Tag Archives: Stuart MacBride

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

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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!

Shetland Noir, only once removed

I’m the kind of witch who can recognise Denise Mina from behind, out of context (i.e. not at some book festival). On the other hand, my Shetland Noir representative, Helen Grant, had no idea who this ‘tremendously likeable’ woman was, gorgeous black furry boots and all. They travelled on the same plane, which despite it being Friday the 13th suffered no mishap, which is lucky for Scottish crime and its future. Helen did know the other crime writer at the airport, though, as she had been at Oxford with MJ McGrath.

Ann Cleeves, Helen Grant and Doug Henshall, by Dale Smith

Helen was on her way to Shetland to receive the Jimmy Perez Trophy for writing the winning short story – The Beach House – from, as it turned out, the very hands of Jimmy Perez, aka actor Doug Henshall. Not bad for a simple misuse of a kitchen utensil. (I can just see how he stands there muttering, ‘not the cheese grater. Please not the cheese grater!’)

Ann Cleeves, Helen Grant and Doug Henshall, by Dale Smith

Strangely (!) Helen was quite keen to see a bit of beautiful Shetland while she was there, so apart from the grand reception and award thing on the Friday night, she ‘only’ went to two events, but they both sound really good. Also very female, because as we know, women scare and kill best. Just look at Helen herself.

Donald Anderson, Jacky Collins, Mari Hannah, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves and Alexandra Sokoloff

There was a panel on the benefits and pitfalls of screen adaptations, with Alexandra Sokoloff, Ann Cleeves, Denise Mina and Mari Hannah, chaired by Jacky Collins. It’s apparently a bit like adopting a baby, and learning to step away. Ann Cleeves had Vera Stanhope adapted after the producer picked up a copy of her book in Oxfam.

According to Alexandra, who has a past as a screenwriter, in America television does sell books, whereas Ann recognises that viewers might not be readers. Denise has had a very successful adaptation made from her book, totally authentic down to the 1980s Irn Bru sign on Central Station.  And on the benefits of adapting a book, Denise said that we love books – ‘That’s why we’re all dweebing out when there’s a perfectly good craft fair on.’ The book is the real connection with another human being.

Jake Kerridge, Laura Wilson, Helen Giltrow, MJ McGrath and Louise Millar

The cheerfully named Killer Women is a London-based group of female (obviously) crime writers, which started as a social group, but now meet to discuss murder as well. In Lerwick Laura Wilson, Helen Giltrow, MJ McGrath and Louise Millar spoke to Jake Kerridge about women in crime, both as writers, detectives and victims. Apparently if the victim is male he must suffer as a spy or at war, and not in a domestic setting.

MJ McGrath enjoys turning things round, like having a female detective instead of just as the sidekick. Her male detective breeds lemmings, in order to replace those who jump off cliffs… Louise Millar has interviewed people affected by crime, several years afterwards, to learn of the long term effects. And MJ interviewed some Hell’s Angels after a murder. She felt that being a woman was an advantage in that situation: ‘Either they want to impress you or they don’t take you seriously.’

Women are ‘equal opportunities readers’ and will read books by both women and men, but men are more likely to read men. Helen Giltrow, who works in a male dominated sector, espionage, has been told ‘you write like a man.’ MJ commented that ‘I have been told with great sincerity and as a compliment, I write like a brunette!’

On sex and violence Laura said that she has heard male writers say that women can go further because if a man writes about sexual violence people will think that he is a pervert who really wants to do it! Louise added that there is also the issue of having to write ‘likeable’ women, which is very constraining.

(I’ve never noticed any ‘constraining’…)

On the gossip front the latest news from Ann Cleeves seems to be a non-crime (I’m guessing non-fiction) book about Shetland. Because she loves it. Alex Gray is incredibly nice, and she and Helen talked about Bloody Scotland. Valerie Laws’ sleep was not helped by waves breaking against the hotel wall right beneath her window. (At least the sea stayed on the outside.) Marsali Taylor wins [Helen’s] prize for best dressed crime writer, with a stunning fuchsia silk fitted dress with gold embroidery and matching trousers.

After a weekend like this, Helen can almost see herself having more of a go at adult crime. It was ‘inspiring.’ And next time she flies to Shetland, her woolly hat will be in her hand luggage.

Doug Henshall and Helen Grant, by Dale Smith

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.

Demon rules and the Glasgow underground

Did you know there are rules for summoning demons? And that crime writers all refer to the same rules?

I trust I didn’t imagine this. Michael J Malone chaired the Bloody Scotland Sunday afternoon supernatural event, talking to Alexandra Sokoloff, Gordon Brown (the other one) and James Oswald. Actually, I don’t suppose the event was supernatural. It was the topic. Although, Alexandra was described as the daughter of Mary Shelley, so I don’t know.

After a ‘warm bloody welcome’ Michael asked the three to blame someone or something for what they are doing. Gordon Brown didn’t know he wanted to write crime, but worked out that he could do a lot of horrible things to people if he did. He described a Glasgow pub fight he’d witnessed once, where one man was sitting reading a book, completely oblivious to the fighting going on around him.

Alexandra Sokoloff

Alexandra said that although she had a past working with juvenile crime in Los Angeles (where she’s from), it was the Scottish who led her to crime. Hearing Denise Mina and Val McDermid talk at BoucherCon one year, she realised that crime writing was the best way to address social issues, tired of the endless slaughter of women in books, and she wanted to turn that around, writing about a female Jack Reacher type.

James blames (hey, that rhymes…) Stuart MacBride. James was writing his epic fantasy series when Stuart told him to stop doing that. So James wrote a few short stories to see if he could write crime, but he hasn’t been able to totally shake off the fantastic element. Hence the demons.

James Oswald

Is evil a noun or an adjective? It can be both, but James uses it as an adjective. And he says that publishers want something different, as long as it’s the same as everything else. Gordon has a plan for putting two politicians into the same room, having the First Minister murder another Minister…

Sex? Well, Gordon doesn’t think he could write it very successfully. And can you let your mother read it? James doesn’t believe the reader should know about the detective’s sex life. They can have one, but you don’t need the details. Whereas Alexandra likes sex and so do her characters. She wants the stories to have erotic suspense, and besides, the books go on for too long for the characters not to have sex. But James said he feels the suspense can still be there with clothes on.

Have they met evil people? Gordon said you can’t possibly know. Alexandra thinks you can, and she has encountered many evil people in the past. James has led a sheltered life, but has come across evil intent, even if people are not evil.

Gordon Brown

Gordon said that if something feels gratuitous, then it probably is. It’s better to imply than to describe. It’s harder, but better, to get inside people’s heads. Alexandra gave up screenwriting because she didn’t like the ‘torture porn’ she was expected to write. She writes about violence, but doesn’t like to read about extreme violence. Humour, according to James, is true to life, so you need it in a book. If there is none, it makes the book hard to read.

Writing series – Alexandra has written two books, and is working on the third, but doesn’t know how long she would continue. Feedback from readers is a good thing. Gordon will write more if he likes the characters, but if he tires of them it’s hard to make it fresh. James doesn’t know. He’s got a contract for six McLean novels, and since his detective doesn’t die at the end of book six, there is scope for more. He gets to know him better with each book, so could go on forever.

Have they researched the supernatural? Well, there seems to be some ground rules about demons. Alexandra has read up on the rules. James relies on Buffy, and Gordon talked about getting the Glasgow underground wrong. The trains might go round and round, but you could still be on the wrong platform.

Neighbourhood watch

I walked round the neighbourhood in the recent – and very welcome – sunshine. So sunny was it, that when I came level with Mr Beaverman’s house, I didn’t see him at first, hidden in the shade, killing off his weeds.

But he called out a greeting and I stopped for a chat. The funny thing is, I can’t quite remember how we first started talking, years ago. But it’s that sort of neighbourhood; you feel a connection with someone further down the road, across generations and occupations and any other obstacles you might come up with.

Once the primroses had been discussed, I mentioned I needed to get back to packing more books. I moaned about the number of books we have, and Mr Beaverman countered with how many he owns. Lots of metres…

And then he said – in an apologetic kind of way – that most of them were only (and here I imagined he’d say they were mostly boring ones, like the Resident IT Consultant’s books) whodunnits. Just think! Here we’ve been polite for years and we have never ventured onto a shared interest in crime. Because you don’t, when there are primroses and world economics and important stuff that you can talk about.

Ian Rankin

He likes Ian Rankin. He has read all of his books. I was desperately trying not to say I’ve only read one. (Sorry about that.) And having read all of Rankin, he has moved on to Stuart MacBride. I shuddered and asked how he managed that, saying I’d only read a short (Barrington Stoke) MacBride and that was more than enough for my ladylike nerves.

Mr Beaverman admitted the books are gory, but that’s OK. He then described what happens in the one he’s reading now…

I mentioned I’d heard Stuart at Bloody Scotland last September, and how entertaining he and Val McDermid had been. We agreed that swearing is all right if there is a reason for it.

James Oswald, Natural Causes

And then I tried to interest Mr B in James Oswald, since he is obviously into Scottish crime. I pointed to the Edinburgh setting, which ought to be just right for someone who has exhausted Rebus & Co, but totally forgot to say that James has named his sidekick for Stuart. Must go back and tell him.

Mr B would like to go on a Rebus walk in Edinburgh, but the trouble is when he is there, he’s so busy visiting people, he’s never had the time.

It might be time to force him.

Meanwhile I’m pondering who else Mr Beaverman would enjoy. Knowing me, I won’t settle until I’ve got a long list. (And I went back to my house with a view to seeing if I had any crime I could off-load.)

The best combination

The book I’m reading now is that best of things. It’s a children’s book. And it’s crime. I’m having trouble staying away from it. You’ll wonder why that is a problem, and the thing is I have so much to do. But I find myself sitting down, promising to read just one chapter before whatever.

It is often several chapters when I surface again.

Back in the olden days I don’t recall finding crime for children once you were past Enid Blyton & Co. So the thing for young readers who wanted to go on detecting, was to move on to adult crime novels. Which was all right as long as you could stick to Agatha Christie and other ‘light murderers.’

Those books are obviously still with us, and presumably young teens who have watched Poirot, might consider trying them. But am I wrong in thinking that new crime tends to be generally more gruesome, and thereby less suitable for the post-Blyton fan?

Actually, there is old-style cosy crime still being published. But when I think new crime, I think much more graphic, with more violence and sex and swearing than you want for your average 14-year-old.

And the reverse question is whether there was a lot of that around 40 years ago, and I just didn’t notice? Among the crime novels I receive now, I seem to mainly be in for the very, very bloody and depressing ones. There are books I just look at briefly, before deciding that even if I had twice the time, I wouldn’t dream of reading that. This week, one arrived accompanied by a wooden spatula, engraved with the title of the book, and both had to go.

On the other hand, with YA books, there is less need to jump straight  from Blyton to, say, Stuart MacBride. One excellent choice would be the one I’m reading now. More about that on Monday. Hopefully.

You can never have too much intelligent YA crime.