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One to Watch August Crime Author Interview – Ed James


1. How did you get started writing

Music, really. I was in bands in my teens and twenties and by the end of it, I kind of fell out of love with music. Writing was the pursuit I jumped into – the first novel I wrote was about a guy in a band. (Curiously enough, the next Cullen book -BOTTLENECK – will use that world I created, in among the usual stuff that I’ll put Cullen through.) I finished it and then decided that the book was mince. I focused on a crime thriller after that, which I might recycle into a Cullen novella at some point. A few drafts of that, rejection from agents and I started GHOST IN THE MACHINE, the first Cullen book.

2. What drew you to crime fiction

I’ve always been a massive fan of the genre, ever since I picked up BLACK AND BLUE by Ian Rankin in 1998. It was in a pile of books my mum had got from the library and I was on summer holidays from university, unemployed and bored. That whiled a way a day, that’s for sure. Ever since then, I’ve devoured lots of crime fiction, whether it’s police procedurals like Rankin or Mark Billingham, or darker stuff like James Ellroy, Elmore Leonard or David Peace.

In terms of writing in the genre, there’s a story I’ve told a few times about picking up the wrong hardback one morning before work and, instead of reading Iain M Banks’ MATTER, I read Mark Billingham’s SCAREDY CAT. Halfway through I thought, I can write this stuff. And I did.

3. Which crime writers past or present have influenced your style of writing

Well, I’ve mentioned a few so far – Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham are probably the biggest direct influences in the crime space. Huge influences are the late Iain Banks – to me, he is absolutely peerless, he can write anything in any genre to such a high standard and I don’t think he’s written a bad book. Irvine Welsh is a huge influence as well – he has a wicked sense of humour and such a way with language. I don’t tend to go too far back – Rankin’s KNOTS AND CROSSES is probably the earliest thing I’ve read that’s influenced me – I tried ready some Raymond Chandler and Dashiel Hammett but they didn’t work for me. James Ellroy, however, writes in that sort of timeframe but with a modern edge to it, dispelling the myth of us having come from some period of enlightenment. I know that I said Banks is peerless but Ellroy is something else, too – the way his books have such sparse narration and minimal exposition just blow me away.

4. Were you surprised by the success of Ghost in the Machine on amazon

Blown away. I mean, I expected to sell maybe 2-300 copies. I’ve had over two hundred REVIEWS… I think I’ve had just over 40,000 downloads since it went free, too. I noticed a real upsurge in sales for the sequel afterwards too.

Factor in that I published it last April, which was pretty much when all of the “dark arts” stopped working – a lot of the early success stories either were just being there and lucking out or gaming the system. There are so many books self-published now – which is a great thing – that it’s become harder to get noticed. I’m just so relieved and grateful and thankful that I have been noticed.

5. Why do you think that it has become so successful

Because it’s free.

Seriously, though, it’s completely amazing and in some ways ridiculous that it has, but I did pick a fairly commercial genre, which I of course love, and it seems to have caught a lot of people’s attention. It’s quite a fresh take on the genre, and I consciously chose a DC, rather than a DCI or whatever, to show the bottom of the heap. The subject matter of the first novel is quite current, what with all the hullaballoo around Facebook and its privacy and so on.

6. Did you find the experience of writing your first novel an easy task or a quite daunting one

The first one I wrote was actually pretty easy to write but then it turned out to be pretty poor. The second book was a nightmare because I was trying to get the plot nailed down and basically learning. GHOST IN THE MACHINE took me about three years to get to the standard it’s at now, including about 18 months where I didn’t touch it due to being really busy at work. It was hard but I learnt some really difficult lessons – since I published it, I’ve completed four novels, so it was well worth it.

7. Why did you decide to set your books in Edinburgh and lately East Lothian

The Edinburgh thing is mainly because I love the city. It’s a very dark city in amongst the architectural beauty. It’s also a huge place, full of all walks of life. In terms of East Lothian, and accidentally setting two books there, it’s basically where I live and was an interesting setting for the story in DEVIL IN THE DETAIL and FIRE IN THE BLOOD. I need to keep away from there, though, as it could become MIDSOMER MURDERS with an improbable number of deaths – four in eighteen years in my books isn’t too unrealistic…

8. Your novel titles and Book covers are very quirky, was that planned or was it something that just came to you

The title for GHOST when I was drafting it was HONEY TRAP, but I decided that was piss poor and GHOST IN THE MACHINE came to me – the cover for the Police album of the same name was one of the most evocative I remember from my Dad’s record collection and kind of stuck to me. I did the usual thing of having the follow-ups share the same pattern, SOMETHING IN THE SOMETHING, and I think I’ve done quite enough of that. The first four kind of represent a single story, or it could be a TV season – I’ll not spoil DYED IN THE WOOL too much, but it kind of tells the story of Bain. The next book – BOTTLENECK -is going to be a new start for Cullen and the start of the second season.

The covers stemmed from an idea I had from the ghosts in Pacman, really, and were sort of like the covers that Chris Brookmyre would do. My other half does the covers and she’s done a cracking job. I think I’m getting to the point, though, where they might need a bit of a refresh – the ideas we’ve got for the cover to the next novel, a non-Cullen book, would work well across the piece.

One of the great things about eBooks is that you can refresh the covers – the next set might appeal to a different person. We’ll see.

9. What kind of research did you have to undertake for your books

A lot, and way more than I thought I would. I have to make it seem realistic that Cullen is a serving officer. A lot of the plot points come from actual police procedures and policies and laws, all of which I had to research and investigate in detail -you should see how full my Evernote account is!

Another aspect is keeping an eye out for real crimes – I use Google Reader and now Feedly to have a stream of Scottish police news stories from the Guardian, the Scotsman, the Herald, the BBC, etc, so that I can see the sort of evil shit that goes on but also how the police do respond to things.

I’ve been lucky in that one of my oldest friends is a serving officer in Lothian & Borders (as was) and he tells me when I’ve been a lazy twat with research!

The most recent book I’ve finished – SHOT THROUGH THE HEART, which is a non-Cullen supernatural thriller – had the most research I had to do. As well as research supernatural creatures like vampires and werewolves and try to come up with real-world explanations, I had to research the history of the north of Scotland and… well I don’t want to spoil the plot, but it’s about a historian writing a book about the Highland Clearances so I had to go really in-depth on that.

10. Are the characters in your books based on any real life people

Yes but I’m not telling you!

Bain is based, in part, on an old manager I used to have who had no idea of his own shortcomings. There’s also a large part of a few others in the explosive anger he has, and the swearing comes from a Test Manager I used to work with, though I had to tone it down for Bain (people who reckon Bain is OTT, well…)

Other than that, there’s nothing particular that I’ve taken from people, other than their names.

11. Since you have started writing crime novels have any known authors given you any advice

I’m just a wee hermit, I’m afraid. I had a good email exchange with DA Meyrick but that was more like peers sharing advice. Some of the best advice I had was from Jean McLennan who wrote the amazing BLOOD IN THE GLENS non-fiction book about some real-life unsolved Scottish murders – she tore apart the first few chapters of GHOST for me and I really appreciated the insight.

12. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa

Cullen is based a bit on me – as well as both of us coming from Angus towns (though Carnoustie was at least real unlike Cullen’s Dalhousie, which I really do need to put into a book…), we’re both a pair of idiots. I’ve never been a shagger like Cullen is, but I know a few people who have been, put it that way. People who’ve read DYED IN THE WOOL should recognise the emotionally stunted Scottish male psyche in there.

There is a character in the books who basically is me if my life had gone down a slightly different avenue, Cullen’s flatmate Tom. I do an odd thing where I put cameos of myself in my books as well, e.g. the cyclist in GHOST who discovers Gail’s body.

13. What do you see for the future of Scott Cullen in your books

I can’t tell you that, you’ll just have to wait and read them…

The next book is going to pick up on events from DYED IN THE WOOL, both in Cullen’s personal life and in his professional -remember that there’s now a vacancy in the DS ranks and maybe one in the DIs as well…

Suffice to say, though, I’ve got a fair few books left for Cullen with lots of ideas for novels. One of the big things that’s changed in my personal life recently is that I’m now a WILLIE -Work In London, Live In Edinburgh. I might set a Cullen book there, put it that way – lots of nonsense that boy can get up to down there.

14. How do you feel about being compared to Rebus and Fox creator Ian Rankin, as some reviewers have called you the Rankin of the Xbox generation

Flattered is the best thing, but I feel it’s quite perceptive. Rebus is a fantastic character but of a time – the way that Rankin has made him age in real-time has limited him, clearly, but allowed him to reflect society in a really powerful way. What I like to think I’m doing is freshening up that sort of grizzled detective and showing all the fuck-ups – the alcoholism, the divorce, the arch-enemy – happen on the page, rather than in exposition. Not that I’m going to do all of those things, necessarily! Rankin’s work is incredible, so to have that comparison is a huge compliment, both from the original quote in an Amazon review and then to see it positively repeated so many times. I loved the last Rebus novel and I’m really looking forward to the new one in November.

15. As a blossoming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share

It’s really hard and will take a lot of time and determination to even publish a book, let along be a success. Write a lot. Read a lot. Research a lot. Most crucially, get criticism from as many people as you can – friends and family or professionals – but listen to it, correct your work and learn from it. I’m still learning all the time but I’ve used everything single lesson I’ve learnt.

D.C. Scott Cullen Books
Ghost in the Machine
Devil in the Detail
Fire in the Bloods
Dyed in the Wool

For more information you can go to either his amazon author page at

Or his Own Website at


One response to “One to Watch August Crime Author Interview – Ed James

  1. Pingback: Ed James interview on There’s Been A Murder… | edjamesauthor

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