Bloody Scotland: 2020 McIlvanney Prize Finalist Blog Tour Q&A with Ambrose Parry #blogtour @BloodyScotland @Brownlee_Donald @ambroseparry

Today I’m thrilled to be taking part in the Bloody Scotland blog tour with a Q&A with Ambrose Parry, author of one of the four books shortlisted for this year’s McIlvanney Prize.

Those who follow this blog will know that Bloody Scotland is one of my favourite bookish events of the year and even though it can’t go ahead in its usual format this year I’m very excited that they’ve organised a whole raft of online events that are available for free (details of all events and tickets can be found here). I’ve volunteered at the event for the last two years so I’m really going to miss the Friday night torchlight procession through the streets of Stirling, getting to see some of my favourite authors and the wonderful atmosphere but I guess going virtual means I’ll finally make it to Crime at the Coo (tickets usually sell out in minutes).

One of the first events as always is the award of the McIlvanney Prize to the Scottish Crime Book of the year. This year’s finalists are Whirligig by Andrew James Greig, A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone, Pine by Francine Toon and The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry aka Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman.

I’m a pretty big fan of Ambrose Parry and the Raven, Fisher and Simpson series so I was thrilled to be asked to do a Q&A with them as part of the McIlvanney Finalist blog tour. Before I get to the questions however I should probably tell you a little about the book.


About the Book

The Art of Dying (Raven, Fisher, and Simpson, #2)

Edinburgh, 1850. Despite being at the forefront of modern medicine, hordes of patients are dying all across the city, with doctors finding their remedies powerless. But it is not just the deaths that dismay the esteemed Dr James Simpson – a whispering campaign seeks to blame him for the death of a patient in suspicious circumstances.

Simpson’s protégé Will Raven and former housemaid Sarah Fisher are determined to clear their patron’s name. But with Raven battling against the dark side of his own nature, and Sarah endeavouring to expand her own medical knowledge beyond what society deems acceptable for a woman, the pair struggle to understand the cause of the deaths.

Will and Sarah must unite and plunge into Edinburgh’s deadliest streets to clear Simpson’s name. But soon they discover that the true cause of these deaths has evaded suspicion purely because it is so unthinkable.


Q&A

The Art of Dying has been shortlisted for the McIlvanney Prize at this year’s Bloody Scotland. Can you tell us a little about it and the inspiration behind it?

The inspiration for the series was the scientific discoveries of the mid nineteenth century, focusing on the life of James Young Simpson and the discovery of the anaesthetic properties of chloroform in Edinburgh. The Art of Dying takes place in 1849, two years after the discovery of chloroform and is based on a real historical character, Jane Toppan, a serial poisoner who killed huge numbers of people without arousing suspicion. This was mainly because she was a woman and women were considered to be too meek and intellectually defective to be killers; less often suspected and therefore escaped detection.

This is the second book in the series and the second you’ve written together. Did you find that your writing process changed this time around? Was it easier or did it present different challenges? 

It would be fair to say that we are getting better at it but there are still moments when we disagree. We generally defer to each other with respect to our areas of particular expertise. Marisa rarely argues with Chris regarding matters of plot and Chris rarely argues about medical history.

There are some wonderful characters in the series with a number of them based on real (and somewhat well-known) people. How do you balance the fictional with the real and do you feel a pressure to get those based on real people “right”? 

The interplay between the real and the fictional is challenging. Historical fact is important, but this is also a work of fiction where the story has to be exciting, gripping, something that you want to read. History without the boring bits. Our fictional characters are often people mentioned in the biographies written about Simpson but little else is known about them. For example, one of our main protagonists, Will Raven, initially works as an apprentice to Dr Simpson, which was a role that existed at the time. Where details are in short supply, we fill the gap.

We do however feel a huge responsibility to accurately reflect the real historical characters and events that are depicted in the books. What is really fascinating is that some of the most outlandish scenes in the books are the ones that are true.

I absolutely love the detail of Edinburgh at that time and find the medicine both fascinating and terrifying. You must have done a lot of research. How do you decide what events and details to include? Is there anything you wish you’d included but didn’t? Any particularly strange or surprising discoveries? 

When we first start discussing a book, we look at what was actually happening at a certain time and decide to build a story around that. In the Art of Dying, our starting point was an accusation of negligence levelled at Dr Simpson by his colleagues (true, although the accusation was unfounded). Our protagonists attempt to clear his name and, in the process, uncover a number of suspicious deaths that lack a satisfactory explanation.

We usually manage to fold in a number of true stories and events along the way but unfortunately, they don’t always fit in. Hans Christian Andersen once attended a dinner party at Simpson’s house where inhaling ether was part of the after-dinner entertainment. Andersen was appalled, he thought it “distasteful, especially to see ladies in this dreamy intoxication, they laughed with lifeless eyes…it was a wonderful and blessed invention to use in painful operations but not to play with.” This occurred before the events in the first book so we couldn’t use it. Because Simpson was so renowned, he crossed paths with many interesting people which makes him such a great subject to write about.  

What was surprising was that the two most important scientific discoveries of the nineteenth century (anaesthesia and anti-sepsis) had close links to Edinburgh. Simpson discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform in his dining room at Queen Street, and Joseph Lister began his anti-septic experiments while working for Simpson’s nemesis James Syme (Lister went on to become Syme’s son-in-law).

When you started writing The Way of All Flesh, did you know it would be the first in a series? If so did you have a definite idea of how long it would run and the direction it would go or do you take it a book at a time? 

Chris always thought that The Way of All Flesh would be part of a series. There are just so many stories to tell, so much material to work with. Simpson lived until 1870 and we are currently writing about the early 1850’s so we have a way to go.

I believe the next book in the series, A Corruption of Blood, is due to be published next year, can you give us any hints about the story and what’s next for Will and Sarah?

Will and Sarah are both trying to sort their lives out (professional and personal). Sarah is beginning to doubt that she’s got what it takes to pursue a career in medicine and Will is trying to forward his career by making profitable allegiances. The decisions they take are forcing them apart, but they have to work together while investigating the disappearance of a child and the death of one of Edinburgh’s most prominent citizens.  

COVID-19 is having an impact on all of our lives right now. Are you finding it’s affecting your writing? 

In many ways writing is what got us through lockdown, and we are grateful for that. Having something to get on with has been enormously valuable. But trying to be creative in the midst of a global pandemic has been challenging and we also miss the other aspects of the job – book shop events and festivals. The fun stuff.

Bloody Scotland like many book festivals has moved online this year. Are there any events that you’re particularly looking forward to? 

All of them. It’s going to be so much easier to see them all this year, particularly Crime at the Coo which is usually sold out in about 5 minutes. Chris is usually participating, Marisa never gets in. Also looking forward to the never-ending panel on Sunday 20th September at 11am – rolling discussion with huge number of participants. What could go wrong?

It’s a tough market for debut authors at the moment. Do you have any advice for those starting out? 

Just do it. And when you’re happy with your manuscript take advantage of events like Pitch Perfect at Bloody Scotland where you get access to agents and commissioning editors in the flesh.

Finally, can you tell me what you’re reading right now or is there something you’ve read recently you’d recommend? 

Reading has been curtailed of late as we have been finishing the new Ambrose Parry novel but there have been some fabulous books read in the earlier part of the year: Death in the East by Abir Mukherjee, A Dark Matter by Doug Johnstone and Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller. All fantastic and highly recommended.


About the Author

Ambrose Parry is a pseudonym for a collaboration between Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. The couple are married and live in Scotland. Chris Brookmyre is the international bestselling and multi-award-winning author of over twenty novels. Dr Marisa Haetzman is a consultant anaesthetist of twenty years’ experience, whose research for her Master’s degree in the History of Medicine uncovered the material upon which their first collaboration, The Way of All Flesh, was based.


The tour continues…

Bloody Scotland Blog Tour: Fallen Angel by Chris Brookmyre @BloodyScotland

Today I’m very excited to be taking part in the blog tour for Bloody Scotland. Bloody Scotland is Scotland’s International Crime Festival held in Stirling each September and is one my favourite bookish events of the year. For my stop on the tour I’m featuring one of the books longlisted for the 2019 McIlvanney Prize, Fallen Angel by Chris Brookmyre. It’s a wonderfully dark and gripping read all about family secrets, press intrusion and conspiracy theories, but don’t take my word for it. Read on for more details of the book and an extract that’s guaranteed to make you want to read more.


FALLEN ANGELFallen Angel

To new nanny Amanda, the Temple family seem to have it all: the former actress; the famous professor; their three successful grown-up children. But like any family, beneath the smiles and hugs there lurks far darker emotions.

Sixteen years earlier, little Niamh Temple died while they were on holiday in Portugal. Now, as Amanda joins the family for a reunion at their seaside villa, she begins to suspect one of them might be hiding something terrible…

And suspicion is a dangerous thing.

 


EXTRACT

With the aircraft at cruising altitude and a large gin on the tray in front of her, Ivy plugs in her headphones and launches the video. The drink is an indulgence so early in the day, but she’s going to need it. She downloaded the file last night and toyed with watching it then, before changing her mind and deciding it was safer to wait for the flight. The fear was that she might get so emotional that she’d change her mind about coming. This way, she’s already committed.

She is flying out of Edinburgh, as she had something she had to take care of locally before she could head off to Portugal. She will be flying back directly to London, though. The only question is how soon.

She feels a tingle in her gut, an anxiety over what she’s about to go through. She is making herself watch it, despite the pain she knows she will feel, because this is the way the world will remember him.

The clip dates from 2002. It is a segment of a now discontinued teatime chat show on Channel Four, featuring guests from all fields – politics, sport, showbiz, science – engaged in breezy discussions with a cheery presenter. The kind of thing you could tune in and out of while you chopped veg for the dinner. It was the perfect fit for the pop-psychology book Dad was plugging.

The presenter is Abby Cook. She is bubbly and attractive in a non-threatening way, someone who cut her teeth presenting zoo-TV shows for older kids. By 2002 she had moved a few hours later in the schedule, after boosting her profile with a half-naked cover shoot for FHM. She has subsequently shifted hours again, these days earning a shitload on ITV’s flagship mid-morning show, but whether late vintage or early noughties Abby, the secret of her success is the same. She has a folksy girl-next-door charm, the type of presenter whose manner comforts the target audience by giving the impression she doesn’t understand the big words either.

That was very much why it happened. Abby was out of her depth.

‘And next on the couch, someone I’m super excited to be talking to. I’m sure you all recognise none other than Jason Cale, best known these days for presenting Paradigm Shift on the BBC. But, of course, the reason I’m excited is that many of us remember Jason as Danthos, from the classic British science fiction series The Liberators.’

Ivy’s laptop screen is briefly filled by a grainy clip showing a younger Jason, stripped to the waist as he fires a laser blaster against what is supposed to be an alien landscape but was probably a quarry in Wales. It cuts back to show him on the couch for a reaction shot, a perfectly pitched combination of bashful pride and ‘surprised’ cringing.

‘Now I’m sorry to spring that on you, Jason, but the reason we showed it is of course that you are accompanied this evening by Max Temple, and Max’s wife – a little bit of trivia for you all – is Celia Wilde, who played the very sexy Kurlia alongside Jason in that show.’
There is mercifully not a clip, but merely a still showing Mum in her iconic costume, before the director displays even greater humanity in not cutting back to Dad’s face right then. Instead the camera is back on Abby.

‘Max is an esteemed psychology professor from the University of St Andrews, and he and Jason are here tonight because they have teamed up to write a book. It’s called Behind the Mask: How To Tell What People Are Really Thinking, and I’m fascinated to hear how this collaboration came about. Jason, can you tell us . . .’

Jason does most of the talking, which is for the best. He knows how to keep it light and accessible, sometimes talking over Dad when he threatens to get too technical. Dad looks like he’s merely tolerating the ordeal, waiting for it to end. He’s not actually awkward in front of the cameras, but even if you didn’t know him you’d deduce he is unused to this atmosphere of enforced joviality. Even now Ivy feels a tension every time Abby asks a question: despite knowing it never happened, she is still on edge in case Dad gets all brusque with her for being so anodyne.

However, that was very much Jason’s intention in making him part of this double act. Coming across as kind of aloof actually worked for Dad in this context, emphasising his academic gravitas in contrast to his co-author’s chatty, populist style.

Abby wraps up the discussion of Behind the Mask and they shuffle along the settee to make room for the next guest. She introduces him as Toby Cutler-Wood and informs the viewers that he is a former police detective. He is a slim, white-haired man in a three-piece suit whom Ivy suspects is affecting to look like an academic. As an ex-cop, he should have read the evidence in front of him and deduced that the presence of a genuine academic meant it was a bad night for pretending to be something that you’re not.

‘Since retiring from the police six years ago, Toby has turned his detective skills to uncovering a different kind of fraud, on a quite startling scale. Honestly, this will really blow your minds. Toby is here to tell us about The Apollo Conspiracy, his bestselling book claiming that the moon landings never happened but were actually faked by NASA.’

Toby doesn’t have Jason’s facility for banter and small talk, ploughing headlong into his pitch. The screen is briefly filled with a photograph of the surface of the moon, a lunar lander in the right of the foreground, an American flag erected to the left. Another image takes its place, of two astronauts in front of the same lander. In both images, beyond the horizon all is black, and that is what he is focused on.

‘What’s wrong with this picture?’ he asks Abby, though he doesn’t wait for an answer.
‘There are no stars! There should be thousands of stars visible. The very reason the Hubble telescope was put into orbit is that the view of the cosmos is so much clearer beyond the atmosphere, and yet in this image, supposedly taken from the surface of the moon, there is not a single, solitary star.’

He talks excitedly about how the solar wind trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field has created a series of high-radiation zones, known as the Van Allen Belts, beginning four hundred miles above the planet and extending for as much as forty thousand miles. Not only would this radiation damage the scientific instruments that would have been crucial to a moon mission, he informs Abby, but it would prove lethal to the personnel. Then he moves on to the temperature of the lunar surface, how it reaches one hundred and twenty degrees and thus would have killed the astronauts if they were exposed to it.

Ivy can’t help but smile as the camera picks up the first indicators that Dad is getting exasperated. He is squirming in his seat and rolling his eyes. As this escalates into audible tuts and sighing, Jason begins to look uncomfortable, clearly concerned that his sidekick is about to blow their media profile by demonstrating that he can’t play the game.

Abby seems genuinely gobsmacked as Toby piles on the evidence and the shocking implications begin to sink in.

Ivy recognises the response, stuff her dad would later write about: how intoxicated Abby is by hearing seemingly compelling evidence that alters something she had previously regarded as unquestionable.

‘And speaking of the surface, do you notice the dust, and the footprints in the dust? The Apollo landing module had a rocket to slow its descent, delivering ten thousand pounds of thrust, which should not only have left a scorched crater, but blown all of the dust away too. NASA faked up what they thought we imagined the surface of the moon to look like, but forgot about the impact their own vehicle would have had. They were sloppy, but the insulting thing is that they clearly think we’re all stupid.’

The focus is still on Toby, but Dad’s voice cuts across from off-camera, in a tone so familiar that sitting on a plane sixteen years later, Ivy can’t help but let out a chuckle.
‘I’m sorry, but this is just the most preposterous garbage.’

Ivy pauses the video to hand her empty gin miniature to the flight attendant. As she does so, the man in the seat next to her indicates the screen.

‘I remember that interview,’ he says warmly. ‘Guy was a legend. Shame he’s gone.’
Ivy flashes him a micro smile, a gesture of basic courtesy the brevity of which ought to convey that she doesn’t wish to discuss it further. It gives her a glimpse of how much more unbearable things would be right now if anyone knew who she was. But then, that is precisely why she went to such great lengths to alter her identity.

If anyone were to discover she is Max Temple’s daughter, they might find it incredible that she’s never seen this legendary clip all the way through. It would be like a rock star’s offspring never having heard his greatest hit.

It’s different when it’s family though. You’re not defined in each other’s eyes by the things that shape your public perception.

The evening it aired, she didn’t hear a word of it because Niamh was screaming for a solid hour, by the end of which she was crying too. There was never a good time to watch it back then: never any time. And in the years since, there have been too many conflicting emotions, too many reminders of how things were.

It’s different now that he’s gone. There are still the same conflicting emotions, but what changes it for Ivy is that nothing can change now. Max Temple can’t become anything more, anyone new. He can only be what people remember, so she can choose whichever version of him serves her best.

Back on the screen, Abby’s instincts prompt her to assert control and calmly defuse the situation. Unfortunately, these instincts were honed by years on kids’ telly and work better on pop singers and Hollyoaks actors than on academics accustomed to a certain degree of deference.

‘Now, Max,’ she says, like she’s humorously telling him off. ‘You’ve had your time, so let’s all be polite.’

‘A lot of people get defensive when you show them this stuff,’ Toby says, eyeing Dad. ‘Because it shakes their world view.’
Abby nods.

‘It may seem shocking,’ she agrees, ‘but you can’t argue with the evidence.’

An extract taken from: Fallen (Little Brown) by Chris Brookmyre

Longlisted forThe McIlvanney Prize 2019. Winner to be announced at the Bloody Scotland opening night reception on Friday 20 September. For festival tickets and information www.bloodyscotland.com

‘Addictive in the best possible way – I couldn’t stop reading but didn’t want it to end. This is a holiday read like no other, a dark novel set in the sunniest of settings, the shadow of this beautifully crafted story will stay with me for a long time’ – Lisa Ballantyne

‘Gloriously dark, deliciously twisty’ – Clare Mackintosh

‘Stunning. A dark, brilliantly written suspense chiller. Superb. One of the best writers in the business on top form’ – Steve Cavanagh


THE TOUR CONTINUES

The Bloody Scotland Blog Tour runs until the 20th September so there’s still lots of time to check out the other Q&A’s, extracts and reviews.

BloodyScotland-blog-tour.jpg

Meet The Author: Ruth Ware #BloodyScotland #BlogTour #MeetTheAuthor @BloodyScotland @RuthWareWriter

Today I’m thrilled to be taking part in the Bloody Scotland Meet the Author Blog Tour. Bloody Scotland takes place on the 21st-23rd September (next weekend) in Stirling and promises to be a lot of fun. For my stop on the tour I’m delighted to feature the wonderful Ruth Ware who is appearing at the festival on Saturday the 22nd September with Mel McGrath and Caroline Mitchell (tickets available here).

You can find more details on Ruth’s latest book The Death of Mrs Westaway, together with information on Bloody Scotland and the other stops on the tour further down but I’ll stop my rambling and let Ruth do the talking.


Meet The Author: Ruth Ware

Ruth WareI’m pretty sure most people will have heard of you but for those who haven’t can you tell them a bit about yourself?

Ha, it would be nice to think so but I refer you to Ian Rankin’s anecdote about getting barred from his own event! Well, I am the author of four psychological crime thrillers, In a Dark, Dark Wood (death on a hen night), The Woman in Cabin 10 (death on a cruise), The Lying Game (death at boarding school) and The Death of Mrs Westaway (which despite being the only one with death actually in the title, is about a woman conning a family of strangers out of their inheritance). Their style can probably be conveyed most economically by telling you that the two authors I’m most frequently compared to in reviews are Gillian Flynn, and Agatha Christie. If you can imagine a point somewhere between those two styles, that’s me!

Your latest book, The Death of Mrs Westaway is getting great reviews (and deservedly so). Can you tell us a little about it and where you got the inspiration for it?

Thank you so much! That’s nice to hear. As usual, the points of inspiration are too many and various to sum up, it would take a novel to list them all, but the core is probably my main character Hal, who is a cynical tarot reader (she does not believe in the power of the cards, but uses her cold reading skills to tell her clients what she thinks they want to hear). Hal is in dire financial straits when, out of the blue, she receives a letter telling her that she’s inherited a substantial bequest. Although Hal knows the letter has been sent to the wrong person, she sets out to claim the money.

I think Hal came about from the fact that I had written three novels essentially about ordinary women in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are caught up in extraordinary events, but they are basically just ordinary, well meaning people. With my fourth book I knew I wanted to do something very different, so I set about creating a character who has her own agenda, someone who sets out to commit a crime, and in doing so sets the whole mechanism of the plot in motion. That was Hal.

You’re appearing at Bloody Scotland with Caroline Mitchell and Mel McGrath can you tell us a little about your event? What should we expect?

Gosh, well, that’s a question, I honestly don’t know! We all know each other, so knowing Caroline and Mel, I am sure we’ll have a good laugh, but we haven’t prepared anything. The event title is about family (a theme all our novels share) so I’m sure there will be some discussion of how toxic those ties can be and why it’s such fertile ground for crime novelists, but knowing crime events, I imagine that will just be the starting point.

What do you look forward to most when attending a book festival?

Meeting readers and other authors. The crime community is astounding in its enthusiasm and generosity, and every festival reminds me of how lucky I am to be part of this brilliant landscape.

For those attending your event, are there any questions you always hope you’ll be asked or any you dread?

None that I dread really – I often get asked about progress on the film adaptations of my books (the first three have all been optioned for either film or TV) and the truth is that anything I know is either already out on the internet and well known, or else confidential so I can’t share it, which means I spend a lot of time shrugging and apologising for not being able to tell the audience anything! My favourites are always the questions I didn’t see coming.

You’ve had a lot of success with your writing but what has been the highlight of your career so far?

Probably getting on the New York Times bestseller list. I still pinch myself when I think of that moment – it was the first time I think I really realised that this book was going to be read by a lot more people than my friends and family.

If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?

Have faith – and have a bit of confidence in your work. I spent a lot of time writing and not doing anything with the manuscripts, because I didn’t think they were good enough. I don’t regret that exactly, all those unpublished books were a good apprenticeship, and it meant that when I did finally pluck up the courage to sub to agents, I had confidence that I had written 100,000 word manuscripts many times, and could do so again, even if this one didn’t sell. But it would have been nice to have a flicker of light at the end of the tunnel.

What are you working on at the moment? What can we expect next from Ruth Ware?

Another book – obviously! Deep in writing book 5 at the moment, but it’s at the ugly duckling stage so I can’t talk too much about it.

Finally, what books are you currently reading or would you recommend?

Currently reading Red Snow by Will Dean. If you like Nordic Noir novels with dogged, complicated women at their heart, this will be just your cup of tea.


The Death of Mrs WestawayThe Death of Mrs. Westaway

THE BLURB : From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Lying Game comes Ruth Ware’s highly anticipated fourth novel.

On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

BUY IT HERE: Amazon UKWaterstonesAmazon USBook Depository


About Bloody Scotland

Bloody Scotland established itself as the leading Scottish International Crime Writing Festival in 2012 with acclaimed writers Lin Anderson and Alex Gray at the helm, then joined by Craig Robertson and Gordon Brown. Based in Stirling, Bloody Scotland has brought hundreds of crime writers new and established to the stage with always enthusiastic attendees who make the festival every bit as much as the writers do.

Priding ourselves as the literary festival where you can let down your hair and enjoy a drink at the bar with your favourite crime writer, we strive to put on entertaining as well as informative events during a weekend in September, covering a range of criminal subjects from fictional forensics, psychological thrillers, tartan noir, cosy crime and many more. With an international focus at the heart of Bloody Scotland, we are always looking to bring in crime writing talent from outside of Scotland whom you may not have heard about. You might, however, knows us for our annual Scotland vs England football cup which always draws a crowd and inevitably ends in tears for someone…

The Bloody Scotland Team 2018: Lin Anderson, Gordon Brown, Craig Robertson, Jenny Brown, Muriel Binnie, Catriona Reynolds, Bob McDevitt, Laura Jones, Abir Mukherjee, Fiona Brownlee & Tim Donald


This will be my second year at Bloody Scotland and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re in the area (or can make it up to sunny* Stirling) and interested in attending any of the events, you can find details in The Brochure.

(*Sunshine not guaranteed but it’s mostly indoors anyway)


The Tour

The Bloody Scotland Meet the Authors blog tour continues until the 21st September. Details of all stops and authors below.

BloodyScotland-blog-tour 2018

#BloodyScotland Blog Tour – Q&A with Author Denise Mina (@BloodyScotland)

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.Bloody_Scotland_mock_03.indd

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

Denise Mina c.Simona Ciocarlan

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!

Bloody Scotland McIlvanney Prize 2017 Winner 2Your 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

Denise Mina headshot.jpgAfter 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.


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