What I Did this Summer

This spring/summer stay in England began in late May with a few gorgeous days in London followed by an overnight visit to Staithes, a tiny fishing village on the Yorkshire coast. The reason for the visit was a concert by Martin and Eliza Carthy, performing with the the local men’s choir. It was held in held in a tiny seaman’s mission, no more than about fifty people crammed into hard pews, and very hot. Between the songs, we could hear the waves breaking on the rocks and the squalling of seagulls through the open windows as the sun went down. All in all, it was a lovely evening, the kind of experience you remember for a long time.

Soon after that, in early June, I visited Oslo for the first time at the request of my Norwegian publishers, Forlaget Press. The weather was fine for the most part, and I managed to take couple of hours to stroll around the downtown and harbour areas and to pay homage to the statue of Ibsen outside the National Theatre. Oslo is a lovely city, open, bright and clean, scattered with interesting statues, and I would like to have seen more. No time, though. After a day of press interviews, the evening’s event took place in the large downtown bookshop, Tanum, where I was interviewed on stage by the knowledgable and engaging Marianne. Afterwards we all had a fine seafood dinner by the harbour–Thor Arvid and Thomas from Forlaget, and Marianne and Arild from Tanum. A lot of our talk revolved around music, and I came away determined to check out the Tord Gustavsen Trio and Susanna and the Magical Orchestra as soon as I got the chance. I managed to track down some of their music on Spotify and enjoyed it tremendously.

At Tanum’s bookshop in Oslo

Not long after Oslo came the Beverley Folk Festival, where I had several events, the main one being a performance with Eliza Carthy. We picked “The Ferryman’s Beautiful Daughter,” which takes about fifty minutes to read, and this time instead of stopping the reading for occasional thematically-related songs, I simply read on as Eliza played, interweaving themes and variations with the words. At the end she sang some murder ballads, and I think everyone went away quite satisfied. One of the perks of being a performer was that I got to see as many of the other acts as I wanted, and I managed to catch some of Billy Bragg before my interview with the local radion station, and on the next night Peter Donegan (son of Lonnie) and the Lonnie Donegan Band. Over the weekend, though unfortunately I missed Eric Bogle and Tanglefoot, I saw performances by the Anna Massie Band, Belinda O’Hooley and Heidi Tidow, Peatbog Fairies and Seth Lakeman. I also caught a song or two by numerous performers in the various tents dotted around outside the Leisure Complex and met Jon Brindley and Miles Cain, who kindly gave me their CDs. On the Saturday of the festival, Beverley was oficially the wettest place in England!

With Aidan, Eliza and baby Florence at Beverley Folk Festival

The main reason for extending the trip well into July was that the University of Leeds awarded me an honorary Doctorate of Letters at a degree ceremony on July 17. My connection with the university is a long one–and was not always academic, though I did get my BA in English Literature there. In the late sixties and early seventies I saw Cream, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Leonard Cohen, Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, Soft Machine, Roy Harper, Wings, Fairport Convention and the Incredible String Band there, among others–all in the refectory, which holds about two thousand people. So on July 17, I dressed in my finery and accepted the degree from Lord Bragg of Wigton, better known as Melvyn Bragg, the celebrated novelist and presenter of The South Bank Show. Also receiving an honorary degree at the ceremony was Bekele Geleta, secretary general of the International Red Cross. Bekele has lived a fascinating and varied life, from the prisons of Ethiopia to refugee status in Canada, and now to heading the Red Cross, and it was a great honour to share the ceremony with him.

Receiving the degree from Lord Bragg

Now it’s almost time to return to Toronto–after the Harrogate Crime Festival and the Old Peculier Awards on Thursday, July 23. The Price of Love, the new short story collection, reached No. 2 in the Macleans bestseller list in Canada last week, and on August 6 it is due out from Hodder in the UK, where it is to be a Waterstone’s Offer of the Week. It will be published by Morrow in the USA on September 29. Back in Canada, I have an event on Saturday, August 15, at the Scene of the Crime Festival on Wolfe Island, Ontario, where I am to receive the Grant Allen Award and be interviewed on stage by Therese Greenwood. There are a number of exciting events on the horizon back in the UK this autumn, including the Richmond Walking and Books Festival, where I will be interviewing Ruth Rendell, chatting with Ian Rankin and performing with Eliza Carthy again, in addition to leading a walk from Reeth. Check it out: www.richmondbooksandboots.org.uk.