Tag Archives: Doug Johnstone

Pitch Black Humour

Of course we wouldn’t go to see Val McDermid instead! Here were three funny crime writers, being chaired quite unexpectedly by publisher Karen Sullivan, who has form for not necessarily keeping control of proceedings like these. She did. And she didn’t.

Karen was a bit taken aback by Barry Hutchison. She had to make sure he wasn’t an old boyfriend of hers by the same name. He was there as J D Kirk, which is quite different. There was Doug Johnstone, who wore shorts. Shorts, I tell you! Barry dressed like the gentleman he is. I was proud of him. And between them was Antti Tuomainen, who is that impossible creature, a funny Finn. He writes about mushrooms, and actuaries. Very funny. He’s got the same wife as Barry. She doesn’t find him/them in the slightest bit funny. If he’s also gone out with Karen is a different question again.

By the way, I didn’t take notes. I was wanting to enjoy my evening out on the town, so just skulked quietly in my corner at the Golden Lion.

I keep forgetting what a well educated man Doug is. Despite the shorts. PhD in nuclear physics. Drummer. Plays football for the Scottish crime writers. His latest humorous books feature a funeral parlour, so he balances nicely with Barry, whose biggest laugh was with his father and sister at his mother’s funeral (which reminds me a little of Catriona McPherson in that same room a couple of years ago..), in the best of ways.

All three talked about some of the general stuff that authors get asked about when it comes to books and writing. And they answered in a humorous manner, arguing with each other as though they were long time friends. Karen was good at getting them started, if not always able to stop them. But that’s humour for you.

Asked about their favourite, humorous crime writer, Antti mentioned Chris Brookmyre. Karen pointed out Chris was sitting ‘over there.’ As Barry said, it got a bit embarrassing, as he was also going to choose Chris. At which point Doug asked if he wasn’t allowed to pick Chris as well. (Chris had obviously paid them handsomely.)

And speaking of Chris, he sat next to Mark Billingham, and I’m willing to stake my reputation on the ‘teenager’ next to them being James Oswald. It’s amazing what jeans and a t-shirt and long hair and a facemask does to one’s favourite crime writer coo farmer. In fact, lots of people [still] had Covid hair, including Bloody Scotland director Bob McDevitt. Recognised a few other people there, but had they been unmasked I’m sure I’d have ‘known’ even more.

Antti and Doug haven’t written that many books. I mean, in comparison. Barry’s 140 children’s books might have got a mention as did some of his other ‘adult’ books before the DCI Logan books, of which there are 12, with the 13th coming in December. Plus the new series starting in October. All this speedy writing is facilitated by him being unable to see a blue spot when he closes his eyes!

They were asked what books they read, that are funny. Chris Brookmyre, apparently, is funny. As was Iain Banks. Douglas Adams. Barry mentioned Terry Pratchett, who he avoided for a long time because the books were recommended to him by his mother’s friend. Quite beyond the pale. Until he picked one up and discovered what the rest of us already knew.

At this point I was struck by what I am about to do, which is to recommend one of Barry’s children’s books to a boy whose mother I know. It’s, well, I don’t know. But us older women know what’s what.

At the end I dashed out to stand first in line for the signing, cornering J D quite nicely, getting the signature and the requisite doodle, along with bits of news. And then I abandoned him for some macaroni cheese I had waiting for me.

A criminal song and dance

Isn’t it funny how we seem to be so fond of people doing something other than what they normally do, or are famous for? When my intended Bloody Scotland date with James Oswald et al last night turned out not be available online yet, I turned to the music.

Yes, the music. It’s the obvious thing for six professional killers to engage in on a crimefest weekend. I had actually considered going down to the Albert Halls to see the concert in person, but shied away because it was a bit late. And all those happy people in the audience might be, you know, a little too happy.

As Daughter commented when Val McDermid entered the stage singing, ‘is there nothing Val can’t do?’ I brought to her attention the fact that ladies of a certain age are Very Good At Everything. Cough.

It was very enjoyable. I’d also decided not to take notes, because I was just going to have fun, albeit in my own living room. Anyway, it’s not as if the six – Val, Stuart Neville, Doug Johnstone, Luca Veste, Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre – were talking about their writing. They really do seem to be Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers, and they’d been apart for far too long.

They sent us off on a drinking interval, the better to appreciate them in the second half.

The thing is, though, having imbibed the special Bloody Scotland non-alcoholic gin, I was nowhere drunk enough not to mind what happened next. I completely lost my pioneering spirit when part two went soundless. I’m guessing someone switched off the sound for the interval, and then didn’t flick the switch back. The online audience engaged in some frantic chat, and Daughter wondered whether she should actually drive over to the Albert Halls and alert them.

You’ll be relieved to hear that the music came back after 20 minutes, in time for Delilah. It took me until Whiskey in the Jar to thaw, however, so my thanks to Stuart for that. They went out on a high, with I’m gonna be 500 miles – which is a long enough distance for anyone – and my parting words will be that in future they allow [little] Luca to Britney on to his heart’s content. It’s what he wants.

The never-ending panel

I was going to dip in and out. Not miss Barry Hutchison. Nor Catriona McPherson. But in the end, there I was, taking in every minute of the four hours of crime writers coming and going. Possibly attending less diligently when slurping the soup Daughter so kindly carried to my desk, but continuing all the same.

So one advantage of Bloody Scotland going online was that you can have a couple of dozen authors from anywhere in the world pop into your Sunday panel to chat to their friends for a bit, before going off, leaving their chair to someone else.

To start, Lin Anderson looked after the first hour, discussing pets with Stuart MacBride, moving on to stovies (apparently everyone in Scotland knows what they are, but I am only hazy about them, except that I don’t want any on my plate) and from there seamlessly to vodka, with the help of Hania Allen, and how one can speak fluent Polish after drinking some.

Then, James Oswald with the hair. It was long, but mostly because he is antisocial, and not so much lockdown. The question there was how to tell his calves apart. (Coos, not lower legs.) Easy with Daphne, otherwise hairy ears make for problems. Andrew James Greig, former Bloody Scotland crew, added rotary dryers, and I’m not sure if you can kill with those or not. He didn’t recognise Hugh McIlvanney when they met – ‘which one of you is …?’ It’s not what you say to big names.

James – with the coos – spoke about the Bloody Scotland family. He was joined by Neil Broadfoot, who murders in Stirling, and who almost left when Lin handed over to Morgan Cry, aka Gordon Brown, non-PM. Some people plot, others don’t. Let’s leave it at that. But it can be so boring knowing what is about to happen that the writer might not want to go on.

The incoming authors kept coming, ringing the doorbell and being visible on screen to the world. Just not to the hosts. Might need to work on that. Sara Sheridan spoke of 1950s fashions, and appearing inappropriately dressed on her husband’s Zoom meetings, because it’s how she writes books.

Finally it was time for Barry, who was addressed as Barry despite being there as JD Kirk. I think he wins the book count. 140, of which most are children’s books, but the adult crime has grown by around 40 books in four years. He explained his quantity over quality theory, and spending 06.30 to 11.30 writing, before doing admin and then playing with the children.

His school librarian had lured him into the library with piles of The Beano until he entered voluntarily, with offers like ‘come with me to the monster section’. When the library failed to have ninja books, he was told to write one himself, which he did, aged nine, and it was duly entered into the library catalogue.

Mary Paulson-Ellis, who likes paperwork, and is a top LGBTQ writer according to Val McDermid, was next, along with Caro Ramsay who knows everyone hates her, but ‘that’s fine’. SJI [Susi] Holliday was accused of having jinxed Covid into being. (This was the soup episode, so I didn’t note everything down.)

Doug Johnstone was back, even after all that singing on Saturday, and the host changed into Craig Robertson. He had done no prep so told the group to talk as much as possible. Both parts of Ambrose Parry were present, and we learned that Chris Brookmyre is now letting wife Marisa ‘do a bit more’ in their shared writing. She sounded so useful that Susi said she wanted a Marisa as well.

Where Doug goes for walks to get ideas, Susi gets them in the car, where she can’t jot them down. Ambrose Parry enjoyed getting ideas after Covid-walks on the local golf course. Caro’s dog knows more than she does. They all said to trust your instincts.

Jackie Baldwin might have upped the body count in Portobello, having moved crime from Dumfries, and Susi pedestrianised somewhere that badly needed it. Chloroform belongs in Edinburgh, just so you know. Radio’s Theresa Talbot arrived with wine glass in hand and explained that with no traffic to talk about on the radio, she was now a garden expert.

Jackie is used to being in prison, due to being a criminal lawyer (which I hope is more innocent than it sounds). Theresa is a Glaswegian by heart, and when she sent her detective to Loch Lomond to please the fans, she couldn’t think of anything for her to do, so she returned to the city again.

Alan Parks sticks to the 1970s, which neatly avoids mobile phones and CCTV. Alex Gray had just been on a trip to Ballachulish, because she simply couldn’t cope with not going places. Alan’s fan emails are from bus enthusiasts who know more than he does. And that man in the pub he made up? He’s still alive, you know.

Our last host, Abir Mukherjee arrived from the Green Room, to discover Theresa discussing a question from an event on ‘how hard it had been to find a husband at her age’. Alan had once been coerced into an impromptu lecture in Sweden, where after much hard work, the first question was whether he owns a kilt.

When asked for their weirdest way of killing people, they only had stabbings, poisoned sandwiches, strangulation by harp wire and stabbing someone in the eye with a pencil, to offer. And, erm, elephants. Ben McPherson joined us from Oslo with many thoughts on how hard it can be to fit in, in a nice country, when you don’t really belong. (I know.) But at least his doorbell moment worked.

In Norway they have huts, and warm(-ish) beaches. Abir was 25 when he discovered you could go to the beach and not wear a jacket (in Goa). Both Alex and Alan prefer living in the Hufflepuff that is Scotland. Lisa Gray has experience of writing about a place she doesn’t belong to, and Ben discussed the feeling of living somewhere but not speaking the language, when disaster strikes.

Nicola White, originally from Dublin, writes about that city, as it was in the 1980s when she left. Many of us only know somewhere from a long time ago. The last two panellists, Catriona McPherson and Alex Knight (aka Mason Cross and Gavin…) joined the conversation. I stared at Alex’s familiar face, until I finally placed him as Luke in Gilmore Girls. (Not really, but same face.) If you’re going for a pen name, it’s worth picking one that people everywhere can pronounce, like when Alex went to Starbucks as Mason and turned into Basin.

The most important thing to becoming a novelist is to finish writing what you want to write. Reward yourself with a visit to the toilet after writing some words. Alex believes in a daily 500 words, which he feels is manageable.

To finish, the talk turned to reviews, and you should obviously never read the online ones. Unless three stars for fitting perfectly under that wonky table leg will make you happy.

More gigs than rehearsals

There was less music than I had hoped for, or expected, but setting that aside, Friday night’s chat between the six members of The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers was great fun. It’s so strange that a bunch of novelists can just stand up – well, almost – and sing and play and actually entertain an audience with their music, including ending up playing Glastonbury.

An early opportunity was when three of them played at Bouchercon one year; an ‘accidental shambles that worked really well’ (according to Mark Billingham).

Val McDermid is the boss, as well she should be, and the five boys don’t enjoy it when she can’t be there to perform with them. But it’s not only performances that matter, they simply love getting together as a group, each enjoying being with the others.

Craig Robertson was doing the asking, and the starting question was what the first single they bought was. I like Mark! He got I did what I did for Maria, with Tony Christie. Val’s was a Beatles one, Chris Brookmyre liked Skids, Stuart Neville got the ET soundtrack… Yeah. Doug Johnstone, I think, because he wasn’t on screen so it was just a voice admitting to Michael Jackson. Little Luca Veste, as the baby of the group, was grateful for the best decade ever in the 1990s, and he bought an Oasis single (but also likes early Britney…).

But ‘nobody should ever be ashamed of music’ as Stuart put it.

They were all rather mean to poor Chris, who was invited to join them for one song and never left, returning with new guitar playing skills and everything. According to Stuart Chris is so good that he might have been one of Stuart’s pupils! He’s so keen that he once joined them for the second half of an event, because he had his own book event to do first, so couldn’t come sooner.

Early on Doug agreed to be their drummer, because they are hard to find, while guitarists are ten a penny.

Reykjavik without Val had been scary. Some of them would have preferred to turn around and go home again. As Val said, ‘the team is greater than the sum of our parts’.

Their Spiegeltent debut in Edinburgh was fantastic, a free event were the audience clearly expected nothing, but were greatly surprised. (It was packed. I suspect that’s why I wasn’t there.)

And then there was Glastonbury, where the modest Mark asked for too few drinks for them, on what was a very hot day. They were complimented for their crew being the best, except they were their own crew, so… It was ‘a bizarre and educational experience.’ (I’d say so! Stuart even did a Bookwitch thing; arriving supporting himself on a stick, hardly being able to walk, and then feeling just fine afterwards.)

The gang can’t wait to be back together in real life. Val and Doug have done a small thing in a bookshop in Portobello, but that’s all. After all, a group who are clever enough to come up with a song like Paperback Writer can’t be all wrong!

A first bloody afternoon

Marnie Riches offered to carry my drugs for me. It was kind of her, but my haul from Boots weighed very little and I felt I could shoulder the burden on my own. Anyway, she’s the guest, about to enter her first Bloody Scotland weekend, and she should be looked after.

But I obviously didn’t take that sentiment so far that I didn’t let her pay for my tea and scone.

I had just had time for my drug run – I mean my long neglected shopping – before it was time to go and find Marnie at her hotel. Leaving the hotel en route for that scone across the road she encountered a hole heap of crime colleagues out on the pavement, and had to hug a few people like Luca Veste, Mark Billingham and Michael Malone, while I limited myself to uttering only one or two stupid comments.

We went to Loving Food, where we were offered a window seat, from which we saw the rest of Bloody Scotland’s cream of crime walk past while I demolished my scone and we both gossiped about what books we hadn’t finished and how well our children have done.

Craning her neck a little, Marnie kept a check of who seemed to be heading to the pub, asking me who that was who waved to me (Ann Landmann, on our second – of three – sighting of the day), my neighbours, and so on. It’s that time of year when everyone who’s out is a someone.

Well, maybe not the boob tube wearers. The weather was best Scottish and there were a fair few ‘light’ outfits  to be seen. However the two of us were decently covered at all times.

After waving in the general direction of where she’d find the Albert Halls as well as her church venue for Saturday, we recrossed King Street for Marnie to get ready for the evening’s torch-lit procession and for me to pick up my tickets before walking home in the sunshine. I’d like to think the lack of painful knees was due to David Almond’s walnuts. Not his personally; we have bought our own.

Bloody Scotland torches

Bloody Scotland – the anthology

Bloody Scotland. What a – bloody – fantastic collection of crime stories! And what a gorgeous cover! It’s like blood dripping…

Bloody Scotland - the book

Although I have to admit to doubting the wisdom of going to bed so soon after finishing the last stories. How was I going to sleep after what Denise Mina put me through? Or Louise Welsh? She’d seemed like such a pleasant person when I got my book signed at the weekend. How could she?

Whereas Stuart MacBride, who usually is too dark for my general wellbeing, just entertained me, and almost made me laugh. Almost. I would like to see his crazy romp at Kinnaird Head Lighthouse with his insane characters made into a short film. I think. I might not be able to watch it, though. Crying out to be filmed, whether or not I am witch enough to view it.

This crime story collection with stories by twelve of Scotland’s best, was the brainchild of Historic Environment Scotland, or HES for short, in collaboration with Bloody Scotland. Why not have our professional killers write a story each, set in one or other of the many HES buildings or sites? Why not? Well, maybe in order not to scare people.

For those less feeble-minded than your witch, this is a marvellous memento of your visit to a HES site. It’s marvellous even if you never go, and after you’ve waded through some bloodbaths you might have second thoughts. So visit first, then buy, and read last. After which you either go back to look at the place again (I know your type..!), or your next visit will be to a place where Bloody Scotland has not murdered anyone.

Yet. I feel there should be more of these. Obviously not to be read at bedtime.

It’s not all blood and gore and devastation however. Chris Brookmyre is suitably fun and lighthearted, and Gordon Brown’s character has a lesson to learn. A couple of authors have gone for revenge, which was most satisfying. Or history, such as Lin Anderson’s visit to the distant past, or E S Thomson’s industrial history drama.

I’ve already mentioned how pleased Doug Johnstone was about my reaction to his tale about the Forth Bridge. And if I don’t mention Val McDermid, Sara Sheridan, Craig Robertson or Ann Cleeves next to their stories, it’s to avoid spoilers.

You don’t want to know when to beware the narrator/main character, or when they are as innocent as you want/expect them to be. Or people close to them. There’s a lot of bad people out there.

But as I said, once the sleep problems have been dealt with, I can’t but want more of this. I can think of authors not yet asked to kill for HES, or places to visit that have not yet been, well, ‘visited.’

Let the blood flow and your nerves take a beating. Won’t be the only thing to take a beating, I can promise you.

Bloody Scotland blog tour

Bloody India at Bloody Scotland

There were so many things I had no idea I needed to know about Kolkata!

Bloody India was my first event on Sunday morning, and it was even better than I had expected. Jenny Brown was there to usher the others in, and they were ‘needs no introduction, she’s great, obviously’ Lin Anderson and ‘little’ Doug Johnstone, whose jobs were to introduce Monabi Mitra, all the way from Kolkata, and Abir Mukherjee, from his mum’s house ‘down the road,’ but who usually lives in London.

Monabi Mitra

Chance – and the British Council – had sent Lin and Doug, and oh, Jenny too, to the Kolkata Literary Festival in February, where they met lots of people (they get something like 2,500,000 visitors there…), including, I believe, Monabi. Such numbers will explain why Scotland wants to make it on the Indian litscene. Just imagine how many books they could sell to so many fervent fans of reading! They are planning special Indian editions of Scottish crime, and expect to return there in February 2018.

Lin and Doug entered Indian immigration successfully, but there had been some doubt about whether Jenny should be let through. Or so they claimed. But when they were all safely in, and wondering what could have happened to their luggage, they discovered that people from [the plane?] had kept their bags company in the now deserted airport.

Doug said that it wasn’t until he went to India that he understood what culture shock means. And people are so cultural, in a place where readers rioted because the book fair closed early… According to Abir the words on the airport ceiling are from Tagore’s works. Watching an eight-year-old boy choosing a book to buy, they were flabberghasted to find it was a copy of Ivanhoe.

Anyway, as Lin said, we hadn’t come to hear her and Doug speak.

Monabi Mitra, The Final Report

Monabi Mitra is a professor of English literature, and she is married to a detective inspector, which might explain why she started writing crime fiction. She said there’s a duality in her life, with literature on one side and the dangerous world of the police on the other. Mentioning her own experience of being present at an autopsy, she feels there must be one in each book.

Indian autopsies are quite different from the Western kind we’ve got used to from CSI. Monabi read an excerpt from her novel, about a shockingly different autopsy. It’s fast, and careless, and there are rats, and it’s always smelly.

Abir Mukherjee

Abir Mukherjee reckons he is the only Scottish-Indian crime writer, and if there’s anyone else, he’ll have to kill them. He recounted the old tale of how in parts of Scotland people want to know if you are Catholic or Protestant, and when saying he’s Hindu, they want to know if he’s a Catholic Hindu or a Protestant Hindu.

Kolkata is practically a Scottish city, built by Scots, and it’s not all that old. Bengalis are very much like Scots, but without the alcohol. The period between 1919 and 1947 is an important one.

Abir Mukherjee, A Rising Man

Reading from A Rising Man, Abir chose a passage about a visit to a church (because we were in a church). His detective is a Scot who has gone to live in Kolakata after being widowed, and it was ‘slightly preferable to suicide.’ A sad background, but Abir’s writing is humorous and his book sounds like a great read. There is apparently a shared gallow’s humour between Scotland and Bengal.

Monabi mentioned the works of H R F Keating and his Inspector Ghote. As homage to this man who wrote about an India he’d not visited, she named her detective Inspector Ghosh. She pointed out that in India you don’t tend to hire a PI, unless you are ‘in deep shit.’

Monabi Mitra

When asked, she said that she thinks in English, although she speaks two other languages. She described her Saturday at Bloody Scotland, the sunshine (!) and what a great invention queueing is. Kolkata is not orderly. It’s wonderful here, and the events were real eye-openers.

But on the other hand, Kolkata used fingerprinting before Britain, and Ronald Ross discovered what causes malaria (admittedly by experimenting on the servants…). Kolkata was very cosmopolitan between the two world wars, and in the past ‘its greatness was greater.’

Abir said that the reason he writes is he read some popular crime novels and felt they were so badly written that he could do better. Despite his Indian background he said he didn’t feel he could write from a Bengal point of view, which is why he chose a Scot in Kolkata.

Abir Mukherjee and Doug Johnstone

His first book is set in 1919, and he said that whereas what happened in Amritsar that year had an impact on Kolkata as well, news travelled so slowly, that he had to make up faster news for his story, so that they knew the day after.

When time was up, there was a bit of a scramble to be first to the books for sale [as there could have been more copies]. I admit to buying a book by each of the visiting authors, which is something that hardly ever happens. I spoke a little to both of them, and Monabi told be about the number of Scots who have not only moved to Kolkata, but have aquired nationality, because it’s the best place to live.

After this event I can sort of see why.

Bloody Scotland – Sunday

My theory is that if you tried to take photos of someone’s arm being waved in front of an author’s face, you’d not do well. Whereas if you aim for the opposite, there are an awful lot of available arms out there, as well as hands and stomachs and books. Another observation is that it helps trying to enter a Bloody Scotland venue through the correct door.

That aside, Sunday was another good day. Well, I might have jinxed the weather somewhat by mentioning Saturday’s sunshine. It rained a wee bit on Sunday. But that’s fine. We are hardy souls.

Continuing with events featuring less well known crime writers, I began with Bloody India at the Albert Park South Church, although the Resident IT Consultant wondered what they did about their Sunday morning service. (I’m not sure, but at some point I did hear an organ being played, so am guessing they made use of the other end, so to speak.)

Abir Mukherjee and Monabi Mitra

Was pleased to encounter Fledgling’s Claire Cain, and we compared notes on events seen. I decided I didn’t fancy Harlan Coben, and swapped the free book on my seat for Elizabeth Moon’s Winning Colours.

Had another event in the church immediately after, so trooped out and queued with a couple of crime fans who had just been to hear Vince Cable, and who were very enthusiastic, except maybe not about his book selling out. Coincidentally it’s a crime novel, set partly in India. And they’d definitely vote for him.

My second event was Pitch Perfect, and I spied a couple of people ‘in the business’ but don’t know if they were there for professional purposes or not. It’d be a good place to discover a new – and unadopted – book you like the sound of. As for me I was so carried away by it all that I – literally – forgot where I was.

Louise Welsh

ES Thomson

Then it was time to walk over to the Albert Halls, where I did a quick check for signing authors and found a panel of four, including three who had written a short story each for the Bloody Scotland anthology; Louise Welsh, E S Thomson and Doug Johnstone. Remembering I actually had my copy in my bag, I hot-footed over to the end of the queue, while mentally kicking myself for not collecting more signatures on Saturday. Virtually everyone is/was here. I told Doug how disturbing his story was, and he seemed really pleased.

Doug Johnstone and Pat Young

Went downstairs for James Oswald’s event, and looking around the free books, came to the conclusion that there are a lot of books by James Patterson in the world. In fairness, the James we came to see also has a few books out, and the shelves in the shop were satisfyingly full of his Tony McLean novels.

Albert Halls bookshop

Managed to avoid most of the unwanted arms and elbows when I took photos of James at his signing. Noted that he has adapted to signing sitting down.

James Oswald

Some of us also found Lin Anderson resting after chairing his event, and I got myself another Bloody Scotland signature. I asked Lin if we might hope to see more of this kind of story collection, and if it’s down to her, we definitely will. Let’s hope it is then, because as she said, they only used up a dozen authors for this volume, and many more where they came from.

It was time for me and my umbrella to walk home, and I did so musing on the mystery of Stuart Neville. I had kept noticing his photo in the programme, and every time I looked for his name, he wasn’t there. It wasn’t until I peered extra carefully at the photograph that I saw that it was him. Stuart was here as Haylen Beck, who has a ‘debut’ novel out. I should have trusted my instincts. There can’t be two authors who look like that.

Bloody Scotland 2016 – The beginning

Val McDermid and Provost Mike Robbins

We don’t kill using tropical fish, or even curare, in Scotland. Murder wants to be less outlandish. More the way William McIlvanney killed. More Scottish. That’s why Bloody Scotland renamed their crime award after the late, much admired and loved, crime writer.

His brother Hugh was at the opening celebrations at the Golden Lion last night, along with our host Provost Mike Robbins and most of the authors who are in Stirling for another bloody weekend.

Robert Burns had been there too, but not all that recently, I understand.

Chris Brookmyre with Hugh McIlvanney and Magnus Linklater

There were various speeches before Chris Brookmyre was announced winner of this year’s prize. This nice man – who is always shorter than I expect him to be – was photographed, and then came and lay his prize at my feet as he was interviewed on camera right in front of me.

Chris Brookmyre

The longlisted authors were corralled into a line in front of the stage, and it almost worked. There’s always one not quite in the right place. The shortlisted ones were clutching their prizes, the complete works of William McIlvanney.

James Oswald, Lin Anderson, E S Thomson, Chris Brookmyre, Doug Johnstone, Val McDermid, Stuart MacBride

McIlvanney Longlisted authors

I avoided the haggis canapés, looking to see where the promised veggie ones might be, but gave up. (I had a sandwich in my bag.) Picked up my free ticket to go and see Stuart MacBride and Caro Ramsay at the Albert Halls, and discovered that it is indeed only five minutes there, even for me. I thought they’d lied.

The free books

There was a free book on every seat, donated by Bloody Scotland sponsors BookDonors. I was about to scout around for the most interesting one, when I realised ‘my’ seat came with a Paul Temple, and you can’t improve on that. Had to sit next to a Jeffrey Archer however.

Stuart and Caro arrived on stage promising a shambles, which I have to say they managed to deliver. Caro brought a book, in case she got bored. I did too. She brandished a traffic sign to be used in case of spoilers, mentioned something about someone not drinking. And there were rats.

I only took one, very poor, picture, because I discovered my stupid mobile has a flash. And that’s not good.

They argued about their first meeting, which might have been about sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. Or not. If it was in Harrogate, then it wasn’t Caro. There was some running back and forth, dog style, possibly for a reason. Worst reviews brought out some interesting ones, and they discussed whether they post reviews of their own books on Amazon.

From Googling herself, Caro knows she speaks Swedish, which caused some problems when required to actually speak it. Stuart offered a Swedish Chef impersonation. He’s a man who never plans, and he certainly won’t tell anyone the best place in Aberdeen to hide a body.

In Glasgow they kill with sarcasm, not guns. And I didn’t quite catch the issues with horse meat and butchers. There was a soaking cat, somewhere, unless it was stroaking a cat.

Might have been.

Yeah, so that was the first bloody evening.

Francis Durbridge, Send for Paul Temple Again!

Capital Crime; Edinburgh Noir

They are busy upsetting tourist boards all over Scotland. They, being Neil Broadfoot, Doug Johnstone and James Oswald. I mean, how dare they commit murder in the lovely settings the tourist boards are meant to promote?

Yes, well, they do. But last Sunday morning the topic for discussion was putting people off Edinburgh, or rather, telling us about how they have approached murder in the Scottish capital.

James Oswald – described in a blurb as the new Ian Rankin – started writing his Tony McLean books in Wales, so had to pick the areas of Edinburgh he knew from when he was a student. Besides, Stuart MacBride already had Aberdeen, which would have been a second choice for James.

Doug Johnstone is from Arbroath and thought that Dundee is a big city, so he simply ‘got over it’ [Edinburgh’s reputation], and he tries to find areas less well represented in fiction to make them his. He has also written about Islay, and in order to avoid lots of research he makes his characters visitors, so that he doesn’t have to prove he knows a place like a native.

Neil Broadfoot’s only reason for ‘being here’ was Edinburgh. A journalist for the Scotsman he described getting the idea of killing someone by throwing them off the Scott Monument. He also enjoys killing on Skye, and generally likes taking a beautiful place and doing something terrible in it.

So the introduction by Alanna Knight was obviously quite apt; ‘Edinburgh has always been bad.’ She talked about Burke and Hare, saying what a fascinating crime history Edinburgh has.

James Oswald

James’s Tony McLean hardly ever gets sent out of Edinburgh. He needs to be there. In the early days of writing James described the rather nice area of Trinity, off Leith Walk, as a place full of drug addicts and whores. Now he checks his facts a bit better. He also finds he needs to move McLean and the murders to new areas, and not just stick to the few he knew well years ago. A while ago he thought of a friend’s house in Gilmerton, and decided he was going to murder someone there. He then discovered the caves in Gilmerton, which were absolutely perfect for killing people in.

Doug tries to be as accurate as possible, so has maps and photos on his wall. He checks distances from A to B, and which way you’d travel between them, as well as knowing house numbers, mentioning a murder which took place in Ian Rankin’s house.

Neil Broadfoot

Neil said you’d never have a Mardi Gras in Princes Street, and that tone and flavour is the most important. He also seems to have considered, very carefully, how you’d kill someone by running a tram into them.

Questioned on writing series, Neil said that one novel tends to give him the next one. Doug isn’t strong enough to be hard to his characters by having them go through the treatment he dishes out more than once.

Tony McLean gets more scarred with every book, but James blames Stuart MacBride for this. Asked if you have to read the books in order, he said you don’t need to, but that he’d prefer for people ‘to buy all the books…’ (The Benfro books must be read in order, however.)

James read the passage from Gilmerton cove and it was chilling even when you have already read the book. Doug read a suicide scene set on the Forth Road Bridge in Queensferry, which made me want to read the book, while also making me not want to read it. Neil said that as it was after twelve, he was allowed to swear, which he did when he read about murder in a newspaper editor’s office [not the Scotsman].

As to who they write for, they agreed you must write for yourself and not try and please others. James found this out when publishers made him lose the supernatural from his books, but it was rubbish. Besides, Allan Guthrie told him to keep the ghosts in.

Doug Johnstone

Doug said you have to write what you have to write. This former nuclear physicist has always written, and he was encouraged to ‘go for it’ after getting two quite nicely done rejections.

And politics is generally a no.