As a teenager in particular there weren't many weeks I didn't spend hours in small booskshops after school, doing what no amount of Amazon 'Look Inside' can do, just browsing, looking, reading - and very occasionally buying. A shelf of novels or poetry books is a journey of exploration that is as tactile as it it is cerebral. It means something that goes far deeper than just the content of the books. I still notice that when my ten-year-old son unwraps a book from Amazon - mostly A Wimpey Kid or a Tom Gates at the moment - he not only takes a moment of pleasure in just holding the book, he actually smells it! Sounds weird? I don't think so at all. Well, he gets it from me! The smell of books, of small bookshops, of public libraries, of old, old books in the Bodleian Library, of tatty second-hand bookshops - all that is certainly something I remember and something that is part of the furniture of my mind. But bookshops of the kind that let me read books I couldn't afford to buy, for hours on end, are disappearing, and all of us, especially outside cities, are dependent on Amazon and the other online providers. For every gain there is a loss!
There are still great small bookshops, battling against the odds, like (close to home) the Blessington Bookstore and the Bridge Bookshop in Wicklow Town, or the Winding Stair in Dublin and the remarkable place (a New Proper Bookshop!) that is the Gutter Bookshop in Dublin's Temple Bar. We have to be grateful for anywhere books are sold now, even when range is limited, as it is in supermarkets which, in some towns are the only place you see books for sale. So thanks, here, to Tesco, not only for selling 'The City of Strangers', but also for providing a community of readers with communication and feedback through blogging and twittering:
Online chat is not a cosy bookshop smelling of books, but it's a place people who love books can talk to each other and enthuse (and sometimes not!) and where authors can share their thoughts with readers too. Tesco gave me the opportunity to say a bit about one aspect of 'The City of Strangers' - New York in 1939. Authors don't often get the chance to just talk to readers, and it's great to do it. This is from the blog I wrote for them. So thanks to Tesco and to all its bloggers and twitterers and enthusiastic readers. Write on!!!
Here is the blog -
or go to link above and read lots more, by authors and readers:
Hello Tesco Blog Readers – it’s good to be here –
Two kinds of novels always grab me, crime fiction and historical fiction. When they go together, I’m sold. But when I started writing my own books I didn’t set out to write ‘mystery and history’. My background in writing TV crime dramas, like Midsomer Murders, The Bill, A Touch of Frost, was always contemporary.
But things get in your head. You don’t know where they come from or always what to do with them, but I think this is where books start more than with ‘big’ things: character, plot.
Stefan Gillespie, an Irish detective in Dublin in the 1930s, arrived in my head almost complete, walking the dark streets of Dublin when the scars of civil war still plagued Ireland and world war was round the corner. He started in The City of Shadows, following disappearances and murders no one wanted investigated. He was quiet but bloody-minded, an outsider who didn’t fit his job, struggling to balance the conflicts of that job with the death of his wife and a young son living in the Wicklow countryside with Stefan’s parents. When his investigations took him to Nazi Danzig (now Polish Gdańsk) he was at the edge of darker events that led home to Ireland.
The opportunity to visit ‘Forgotten Cities’ of the pre-war world has become part of the way my stories are told. In The City of Strangers that city is New York in 1939, the most exciting city on earth, a place unlike any other, a place that called itself the World of Tomorrow, and seemed a million miles from the war clouds over Europe.
America, like Ireland, is trying to keep neutral in the face of what everyone knows is coming, but when Stefan travels to Manhattan he finds Europe’s darkness has followed. Soon an old friend is dead, and when he tries to help two Irish women caught up in a murder he finds his own life at risk. It would be easy to walk away, but there are reasons he can’t. One is Kate O’Donnell’s smile. It’s the kind of smile that means he’ll be lucky to get out of New York alive.
The first part of the 20th century created the world we live in now. In many ways we’re still sorting out the debris. That’s why it fascinates me. Those years still ask questions about who we are and what kind of world we want.
It was only as I finished the first book I heard in my head the stories of my grandmother who lived through the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War, and of my parents who lived through the Blitz. I found there are all sorts of forgotten corners of history that are about personal struggles, personal hopes, that history doesn’t go to but storytelling can.
The first thing crime fiction has to do, almost more than any other fiction, is tell a story that makes you want to know what happens next. That’s the bottom line. But stories often start in odd places. The City of Strangers began with real memories, real events, and things that weren’t real at all, that all came together in Stefan Gillespie’s detective work, and his attempts to bring a new beginning to his life.
If you like mystery and history I think you’ll like The City of Strangers and where it takes you, not only to murder, friendship and love, but real places. Whether it’s the deceptively quiet city of Dublin, the stark beauty of the Wicklow Mountains, Upstate New York, or Manhattan, they’re all worth the trip. Don’t forget Duke Ellington is playing Small’s Paradise in Harlem, and watch for falling bodies as you head to 7th Avenue on West 59th!
Hope you enjoy it…
That was it, but as well as exploring the Tesco site -
Also look at the bookshops too: