Under My Skin

A week ago — a momentous time for so many reasons — I whacked my knuckles on the book case in the conference room outside my office at the end of a day meeting students for advisement. I’ve done it before: those of you who know me well will not be surprised. Head in the clouds, absent-minded professor — whatever you want to call it, I end up with odd bruises all the time. And then in a minute or two, it became this lump.

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I did what any normal person does: I sent the picture out on social media asking people if I should be worried. Some alarmed people said YES especially when I posted a video so you could see it in 3D, but most people said just ice it and elevate. I chipped some ice off the frozen-over freezer of our office because you have to improvise at times like this. Later at my friend Angela’s house, she gave me some frozen green beans that worked much better.

Robert got Lagavulin which worked even better with real ice.

The lump went down over the next few days and the bruises took off, lending a bit of colour. It was sore but not awfully so. There were far more painful things happening in the world, so on the whole I figured it could have been worse. See, much better!

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You don’t always know how an injury will affect you: something that didn’t seem all that big a deal might end up being surprisingly painful. Some things you know are going to be bad. Bracing yourself is the only option and it’s not enough because it’s coming at your from every direction. At least with big things you’re not alone: we’re all in that sinking boat and some of us are bailing it out (some are just bailing). There’s some attempts to patch the gaping holes, but there seem to be an inordinate number of folks rushing to the apocalypse.

In the words of Saint Kurt the Vonnegut, so it goes.

They get under our skin. That’s what they want. We inherit different thicknesses; we cultivate other characteristics. I recently did one of those ancestral DNA kits. I had hoped my ancestors would be a little more curious about the world, but they end up being 100% European:

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The Finnish is no surprise; I never thought I had any British/Irish blood so I’m going to claim it’s all Scottish, of course. Balkan and Southern? I’m going to go with Slovenia! But mostly Northern, which surprises no one. I also have 293 Neanderthal variants which is fairly high (higher than 74% of those they tested). What does it mean? Well, among other things:

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So there’s that.

To sum up: it’s a really lousy year for so many reasons for so many of us and things look likely to get worse. Your community will be more important than ever. Be part of them, look out for others, let yourself be looked after especially if you’re not one inclined to do that. Be grateful for every bit of joy that comes your way and if you have it, the reduced tendency to sneeze after eating dark  chocolate.

‘One of the ways to avoid being beaten by the system is to laugh at it.’

Peter Cook

Slovenia: Another Green World

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Here’s Janez Grm, me, Funda Cinoglu, Vassilis Danellis, Avgust Demšar AKA Tomaš and Alibi mastermind Renato Bratkovič at the legendary Bar Grega. In Casablanca, everybody goes to Rick’s; in Slovenia, everybody goes to Bar Grega.

I was unprepared for just how amazing Slovenia would be. I thought it would be fun of course, as it usually is hanging out with other writers — but I had no idea how crazy beautiful this country is. Seriously, book your holiday today before everyone discovers it.

See the whole photo album here. There’s just too many wonderful pictures. Renato was a brilliant host: he took me to Lake Bled where we had their famous cream cake, then I got to nap a little at Hotel Jakec to get over my jet lag, then my first visit to Bar Grega to be greeted by the genial host Borut, who had the welcoming mat out:

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The next day the other writers arrived (not having to come quite as far) and I met Janez, Vassilis and his lovely wife Funda — they live in Instanbul so it was fascinating to hear their perspective on current events, plus they’re both delightful. Avgust AKA Tomaš is quite a legend, like the Val McDermid of Slovenia. He has a wicked dry wit. We were lavished with attention at Bar Grega, then taken to dinner at the amazing Gora pod lipo, a stunning alpine restaurant set in a restored country house with all modern meeting rooms and the food — did I mention the food yet? Surrounded by vineyards and served the most tasty array of foods. When was I ever so spoiled?

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As Renato said, nothing’s really free. He had us draw from potential titles because Saturday we would be back at Gora pod lipo to write the stories. Yes, we had most of the day to write, pampered with tea and wine and snacks like roasted pumpkin seeds covered in dark chocolate (oh, and I thought I hated pumpkin!). So of course I wrote about 6K — haahahaa! Imagine how much I’d write if I always lived like this.

Then we were whisked off to the cinema to see Psi brezčasja / Case: Osterberg, a noir film presented by writer Zoran Benčič and producer Tomi Matič. Zoran is also lead singer of Res Nullius, Slovenia’s premiere rock band (check them out). The film is based on his novel. Though we didn’t have a subtitles, it was pretty easy to follow the story (I’ll write a proper review over on Graham Wynd, maybe tomorrow). I was surprised to learn it was a no-budget film as it looked really good. The film premiered at the Festival of Slovenian Film in September 2015 and received unanimous critical acclaim while also winning the FIPRESCI Film Critics award for best film.

Then we all repaired to Bar Grega to chat and drink more Laško Noir — the official beer of Alibi — until everybody was too tired. So Renato drove us back up the winding mountain roads to Hotel Jakec (I think Janez probably still dreams of those drives and wakes up ill).

Sunday it was back to Gora pod lipo. I put the finishing touches on my story (would Borut live or die? 😉 following in Eddie Vega’s footsteps I put our Bar Grega host into my tale) then just enjoyed the beauty of the mountain and the bounty of our hosts. They took great care of us. Then it was time for the reading in the wine cellar. You can’t beat that for cool.

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Then we had a wonderful dinner with Renato’s family to wind up the day and it was just the thing we needed. His daughter is a budding Evelyn Glennie and his wife Alenka made sure we were all eating enough. It’s a wonder I did not burst at some point during the weekend.

It was hard to say good-bye! Good thing I had Venice to entertain me — but more of that later.

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Alibi Bound

alibiI head out today to fly to Venice, where Renato Bratkovič will meet me to drive me to Slovenia for the Alibi Crime Conference where I will be one of the featured writers. I’m really looking forward to it: I’ve never been to Venice or to Slovenia so that’s exciting. Everyone seemed to have a grand time at the first conference last year. I’m sure I will post pictures or commentary as I go along though perhaps not as much as usual. Check my Twitter feed (which appears in the right hand column of this blog) or Facebook if you’re there. Of course I’ll write up my adventures when I return. Maybe I’ll run into a certain Venetian Lion…

I’m very happy to see HOW TO BE DULL getting out there in the world. It’s the antidote to our too ‘interesting’ times. Thanks Beverly Bambury for sharing the photo (and check out her publicity business!

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