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Nina Hamnett (1890-1956): the legendary, but long lost, Queen of Bohemia in London and Paris, remembered by Alicia Foster.

The vivacious, often outrageous, Nina Hamnett was a romantic rebel with a cause: one of the most respected artists of the Modernist movement through the Camden Town Group, Omega Workshop and School of Paris, her work was shown widely, including at the Royal Academy and the Salon d’Automne.

This attractive, pocket sized book by the art historian, Dr Alicia Foster, who is also the curator of a current retrospective of Nina Hamnett at Charleston Farmhouse, Firle Sussex, 19th May to 30th August.

After a strict Victorian, military childhood, Nina refused to train as an office Clerk at her father’s suggestion, and her grandmother kindly paid for the fees at Pelham School of Art.  Achieving a place to study at the London School of Art 1907 – 1910, Nina knew her vocation, “Here at last was paradise”.

Her tutor, William Nicholson encouraged her aptitude for still life – moving away from colourful studies of fruit and flowers as depicted by Cezanne, Matisse and Manet, to focus on the simplicity of kitchen pots, pans and jugs. 

As seen in several Still Life paintings from 1917 and 1919, here are soft muted colours, a delicate touch of light and shade and often with a staged inclusion of avant-garde magazines and books.

Self Portrait 1913 shows her short, bobbed hair style, artist’s smock, hand on hip with a confident stance and gaze, as if to say, “Look at me and judge my work seriously”.

Self Portrait, 1913, Nina Hamnett (London Library)

It was this year when Nina joined the Omega Workshops, a Bloomsbury co-operative led by Roger Fry and Vanessa Bell to develop modernist decorative and applied arts.  Hamnett was encouraged to experiment with figurative and abstract designs for fabric, furniture, carpets and murals. She and Fry later had a close professional and personal relationship after posing for intimate life drawings.

Introduced to the world of the French Post-Impressionists at London exhibitions, she first visited Paris in 1912, returning regularly to immerse herself in the intellectual literary and artistic social circle around Montparnasse. 

In Spring 1914, sitting alone for dinner at La Rotonde, she met a dashing young man, the struggling artist, Amadeo Modigliani, trying to sell his drawings.

Portrait of Nina Hamnett by Amadeo Modigliani

She encouraged his work, posing as a model – this fabulous iconic portrait of Nina by Modigliani was painted in 1914 – while he introduced her to Picasso, Diaghilev and Cocteau et al. Here, at the heart of this inspirational community, Nina began to sketch café and street scenes with a quirky caricature style akin to Toulouse Lautrec.

Paris Cafe, 1921, Nina Hamnett (Bridgeman Images)

Back in London, she was commissioned to paint the Sitwells, the trio of siblings who had formed their own literary and artistic clique, capturing Osbert and Edith’s theatrical eccentricity.

As Foster comments, their brother Sacheverell thought Nina’s artistry was “magnificent” while Hamnett described these as “psychological portraits that shall accurately represent the spirt of the age.”

Formal fashionable spirit of the age is captured in Gentleman with a Top Hat c 1919 or 1921, described as “one of Hamnett’s most dazzling portraits” but a shame that the sitter is not identified in this book.   This is George Manuel Unwin, a Chilean opera singer who paraded around Paris in his spats, wearing a monocle, hat and carrying a cane, and Nina adds ther studio accessories of a Moroccan rug and a guitar as a backdrop.  

Gentleman with a Top Hat, (1919/ 1921), Nina Hamnett (Bridgeman Images)

Another renowned portrait is of the ballet dancer, Rupert Doone, 1923, whom she also met in Paris; his classically handsome good looks accentuated with pink blush along the cheekbones, pink gloss on cupid lips, and given a rather morose, moody expression. 

Rupert Doone, 1923, Nina Hamnett (Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery)

In her vivacious and vital role as an unofficial cultural ambassador she embraced British and French high society through art, literature and music. Her friends and mentors included Augustus John, Roger Fry, Gaudier-Brzeska, Sickert, Modigliani, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, Brancusi, Zadkine, Satie and Stravinksy.

 ‘Nina Hamnett’ does not claim to be a comprehensive biography and at under 50 pages, it’s a speedy scamper through her career with more of a thematic study of her work than covering personal and professional relationships.

There’s not a clear chronology through the narrative which concentrates on a selection of key portraits, sketches and life drawings, with limited detail of her promiscuous, bisexual behaviour and bohemian lifestyle.  Standing out from the crowd, she was a serious drinker, danced on bar tables and wore bold red, yellow or checkerboard stockings and children’s sandals with flamboyant flair. 

A meeting with Gertrude Stein in 1912, which sounds like a fascinating encounter, is a passing remark within parenthesis. Nina’s life drawing, ‘Standing Nude’ 1920 is interestingly the same title as an earlier limestone sculpture by Modigliani. This could be a tribute to the artist who had died that year but the fact that they were lovers is not mentioned.

Standing Nude, 1920, Nina Hamnett (Leeds University Library)

This tasty amuse bouche into Nina’s extraordinary tragic short life will certainly entice readers to seek out her two volumes of memoirs, ‘Laughing Torso’ (1932) and ‘Is She a Lady’ (1955). These provide all the colourful (truthful or exaggerated?), anecdotes of her travels, brief encounters and seductive liaisons dangereuses, flitting between London and Paris. Apparently, she introduced James Joyce to Rudolph Valentino.! 

“Laughing Torso” is a neglected and misunderstood Modernist masterpiece.” Dr Jane Goldman

A photograph of Nina from 1920 in her studio depicts her individual personality: a masculine stance in wide-legged trousers, open toe sandals, cigarette in hand with a sense of rebellious freedom.  The title is quite simply and enigmatically, ‘Myself.’

Myself, 1920, Photograph of Nina Hamnett (London Library)

Walter Sickert was a great admirer, who wrote the preface for the catalogue of her exhibition at the Edlar Gallery, London in June 1918: “Nina Hamnett draws like a born sculptor and paints like a born painter.”

This book and the retrospective exhibition at Charleston this summer shines a timely light on this talented born artist who became the best known British artist in Paris in her prime, slowly fading from the limelight until her tragic death aged sixty six.  Nina Hamnett was never afraid to do things differently, embracing the Bohemian spirit of her time with free spirited passion and pioneering creativity.

Nina Hamnett by Alicia Foster, Eiderdown Books RRP £10.99:

Modern Women Artists series:

Nina Hamnett Retrospective: 19 May – 30 August, 2021

The Modern Women Artists Series
The Modern Women Artists series of collectable books reveals an alternative history of art, telling the story of important female artists whose art might otherwise be overlooked, overshadowed or forgotten in the first half of the twentieth century.

The Student, 1917, Nina Hamnett (Ferens Art Gallery, Bridgeman Images)

‘The Appeal’ by Janice Hallett: an ingeniously plotted, finely crafted, murder mystery with masterly Miller-esque dramatic style.

Dear Reader – enclosed are all the documents you need to solve a case. It starts with the arrival of two mysterious newcomers to the small town of Lockwood, and ends with a tragic death.   Someone has already been convicted of this brutal murder and is currently in prison, but we suspect they are innocent. What’s more, we believe far darker secrets have yet to be revealed.

Throughout the Fairway Players’ staging of ‘All My Sons’ and the charity appeal for little Poppy Reswick’s life-saving medical treatment, the murderer hid in plain sight. Yet we believe they gave themselves away. In writing. The evidence is all here, between the lines, waiting to be discovered.

Will you accept the challenge? Can you uncover the truth?

The Appeal’ is the widely critically acclaimed, debut novel by Janice Hallett, a former magazine editor, journalist and political speechwriter. She co-wrote the psychological thriller feature film The Retreat and has had several plays produced with further scripts in development.

The cover image illustrates the Defence Barrister’s Brief neatly tied up in pink ribbon.  Roderick Tanner, QC is representing a client who is appealing against their sentence and sets his trainees, Femi and Charlotte, the task of studying the papers to see if they agree with his conclusions.  

Open the book to find this collection of emails, texts, WhatsApp messages, police interviews and QC’s notes which will guide the reader too through all the legal evidence to unravel the truth behind the murder and if there has been a miscarriage of justice.

We are introduced to the large and colourful cast list of characters through their testimony in this flurry of correspondence – personal observations, anecdotes, chit chat, gossip, facts, and, no doubt, many secrets and lies.

Many of these are members of the Fairway Players, getting ready for the casting and rehearsals for a production of Arthur Miller’s, All My Sons (1947).

The award winning play is based on a true wartime story about a corrupt businessman, Joe Keller, who sold defective airplane parts, driven by a thirst for money and success even if it comes at the cost of family relationships and tragic consequences.

The film version of All My Sons, by Arthur Miller (1948)

A play within a play is a clever device.  Michael Frayn’s Noises Off is a farce set behind the scenes of a theatre production where mounting egos, memory loss and secret affairs turn every performance of Nothing On into real drama from dress rehearsal, the opening night and a performance towards the end of the run.

Alan Ayckbourn also used the scenario in ‘A Chorus of Disapproval’: A widower attempts to escape loneliness by joining the local amateur light operatic company for a performance of The Beggar’s Opera with all the day to day, often immoral, activities of the actors off stage. 

So here we have a modern murder mystery set around a classic play.  Very much in charge of proceedings is Martin Hayward, the director, a respected local businessman who owns The Grange Golf and Country Club.  In the cast of All My Sons are his wife Helen as Kate Keller, their daughter Paige is Lydia, three members of the McDonald family; Sam and Kel Greenwood, are new members having recently been voluntary aid workers in Africa. Isabel is a bit of a loner, neurotic and obsessive, desperately keen to make friends and have a starring role with the Fairway Players.

Drama off stage too when Martin and Helen’s grand-daughter Poppy is diagnosed with a brain tumour, and a Crowdfunding campaign is launched to raise £250,000 for experimental drug treatment in the USA.  Medical evidence on Poppy’s condition is supplied mainly by Dr Tish Bhatoa, an Oncology Consultant.

Of course, we are well aware that these amateur actors are playing a role on stage, who may well have a talent to deceive friends, family and the police in real life too.  

This is a complex maze of intertwined events: behind the scenes of the theatre production, Poppy’s terminal illness, the fundraising appeal – all leading up to the night of the murder. The correspondence between the characters together with police reports, offer a conflicting summary of everyone’s involvement, grudges, suspicions, arguments and strained friendships, as we try to work out the timeline of action.  But whom can we trust.?

Rather curiously as the Fairway Players are the prime suspects, the characters and motives in All My Sons, dealing with a fraudulent business scam and family deceit, are never explored by Martin and his cast, despite the close thematic links to the central plotline of The Appeal. 

On Page 296 there is an essential List of Individuals totalling 81 characters. This would be far better published as a pull- out Theatre programme, as you have to keep referring to it as a reminder of who everyone is – the key players, family relationships and the small but important cameo roles.

Another point to make is that Femi and Charlotte communicate by WhatsApp, with some messages printed in dark grey and difficult to read clearly (as illustrated above).

Sunday Times Crime Novel of the Month, January 2021

However, what does work so brilliantly is that through the dialogue of emails and texts, we can virtually ‘hear’ each character’s voice, giving a first-person narrative with sharp, psychological insight.  The antitheses of a fast paced, action thriller, the focus in The Appeal is on detailed discussion and debate with a slow methodical pace, ingeniously plotted and finely crafted with masterly Miller-esque dramatic style.

From a Review of the premiere of ‘All My Sons’, 30th January, 1947:

Mr. Miller has written an honest, forceful drama about a group of people caught up in a monstrous swindle.   Writing pithy yet unselfconscious dialogue, he has created his characters vividly with hearts and minds of their own. His drama is a piece of expert construction ..  an original play of superior quality by a playwright who knows his craft and has unusual understanding of the tangled loyalties of human beings.’ Brooks Atkinson, New York Times.

THE APPEAL by Janice Hallett is published by Viper @ Serpent’s Tail. 

Will you accept the challenge? Can you uncover the truth?

ISBN: 978-1788165280 –  Hardback.

ISBN: 978-1788165303 – Paperback to be published on 1st July, 2021.

Janice Hallett: the multi-talented journalist, film script writer, playwright and novelist

‘From the River to the Sea: Aquitaine, A Place for Me’ by Basia Gordon. A Memoir: A time-travelling, personal journey between Scotland to South West France

We Brits are born travellers eager for adventure, an escape for cultural experiences, a taste of luxury, or perhaps, in search of a new place to call home.

When Peter Mayle moved to rural France, he intended to write a novel, not a bestselling memoir. ‘A Year in Provence,’ first published in 1989, is an aspirational lifestyle tale about a fifty-something couple renovating a derelict farmhouse in France.

Their decision had begun with “.. a meal that we shall never forget, beyond the gastronomic frontiers (and) we promised ourselves that one day we would live here.”

Peter Mayle at home in Provence.

Unintentionally, Mayle created a new style of literary travel genre, leading to other successful narratives such as ‘Driving over Lemons’ by Chris Stewart, and ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ by Frances Mayes.

Basia Gordon

“Let your dream take over your life rather than your life take over your dream.”

This translation from a French proverb is the apt starting point of Basia Gordon’s narrative about taking a year out from life and work in Glasgow to refurbish an early 19th century farmhouse in Aquitaine.  She first gives a glimpse into her rich Polish heritage covering her parents’ distressing wartime experiences which led to them both, independently, to Scotland where they soon met.

Map of the Aquitaine region and location of their family holiday home

As it was a long way to travel to Poland for regular holidays, in 1972 her father had bought Coutal, a “charming wreck” in rural France for £3.000: “We would never quite belong there, half marooned, half anchored to it as we were.  We would always be regarded as foreigners, invariably referred to locally by the misnomer, Les Anglais.”

Coutal, – the family holiday home, Lot et Garonne, Aquitaine in the 1970s.

Memories of summers here are colourful and carefree, “as children we were feral and relished our freedom, only coming home late in the evening when we were hungry”.

After her father passed away, it continued to be a place for Polish and Scottish family reunions but with limited funds for maintenance and development. “In 2018, my partner Gerry and I decided to take a sabbatical from our teaching jobs to renovate Coutal.”  

Coutal in the rural tranquility of Lot et Garonne

Their initial 29 hour journey from Glasgow to Aquitaine by car with an over-packed trailer (an array of objects, thirty T shirts, Philippe Starck cheese grater, Cocktail book, but no cocktail shaker), is related with light hearted humour through a series of unfortunate incidents.

Lot et Garonne and community of villages

The destination is Lot-et-Garonne, south of the Dordogne and north of Gascony in the Aquitaine region of France. A lush fertile landscape with fields of sunflowers, plum trees, vineyards, farms, market towns and pretty Medieval villages.

Basia lost in a meadow of sunflowers near Coutal

This Memoir follows Bazia’s personal, often emotional reminiscences of Coutal, the progress of the building work, daily challenges of language, laws and lifestyle to fit in, not as tourists but as locals.  

This is not a quick decorating job, but hard manual labour, digging the earth, building walls, erecting a garage, creating an ensuite bedroom in the barn, electrical wiring, grass cutting, all in preparation to welcome their first visitors at their farmhouse ‘hotel”.  

A rhythm of work, eat, siesta, rest, work again. They need to brush up their French especially technical and DIY phrases in order to buy wood or a hinge and learn that sandpaper is Le papier de verre.

Gerry and Basia, armed with essential tools

The reader is introduced to their friendly, nonagenarian neighbours, Etienne and Suzanne Gouget, “peasant’ farmers, who eat well with their own fresh eggs and vegetables, farm reared poultry and wild rabbits.

 Basia and Gerry explore the local villages, Largadonne, Born, St. Vivien with numerous vineyards all around, including Chateau de Planque and Buzet – yes, Plonk and Boozy.!

Known as the Tuscany of France,  “there is a surfeit of prettiness here, rolling hills and bucolic charm” amidst the sizzling hot summer sun.  

The region of Lot et Garonne – the Tuscany of France

Following country customs, Basia makes soap from orange blossom, lemon grass and bay leaves while their garden is now flourishing with sunflowers, pumpkin, rosemary and lavender.

The picturesque heritage town of Monflanquin

The Medieval towns of Monflanquin and Villereal attract 100,000 visitors a year, and Bodega, the annual festival in August is when clowns, musicians, dancers and jugglers stage street theatre circus entertainment creating a lively, sociable event.

The lively cultural, social community of Villereal

Many old properties in this area with swimming pools and outhouses have been purchased cheaply, but renovation is very expensive -“dreams crumbled and houses abandoned.” Meanwhile, they plough on with their dream designer holiday home, visiting many a Vide Grenier –  car boot sales – to buy vintage homeware, art, antiques and curios.

Conducting financial business with the Tax office and bank seems to be a bureaucratic nightmare .. not to mention the ensuing complications of living in France after Brexit which has been nothing but “Mayhem.. Brekshit.”  Expenses are a constant source of worry – house insurance,  medical treatment (will it be covered by the EHIC card?!) and endless car problems – ( L’embroyer is the word for clutch). When they buy a 16 year old Peugot, it requires a passport, proof of home address and payment by cheque. 

When money is tight, they keep calm and carry on, “We shall be eating baguette sans fromage for a month.”   Basia is fascinated to know that a staggering 30 million baguettes are sold in France every day, plus all those crisp crosssants and pastries!

Over recent months, the Gilet Jaunes marches have swept the country, protesting against President Macron’s changes to taxation and welfare, a grassroots revolution for economic justice. As welcome breaks from politics and the building site, Basia and Gerry relax on holiday in Majorca with a literary pilgrimage to the home of the poet Robert Graves, a heritage tour of Berlin and an exciting trip to China to observe efficient bullet trains and cutting-edge technology.

The Barn undergoing major reconstruction!

Back in ‘Coutal’, the renovation work resumes, installing a new kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.  The design is Scandi chic for the Barn in contrast to traditional oak wood in the farmhouse, now furnished with old church pews from Scotland.  

Basia is righly very proud of the smart new windows now installed in the Barn

“I wonder what my father would have thought of the changes at Coutal Haut?” muses Basia.   

During a cold, wet January, Basia and Gerry celebrate Burns Night with a party for friends, and find that the bottles of whisky are cheaper in France than in Scotland.!  Their rural retreat has often been a revolving door of family and friends, which prove to be enjoyable diversions from the job in hand, especially if guests bring Tunnocks caramel wafers from Glasgow.

Amongst all the anecdotes, the most poetic stories describe an appetising feast of good food and drink.  The buzzing farmers’ Markets are the place to buy the freshest fruit and vegetables, and they also pick their own walnuts and plums – the delicious Pruneaux d’Agen is a famous speciality.

Fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables at the weekly local markets.

Cheap, gluggable, quality wine is purchased in BIBS  – a bag of 5 litres in a box and they also try their hand at making walnut wine.  Embracing local manners, it is important to greet everyone you meet each day, with a cheery Bonjour.

Their elderly neighbours, Etienne and Suzanne, are true Masterchefs, rustling up Broad bean soup, truffle omelette, venison pate for lunch. A turkey “fed with grains and fruit produced the most succulent, mouth watering meat we had ever tasted.”  Quality, simple peasant cooking at its best.

Just like Peter Mayle’s passion for French cuisine which enticed his move to Provence, it’s the food and wine which has been a highlight of their sabbatical in Aquitaine. “From the River to the Sea” is a most enchanting, time-travelling journey, enriched with childhood memories, cultural & culinary adventures, relating the story of a beloved family home, ‘Coutal’ for over nearly fifty years.

   “A year of difficult situations and heartbreak ….I could write a dissertation on French building terms!.” Basia Gordon.

Coutal – beautifully redesigned for the 21st century

From the River to the Sea: Aquitaine, A Place for MeA Memoir by Basia Gordon is published by Matador.

Hardback: £17.99 ISBN: 978-1800461345

Paperback: £12.99 ISBN: 978-1800461352

Lies to Tell by Marion Todd – D.I. Clare Mackay is back for another crime-busting, thrilling, twisting rollercoaster ride.

Marion Todd is a full-time crime novelist based in North-east Fife, overlooking the River Tay, but like many aspiring, talented writers – including J.K. Rowling – it has been a long road to success.  She first studied music with the Open University and worked as a piano teacher, accompanist and a hotel lounge pianist. After a busy family life, (married to a Detective with Police Scotland), bringing up three children, she then had time to write short stories for magazines and was shortlisted for a Scottish Arts Council Award.

Marion Todd, creator of the DI Clare Mackay crime novels

With a life long love of the crime genre, since reading Agatha Christie in her youth, she then created a feisty character, Detective Inspector Clare Mackay as the star of her debut thriller, “See Them Run” published in 2019.

On the night of a wedding celebration, one guest meets a grisly end when he’s killed in a hit-and-run.  Set in St. Andrews, the ancient University town and international home of Golf, DI Clare Mackay is on the hunt for a cold, systematic, serial killer.

All the ingredients of a cracking crime novel: a strong female lead, a vivid sense of place, a rising body count and a twist you don’t see coming … A welcome addition to the Tartan Noir genre’ Claire Macleary, author of ‘Cross Purpose.’

Fairmont Golf Resort, St. Andrews – as featured in “See Them Run”

An immediate smash hit, “See Them Run” was nominated for the Bloody Scotland Scottish Crime debut of the Year, 2020.  

Canelo commissioned Todd for a three book deal and so DI Mackay was back again in the second novel, “In Plain Sight.” When a baby girl is snatched from the crowd of spectators at a fun run on West Sands beach, the local police have a major investigation on their hands. Which of the residents of St Andrews is hiding something – and why?

And most recently published is the third thriller in the series, “Lies to Tell.”

LIES TO TELL by Marion Todd

If you have not yet read the first two in the series, like me, no problem at all as this is a stand-alone novel and it’s easy to pick up important elements of the backstory.

The charming old seaside town of St. Andrews, Fife

Early one morning DI Clare Mackay receives a message from her boss DCI Alastair Gibson telling her to accompany him on a secret mission to meet Gayle Crichton, an ethical hacker who is to investigate a serious security breach inside Police Scotland. However, Clare must conceal Gayle’s true identity and undercover work from her team at the St. Andrews station. 

Meanwhile, DI Mackay is dealing with a key witness under police protection in a Safe House before an important Court case, and the report of a missing university student. The action takes place over a short time frame, 15th to 24th May, so expect a pacey, tense and dramatic narrative.

Getting to grips with the full rounded personality of realistic characters is essential to grab the reader’s attention.  Within the first couple of pages, we learn that Clare lives alone with her dog, Benjy, at Daisy Cottage, with its wildly overgrown garden.  At work, she wants to prove she is a competent, ambitious detective, as good as her male, macho counterparts, and dresses smartly for the professional image.

Todd has an easy, free flowing style of storytelling, with vivid descriptions such as this picture of DCI Alastair Gibson:

“ The DCI, dressed to impress in a fine dark grey suit … Giorgio Armani. His tie was knotted tightly at the neck and his shirt cuffs were held by a pair of plain silver cufflinks.”

The location setting too is vitally important for a realistic sense of place – whether Rankin’s Edinburgh or Dexter’s Oxford.

Market Street, St. Andrews with its old cobbles and fountain

“ The Safe House was a two bedroomed flat in busy Market Street, above a shop selling what Clare called, tartan tat for tourists.  The street was cobbled with a dried up fountain . .. busy with mums wheeling pushchairs and red gowned students going between lectures.”

The familiar sight of red gowned University students

As Mackay tries to navigate the increasingly complex, convoluting maze of criminal cases, the underlying theme is all about secrets, lies and whom she can trust. As the pressure builds up, we can see her strong minded, feisty nature focussed on the job.

But we also see the softer, feminine side, as she misses her partner Geoffrey who has moved to Boston, and her new singleton lifestyle is now akin to Bridget Jones: “She opened the fridge – a Cottage pie from M&S stood alone on the shelf .. and she took a bottle of red from the wine rack, pouring herself a large glass.” 

Footloose and fancy free, enjoying many a glass of vino and Prosecco, we soon follow her tentative steps through text messages to the temptation of a closer relationship with a senior officer.  Romantic encounters aside, the heart of this gripping, gritty plot line, is a murky mire of dangerous liaisons involving scams, money laundering, abduction and a gruesome murder.   

Clare is a tough cop, (a former armed response officer), but she is also vulnerable, emotional woman, which is well portrayed. As she confides DS Chris West, “I don’t know who I can trust” …. “The strain of the past week, she felt as if it was all coming crashing down on her.”

With so many unexpected, terrifying twists, the reader is taken on a rollercoaster ride until the clever, cliff hanger ending which indicates a tricky romantic entanglement for Clare to solve.

As a genuine, believable, leading lady, DI Clare Mackay could easily follow DI Rebus in Edinburgh, and DI Perez & DS Macintosh on Shetland to the small screen, amidst the atmospheric setting and wild seascapes around St. Andrews in the Kingdom of Fife.

​In September 2020, independent publisher Canelo launched a new crime fiction imprint, Canelo Crime.  

I remain convinced that crime fiction offers the most exciting combination of thrills, deceit and cleverness. The best of the genre will emotionally invest its reader, and give hope that good can overcome evil, (though only with a brilliant sleuth or fearless hero in charge). We have been proud of the recognition that Marion Todd received a nomination for the Bloody Scotland, Scottish Crime Debut of the Year, 2020. Marion’s ongoing DI Clare Mackay series has quickly been established as a favourite with crime fiction fans. Keep an eye on our website for forthcoming news about Marion’s new novel, ‘What They Knew’.

Louise Cullen Publishing Director

 “What They Knew” by Marion Todd is to be published on 11 February 2021 by Canelo Crime.  The New Year starts with a death ...

‘The Killings on Kingfisher Hill’ bv Sophie Hannah: the new Hercule Poirot mystery

It was one hundred years ago when Agatha Christie introduced the now legendary Belgian detective in her first crime novel,“The Mysterious Affair at Styles.” 

‘Poirot was an extraordinary looking little man. He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible’. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, (1920)

Pan paperback edition of the first Poirot novel, 1920

There are 13 chapters with enticing titles: Poirot Investigates, Fresh Suspicions, The Night of the Tragedy, Poirot Explains.

This popular, iconic character went on to star in 33 novels, two plays and more than fifty short stories.  “My Belgian invention was hanging around my neck, firmly attached there like the old man of the sea.”  Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

Agatha Christie and her collection of crime novels

Poirot’s final case, which brings him back full circle to Styles, was written during World War II as a gift for her daughter, but kept in a safe for over thirty years until “Curtain” was finally published in 1975.

Curtain, by Agatha Christie, first UK edition, 1975

The news of Poirot’s death in the novel was commemorated in an obituary in The New York Times, the only fictional character to have received such an honour.

The Hercule Poirot mysteries have been adapted with great success the cinema and television screen, portrayed by many actors from Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov to David Suchet and Kenneth Branagh, with their own personalised manner, mode ……and moustache.

The portrayal of Hercule Poirot over the past century

It was therefore a most inspired decision of the Agatha Christie Estate to resurrect the Belgian detective and authorise Sophie Hannah to write a exciting new Continuation novel.

Sophie Hannah is a massive fan of Agatha Christie’s crime fiction, having first read “The Body in the Library” aged 12. She is an international best selling writer of psychological thrillers, winning numerous awards. Sophie created a Masters Degree course in crime writing at Cambridge University, where she is a fellow of Lucy Cavendish College.

Agatha Christie is the greatest crime writer of all time and it is a huge, huge honour for me to be the person chosen to do this.” Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah with Mathew Pritchard, grandson of Agatha Christie

Sophie presented a detailed 100-page outline for a Poirot-esque detective novel to the publishers and Christie estate, which was approved. ‘The Monogram Murders’ (2014) was the first of her four novels in this new series.

Celebrating 100 years since Poirot solved the mystery at Styles, he sets off once again to investigate a new case, “The Killings at Kingfisher Hill”. 

It is ten minutes before two on the afternoon of 22nd February, 1931. That was when the strangeness started,”  begins the first person narration by Inspector Edward Catchpool who is accompanying Hercule Poirot to Little Key, a mansion on the Kingfisher Estate, Surrey.  

Richard Devonport has summoned Poirot to prove the innocence of his fiancée, Helen who faces the death penalty for the murder of his brother, Frank. A clever ploy by Hannah to retain authenticity, is that the plotline of an allegedly innocent person being accused of murder was used by Christie several times: Ordeal by Innocence, Towards Zero, Mrs McGinty’s Dead, The ABC Murders, Five Little Pigs and also the play, Witness for the Prosecution.

Curiously, the rest of the Devonport family cannot know the real reason for the visit and they will pose as enthusiasts of a board game, Peepers, created by Richard’s father, Sidney, as a rival to Monopoly.

The journey by coach from London to Kingfisher Hill is not without incident: unfortunately, it takes almost 100 pages to describe a series of incidents, a damsel in distresss, lunch, a minor emergency and missing passengers before they arrive at the Devonport home. Yes, a couple of these characters will make a later appearance, but this is a convoluted start before cracking on with the heart of the mystery.

It’s the classic Country House setting where the murder took place on 6th December, 1930.   “At twenty minutes to six, Frank Devonport fell to his death from the landing. He’d been pushed from the balcony. Fell and cracked his head open on the hard floor beneath.”

If it’s not Helen Acton as Richard believes, who is guilty of the crime? There were seven other people there at the time – Sidney, his wife Lilian, their daughter Daisy, her fiancé Oliver Prowd, two family friends, Godfrey and Verna Lavliolette, and the servant Winnifred.

Like Sherlock’s Watson, Hannah’s new creation, Inspector Catchpool is an assistant sleuth like a blend of the amiable Hastings and the solid but slow, Chief Inspector Japp. Poirot likes to challenge his friend, asking for a list of questions on the case, to test a methodical mind.  “Precisely, Catchpool, you have hit on the head the nail!… it proceeds most satisfactorily, the training of your brain.” 

The title of the novel is, of course, ‘Killings’ in the plural and so far, just one. But then the shocking discovery of a body of an unidentified woman, bludgeoned to death with a poker in the drawing room at the Devonport home.  The Cluedo style setting is reminiscent of Christie’s classic, The Body in the Library, in which an unknown blonde girl is found at Gossington Hall, home of Colonel and Mrs. Arthur Bantry.

Certain members of the rather dysfunctional Devonport family are unreliable witnesses due to their eccentric behaviour. There is one marvellous character, Hester Semley, “a small bony, bespectacled woman with thick, coiled springs of white hair,” whose dagger-sharp intellect even throws Poirot on the back foot. A Miss Marple with feisty attitude!.

This is a twisting, turning maze of a plot like a complex jigsaw puzzle, where, it seems, half a dozen pieces are missing, until of course, Poirot uncovers the truth in the final flourish of a denouement.  

You can expect the narrative structure, language, period style and social manner of an Agatha Christie novel, not least the impeccable personality, wit and wisdom of Hercule Poirot.

“I regard every word Agatha Christie ever wrote almost as a holy text, so I’m not going to be taking any liberties,” Sophie Hannah. “

Set in 1931, this is vintage detective fiction but not old fashioned. Crime, past and present, is a moral matter, understanding human nature, jealousy, deceit, the psychology of good and evil.  The classic detective story is a world of theatricality and illusion.

So no wonder Christie’s murder mysteries adapt so well from page to stage and screen.  David Suchet is legendary in the role of Hercule Poirot which he played in 70 episodes of ITV’s Agatha Christie’s Poirot series over twenty five years.

David Suchet and Hugh Fraser as Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings

The highly acclaimed series adapted all of Agatha Christie’s novels and short stories featuring Poirot between 1989 and 2013 and continue to be repeated on a regular basis.

David Suchet as Hercule Poirot in ITV series

The enduring appeal for Hercule Poirot has no sign of slowing down. Following the masterly remake “Murder on the Orient Express” directed by and starring Kenneth Branagh, his next Agatha Christie movie is “Death on the Nile,”  to be released in 2021.

The two new Poirot films directed and starring Kenneth Branagh

The Killings at Kingfisher Hill by Sophie Hannah – the new Hercule Poirot Mystery is published by Harper Collins.

The previous titles in the Continuation series of Poirot mysteries are “The Monogram Murders”, “Closed Casket” and “The Mystery of Three Quarters.”

The Continuation series by Sophie Hannah

“From Oceans to Embassies” a Personal Memoir by Gillian Angrave – a colourful, cultural globetrotting journey (braving wars and typhoons along the way)

While on a Mediterranean cruise in 2017, I was delighted to read Gillian Angrave’s travelogues, “Venice – The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller.”  In this series of personal guides, Gillian shares her love affair with Venice, the art, culture and heritage, with humour, enthusiasm, knowledge, passion and quirky anecdotes.

At the age of 10, Gillian began travel writing in youthful earnest when she won the Cadbury’s national competition for her essay, “Life on a Tropical Island” – a rich imagination more than personal experience!.  She followed her childhood dream to travel the world for work and has now browsed through her diaries and photo albums to compile a captivating memoir of her globetrotting life in “From Oceans to Embassies.

Part 1 is a fast paced introductory scamper through Gillian’s family life, school days, learning languages, playing sports and then an interest in driving and fast cars.  With three A levels, including French and Spanish, as well as secretarial qualifications, in 1967 Gillian joined P & O – the Peninsula & Orient Steam Navigation Company –  in the role of Junior Woman Assistant Purser.

In a brief history of the shipping line it’s interesting that until the 1970s, P&O passengers emigrated to Australia or visited family and friends overseas as the only mode of transport. After the launch of affordable jet travel, the ships changed their regular routes from crossings to cruise itineraries for leisure.

S S Canberra

How she came to board the SS Canberra with little notice to pack and prepare in January 1968, is a marvellous anecdote, setting sail on a four month world voyage.  We learn about her life on board from blue and white uniforms (fashionably designed by Hardy Amies) to the daily routine of the Pursers Department in charge of reception desk, food & drink supplies, immigration and finance by day, to cocktail parties and dinners at night.

Gillian was first given the job of “Berthing Queen,”  allocating cabins and dealing with complaints from passengers including 1st Class guests requesting a more luxurious Suite.  Not always easy.!

What is most revealing is the fact that there were few professional entertainers employed and so the pursers doubled up as song and dance men and women.  Creating costumes and choreography, they performed such themed shows as Music Hall,  Hawaiian nights and a night at the Moulin Rouge.

A high kicking Can Can show from Gillian and team of Pursers

Life on the ocean wave is not complete without experiencing gale force weather – “We hit the eye of the storm,” she recalls, when they encounter a Typhoon in Japan.

Gillian, WAP, (Woman Assistant Purser) with P&O ships, in tropical whites. (1970)

Read all about her favourite ports from South Africa to Australia, and hopping around idyllic tropical islands from the South Pacific to the Caribbean.   Staff were allowed to enjoy some shore excursions to see historic sites, shop for souvenirs and go on Safari.  On a trip with four colleagues to the Natal Game Reserve, unfortunately their Dormobile van broke down.  They had to get back to Durban before the SS Canberra departed as ships do not wait for passengers or crew. …

Breakdown in Natal Game Reserve – with just a few hours to get back to Durban!

Gillian cruised the world on two P&O ships, SS Canberra and the SS Oriana over a seven year career, during which time her salary rose from £35.15s to £58.15s a month.  At least alcohol on board was relatively cheap – 12 shillings for a bottle of gin.  I expect a G&T was essential after a long day’s work.

S S Orianna, Pago Pago, American Samoa

An important aspect highlighted is that this was tne era before the Equality Act and WAPs were treated unfairly compared to the senior male pursers in charge. Women were offered no pension rights and had to leave at the age of 40.   With no chance of a long term career or promotion, Gillian decided to disembark and seek another route to continue her itinerant life.

Next port of call was joining Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service on 5th July 1976 at the Foreign Office, London – the start of a high flying career, based at various British Embassies in Asia, South & Central America and Hungary.  Gillian had to sign the Official Secrets Act which is a lifetime agreement so there are no Government revelations here!.

Enter the world of Ambassadors, Consuls and Embassies and its vital role covering assistance to British citizens and ex pats overseas, international promotion of trade, defence and culture.  Her first posting was Manila, capital of the Philippines where administration work was balanced by formal lunches and receptions.  At a Christmas Dinner with the Ambassador, she had to try the Filipino delicacy, bats’ wings!.  There was also the chance to play golf on neatly mowed greens in glorious sunshine.  Around the world, she continued to visit many golf courses – occasionally lurking with scary wildlife – finally awarded great succcess at the Blue Danube Club, near Budapest.

More adventures when working at the Embassy in Lima, Peru, giving the opportunity to visit the Amazon basin and the majestic heights of Machu Picchu.

Gillian at the Urubamba River Gorge, Macchu Picchu – with furry friends!

Moving on after a few years to Guatemala during a time of political conflict and their claim over Belize, this was a dangerous mission with a seriously terrifying outcome.

There are fascinating insights into Embassy work, such as the Diplomatic Bag to transport official documents – it has its own passport, cannot be opened or x-rayed and personally carried by the Queen’s Messenger or Embassy staff.

Gillian was stationed for three years in Chile during the regime of President Pinochet, the country governed by martial law; then in April 1982 came the devastating news of the Falkland Conflict between Argentina and the UK.  However, despite serious political concerns, social life seemed to be an entertaining whirl of  official social events and Scottish country dancing – who knew that that there is a strong Scottish heritage in Chile?

The Santiago Caledonian Society, Chile

More travel trips such as to the icy terrain of the San Rafael Glacier in the remote South Patagonian fjords.

Angrave of the Antarctic … (or sort of)

Another posting was to Mexico City, where, when not at her desk, there was time to keep fit on the tennis court and golf course.   The British Embassy, Mexico City is illustrated above on the front cover.  And here there was a thrilling encounter with none other than James Bond, aka Timothy Dalton who was in town for the filming of “Licence to Kill.”  Assisting the actors and crew, (trading tea and baked beans with 007), Gillian must have felt akin to being Miss Moneypenny or M in H.M. Secret – rather than the Diplomatic – Service!.

“James Bond” (Timothy Dalton) with Gillian Angrave in Mexico

Working for the Diplomatic Service for nearly thirty years, certainly brought extraordinary opportunities to meet Royalty, Government Presidents, Ambassadors and film stars, and making very dear friends within the team of colleagues.  But equally, there were worrying situations coping with mosquitos, malaria, snakes, alligators, typhoons, earthquakes, civil war and serious illness, far away from family and home.

“From Oceans to Embassies” is compiled with meticulous detail, vivid descriptions and vivacious enthusiasm; this is a page-turning narrative taking the reader along on a thrilling, rollercoaster ride to learn all about her exhilarating journeys by land and sea.

An enriching life indeed, which was predicted when Gillian was just three years old. Chapter 1 of this Memoir begins with a charming anecdote related years later by her mother. A Romany Gypsy had knocked on the door selling clothes pegs. Thankful for the threepenny bit, she offered to read her fortune: “You will have two daughters, one will be musical and one will go over the seas.”

Her younger sister grew up to enjoy a musical career as a flautist and and Gillian circumnavigated the globe for nearly 40 years, her destiny was written serendipitously in the stars.

I count myself so lucky and privileged to have sailed the Seven Seas and been sent on postings with the Diplomatic Service to such exciting and interesting countries. Travel has been my constant companion and I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world. I intend to keep travelling for as long as I can”  Gillian Angrave

Gillian on board the Fred Olsen cruise ship Braemar in St. Maarten.

“From Oceans to Embassies” A Personal Memoir by Gillian Angrave

Purchase price: Hardback, £14.99 and Paperback, £11.99 (plus £3 p&p)

available from Amazon and Waterstones

Also direct from –


Also, highly recommended:

“Venice : The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller” by Gillian Angrave (3 volumes) 

Purchase price – Paperback, £9.99 (plus £2.87 p&p) from Amazon and Waterstones.

Gillian Angrave, today as a Registrar of Marriages

After retirement from the Diplomatic Service in 2005, Gillian became, and still is, a Registrar of Marriages in West Sussex. She continues to love travelling, photography and writing books and memoirs.  She also has many interests – bell-ringing, modern languages, gardening and golf.

Saltire Literary Awards – the shortlists announced for Scotland’s National Book Awards 2019.

Scotland has indeed long been an extraordinary cultural and literary country from the era of Enlightenment to Edinburgh being named the first ever Unesco City of Literature in 2004.  In 1919, the James Tait Black Book Prizes were founded at the University of Edinburgh, the oldest literary awards in the world; in 1936 the Saltire Society was founded to support and celebrate the Scottish imagination across all the arts and sciences.

In 1937, the Society launched the inaugural Saltire Literary Awards and today they recognise work across six literary categories (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Research, History, Poetry and First Book) and two for Publishers.  All entrants must either have been born in Scotland, live in Scotland or their books must be about Scotland.

The winner in each category receives £2,000, with all contenders eligible to be selected for the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year, receiving a further £5,000.

For 2019, there are two new prizes: Book Cover to recognise creativity and the relationship between the designer, publisher and author.  Also a special Award for Lifetime Achievement to recognise a body of work in its entirety rather than one book, with the writer receiving a cash prize of £2,000.

The Calum MacDonald Memorial Award for the publisher of Pamphlet poetry is presented in partnership with the Scottish Poetry Library.

Sarah Mason, Programme Director at the Saltire Society, said “‘The Saltire Literary Awards celebrate the diversity, quality and richness of books from Scotland over the past year … recognising excellence. and we congratulate the writers and publishers who hav been shortlisted this year.”

This is just a quick overview to highlight a few of these authors and books across several categories.

Nominated for the Saltire Fiction award is Lucy Ellmann for “Ducks, Newburyport”  At over 1,000 words it received glowing reviews for innovative prose and powerful message. The narrative paints a portrait of an Ohio housewife who tries to bridge the gaps between reality and the torrent of meaningless information in the USA.

“A bravura feat: a stream of consciousness, fierce and succinct wit” – The Scottish Review of Books

“ Ellmann has created a wisecracking Mrs Dalloway for the internet age.” – Financial Times

‘This isn’t just one of the outstanding books of 2019, it’s one of the outstanding books of the century, so far.’ The Irish Times 

Also in the Fiction category is “You Will be Safe Here” by Damian Barr, a journalist, playwright and writer of a memoir, Maggie & Me.

He has now published his debut novel, set in South Africa, moving between 1901, covering the effect on a family during the Boer War, to 2010,  observing a radical change in life for sixteen year old Willem.

“Completely gripping and profoundly moving – you care for every character. Each of the very different stories woven together in such unexpected ways.  (Maggie O’Farrell)

“A poignant debut, written with empathy … compassion, wisdom and remarkable sense of poetry, The Guardian)

A diverse range of subjects are captured in the line up for the Non-Fiction Award.  

Melanie Reid has written a personal, painful memoir, “The World I Fell Out Of.”  On Good Friday, 2010 Melanie fell from her horse, breaking her neck and fracturing her lower back. Paralysed from her chest down, she spent almost a year in hospital, determined to gain some movement and learn to rebuild her shattered life.

Melanie Reid, author of her memoir, ‘The World I fell Out Of’

“This is an astonishing and riveting book … It is certainly frightening – a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit’ Alan Massie, The Scotsman

For those who watch real crime TV documentaries may know the name, face and voice of Dr. David Wilson. His book,, “My Life with Murderers: Behind Bars with the World’s most Violent Men”  tells the story of his journey from prison governor (aged 29), to expert criminologist and Professor.

A fascinating and compelling study of human nature, Dr. Wilson gets inside the mind of a murderer to uncover what drives men to kill.

Dr. David Wilson, author of “My Life with Murderers”

“With characteristic brilliance and admirable sensitivity, Wilson illuminates the complex causes of their horrific crimes. A page turner.” (Professor Simon Winlow, British Society of Criminology).

In the running for the First Book of the Year, is Alan Brown for “Overlander: Bikepacking coast to coast across the Scottish Highlands”   Seeking a temporary escape from city life, he plotted a personal challenge: an epic cycle ride across Scotland, wild camping under the stars, on a journey of discovery all the way.

“His sensitive, personal observations on the landscapes, wildlife and people he encounters is an eloquent reminder of the wonderful country we live in. Time to get on my bike.” Andy Wightman MSP

In contrast, another debut book is about the domestic pastime of sewing. “Threads of Life” by Clare Hunter – a history of the world through the eye of the needle, from the Bayeux Tapestry and battlefields to prisons and drawing rooms.

“This patchwork quilt of history, culture and politics ..richly textured” ( Sunday Times)

The Award for Scottish Poetry Book has six books nominated including Edinburgh based writer, Janette Ayachi for “Hand Over Mouth Musi.,”  With Algerian and Scottish roots, she describes family relationships and her role as a mother to two daughters. This is her first collection which gives voice to memories and imagined places.

“Her poems range from Venice to Barcelona, Adriatic Sea to airports, ‘where the choked heart unclogs itself.’   .. the uninhibited wanderlust of someone who is utterly in love with travel” StAnza reviewer

Janette Ayachi, poet and world traveller with a wanderlust spirt of adventure

Christopher Whyte  is a novelist writing in English and poetry in Scottish  Gaelic and translates poetry into English from a range of European languages.. “Ceum air Cheum” (Step by Step), is his sixth poetry collection covering the topic of language and the circle of life. English translation by Niall O’ Gallagher.

The Calum Macdonald Memorial award for a Poetry Pamphlet, a slim, appetising taster.  Jay G. Ying is a poet, fiction writer, reviewer and translator based in Edinburgh and his first book, ‘Wedding Beasts’ is a 20 page, hand sewn, limited edition publication by Bitter Melon.

His peach slice, dusted in sugar, left out on the breakfast tray like an ideogram of a moon …”

 Also on the list is Polygon’s New Poets pamphlet by Iona Lee – Edinburgh poet, visual artist and performer. These poems were conceived behind the retail counter of a bookshop, during loud, late night conversations, and in sticky floored pubs. Her experience of life, both painful and hilarious.

Iona Lee, poet, artist, performer

This is just a quick browse through a selection of the shortlisted books and authors. All the nominated books are listed below.

The winners of all the eleven categories and the overall Saltire Scottish Book of the Year will be announced at a ceremony at the National Museum of Scotland on St. Andrew’s Night, Saturday 30 November.   Full details can be found at

The winter is the ideal time to pick up a seriously good, inspiring, page turning book – a novel, biography, memoir, poetry, nature, travel, history … Happy Reading!

2019 Saltire Literary Awards

The Saltire Society Scottish Fiction Book of the Year Award

Lucy Ellmann, Ducks, Newburyport

Ruairidh MacIlleathain (Roddy MacLean), Còig Duilleagan na Seamraig (Five Leaves of the Shamrock)

Leila Aboulela, Bird Summons

Ewan Morrison, Nina X

Polly Clark, Tiger

Damian Barr, You Will Be Safe Here

The Saltire Society Scottish Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award

Dòmhnall Eachann Meek (Donald E. Meek), Seòl Mo Bheatha (My Life Journey)

Mary Miller, Jane Haining: A Life of Love and Courage

Dr David Wilson, My Life with Murderers

Kate Clanchy, Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me

Melanie Reid, The World I Fell Out Of

Kerry Hudson, Lowborn: Growing up, getting away and returning to Britain’s poorest towns

The Saltire Society Scottish Poetry Book of the Year Award

Christopher Whyte, Ceum air Cheum

Janette Ayachi, Hand Over Mouth Music

Iain Morrison, I’m a Pretty Circler

Ross Wilson, Line Drawings

Roseanne Watt, Moder Dy

Harry Josephine Giles, The Games

The Saltire Society Scottish First Book of the Year Award

Angela Meyer, A Superior Spectre

Fraser MacDonald, Escape from Earth:  A Secret History of the Space Rocket

Alan Brown, Overlander

Stephen Rutt, The Seafarers:  A Journey Among Birds

Clare Hunter, Threads of Life

The Saltire Scottish Research Book of the Year Award

Kirstie Blair, Working Verse in Victorian Scotland: Poetry, Press, Community

Thomas Devine, The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed, 1600-1900

Laura Watts, Energy at the End of the World: An Orkney Islands Saga


The Saltire Scottish History Book of the Year Award

Norman H Reid, Alexander III: 1249-1286, First Among Equals

Alasdair Pettinger, Frederick Douglass and Scotland, 1846: Living an Antislavery Life

James Buchan, John Law  A Scottish Adventurer of the eighteenth Century

Malcolm Macdonald and Donald John MacLeod, The Darkest Dawn

R A McDonald, The Sea Kings: The Late Norse Kingdoms of Man and the Isles

Calum Macdonald Memorial Award  

Red Squirrel, Juke Box Jeopardy (Brian Johnstone)

Tapsalteerie, Glisk (Sarah Stewart) and An Offering (Stewart Sanderson)

Essence Press, zenscotlit (Alan Spence)

Bitter Melon Press, Wedding Beasts (Jay G Ying)

Polygon, Polygon New Poets: Iona Lee (Iona Lee)

The Saltire Society Publisher of the Year Award

404 Ink, BHP Comics, Canongate Books, Charco Press, Sandstone Press

The Saltire Society Emerging Publisher of the Year Award

Pauline Cuchet, Canongate Books, Anne Glennie, Cranachan, Kay Farrell, Sandstone Press,

Jamie Norman, Canongate Books, Richard Wainman, Floris Books, Alan Windram, Little Door Books




“The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing” by Mary Paulson-Ellis: a theatrical book launch by Golden Hare Books at the Royal Scots Club

Mary Paulson-Ellis – Edinburgh has been her home for 32 years

Mary Paulson-Ellis received an MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow and also won the inaugural Curtis Brown prize for fiction in 2009.  Her debut novel, “ The Other Mrs Walker”, was Waterstones Scottish Book of the Year, 2017.  Her second novel, “The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing” was launched last week at the Royal Scots Club, Edinburgh, a most apt location for a narrative inspired by memories of the Great War. This private club in the New Town was founded in 1919 in honour of 11,162 men in the Royal Scots Regiment who died in the First World War.

The Library, Royal Scots Club

Organised by Mary and Golden Hare Books, there was a theatrical ambience to the wine reception with staff dressed in army uniforms, a medley of vintage wartime songs, the chance to gamble with matchsticks and buttons, and cheese and crackers served from a vintage tin box.  If this didn’t take us on a moving and nostalgic trip to the trenches, nothing would.

Afterwards, guests were invited to the theatre downstairs for the meet the author event.  Julie Danksin of Golden Hare Books, welcomed us all and introduced Mary Paulson-Ellis.  It was also a timely celebration for Golden Hare which was named Independent Bookshop of the Year at the British Book Awards 2019.

Golden Hare win the Award for the Best Independent Bookshop in the UK, 2019

They were up against eight regional winners but it was Julie of Golden Hare Books who was presented with the award by Ian Rankin at the ceremony in May.

Mary Paulson-Ellis is certainly interested in complex dual narratives, linking past and present.  “The Other Mrs Walker” has been described as neo-Victorian mystery, set in the Edinburgh winter of 2010, when the death of an elderly woman starts the research into her life story.

Mary explains that the saga of Solomon Farthing inhabits the same territory as Mrs Walker – the theme of identity and no known next of kin.  It begins in the present day, when an old soldier passes away in an Edinburgh nursing home which sparks the search for his descendants and delve into the past to follow a link back to the battlefields, France 1918.

The story was inspired by “Heir Hunters”  the BBC TV series which follows the investigations of legal cases when someone dies intestate. Apparently 60% of people do not make a Will, such that the inheritance of their Estate can be claimed by the closest living relatives.

Solomon Farthing is an Edinburgh heir hunter who has been given the responsibility of finding the rightful owners of a pawn ticket and an amount of cash, just a few belongings of the deceased soldier.  But his journey of discovery also reflects on his own troubled life and lost links with his family.

The novel also explores the morality of inheritance – how do we know where the money comes from as it passes hand to hand. We may be left a gift, valuable property, an investment but was it the result of theft or gambling. ?

Julie then asks Mary about the other character in her books, Edinburgh.  As she has lived here for 32 years, (born in Glasgow), it is her homage to the city, although, of course, a great deal of fiction is set here.   She also explains that it is not a novel about World War I as other writers have covered the subject most comprehensively, including Pat Barker’s “Regeneration” Trilogy.

The narrative of Solomon Farthing focuses on the life and death of men and soldiers – indeed it was not men, comments Mary, but boys who were called up aged 19, who then had four weeks training before heading off to fight for their country.

There is a most poignant quotation printed at the beginning of this novel:

“ The First World War, if you boil it down, what was it? Nothing but a family row.”   Harry Patch .

Before he died in 2009, aged 111, Harry was the last surviving combat soldier of the First World War and known as “The Last Fighting Tommy”.

On the front cover of “The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing” is a quote from Val McDermid:

“A richly rewarding literary novel that’s also a gripping page-turner.” 

“The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing” by Mary Paulson-Ellis – part modern mystery and part heroic war story – is clearly the perfect time-travelling, Winter’s tale.

Perhaps visit the Golden Hare Books to pick up your copy.

Golden Hare Books, St. Stephen Street, Edinburgh

“The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing” by Mary Paulson-Ellis is published by Mantle Books, an imprint of Pan MacMillan


Marie Louise Wrightson – a colourful exhibition of “curiouser and curiouser” paintings on show at Robertson Fine Art, Edinburgh

Art lovers can enjoy an ever revolving mixed exhibition of contemporary landscapes, portraits, photographic prints, sculpture and cutting edge urban street work – at Robertson Fine Art.  Under Managing Director, Gordon Robertson, the company has three galleries in Glenrothes, Dollar and now here in Edinburgh.

Robertson Fine Art, Edinburgh

Robertson Fine Art, Edinburgh

At their city centre gallery, well located on Hanover Street, their featured Artist of the Month is Marie Louise Wrightson whose eclectic work is distinctive by its quirky imagery and artistic technique.  Her work has been shown in Edinburgh over recent years at the Royal Scottish Academy, Leith Gallery, Alpha and galleries in Dundee, Fife and Glasgow.

After Wrightson studied fine art at Duncan of Jordanstone School of Art in Dundee, she later settled in Auchtermuchty, Fife where she paints in her Summer House Studio.

Fairy tales, cartoons, films, classic stories and the memories of seaside holidays from childhood are often the inspiration for her work – sweet shops, Fairground merry-go round rides, birds and animals to create imaginative still lifes and realistic figurative studies.

Marie Louise Wrightson

Marie Louise Wrightson

This collection of oil paintings and prints depicts, through colourful, humorous images, a modern vision of the crazy characters and fantasy tales from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

Alice in Wonderland - original book illustration

Alice in Wonderland – original book illustration

First published in 1865, its fantasy plot, humorous rhymes, riddles, puzzles and brilliant use of nonsense was revolutionary for a Victorian children’s novel, being neither moralistic or educational.

Illustration has always been an essential ingredient in books for children, who from a young age, understand how both the pictures and the words both tell the story as they learn to read.

“And what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversation?”

As you wander around Robertson’s Art Gallery, enter a fantasy world of the White rabbit, the Cheshire cat, cute mice, a walrus, the Mad Hatter, buckets and spades, butterflies, delicious jam tarts, cream cakes, tea cups,  playing cards, trees and flowers. And there’s Alice, our sweet, young heroine appearing at the heart of this enchanting wonderland.

Marie Louise Wrightson

Marie Louise Wrightson

The artistic style is certainly unique – a blend of caricature, Disney-esque cartoons, Japanese Anime combined with the classic technique of fine art and portraiture.  Some paintings are innocent and fun, while others cleverly re-imagine Alice in Wonderland as a flirty beach babe with a subtle touch of the saucy seaside postcard style of Donald McGill.


“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t …”  .

At the preview event last Saturday, the visitors were enthralled with red stickers spreading like measles around the original art work and prints.   These will only be on show from 4th June for about ten days so take a visit to Robertson’s Fine Art soon to see Marie’s magical decorative illustrations which will sure to inspire and amuse both adults and children.

Curiouser and Curiouser indeed!.

Robertson Fine Art,  100 Hanover Street,  Edinburgh,  EH2 1DR

0131 285 0695  –

Marie Louise Wrightson

Marie Louise Wrightson

“How to Write about Theatre” by Mark Fisher – a manual for critics, students and bloggers

mark fisher bookMark Fisher studied Theatre at the University of Kent and has been reviewing theatre since the late 1980s when he began working for the arts and events what’s on magazine, The List, in Edinburgh.  He then founded the magazine, Theatre Scotland, and now works as a freelance writer, most notably The Herald and The Guardian.  Based on personal experience covering the Edinburgh Festivals over many years, he published a “Survival Guide to The Edinburgh Fringe”, the largest arts festival on the planet.

“How to Write about Theatre” is therefore written with a broad professional background in theatre – from playwrights, performance, production and the media.  This is a comprehensive, astutely researched, academic guide to theatre criticism with historical and cultural insight.

Chapter I starts with a succinct clarification of The Job:    “Writing about theatre is an act of translation, turning the language of performance into the language of words” ………which leads the reader on a journey to develop the literary skills, linguistic style and informed opinion for an accomplished, polished, professional theatre review.

The business of “reviewing” contemporary life at leisure in general has changed radically in recent years when anyone with an positive or negative opinion on a restaurant, hotel, book, music, film or a play can publish views on Facebook, Trip Advisor and Blog sites.

The publication of professional Theatre reviews began seriously in the 1770’s, avidly read in daily newspapers, weekly and periodical magazines.  Allessadro Manzoni was an Italian dramatist who in 1819 analysed the purpose and essential nature of theatre criticism, which he said should be based on three questions: What were the theatre-makers trying to achieve, how well did they succeed, and was it worth it.?

William Archer - foremost champion and translator of Henrik Ibsen

William Archer – foremost champion and translator of Henrik Ibsen

The great critics of the 18th and 19th century were often playwrights, poets and novelists themselves – including William Archer (early translator of Ibsen and pioneer for a National Theatre) and his close friend,  George Bernard Shaw.  As theatre professionals, their intelligent, outspoken, often satirical,  opinion mattered.  But how does a budding journalist gain the ability to judge the merits of a play?

Fisher offers pertinent advice on how to evaluate the quality of a production in order to give your personal opinion. The starting point must be that you undertand the dramatic genre, setting, directorial aim and theatrical style in order to assess the play with informed insight.

Throughout the book, there are some wonderful quotations from archive and contemporary reviews to illustrate how to write with conviction.   Shaw’s advice was “Get your facts right”.   A review is based on your experience of the play with a clear argument to back up your subjective viewpoint.

Kenneth Tynan

Kenneth Tynan

As Kenneth Tynan wrote, ” I doubt if I could love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger… the best young play of the decade.”   His newspaper readers and theatre-goers may have disagreed, but there’s no denying his passion and sincerity in his review.   It also demonstrates the extraordinary value of a glowing review, to promote a new writer and play.


This book is like a series of literary tutorials with exercises to practice your literary style, language and voice.   In twenty chapters, every topic is covered in depth – crafting the first sentence,  libel v. fair comment, how to define good acting, and the valuation of the 1- 5 star review, turning words into a number.  The critic is also a performer, an entertainer with his or her own script.

Jude Law as Henry V

Jude Law as Henry V

“How to Write About Theatre”, is an inspirational, constructive manual for all theatre professionals.   It is a also a fascinating overview for theatre lovers to understand the cultural relevance, truth, knowledge, sincerity, wit and humour behind the fine art of dramatic criticism.

“How to Write About Theatre” by Mark Fisher.  Bloomsbury  ISBN 978-1-4725-2054-8