Masters of the dark they may well be, but Mark Billingham and Stuart Neville are also a lot of fun. With the help of Peter Guttridge as chair, Bloody Scotland offered a marvellous morning of entertainment, well worth braving a dark and stormy Stirling at noon. You could ask yourself ‘who goes out to a literary event in weather like that?’ and the reply would be, ‘quite a few, actually, including Arne Dahl’ who presumably needed to check out the competition.
Peter was back to his usual sparkling self, and we could have gone on forever. We only got an hour, but it was a good kind of hour. I knew nothing about Mark before, and emerged rather fond of this writer who is brave enough to go out with uniforms, just to see what it’s like at ‘the sharp end.’ Fun, until reality calls, when it gets pretty grim. In the police car it’s mostly filth and farting.
The two policewomen who gave Mark the guided tour suggested putting his DI Thorne back in uniform, which you can do, apparently. They keep their rank, but discover that the bad treatment dished out to uniforms rubs off on them as well. A lower rank non-uniform policeman will talk down to someone in uniform even if they outrank them.
Truth is stranger than fiction. There was some unmentionable stuff featuring cats, pigs and horses. The horse and crime scenes tape story was ‘fun’ though, and I wouldn’t have minded seeing that policeman going over the fence.
Stuart’s new book Ratlines is a standalone which has received heaps of praise. It is about Ireland’s history with the nazis. Set in the 1960s, it features Hitler’s favourite commando, Colonel Otto Skorzeny.
It was a break for Stuart, who wanted to write the story before someone else did. He says ‘you couldn’t make Skorzeny up.’ He lived publicly as a minor celebrity, as well as being an acquaintance of Charles Haughey. Stuart did some research on life in the 1960s, which included finding out you can’t dress a woman in an off-the-shoulder dress. It would have been scandalous. You have accuracy versus authenticity, and it’s the feel of truth that you want, rather than truth itself.
Jumping into a police car to see what the job is like, isn’t something you can do in Northern Ireland, because of the paramilitary aspects of policing. The police have a fact sheet which sets out what happens at a murder scene, and ‘that is all you’re getting.’
Strangely enough, Stuart had been criticised for having been unfair to the nazis. He said that the Skorzeny/Haughey set-up made things larger than life, and he had to prevent things from becoming too cartoonish.
Mark said about going back in time that you need to get away from CCTV and mobile phones which you have ‘forgotten’ to charge. There are only so many times you can use that. The Lleyn peninsula is good for having no mobile signal. (I think that’s where his Book 14 is set. The title is under discussion, with the editor disliking what Mark wants.)
With old age – as opposed to old, old age – Mark has found he doesn’t care for violence, and much prefers the effect of a single drop of blood. He has discovered, much to his surprise, that he enjoys the ‘window moments’ when a character is resting, instead of charging around in action scenes. Detectives need plenty of depth; the reader should get to know what troubles them away from the crime solving. Stuart has a female detective discovering she has breast cancer, for instance.
You can have too much of a good twist. Mark has dubbed them ‘Chubby Checkers’ where they twist, and twist again. And you shouldn’t keep hinting thoughout a book. You know something, you share it. And he definitely doesn’t believe in characters that take over and tell the author what to do.
Cumbernauld-man-gone-to-Hollywood, Craig Ferguson, has written the screenplay of Stuart’s novel The Twelve, and it looks like Pierce Brosnan is down to play one of the characters. (Looking forward to that!)
Despite hatemail and abuse on Twitter, Mark feels ‘the time comes when you have to kill a character.’ Absolutely. And Stuart likes ‘rooting for the killer.’ That’s not character-killer Mark, btw. I think he meant fictional killers.
I’ve already lost track of where paranormal noir came into the picture – I didn’t even know there is such a thing – and poor Stuart reads very little these days. That’s the problem with babies.
There was another dead cat, with no truncheon involved, and both these writers have definitely evolved from the early days ‘when you’re often rather like someone else.’