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
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.
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.
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.