Today is the last day of the Aye Write Festival in Glasgow. Its been running for years at the Mitchell Library, and I've been lucky enough over the last four or five years to be asked to moderate a number of authors (as well as appearing myself!) for the festival. I do quite a bit of this work for festivals, which was an extension of some of the work I used to do as a bookseller, chairing and interviewing authors for instore events.
Its a funny gig, really. Moderating a panel or interviewing an author means that you have to at once be welcoming and entertaining, but also make sure that you are not the centre of attention. Its something of a balancing act, but when it goes right it can be hugely rewarding. I do my research before I go in to any event, reading at the very least the latest work by an author, but also doing a little research to see what they tend to talk about and whether there's anything interesting worth exploring. But what's most rewarding is when I can go off script - when the conversation lurches in an unexpected direction.
One of the reasons I love Aye Write, too, is that they're one of the festivals who let me spread my wings outside of crime fiction. As much as I love my crime and thrillers, its great to be able to to talk about other topics. For example, I got the opportunity to resurrect my past as a philosopher by chairing the excellent Julian Baggini on a few occasions (in fact, the first time was on precisely the topic of my MLitt dissertation, which I think was more a coincidence than anything, but hugely welcome). I've also done a number of SF panels (my second love) as well as diving into more unexpected subjects, such as a panel on PTSD in the military, and a fascinating event this year on "Weird Maths", which was a great topic for someone who was utterly terrible at maths at school (and still is, on a general arithmetic level, but as this panel proved, maths is about far more than just adding and subtracting numbers).
Chairing/moderation at festivals is a subtle art, and I think sometimes people forget that. Its easy to get things wrong. I still get shudders at one panel where I was a little nervous,. and ended up laughing a little too loud at the author's jokes. Someone online slammed me for this later (although they also slammed me years later for coughing at an event I'd been chairing where I'd literally come from hospital after an asthma attack, so maybe its just they don't like me personally!). And when you get an author who doesn't want to talk (it happens) things can feel tense. But when it goes right -- and it does most of the time, as long as you let the authors be themselves, and give them room to talk about their books and work, and the things they love -- then it can be a hugely joyous experience. I also love it when an author surprises you. There was one author I chaired for the first time a few years ago, and was terrified that they were going to be a little like the characters in their books (who are, let's say, a little violent and unpredictable) but they turned out to be one of the loveliest people I've met.
I've had a blast again at this years Aye Write, and I'm hoping I'll be at other festivals as the year moves forward, meeting new authors, introducing new and familiar voices to readers, and just generally helping to spread the love of books. I'll keep you all updated here as and when things happen, and I hope to see you out there at some of these events, too!
Over on Twitter, I do two hashtags that you'll only find on my feed -- #russelreads and #russelwatches.
#russelreads is all about books. Because of the nature of my day job (as an editor) its updated less often, as my time for pleasure-reading is less due to the nature of that work.
But #russelwatches is all about my second passion: movies. I adore movies - with a particular love of late 60s/early 70s stuff - and have made no secret of the fact that my dream has always been to move into scriptwriting, alongside my career as a novelist.
I'm going to try and do a weekly roundup of #russelwatches on the blog, as sometimes I miss or forget to do a twitter tag of what I'm watching. And hopefully, it'll help you guys find a few things you might fancy watching (or know to avoid!)
Anyway, this week on #russelwatches
US - Caught the new Jordan Peele movie at the Glasgow Film Theatre at an afternoon showing. Anyone expecting a retread of GET OUT might be slightly confused. This is a different movie, although again he's playing with horror tropes. If you're looking for a clear and concise message, again you might find yourself confused, but this is a movie all about the performances. Lupita Nyong'o is particularly superb as both the mother looking to save her family and her terrifying, guttural dopelganger. A last minute twist may seem obvious to some, but this movie really is about the journey - and its a damn fine one!
DEADPOOL 2 - Caught on demand, and, you know, I was slightly underwhelmed. Ryan Reynolds does a great job as the "Merc With a Mouth" who was one of my favourite comics characters back when I was a teen, and his double act with the incredibly serious Mutant-from-the-future, Cable (Josh Brolin) is superb, But the movies at its best riffing off cliches, and slows down a little whenever it actually has to move the plot forward. That said, I laughed a hell of a lot, especially at several jokes pointing out the po-faced seriousness of DC's recent crop of big screen adaptations.
CALIBRE - Scottish-set thriller on Netflix about two friends who go hunting in the Highlands and accidentally get into a lot of trouble with the locals. Cleverly eshcewing Deliverance cliches, and with a great central performance by Jack Lowden, it promises a lot but slightly misses its landing in the third act, where you get the impression that you've missed a lot of character motivation from the local villagers. But its watchable, and has a number of nicely tense wee sequences.
INFERNAL AFFAIRS - On Blu-ray, the movie that influenced THE DEPARTED, you can see some scenes that Scorcese lifted wholesale in his adaptation. so its not full of huge surprises. That said, its a lot leaner than Scorcese's epic, and once it gets going, the two leads have a great intensity. Really looking forward to the next two films in the trilogy.
"Where the hell have you been?"
I've actually had a lot of people ask me that lately. Ed's Dead came out in the UK in 2017, and since then...? Well, its been a little quiet, let's say that. Not that I haven't been working -- I've been editing a LOT of books, and I've been writing a number of articles (for the latest, see the April issue of Writer's Magazine, where I talk about the lessons prose writers can learn from screenwriters) as well as taking part in the excellent Write4Film program from the Scottish Film Talent Network. But between all of that, where I would normally find the time to write, things have been slow.
It started at Bouchercon in New Orleans, at the tail end of 2016. Some people who were there will know I had a small asthma attack while I was there. I didn't think much of it at the time, but what then happened was that my asthma got worse over the next year, to the point where I was hospitalised for a few days during the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2017. I came out, thinking all was well, and things were for a bit. But we had something of an issue where we had to find a new place to live at short notice, something that went on much longer than it should have. And then, in 2018, I found myself struggling with kidney stones for about six months. If you've had kidney stones, you'll know how painful they can be. And what I now know is that when they get stuck on the way out, the pain ramps up even further. They were finally removed after three attempts at the tail end of 2018, and since then I've just been trying to get everything back in order.
But I'm writing again -- a new book is slowly forming, and I'm really excited about it. It'll see me return to writing about Dundee, although many years before McNee showed up on the scene... yes, I'm writing about the past, and I'm hugely enjoying it. I just hope my publishers will like it!
I may also have a few other exciting projects on the go, so while I haven't seen many publications since Ed, please don't worry -- I'll be back! I'm so grateful, however, the superb community who've supported me through this. From my partner - the brilliant Lesley McDowell (go read her book, Unfashioned Creatures, and do it now!) - to my agent, Al Guthrie, and the publishers of Ed's Dead, the wonderful Saraband, along with many others, people have been hugely understanding.
But 2019 feels like a fresh start. Which is why I've updated a few areas of the website, and intend to try and keep this blog up to date with a mix of thoughts, writing tips, and general insanity.
Watch this space, folks. I'm baaaackk....