Friday, 25 May 2012

Daytime Ottawa and an Appearance Tomorrow

Today I made an appearance on Daytime Ottawa, the Rogers Cable television show, to talk about my crime fiction novels and the recent trip to The Glenrothes distillery in Scotland that I won while promoting Blood Passage.

When the interview is posted on the Rogers website I'll post the link so that you can critique my performance. It was my first appearance on television and I was a little nervous. I was the last guest, and the spot ended up being slightly shorter than I thought it would be, but when it was finished I have to admit I wanted to do more! I could definitely get used to this TV stuff.

In the meantime, here is a still from the host chat segment at the beginning of the program when they promo'd my upcoming interview. I thought the books looked great, anyway!

A reminder to Ottawa readers that tomorrow I will be appearing at the Chapters Pinecrest bookstore, at the IKEA mall, between noon and 4:00 PM. See you there!

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Thank You

I hope you've enjoyed the past week's series of posts in The Overnight Bestseller that chronicled my journey to The Glenrothes distillery in Rothes, Scotland. Some of you who've been following the posts are whisky enthusiasts or part of the whisky industry, and I hope you've had fun watching me experience for the first time the amazing world of spirit production, whisky maturation, and nosing and tasting. I have an enormous amount of respect for the people who know what they're doing in this field, and my hat's off to all of you. Hopefully you'll stick around and get a taste of my experiences as a crime fiction author who's constantly poking his nose into many other new and interesting things.

To those of you who are, like me, a beginner when it comes to whisky flavor notes and the influence of wood on spirit, I hope you've had as much fun as I have in learning something new and truly exciting. I hope I've piqued your interest and that you'll do some exploring yourself now in the world of single malt whisky. Once you learn to appreciate what it has to offer, there's no turning back, believe me.

I'd like to wrap up this series of posts now by thanking the people who were responsible for this incredible week.

To begin with, thanks go out to Edward Bajus, National Brand Manager here in Canada who represents Berry Bros. and Rudd. Ed was my initial contact when I won the trip and was my lifeline as everything was organized. He convinced me it was real and not a scam. "It's just like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," he assured me, "and you have the golden ticket!" He answered all my questions, forwarded the itinerary and airline information to me, and reminded me that I was representing Canada to the rest of the world. Thanks, Ed, for getting me there, and I hope I did Canada proud!

Thanks go out as well to Caroline Hendry, Rothes House Manager, for making sure that I enjoyed a very comfortable and pleasant stay in the guest house at the distillery. I can assure you that I wanted for nothing and felt incredibly welcome and pampered. I'll take a shot at the salmon pot pie and the smoked haddock starters, Caroline, but I know they won't turn out nearly as well as they did under your supervision! Thanks so much for everything.

Special thanks are due to Alistair Anderson, manager of  the distillery for Edrington Group, for his kindness and patience while I trooped around his place of business with my three fellow winners. I still have my copy of The Edrington Group Induction Booklet for the distillery, Alistair, and I hope I was able to abide by all its expectations as a temporary "worker" on your watch. The professionalism with which you tempered any concerns you might have had about our presence was my first indication of what I was in store for. It was a privilege to have met you.

Thanks as well to the employees of the distillery who were so generous with their time and knowledge, and were so friendly and welcoming. I would never have guessed, from the ease with which they all handled our presence, that the distillery is not open to the public. Thanks to Craig and Graham on the production side of the distillery for their cheerfulness and willingness to answer a thousand questions. I sympathized with Graham's anxiety at being away from his control panel to show us points of interest at the far end of the still room, and I remember his relief when our questions ran out and he could go back to make sure everything was on track. It was a tribute to his professionalism and high sense of responsibility, which was consistently true of everyone on site.

Thanks as well to Paul Meldrum and Geoff, supervisors of the warehouse area, and warehouse workers Dave and Richard in particular, who I'm sure got a kick out of watching us fill our casks with new spirit and roll the filled casks around the warehouse. I see, from looking back through my posts, that I neglected to tell a particular story about Paul, who coached me when it was my turn to fill a cask. I made a point of telling this story to the videographers during my interview before I left, and I'm hoping it will make it into the final video that they produce. When the video comes out, I'll post about it and remind you all to watch for it. And also, many thanks to Geoff for suggesting that we sign and date one of the casks we filled, as proud members of the Glenrothes 2012 Vintage Moment team. This was an honour I'll always remember.

Thanks also to Brian, head cooper, whose good humour and patience made it fun to try to put together our own casks. Believe me, it was only because Brian did most of the work that I was able to pose with "my own" assembled cask. Thanks as well to all the other coopers on duty that day for allowing us to watch and photograph them while they worked.

A quick thanks, too, to Mark Ash and Callum Robertson of Frame for their cheerfulness and patience as they documented our week. A pleasure to have met you both!

I should also like to thank Berry Brothers and Rudd for this opportunity. As owners of The Glenrothes brand they are rightfully proud and protective of its reputation as a world class single malt whisky, and I consider it a special privilege to have been allowed to participate, however vicariously, in the 2012 production. Thanks in particular to Sandrine Tyrbas de Chamberet, Brand Manager of BB&R in London, and everyone else at BB&R who had a hand in this miracle.

Last but not least, I'd like to thank Mr. Ronnie Cox, Brands Heritage Director at BB&R, who was our host for the week at Rothes. Ronnie's patience, generosity, kindness, and good spirits cannot be overstated as he played tour guide, babysitter, expert-at-large, and entertainment director all at once. Ronnie, it was a pleasure and an honour to have met you. I learned an enormous amount, had a great time, and will always remember your patience and unflagging friendliness. Thanks ever so much.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

My Journey To Glenrothes, Day 7

Today is the seventh and final day of my journey to The Glenrothes Distillery in the Speyside district of northern Scotland. In case you haven't seen it yet, here is a video produced by The Glenrothes featuring my winning entry.

For the past six days I was the guest of Berry Bros. and Rudd (BBR) at The Glenrothes distillery in Rothes, Scotland. Berry Bros. and Rudd are the oldest wine merchants in Britain, and they own The Glenrothes brand. I stayed at Rothes House, the guest house on the property, and while I've focused in my posts on the time spent in the distillery learning about the process of creating a vintage single malt whisky, now that I'm at home again, trying to recover from jet lag after my journey home all day yesterday, I think I should spend a few minutes describing to you some of the great extracurricular activities I enjoyed thanks to the kindness of Ronnie Cox, Brand Heritage Director for BBR.

Ronnie played tour guide to the four of us, driving us around the countryside and showing us all the local attractions. On Tuesday, for example, we went fishing for trout on a "wee loch" at Millbuies, near Elgin. This was one of the more peaceful moments of the trip. Paul Kamerbeek and I rowed out into the center of the loch in a rowboat with Mark Ash. Mark is with Frame, the agency providing publicity coverage of the event. Paul and I carried fishing rods, while Mark brought his camera and equipment to film us in action.

I'm not much for fishing -- in fact, I'm a well-known indoorsman, as opposed to an outdoorsman -- but I do enjoy being out in a rowboat on a calm lake. As we drifted, I watched the bank and the blue sky with the pole on my lap while Paul got busy chasing trout.  I was enjoying that sense of inner peace that comes with such moments when it suddenly began to rain. The rain almost immediately switched to hail. Serious hail. Mark scrambled to protect his equipment as I yanked the hood of my jacket over my head. Paul, meanwhile, continued to cast his fly, farther and farther, oblivious to the weather. A true fisherman. After a few minutes it stopped and the sky was peaceful again. I was soaked and Mark was wiping off his lenses. Then Paul began to catch fish, and things got serious.

Guests at Rothes House are expected to take turns preparing breakfast for the other guests, and the following morning Paul and Ruben Luyten fixed a magnificent Dutch/Belgian breakfast featuring the two fresh trout that Paul landed, one wrapped with bacon Belgian-style which I went after pretty heavily. It made the hail a distant memory....

In fact, we dined very well throughout the trip. Caroline Hendry, Rothes House Manager, oversaw several lovely meals, one that featured an amazing salmon pot pie for lunch and another, Thursday night in the Rothes House dining room, that was a magnificent Highland Dinner featuring a piper who played outside the front door for us (in the rain, brave fellow) and a photographer to record the event.

Ronnie kept us well entertained when he didn't keep us working. We went to Sporting Scotland and had a chance to try argo driving, skeet shooting, and other fun activities. Our lunches included a great meal at the Archiestown Hotel in Moray, where we were greeted at the door by resident owners Alan and Jane Hunter, and a dinner at the Craigellachie Hotel of Speyside, which featured the incredible whisky library I mentioned in an earlier post. On the right is a photo I promised then to share with you.

Above and beyond, though, was a special dinner we enjoyed as guests of Lady Clare Macpherson-Grant Russell and Mr. Oliver Russell at their private home, Ballindalloch Castle in Moray. Lady Clare is Lady Laird of Ballindalloch Castle and Lord Lieutenant of Banffshire, which means she is the personal representative of Her Majesty the Queen and represents her at official functions in the region, arranges for all visits of the Royal Family to the region, and carries out many other responsibilities.

Lady Clare and Mr. Russell met with us before dinner and made us feel very welcome. Mr. Russell was interested to learn that I'm a published author and immediately encouraged Lady Clare to compare notes with me, as she has self-published an attractive cook book called I Love Food. We discussed the benefits of self-publishing and cutting out the middlemen, and they both showed great interest in my writing and crime fiction in general. I could not have been more warmly received.

We then enjoyed an incredible dinner in the private dining room of the castle, a privilege which I understand is not often extended to visitors. Alistair Anderson, manager of The Glenrothes, and Mr. Eric Jefferson, Visits Manager for BBR, attended as well and were resplendent in their traditional Scottish formal attire, including kilts, sporrans (the pouch worn at the front of the kilt) and sgian dubh (the small ornamental knife tucked into a stocking). It was all extremely impressive. The meal was outstanding, featuring venison for the main course and a raspberry souffle for dessert that was like nothing I'd ever tasted before. I learned afterwards that the dining room is thought to be haunted by a ghost called The Green Lady. She didn't make an appearance, though, that I was aware of.

Without telling any further stories, I think you get the idea how wonderful a trip this was for me. It was an enormously welcome break.

Tomorrow, in one final post about my journey to The Glenrothes distillery, I'll thank the people who made it possible.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

My Journey to The Glenrothes, Day Six

Today is the sixth day of my journey to The Glenrothes Distillery in the Speyside district of northern Scotland. In case you haven't seen it yet, here is a video produced by The Glenrothes featuring my winning entry.

Over the course of the past five days I've described to you what I've learned about the creation of single malt whisky: fresh, unpeated spring water and malted barley are combined to extract the sugars from the barley, yeast is added to ferment the resultant liquid, which is then distilled to produce the spirit, which is placed into casks and stored in the warehouse to allow the wood to interact with the spirit to create the end result: whisky.

What I've said is a great oversimplification of a rather complex process. Each new batch of whisky is subject to the decisions of the malt master before it is committed to its casks. The malt master is the creative genius who is in charge of the design process, so to speak, of each new Glenrothes vintage. He begins with new spirit and must calculate all the variables available to him in his choice of casks in which to store it. For example, for the 1995 vintage the malt master chose to place some of the batch in new American sherry oak casks, which he knew would produce a distinctive flavour of butterscotch, some in new Spanish sherry oak casks, which would produce flavours of spice and dried fruit, and the rest in refill casks that might lend subtle notes in their own right. The result is a whisky that I find very pleasant to smell and taste.

However, do not make the mistake of thinking I'm suddenly a whisky connoisseur. Far from it. Today Ronnie Cox put us through a practical demonstration that for me was informative, instructive, and embarrassing. Experts who know what they're doing "nose" whisky the same way that wine experts nose fine wines, which is to say they pour a small amount into a tulip glass or nosing glass that has a very narrow opening at the top and then smell the aroma to identify its various component parts, or notes. Ronnie gave us several exercises to test the sensitivity of our noses, and I didn't do very well. It's possible that my sense of smell was much better developed when I was young, but I find now that I have a very difficult time identifying aromas. I notice the dominant ones, but I can't put a word to them. In addition, the alcohol fumes attacked my nasal passages and sinuses and made them all but useless in short order. The experts will add water while nosing whisky to reduce the alcohol and bring out the various scents lying underneath, but for me it was no good. I might as well just take my nose off and put it into my pocket until the exercise is finished for all the use it is to me.

I fared a little better when it's time to taste. A very small sip was enough for me to sense whether I like a particular iteration of whisky or not. I can get the basic flavour notes such as butterscotch, vanilla, leather or tobacco, but more subtle flavour notes are just beyond my reach.

We were then allowed to assess three samples from the batch that will become the 2012 vintage. It was an interesting experience because although I have absolutely no expertise I was able to identify very quickly which of the three I preferred after nosing and tasting them. The first sample I didn't like right away, although others did. It had what I thought was a grassiness that I didn't like. Ruben said he detected an influence of the oak and liked this particular one. The second sample I liked quite well. The third I found had a bit too much of a sherry-like strongness that didn't appeal. I went back to the second and still liked it. I went back to the first and still didn't like it, immediately upon smelling and tasting it. Once more I tried the third one, to make sure, and settled on the second sample.

What does this mean? I've been assured that experts can be fooled in blind tests, or at least misled, and that experts will regularly disagree on whether or not they like a particular "expression" or vintage of whisky. To me, today's exercise proved to me that despite my inability to explain my preferences in concrete terms, whisky appreciation is very much a personal experience. The idea is not to be right or wrong, but to spend time considering how the whisky smells and tastes and to react honestly to it.

Tomorrow, alas, is my last day in Scotland. In the morning we'll experience the bottling process with the expression that we've chosen, then say our goodbyes and jump on an airplane to travel back home. While I'm sitting in the airport waiting for my connections, if I'm not asleep, I'll tell you a little more about the incredibly wonderful people I met, the food I enjoyed, and the fun I had while here as guests of Berry Brothers and Rudd, owners of The Glenrothes brand.

Goodnight for now, everyone!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

My Journey To The Glenrothes, Day Five

Today is the fifth day of my journey to The Glenrothes Distillery in the Speyside district of northern Scotland. In case you haven't seen it yet, here is a video produced by The Glenrothes featuring my winning entry.

Yesterday I described what I learned about the process by which the sugar in malted barley is extracted and converted into spirit.  In case you thought, however, that I'd seen the creation of whisky, I hadn't.

There's an old saying that wood maketh whisky, and today I discovered how true that is. We learned first hand how the spirit is combined with the wood of the casks in which it is stored to complete the final step in the metamorphosis of malt into whisky. Additionally, today we were able to get our hands dirty, quite literally, to participate in the introduction of spirit to wood in anticipation of a future vintage of The Glenrothes.

We assisted in the filling of empty casks with fresh spirit and learned the skill involved in rolling a filled cask weighing half a ton through the warehouse, with the careful assistance of supervisors Paul and Geoff and warehouse men Dave and Richard. Truth be told, Geoff did most of the rolling and turning, and I just moved my hands on the cask as it rolled! It was better that way, trust me.

We then saw the cooperage, a small operation where casks are repaired and refurbished. The Glenrothes Distillery is one of the few that has a cooperage on site, and it was incredible to watch these skilled craftsmen, pictured on the right, as they worked on the casks that would be put back into production. The air was heavy with the smell of spilled whisky remnants from the casks when they were disassembled for repair, and the odour of wood and wood shavings.

We learned to tell the difference between butts, hogsheads, and puncheons, and how to recognize a bourbon cask made of American oak as compared to a cask made of Spanish oak. I was fascinated to discover that since a bourbon cask is charred inside when it's made, the carmelization of the wood cells introduces caramel and coconut notes to the flavour of the whisky. This was an early hint as to the overriding influence that the wood of the cask has on the ultimate taste of the whisky.

Brian, the head cooper, then helped us through an exercise in which we took a set of wooden staves and a hoop, and tried to assemble a cask ourselves. I discovered not only that it is a feat of remarkable balance but also that I was a bit too tall to do very well at it. I had to stoop to balance the first stave against my knee, while holding the bundle of staves between my legs and the hoop pressed against my stomach. I then tried to set each stave inside the hoop, one at a time, working my way around. Brian finally came to my rescue and helped me finish, and if you're seeing a pattern here, you're correct. If I ever applied for a job at The Glenrothes, they'd laugh me off the property! Nonetheless, I proudly posed afterwards with the cask that Brian I assembled.
Entire books have likely been written on the final flavour of single malt whisky, and it would be foolish for me to try to explain, as a beginner, what experts can describe so much better. I would encourage you, though, to do your own research on this fascinating subject because it's very much worth your while. The expression is that blended whisky is for drinkers and single malt is for thinkers, and while this might strike you as snobbery it actually isn't. The care and attention to detail that goes into the creation of a single malt by the men who work in a distillery such as The Glenrothes can be paid back by us by paying attention to those details as we enjoy it. As Ronnie Cox, Branch Heritage Director, explained to us today, there's no right or wrong when it comes to our responses to the taste of single malt, there's simply what we experience ourselves personally when we taste it.

We rounded off the evening with an incredible dinner that deserves a blog post of its own. Since it's once again very late at night and I'd better retire before I keel over, I think what I'll do is write a separate post about our extracurricular experiences during this trip. That way, I can tell a few extra stories separate from the learning experience related to the whisky itself. So until then, it's good night from me, and good night from him.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

My Journey To The Glenrothes, Day Four

Today is the fourth day of my journey to The Glenrothes Distillery in the wonderful Speyside district of northern Scotland to celebrate my Vintage Moment and help the distiller create a new vintage single malt whisky. In case you haven't seen it yet, here is a video produced by The Glenrothes featuring my winning entry.

Today was a day that, for me, was all about aromas. Scents. The smell of whisky making, because today was the first day I and my three new friends from Taiwan, Belgium, and The Netherlands saw the inside of the distillery.

As we walked up the drive toward the main buildings, as you see on the left above, I could smell in the brisk Speyside wind the distinctive scent of whisky. It was a sign that I was about to see and smell some very remarkable things. The Glenrothes Distillery is a highly-professional operation that normally does not allow tours, and it was clear our presence was an exception to the rule. Mr. Alistair Anderson, the manager, made us feel quite welcome, and if he had misgivings about having four unknown factors loose in his place of business, he kept it well hidden. We promised to behave ourselves, and we did. Each one of us understood the importance of the occasion, I think. Treating the premises with respect was a natural instinct.

We were then guided through the steps involved in producing the spirit that will become another Glenrothes vintage. Mr. Craig McGregor, good-humoured and confident, walked us through the process beginning with the first step, as malted barley is milled to a very specific consistency, as you can see in the photo on the right. In this room I could smell the odour of the barley. It smelled as though I'd walked into a barn. It was a very fresh, rural, uplifting scent.

The malt is then soaked in soft spring water that has essentially no traces of peat in it. This soaking process takes place in a large 5-tonne vessel known as a mash tun, and the objective is to extract the sugars from the barley, because it is the sugars that will become the spirit.

The resulting liquid is called the wort. When the wort cools down it is piped into the next room into large vessels known as washbacks. These washbacks in some cases are like enormous barrels, as some are made of oregon pine, or kettles, as others are made of stainless steel. It is in the washbacks that the sugar begins its transformation process, as it is combined with yeast in order to cause fermentation.

Here in this room I caught the unmistakeable smell of yeast as it liberated carbon dioxide from the wort. Can't say that I found this noseful as pleasant as the others, though. It can be quite pungent!

While we were here Craig cleaned out one of the pine washbacks. As steam filled the room, I couldn't resist taking this photograph, above. Perhaps, if you take single malt whisky seriously, it could reflect the mysticism some feel accompanies the transformation of sugar into spirit! Mystical. Almost, as it were, spiritual.

Others might say it looks like a typical morning outdoors in Scotland. But I wouldn't say that. Not at all.

We were then passed over into the capable hands of Graham, whose domain is the high-ceilinged stillroom where the distillation of the liquid produced in the washbacks, now referred to as the wash, takes place. Coming in to the still room, the wash is almost like a beer: cloudy, and about 8 per cent alcohol. It then undergoes a double distillation process where it is heated in stills. The vapour rising in the still is condensed back into liquid, piped across the room and heated again in another set of stills with a somewhat different shape, and the rising vapour is again cooled and condensed into liquid. This process essentially separates the beery wash into layers, and the gentle distillation process extracts the best layer of the liquid: the spirit.  

In this room I could smell the first hint of what lies around the corner for this liquid butterfly: a slightly fruity, clean scent of whisky-in-the-making.

Tomorrow we will follow the spirit through the overhead pipe across to the other side of the distillery to learn how it becomes The Glenrothes.

Now, since it's well past midnight local time, I've got to get a few hours sleep! Stay tuned for tomorrow night's post. Goodnight, all.

Monday, 14 May 2012

My Journey to The Glenrothes, Day Three

Have you ever had a situation in your life in which you were so immersed in delight, so exposed to incoming sights and sounds and smells and tastes and information that it took everything you had to keep your head above water and take it all in? Such situations are very rare, indeed, because most of us, myself included, have our hands full just managing our daily lives as it is. Even on vacation we often bring our daily world with us, right there in the back of our mind (or the back seat of our car, if we have children!) and vacations are often not restful.

Today I was so busy trying to be a sponge, trying to soak in everything, trying to memorize every word I heard, that for once in a very long time I felt transported out of my life and into something entirely new and exciting. I'm exhausted. I have to grab my notebook and try to scribble down as much as I can remember, but for now let me give you an overview of my first day in Rothes, Scotland.

Mr. Ronnie Cox, the Director of The Glenrothes, picked me up in Aberdeen this morning and I met my fellow winners in the global portion of the Vintage Moment competition: Paul from Holland; Ruben from Belgium; and Chun-Hsien Liu from Taiwan. We drove for about an hour from Aberdeen to Rothes, through rolling mountains of pasture and farmland. It is a rugged and beautiful country that reminds me somewhat of the landscape along the Saint John River in New Brunswick, Canada, with notable exceptions. There are fields of bright yellow oilseed, related to canola which we grow in Canada, there are hills patched with weathered yellow gorse, there are, of course, hills dotted with sheep, and heather, which is brown right now. In the distance we could see hares running back and forth like brown dogs over the barley fields. In my backyard I have cottontail rabbits that come and go, but they would look like mice next to these hares.

Ronnie Cox explained to us that the original fuel used to provide heat in the distilling process was peat, cut and dried from the wet areas in the valleys through which the spring water runs, the water that is so crucial to the whisky distilled here. In the early days the roads were poor and the railroad hadn't arrived, so coal was not an option for fuel. The distillers were forced to rely on peat, which is an inefficient fuel. Large quantities were required, and so the distillers tended to locate close to the source of peat. And water. Hence the amazing concentration of whisky distillers here.

On our way to the village of Rothes we stopped for a moment in the village of Dufftown. Apparently there's a saying about this place: Rome was built on seven hills; Dufftown was built on seven stills.

In addition, there were many illegal stills, naturally. Apparently the last one to be discovered was hidden in this clock tower in the centre of town. Normally an illegal still would be easily discovered because of the smell and the steam coming from it during the distillation process, but because there were so many other (legal) stills immediately around it in town it was impossible to tell that it was there because the evidence mingled with all the rest of the aromas in the village. A perfect example of hiding in plain sight.

We had a late supper at a hotel in Rothes the name of which currently escapes me, but it was notable for one room in particular that has to be seen to be believed. While Ronnie Cox was arranging for a table for us I wandered around a corner into a small library filled with old books. Then I discovered the others had gone into a room back the other way and I hurried to catch up. I found myself in another library: this one filled with single malt scotch. All four walls were filled with shelves, top to bottom, filled with bottles of the best single malt whisky in the world. I couldn't believe my eyes. Some were behind a locked metal grill; my new friend Paul explained that one bottle in particular was considered to be priceless. Can you imagine such a room?

One of the media guys took a photo of us in this room, and so I will try to get a copy and post it for you tomorrow along with the name of this incredible place. Right now I'd better try to gear down a few notches and get some sleep. Tomorrow, the real work begins!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Journey to Glenrothes, Day Two

Today is the second day of my journey to The Glenrothes Distillery in the wonderful Speyside district of northern Scotland to celebrate my Vintage Moment and help the distiller create a new vintage single malt whisky. In case you haven't seen it yet, here is a video produced by The Glenrothes featuring my winning entry.

When you last heard from this intrepid reporter I was dozing off in the boarding area at PIA in Toronto, waiting for my flight to be called. This big bruiser pictured on the left is the KLM jet I eventually boarded for the 6.5 hour flight from Toronto to Amsterdam, where I would catch a connecting flight to Aberdeen.

This plane looks very cool but it was an accursed monster that tried to swallow me whole. I didn't realize I was going to be stuck in a middle seat between two heavy sleepers who hardly moved the entire flight. Understand, I'm 6'2", 220 lbs. I'm a big boy, and while KLM provides excellent service they have built their aircraft for elves. I was able to get out of my seat only twice to relieve the cramps in my legs. Sleep? Ha.

Arriving at Amsterdam, however, was worth it. It was a beautiful, sunny day as we spiralled around and made our final approach to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol. Everyone on board suddenly began speaking Dutch! On the flight from Toronto I heard mostly English, but as soon as Holland hove into view it was a different matter entirely.

 I understood it was going to be flat, but the flatness has to be seen to be believed. And straight lines, everywhere. The coast over which we flew was the straightest coastline I've ever seen. Miles of beach so linear it might have been plotted and laid by a geometrician. We flew over a main highway that ran as straight as an arrow as far as could be seen in either direction. I saw canals: straight. In fact, I may be misremembering but I think when the canals changed direction they did so at right angles. The horizon, very distant, was straight. Featureless and straight.

I found this remarkable because where I come from, central Ontario, is anything but straight. There are hills, drumlins, eskers, moraines. Winding rivers. Lakes with jagged shores.

It made me wonder how much our geography shapes us as a people. Although I've known several Dutch families at home fairly well and have a pretty good sense of how the Dutch character might be described, I wouldn't dare to generalize about Dutch society overall. I can, however, generalize about Canadians with a little more confidence.

Let me give you a quick example. I have seven acres of forest property attached to my home. Over the years I've cut a few walking trails in back so that I can take the dogs for a walk and enjoy the solitude. I've shared some pictures with you in blog posts along the way. When cutting these trails, I've always picked my way along, cutting down saplings and what not in some cases while sparing others. Some trees just appeal to me when I come across them, so I bend my path around them. As a result, my trails are anything but straight. I do this not only to create a sense of aesthetics but to compromise with nature. Our roads and highways are often this way as well. They've been engineered to avoid certain obstacles while overcoming others. We Canadians pick our battles, we compromise, and we like to seek consensus. With people, with nature. While the Dutch had no choice -- it was either defeat the sea or drown -- we Canadians inhabit such an enormous expanse of wilderness we have been selective in our campaigns to establish order in the wild.

That's as much as I dare generalize right now. I'm sitting in my hotel room in Aberdeen, having flown across the North Sea from Amsterdam earlier this afternoon. I'll talk about my first impressions of Scotland (omigosh) tomorrow, but let me leave you with this final note. As the little KLM Fokker puddlejumper landed at Aberdeen and taxied up to the terminal, the PA system switched over to music, as they usually do. What was playing? Neil Young's Heart of Gold. What better welcome to Scotland than to hear one of Canada's best singing one of his classic hits.

     I've been to Hollywood
     I've been to Redwood
     I've crossed the ocean for a heart of gold.
     I've been in my mind, it's such a fine line,
     That keeps me searching for a heart of gold,
     And I'm getting old.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Journey to Glenrothes, Day One

As readers of  The Overnight Bestseller are aware, I was recently the recipient of an all-expenses-paid trip to the Speyside district of northern Scotland courtesy of The Glenrothes Distillery. I won the trip as part of a promotion in which the distillery invited people to share with them a Vintage Moment in their life. Here is a video produced by The Glenrothes featuring my winning entry.

Late this afternoon I flew out of Ottawa on the first leg of my journey. I'm currently cooling my heels in Toronto, where I have a five-hour layover in Pearson International Airport before spending the night on an airplane flying across the Atlantic Ocean to Amsterdam. On the left you can see the row of empty seats stretching out ahead of me.

It's been quite a few years since I've flown, and while I expected security to be enhanced I was a little discouraged at how long it took the guy to wand and pat me down. The damned wand kept beeping at every part of my body: armpits (deodorant), hips (rivets on my jeans), and for some mysterious reason wouldn't leave my ankles alone. I swear I wasn't wearing a Karen Stainer-style mouse gun strapped to my ankle, or any other weapon. Is it possible Wrangler uses a metallic thread to stitch the cuffs? I'm baffled.

I was a little surprised to discover how vulnerable I felt standing in the middle of a crowd of people with my arms held out for a very long time, without shoes on my feet and a belt around my jeans. Particularly as it went on, and on, and on.

I put up with this because I understand the necessity. I agree with the concept. The kid wanding me was patient, and remembered to smile when he reminded me not to forget my shoes.

Not likely to travel to Scotland in my stocking feet, but I appreciated the courtesy.

I love flying, although I haven't travelled very much since leaving Customs six years ago. I love airports. Everything seems larger than life and very urgent. And so many people to watch. I'm too tired to be inspired at the moment, but often I'll remember having seen someone afterwards who'll contribute to a character.

At least I'm paying attention to everything around me. Until I doze off, that is............

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Book Readers and Beer Drinkers Club

On Monday, May 7, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to meet with members of the Book Readers and Beer Drinkers Club at the Royal Oak on Echo Drive in Ottawa.

Organized by the impressively thorough and detail-oriented Julie Dodd, the club meets bi-weekly to select, read, and discuss books while enjoying a draft of beer, or perhaps the new Keith's cider, or just a coffee (me).

Julie had compiled a rather thick and spooky dossier on me and was prepared with questions that kept the ball rolling and gave me plenty to talk about, as well as prompting many questions from other members. We discussed my crime fiction novels, the writing and revision process, independent publishing, and other interesting subjects. I was delighted to find that people felt quite comfortable with the fictional Glendale, Maryland as the setting for the series, and intrigued to learn that one member felt Donaghue and Stainer reminded her of Golden Age DC superheroes. Mind you, I would hope that as the series progresses their roundness as characters (see E.M. Forster) might become more evident, but as I said at the time, it's always amazing how varied the reactions of readers will be toward fiction.

My thanks to YA author and club member Adrien Leduc for referring me to the Book Readers and Beer Drinkers, to Julie Dodd for the invitation, the coffee, and a wonderful evening, and to Sarah, Peter, Crystal, Craig, Melissa, Gen, Ryan, Adrien, Michael and Suzanne for some great conversation.

If you're interested in learning more about this club, check them out at

Thanks again, folks!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Looking Ahead in May

April was a quiet month, blog-wise, but May will be very busy, indeed, as I will try to keep you posted on appearances and activities that get underway this month and extend into June.

On May 7 I'll be joining the Beer Drinkers and Book Readers Club in Ottawa to chat about crime fiction writing, independent publishing and much more.

On May 9 I will stop in at the studios of Live 88.5 FM radio to record an interview on the publication of Marcie's Murder and my upcoming trip to Scotland. My son is impressed (finally!) because this is his favorite radio station.

On May 12 I will fly out of Ottawa International Airport on my way to Rothes, Scotland, for a six-day adventure at The Glenrothes distillery in the Speyside region. If all goes well, I will post an update each day to give you a glimpse of the wonders of single malt whisky distilling at its finest.

On May 20 I'll join Rabbi Bulka on his Sunday evening radio hour on Ottawa radio station CFRA 580 AM to discuss single malt, crime fiction, and independent publishing.

On May 25 I'll appear live on the television program Daytime Ottawa on the Ottawa Rogers Cable network.

On May 26 I'll be appearing at Chapters Pinecrest in Ottawa between 12:00 noon and 4:00 PM to sign copies of Blood Passage and Marcie's Murder.

June promises to be almost as busy. It's a good thing this is my day job, or I'd have to quit to find time for all this stuff!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

The Glenrothes Promotional Video of my Vintage Moment

As part of their promotional campaign for the 2012 Vintage Moment competition, The Glenrothes distillery has released a series of videos featuring this year's winners.

You can view the video featuring me here.

Many thanks to The Glenrothes and to Frame, in particular Creative Director Angus Walker and Account Director Richard Booth, for their patience, kindness, and magic. They've succeeded in making me look good against all odds!