Interview with Andrew Cartmel: part 2

Andrew Cartmel will be at Brompton Library on Monday 24 September, 6.30pm taking about his career and work and signing copies of his Vinyl Detective crime novels – Written in Dead Wax, The Run Out Groove and Victory.  You can book a place here on Eventbrite 

This is the second part of our interview with him; you can find the first part here

The fourth book is on its way, tell us about that.

It’s called Flip Back and it deals with the British psychedelic folk scene of the late 1960s and early ’70s. Among my research for that I read an excellent book called White Bicycles by Joe Boyd.

What were some of your musical inspirations from the 60s and 70s?

Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Steely Dan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell.

I read in another interview with you that each of the Vinyl Detective novels has a spirit animal.  How does that help you with writing the novels and why is this important to you?

It’s just something that arose without me thinking about it. I am fascinated by animals and wildlife, and very fond of them, and appalled by their treatment at the hands of humans. So that just sort of naturally wove its way into my writing. When I became aware of what I was doing, I made it more deliberate. And started referring to it by that ‘spirit animal’ malarkey… though it’s certainly malarkey I genuinely subscribe to.

Are there any plans to make the books into a TV series or film?

My agent regularly gets enquiries, which have so far led to one serious meeting but nothing further than that.

And finally, we can’t leave without mentioning Doctor Who.  You worked as a show runner and script editor on the TV series, and have since written many of the Doctor Who comics.  What was it like to work on such a classic show?

It was a privilege. It was also the gift which keeps on giving, in the sense that it’s given me a calling card which never expires, and has led to me meeting a lot of interest people and travelling all over the world.

Were you a fan before you worked on the show?

No.

You have written novels, audio dramas, television scripts, graphic novels and also several stage plays.  Which genre do you prefer?

Each has its own particular appeal and its own unique challenges. I like switching from one to the other. But my two favourites are the novel, for its intimacy and clarity of expression, and the stage play for the magic it conjures up through taking place in real time, with real people, in a shared space.

The graphic novel Sabrina by Nick Drnaso has been longlisted for the Booker Prize this year.  How easy or difficult do you think it might be to judge a graphic novel against a traditional novel?

I don’t see how you can compare the two forms.

 What three pieces of advice would you give any aspiring writers out there?

Keep your covering emails very brief. Give your characters interesting names. Have your work read by people you know, whom you can trust to be ruthless — or at least honest — and seriously consider their feedback before you send it out and waste the time of an agent or editor.

What’s next for you?

Finishing the fourth Vinyl Detective, then rewriting a stage play, then writing a new stage play, then writing a graphic novel for the Rivers of London series, which I co-write with Ben Aaronovitch.

Thank you for your time Andrew and very much looking forward to meeting you on 24  September at Brompton Library.

Interview with Andrew Cartmel: part 1

Andrew Cartmel was the show runner on Doctor Who for the entire Sylvester McCoy seventh Doctor era. He has written many novels and graphic novels including the Dr Who comics Evening’s Empire and The Good Soldier. Andrew is currently collaborating with author, Ben Aaronovitch on writing the bestselling Rivers of London comics.

He’ll be at Brompton Library on Monday 24 September, 6.30pm taking about his career and work and signing copies of his Vinyl Detective crime novels – Written in Dead Wax, The Run Out Groove and Victory.  You can book a place here on Eventbrite 

In the meantime, Andrew has very kindly answered some questions for us –

Tell us about the Vinyl Detective series.

I’ve been writing for most of my life, in our form or another. Since I left university I’ve been writing for a living, or at least trying to. But the Vinyl Detective books are the first time I feel I’ve entirely succeeded.

The Vinyl Detective is very evocative of the day to day realities of city life – grass verges, council estates, broken boilers – not glamorous or exotic in any way!  It is definitely different to what you have called the current trend for “Danish disembowelment” novels.  Why was this setting important to you?

I wanted to write what I know. You might also call it low-hanging fruit!

I have read that you are an avid vinyl fan, what made you want to write detective novels based around vinyl?

My friend Ben Aaronovitch had written what became a bestselling series of novels — The Rivers of London books. I asked him what the secret was. He told me to write about what I genuinely loved. And I genuinely love record collecting, and crime fiction.

Andrew with his cat, Molly

What was the first record you bought?

The soundtrack to (the first version of) Casino Royale featuring a superb music score by Burt Bacharach and a knock-out song (‘The Look of Love’) sung by Dusty Springfield. It’s a classic and it remains a favourite of mine.

And what was the last record you bought?

Stan Tracey’s Jazz Suite to Under Milk Wood (inspired by the Dylan Thomas poem). The original Lansdowne mono pressing, of course.

You didn’t start out in crime fiction, what where some of the influences that lead you into crime writing?

I admire Raymond Chandler a lot, but for my money the greatest crime writer of the golden age (roughly the 1930s and 1940s) was Dashiell Hammett. His terse, cynical, realistic style hasn’t dated at all (read The Maltese Falcon). But a more profound influence came somewhat later. John D. MacDonald is, I think, the finest crime writer of them all. He’s a hero of mine. He wrote dozens of excellent novels, notably the Travis McGee series. More recently, I tremendously admire Thomas Harris, best known for creating Hannibal Lecter.

You must have spent a lot of time researching the books, tell us about that?

A lot of it is, as I said, low hanging fruit. Because I write about a world I already know well. But I will also do specific research. In my third book, Victory Disc, I dealt with a crime originating in the RAF bombing campaigns of World War 2. At the end of the novel I acknowledged the two superb books I drew on for the factual background, one by Max Hastings and one by Len Deighton.

Many thanks, Andrew – we’ll be back next week with part 2. 

Lives at sea

We are an island nation, and throughout our history the sea has been inextricably mixed into our lives, whether we experience it as part of our immediate environment, learn about its place in our history, or trace its many marks on our language and literature. Images of the sea and seafaring metaphors sparkle and surge through our poetry and our idioms, and the sea exerts a pull of mystical romance.

To mark National Maritime Day on 1st September, our Biography Collection display at Kensington Central Library features memoirs of lives at sea. There are books tracing how the sea influenced artists and writers including Conrad and Turner, and books recording the experiences of sailors and fisherman struggling to maintain a livelihood in often pitiless conditions.

Many have been drawn to engage the sea in battles for supremacy, leading to amazing feats of endurance and will – these are the loan yachts-people, circumnavigators and channel swimmers who lead us through their life-changing struggles. There are intimate and personal records of how the sea effected changes in relationships and the sense of self (my personal favourite is Gwynneth Lewis’s Two in a Boat, an account of how the superficially crazy idea of going to sea became a jumping-off point for profound insights into the nature of moods, marriage and metamorphosis).

Our naval history is inevitably linked with painful themes of colonialism and war, and we have books on how projects of land conquest and trade depended on the conquest of the sea from the Elizabethan period onwards, and on how the protagonists of terrifying sea battles understood their experience.

And of course, there are pirates, with brutal realities often far stranger than the romantic legends we have inherited.

We hope you will dive in and find something to interest you.

The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library

Inspirational female authors: Malala Yousafzai

Welcome back to our monthly review of books by inspirational female authors, in celebration of the centenary of women legally being able to vote.

For August I have chosen I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai It is the true story of a young Pakistani girl who spoke out against the Taliban to defend her right to an education. This bravery almost cost Malala her life, but she survived and continues to advocate for education as a universal right. In 2014, she became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

The story is told in Malala’s own words and you get a sense of the real person behind the icon. Learning that she squabbles with her younger brothers, she loves the colour pink and she hates getting up in the morning made me connect with her story even more. It’s easy to forget she is an ordinary teenager as well as a symbol for resistance and justice.

Alongside Malala’s experiences, the book outlines in some detail the history and politics of Pakistan. It is explained simply, presuming no prior knowledge so it is a good introduction if, like me, you don’t know as much about it as you’d like.

I found her story very inspiring. It reminded me how much freedom I take for granted every day, when that is not the case for women around the world, and also how much further there is to go for equality.

Check back in September for the next review of another inspirational writer.

Philippa, Brompton Library

PS – you can see the previous reviews of inspirational women writers for July, June, May, April and March

Books to films: Ready Player One

Colette from Chelsea Library compares Ernest Cline’s science fiction novel, Ready Player One, to the recent Spielberg film adaption.

 The book 

A very cool science fiction novel which depicts a dystopian world, marred by socio-economic and environmental calamities that could all be escaped when you plug into the virtual world “The Oasis” for your day to day drudgery and social interactions, where you can be anyone or anything (sounding incredibly familiar to today or is it just me?!)

The plot of the book follows teenage outcast, Wade Watts embark on a virtual reality challenge in a race to find a hidden Easter Egg in The Oasis. He ends up befriending his fellow competitors in order to defeat the corporate enemies whose wishes to rule The Oasis is pure corporate greed (money), versus the original intention of that platform being a better place, accessible for all.

Full of 80s game references, this book will surely bring out the sense of nostalgia, whilst also painting a truly possible reality through Cline’s clever writing prowess making the world he has created not seem so far-fetched.

The film 

Brilliant book teamed with a superb director Spielberg, for sure the film would be incredible right?! How disappointed I was! For me, there were so many alterations especially with the games featured that all the nostalgia that was with those retro games and references were completely lost.

The character development was so rushed that I just did not care what happened as I barely came to know them onscreen, but the special effects are good. When there were “cameos” of characters from games I recognised, they looked like they were straight from the original game.

In short, this film could have been so much more. If it is any consolation, those who have not read the book gave it a thumbs up, reason being the 80s soundtrack that did hit those nostalgic notes.

 

Guerrilla gardening at Brompton Library

I wonder if you are aware of the concept of guerrilla gardening. There is a body of people out there who selflessly spend their time and resources cultivating neglected public spaces. Some of them are individuals working solo and others are community groups and this is very big worldwide movement.  

Outside Brompton Library there is a small planter. For years this has mysteriously been looked after by our own anonymous guerrilla gardener. Recently, I finally caught up with Bertolutti Dora Howard  as she was watering our own little urban oasis and was able to give her my personal thanks and appreciation for what she is doing for us. She described to me how many of the plants she used were free, harvested from her own gardens in Italy and Cornwall or rescued from local residents who were moving away and could not take their plants with them. She looks after many small gardens on our local streets. The result you will agree is absolutely fabulous.

Like to learn more about this movement? Take a look at the Guerrilla Gardening Community website

Gaynor, Brompton Library

Books to films: On Chesil Beach

Fiona at Brompton Library compares the book, On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan with the recent film adaption –

The book 

I really enjoyed this novel.  Set in 1962, Edward has just married Florence and they are spending their honeymoon at a hotel beside Chesil Beach.  This honeymoon scene is interwoven with the story of how they met and of Edward’s family life.  The novel also looks at Edwards life as he gets older, moves on, and looks back on that marriage.

It’s a short novel where more is happening under the surface than is being said.  I found the book very moving and enjoyed the ambiguities of both characters.  Edward is love-struck, inexperienced and bumbling but he also has a violent temper when things don’t do his way.  Florence is shy and sweet, delighting everyone she meets but she is also steely and cold, finding Edward repulsive at times.  These subtle and shifting contrasts are what makes the book really intriguing.  The truth of their feelings and their relationship is always subtly shifting.

The scenes that take place on Chesil Beach are the most powerful.  McEwan creates a poetic melancholy around this turning point in two young people’s lives with his spare and atmospheric writing.

The film 

*Spoiler alert – I didn’t really like the film, so read after watching* 

As I was reading the book, I found out that it was being adapted into a film.  I found it hard to image it is a film.  I think it may have been better as a play with its limited scenes and characters and its poetic and dramatic atmospheres, where the action is taking place under the surface of the characters rather than in their external worlds.

I have to say that I don’t think the adaptation worked very well as the subtlety of the writing was lost and the scenes on the beach, which were so vivid in the book as they took place as it was getting dark, just didn’t really work on film.  One of the very powerful moments in the book was when Edward’s mother has an accident that changes her forever, this was also lost in the film.  The changed ending was very sentimental and not well executed.  It got great reviews though, so don’t let me put you off!

Inspirational female authors: Emily Bronte

This month we have a double celebration! As well as the monthly review of a book by a female author to mark the centenary of votes for women, we are also celebrating the 200th anniversary of Emily Bronte’s birth on the 30th July. So it was a clear choice to pick Wuthering Heights to review for July.

Wuthering Heights is an intense story set in a lonely house on the Yorkshire moors. It is about the wild and passionate love between Catherine and Heathcliff. They grow up together and years later Heathcliff returns to seek revenge on those he feels have wronged him. The dark tale has shocked and enthralled readers since it was published in 1847.

I first read Wuthering Heights years ago, but reading it again recently I was brought straight back to the haunting atmosphere. If you have already read it, I would recommend re-reading it as there is so much scope for analysis. For those that haven’t, the characters are iconic and the brooding mood of the book will stay with you long after you finish reading.

Emily Bronte is a fitting author for our inspirational women series as she illustrates the progress of women’s rights. When she first published a collection of poems with her sisters in 1846 they all had to use male pseudonyms; Emily’s was Ellis Bell. Wuthering Heights was also originally published as Ellis Bell but after her death her sister Charlotte republished it under Emily’s real name. Despite writing at a time when female authors were rare and would face prejudice, Emily Bronte wrote a powerful and imaginative novel that would become an English literary classic.

At Brompton Library we have created a display to celebrate Emily Bronte’s bicentenary, featuring of course Wuthering Heights, but also her poems, various non fiction books about her life and beautifully illustrated children’s books. So there is also a lot of further reading you can do to mark the 200 years since the birth of this inspirational woman.

You can see the previous reviews of inspirational women writers for June, May, April and March See you in August.

Philippa, Brompton Library

Summer Reading Challenge 2018

This year’s Summer Reading Challenge launches in our libraries tomorrow, Saturday 14 July. The challenge is fun, free and designed for all children whatever their reading ability and it’s been designed to help children to improve their reading skills and confidence during the long summer holidays.

Children can read whatever they like for the challenge – fact books, joke books,
picture books, audio books or you can download a book,  just as long as they are borrowed from the library.

 

This year’s Summer Reading Challenge is called Mischief Makers – Dennis the Menace, Gnasher and friends invite the children taking part to set off on a hunt for Beanotown’s famous buried treasure.

 

Each of our libraries will be holding special events for children of all ages, some of these are listed now on our website Pop in to your local Kensington and Chelsea library  to find out more about the Summer Reading Challenge and collect a special  events programme.

 

Great names of British comedy

It’s fifty years since the first broadcast of that classic of British comedy, Dad’s Army, and this month our Biography Collection display at Kensington Central Library showcases the life stories of some of our funniest men and women. We have a truly enormous number of books celebrating the comic genius of stand-ups and sitcom stars. With intimate glimpses of the highs and lows of their real lives, we find that the tears of a clown are often a real phenomenon, while some stars have brought their comic talents to their own memoirs so that their trials and tribulations cause tears of laughter as we read.

The vintage funny business is all here – from the Victorian double entendres of Marie Lloyd and the silk dressing-gown cool of Noel Coward, to the surreal capers of ITMA (It’s That Man Again), Round the Horne and The Goons and the even more surreal and subversive – and perhaps also quintessentially British? – comic kaleidoscope of Monty Python.

I wonder if I am alone in finding Private Frazer’s mournful cry of “We’re doomed!” strangely reassuring – it’s interesting that over the years we have loved so may characters who express comic despair at life’s frustrations, with a special place in our collective psyche for the hapless melancholy of Tony Hancock, the car-thrashing frenzy of Basil Fawlty, the tightlipped defeatism of Victor Meldrew and the wailing lament of Steptoe junior as his father greets another faux pas with a malevolent toothless grin. There’s that traditional strand of social competitiveness, snobbery and one-upmanship to relish in many of our best loved characters too (Fawlty and Steptoe’s anguish has a lot to do with this, and think also of Hyacinth Bucket, Rigsby,and Margot). The “saucy” humour of the seaside postcard resonates in the Carry On era and Benny Hill, and British comedy has also always had a healthy disrespect for the institutions of authority, taking the wind out of the sails of power in Yes, Minister and of the criminal justice system in Porridge.

Through the alternative scene of the 80s, shows like The Kenny Everett Video Show, Not the Nine O’ clock News, The Young Ones, The Comic Strip Presents and Three of a Kind all represented seismic shifts in comedy styles and pushed the boundaries of what made us laugh.

More recent faces feature in our display too, like Walliams and Lucas, Mitchell and Webb, Miranda Hart, Michael McIntyre, Sarah Millican and James Corden – and there is no shortage of hilarious women – Wood, Windsor, and Walters; Lipman, Tate, French and Saunders, and many more.

There are so many, many great names of British comedy, that I am already wondering how I could have written this blog piece without mentioning by name, for example, Tommy Cooper, Kenneth Williams, Spike Milligan or June Whitfield – and you will doubtless have your favourites who you can’t believe I have not included! I am glad to say this embarrassment of comic riches is reflected in our Biography Collection, with our display representing the tip of an iceberg of hundreds or comic biographies. If you can’t find your favourite, just ask.

The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library