Sunday, May 22, 2022

What Rhys has been Doing

 RHYS BOWEN: My fellow Reds have suggested I share my recent exploits so here they are:

I've been busy during the last month. After two years of living as a hermit, going out with mask on to Trader Joe's I finally started traveling again--with much trepidation, I confess. I had a new book out, WILD IRISH ROSE, the 18th Molly Murphy novel, now written with my daughter Clare and I thought should introduce her to the writing community.

First we went to Albuquerque to attend Left Coast Crime convention. It was amazing to see friends after so long and Clare was warmly welcomed, given a panel appearance plus a chance to share the stage with me and discuss what it was like to work together. (Of course she had to be polite!)

Almost nobody wore a mask, which was a little intimidating, but we all had to be vaccinated so that should have been okay. I didn't hear about anyone testing positive afterward. We also had some lovely meals with fellow writers, but Albuquerque downtown was scary and dead, the hotel had just changed hands and there was NO FOOD TO BE HAD! All a bit chaotic.

Then our next adventure: we flew to Washington DC to attend Malice Domestic Convention at which I shared being Guest of Honor with fellow Red Julia. Again it was wonderful to be among friends. Louise Penny, one of my dearest friends, flew in from London to interview me. We had a fun dinner together and the interview was such a treat.

Louise even called Clare up onto the stage at the end which I thought was so sweet of her.   I also had to run the charity auction, with another friend, Charlene Harris. I had no idea how tiring this is! I was wiped out by the end, but we did raise a lot of money.

I also had to give a speech at the banquet and it was lovely to share a table with  Louise, Clare, our agent Christina and friends from the writing community including Kathy who had been a member of one of my writing workshops in Tuscany. (I also had to go up to accept my Agatha Award from last year, although there are no teapots yet, the firm having closed during Covid).

Clare announced that she had found her tribe and would be a convention junkie from now on!  She had to fly home from DC but I took the train to New York where I spent four days before the Edgar awards. During those days I toured the areas that Clare and I write about, taking lots of photos for her. I had lunch with an old friend, breakfast with fellow Red Lucy, meetings and meals with my agents and then a very grand dinner with my team from Lake Union. 

It all culminated in the Edgar's banquet. We had to show proof of vaccination and were given masks, but once inside the reception the masks all came off. So it was a little scary, knowing that people had come from all over the world. But I arrived home safely with no sniffles and a sigh of relief. (Oh, and I didn't win the Edgar but it was lovely to see my cover on huge screens around the room and to be photographed with the other nominees).

After that I needed to decompress. I was simply not used to getting dressed up, sharing meals with people, speaking at microphones--all skills I had to relearn.  I survived without getting Covid (although several people did test positive from the Malice convention, including some here). 

But no rest for the wicked, eh? On arriving home I had to clean the whole house, put away garden furniture etc before we drove back to our home in California. Now all I have to do is finish a book, do edits on another and then start the next Molly book with Clare. At least my life isn't boring any more!

How about you, Reds? Have you dared to travel yet? 

Saturday, May 21, 2022

A Very Different Type of Detective: a Guest Post by Harini Nagendra

 RHYS BOWEN: I was intrigued when Harini contacted me several months ago to read and blurb her new book. This is in a way familiar territory to me as my husband was for a long time sales manager for Air India, I have travelled all over India, including to Bangalore, where this book is set, and have close Indian friends. A book about an upper class Indian woman in the 1920s is fascinating for many reasons. I asked Harini what life was like for a woman in India at that time. How restricted was she? How could she possibly be a detective?

And here is her answer:


In my day job as an academic and university professor, a great deal of my research is focused on the ecological history of Indian cities. In 2007, when the idea of the main character in my book – a feisty young Indian woman navigating colonial rule and societal expectations in 1920s Bangalore – came into my head, I was in my mother’s home, buried in a pile of digital archives. Old maps, photographs, gazettes, reports, ledger files, diaries, letters, biographies – volumes of good stuff. But all with one catch – almost all of them were written from the view of the British male traveler, missionary or administrator – with a few entertaining accounts from intrepid British women travelers.

Overall though, the voices of women in past times are fleeting, and the voices of Indian women almost completely absent in the colonial Indian archives. How is a writer to populate the characters of her world, in the absence of data? I found this lack of material to work with especially worrying – perhaps because I am so used to writing data-driven papers. Creating an entire book and a series out of thin air without real life information to base this on was intimidating!

I turned to my mother, and other relatives, to learn about the lives of women in earlier times. My husband’s aunt, now 96, went swimming in a sari in the local club’s swimming pool when she was young, in Madras/Chennai, and I know other women who did the same in the 1920s in Bangalore. So it was natural for me to put my protagonist, Kaveri, in a swimming pool in the opening scene. Kaveri swims with other young women during a time of day where the pool was reserved exclusively for the use of women, who could swim without fear of exposing themselves to strange men. This practice of reserving use of the pool and sports arenas for women at specific times is a common practice in India even today, and I knew I was unlikely to be wrong in assuming that such a convention existed in the 1920s.

Kaveri lives in a time when society dictated what women could and could not do, often enforced by other women. Her mother-in-law Bhargavi does not approve of Kaveri’s passion for mathematics, believing that too much studying makes a woman’s brains go soft. Contrast this with Kaveri’s grandmotherly neighbour Uma aunty, who always wanted to learn how to read and write, and is delighted when she learns that Kaveri is educated. Often, all it took was support from one family member, for a woman to flourish.

Ambi, a book by Vimala Murthy, documents the inspiring story of Amba Bai, Vimala’s grandmother. Married at 12 years, Ambi was widowed at the young age of 24, in 1913 – already a mother of three. With the support of her father, Ambi defied the disapproval of her mother to study further, becoming a teacher, and later Head Mistress of a girls’ high school. Sakamma was a well known coffee entrepreneur in Bangalore around the same time. A child bride, widowed early, Sakamma took over her husband’s large coffee estates. Sakamma was also one of the first women to join the Mysore Representative Assembly, in 1928 – until then the exclusive domain of men. In 1921, a woman journalist R. Kalyanamma launched Saraswati, a feminist magazine that tackled women’s issues like suffrage and child marriage. A child widow who never received a college education, Kalyanamma became a member of the Mysore University Senate, and founded a children’s association of learning that thrives even today.

The queens of Mysore State played a major role in women’s empowerment, establishing women’s schools and colleges and creating scholarships for women. But even the queens faced opposition from men in the education department, unable to establish a college of science for women in Bangalore for several years. And of course, education and empowerment was denied to so many women who did not have family support, like Uma aunty – as well as women from poor families, and from oppressed castes. Yet women, as we know, do not take subjugation lightly, or unquestioningly – they often found a way to work around societal challenges, and make things work for them, as best as they could!

From fragments of the stories of real women like Amba Bai, Sakamma and Kalyanamma, a writer must work to erect a scaffold of facts, around which imagination can take shape. If these women had not blazed the paths they did, we would not be able to do so much of what women take for granted today – from swimming in mixed-gender pools, to running industries, and contributing to university education!

 Book summary:

The Bangalore Detectives Club is the first in a charming, joyful crime series set in 1920s Bangalore, featuring sari-wearing detective Kaveri and her husband Ramu.

When clever, headstrong Kaveri moves to Bangalore to marry handsome young doctor Ramu, she's resigned herself to a quiet life. But that all changes the night of the party at the Century Club, where she escapes to the garden for some peace and quiet—and instead spots an uninvited guest in the shadows. Half an hour later, the party turns into a murder scene.

When a vulnerable woman is connected to the crime, Kaveri becomes determined to save her and launches a private investigation to find the killer, tracing his steps from an illustrious brothel to an Englishman's mansion. She soon finds that sleuthing in a sari isn't as hard as it seems when you have a talent for mathematics, a head for logic, and a doctor for a husband…

And she's going to need them all as the case leads her deeper into a hotbed of danger, sedition, and intrigue in Bangalore's darkest alleyways.

Bonus: A set of recipes for a quick, delicious south Indian meal at the end of the book!

RHYS: Definitely intriguing, isn't it? And a really good read too.


About the author:

Harini Nagendra is a professor of ecology from India, and has written a number of award-winning non-fiction books. The Bangalore Detectives Club is her debut crime fiction novel. Harini lives in Bangalore with her family, in a home filled with maps. She loves trees, mysteries, and traditional recipes.r

Friday, May 20, 2022

Rhys on Traditions.

  RHYS BOWEN: We arrived home to California after the winter in Arizona and immediately started a big clearing out of closets and desks. Do I really need this? How many pens does John actually need? Why does he need to keep a flag from Sri Lanka? He is never going to fly it over our house (I hope).

This process has made me think of all the things we don’t use any longer. Jelly molds in the shape of a rabbit?  Uh no. Birthday candles (no. Buy when needed). Frosting in different colors (ditto). But it has also made me realize that the festive side of life seems to have disappeared. I bought a women’s magazine for the plane ride and it had all these wonderful ideas for Easter decorations–dying eggs, making centerpieces, cakes in the shape of a lamb or a rabbit etc etc.

Who does that any more? I did once dye eggs when the children were small, but I have never made a cake in the shape of a lamb, or made my own chocolate bunnies. Am I a failure as a mother, I wonder? (I did write a series of clues for each child to hunt for their Easter basket, and that went on to the grandchildren until they went away to college)

 On the whole our only celebration is a good meal for a birthday or holiday. The exception is Christmas when I do decorate the whole house. However I limit my baking to the traditional sausage rolls and mince pies. No more cookies or the Stollen I used to make. If I want baked goods, i’ll buy them.

In a way it’s sad that so many traditions are disappearing, simply because we don’t have enough time. Or is this just in America where we have all lost our roots? The Chinese community in San Francisco still has its famous festivals, so has the Latino with its Carnival. But being British we have no real holidays to celebrate:--the only one that comes to mind is Guy Fawkes Day and that's to celebrate the execution of the man who tried to blow up parliament. Hardly the most peaceful or joyous of occasions!


When I was a child they put up a maypole at my primary school on May 1 and we danced around it, weaving ribbons in and out. In England they still have village cricket matches, all the pomp and ceremony with the royal family, and village fetes in the summer, with booths selling baked goods and all the carnival games as well as races for children (egg and spoon race? Sack race?) They are a tradition in most villages still.  

I wonder if there will be parades again, this Fourth of July, which is as close to a holiday celebration as we get around here. I always enjoyed the local parades with decorated bicycles and cub scouts marching out of rhythm. We may have a family picnic. I may even buy red, white and blue plates and there might be fireworks. 

So who still celebrates holidays in a big way? Who still has family traditions? Do you think that most of these will be lost forever?

LUCY BURDETTE: I hope they won’t all be lost Rhys! Seems like some have gone to the wayside because our society is less formal than it used to be. Possibly less church-oriented too.  Growing up, we always had fancy meals with the same dishes for Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving. Now our holidays are much more relaxed. Probably part of it is because our family isn’t close by, and the kids are grown. They carry on some of the traditions for their kids–Christmas stockings, Easter baskets…

As for me, I’m still baking all kinds of things! (I’ll happily take and use your birthday candles, Rhys.) And I know our town will have a 4th of July parade–it’s very charming and very well attended and we wouldn’t miss it.

 HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Oh, it’s such a process, and doesn’t it depend a bit on whether there are children? Here in New England, July 4th is adorable, I have to  say. We love going to the LIncoln town parade, where they have marching moms and veterans, and junior high school bands and dogs and haywagons and old-fashioned firetrucks, and lots of proud veterans.  And lots of happy kids and dripping ice cream cones And the fireworks on the Esplanade, with the 1812 Overture and  booming cannons. Not to be missed. And ooh, I always have birthday candles.  Those things are markers, no matter how we celebrate.

JENN McKINLAY: I bake a bunny cake every year for Easter, and birthday cake upon request. At Christmas I am in a frenzy of baking cookies, usually. But there is a shift when the children get older. 

On the Hooligans’ birthdays, from the time they were little, I would decorate the house with streamers, a huge Happy Birthday sign and balloons, and while they were sleeping I would barricade their bedroom doorway with streamers and balloons so they had to bust their way out. So fun! But now they’ve moved out and we’re empty nesters…*sigh*

I think traditions just shift and change with the family. Although, if the Hooligans have kids, I really hope they barricade their bedroom doors, too, and keep the tradition going! 

HALLIE EPHRON: We did more when the kids were little. There had to be a homemade chocolate cake with chocolate icing decorated with nonpareils for each birthday. We colored easter eggs and ate chocolate bunnies even though we don’t celebrate Easter. My kids and grands troop over to watch the marathon runners when they race through Brooklyn and find a spot to watch July 4 fireworks, from a distance. At Christmas I make chocolate-covered orange rind and chocolate turtles. And we have our special dishes that I’m happy to make to celebrate special occasions.

We’ve all got our own traditions, some more elaborate and public than others. I remember being in London on Remembrance Day and having no idea why people were wearing poppies.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Agreed about things calming way down after the children are grown. And let’s face it - all the baking and decorating and sign making and basket hiding: who is doing that? Women, that’s who. Tired women who just want a break after making holidays magical for 25 years. I love my family tradition of huge dinner parties on Christmas and Easter (and every third Thanksgiving) but honestly, it was nice to not have them during the past two years. 

Like Jenn, I hope and expect my kids will revamp our earlier celebrations when they get around to having their own children. I’ll show up with chocolate in a stocking/basket and enjoy admiring my daughters’ and

daughter in law’s hard work.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've never been much for holiday baking, and I think I can safely say I've never made a proper birthday cake. I somehow seem to have missed the gene, much I'm sure to my daughter's disappointment. I'm very fond of some of the traditions we do have, but most of those have really fallen by the wayside in the pandemic. We went out for both Easter and Mother's Day brunch this year, and that's a new tradition I'd be happy to continue–no one having to spend hours in the kitchen!

RHYS: I agree, Debs. Nothing that involves hours in the kitchen for me! But Hank is right about needing to have children around for traditions to be meaningful.

So who does carry on family traditions? Bunny cakes?