Archive for August, 2010

Y viva

It’s lunch-time and I’m knackered already. I have some excuse though; we were up at 5 this morning to catch the 07:50 flight to Girona. Just had lunch and it’s bloody hot. Wish I was back in East Lothian already. Since last I flew out of Edinburgh Airport they’ve greatly increased the size of the security area. Did it speed the process? No chance. If anything it took longer; larger facilities are no damn good if you don’t employ any new people to staff them.

I don’t know about you, but whenever I have to set my alarm for a seriously early hour, I might as well not bother, for I always waken at least two hours before it’s due to go off. But if I relied on that . . .

The saving grace is that I am now in the land of the siesta, for which I am now bound. Adios.

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Norah Rothwell

I make that five questions, but I’m only going to answer one of them. Xavi will not be in Primavera’s next adventure, because, although he does live nearby, he’s fictional in her world. He will have a story all of his own, called The Loner; it’s his autobiography. On present plans that will be published in the UK on March 31. It’ll be a hardback, cover price £12.99; as usual what the stores charge will be up to them. Campbell Read Books will have signed copies for sale, post free in the UK, subsidised for the rest of the planet.

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Voice of East Lothian

Just back from doing the hour that I trailed a few days ago on East Coast FM, East Lothian’s community radio station. So far it broadcasts only on line, but it has a strong and powerful case for a localised licence, to make the FM in its title reality. Ian Robertson, one of the powerhouses behind the project, was there to greet me, and I went on air with Les McKellar, the Thursday morning presenter, and Jim Anderson his side-kick. We did an hour of knockabout; we enjoyed it, so did Gillian, see below, and hopefully everyone else did too.

In an age when local newspapers are becoming that in name only, (I heard of one that wouldn’t cover an event because its photographer doesn’t work Thursdays.) and when Independent Local Radio is making a nonsense of that description with centralised programming covering two or more licence areas, stations like East Coast FM have an ever more important role in filling the gap that their withdrawal has left, giving people an insight into what’s happening in their communities and a voice in them into the bargain.  So come on Ofcom; get the finger out and give them the recognition they deserve.

Whatever happens, I have an open invitation to go back, and believe me, I’ll be taking it up.

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Gillian Dickinson

Thank you very much. It’s good to know for sure that we had a listener.

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For the golfers among you

August 26, 2010 6 comments

Today the Johnnie Walker Championship begins at Gleneagles. It’s the last qualifying event for selection for the European Ryder Cup team, which will be announced on Sunday, by the captain Colin Montgomerie. Much is being made about Monty’s dilemma in choosing the three wild card picks which he will have, on top of the nine players who emerge from the selection system. The way things stand, four European tour members who are not automatically in the side, all in the world’s top 20 or thereabouts, have opted to play for obscene money in the US this week rather than show up to fight for their places. So what’s big Colin going to do? The choice is his. Does he pick three from Casey, Donald, Harrington, and Rose? (Although for my money Justin has disqualified himself since he’s played only six European Tour events this year.) Does he pick, say, two of them and give a wild card to the tenth guy in the qualifying tables? Does he take a hard line and say, ‘Sorry guys, you should have tried harder to make the team’?

Whatever, it seems to me that he has not been helped by the current selection process. It’s not all that old, and it was designed to favour players who are not completely loyal to European golf in  that they choose to spend most of their time  in the US. Before that, the top ten in the European order of merit qualified, with two captain’s picks. If that system was still in play . . . okay make it nine starters . . . the team at this moment, before the Gleneagles outcome is known, would be: Kaymer, McDowell, Westwood, Poulter, Casey, Jimenez, Eduardo Molinari, McIlroy, Donald. Monty’s wild card choices would then be relatively easy, as he’d be able to pick from the guys currently in form and also those with track records in the competition. The way things stand at the moment, with Hanson, the man in form, Ross Fisher, who’s been patchy all season, and the other Molinari brother in for Casey, Eduardo and Donald, he’s in a very difficult position.

Whatever choice he makes, it would be nice to think that he has the unanimous, unflinching support of the UK media. It would also be nice to think that there will always be sunshine in everyone’s sky . . . but there’s more chance of that happening, than of some of the weasels in the press corps getting on side.

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And another thing

The Edinburgh community has been getting itself steamed up of late over the plans of the city’s airport owner to charge motorists a £1 fee for delivering its customers to its door. I know, it sounds ridiculous, but that’s what they’re going to do. Petitions have been circulated and signed, but to no avail. BAA doesn’t give a toss for the travelling public and it’s going ahead regardless with its petty and avaricious plans, just as it has already in other places, Belfast, for example.

Its disregard for its users is also demonstrated by its silence over an issue over which it should be raising hell on their behalf. The approach road to the airport is shared with other commercial concerns. These include the Royal Highland Showground, at Ingliston, best known for its staging of the annual agricultural show of that name, but also for other exhibitions and events. When that centre isn’t in use there is no problem, but when it is . . .

I flew into Edinburgh in early June. I’d arranged to be picked up by our kid, but it was rather early for her to leave work, so I told her that I’d take a taxi to her office. When I got into the cab I apologised to the driver for the shortness of my trip, as opposed to the usual hire, for the city centre. He smiled and replied, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be forever getting out of here.’ He wasn’t kidding. As it turned out something called Gardening Scotland was underway in the RHS; the effect on airport traffic was unbelievable. Before I knew it there was £10 on the meter and we hadn’t even reached the first roundabout. At that point I gave up, paid the driver off, walked to the Hilton Hotel, and arranged for my daughter to pick me up from there when she was ready.

Granted, this ridiculous bottleneck only happens for a few hours of a few days each year, but it shouldn’t be happening at all. When it does, it has such a massive effect on airport traffic that you’d think BAA would be deeply concerned about it. But it isn’t, because, I imagine, most of the impact is on passengers departing. It would be simple and inexpensive to develop an alternative exit from the Showground. If BAA wants to win itself some friends, why doesn’t it use the proceeds of its rapacious drop-off charge to help fund it? If it did, then it might find that it had acquired a degree of popularity, instead of being the city’s second most hated organisation, after Transport Initiatives Edinburgh, the outfit which is making such a spectacularly bad job of overseeing the unwanted and unloved tramway project.

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Donna Potenza

Then let me de-bug you. Mark is Bob’s adopted son. To find out how he became a member of the Skinner family you have to go all the way back to Ordeal, when ge makes a very dramatic entry to  the story-line. He hasn’t featured much of late, but he hasn’t gone away.

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Cath Mitchell

August 24, 2010 1 comment

I was on radio a year and more back with Denis Lehane, and some alleged reviewers. He’s a very fine novelist, and we were doing a book programme, but all these tubes wanted to talk to him about off air was the fact that for a while he’d been in The Wire’s writing team. I’ve never bought into the  mystique of the series, so I don’t know Dominic West, but in any event, that has nothing to do with my enthusiasm for Idris Elba as Skinner. The actor is more important than ethnicity or accent, and for me . . . and I do have some influence on the proposition . . . he is the man.

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Agency experiment

August 24, 2010 Comments off

I’ve done events all around the world now, and at every one of them, I take questions.  One that comes up often is, ‘I’ve written/have an idea for a book. How do I get it published?’

My stock answer is ‘Step one; find yourself an agent.’ But you know, that’s becoming more and more difficult. Agencies are overflowing with submissions. I looked at one website recently and discovered that of the agents listed there, only one is currently accepting new work. It’s not a local problem either; when I gave my glib advice in Australia a couple of years back, it was pointed out to me that there are fewer than ten agencies in the whole damn country and they’re all fully employed.


As an experiment, I’m going to change my stock answer. You have a manuscript, or an idea, run it past me and we’ll take it from there.


Do not contact me with submissions through this blog.

Log on instead to and use the contact facility there.

Do not under any circumstances send print-outs. Only files will be accepted, in MS Word or PDF form.

We will consider English language submissions from the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

I’m not saying how long it will take but we will get back to you.

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Don’t forget

A gentle reminder that signed copies of every QJ title are available on the brother website, postage free in the UK and subsidised elsewhere. And although they’re not on the stock list, there is a limited supply of collectables available. For information on them, log onto CRB and send an enquiry to AJ.

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Come the revolution

I was a bit stunned when I came up with this gem, but my first ever appearance on radio was more than fifty years ago. It was a kids’ quiz programme called ‘Regional Round’, and the Scottish input was organised by a lady called Kathleen Garscadden, who was one of the founding figures of the BBC. It went out live, and my family gathered round various valve radios to listen. So there I was; all these squeaky wee boy and girl voices, and me. I was thirteen at the time but . . . Some lads have a terrible time when their voices break; they’re out of control for a while, three or four octave changes in a single sentence. But not me. I woke up one morning and I was a baritone. Every time I answered the phone, the voice on the other end said ‘Hello Bill,’ and I had to explain that I wasn’t my dad. Incidentally, that worked both ways, which led to a couple of embarrassing incidents with girlfriends a few years later. Anyway, there were all these effing chipmunks on the radio, until the inquisitor asked what you called a long pastry filled with cream and with chocolate on the top, and a voice that would have sounded like Lanarkshire’s answer to Bryn Terfel, only he wasn’t born then or even close, boomed out ‘An eclair’. My mother dined out on it for years afterwards . . . the story, not the eclair.

I’ve done a lot of radio since then, home and away, the furthest being New Zealand, where I once did a live interview on a mobile phone while arriving at an airport and getting out of a car. I hadn’t driven it, but my driver had just done a piece herself, a book review, while at the wheel. One of the great things about radio stations is that they’re usually hard to find. The original Radio Clyde studio, for example, was a few floors up in a high-rise in Anderston, but you’d never have known it, and Radio Forth still hides behind an anonymous door in a street that bears its name. (If you doubt me on this, try to find Sunny Govan Radio in Glasgow.) I’ve always imagined that their reclusiveness was based on the fact that the first thing any worthwhile revolutionary does is to seize the radio station. I really did believe this in Prague; the station there was one floor up in a tenement block that reminded me of a back street in Bridgeton. It was magic; they still had turntables, in an era when cd players were becoming rare in British studios, since everything was going digital.

This is all a preamble to what I’m doing on Thursday morning, August 26, around 11am. I’m going into East Lothian’s very own radio station, East Coast FM, for the very first time. At the moment, it broadcasts on-line — — but hopefully it will be awarded an FM community licence at the next allocation. I hope it’s going to be the first of many visits, for of all the stations I’ve been in and on around the world, none will give me more pleasure than this one, the closest to home. Today Haddington, tomorrow, the world.

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Five books of mine

I had an interesting meeting on Friday, in the very impressive HQ of BBC Scotland, on Pacific Quay, in Glasgow. (I’ve finally worked out how to get there without crossing the Kingston Bridge, and that’s a boon, I tell you.) I went there to spend half an hour in studio with Stuart Cosgrove, who’s presenting a new series for Radio Scotland, called ‘My life in five books.’ The result of our efforts will be broadcast some time soon. If you’d like to know what my five books were . . . keep your eye on the BBC schedules and listen in.

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My other woman

Sorry I haven’t been around much for the last couple of weeks, but just occasionally work makes me take a break from blogging. I’ve been busy for a while now, sleeping with a woman who is not my wife. She might as well be, though; her name is Primavera Blackstone and for about four months of the year she’s never out of my thoughts. She’s with me first thing in the morning, all through the day and last thing at night. I reckon I have another month of her company and then she’ll move out for a while, maybe till the middle of next year. Hell, that’s her calling again; she’s wearing me out.

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Robin Cunningham

Remember what Maggie Thatcher said about ‘the oxygen of publicity’? No, maybe you don’t. I appreciate your observation, but I always have done it my way. Wouldn’t be any fun otherwise.

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Marion Haynes

Skinner 21 should be published in the UK next June. The Aussie release date will probably be different, but it’ll be available from the start through Campbell Read Books.

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Lesley Gilchrist

August 23, 2010 2 comments

I’m amazed and impressed. After ** years someone has come up with a new way of spelling my name. ‘Quintan’. Sounds like a sun product. I may market it; thanks.

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Russell Brodie

Sorry about the yellow card. I did something similar once, about ** years ago. The book involved was Day of  the Jackal, a pre-publication copy. Awesome.

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Jenny Francis

Keep your eye on Cheeky; she’ll be back, I’m sure. The boy Sauce may come to regret opening his door.

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Brian Hopwood

I’m not entirely certain what you mean, Brian. How many massage parlours would you like?

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Stop Press: New QJ titles available to UK buyers

August 23, 2010 Comments off

An update from Amazon. Its Kindle UK store is now up and running. This means that British customers can now access this format directly, without going through the US. All the QJ titles are available there, apart from A Rush of Blood, which will be released on Kindle soon.

In addition, there are a couple of titles you won’t find anywhere else, or in any other format. They couldn’t be further removed from what I normally do. One’s called ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow‘; it’s a fantasy set in another time and another place, drawn from the world of politics that I used to inhabit. The other is very short . . . and consequently very cheap! It’s the only non-fiction work I’ve ever  written, an account of the scariest day of my life, and it’s called ‘A True Crime Story‘, because that’s what it is.

Finally, and very important: you don’t have to buy one of Amazon’s Kindle readers to access these works. There is free software available on its site that will allow you to download Kindle books directly to your PC, lap-top, Mac, iPad, iPhone, you name it, and read them there.

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