Tag Archives: york

To catch a rabbit – Big City Read 2017

I have always been very glad to live in York. It’s a beautiful city, full of stunning buildings like the Minster, and beautiful green spaces such as Hob Moor (my personal favourite although I’m on the Friends committee so am biased) We have great pubs and lots of them, we have wonderful coffee shops (so I’ve been told anyway, pubs I have more first hand experience) and of course we are nice and close to the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival.

Well this year York has suddenly got even better. A little while ago I spotted that one of my favourite authors Val McDermid was speaking at my local library. Of course I snapped up a ticket as it is always a pleasure to hear Val talk. What I hadn’t realised was that this talk was just a little taster of what was to come with the launch of York’s Big City Read 2017. The novel chosen was To Catch A Rabbit, by York based author Helen Cadbury who I was lucky enough to meet earlier this year. Sadly Helen died back in June, but the programme she helped put together is a fantastic legacy, and it is great that so many people will discover her excellent novels.

The line up this year is great, especially for die hard crime fiction fans like me. Over the next few weeks there are talks by authors including Sophie Hannah, Ruth Ware, and Francis Brody (I’m on her blog tour in October) There are discussion events including book groups all round the city who are going to be talking about To Catch A Rabbit. There are workshops on things such as using Goodreads, and planning the perfect murder (always useful to know just in case) There are plays straight from the Edinburgh Fringe and murder mysteries to join in. To top it all off the event ends with an ‘in conversation’ with the fabulous Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre.

The event kicked off last Thursday with Val McDermid and it was of course a great start. Only at a crime readers event could conversations include crisp packets as incendiary devices, painted Christmas trees, and burying bodies without someone calling the police.

As if York didn’t have enough reasons already to visit, the Big City Read programme of events has just provided one more. If anyone needs me during the next few weeks l’ll be in the library (or maybe in the pub obviously, even crime readers have to have time out of the library sometimes!)

Find out more about the programme of events here York Big City Read

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A time of torment

Now that the Viking invasion of half term has finally departed, this week I treated myself to a trip into town to partake in one of my favourite pastimes – browsing round Waterstones bookshop. I like to head straight to the back of the shop avoiding all the gift buyers and get stuck into the crime section. As usual I start with the tables in the middle of the shelves which are piled up with books displayed by theme. Then I head to the start of the crime section, which is where my plan fell to pieces. It seemed they’d moved the section. I looked around in a panic, what’s a book shop after all without a good stock of crime fiction? This would be a complete torment for me to live in a city without a crime section in the bookshop. Yet it soon became clear that whilst the initial panic was unfounded, there was still crime novels galore, there was a new problem. The crime novels were now all just mixed in amongst a general fiction section stretching round the store.

This was not good for me. I don’t like change. I also like to be able to go into a bookshop and head straight to the crime section knowing that whatever I’m picking up is crime. I like to know I’m not going to pick up a book and end up with a mills and boon (which I was a big fan of when younger, mainly because Jilly Cooper was a lot harder to sneak past the parents but the sex scenes were just as good) or much worse something dungeons and dragons based. My reading matter rarely deviates from anything that isn’t classified as crime. This new layout therefore really seems to be rather at odds with what I like, so it was time to express my annoyance.

Clearly nowadays the idea of writing letters to the local newspaper is practically akin to sending smoke signals. Outraged from York has long been in retirement. Therefore I did what all modern annoyed people do and I took to twitter to express my disgust. Rather surprisingly I swiftly received a reply to my tweet from one of the most high ranking authors in crime fiction. Once I’d come down off the roof thanks to the excitement of getting the tweet, I actually read it. Suddenly rather than seeing the concept of all fiction being in one big pile as a negative thing, I was open to the idea that this actually was a good way to ‘broaden your horizons’

I do love is discovering new authors. One of the best things about both writing this blog and of course attending the festival is the joy of discovering new writers and styles that you wouldn’t necessarily pick up yourself. I have also in the past read non crime fiction and really enjoyed it. So I completely agree that mixing the books altogether could potentially mean I discover new authors which is obviously a good thing.

However there is still a part of me that is a little bit sad about this change. I always loved the fortnightly trip to the library and this hasn’t disappeared as an adult. The difference is now I always look for the little blue sticker with the handcuffs on it so I know I’m a getting a crime novel. Which leads me to the biggest issue that this is going to cause me, and that’s one of time. Whilst I’m looking forward to discovering new authors the sheer time I’m going to need to browse through all those books is scary. I wonder if part time working is feasible? Or maybe rather than seeing it as a Saturday morning treat I should just get a job in a bookshop.

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Blood and Chocolate

Now usually this blog is restricted to books and Hilda Street updates however I’m making an exception today. Last night thanks to the fantastic York Cocoa House I was invited to see the final dress rehearsal of Blood + Chocolate.

Blood + Chocolate is a play with a difference. Rather than being a static performance in a normal theatre it’s a ‘promenade’ performance, which is basically a posh term for walking around. The description on the Theatre Royal website states ‘this production will offer audiences theatre on an epic, cinematic scale’. Now those of you who know me and my incredibly limited cinema experience know that I usually avoid things described as epic due to it normally just being a code word for long. However in this instance I’m incredibly glad I put that to one side. The only way to describe this performance (play doesn’t do it justice) is stunning.

The inspiration for the writing came from the fact that at Christmas in 1914 the Lord Mayor of York sent out a box of chocolates made by Rowntrees to every York citizen who was fighting. Obviously York is famous for its chocolate making heritage, not only Rowntree’s and Terry’s but both Cadbury and Fry also completed their apprenticeships here so York was the perfect setting for a play inspired by the stories and letters that were sent from the men and women in York during the war.

Starting at Exhibition Square you are given headphones to wear as you watch a mixture of filmed scenes being projected onto the De Grey Rooms and actors speaking from windows. From here you are led by wardens, through cheering crowds towards the Minster where soldiers are leaving for battle. The Guildhall is next where women are packing chocolate, then you are taken via Parliament street as a war zone, before ending at Cliffords Tower. Throughout you get the feeling that you are listening into private conversations between soldiers, workers and families.

York is obviously known for its history and its lovely buildings. However this play showed them all in a new light and was the perfect backdrop for the sometimes funny and always moving stories of those who went to war. We were lucky with the weather as the whole performance is outside, and there is a lot of standing however it was completely worth it. There was apparently over 200 actors playing parts as soldiers, conscientious objectors, chocolate workers, nurses, mothers and children yet the whole thing ran smoothly from start to finish. The logistics behind the performance must have been a nightmare but all worked perfectly.

I would recommend this play to anyone, however sadly for those who haven’t yet got tickets I believe it is sold out. It was truly a unique York experience and complemented perfectly by a cup of hot chocolate at half time courtesy of York Cocoa House.

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The White Swan by Paul Morrison – a review

Johnny is a psychic entertainer who returns to his home town of York for a show at the Opera House. He works with his Cousin Frankie. Her job is to go through the guest list for his show. She then goes to visit the guests under assumed guises in order to find background information that Johnny can use to pretend to have psychic ability.

When he arrives in York he is asked to visit a family whose sister was murdered the year before and the case still hasn’t been solved. Johnny is asked if he can help use his powers to find the killer. Whilst obviously he has no psychic powers he does become intrigued and looks into the family further.

I was asked to review this by Paul and was looking forward to it as a York girl myself. I enjoyed this novel although I did feel some of it could have done with better editing. The plot itself was quite good and did keep me reading, however I felt the ending was a bit disappointing and the motive was very thin.

Bits of the writing were also in need of a scrawl of red pen I thought. Whilst I was pleased it was set in York, and some of the descriptions really did give a good feel of the city, the word York was used too many times. It made alot of conversations seem quite unnatural, for example two people talking would say ‘we leave on…’ not ‘we leave York on…’ I almost felt that the book had actually been sponsored by Visit York (which is not a bad thing, York is a fantastic place)

Some of the characters were a bit one dimensional and none of them really stood out as deserving of sympathy. Unfortunately this meant that equally the victims within the book did not really make me care about them.

However overall I like the concept of a York Mentalist and the story itself was quite good. This was a debut novel and so I would read the next instalment, where hopefully my minor criticisms over the editing will be ironed out.

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Coffee, tea or murder

Last weekend I was lucky enough to sample the delights of afternoon tea in Bettys in York. It was all very civilised. We bypassed the usual never ending queue into the main café, and were led straight to our table in the previously unseen upstairs. We then spent a very nice afternoon eating salmon sandwiches, scones, cakes and drinking tea. Well ok, as a coffee drinking vegetarian I’d already put my special request in so I had Betty’s posh coffee and very nice avocado sandwiches.

The first Betty’s cafe was opened in the home of the ‘Theakstons Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival’ The lovely spa town of Harrogate back in 1919 and still remains its most popular café. Me and the Sister went in last year for coffee and cake and were surrounded by people excitedly discussing the festival and carrying goody bags. I’ve no doubt this year will be no exception.

The programme for the event has recently been released and once again it looks a fantastic few days. There are some great special guests, including Ruth Rendell being interviewed by Jeanette Winterson which I’m especially looking forward to. I’ve always been a big fan of Ruth Rendell. Although I’ve not read any of Jeanette Winterson’s books apart from ‘Oranges are not the only fruit’ which as a child I had to keep hidden under my bed as it would most definitely not have been classed as suitable reading.

I’ve not yet been through the entire programme in detail, or indeed planned my reading list for the next few months but at first glance it looks an excellent programme. Some of the speakers are old favourites from last year, whilst some are brand new such as William McIlvanney who I hadn’t even heard of until I saw he was being interviewed by Ian Rankin so will be looking out his novels.

This year’s TV tie in panel is Vera. Ann Cleaves (star of last year’s murder mystery themed dinner) is going to be joined by those who are responsible for bringing her novels to tv, including actor Brenda Blethyn. Another interesting sounding session features forensic anthropologist Professor Sue Black OBE. I’m always fascinated by how far fiction actually mirrors real life, and how much artistic license authors have to employ to keep the story moving.

One of the special guests this year is Lee Child, I have to confess that I’ve never actually read any of his books, so he will definitely be an author I put on the top of my list. He’s being interviewed by Comedian Sarah Millican so that should be an excellent session. Special guest on Saturday evening is York born Kate Atkinson, whose Jackson Brodie novels have recently been turned into a tv series. As a York dweller myself I’m always happy to hear from local people.

The one thing that really did stand out of the programme was that there was not one session I would want to miss. Last year me and the Sister did skip a couple, mainly to give us time for food and of course Betty’s cake. This time Betty’s will definitely have to wait until the show is over!

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The Baedeker Murders by Julian Cole – a review

I suppose I should start by announcing a declaration of interest – I love York and am very lucky to live in such a wonderful city. It also makes me rather biased to anything that is York based, so my latest read, The Baedeker Murders did have a slight starting advantage!

The Baedeker Murders is the first novel I’ve read by local author Julian Cole, and he kindly sent me a copy. The book starts off in the aftermath of a bombing raid on York. It then moves to the present day where Maximillian is visiting York in order to apologise for his role in the bombings during the second world war. Unfortunately things don’t go to plan, and a murder is committed.

I thought this book was very enjoyable. The writing walks you through the city of York and gives a great feel for how things would have been during the war, and how they are now. The impressive York Minster takes centre stage, and is the backdrop for the whole of the novel.

The book flits between World War II and modern day. However to me there almost seemed to be two separate elements and I felt that they could almost have been two individual stories. That of the elderly veterans who were trying to come to terms with their past actions, and a more modern day crime involving the two main protagonists, the Rounder brothers. One is a policeman, the other a Private Investigator who is accused of murdering a women he had a one night stand with.

I also felt that some of the scenes were a bit rushed. For example two people falling into a one night stand in the middle of the day after drinking half a bottle of wine didn’t ring true with me, but maybe that just shows my lack of imagination. There seemed almost too many things goings on, the book covers war crimes, conscientious objectors, obsessive partners, teenage pregnancy, dieting, alcoholism, affairs, rape, even dog napping. It all ties up at the end but it does take a bit of concentration.

All the different themes meant that it was a very fast paced book that I read in only a couple of sittings. I really enjoyed the descriptions of the city, and it was fascinating to hear about York in war time. I had not heard of these raids before, so of course I accessed my external memory and Wikipediad them to check they were real. They were the most destructive raids ever felt by York. Apparently the church of St Martin-le-Grand on Coney Street, still has a stained glass window representing the church burning after a bomb fell.

This is the third book written by Julian Cole and all include the Rounder brothers, and I believe are based in York so I’ll keep an eye out for them. A history lesson rolled into a good story is always a winner with me.

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Tourist Season by Carl Hiaasen – a review

In a break from my usual reading fare (in that the author has absolutely no connection with the Harrogate festival) I have recently read Carl Hiaasen’s novel Tourist Season.

This was recommended by a friend, and was the first Carl Hiaasen I’d read, it was also the first one he wrote. The story is set in Florida and follows the fortunes of ex newspaper journalist turned group leader, Skip Wiley, who is trying to scare off tourists with a range of bizarre crimes. He is helped by an ex-football player, an American Indian, and a failed terrorist who has been kicked out of other gangs for being useless. They are tracked by another journalist who has turned private investigator, Brian Keyes.

It does need to be said firstly that this book was written back in 1986 and therefore did have a certain element of feeling a little dated. That is not a criticism however as I suspect the same could be said of a lot of books. (Unlike Red Dwarf which if any of you recently watched the start of series x, you’ll know is utterly timeless and works just as well no matter what the year!)

I enjoyed this book, but didn’t love it. It started well, the story was interesting and it picked up pace pretty quickly. I thought it was amusing in parts, and some of the more outlandish ways to commit crime did amuse me – especially when a pet crocodile appeared. I felt the book was a bit long though. Without giving away the plot in case there is anyone left that hasn’t read this yet, the final ‘twist’ could really have been done without.

It was called a ‘crime caper’ which is a pretty good description, although I think personally the emphasis was more on caper than crime. There wasn’t the element of ‘whodunnit’ that is found in my usual crime, it was more about the when and where. That did make for a nice change though, and I enjoyed the lighthearted aspect of the novel.

One slight criticism is that I felt some of the relationships seemed a bit odd. I read the book believing that Brian Keyes was a middle aged, balding old man, however further into the book he has a relationship with a young beauty queen. Either I was wrong in my assumption, or it was a bad bit of writing.

Living in York, which is a city geared around tourists, I can sympathise with the basis of this novel (although I’m not suggesting we scare them off with poisonous snakes) however I still couldn’t drum up much sympathy for any of the characters or their cause.

Many years ago I read Ben Elton’s ‘Stark’ and although my memory of that has faded, I remember enjoying it, and Tourist Season reminded me of that with its ‘eco’ message.

Overall I was a little disappointed with this book, but  I suspect my disappointment is mainly that I had very high expectations of a laugh out loud novel, whereas it was just an amusing crime story but as Rimmer would say ‘hey ho, pip and dandy’. I would try another of this authors books , as I certainly enjoyed it and would hope that like anything Carl Hiaasen’s novels improve with practice.

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