded up on porridge and now I feel like a nap. But that’s not allowed cos I’ve got work to do: books to write, edits to finish, Twitter and Facebook and Instagram to trawl. So this is when I have that coffee. Then I’ll set to work, generally spending half an hour writing before going on social media and getting angry at stuff until about 11am when I remember I’m supposed to be working.


Generally I have lunch around lunch time, which seems to work well. I went through a phase of eating a lot of sushi at lunch times, but since the advent of Covid I don’t have as much of it cos I’m worried the sushi people are going to sneeze on it (by accident) in the shop. I know this is stupid, but I can’t help it.


Afternoons are the hardest part of the day for me in term of concentrating on my work. The bursts of writing get shorter and the periods of time wasting increase exponentially. Afternoons are when I snack more too. There’ll be several cups of tea, accompanied by McVitie’s Rich Tea biscuits. Now the Rich Tea Biscuit is a much maligned thing. Some people will tell you that they taste like dry-wall or loft insulation, but do not listen to these people. They are bitter and twisted and deserve only your pity. The Rich Tea biscuit is in fact a marvel of culinary engineering. Their consistency is just right for dunking in semi-hot tea and they are wonderful. I generally eat 3 or 4 with each cup of tea. I tried cutting down to two per cup, but that seemed to remove a lot of the magic in my life.


The kids tend to come home around 4ish, so that’s when things start to get mental. I’ll try and do some work, staggering through till about six if possible before giving up. The next few hours are taken up with dinner and getting the kids ready for bed. Occasionally, if I’m up against a deadline, I might do a writing shift between 9pm and midnight, and on those occasions I might have a glass of whisky to help with the creative process. A single malt is good – something sherried like a Glendronach, is perfect. To me it tastes like alcoholic warm honey, and then that’s pretty much it till 6.30 in the morning when it all starts again with that horrid, horrid green tea.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving!

It just so happens that my work-in-progress, the as yet untitled Last Ditch No. 5 starts on Thanksgiving Day. So, since I've got pies to make (it's yesterday) I thought I'd share the opening scene:

NOTE: these are the opinions of a fictional character, Lexy Campbell, not the opinion of the grateful and greedy author.

Chapter 1

 ‘Should I slice some pears?’ I asked.

‘No!’ bellowed Noleen.

Can I slice some pears?’

No!’ bellowed Noleen again, if an official bellow can be that high-pitched.

‘There’s no need to shout,’ I told her. ‘We’re supposed to staying calm, remember.’

‘So don’t drive me up the fricking wall and out through the fricking chimney, blathering on about fricking fruit!’

‘It’s just-’ I tried. But there was no way to explain it to someone who didn’t see it. I couldn’t not see it. On the many surfaces around the kitchen of the owners’ flat at the Last Ditch Motel, where Noleen and I were currently incarcerated, there were – and I will try not to miss anything out, but I can’t promise: a vat of Mexican wedding soup big enough to drown the entire bridal party except that it was so thick everyone could walk across it to the edge of the pot even in stilettoes; two commercial (surely) bakers’ trays of rolls that smelled like cakes and definitely had sugar on the top; three washing-up-basin-sized bowls of alleged mashed potato which were actually cream and melted butter held together with just enough potato starch to mean you’d need a spoon to serve them rather than just a jug with a spout; three similarly-sized bowls of mashed yams reeking of what I hoped was nutmeg but feared was cinnamon and topped with full-sized burnt marshmallows i.e. not the dinky ones from cups of cocoa but ones you’d have to bite in half or risk needing a Heimlich if you breathed while chewing; a casserole dish (apparently – my first guess had been paddling pool) of stuffing (apparently – my first guess, having seen the cranberries, walnuts, and orange peel, had been cake-mix); a wheelbarrow without its wheels (Noleen called it a dish, but seriously) of pure, cheese-topped, butter-slicked extra-thick cream which allegedly had onions and green beans iunder the surface; five shoe-box-sized tureens full of jam which I was supposed to call sauce; and of course a mysterious object roughly the size of a suitcase too big to carry on, which was probably a turkey, but couldn’t be identified since every square inch of it was wrapped in bacon and it smelled only of maple syrup from the cake crumbs (supposedly breadcrumbs, but I’ve watched every episode of bread week in that tent and this was cake) bursting out of it like a baking soda volcano at both ends.

So it seemed to me that if we were going to eat sliceable soup, followed by whole cakes, crumbled cakes, cheese, butter, cream, marshmallows, jam and maple syrup with a little meat and veg as a kind of garnish, maybe we needed a lighter alternative to the five pies that were perched all around, on the breakfast bar, on both breakfast bar stools, in a trio on the windowsill, in the- Hang, on that’s six. There was a pumpkin pie on the breakfast bar, two pecan pies on the stools, a cherry lattice, a chocolate cream and a key lime on the windowsill. Yes, six. And an apple cobbler on top of the microwave. As I was saying, it seemed to me that maybe we needed a ligher alternative to seve- Eight! There was a cheesecake in the dishrack – alternative to eight – Nine! I had just spotted a peach flan by the coffeemaker – alternative to nine (and counting, because I hadn’t opened any cupboards) pies for pudding.

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘I won’t slice anything now and if anyone feels like something light I’ll hop up and do it then.’

‘No one will.’

‘I might.’


‘Oh for God’s sake,’ I said.

‘Stay calm,’ said Noleen, with an infuriating smirk.

‘I’m going to go and see how they’re getting on setting the table,’ I said.

‘Of course, you are,’ said Noleen. ‘Because how could a bunch of Americans possibly set out silverware and drinking vessels to the satisfaction of Your Majesty. Why, we’d just tip the swill in the trough and get on our knees if we didn’t have you to help, wouldn’t we?’

            ‘Stay calm,’ I said, then I nipped away out of earshot before she could come back at me.

I hope everyone whipping up a feast for later today is managing to stay calmer than either of this pair.

And while I've got you. It'll be a while before this hits the shelves, but Last Ditch 4 - SCOT MIST - is out in the UK today. (And if you're elsewhere, like me, you can wait till Febraury or order it with free delivery from Blackwell's in Oxford or Amazon's very own The Book Depository.)