Friday, June 23, 2017

Crime At The University

here is a lovely set of stained glass windows.
and me standing  in front of them.

here is the ceiling above...

and the doors...

and just  to see them to scale...

this is the  main building  of Glasgow University...

 we are on our way to the Huntarian Museum
It's all free folks,  if you  ever wander this way....

I did try  not to dance down this stairway...

I imagine that  Annamaria would  not have been able to resist..

through the opening  to the quadrangle...
all very 'Morse'

Yes the gates say 1451. The Roman empire did not finally collapse until a few years later.

the round reading  room, which was a) round, b) closed,
 We were too late to go in as we had eaten a rather nice cake.

Alan studied here for two  of his three degrees.
He boxed for the university team.

the new buildings are not up to much.

but they  have  lovely lawns with reading slabs.

Glasgow university, height of the summer...

The huntarian getting ready for our event.

The audience getting  crammed in.

the panel getting ready, you  will recognise the  other two I am sure...

Craig has been asked a question, he is looking for inspiration

Happy writers

I would like to point  out that all the writers had been up all night  watching the election. We were wearing red, blue and tartan!!  We had back up authors with us in case we broke down with exhaustion. The event was sponsored by a gin company!

Beautiful !

Caro Ramsay ( I am elsewhere at the mo!) 23 06 2017

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Seven Basic Plots: Why we tell stories by Christopher Booker

Michael - Thursday

Thanks to Everett Kaser for pointing out this book on a Facebook post. The title intrigued me, and I downloaded a copy and started reading. It’s a challenging book from various points of view. Booker’s thesis is that all stories—throughout time—fall into only seven rather well defined categories. He argues cogently and at length—the book runs to some 750 pages—that not only is there a reason for this apparent lack of imagination, but also any attempt to depart from one of these seven basic plot structures leads to an unsatisfactory ending for the reader. Further, he postulates why these plots are so essential, speculating on a type of psychological genetic coding that we need to develop our psyches, just as we have a physical genetic coding to develop our physical attributes.

I have to admit that I've only read about half the book so far. Frankly, it could do with some heavy editing. Many of the arguments are repeated in different chapters with a multitude of detailed examples given where one or two would do, and often the same aspects of the examples are discussed again in later chapters. I also felt that the arguments against the stories that don’t comfortably fit into the seven patterns were weak—for example, mysteries are dispensed with in an unusually brief chapter as mere mental puzzles with no depth, mainly because the protagonist is two dimensional, and merely watches the action from a distance and makes deductions. I don’t think I need to argue against that on Murder Is Everywhere! To be fair, it’s the Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie style of mysteries he rejects. He is positive about more psychological ‘mysteries’ like Oedipus Rex and Citizen Kane, which he fits into one of the big seven with no difficulty. Also, he is not blind to anything but ‘serious literature’. Box office hit movies and comic book superheroes make the cut. This doesn’t go down well in the literary establishment. The book was panned by Adam Mars-Jones, who also objected to Booker's seven-sizes-must-fit-all-if-they're-any-good approach and rejected the prescriptive application of these plot structures: "He sets up criteria for art, and ends up condemning Rigoletto, The Cherry Orchard, Wagner, Proust, Joyce, Kafka, and Lawrence - the list goes on - while praising Crocodile Dundee, ET and Terminator 2." 

I actually think that’s harsh and rather misses the point. I don’t think 'art' is as much the issue for Booker as the Jungian approach to the psychological importance and relevance of stories. The question of what we would call the quality of the writing, isn't really central. (Unless that’s in the next 250 pages!)

Certainly Booker is not averse to controversy. He has ‘alternative views’ on a variety of issues, including global warming, passive smoking, and the European Union.

So here are the plots:

Overcoming the Monster

In Overcoming the Monster, the hero needs to slay the monster which is attacking the community. For the hero’s development this needs to be done selflessly, often to rescue a beloved female character. The happy ending is when the hero kills the monster, gets the girl, and usually obtains high status in the community. Booker uses the examples of Beowulf taking on Grendel and the Hollywood blockbuster Jaws. The two stories are strikingly similar although more than a thousand years apart. Both involve a fearsome water monster that stealthily takes as prey members of the community (and eats them), both involve an underwater battle, both involve the eventual triumph of the hero against all odds. 
But, of course, the monster can be human, and may even be the dark side of the hero.

                                         Rags to Riches

In Rags to Riches, the plot is a poor boy or girl who use their own courage and character development to climb to being successful adults, usually marrying the prince or princess as the case may be. Aladdin is the obvious example and discussed in detail, but many, many, stories fall into this category. (At one point I thought Booker was going to discuss them all.)

            The Quest

The Quest is about the hero needing to undertake a journey or project to achieve a particular goal for the good of the community. The Odyssey and The Lord of the Rings are perfect examples. Watership Down and Raiders of the Lost Ark are others from different genres.

                                                                                Voyage and Return

Voyage and Return is rather like The Quest except that there may be no immediate goal for the voyage. The story may be more about the hero’s own struggle to find himself and return to his home. Booker discusses among others Robinson Crusoe and Peter Rabbit.5.  

Comedy is rather more complicated. It usually involves the confusion of a community—including the hero and heroine—and ends when the confusion has been resolved, the hero and heroine have developed, and all ends well. It doesn’t need to be funny, but usually is. Think A Midsummer Night’s Dream.      

Tragedy is when the hero or heroine is tempted and falls, and their dark side takes over. They struggle, but they have fallen too far. Eventually the path they have chosen leads to disaster and death. Dr. Faust and Anna Karenina are good examples.

This is basically Tragedy where the hero or heroine is able to redeem themselves or to be redeemed by an outside sympathetic person. Booker gives The Snow Queen, Fidelio, and The Secret Garden among his examples.

Booker’s thesis is that, in a sense, there is really only one plot and that is the development of the hero and heroine in different contexts until they ‘see whole’ or eventually do not (in Tragedy). Personally, I’m suspending judgment on it for the moment. Admittedly, it is striking how many stories ranging across time and cultures do fit into the seven molds quite neatly. On the other hand, the reasons for this seem more obscure. I’ll let you know in 250 pages time...


Murder Is Everywhere
Author Recognitions and Events


Murder in Saint Germain, Aimée Leduc’s next investigation, launched June 6.


Wednesday, June 28 at 18:00 Athens time
Book Presentation at 
Ilias Lalaounis Jewelry Museum
Kalisperi 12, Acropolis

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Power of Silk

Sujata Massey

Roopa Pemmaraju and Lily Hargrave's design

A week ago, I walked down to the consignment shop near my house and picked up a fashion mystery.

The mystery came in the form of a long dress of purple-blue printed silk crepe lined in cotton. The stitching was minute and clearly done by hand. Examining the dress, I flashed back to my first long dress and blouse custom-stitched for me at a tailor’s in Hyderabad when I was ten years old.

But the pattern was unusual. The silk was printed with thick black brushstrokes that burst like a tree over my legs. The design was not pretty; it was strong and vibrated in a way that reminded me of something strangely familiar, but that I couldn't identify. The label read Lily Hargraves for Roopa Pemmaraju.

I’d never heard the names, but the funky silk dress fit perfectly and was an unbelievable $68. I snapped it up and was soon on the Internet searching its provenance. 

Within ten minutes I had some solid information that told me I'd made a very special buy. Roopa is an Indian-born designer who’d had her own fashion label, Haldi. She left India to move to Melbourne, Australia, with her husband for his IT job. Roopa became inspired with the idea of bringing Australian aboriginal art into fashion that would be a far cry from the cheap cotton T-shirts sold to tourists. However, her interest wasn't welcomed by gallery owners and artists. I mentioned T-shirts? Many indigenous artists have been exploited by Australians and others who copied their designs without paying them.  

Roopa Pemmaraju

But Roopa had a vision of a business model that was different. I'm going to call it the Indian artisan model. Throughout India, there's been a longstanding tradition of custom clothing making--and certain villages are known for a certain kind of block printing, or silk weaving, or cotton embroidery. 

A Gujarati textile with folk motif has great energy

These niche technique are prized, and the regional artisans are celebrated by contemporary designers who ask them to do finishing touches such as embroidery around a neckline or hem. Mahatma Gandhi, who advocated wearing handspun clothing as a way of resisting the British in the early 20th century, would be smiling today if he could see the "desi chic," "ethnic-cool and "modern handloom" fashions that are the rage.

The Fab India chain that sells clothes for all ages and sizes stitched from silks and cottons hand-loomed by people in rural communities. Also well-known are Anokhi and Cottons Jaipur, retail chains that specialize in fashion made from cotton woven, dyed and block-printed in Rajasthan. A high-end designer, Ritu Kumar, has spent the last quarter century collaborating with Kala Raksha, an organization in India supporting hereditary artists, and several other regional textile weavers and embroiderers. Last year in India, I was pleased to buy a Ritu Kumar kurti (woman’s tunic) with a meticulously hand embroidered placket typical of the Kutch region of Gujarat. But the coloration is subtle and works well with the modern printed silk fabric.

Fine hand embroidery on a Ritu Kumar kurti

Back to the Australian-Indian collaboration: How could an Indian woman new to Australia convince aboriginal artists to work with her?

Here's what Roopa did.   She pledged to give credit where it was due. She offered put the artist’s name on each of her garments. Remember the mystery of two women's names on my dress label? Here is Lily Hargraves, a “desert walker” in her nineties who’s one of Australia’s top aboriginal artists. Her paintings are exhibited around the world and sell for thousands of dollars.

Lily Hargraves

Lily's full name is Lily Nungarrayi Yirringali Jurrah Hargraves, although she's most often known in art circles by the short Anglo name. She was born in the Northwest Territory in 1930 and having had a number of very hard jobs throughout her life, began painting in the tradition of her ancestors about thirty years ago. Lily is recognized as a senior Law Woman, which means she is an officiant of Waipiri indigenous culture--and her story is fascinating. And here are some of her paintings from the online museums and galleries in Australia. Looking at her work made me realize that's a tree on the front of my dress.

Looking through Roopa’s designs since the 2012 collection that included my “Lily Blue Dress,” I've noticed that indigenous artist names are continuing to decorate the dress labels. Additionally, the design label is donating 20% of her profits to aboriginal groups. And the India connection also helps artists, because the silk is printed and embroidered in India at Roopa's artisan workshop in Bangalore. The subtleties of clothing construction are overseen in India by Roopa's co-artist, the acclaimed designer Sudhir Swain. The most recent collection—Resort 2018—was just shown in Australia a week ago and shows a riot of glorious abstract floral motifs merging with gauzy, gilded Indian silk. 

Roopa Pemmaraju 2018 collection

Roopa Pemmaraju 2018

Some might argue that fusing two cultures like this degrades the original. But fashion by its nature is an evolution.

Mahatma Gandhi told his followers a century ago what you choose to wear delivers power.  Just this spring in Europe and America, women have been attacked for wearing traditional Muslim clothing items like the hijab and abaya. Given this context, wearing the textiles of international designers and artisans feels like another way to show resistance. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

all over like a cheap suit tour

Cara here on Tuesday. I'm having a great time on this book tour and catching up with so many pals, especially our MIE gang or the usual suspects as some might say.
Here's a suspect, doesn't EvKa look guilty of something here in Portland?
Now we come to our Lisa Brackman in San Diego where she gave me a grilling. With us is Marc Ellsberg, who's from Vienna and has written a great thriller - and scary, too. Imagine the power grids go out in we took him out for a craft beer to chill in 'SD'style
 If that weren't enough hot coals, our own Tim Hallinan hit me with a page of questions at Chevalier's books in LA...fantastic store and Tim, fantastic comme toujours.
Along the way I got to hang out with the boss at Murder By the Book in Houston - Jack Reacher and his lovely human, McKenna

Here's the chocolate gateau at the Orange County launch party courtesy of Debbie at Mystery Ink
Chocolate, chocolate and more dense chocolate - as delicious as it looks.
But most of the time the glamorous touring life is fueled by gummy bears, a Léo Malet pulp novel and trusty laptop at the boarding gate and looks like this.

Tonight I'm catching up with Stan in Minneapolis!
Cara on Tuesday

The Power of Music

Annamaria on Monday

I am writing this in the hopes that it will spread the word about the power of music in one important sphere.

This is David and me in in South Africa in 2004, just as his sun was beginning to set.

He is now well into the fourteenth year of Alzheimer's disease that began when he was only 67.  He has been in residential care for just over three years now.  Visiting him is difficult in many ways.

One of the things that struck me early on, is how boring was the music in the otherwise lovely place where he lives.  His neurologist had told me ten years ago that music was the last thing to go.


Most of the videos and CDs the staff played for the residents was music that would have appealed to my grandmother: "Cruising Down the River," "She'll be Comin' Round the Mountain," "Goodnight Irene."  Really?  Is the best they can do?

One Sunday morning's observation: playing on the TV in the activities room was a video of a bunch well-groomed, preppy looking white people singing "On Moonlight Bay."  This song comes into the story of Idol of Mombasa, where my characters sing it.  Vera and Justin Tolliver loved it, because it was the latest thing.  IN 1912!!  Looking around at the people in the activities room, I saw two things.  Many of them were my age or a decade or so older, and they were not all white.  With that boring music playing in the background, many of them had fallen asleep.  Even the ones who were awake were fidgety.  Just as bored as I was with the selections.

The next song put me over the edge: "Nearer my God to Thee."  Were those words supposed to be comforting?  A warning?  It seemed cruel, under the circumstances.

What would happen if the residents heard the music that was the soundtrack of their lives.  Making such a suggestion to the management brought no positive response.  I took matters into my own hands.  The next week I went back with a disk burned on my home computer that I labelled "Happy Music."  Songs they would recognise.  Elvis.  Frank Sinatra.  Judy Collins.  Chuck Berry.  "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" from the original Broadway cast of "Oklahoma."

That morning the crowd in the activities room was just falling asleep after their 10:30 snack.  I asked permission of the activities coordinator to replace the Christian hymn video with my totally secular music.  When the changeover took place, the first song was Elvis singing "Can't Help Falling in Love with You."  Eyes opened.  Soon heads began to move to the music.  People were swaying in their wheelchairs.

Alan, who still had the erect carriage of the career soldier he had been, said, "I haven't heard this song in years.  I used to play this on the radio station on the base in Germany.  The Germans loved this  song."

When Judy Collins began to sing "Both Sides Now," Ann--who had always seemed cranky--smiled and sat up straight.  Half a minute into the song, she began to sing along in a clear, sweet voice.  She knew every word.  She smiled for the rest of the morning.

Everyone sang along or mouthed the words to "Oh What a Beautiful Morning."

Best of all, was what happened to Linda.  She is a very tiny woman, with shoulder length white hair.  I had never seen her do anything but sit immobile, half-reclined in her chair, with her head to one side and her eyes closed, seemingly nearly comatose.  Her walker sat before her, but I had never seen her move.  Now she was moving from side to side, and tapping her foot.  And then something that looked nothing less than miraculous.  Along came Bob Seger singing, "That Old Time Rock n' Roll."  She sat up, her whole body started to move.  She grasped her walker, rose have way out of her seat, and danced to the words, "That kinda music just soothes my soul..."


Fourteen home-made CD playlists later, 280 songs in total, and the music is still doing its magic.

A few weeks ago, David went into the hospital for treatment of an infection.  While there, he remained compliant, but I could tell he was uncomfortable.  I brought along my laptop and played one of his favorites,"Appalachian Spring," for him.  Though blind now and unable to speak, he looked toward the music.  His demeanour calmed.  His face took on an almost beatific expression.  Something wonderful to me.

I described the event to a friend who had asked about David.  She told me of a documentary called "Alive Inside," which I have since watched.  It recounts how other people have benefited from the palliative effect of listening to the right music.  The folks in the film have suffered great losses through dementia, Alzheimers, and other mental illnesses.  A volunteer at a nursing home found that playing the right music for them brought out their inner selves.  Featured in the film are doctors, social workers and the renowned Oliver Sacks.   The flick is available on Netflix, YouTube, and its own website.  Don't worry.  You can watch it.  It will not make you sad.  It is joyous, like my days watching people in David's care home come alive to the soundtracks deep in their memories.  Here's a clip from film.

If you need to get back in touch with someone still alive inside, but difficult to reach, I urge you to bring them the right music.  It will lift your spirits like nothing else.