Today I’m thrilled to be doing a Q&A with Denise Mina, author of McIlvanney Prize winning book The Long Drop, as part of the Bloody Scotland blog tour.
For those of you who don’t know Bloody Scotland is Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival and possibly my favorite event of the year. I only managed to make it to a couple of sessions at the festival this year but had an absolutely brilliant time. The discussions were fantastic and it was so surreal to see my favorite authors wandering around, chatting to people or having a drink in the bar.
This year for the first time we also have a Bloody Scotland book. Published by Historic Environment Scotland, Bloody Scotland – the book, matches twelve of Scotland’s best crime writers with an iconic Scottish building. The result is a brilliant collection of short stories.
Denise Mina is one of the authors who contributed to the book with a very disturbing story set in Edinburgh Castle (honestly I may never go there again). She was also the winner of the big award of the festival, the McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year, for her latest book The Long Drop. I’ve included a full bio below but this is the latest of many awards and nominations in a hugely successful and varied career.
Needless to say I’m thrilled that she was willing to answer some questions on my little blog. So without any more of my rambling, on with the Q&A.
(I should add that these questions were asked and answered prior to her winning the McIlvanney)
Q&A with Denise Mina
Setting always seems to be an important part of your novels, how did you feel about being asked to write a short story inspired by one of Scotland’s iconic buildings for Bloody Scotland: The Book? Did you instantly know what you wanted to do?
I was delighted to be asked.
But I was believe it or not (!), not really on the ball in the admin department and had agreed to do it but forgot to choose a building. The castle was chosen for me because I got last dibs. I was given a fantastic private tour of it for the book, saw into all the creepy corners and historic cells. It was pretty amazing.
Your story, Nemo Me Impune Lacessit, is set in Edinburgh Castle and is one of the most disturbing short stories I’ve read. Was there anything you found particularly challenging about setting a story in such a popular tourist attraction?
It’s interesting writing about somewhere as iconic as the castle because everyone there is in their own little narrative. It’s the highlight of a tour, not a stop off point. I was struck by the contrast between the bloody history of the place and the cheery atmosphere.
Bloody Scotland includes stories set in twelve different iconic buildings in Scotland. Is there another iconic building, featured in the book or not, that you’d love to use as the location for a story? Is there one you’ve considered in the past and decided not to use?
Glasgow Uni, Kelvingrove, Hill House, any one of the giant castles that are melting back into the land in the highlands. I could reel off a list of favourite buildings but I don’t know if I’d like to set a story in them, especially the ones I love.
Your novels are mostly set in and around Glasgow. What do you think it is about the city that makes it such a great location for a crime novel and what is it about Scotland in general that’s created so many brilliant crime/thriller writers?
It’s a story telling city. Everyone tells stories here and I think crime fiction is closer to oral story telling than literary narratives so it’s a perfect fit. It is also quite a chaotic city, violent and used to be very dark. A wonderful setting for noir!
Your most recent novel, The Long Drop, is a finalist for Bloody Scotland’s McIlvanney Prize [edit: it won!!!] can you tell us a bit about it and the inspiration behind it?
I read in a true crime novel that Manuel and the father of some of the victims went out for a drink together. It seemed so odd that I had to explore it.
This is the first novel you’ve published that’s based on real events and people. A lot of local people of a certain generation, my parents included, remember that time well. Did you feel a pressure to get the story “right”? Did this influence your writing process?
Honestly, only after it was published did I feel the pressure, so it didn’t affect me while I was writing it. I just got really lost in it. It is a contested story but not as much as I would have imagined. Most people are concerned about the ethics of telling a story so recent rather than the correctness of the facts.
You originally wrote the story as a play. What made you decide to turn it into a novel?
I was told in no uncertain terms that I had told the story wrong.
Pensioners stopped me after the show and told me that the story in Glasgow at the time was not the official story. The twist they told me was so much better that I had to write the novel.
As well as writing short stories, full length novels and plays you’ve also written graphic novels. What is it about these different forms that appeals to you? Is there one you prefer or find more challenging?
I love prose more than anything. It’s the most fulfilling for me and always feels like a home coming but all these other forms feed into that and help me think about narrative and storytelling in different ways.
Your stories tend to be quite gritty and dark and you really get into the heads of some very disturbing and troubled characters. How easy do you find it to switch off from your writing? Do you have a routine you follow when you’re writing?
I usually get up, drink coffee, strangle a cat and go for a run. Then I sit at the desk and squash ants and think about the work of the day.
Seriously, I just think in quite dark terms. I’m not one of those lovely people who doesn’t spot the violent undertone of conversations, or the crime story at the edge of the page of news about Kate Middleton.
In addition to being a finalist for the McIlvanney, you’ve won three awards and been nominated for many more. It must be great to get recognition for your work but what do you personally consider to be your biggest achievement? What are you most proud of?
A sentence I wrote for a give away book called ‘Scotland’s 100 best books’ about Orwell’s 1984. It had perfect rhythm and concision.
Is there anything you regret or wish you’d done differently in either your career or writing?
Enjoyed it all a bit more. I’m very shy and being in the spotlight was incredibly uncomfortable. Some people do it so well and I should have accepted that ambivalence was my natural state and gone with it instead of pretending.
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer?
Read good stuff and keep writing. Write every day.
Can you tell us anything about the projects you’re working on just now? What’s next?
It’s about a woman who becomes obsessed with a true crime podcast and goes off to try and solve it. It’s about why these stories captivate us.
Finally, what are you reading right now?
A biography of Derrida by Beniot Peeters.
Thank you so much Denise for taking the time to answer some questions. Bloody Scotland the book was launched at the festival over the weekend and is available from Amazon UK here.
I’ll post a review later this week as I haven’t quite finished reading it yet but I can honestly say I’ve been really enjoying it and would definitely recommend.
The blog tour for Bloody Scotland is running from the 7th September till the 18th and includes guest posts, Q&As and other fantastic content from those involved in the book so it’s worth following along. I’ve included details of this, the book and an author bio below.
Denise Mina – Bio
After a peripatetic childhood in Glasgow, Paris, London, Invergordon, Bergen and Perth, Denise Mina left school at 16 before doing her law degree at Glasgow University.She subsequently studied for a PhD at Strathclyde.
Her first novel, Garnethill, was published in 1988 and won the CWA John Creasy Dagger for Best First Crime Novel.
She has published 12 novels including the Garnethill series, Paddy Meehan and Alex Morrow series’. She has been nominated for many prizes including the CWA Gold Dagger and has won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award twice.
In addition to novels, Denise has also written plays and graphic novels including the graphic novel adaptation of The Girl With A Dragon Tattoo. In 2014, she was inducted into the Crime Writers’ Association Hall of Fame and was a judge for the Bailey’s Prize. She has also presented TV and radio programmes as well as appearing regularly in the media. She lives and works in Glasgow.
Bloody Scotland – The Blurb
In Bloody Scotland a selection of Scotland’s best crime writers use the sinister side of the country’s built heritage in stories that are by turns gripping, chilling and redemptive.
Stellar contributors Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves, Louise Welsh, Lin Anderson, Doug Johnstone, Gordon Brown, Craig Robertson, E S Thomson, Sara Sheridan and Stuart MacBride explore the thrilling potential of Scotland’s iconic sites and structures. From murder in an Iron Age broch and a macabre tale of revenge among the furious clamour of an eighteenth century mill, to a dark psychological thriller set within the tourist throng of Edinburgh Castle and a rivalry turning fatal in the concrete galleries of an abandoned modernist ruin, this collection uncovers the intimate – and deadly – connections between people and places.
Prepare for a dangerous journey into the dark shadows of our nation’s buildings – where passion, fury, desire and death collide.