Friday Reads: 44 Scotland Street, a Scottish Delight!

Friday Reads: 44 Scotland Street, a Scottish Delight!

posted in: Books, British, Entertainment | 2 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

I discovered the 44 Scotland Street series while listening to Confessions of A Serial Novelist by Alexander McCall Smith, an obscure audio offering in the OneClickdigital App. I downloaded it because I had read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency some years earlier and was curious to hear what nuggets of wisdom such a successful author as McCall Smith might have to share.

The recording turned out to be a one hour lecture given in New York City in 2006 and featured more humor than substantive advice on how to succeed as a novelist. (Although, perhaps that is a good lesson in itself. Perhaps humor is the secret to success as a novelist?) The highlight of the lecture came at the end: an excerpt from the second 44 Scotland Street novel: Espresso Tales.

44 Scotland Street takes place in Edinburgh. Pictured above is <a href="http://www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk/" target="_blank">Edinburgh Castle</a>, one of many Edinburgh landmarks mentioned in the series.
44 Scotland Street takes place in Edinburgh. Pictured above is Edinburgh Castle, one of many Edinburgh landmarks mentioned in the series.

The passage was about a six-year-old boy named Bertie whose mother forces him to learn Italian and play tenor saxophone. This was interesting. I immediately checked the app for the 44 Scotland Street audiobook and downloaded it. While the passage McCall Smith read focused on Bertie, the series features a much larger cast of characters, some of whom are listed here on his website.

The first book of the series focuses primarily on the residents of the building the book is named after. (While Scotland Street is a real street in Edinburgh, there is no number 44.) There is Pat, a young girl of 20 on her 2nd gap year, working as a receptionist at an art gallery. Pat’s flatmate is Bruce, a rugby shirt-wearing narcissist with a passion for hair gel who works as a surveyor (real estate appraiser in the US). Across the hall is Domenica: world-wise anthropologist, widow, advisor to Pat, and friend to Angus. Angus lives on a neighboring street: a 50-something portrait painter and companion to Cyril, a beer and coffee-drinking dog with a gold tooth.

There’s also Matthew, the somewhat dejected owner of the art gallery Pat works at, who often enjoys long coffee breaks at Big Lou’s. Before Big Lou purchased Big Lou’s, it had been a bookshop. After the purchase, Lou moved all the remaining book inventory to her residence. She reads them whenever she is not running her coffee bar, giving rise to thoughtful and occasionally spirited philosophical discussions over coffee with customers.


With all the characters and funny storylines, I am reminded of Julian Fellowes and Downton Abbey. The books are fun to binge on, another thing in common with Downton Abbey! I discovered the series in August, four months ago, and I am already on the fourth book of the series: The World According to Bertie.

I have plenty more to say about the books, their author, and the narrator of the audiobooks, Robert Ian Mackenzie, but I will save it for a later post. For now, I will leave you with this interview with Alexander McCall Smith that I discovered from The Guardian. In it, he discusses the 44 Scotland Street series in his usual light-hearted and modest style. Happy Friday!

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Friday Reads: “The Silkworm” is a Sophomore Success for Robert Galbraith

Friday Reads: “The Silkworm” is a Sophomore Success for Robert Galbraith

posted in: Book Reviews, Books, British, Entertainment, Our Work, Writing | 0 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

After reading The Cuckoo’s Calling, I moved onto Robert Galbraith’s sophomore mystery, The Silkworm. It is set in the land of UK book publishing, with agents, editors, authors, and publishers as suspects. The book is a bit gruesome at times. It does feel as though Galbraith is keen to shock readers, for the mere sake of shock value at times. This may rub some readers the wrong way.

Read my review of The Cuckoo’s Calling here.

However, the ending was quite good, just like with The Cuckoo’s Calling. One maddening thing that Galbraith does is have Cormoran tell Robin, his assistant, who the villain is without telling us. That really kept the suspense going! WHO DID IT!!!??? This little move made the ending a real page turner.

The book is over 400 pages, but I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Robert Glenister, so it didn’t seem very long. The characters are interesting and everyone looks suspicious. But more importantly, we learn more about the backstory of both Cormoran and Robin, which I believe is the real reason why readers enjoy any series of books – to get to know the characters in depth and become “friends” with them.

The Silkworm Review

As I was reading The Cuckoo’s Calling, I was comparing the text to Harry Potter. Last month, I wrote a post titled, Good, Evil, and J.K. Rowling, Post-Harry Potter, in which I tried to understand how/why Rowling’s mystery series has so much more evil in it than Harry Potter.

As I was reading The Silkworm, I started wondering more about Rowling as the author of Harry Potter compared to Rowling as the author of the Cormoran Strike series. It was strange to ponder how much of J.K. Rowling’s true sentiments about the publishing world are in this book. She is one of the biggest success stories in publishing history, and even she views the publishing world as dark and sinister?

Also, a big theme of The Silkworm is gender and gender-identity. It’s very current to our times, and I suppose it’s not really a topic that she could examine in such depth in the setting of a Harry Potter book. She also discusses things like Google Maps and indie-publishing. I was like, wait, J.K. Rowling uses Google Maps?

She’s the Queen of Harry Potter; she could be doing anything – living in a castle (wait does she live in a castle?), or entering a partnership with Jeff Bezos to try and make magic real, or perhaps the most obvious choice, writing a dozen more Harry Potter books. Instead she’s writing about gruesome murders! Say what?


I needed some answers, so I turned to YouTube. In a 2014 interview with Val McDermid, Rowling talked about her lifelong passion for who-dun-its, and shared that she actually viewed Harry Potter as a sort of mystery. Indeed, p-p-p-poor st-st-st-stuttering P-P-Professor Quirrell was an unexpected suspect/villain in The Sorcerer’s Stone. The interview was interesting to listen to and in it, she mentions how she picked her pen name.

Overall, the answer that I arrived at of “Who is the real J.K. Rowling” was thus: J.K. Rowling is just herself. She is not some fairy godmother living in the clouds. She’s a real human and an interesting one, at that. I’m happy that she made the brave decision to write mysteries, because if she had not, I would have not dared to read such grisly stories. There is something about facing one’s fears that really boosts the confidence. While I had previously enjoyed mysteries on television, I was not a fan of mystery novels. Now I am and it’s all because of Galbraith.

I did notice some Harry Potter connections in this book. First, there is a reference to Emma Watson, who is depicted on the cover of Vogue magazine. Also, Cormoran’s name is revealed to mean “Cornish Giant” and that seems to be a nod to Rubeus Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper. Hagrid is part giant and has a Cornish accent. Cormoran is quite big and hairy like Hagrid, but the private detective is not a softy like the wizard with the pink umbrella wand. Others have drawn a comparison to Mad-Eye Moody, in terms of Cormoran’s temperament, and I quite agree.

Have you read the Cormoran Strike series? What do you make of it?

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Friday Reads: Review of Lessons from Tara

Friday Reads: Review of Lessons from Tara

posted in: Book Reviews, Our Work, Writing | 2 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

A couple months ago, we wrote a review of Dogtripping by David Rosenfelt. It told the story of his cross-country move from California to Maine with 25 dogs, 3 RVs, and 11 volunteers.

Lessons from Tara is a follow up to Dogtripping. There is some overlap between the two books, but plenty of new material for readers of the preceding book. Earlier this month, I gave a list of my top 5 dog books so far and now, Lessons from Tara has earned a spot on that list.

In Lessons From Tara, David Rosenfelt details how his rescue dogs and their sunny outlook on life have changed his world view. Although the title specifically names Tara, she is not the sole focus of the lessons he has learned. However if he had never met Tara, then he wouldn’t have met or rescued any of the the other dogs.


Throughout this book I laughed at some chapters and also cried during others. I think that is what makes a great dog book because the book, like dog’s themselves make you laugh and at some point during their life, they will make you cry. While reading, I shed a tear each time he talked about the loss of one of the dogs and how it never gets easier. I laughed each time he talked about the antics of all of his dogs. I definitely laughed more than cried during this book.

I also enjoyed this book because he gave some insight about his life as an author. It was nice to read that he doesn’t spend hours and hours writing his novels. That was comforting to read since that is the way the we write our books. It is always interesting to hear the processes of other authors.

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How to Discover Inspiration from the Dictionary

How to Discover Inspiration from the Dictionary

posted in: Indie Publishing, Our Work, Writing | 0 | This post may contain referral links. See privacy policy for more.

Feeling bored with the writing you have been creating? You know you have brilliant ideas and can spin a good yarn, but maybe you just need a little boost of creativity, a little zesty zing. If so, today’s post will help reinvigorate your writing.

Step 1: Get a physical copy of a dictionary.

An online dictionary does not have that all important tangible quality. Large or small. Hardback or paperback. Writing is so wispy and ethereal. A physical copy of a dictionary with help bring some earthy weight to this airy craft.

Step 2: Thumb casually through the pages.

Flip, shuffle, and peruse, getting a feel for the weighty book. Relax the mind in a semi-meditative state, not worrying about where you are in the alphabet. Just relax.

How to Discover Inspiration in the Dictionary. It's like using a Ouija Board.

Step 3: Pick a word.

With dictionary in hand, hold with the intention of finding a good word for your story. Follow your intuition toward a page that feels right, then the section of the page that feels right. This can be a bit like using a ouija board. You can close your eyes, look away, or look right at the page as you land on a word.

Step 4: Deliberate.

Like it? Write it down and use it immediately or save it for later. Don’t like it? Look around the page for some other word. Still don’t see a good word? Start at Step 2 and begin again. How do I know if I like it or not? You feel connected to the word, excited and inspired. If you don’t feel these things then, start the process again.

We like to find at least 5 words in a dictionary session. Here’s an example of five fun words plucked from the dictionary using this technique:

1. Relish
2. Smudge
3. Iron Lung
4. Bucolic
5. Damask

Step 5: Enjoy the process!

Writers are among the most insecure people in the world. We can get so down ourselves before our stories ever even see the light of day. Writing should be fun and this process will help with that. Every writer grows as he or she writes more and more, developing a style that may sometimes feel redundant or repetitive as we try to express the story within us. Have patience with yourself. Writing is all about playing the long game. Remember what Gore Vidal said:

Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps 20 players. ... I have 10 or so, and thats a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them. - Gore Vidal

 

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How to Discover Inspiration in the Dictionary

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