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Location, Location, Location

By Tania Carver

A change of scenery. The chance to go somewhere different, see something we don’t normally see, experience something (or things) we wouldn’t ordinarily experience.  And then, conventional wisdom tells, us we return refreshed, revitalised.  Ready to go on, to re-engage with our world once more.  Yes, we all need a holiday.  That’s the way it goes.

And I completely agree.  We all need it.  But at the risk of sounding solipsistic or even selfish (heaven forbid!) I would suggest writers need it slightly more than most.  And I’m not suggesting just a physical holiday either.  No.  I’m talking about something much more lasting.

July has been a busy month in the House of Tania.  Work things like audiobooks and Harrogate, home things like the kids breaking up from school and getting a new garden installed.  (We soon hope to have the only Aztec Gothic patio seating area around.  Sitting right next to a shed I painted to look like a beach hut in Kent.  We’re nothing if not eclectic.)  But I’m sure you don’t want to hear about that.  Let’s talk about writing, and that change of scenery.

And to do that I’ll start with the audiobooks.  I’ve spent most of the month sitting in a recording studio in North London acting out three of the Tania Carvers.  I enjoy doing it – it’s about the only time I get to flex my old acting muscles.  And of course I think I know best about how they ought to sound.  A view not always shared by the director, Garrick Hagon, but we got there in the end.  It was fun.  I would argue that all writers should do it to their own work at least once because there’s really no substitute for hearing your own voice read your own words.  I know quite a lot of writers do that anyway, read what they’ve written at the end of the day or start of the next one, and that’s good.  But this is a whole step up.  And it makes you aware of just how bad you are.  Sometimes how good you are, but mostly how bad. 

I’ll run you through a typical day.  You get to the studio, sit down and spread your pages in front of you.  There should be no other sound in the room except your voice.  And your voice should make the words live.  How well you do that depends on how well you’ve written and how you can express it.  So then you start.  You work out which scenes need to be read slowly to build up tension, which to go fast with to speed the action along, which parts of the sentence to emphasise in order for the listener to get the most out of it.  Which accent or dialect you need to use for which character.  How they speak, the pitch and tone of their voice.  If you fluff the words, you have to do a re-take.  If you get a name wrong or speak one character’s words with another’s accent you have to go back.  If there’s any noise on the track but your own voice, it’s back you go.  And all the while you’re doing this, you’re making sure your diction is totally coherent and that the listener isn’t being shortchanged.  It’s a lot harder than you might think.  It’s not digging ditches but it is surprisingly exhausting work.  You’re physically exhausted at the end of the working day.  I know of writers who agree to do this thinking ‘How hard can it be?’ and vowing never to do it again.

And the main reason it’s so difficult, I think, is because there’s no place to hide.  There’s just you and your voice and your work.  It’s raw and naked and exposed.  If something’s not right in the writing then it’ll show up.  Unless you’re a damned good actor and you can hide it well.  You’re right up against your own work and it can be very, very scary.  You’ll be amazed at how many times you’ve used the same lines.  Or scene set ups.  Or the same locations.  (Don’t worry, we’re coming to that.)  Or the characters do exactly the same things.  Or worse, behave completely out of character.  Or even much, much worse, have no character whatsoever.

Maybe I’m just being too hard on myself but I don’t think so.  We’re all our own sternest critics, or at least we should be.  I have a long-standing lunch date with another five writers and one of the questions that popped up over food was: ‘Out of all the books you’ve written, how many do you think are any good?’  I won’t tell you the answer, but none of us got into double figures.  Most of us didn’t get to use our other hand.  And that’s a good thing.  We should feel that way as writers.  We should never be happy with what we’ve written.  It’s how we push ourselves on to do better.

But I’m digressing slightly.  Back to the studio.  It’s a very sobering experience coming up against your own work like that.  I remember several years ago while I was recording one of my own books I just stopped talking.  The producer came over my headphones asking what was wrong, why had I stopped.

‘This is shit,’ I said.  ‘I’m sorry you have to listen to this.’

He told me it wasn’t and asked me to keep going.  I was having none of it.

‘Can we cut this?  It’s awful.’

We couldn’t.  We had to press on.  And we did.  But I never forgot that feeling, the response I had to my own work.  And this was a book I had been looking forward to doing, one of the ones I had thought was good.  I went back and looked at it afterwards.  I was right.  It was an awful section and I was embarrassed to have written but it was done, it was there and there was nothing I could do about it.  Except learn from it and not be so boring again.

This time, as I said, one of the things I noticed was how many times the same locations popped up.  Obviously this is as it should be, to an extent, because the books are set in a specific geographical area and I do like to ensure the places in the novels reflect their real life equivalents.  Either good or bad.  But I think there’s a limit to the amount of times you can have the same characters saying the same things in the same locations.  The writer gets bored with that and I’m sure the reader does too.  It’s one of the pitfalls of writing a series – making each book fresh and vibrant and as good, or as original, as the first one.  And we don’t always pull it off, not every time.  But I believe we do try to do that.  Or the ones worth reading do – and I hope to count myself in that number.  But to my eyes and ears the locations began to stand out as the same ones coming round again and again.  And while I do believe in protecting the environment I don’t agree with that kind of recycling.  So something had to be done about it.

With this in mind, when I finished in the studio I set aside a day to go scouting for locations.  I’m sure all writers do this.  Take off in the car with a camera (or iPhone), notepad (or iPhone again) and map (or GPS) and see if you can find a place that’ll strike a chord, somewhere that speaks to you and tells you it wants to be used by you.  In whatever way you want to.  (OK, maybe it’s just me who thinks that way.)  So off I went.  Sometimes Linda and I do this together (and try to discover some good restaurants along the way) but this time it was just me.  And I went to a couple of places where some of the action in the new novel could be conceivably be set.  Looked good.  I found another location that Linda suggested I look at.  I did.  Very atmospheric, very usable.  Then another location I’d had in mind.  Great place.  But the wrong time to be visiting – the new novel’s set in winter.  When I was there everyone was walking round wearing shorts and ill-advised tattoos and eating ice cream.  Still, I got the feel of the place, the vibe.  It felt right for what’s in mind.  And then I went into Colchester, the central location for all the Tania novels.  I’d deliberately kept this till last because I wanted to gauge my reaction to being there in light of what I’d discovered during the studio sessions.  And I was right.  The town just didn’t speak to me like it has done before.  It didn’t invite me to set another novel there.  I know this sounds twattish expecting this to happen, especially since I think those writers who talk about channelling their novels just deserve a good slap. But I honestly didn’t feel it.

So I came home and we discussed it.  And Linda agreed.  And we came up with somewhere else to set the new one.  Somewhere different but familiar because Colchester is a place that means something to both of us and the new location had to as well.  And once we decided that, plotting the book started to fly.  Everything seems to be fitting together so much better.  It’s not like a holiday, not in the physical sense.  It’s something more than that.  For the next few months the place where the book is set is going to be more real than the world around me.  And it’s somewhere I haven’t written about before.  Somewhere familiar but different.  It’s refreshed, revitalised.  We’re ready to re-engage with Tania’s world once more.

Before I finish, a bit of blatant pimpage.  THE CREEPER is about to be released in the States.  Obviously I’d say it was good but don’t just take my word for it.  See what Publisher’s Weekly had to say here



A Question Of Class

By Tania Carver

And so begins one of the busiest weeks of the year.  Yes, Harrogate is upon us.  And Tania Carver will be there.  Or one of us will be – and it’s me.  As I’ve said before, Linda doesn’t like getting up on stage and mouthing off, she’s happy to leave that to me.  And since I have been the Festival’s Reader in Residence for the last few years it makes sense for me to be the one there.

This year, I’m appearing (as Tania) on a panel on women and violence.  It should be fun.  And no, before you ask, I won’t be getting dressed up.  I’m also doing a couple of events as Martyn too so that balances things out.

But I didn’t want to talk about women and violence.  That’s for next weekend.  Instead my eye was caught by another panel in the programme, namely ‘A Donkey In The Grand National’.  That phrase was used by John Sutherland, who as a former chair of the Man Booker judges was asked what the chances were of a crime novel winning the prize.  About the same, he said.  Now the whole genre/literary debate has been about played to death.  For an excellent piece about it, have a look at what Ray Banks has to say here.  (There’s even a comment by me on there).  I’m not going to address that directly.  What I do want to talk about is something that may seem, at first glance, to be tangential to it but is actually – I think – at the heart of the debate.  Class.

Now I know that in the States you have trouble working out the class system we have over here.  So let me have a stab at explaining how it works.  We have the Royal family, you have the Kennedys.  We have the aristocracy, you have the Kardashians.  (When I first heard the name I thought they were aliens from Star Trek.  Honestly.  Having seen them I feel I was absolutely right in that judgement.)  We’re supposed to be deferential to our lords and ladies, you’re supposed to take seriously what comes out of Angelina Jolie’s mouth.  You see the parallels.  You see how both are essentially ludicrous.

I was out with Mark Billingham the other night and we started talking about this.  He wondered what the critical response had been to Agatha Christie during the so-called Golden Age of crime fiction.  Was she feted as the mistress of the puzzle novel?  Sneers at for the same thing?  Patronised as a genre writer (before the term had even been fully embraced)?  I don’t know.  I haven’t been able to find out.  But if anyone does, please let me know – seriously, I’d love to know.  We do know that her sales were huge, her following enormous with movie adaptations, stage plays (The Mousetrap is still the longest running play in London’s West End) and a level of interest in her personal life that most contemporary authors (JK Rowling excepted) would be hard pushed to match.  But how seriously was she taken as a writer?  From what I can tell, she was praised for being what she was.  A good mechanic, someone who reproduced puzzles in the form of novels.  She was no great prose stylist,her characters were stock, her action perfunctory.  My theory is she’s remembered because she bridged the gap between childhood and adult reading.  Her books, involving murders and puzzles, gave a young reader eager to develop beyond Enid Blyton the veneer of sophistication but they were written in such simplistic a manner as to be linguistically unchallenging.  And Christie knew her milieu.  The country house, the vicarage.  A train travelling in an exotic, far-off country.  The characters were all upper middle class (or just upper class), vicars and military officers and Lords and Ladies.  Christie knew these people.  She was in the same class as them.  Interestingly, whenever a member of the lower classes appeared they were always thick coppers that her brilliant detective would show up as idiots or servants.  They were also often the murderers and being sent to the gallows at the end of the novel was seen as a just punishment for getting ideas above their station.  She was also horribly reactionary.  I can’t speak for her contemporaries such as Margery Allingham, Dorothy L Sayers, Josephine Tey and the like because I’ve never read them.  Nor have I ever been tempted to read them and maybe that’s my loss.  I’ve read Christie and she’s not what I look for in a writer.  I strongly suspect they wouldn’t be either.  However, Christie and her coven cast a long shadow over British crime fiction.  And at its heart, I believe, is class.

It goes back even further.  It’s the Victorian idea that reading books is somehow improving and difficult.  If the reader doesn’t come away from experiencing great literature with their life enriched and challenged then they’ve been reading it wrong.  Forget entertainment, that was for the lower classes.  Education and enrichment was what it was all about, the two are mutually exclusive and if you wanted entertainment too there was something inherently wrong with your intellect.  And that prevailing attitude, I believe, still hangs over the literary world today.

I’ve mentioned this before but make no apologies for bringing it up again.  I hope I never have to see another article by some broadsheet’s literary editor about how he’s been reading (fill in the name of the latest Scandanavian crime import in translation) and is loving it.  It has everything you would want from a novel, the literary editor drivels on – beautiful prose, compelling characters, structure, poetry, strong narrative and above all a sense of social engagement with the contemporary world in which its set.  They then always conclude with a variation on the same whinge: Why oh why can’t the crime writers in this country do the same?

And my answer to that is very simple.  We do.  Or at least a lot of us do, or at least strive to do just that.  Because crime fiction – contemporary crime fiction, being written now – is doing just that.  That’s what it is.  I can come up with numerous examples and I’m sure you can too.  In fact I just did but took them all out because this piece would have doubled in length.

I’d always been a fan of crime fiction.  I came to it through comics and pulp – as a kid I would devour anything by the holy trinity: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.  I’ve still got those comics on my shelf.  I’m proud of that.  I still read them.  I think Kirby’s work for DC in the early Seventies is some of the greatest art of the Twentieth Century and I don’t care who disagrees with that opinion.  I love it so much I could write a PhD on it.  From comics I went on to pulp fiction.  I was a bookish, geekish kid who spent summer holidays sitting reading Doc Savage, the Shadow and my favourite, the Spider.  From there I graduated to crime fiction.  I read Farewell My Lovely at a very impressionable age and that was it.  It was like someone had just flung open the doors and windows.  Here was a book that didn’t apologise for anything.  It was unashamedly a crime novel yet it was unashamedly literature – both at the same time.  How did he do that?

And in the late Eighties/early Nineties I discovered a bunch of writers who would become my literary godfathers and mothers.  James Ellroy.  James Lee Burke.  James Crumley. And the ones who weren’t called James: Andrew Vachss.  Sara Paretsky.  Walter Mosley.  There were, but again we’d be here all night if I listed them.  They wrote with a sense of engagement with the world around them that was completely absent in British crime fiction at the time.  They were like the literary equivalent of CNN: reportage as literature.  Their work was both comment on and product of the societies that shaped and formed them as writers and people.  I loved what they were doing.  I wanted to take that ethos and make it work in Britain.  I did, but I wasn’t alone.  A lot of other writers had the same idea at the same time.  We all, whether consciously or unconsciously, rejected Christie’s rigid, reactionary, class-based structure and created crime fiction about the country we lived in.  You want to now what Britain was like in the Nineties?  Read John Harvey’s Resnick series.  You want an insight into contemporary British gender politics?  Read Val McDermid.  And on and on. 

So yes.  The broadsheet literary editors bemoaning the lack of British crime writing as literature just haven’t been reading it.  Britain has crime writers the equal to any in the world.  But – and this, I believe, is one of the big things – we’re not in translation.  We write in English and therefore there’s no cache when it comes to discussing us at dinner parties. And because most literary editors are of the same class Christie was from, they still think that’s what crime fiction is in this country.  We’re not seen as difficult or improving or challenging.  In their eyes, we’re providers of entertainment for the lower orders.

Now in an abstract sense, as any serious reader will tell you, the argument is spurious.  There are only good books and bad ones.  That’s all that counts.  Great ones that could be considered genre, awful ones that are seen as literary.  And vice versa.  And a discerning reader knows that.  But for me, personally, I don’t care.  I don’t think their argument applies to me.  Because I’m the guy that thinks Jack Kirby is as big a genius as Jackson Pollack.  I’m proud to write crime fiction.  It’s a genre I love and if I want to make any penetrating insights into the human condition I can do so in a crime novel.  Just as long as I remember to put a plot in it because someone has paid money to be entertained. 

Here’s a last example of what I mean.  I’ve just finished reading a biography of Frankie Howerd.  He was a British comedian who died in 1992.  He had huge mainstream success and was best remembered for his stand up, sit coms and catch phrases.  He was, in short, a light entertainment mainstay.  End of the pier, music hall, vaudeville stuff.  Entertainment for the lower orders.  Yet he had also performed Shakespeare, appeared in opera, won acclaim as a satirist (he followed Lenny Bruce as resident comedian at Peter Cook’s Establishment Club in the Sixties), revived Roman comedies and had one critic calling him ‘the most Brechtian actor in Britain’.  Not bad for a working class bloke from Eltham, London.  Yeah, he had all those penetrating insights about the human condition but he made them while he was making his audience laugh.  While he was entertaining them.  He was the best at what he did and he did it so well it became something more than that.

That’s what the best crime writers – or best writers in any genre – always do.

And they’re a class act because of it.






The First Lady Of Noir

By Tania Carver

Firstly, a bit of explanation.

Last Tuesday’s Wildcard piece was supposed to be this interview with Cathi Unsworth about her upcoming novel, Weirdo. Unfortunately time and scheduling pressures stopped it coming together in time so the post that was meant to be in today’s slot got bumped up. However, the interview is now complete and I thought it would be a shame not to run it.

If you’ve read Cathi Unsworth, you’ll know she’s Britain’s Queen of Noir. If you haven’t, then here’s the primer. Her first novel, The Not Knowing, was published in 2005. She followed it by editing the award-winning short story collection, London Noir in 2006 then the punk noir novel The Singer in 2007. Her most recent novel, Bad Penny Blues, was published in 2009 and was one of that year’s best novels.

She started out as a music journalist at the age of 19, working on the legendary British music weekly Sounds and has worked as a writer and editor for many publications including Melody Maker, Mojo, Uncut, Volume, Deadline and Bizarre. She’s also produced a crime fiction radio series for London’s Resonance FM, has contributed essays to the British Film Institute’s new Flipside DVD series and is currently paperback crime fiction reviewer for The Guardian newspaper. 

Weirdo‘s your new novel, coming out next month.  It seems to be something of a departure for you – the first novel not to have an urban setting. How did that come about?

The idea came a long time ago, reading one too many accounts on teen-on-teen murders that shocked me with their savagery and the remorselessness of the killers. There was that awful torture, rape and killing of Mary Ann Leneghan in 2005, at the hands of six young men in a hotel room in Reading, then there was Sophie Lancaster, kicked to death by a bunch of boys in 2007 because of what she looked like… And that was pretty much how I looked like at her age. At around the time of Sophie’s murder I got given a book to review that I can only describe as gothsploitation, written by someone who had no idea, casting goths as murders and Satanists, whereas I and every other goth I knew were basically shy, bookish teenagers who used the way they looked not only as an attempt to look aesthetically beautiful in the Oscar Wilde definition of the word, but as a shield against the violence of our peers. And in smalltown England in the Eighties as you know, youth cultures were pretty set against each other and pretty violent too – although nothing like the level of Mary Ann or Sophie’s killers.


So I thought I would have a go at exploring this world, setting it in a time and a place I knew and could evoke very well – my Norfolk teenage years. I happened to turn 16 in 1984, the year of the Miner’s Strike and the most recent Civil War in Britain, the workers versus Margaret Thatcher. Although the landscape I lived in was very different to the besieged North – all around the coast, like the flickering candles of a black mass were the flames of the oil rigs drilling North Sea Oil, which enabled the Witch Queen to keep herself in power. Because of the echoes of the past Civil War of 1642-1651 – when Norfolk was staunchly Parliamentarian, and riding on the coattails of Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army came the Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, who was said to have tortured and murdered 300 women in the Eastern Counties, including many in my hometown Gt Yarmouth – the year of 1984 had that resonance. In that year, one of my favourite records was Vengeance by New Model Army, which still seems to cast the clearest and most prophetic eye over what was happening then and what would come next…

I started to write it, but it wouldn’t come. Then I got waylaid by a serial killer and was compelled to write Bad Penny Blues as a response to a nightmarish book about Jack the Stripper, involving the unsolved deaths of eight women who all lived and worked in my neighbourhood back in the Fifties and Early Sixties. That was a two-year séance, but when it was over, the experience made me ready to write Weirdo.

In the meantime, my Dad had given me an excellent book called Unquiet County: Voices of the Rural Poor by Robert Lee, which explored a rural uprising in Norfolk in the 1830s, led by a mysterious figure called Captain Swing – another phantom, but on the opposite side of the moral divide to Jack the Stripper, he was the 19th century equivalent of Anonymous. Captivated by him, that added another dimension to the story I had originally thought of.

So did an excellent and very disturbing Channel 4 documentary called Being Maxine Carr – it was about 12 single women who moved to new parts of the country at around the time Maxine Carr was released from jail under a new identity – and how they were hounded out of their homes and attacked by lynch mobs, led by whispering gossips, who accused them against all evidence of being Carr herself. Because Carr was released almost exactly at the same time Myra Hindley died, it seemed to me that we needed another Transgressive Woman Hate Figure, and, helped by the tabloids, Carr conveniently fitted that slot. Something we have both explored in our work of course is how women transgressors are vastly more villified than men; there is something viscerally cathartic in the public hatred for them that links back to witch hunts and Matthew Hopkins… So all these elements stirred inside me and out it just flowed…

In your previous books, you’ve captured a couple of areas of London (Camden Town and Ladbroke Grove) and really made them your own.  Did you choose those places or did they choose you?

Good question. When I started The Not Knowing, I just wrote about the places I knew and loved and a lot of the motivation for that was to capture people and places that were important to me as they had been, before they disappeared forever into the ether. Working at Gerry’s Club for a number of years was the impetus for that, I met so many brilliant people down there of older generations who are now dead. And Camden had changed so much from the happy times I’d spent there in the early Nineties, I wanted people to know there were much more interesting things going on there before Britpop!

When I wrote The Singer, that was partly an elegy for how much Ladbroke Grove had changed since Richard Curtis opened his blue door. Then Bad Penny unlocked the green door back to the world that it had been, and I discovered so many coincidences that linked what I had written in The Not Knowing, of events happening in the same places that I had previously had no idea about… And the stories I had heard from the Gerry’s Departed.

I didn’t set them out to be, but they are a kind of trilogy of those places, travelling through from the Fifties to the 2000s. I think, on reflection, those places chose me.

How important is location in your novels? Could they be set anywhere else?

Very important. I have to know a place fairly well to write about it – for instance in The Singer, I also write about Hull, where I have family and know what it looks and feels like and how people speak; and also two of my favourite cities, Paris and Lisbon, that are captivating for the similarity in vibe that certain parts of them – Montmatre and the Barrio Alto – share with Ladbroke Grove. Norfolk is a location that still stokes fear in me, so it’s perfect for Weirdo.

In your previous book, the brilliant BAD PENNY BLUES, you had fictional people intermingling with real ones. Or at least your interpretation of real ones. Was this something you found easy to do and have you continued that in WEIRDO?

It was very interesting to do that in Bad Penny because some of them, like Jenny Minton, I thought I was inventing, until my friend Dave Knight gave me a book about Pauline Boty and I found that someone very similar had really existed; and others, like the character of Jenny’s boyfriend Dave Dilworth I had started off modelling on Mick Farren, a character I admire very much, but then he shapeshifted into Screaming Lord Sutch, another fascinating person from that era who doesn’t really get the credit for all the radical things he actually did. So you can’t really contain these people once you start conjuring them, they all do their own things.

Weirdo doesn’t really deal with anyone real like that, although various people have inspired characters in it. DCI Len Rivett is partly a homage to Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford in Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, he has that holky charm that I loved about him – and also, the book does have certain echoes of a Western, Norfolk being very much the Wild East and Rivett definitely being the Sheriff of his town. The Norfolk accent is brilliant to use, as a Norfolk person saying: ‘You in’t from round here are ya?’ has a very similar resonance to the voices in Deliverance. Rivett’s strange adversary Noj started off as a suggestion from a friend and, like Donna in The Singer, just formed his/her own character completely through the act of me writing her/him, just as if I was channelling. Noj and Donna would be great friends, actually.

You often take chances with your books.  BAD PENNY BLUES even involved Spiritualism. Not fond of playing it safe or just following your own muse?

Totally following my own muse. I realised when I started writing Bad Penny that I couldn’t do it any other way, because it was so important to me that the dead girls got to speak, and the reader got to feel their lives and their fear as their lives ended – they were the most important people in the book. I took a massive chance with that and expected I would get ridiculed, but that would be a price worth paying to convey those women’s voices in the most powerful way I knew how. Though I did get a few snidey reviews, they were very much in the minority, so I think it did work for readers as I hoped it would.

Every time I write a book someone will tell me I have done something within it that you are not supposed to do. But I have never taken a creative writing class nor read a ‘How To…’ book, so I am blissfully ignorant of all that. But it has massively helped me that I had John Williams as an editor. He understood me better than I understand myself and would never have let me do something that felt stupid or wrong.

You’ve got a background in music journalism and music is a strong element in all of the novels. How difficult is it being a woman writing about something that’s traditionally such a male-dominated area? And have you had any comeback on that?

Well I think there is a reflection of that in all my books, being as they all heavily feature women in men’s worlds and how difficult it is to be taken seriously by the men who guard these kingdoms so jealously… The old cliché of having to be twice as good and work twice as hard is only too true. Girls like me always have more gay male friends, another something that is reflected in my work…

The Singer was reviewed brilliantly by the crime press, but the music press wouldn’t touch it, apart from my dear ex-Sounds comrade Keith Cameron at Mojo. I think, because every male music journalist thinks he is going to be the one write ‘the Great Punk Rock Novel’ but strangely, none of them have yet got round to it. There is a big difference in being a successful music writer and a successful novelist, because the novelist has to have a real empathy for people to make characters come alive, and that I am afraid to say, is a quality quite hard to find in that world. However, one of the best reviews I have ever had in my life came from Griel Marcus, who reviewed Bad Penny in a lengthy essay on the Barnes & Noble website, and who is the absolute hero of all the male muso journalists I ever knew – so, to quote Dudley Smith, that was my valediction, laddie.

I know you’re not one for modern technology but you do have a website and have recently set up a Facebook page. What next? Your own blog? Twitter? 

If I could clone myself, I could do that. At the moment, I work a rather demanding day job four days a week, and have not had a proper holiday in over ten years! So I am paddling as hard as I can to keep my head above the water of Matthew Hopkins’ ducking stool at the moment… I would love to do more if I could. But I can’t even do Facebook friends right now because there just aren’t enough hours in the day…

However, I do think that my website, designed and maintained by the brilliant Pete Woodhead, is a pretty very good one that can provide you with everything you could want to know, plus some great free music downloads, of which there are two new ones up as we speak, a collaboration I have done with Pete and with a brilliant composer-musician friend of mine called Paul A Murphy, who has composed me a Norfolk Sinfonia in honour of Captain Swing.

And anyway, surely it’s nice to keep a little air of mystery…?

I think your books would be naturals for TV and film. What’s happening with that?

I have a project on the go for a film of The Singer with a very stylish young French director called Nicolas Pier Moran… But more than that I can’t really say at the moment, as Nicolas is a rather mysterious chap himself…

And what next for you? I hope it’s another novel. 

I have the ingredients of another novel swirling around in my head right now, but have been too busy to do anything about it for the past six months. Hopefully I will have time to work on it soon, meanwhile I will just read everything I can that connects with it. What I would like to do is a four-book series that moves from the Blitz to the Leveson Enquiry, which will be well in the distant past by the time I ever get round to it. The secret history of women in London is the general theme I think I am finding. I would like to go back to sifting real events like I did in Bad Penny as there are not just so many mysterious villains out there, but so many unsung heroes and heroines. If I could spend a year in the Bishopsgate Institute’s archives I would be very happy indeed!


(Making A) Killing

by Tania Carver

A few days ago, Linda and I came to the end of the second series of The Killing.  Not the American version that’s attracted so much opprobrium, but the original Danish one, Forbrydelsen.  With subtitles, you understand.  Neither of us speak Danish.  (Which actually is quite a shameful admission to make because the Danes, like so many Europeans, speak perfect English.)  To say we loved it is a bit of an understatement.  We watched the box set on DVD, trying to ration the episodes over two weeks.  It was half the length of the first series but just about as good.  It’s one of the few TV shows (possibly the only one) that we both not just watch but become active participants in.  When we’re not watching it we’re thinking about or discussing it.  Before each episode we put forward theories about who’s done what.  Who the villain is, what this character’s real motives are, the significance of what that character did or this one said.  Etcetera.  And that just adds to the fun.

If you haven’t seen the original then I thoroughly recommend it.  Both seasons.  And there’s a third to follow.  Sophie Grabol who plays the lead detective Sarah Lund is fantastic.  The writing is near-perfect, same with the direction and the actors have become household names in our house.  It’s one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever seen on TV.  I even want to go to Copenhagen for my holidays.  (I don’t think Linda’s with me on that one – too cold.)

Coming to the end of the series coincided with the Hay Festival.  I’m sure you’ve heard of that – the biggest literary festival in Britain.  ‘Glastonbury for the mind’, as Bill Clinton famously called it.  I’ve never been, either as punter or participant, but it’s hugely successful.  This year Ian Rankin was one of the guests.  I’m sure you’ve heard of him too.  And, in a well-reported session, he chatted about many things, including the return of Rebus.  He was, from all accounts, on top form.  But on the subject of TV adaptations he was more disgruntled.  He did complain (and I’m paraphrasing slightly here) about his own work on TV saying that Scandanavian crime shows get twenty weeks and the adaptations of his novels get forty five minutes.  They take the title and change everything else, he said.

Now I think there are at least two ways to look at this.  The first is to ignore it.  He’s a very successful writer carping on about something that most writers would give their right arm to be in the position as.  Or so received wisdom goes – I’ve had interest in both my own books and the Tania novels.  I’ve still got a TV production company handling the rights to the Joe Donovan series. They did a stunning job of Val McDermid’s Wire in the Blood.  And if it ever gets made I’d like it to be them that do it.  But that’s slightly beside the point. 

I’d only be happy if it was a good production.  I remember a few years back (quite a few years back now) Reginald Hill’s Dalziel and Pascoe novels were optioned by ITV.  They filmed one of them, A Pinch Of Snuff, starring a British comedy double act, Hale and Pace.  Now if you haven’t seen these two, all you need to know is that they were unique in the history of comedy double acts by having two straight men.  They filmed it, it was shown and it was universally hated.  A couple of years after that, the BBC optioned them again.  Having had his fingers burnt, Reg was adamant he didn’t want the same thing to happen again.  The BBC cast Warren Clarke and Colin Buchanan, the series ran for twelve years, was a huge international success, critically acclaimed and award winning.  So that’s what happens if it’s done right.

I must admit, the Rebus TV series doesn’t really work for me.  And it’s for the reasons Ian said: they have the same title as his books and nothing else.  Ken Stott is a fantastic Rebus but everything else around him doesn’t work for me.  Because it’s not the book.  The earlier version with John Hannah was better in many respects because it was an excellent attempt to translate Rebus’s milieu to TV.  Unfortunately, John Hannah wasn’t, and never will be, right for Rebus.  So if they could have had the actor from the second version in the production of the first one it would have been perfect.  In my opinion.  As I said.

But getting back to what Ian said, I do think he has a point.  And it leads on to a larger one about Scandanavian crime fiction.  Crime fiction is the largest selling genre in the UK.  The US too, I believe.  And of course there is pressure to turn those successful crime novels into TV and movie fodder.  (I’m still not sure why – I think a book works best as a book and a movie as a movie.  Why take one medium and try to turn it into another?  But that’s a discussion for another time.)  So they do.  And crime series are some of the most consistently high rated shows on TV.  So what’s gone wrong with our TV?  I don’t know.  In the Seventies and Eighties British TV drama was fantastic.  But it’s now, for the most part, suffering death by focus group.  Death by committee.  The creative have been strangled by the suits.  There are exceptions such as Doctor Who, thank God, in which a showrunner is entrusted to bring his vision to the screen, but most drama seems to be going the other way while other countries, including the US, have overtaken us. 

So to go back to Ian’s point – why will we sit through a twenty episode series examining the criminal and political system in Denmark – with subtitles – and love it?  Why won’t we do this with our own TV?  Well, I try.  But to be honest, it’s just not as good.  It’s timid where it should be brave, formulaic where it should be different.  There are, as I said, exceptions.  But they’re exactly that.  Exceptions.  A few years ago when The Wire was at its peak, a lot of British writers were asking why there couldn’t be a UK equivalent.  A TV series that unfolded over five seasons, each episode like the chapter of a novel, that made no concessions to the casual viewer and that drafted in some of the best US crime novelists around to write it.  Why couldn’t we have that over here?  Because we couldn’t, that’s what we were told.  That’s not how things are done over here.  You want to do that, move to America.  In the meantime, here’s some more Midsommer Murders.  No wonder Ian Rankin is disgruntled.

So the talent’s there, but the will isn’t.  And this leads on to a larger discussion about Scandanavian crime fiction.  I’m getting really sick of reading pieces by literary editors in broadsheet newspapers who’ve discovered Jo Nesbo or Henning Mankell asking where their British equivalents are?  Why can’t British crime fiction have the same sense of contemporary social engagement that the Scandanavians have?  Why do we just produce Agatha Christie style whodunnits in this country?

Well, here’s some news.  British crime fiction does have that same sense of social engagement.  Or at least the best ones do, just like the best Scandanavian ones, the best American ones, the best Italian ones . . .  The only difference is it’s not in translation and therefore there’s less snob value to be seen reading it in public.  And we don’t produce Agatha Christie style whodunnits.  Haven’t done for years.  As any crime fiction reader will tell you.  After all, crime fiction is the bestselling genre in this country so we must be doing something right. 

And there’s an appetite for longer, more complex adaptations of our own crime novels in this country too.  That’s why viewers are resorting to watching US or European drama instead.

Linda and I have the first season of The Bridge to watch next, a Swedish/Danish co-production.  I’m really looking forward to it.  Rationing the episodes, discussing and theorising what’s going on when we’re not watching . . . all of that.  And then we’ve got Braquo, a French crime drama with Jean-Hughes Anglade.  Really looking forward to that one.  So yes, I’ll be watching.  But I’ll be wishing we could do something as good here. 




Calling All Comments

by Hoke Smart on behalf of Murderati

Hello everyone.  For those of you expecting another fantastic insight into the life of Pari Noskin Taichert, I am sorry to disappoint.  However, today’s post is a pressing matter that means a great deal to the Murderati family.

My name is Hoke Smart, and I am the support guy behind Murderati.  I’ve been working with the group for almost a year now keeping things running smoothly on this site and through our social media outlets.  As many of you are currently aware, there have been a litany of issues related to posting comments in response to the threads published by your ‘Rati Authors.

First, I want to apologize for the troubles many of you have had making comments.  I know I speak for the entire group when I say that we enjoy reading the variety of comments and feedback each of you makes on a post.  It livens the discussion and helps promote future ideas for posts.  As a group, we have discussed at length the recent issues and I’ve been charged with trying to resolve this once and for all.

Second, I want to discuss the moderation mechanism for comments.  Most blog engines, including the one that is used by Murderati, employ some sort of moderation script.  This is to prevent an overdose of SPAM comments on blog entries by and large but these scripts sometimes filter out proper comments that are relative to the topic.  In our case, these comments get put in a hold state until I approve them from the backend of the site.  I am working on a better way for this moderation structure to work, but we need your help.

The point of today’s post is rather simple.  If you read this post, leave a comment, please.  The subject matter of your comment doesn’t really matter for this purpose.  Post a link to a favorite author’s site.  Provide a new home cooking recipe for us to attempt.  Offer a good wine selection for your favorite meal.  Today, the comments are the star of this post.

If you receive a notification that your comment is being held for approval, then I should find it when I access the backend of the site.  My goal is to collaborate with our blog engine provider to identify exactly why certain comments are moderated.  If your comment does not post for some reason or you receive any sort of error message, I would like to ask you to take an additional step.  Please send me an e-mail explaining what your comment was and what time you attempted to post.  Our provider can better assist us with this if they know when these issues occur and can review the logs to figure out what prevented a comment from publishing.

My e-mail address is smartacusLLc at gmail dot com and I’ll reply to let you know that I received the notice.

Once again, I apologize on behalf of Murderati for the recent issues and I encourage you to post whatever comment comes to mind so that we can hopefully remedy this problem on a more permanent basis.

Comments will remain open on this post through Sunday, June 17th.  Thanks in advance for participating and we appreciate you visiting Murderati.

Hoke Smart

In Brightest Day, In Blackest Night . . .

by Tania Carver

So Green Lantern is gay.  Or at least the Alan Scott version from Earth 2 is gay, not Hal Jordan or John Stewart. nd, judging by column inches expended on the internet in the last few days, some people still think, incredibly, that this is a big deal.

Especially One Million Moms.  I’m sure you’ve heard of them.  They’re a front organisation for the American Family Association which was set up by far right preacher Donald Wildmon, officially recognised by the Southern Poverty Law Centre as a hate group.  They took to their Facebook page to protest and eventually had to close it down because of the torrent of comments against them.  They claimed to be taking time off for ‘Vacational Bible Study’.  Victory for Green Lantern!

I hope they spend a long time studying the Bible.  It might teach them a few things.  Homosexuality is one of the list of sins in the Old Testament book of Leveticus that also includes eating shellfish, wearing clothes made of mixed fibres, planting two different crops in the same field, cutting your hair, trimming your beard or getting a tattoo.  Or my particular favourites, putting things in front of blind people so they fall over or calling deaf people names.  Somehow, these have become acceptable (apart from the blind and deaf ones, of course) but they still get overexcited about homosexuality.  There’s currently a photo doing the rounds on the internet of someone proudly displaying their tattoo of the verse from Leviticus calling homosexuality a sin, ignorant of the fact that next verse condemns tattoos as being just as sinful.  And for the record, how many times does Jesus say homosexuality is a sin?  Not one.

The main objection these people have against homosexuality is that it’s a lifestyle choice and a deliberate sin against God.  I’m continually staggered that in the twenty first century, where I have more computing power in my mobile phone that was used to send a man to the moon and bring him back, that we still hear this argument.  Homosexuality is as much a lifestyle choice as being lefthanded or having freckles is.  I used to live in a shared house in London and a couple of the guys were gay.  They were two of the bravest men I ever knew.  They came from a very rough, working class housing estate in the north of England where any kind of deviation from the norm was brutally punished.  Yet they were openly gay.  Despite neither of them being physically impressive or able to handle themselves in a fight, they stood up to threats of violence, intimidation, bullies of every stripe.  They fought for the right to be themselves.  And they even won respect as a result.     

I must admit, religious intolerance – of whatever stripe – is something of a bugbear of mine.  David spoke recently (and very eloquently) about how traumatising a strict Catholic education could be.  Linda, the other half of Tania Carver, had a similar experience at the hands of the nuns.  I’ve had far right evangelical Christians trying to indoctrinate me at a very young and impressionable age.  (They even claimed that having a sense of humour came from the devil.)  So when Wildmon’s latest hate group stunt backfired, I was very pleased. 

After all that please don’t get the impression I’m against religion as such.  I’ve known a lot of very good, strong, positive people who are religious.  And not just Christians.  One of the most inspiring people I ever met was the former Governor at Huntercombe Young Offenders Institution where I used to be Writer in Residence.  He was tolerant, kind, honest and used his Christian faith to affect positive changes in the boys lives.  It didn’t always work but it often did and it was an honour to be part of his team.  The prison chaplain was a great guy too.  An ex-biker, he had no trouble inspiring the boys in his care.  And there have been others too that I’ve know, decent men and women who follow their hearts and try to improve their part of the world.  That’s why people like Wildmon make me even angrier.

I believe that people like that and those of that other hate group, the Westboro Baptist Church are trying to use the supposed respectable veneer of religion as a shield to hide their hatred behind.  And why do they hate so much?  Especially homosexuals?  Well, I think it’s a case of protesting too much.  I wrote a short story a few years ago called ‘Love’ about a white supremacist teenage skinhead who joins in with his mates in attacking anyone with a different ethnicity or sexuality to himself but who discovers he’s gay when through having sex with a black drug dealer.  The story was nominated for an award, didn’t win, but has been well-reviewed and reprinted a few times so I guess it struck a chord. 

We fear what we don’t understand.  Or more to the point, we fear that we may become the thing we don’t understand.  And that fear, nourished by ignorance and intolerance, becomes hate.  And hate, when hidden behind something perceived as legitimate such as a flag or a religious symbol or even the colours of a sports team, becomes legitimised in the eyes of the hater.  And then it’s easier to act upon.

But this is a blog about crime fiction.  What does all this have to do with crime fiction?  Everything.  Fear leads to hatred.  Hatred leads to violence.  Violence leads to . . . what?  Hurt?  Despair?  Maiming?  Death?  And we, as crime novelists, are there to document it all.  Or we should be.  I read crime fiction – and write it – because it helps me understand the world we live in.  We have a degree of social engagement that writers in other genres often don’t have.  What makes someone want to hurt another human being because their skin is a different olour or they’re attracted to their own sex?  What makes the Wildmons of this world get so angry about the sexual orientation of a comic strip character?  I believe it’s our job to find out and write about it.  We tell stories.  As my friend the brilliant writer Stav Sherez says, ‘We use narrative to explain the world.’ 

If Green Lantern can do it, then so can we.

Please share your laughs with me

by Pari

This was going to be a profound blog about my meeting Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and reveling in the presence of someone who has given so much for so long on behalf of so many people.  I also planned to regale you with stories about how when the Secret Service gets involved in an event, well, things change.

But you know what? I’m pooped. I’m bone tired from having worked on a public happening for months and months and then experiencing the mental, physical and emotional exhaustion of the letdown the day after all that work comes to fruition.

I just don’t have much oomph left in me at all.

However, I do still have the capacity to laugh. And right now I want to fill my cup with as much enjoyment as possible.  

Please help me do it. Have you discovered any new websites that tickle the heck out of you?

Here’s one I learned about this weekend. Much of its content is incredibly inappropriate.
When you open these links, be sure you’re someplace where loud incredulous laughter is allowed; I don’t want you to get into trouble at work.

For someone like me who has spent years in PR and marketing, contains many a dream come true. Among its entries are wonderfully horrid ideas realized and turned into products because a bunch of brilliant people didn’t think things through quite as well as they assumed they did. This is the link my friend’s daughter showed me on Mother’s Day.  It takes you to unintentionally x-rated toys (Don’t look if you’re not into that kind of thing). This other link, which I found today, brought me great joy. I especially like Spader Man. And there’s this one with the Norman Rockwell.

Now, please return the favor. Send me a couple of urls that please you — silly games, goofy products, jokes, fun videos, whatever  — and include the reasons you like them.  

I’m at work and can’t play on the computer, but I’ll check them out during the coming week when I get home and need a good laugh.

Thanks in advance.


An odd homage to e e cummings

by Pari

In just spring
the world is as mudluscious as ever it could be (in a desert).
I haven’t seen the goat-footed balloon man, but can hear the clip clop of his dancing hooves.
It’s just
                 spring and
Fruit trees quiver clothed in white and pale pink blossoms
dot yards
otherwise grayish and dormant with the remnants of winter. 
Tulips bloom in bright reds and yellows
Purple hyacinths scent the air
And  . . .
Verily, yay verily
I don’t want to do squat.

My productivity is in the pot . . .

Actually, that’s not quite true. I do want to garden and take long walks to admire the wakening world. I want to sprawl on my stomach with the sun warming my back. I want to bury my nose in the still brown grass in the park near my house and smell the earth as it embraces this magical new season.

I want to eat chocolate
and fresh strawberries.
I want to nibble on the first leaves of peppermint and fennel now pushing forth from plants I’d forgotten were there.
I want to gaze at brilliant blue skies and marvel at ever-changing cloudlets.

Why does glorious spring always do this to me?
Why do I look at my life —
no matter whether I worked by myself at home
           or now labor in an office with numerous cohorts
 — and ponder its lack of color and adventure?
Why do I want to shed more than the heavy, scratchy sweaters of winter and dance
in the crystal darkness of a perfect spring night?

And how the hell am I going to reconcile these urges with the necessity to work and tow the line for the next month or so until the sun beats down with brilliant mercilessness (in the scorching New Mexico summertime) and I once more want to be indoors in air-conditioned bliss? 

It’s just spring in Albuquerque
And I can hear the plants growing in my yard
can sense them calling for attention . . .
The words and work that fill my necessary days seem trivial compared to
                       the first-seen violet and orange iris bursting open at sunrise.
Like an alert doe sniffing the wind,
my nose and mouth taste the new greenness of each unfurling leaf
on each branch of weeping willow and sturdy elm.
Like Ulysses, I must tie myself to the mast of obligation and cover mine eyes Monday through Friday. 

Oh, but Saturday and Sunday are upon me and, lo, I do rejoice.


What’s your favorite season? Why?

What’s the weather like in your corner of the world?


So Long, Farewell…

By Cornelia Read

This is my goodbye post for Murderati. I adore you guys, and have had great fun writing here, and everyone in our gang has been lovely to me through some really tough stuff over the last few years: my dad’s suicide, my divorce, my move back to the East Coast, my struggles with writing and winter and all kinds of things. I will miss you all a great deal, and I thank you for your many kindnesses.


But I am really, really tired. I’m so happy to be back in my hometown of Manhattan, but I’ve moved three times since August while doing three extra rewrites on my fourth book (with my genius of an editor, who is a patient, patient woman,) and am just now getting my life back in order in many, many ways that require some better attention from me in real life.

And, hey, all kinds of really good shit has happened too. Like, after several years of this…

I’m hanging out with a really cool man who is great fun and very funny and kind, not to mention pretty damn “easy on the eyes,” as Grandmama Read used to say. And he is also NOT a psycho Republican, which is a huge plus after my last foray into the whole Y-chromosome thing.

So now when I think of The Lone Ranger, I think less of it pertaining to my social life, and more just for basic entertainment purposes:

And I DID finally finish that fourth book, which is called Valley of Ashes and is due out from Grand Central Publishing next August:

Plus my third book comes out in paperback this month, and I love the cover Grand Central did for that, too:

Last June, my kid graduated from Exeter,

and she got into her first-choice college,

and just made the Dean’s list at the end of her first semester, which is pretty fucking cool if you ask me.

Also, she just came out at the Junior Assembly in New York the week before Christmas, which my mom and I also did back in the day.

That was a rather stellar evening…

That’s my kid Grace on the right, and my niece Sasha on the left. I utterly adore both of them, and their escorts were terrific. (Jill Krementz took this photo. She is amazing and so very, very talented, and was very generous to document the evening for us.)

Here’s Grace in the Pierre Hotel ballroom, with her escort Dan:

Though I did miss having Lester Lanin there…

Especially since the new band didn’t throw beanies out onto the dance floor…

(Yeah, I just put Woody Guthrie and Lester Lanin in the same blog post. That’s how I roll. Because it is entirely possible to be a deb and anti-fascist. Just ask Eleanor Roosevelt.)

And I finally live in the neighborhood I’ve been wanting to hang out in for about the last year and a half: Inwood, on the far norther tip of Manhattan, just above the Cloisters:

It’s really beautiful here, and everyone is nice, and what with my apartment being a fifth-floor walkup, my ass is looking rather splendid these days. Which is pretty good, especially coupled with the cheap rent…

 I mean, seriously… you look at this, and you don’t think “New York City,” right? It’s a very nice place to come home to on the A Train.

Okay, Duke Ellington is not actually ON the A Train in that video (because, hello, the A Train is a SUBWAY,) and I live way the hell above Sugar Hill in Harlem, but still, it’s a pretty nice tune to hum to yourself when you’re going express from 59th to 125th on your way home, you know?

Also, I think I have FINALLY relearned how to get off the 59th Street Bridge and onto the Long Island Expressway, which is the free way to get to the island and a pretty fine time to sing “The 59th Street Bridge Song” to oneself…

So, no worries about me, if you’re inclined to worry. I’m happy, I’m just exhausted.

I wish everyone a most wonderful 2012, and happy trails, and all good things… thank you for everything, you guys rock.


The good stuff on the side…

By Cornelia Read


Okay, when it comes to food for Thanksgiving, I think the turkey is the lame part of the meal. What’s good is the stuff on the side–stuffing especially.

I’m at the age (and have been for a while) when this holiday is usually a gathering of a bunch of people and all of us cook, which is way nicer than the days when I was responsible for the whole shebang myself, but also nicer than the days when I was little and had to eat whatever the fuck was put in front of me no matter what.

It’s great fun to just get to concentrate on doing a few side dishes and doing them well. Riffs on the traditional stuff, as it were.

If you’re in the same position for coming up with a couple of things for this meal, here are some groovy things to try your hand at in the coming week.

This was just in the New York Times food section a couple of weeks ago, and I made it for dinner a few days ago:

Roasted Cauliflower and Raisins with Anchovy Vinaigrette

Time: 45 minutes

1 large cauliflower, cored, trimmed and separated into florets 
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sherry or balsamic vinegar, or to taste
4 minced anchovy fillets, with a little of their oil, or to taste
½ cup raisins, preferably golden
½ cup chopped fresh parsley leaves.

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put cauliflower in roasting pan, drizzle with 3 tablespoons oil and some salt and pepper; toss. Roast, turning once or twice, for 15 minutes or so, until cauliflower just starts to soften.

2. Meanwhile, make vinaigrette by combining remaining oil with vinegar, anchovies and a little salt and pepper; taste and adjust seasoning. Remove pan, drizzle cauliflower with 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette, and toss. Roast, turning once, until a thin-bladed knife pierces a piece with little resistance, for 15 minutes. (Recipe may be cooled at this point, covered tightly and refrigerated for 2 days.)

2. At last minute, put cauliflower in salad bowl and add raisins, parsley and remaining vinaigrette and toss. Taste and sprinkle with salt, if needed, and lots of pepper, then serve.

Yield: 8 servings.

Here’s some thing newish to do with sweet potatoes, if you’re sick of the whole marshmallow thing: mash them with one chipotle pepper from a can of chipotles in adobo sauce, with a nice big spoonful of the adobo mixed in. A little orange juice, maybe, with zest of the orange. Top with some crumbled bacon. Gives them a nice smoky-sweet savor that rounds the whole thing out.

And if you’re sick of same-old same-old turnips, there’s a beautiful recipe for turnips mashed with some rice and cream in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking:



1. Bring the milk to a simmer. Add rice, butter, and garlic

2. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for ten minutes.

3. Stir in turnips. Add more milk if needed to submerge the vegetables.

4. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until turnips are tender.

5. When the liquid is almost absorbed, puree in a food mill or food processor.

6. Reheat before seasoning. Stir in butter or cream and adjust seasonings.

7. Garnish with fresh parsley.


This is a deeply gorgeous way to serve turnips–they come out sweet and creamy and with a beautifully silky texture. They do look an AWFUL lot like mashed potatoes, though, so you might want to stir in some turmeric just to give them a little visual difference.

Also, I’ve become a huge convert to Brussels sprouts over the last couple of years. Because basically when you have anemia, they taste better than cheesecake.

Take some sprouts, cut the ends off, and toss them in a baking pan with a bunch of cloves of garlic, a generous dollop of olive oil, and the juice and zest of at least one lemon. Roast them in a 400-degree oven for about half and hour, tossing around occasionally. They’re good to go when they’re starting to brown on the outer leaves and aren’t too crunchy any more if you stick a fork in them.

Okay, ‘ratis, what’s your favorite thing to cook for Thanksgiving?