William McIlvanney, 1936-2015

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William McIlvanney

My Italian translator, friend, musician and frequent collaborator, Seba Pezzani, asked if I would contribute to an article he was writing about the Scottish author, William McIlvanney, and I was pleased to agree.

Here’s the link to Seba’s article – useful if you want to brush up your Italian … and below is my little contribution …

The first time I met William McIlvanney was at a crime writing festival in Frontignan in the south of France, a country where we were both published by François Guerif, chef of Rivages Noir. I’d already read much of McIlvanney’s work, of course, the crime novels featuring Glasgow police detective Jack Laidlaw, as well as other titles, including ‘Docherty’ and ‘The Big Man’.

McIlvanney didn’t often attend these kind of events and I think only his long-standing friendship with François had brought him all the way from Scotland. As can often be the case when people are known more from their absence than their presence, rumours about him abounded: he was a heavy drinker, hard to get along with and possessed of a strong if not violent temper. The man I met could hardly have been more different; quite softly spoken, sober, charming even – handsome, certainly. We were staying a little way out of Frontignan and each evening we were there, at Willie’s suggestion – Willie, that was what he insisted I call him- we would stroll along to the café at the end of the street and sit at one of the corner tables outside, talking of this, that and everything else over a glass of single malt. I think it was Abalour.

Ian Rankin has made no secret of the fact that Laidlaw and McIlvanney’s portrait of Glasgow were a strong and direct influence on his character Rebus and his portrayal of Edinburgh. In my case, the influence was less direct, but no less strong. I’d also read – at around the same time, though they’d been published earlier – the Martin Beck novels of Sjöwall and Wahlöö, which, in a not dissimilar way to McIlvanney, used the medium of crime fiction and the figure of the detective as instruments to open up and explore contemporary urban life. Resnick and Nottingham were not so far away.

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From the Po to the Trent (via Mississippi)

So, back from Northern Italy, the land of a million churches, thirty plus degrees of heat and long lazy lunches, many memories to the good (and mosquito bites the size of golf balls to match). Two days spent happily in the company of Norwegian crime writer Kjell Ola Dahl, Danish author Morten Brask and Swedish record producer Haken Olsson together with his wife, Monica, all under the auspices of Seba Pezzani and the dal Mississippi al Po festival of music and literature, held this year in the beautiful surroundings of the Archaeological Park in Travo, the main stage surrounded by green hills on all sides.

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After listening to Kjell, Morten and Haken discuss the influences, good and bad – mostly, it seemed, good – of  American culture on its Scandinavian counterpart, it was my turn to be interviewed about the Resnick series in general and the third novel, Cutting Edge, in particular. Translated by Seba, Cutting Edge is to be published in Italy by Foschi Editore this October, under the title Anestesia LetaleLethal Anaesthesia.

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As yet bereft of its cover, there were copies of the novel available and since these were marked as not for sale, they sold like the proverbial banned cakes. Smart move!

From the left, me, Morten, Kjell, Hakan & Monica
From the left, me, Morten, Kjell, Hakan & Monica

Just a few days to reacclimatise, before heading up to Nottingham for the official launch of These Seven, previewed a week or so back at the Lowdham Book Festival. There will be toasts and speeches, doubtless, at the reception in the grand surroundings of the Council House, and before that, if all goes according to plan, a mass flash mob reading outside. Let’s hope the weather is kind.

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You can read more about These Seven and its connections to Nottingham’s bid to become a Unesco City of Literature in this article from the marvellous Left Lion here 

 

Books & Blues Italian Style

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Several years ago, Seba Pezzani – writer, translator, musician, facilitator – invited me to take part in Dal Mississippi al Po, the festival of American music – largely blues, with a strong country accent – and American or American-influenced fiction, held in and around Piacenza in Northern Italy.

I had a great time, sharing meals around a large communal table, the days punctuated by espressos standing at one or other café counter; the pleasures of hanging out with American author and guitarist James Sallis, whom I already knew a little, and with the Norwegian writer (and sheep farmer) Kjell Ola Dahl, whom I was meeting for the first time and who has since become a good friend.

Excellent, then, to be invited back this July, to preview the publication in Italy this October by Foschi Editore of the third Resnick novel, Cutting Edge, in a translation by Seba himself.  Two days in northern Italy, two days journeying there and back by train.

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