Bookworm: JK Rowling gets her wings

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The reviewers may have have finished chewing over JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy (or in the case of the Daily Mail, which dismissed it as “a 500-page socialist manifesto”, spitting it out undigested), but none of them seem to have noticed its possible connection with Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life.

Remember the scene in which the angel shows suicidal George Bailey what his beautiful hometown, Bedford Falls, would have been like if he had never lived? It’s a bitter, hypocritical, rather nasty place.

In The Casual Vacancy, Rowling’s portrait of the West Country town of Pagford is similarly bleak. Its one self-evidently good character, Barry Fairbrother, a man with a remarkably similar job to George Bailey (OK, bank manager, not building society boss) has just died (unfortunately without first having met a helpful angel).

In the film, the angel, Clarence – played by Berwick-born Henry Travers – shows Bailey that if he hadn’t lived, Bedford Falls would have been renamed after the rapacious slum landlord who drove Bailey’s building society out of existence. His name? Henry F Potter, and the town would have been renamed Pottersville. Did his mates, one wonders, ever call him Harry Potter?


It’s only three weeks since the inaugural Bloody Scotland crime writing festival at Stirling, yet here comes another one of them: Unsolved, Aberdeenshire’s first crime and mystery festival at Haddo House and Fyvie Castle (19-21 October).

Among a plethora of talks and events is CSI Haddo, a specially written whodunit to be held in the house’s atmospheric west wing. There will also be screenings of classic crime films, creative writing workshops, crime writing masterclasses and behind the scenes crime and mystery tours of both properties.

The weekend begins with Scots-born Hollywood producer Paul Pender, who will be talking about his book The Butler Did It, which considers his “often terrifying, yet blackly humourous” encounters with convicted serial killer Archie Hall. Visit to check out the full programme.

If that still hasn’t sated your crimewriting impulses, check out the special weekend next March at the Mill Forge in Gretna Green ( – like the other two festivals, it promises that it is “the first event of its kind in the area”.