Did you get a set of pants for Christmas that you didn’t really want? Not me! It’s no surprise that as we get older, we become increasingly difficult to buy presents for, and a great number of my friends and family are now buying an experience for their loved ones, rather than wasting money on some unwanted underwear (not to sound ungrateful of course, we all know pants are always welcome!).
This Christmas I was lucky enough to be given two fantastic examples of this type of gift. The first made me realise (as if I didn’t already) how much my very best friends mean to me when I discovered that I’m joining them on a trip to Sweden to help celebrate a mutual friend’s 40th birthday. We’re flying out on Saturday and I’m really rather upphetsad about it. (thank you Google translate).
The other was from my partner Mark. He bought me a book.
‘A book you say? That’s very…umm… thoughtful?!’
‘Ah yes but it’s no ordinary book, it’s a murder mystery!’
‘Yes, still, even given your love for this type of thing, really, it’s not all that original, is it? There are quite a few thousand of those around to choose from…’
Ok, so it wasn’t just a book, it was ‘A Murder to Die For’ by Stevyn Colgan, which is set in the fictional village of Nasely and described as a ‘divine black village comedy’ by Stephen Fry.
What’s initially special about this book is the way it was published by Unbound, whose tagline is ‘Liberating Ideas’. They are a ‘crowdfunding publisher that gives people the tools, support and freedom to bring their ideas to life’, and this is where the ‘experience’ part of the gift comes in.
Members of the public find a project they are interested in, and pledge money to help get it off the ground. There are various levels of support available, from having your name listed in the back of the book (mine is there!) to having a character in the book named after you. Mark’s generosity sees me invited to the launch party, which I am of course rather excited about, to say the least.
All of this wouldn’t mean quite as much if I didn’t actually enjoy the book itself of course (I won’t keep you in suspense – I did). Various aspects set it apart from your usual murder mystery; it has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek at all times, and continually laughs at itself, the police, and murder mystery enthusiasts/wannabe detectives everywhere. I’d put myself firmly in the latter camp although I’ve never gone so far as to dress up as Miss Marple, and haven’t had the dubious pleasure of attempting to solve any real crime; made up ones are much more up my street.
Stevyn Colgan is an ex-policeman, and this lends a weight to the procedural side of things, albeit by making us realise how seriously awry some investigations can go. If some of the bungles of massive proportion are drawn from reality I’m not sure if we should be amused or terrified!
With a rich cast of characters with very unusual names (the reason for which becomes clear at the end and has been a source of joy and frustration for me since reading the book – no spoliers, you’ll have to read it yourself!) it creates a recognisable but slightly surreal world for us to immerse ourselves into.
In his video he speaks about his love of comedy (he’s a QI Elf) and this is very evident; it’s a very clever type of comedy, it creeps up on you and hits you when you least expect it. Although sometimes ‘slapstick’, it’s not just a string of gags linked together by some incidental action, it’s a cleverly woven, darkly hilarious mystery and at the risk of sounding clichéd, I couldn’t put it down until I’d finished.
I can’t help but equate every mystery novel I read with the team building exercises we provide, if for no other reason than to confirm that I’m on the right track with my ideas. Getting people together to solve a mystery helps them embrace their strengths, weaknesses and differences within a team. Stevyn deliberately breaks or bends ‘the rules’ of writing a murder mystery which puts the reader slightly on the back foot, but for good reason. This was a departure for me, but a very useful one – it confirms the importance of the fun journey we take in getting to the end, and less about simply guessing correctly ‘whodunnit’.
We’re all about building teams and obviously reading a novel is a solitary affair, but now more than ever we come together through Twitter, blogs and events to share our experiences, much like in ‘The Agnes Crabbe Murder-Mystery Festival 2014’ (you’ll have to read the book). This is especially true due to the nature of the publishing through Unbound, and I’m very much embracing this community feel surrounding novels – it’s a bit like a book club, but it’s more about actually reading the book and less about drinking wine.
The only problem is now that I’ve discovered Unbound, I’m reminded of all of the ideas I’ve ever had for my first book and I’ve really got no excuse not to attempt to write at least one of them now (apart from that silly thing called time). How soon before I’m ready for a spot of crowd funding?