Sunday, 23 July 2017

A SATURDAY WITH CRIME

SATURDAY 22nd JULY AT THEAKSTON OLD PECULIAR CRIME WRITING FESTIVAL
This is where they say that 'Fiction is the truth inside the Lie'

This morning the streets ran with water and was puddling on the pavements, even in the richness of Harrogate there are uneven pavements holding hollows. We just got wet and we're there for another nine o'clock start. We dried off as we sat and listened. It's great to be in England during summer.

SPECIAL GUESTS Arne Dahl and Joseph Finder in conversation with Mark Lawson. One writer Swedish and the other American. We went into the world of spying, conspiracy theories (or just made up stories), fake news and politics where the boundaries have changed. Of course Russia had to be mentioned and the belief that Trump was already in bed with Putin prior to presidential election. And the belief that it was orchestrated by that power, but with the conclusion who are the men behind The White House and names were mentioned. These will be two authors that I will take a look at.

SPECIAL GUEST: IAN RANKIN
The Great Hall with its greater capacity was where we heard Ian Rankin read some of his last book and be interviewed by Harriett Gilbert. He is good entertainment and down to earth. There were no pretensions in anything that he said. It was interesting to hear that he stated that he thought that he is a bad writer and forgets some details of previous books! Perhaps it is that ease with himself that makes his books so readable and the stories enjoyable. This theatre is a joy to be in. It is beautiful.

A PEOPLE CAMEO. Being a people watcher a man a few seats away heard his phone ring, he answered it had a quiet chat then put it away. Thoughtless bugger, I thought, and he was fat. There is prejudice at strange times.

NEW BLOOD Val McDermid introduced Fiona Cummins who writes dark stuff, Jane Harper who wrote Dry, Jospeh Knox (real name Nobbs) an insomniac and Kirsten Lepionka who has a bi-sexual character in The Last Place You Look and we have a copy. As Val says 'a sure-fire list of ones to watch' and with her humour and candour it was an entertaining hour. Just some more names to look for.

On the way to the bar they were giving away THE TALL MAN, a limited edition proof by Phoebe Locke and published by Wildfire, an imprint of Headline Publishing Group. Maybe it will be as good as one last year When I obtained a proof copy which proved to be one of my best reads for that year. It was My Sisters Bones by Nualla Elwood. I will have to check on what she has had published since then.

SPECIAL GUEST: DENNIS LEHANE
I have neither read his writing or seen the films that have been made from his work. This was the best hour, for me, that I have spent here. To sum it up in a few words is difficult. He lives in America and the subject of Trump arose once more. He is concerned about what is happening, but thinks that America will be able to come good again. He seems honest and straight forward in his views and strong enough to say what he thinks. I liked it when he said that since he was born in Boston he is an American with strong Irish roots. We have heard the opposite expressed and that is false. Obviously a writer that has achieved much. I will have to read one of his at least.

SPECIAL GUESTS: STUART MacBRIDE and PETER MAY.
Two men having a chat with the interviewer Danita Kean being poor. It was okay and fairly enjoyable, but since I have been to Harrogate before there was not that much in it for me.

Two full days have disappeared at speed and only two events left for Sunday morning.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Friday at Harrogate

FRIDAY 21st JULY AT THEAKSTON OLD PECULIAR CRIME WRITING FESTIVAL
It starts sharp at 9am and runs on schedule throughout the day and evening. It is full on and there is not always time to draw breath!

SPECIAL GUEST. Lee Childs, being a star performer, kicked the morning off with James Naughtie interviewing. It was an accomplished performance and it was an open and honest discussion. And his readers should have been pleased listening in.

DOUBLE INDEMNITY. This was followed by one of the best hours I have spent at Harrogate. Thinking about the names on the panel I had doubts about how it would develop. The theme of justice or the lack of it soon appeared and the depth of the discussions was very interesting. It challenged my mind and set me thinking. The panel was balanced although with only one American, Alafair Burke, to add a North American influence to the other lawyers and advocates. Denise Mina who had studied and taught law had not practiced, but the others had, at least, from time to time. Steve Cavanagh with his involvement in litigation in dealing with those that had been discriminated against took us into present day life as did Matthew Hall with his knowledge of the war in Afghanistan. That brought a topical element to it with soldiers of between 18- 23 being engaged and sometimes judged on what happened. Marine A was quoted as an example. Obviously more authors and books to look at!

THE DARK SIDE with Claire Donoghue, Elly Griffiths, James Oswald, Lesley Thomson and Simon Toyne who were there to investigate the supernatural's ability to push boundaries. It was a well balanced group and lively. On knowing that Elly Griffiths was in the chair for the festival I read her first one in the Ruth Galloway series and also her first Stevens and Mephisto. I might well look at a James Oswald story.

We took time out for lunch and decided to go into ASHES TO ASHES where the writers based their stories in older times. It was interesting, but lacked any dynamism.

DEAD GOOD READER AWARDS. This is where our afternoon took a nose-dive. The week-end rovers that we had did not include this event. We didn't know that until it started. Not good enough really and it was sold out - well almost. It is a good one to go to and two of our party did buy two tickets and come away with a few books and a bottle of JD. Was it worth the entry fee?
It was held in the outside bar which was closed for them to set up and during the 90 minute event.
The inside bar - too small anyway under normal circumstances - had a queue. I ordered two Guinness and when served they were from cans, not cold enough and a double gin and tonic and was amazed when the bill came to seventeen quid. Bloody hell that is expensive especially even more so as we only wanted Guinness on draught. I make no complaint to the writing side of these events, but the comfort and convenience of the customers - us - needs more consideration. I wrote of this and made other points last year.

SPECIAL GUEST.
The next event after this was for Kathy Reichs being interviewed by Jeremy Vine. She is a best seller and is an anthropologist. The series Bones many of us we will be familiar with. She knows her stuff and she is an obviously accomplished interviewee. Jeremy Vine, in his role, said too much, but it ticked along nicely.

The queue for the signing was a long one and so I had to settle for a pint of Theakston's Singing Detective instead of seeing the last performance with Sarah Milligan interviewing Mark Billingham, Lee Child and Val McDermid and that should have been fun, but it had been a long day. Apparently it was hilarious. It was called WHERE THE BODIES ARE BURIED and if we knew that a missing child enquiry would be cut short! That would help the budgets!

Friday, 21 July 2017

Crime Writers at Harrogate

The Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writers' Festival in Harrogate started for us the day before the opening evening. We arrived here, met up with everyone and 'bedded in' to the feel of this very beautiful town. Thursday morning after a quick breakfast in The Winter Gardens under the name of Weatherspoon we were thinking about books. The object being to visit every second hand book shop prior to the award winning event. Afterwards we sped up to the Old Swan to collect our passes and our bag of books each. I declined an expensive hour or so in Betty's and spent some time looking at the seven books that we had doubled up on. I browsed through a few pages and I was impressed and I know that there is a lot to look forward to. This year we received a goody bag, containing more books than in previous years, with ten in it, and after we had examined our catch we removed these seven books from a our pile to take to Spain.

The rain had made the town very wet, but had diminished by the afternoon and the evening was sunny and warm. The Old Swan Hotel stands amongst mature trees and provides an atmosphere in which to socialize and to enjoy the occasion and of course we did.

Mark Lawson presented the evening with Simon Theakston introducing the event and retelling old jokes of previous years. It was light hearted. An achievement award was presented to Jane Gregory for her work, support and enthusiasm from the first festival fifteen years ago until now. She was visibly surprised and lost for words.

Lee Childs was the 'special guest' and was their to receive his award. A very prestigious one to rank alongside PD James, Ruth Randell and Colin Dexter. Lee has now created his 22nd Jack Reacher novel and his impressive acceptance speech paid tribute to fellow writers of his genre and many associated with publishing and the Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival. A person having achieved so much and was evidently humble in being ranked alongside some great writers.

The six shortlisted writers were individually introduced by Mark Lawson and were interviewed briefly. The winner was Chris Brookmyre for Black Widow. I have looked at this book, but was not initially inspired. Maybe I should take another look at it, but sometimes the winner may not be the best book around. However, good luck to him and to achieve this result is something to be appreciated and to be proud of.

We had a great day and I was with those people that are important to me and with two friends of course. It is very good to be with those that matter to me. And now to an hour of Lee Child's at 9am in the morning.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

More White-Tailed Eagles

The bird feeder was very busy again with Siskins showing really well. I had a first sighting of a Coal Tit, but it was only for a quick visit. Rock Pigeons appeared again.

This morning we had sun, some cloud and a gentle breeze. We were again Eagle watching on the Lady Jayne and it was another spectacular trip with two pairs being seen. We had five visits to the boat and on one occasion we had a pair flying around us and taking fish. They are using Pollock which they throw out onto the water for the WT Eagles to scoop up in their large talons. This time of the year both pairs are feeding young and so these fish are a free meal at a busy time. The Eagles are not fed during the winter period.

When we arrived there was an otter swimming near the ferry landing, but it soon disappeared amongst the sea weed. On the way out there was a Red Deer Stag standing in the open on Ulva.
We had only see three hinds previously so seeing this one clearly, was a bonus.

We had considered a visit to Ulva, but decided against it with the amount of people going across the small ferry to the only pub. We came back to Salen via Loch na Keal. There was a WT Eagle in a tree and then we had three Whimbrel feeding. The rain was coming in and so we had lunch.

The rain was disappointing, but we did spend some time in Salen Bay, but there was nothing outstanding to see.

New birds for us on Mull were Coal Tit and in the evening a Blue Tit with Whimbrel earlier and Guillemot after seeing the Eagles. And then a cock Pheasant!
A total of 40 different species.

Iona

I could start off with a cliché, such has, the sun just fell out of the sky and there was only the odd cloud to get in its way, but I won't. There was a clear blue sky and it was shorts and T shirt weather. Yes, we are in Scotland and it is Iona. The scenery is spectacular and the water is clear.
On this Scottish summer's day this holy island was swamped with tourists. We would have preferred it to be quieter. However I was there not for spiritual enlightenment, but for the Corncrake. I heard two calling, but in the tall grasses and Irises they stayed hidden. So I had to be satisfied and reflect that the last one that I heard was when I was young. That is the price we pay for the modern methods in agriculture, but on Iona they have allowed the habitat to be 'old fashioned' so that this species survives here. It is reassuring to know that.

New birds for our trip were Rooks, Jackdaws, Wren and the sound of the 'Crake.
Later on we spent some time hoping to see Shirt-Eared Owl and Hen Harriers, but those two maybe for tomorrow. However we added both Common Sandpipers and Lapwings to our list.
We are not in the hunt for as many species as possible, but to have good views if what we see.
Tomorrow we are out on the boat again and then the ferry to Ulva in the afternoon.

We have been to and seen some wonderful parts of these two islands. I would say 'come here and visit'

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

An Eagle Watching Day

At the breakfast table we looked out onto House Sparrows, Chaffinches, and more importantly Siskin at the feeders. There was a mixture of adults, young birds and even younger ones being fed. These were joined by our first sighting of Collared Doves and Stock Doves. Add to that Goldfinches as well.

We are staying at Fascadial, a BnB in Salen which is also where the owner of Lady Jayne the name of the boat that will take us out for a closer look at the WT Eagles. Martin and Judith made us welcome and our room is spacious enough to make it very comfortable. We had heard all about his knowledge and his trips out into the loch. The weather again was good and the sea was calm. These Eagles are big and with an eight foot wingspan they are an awesome bird to see fly over the boat. And they did on more than once. We passed two perched ones on our way out and we had at least four different birds fly over and to see them swooping to take fish is some sight. Martin knew what he was doing and when one came in view he shut the engine down and we watched.

He received information that there was a pod of Bottle-nosed Dolphin and there were about eight of them. We enjoyed their company and they seemed to enjoy ours too. Swimming around and coming out of the water. Michelle managed a good shot of one partly out. So good to watch.

We are used to working on our birding days, but on this day it was made easy for us with Mull Charters and eco friendly too. We loved every minute of it.

Everything else did seem irrelevant after all that we had seen, but the usual sea birds were around
including Black Guillemots and Shags. Back at Loch na Keal the Whitethroat was still singing and we confirmed the sighting of around 200 Common Gulls. Here also we saw several Bar-Tailed Godwits and again Mergansers

We added to our list of birds when we saw both Meadow Pipits and Common Redstarts. It was really good to be 'grounded' with small moorland type birds including (again) Northern Wheatears. We saw four different Common Buzzards and the last one had a snake in its talons. We know that there are Adders here and so it could have been one of those has it arose from out of the bracken.

If we had thought that we had a good day then it kept on being good. We always stop when we see others watching. This led us out onto the rocks where we saw two otters - probably a mother and a juvenile. Only a viewing of a few minutes, but so good to see. They are superb animals.
A few miles on we saw a perched - on a crag - Golden Eagle. It was distant, but in the scope we could see the detail and observe Kestrels dive bombing it. On a hillside two Ravens flew.

Now for refreshment as we had not stopped since breakfast and a reflection on our two days on Mull. It is beautiful and it is user friendly. It is geared up for wildlife viewing and all this makes up for a great time. Tomorrow we visit Iona.

Monday, 10 July 2017

The Island of Mull

After 10 days in the Faroe Islands and a return to Edinburgh for three days we started our journey to Mull. We over-nighted in Oban to catch the ferry to the Island of Mull. I was told that I would love it there. I do it is a very beautiful island with many variations of habitat and it is surrounded by sea. It is a great place to be and the the birds are great too.
The list for today is as follows.
Black Guillemot - Oban Harbour
On the ferry over.
Gannets
Herring Gulls
Greater-black Backed Gulls

Upon Arrival
White-Tailed Eagle - perched - our first one in UK
Oyster Catchers
Curlews
Grey Herons
Greenshank
Goldeneye
Eider - females
Canada Geese
Barn Swallows - the only Hirundines that we have seen.
House Sparrows

At Loch na Keal
Whitethroat - male
Willow Warbler
Robin - juvenile
Song Thrush
Blackbirds
Pied Wagtails
Chaffinch


Later in the afternoon and towards Ulva
Golden Eagles - flying high and distant
White-Tailed Eagles - two perched low on a reef and three flying.
Northern Wheatear - fledgling
Red-breasted Mergansers - nine
Shag - in several places
Greylag Geese.

Also our first otter and many seals. We think Atlantic Grey
Another day tomorrow and out on the boat at 10am. More Eagles and whatever else!