A gem from Booker list

Graeme Macrae Burnet
Graeme Macrae Burnet

Towards the end of Jennifer Morag Henderson’s event there was about ten minutes when she talked through some interesting photographs from the life of Josephine Tey, the subject of her latest biography, and it was during this short period that the author visibly relaxed and the warmth and admiration she felt for her subject shone through.

But before she had been subjected to strangely confrontational questioning from Lee Randall who seemed determined to try and provoke this quietly spoken young woman. Jennifer referred to the famous mystery writer by her family name of Beth MacKintosh rather than her pen names of Josephine Tey and Gordon Daviot but this seemed to bother her interviewer, who also tried to imply that the pseudonyms masked some kind of alternative personalities.

But thankfully Jennifer clearly knew her stuff and presented the highly successful and well respected writer as the woman she obviously had been, not one with a personality disorder but someone who lived quietly at home in Inverness caring for her father and writing her books but who let her hair down on her jaunts to London. Repeatedly asked why Tey had remained so private Jennifer finally replied that she didn’t believe she had been secretive about her life, she’d simply not lived in London. Tey sadly died after a very short illness in her fifties but she had achieved a great deal before that writing novels, plays and short stories with a studied determination. Hollywood had come knocking and she’d written screenplays at her kitchen table at home in Inverness rather than being drawn to the neon lights of Los Angeles. A fascinating life that would have been better explained by the knowledgeable author without the adversarial interview.

Lucy Jones - Foxes Unearthed

Dig down into the history of foxes and all sorts of interesting facts come to light. One might have expected a few fireworks too given the passions that have been aroused in the past on the subject of hunting, but the audience at the County Buildings kept any grievances hidden.

Introducing the event, Finn McCreath, who farms locally, revealed that the nearest he’d ever come to a fox was when one crossed his path on the way home from a party in central London. Lucy had similarly had most of her encounters in the city too. Delving into the archives she’d discovered the changing fortunes of the UK’s largest wild animal from almost being eradicated due to being declared vermin with a price on its head by Henry VIII to being reintroduced from France in order to be hunted for sport.

Thankfully there is now a healthy population of this adaptable creature that lives in communities not couples and changes what it eats with the time of year, even slurping worms like spaghetti in spring and chomping on cranefly larvae. They have super-senses to help with their hunt for food; their hearing, eyesight and smell is much more attuned than other animals and researchers now believe they may also be able to use the earth’s magnetic fields. Jones has produced a well researched and well written account of one of our most interesting wild animals.

Graeme Macrae Burnet - His Bloody Project

Given that Macrae Burnet is now hotly tipped to win the Man Booker prize this year it was perhaps surprising that his event was in the small McNeillie tent and not in the main marquee, but then the audience was relatively small too for such a potentially hot ticket.

Nevertheless the audience was witness to a gem of a discussion between Macrae Burnet and Stuart Kelly who was on top form with his literary references and asides about his time as a Man Booker judge. Rather than being intimidated by Kelly’s encyclopaedic brain the author’s dry sense of humour brought out a jovial side in both men. Despite comparisons with Kafka and Dostoevsky the Glasgow based writer seems to have his feet firmly on the ground and his tongue firmly in his cheek.

His book, supposedly based on a real case, follows the story of a young man charged with a brutal murder in a small crofting community in 1889. The surprise and runaway success of the book has brought unexpected attention to the writer and the shortlisting of the novel for the top literary prize has opened doors that have always previously been firmly shut. It’s a story that brings hope to every struggling writer in the garret (or the Mitchell Library in Macrae Burnet’s case) and every small independent publisher. And, by all accounts, the book is a good read too!