first I was thinking, here we go, another book where a serial killer kidnaps
and tortures a beautiful young woman. And then it wasn’t. Amusing, original and demands you turn the
The Cry - Helen Fitzgerald
striking “dilemma” novel, emotionally charged and brilliantly executed.
An Exquisite Sense of What
is Beautiful – J. David Simon
read this right at the start of the year and it has stayed with me. Manages to be both exquisite and
beautiful. Need I say more?
Blood City – Douglas
in Glasgow in the 80’s. A fast, furious and fascinating read. (I’m sure I could
slip another “f” in there. Mmmm. Best not.)
Grim Company – Luke Scull
excellent debut into a brand new fantasy series. Avoids the information dump a
lot of new fantasy novelists feel they need to start off a series. A great set up and a team of characters I
want to spend time with. I was hooked from page one. (And the author has the
best name, right?)
Norwegian By Night – Derek
hero in his 80s, in a foreign country, fighting to save a young boy’s
life. Manages to combine lyricism with
Beautiful Ruins – Jess
laugh out loud funny and utterly charming. You will fall in love with this
419 – Will Ferguson
the Giller Prize (Canada’s version of the MAN Booker). A prizewinner that’s
readable! An author who knows his way
round a tasty sentence and a genuinely thrilling and fascinating plot. Also a
reminder, if we need one, how the so-called developed world bowing at the altar
of the god of profit has damaged Africa.
Nos4r2 – Joe Hill
creep-inducing – gave me the shivers at several stages through the reading of
the book. A chunky read with crisp writing, Hill gives his old man a run for
certain you’ll find something here to enjoy. So go, buy one or more, wontcha?
The Sleeping Warrior can be loosely described as an urban fantasy, for
want of a better description. It’s a crime thriller with a subtle fantasy
element thrown in.
Mixing up the genres of contemporary fiction has been quite a challenge
and I hope that readers will approach it with their minds wide open and focus
on the story as a whole. The title is well represented in the book: as a famous
mountain vista from the Ayrshire coast; as the central heroic character of the
story; and as the inherent dormant warrior spirit within us all that awakes in
times of crises.
Describe your inspiration for the book?
I am a fantasy author and have been writing heroic fantasy for a few
years. For some reason, I decided to take a break from the epic and write a
contemporary novel as my debut.
Speculative and slipstream fiction is becoming more popular with readers
and much of it is being serialised on the TV and finding its way into movies.
Since I started writing the book over five years ago, it’s obviously not
my intention to jump on the bandwagon of consumer preference; I just liked the
notion of placing a fantasy character into the real world and seeing what he’d
do. That was the intention at the beginning and I loved the way he worked.
Talk to me about your main character/s.
The main protagonist is a self-centred, cynical young lawyer called
Libby Butler who finds her life turned upside down after meeting Gabriel, a
stranger in a south London police station’s custody suite. As she finds herself
in more and more dangerous situations, she comes to terms what is really
important in life and what is merely misguided aspiration.
I really admire honour as a human characteristic. Even though we know
little about Gabriel, you have to respect his strength and self-control. He is
a man who doesn’t abuse his powerful advantages over others and teaches solely
Did any themes come out of the writing that surprised you?
Identity as a theme underpins the story. It must have been a subconscious
thing because I never really thought of a main theme when writing the book. For
some reason, I wrote a scene where Gabriel happened to be reading Umberto Eco’s
Name of the Rose and everything suddenly came together as if it was always
meant to happen. It was completely accidental. I tried to think of intelligent
literature that he would be interested in and remembered that Eco said
something to the effect that a name can be so rich in meaning that it has no
meaning at all. I don’t want to give away any of the story, so will just say
that a name can empower or deprive.
I like to go to places where I can escape for a while and immerse myself
into completely different worlds. Fantasy has always been my preferred genre to
both read and, therefore, to write.
I suppose I have had a career in writing. I was an editor for a legal
publishing company and then a newspaper journalist, so the written word has
always been part of my day job. Some people paint to release creative imagination,
others play music. I write because that is the means by which I can best convey
Why go it alone?
There is still quite a lot of stigma attached to self-published authors,
despite the fact that even peasants can be king on Amazon. I even note that
quite a few amateur book reviewers will only accept traditionally published
authors, which suggests to me that even readers will turn their noses up to
authors who have decided to go it alone.
The fact is that publishers, who have controlled what people read for so
long, are fast losing business to the likes of Amazon and finding out that
readers are perfectly capable of choosing what they want to read for
themselves. You see time and time again, authors who could paper their walls with
rejection letters, become best-sellers overnight.
I’m quite conventional in a way and, until recently, have always aspired
to being a traditionally published author. I’ve thought long and hard about
this and, when The Sleeping Warrior attracted the interest of three publishers,
in a fit of defiance, I thought ‘why should I give it to them?’
I then decided to start up a publishing house which, although I am the
first author to be published by it, I certainly won’t be the only one. I really
don’t care if other writers or readers sniff at the fact I’m self-published.
There is so much effort expended in the process and so much I have learned that
I feel my achievement has been truly great. I am so proud to be able to hold a
real and tangible paperback copy of my first novel in my hands and say ‘I wrote
this and then I published this all by myself.’
You know how it is, no posts for months and now two in a matter of days. Do I spoil you people or wot?
Anywho, I've been busier than a one legged man in an arse kicking contest and I thought I'd share with you some of my goings ons (if that's not a real saying it should be) over the last wee while.
I had a blast at the Grantown crime festival with Caro Ramsay, Alex Gray, Lin Anderson, Malcolm Archibald, Marc Douglas Home - wonderfully organised by the might atom herself, the owner of one of the best wee bookshops in Scotland, The Bookmark - Marjorie Marshall.
On the Friday, Marjorie organised a Crime and Dine evening where we had two authors to a table and we moved to a different table for each course of the meal. It was an excellent evening. Good food and even better company. Here's a photo (lifted from Caro's website).
Another fun night was an "In Conversation ..." evening I had at the University of the West of Scotland, chaired by Dave Manderson with Douglas Skelton and myself talking about our books.
Before they let us loose on the audience, we were interviewed for the University's radio station. The interview is HERE
Go on. You know you want to.
I don't. But that's another story.
There is a short film - very short - of the event on Youtube somewhere. But I can't inflict that on you.
One of the most common questions I’m asked by newbie writers
is whether or not to use sexual swear words in their fiction.
I didn’t give this much thought pre-publication, but I have
since learned that lots of people do care about the use of this sort of
language. It seems a bizarre double standard that you can portray any number of
violent acts without comment, but have your character use the F word and you
will receive all kinds of opprobrium. (I have all these big words in my head.
Got to use them sometime.)
My first lesson on this was when I was doing an event with
Alex Gray and Craig Robertson last year in Dundee. A lady approached us at the
signing table after the event and said she only had enough money to buy one of
our books and to help her decide, she needed to know if we used swear words in
My thought was, that’s me screwed and I pointed to Alex.
A mate of mine, Tony Black had a review on Amazon where the
“reviewer” said that as a Christian she really objected to the foul language
used by the characters. Presumably, as a Christian she didn’t mind the violence
that befell the characters, because she didn’t mention any of that. Then she
went on to question whether our fine officers in blue would use such language.
Re-arrange this sentence, missus. Get to out you need more.
In any case who am I to say that you should get over it? I’m
not the arbiter of all that is fine and wholesome and acceptable. But neither
So, why does this language offend so much? It’s just words, innit? Why does that
syllable crash on to peoples’ ears with such impact? Words are a writer’s tool.
Every word we use while communicating is part of that tool-kit and has a place
in writing surely? It’s part of writer’s contract with the reader that you
display with honesty the interaction between humans. If a certain character would speak like that
in the real world then by fuck, he’s going to speak like that in my book.
I remember meeting my agent for the first time. She was
a small, polite lady of a certain age. A
gentlelady, if I can use the term. We were in a restaurant in an art gallery. We
had been talking for about ten minutes when she pointed to a part of the text
and said, “There’s too much fucking.”
I nearly spat out my mineral water.
She wasn’t referring to it as an action. (That would be a
totally different book.) She was talking about my characters’ use of the
word. So we decided that it was fine if
it was a verbal tic for McBain, but that the other characters should desist, in
the main, so that people didn’t think that it was all me. Thing is, I don’t
tend to swear much in everyday life, it’s just that when I started to write
Blood Tears the swearie words flowed. What’s that all about?
I reckon it was because I was going through a divorce at the
time. ‘Nuff said.
Anywho, the follow up is out now details HERE– and my
feeling – not that I’ve done a f-word count – is that there’s less of it this
time around. Maybe I’m a lot calmer now? The ex and I are good pals. AND in the book that comes out next spring only
contains one f-bomb.
So, aspiring writers? Your question to swear or not to swear?
Fucked if I know.
Everyone else is doing it, so I thought I would pitch in
with some of my favourite reads of 2012. (They needn’t necessarily have been
published last year, but they all came to my attention in the last 12 months.)
In no particular order ...
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was the last book I read in 2012,
but one that was on my radar for quite a few months - because so many people
were talking about it. And if you’re one of the few who hasn’t read it, grab a
copy, like, now. Thoroughly gripping. One of the strongest reactions I’ve had
to a character in a long while. And that’s good writing, people.
The Cold, Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty was the first book I
read in 2012 and it was a stormer. Set in Belfast in the 80’s it is a
fascinating read, beautifully written and with a real sense of danger.
Abide With Me by Ian Ayris
- one of my favourite debuts of the year. Warm, engaging and affecting,
with one of the most original voices I came across all year.
A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez. This is Stav’s first
venture into the police procedural and he’s taken to it like the proverbial
duck to the local pond, but with, I would suggest, a good deal more grace. It’s
classy, captivating and worth every penny I’m about to urge you to spend on
A Dark and Broken Heart by R J Ellory - This book
has quality written all over it – from the unforgettable characters, the see it
and taste it sense of place and the punch in the gut ending.
The Healing of Luther Grove by Barry Gornell - If Daniel
Woodrell had grown up in the West Highlands of Scotland rather than the Missouri
Ozarks in the US, he might have written this book. I simply can’t give this
debut novel any higher praise than that. Stunning.