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.


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.


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.



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

‘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 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.