1. How did you get started writing? For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a writer. As a young boy/teenager I read everything I could get my hands on – Biggles, James Bond, Pan Book of Horror Stories, Allan Quatermain, and otheraction/adventure/horror stories. But when faced with Chaucer, Dickens, Austen, and other ‘boring’ authors in secondary education, I lost interest in reading and English, with a corresponding decline in exam marks, and turned to maths and engineering. I ended up studying Civil Engineering at Strathclyde University, and when I graduated I sought employment overseas – but all the while I nurtured the dream that one day I would make a living from writing. However, life and work andpaying the bills got in the way, until I woke up one day in my late thirties and realised that I did not want to look back on my life when I reachedseventy and wish I had tried to become a writer. That day I went out and bought myself a computer and a ‘Teach Yourself Typing’ book,then sat down to write a novel.
2. What drew you to crime fiction? My first completed manuscript was a sprawling international thriller. My next three manuscriptswere also thrillers. But I was unable to sell any of them, so I tried writing other stories –psychological suspense; WWII action/romance; even comedy. On a trip to St. Andrews one weekend, walking back to the hotel on a cold winter night with my wife, we turned into a side street, and the setting just struck me. In a moment of epiphany I realised that St. Andrewswould make a terrific setting for a crime series.From that spark of an idea, I wrote the first of my crime series – EYE FOR AN EYE – after which I managed to find an agent willing to represent me.
3. Which crime writers past or present have influenced your style of writing? Robert Ludlum and Frederick Forsyth were thriller authors I could not get enough of. At one time, I believe I had read every book both of them had published, so I suppose they fired my desire to write action stories. I was living in the States when I started writing in earnest, so readmainly American authors. In terms of my ‘style’ of writing, over the years I think I wasinfluenced mostly by Martin Cruz Smith, Greg Iles, and Robert Harris.
4. Out of your four novels which one was the easiest to write and which one has been your favourite to write? I haven’t found any of them easy to write and always seem to struggle with the first draft. But once that first draft is down, that is when I begin to enjoy the whole process. I think my most recent – LIFE FOR A LIFE – has been my favourite to write, because I had such a tight deadline set by my publisher, and I had to workseven days a week for over two months to accomplish it. I found the enforced continuity of the writing process helped me to keep the story tighter, the end result being a story that I am particularly proud of and pleased with – suspenseful, gripping, and sufficiently gruesomenot to put readers off completely.
5. Did you find it hard to get publisher interest when you first started writing? I found it almost impossible. I came within a hairs-breadth of Random House, NY, buying my first thriller almost 20 years ago, but the editor had only just started there, and did not want his first buy to be with an unpublished writer, so he rejected it. It took me eighteen years, 1.15 million polished words, and over 400 rejections (I stopped counting at 400), from that morning in my late thirties, before I managed to contract with my first publisher, Luath Press Ltd., in Edinburgh.
6. Why did you decide to set your books mostly in St. Andrews? In addition to the epiphany regarding the setting– cathedral ruins, castle ruins, black cliffs, stone houses, narrow lanes, cobbled streets, and of course the cold and wet and windy Scottish weather battering the place senseless – once I had given the idea some thought, I realised thatthe town also had national recognition from Prince William attending its University, and international recognition from being the home of golf. It seemed to me that St. Andrews was a town just waiting to be written about, and I wondered why no one had ever set a crime series there before. As far as I am aware, my DCI Gilchrist books are the first and only contemporary crime series set in St. Andrews.
7. You were involved in the Killer Cook Book project. Can you tell us more about it? That happened purely by chance, about the time of the inaugural St. Andrews book festival in 2012. I was scheduled to participate in the Dundee Book Festival with fellow crime novelists Caro Ramsay and Anna Smith, but with our event being held as a satellite event in St. Andrews because my series was set there. However, no one thought to tell me this, and when I was invited to participate in the St. Andrews Book Festival, I eagerly agreed, only to find out later about the scheduling conflict. After much discussion between the respective festival organisers, they decided to abandon ourevent in St. Andrews, and to invite me to participate in the launch of the Killer Cook Book, which had been edited by Caro Ramsay.The event turned out to be a great success, and I am proud to have been involved in such a goodcause.
8. Do you think that the amalgamation in April of the Scottish police force in to one organization could affect your books in the future? My series is set in the early to mid-2000s – which was when I started writing it – and is creeping forward bit by bit with each new book, so the amalgamation of the Scottish police force is still a long way off for DCI Gilchrist. My agent and I did discuss bringing the series forward by a number of years, but neither of us could see any benefit in doing so. In the end, we agreed to keep the series as it was, which will bring about its own set of problems before the date of the amalgamation –the North Street Police Office has moved; Lafferty’s pub (run by Fast Eddy in my series) has reverted to TheCriterion; the Memorial Hospital has since been demolished – all of which feature in my series.And just like the amalgamation of the Scottish Police Force in due course, as offices move and pub names change I will have to give consideration how best to handle these. I still think I am a good few books away from having to worry about changes to the Scottish police force.
9. What kind of research did you have to undertake for your books? Since beginning my series, I have befriended a number of people who work in, or have retired from, Fife Constabulary. They kindly answer allsorts of questions throughout the development of the story, and then read my finished manuscript. I feel confident that all police procedural aspects are accurate and correct, and if any happen to be wrong, then the mistakes aremine. In TOOTH FOR A TOOTH I had to research how to reconstruct facial features from a skull, and found it fascinating. The difficulty for the author then, is to explain it all to the reader without it coming across like an instruction booklet, and slowing the story down. I try to do this through dialogue, and I think I managed to pull it off in TOOTH. I made a deliberate choice when I started my series not to inundate the reader with forensic science and facts, but to try to engage the reader more in the characters and their relationships, which had the added benefit of helping to cut down the need to research stuff I knew little about.
10. In your books you touch on some harrowing murders and events for your characters. Do you find these moments difficult to write about? Strangely, or perhaps worryingly, I don’t find these difficult or upsetting to write at all, and in fact I really enjoy writing them. I’ve always been puzzled by that, because I can write and read the most harrowing stuff with barely a change in pulse rate, but when I give blood I faint, and when I see blood I go all squeamish.Having said that, while writing LIFE FOR A LIFE I thought I needed to witness a video of abeheading so that I could write a particular scene with a sense of realism. When I eventually found what I was looking for on the Internet, it took me three attempts before I could watch the video to its horrific conclusion, after which I had to sit and let the sickness anddizziness pass before I could stand. I found the execution of an innocent being utterly horrifying and beyond comprehension, but hope that I was able to convey much of that horror to the reader.
11. Since you have started writing crime novels have any known authors given you any advice? I can’t recall ever being given advice during a one-on-one discussion with any known authors, so the simple answer to that question is No. However I do continue to read a lot, and whenever I read a best-selling author I always study their technique, try to work out why their stuff is so popular, what makes their books sell so well, what they are doing that I’m not, so in a way authorial advice is in every book published. Also, chatting with other authors usually entices some writing nugget from them, which is slotted into my memory banks, to be used, ignored, or forgotten about.
12. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa? I think it is inevitable that an author’s personality and inner thoughts find their way to the page in some fashion. DCI Gilchrist, for example, is a combination of what I am and what I am not. Physically, Gilchrist is mostlywhat I want to be – Taller, slimmer, fitter,higher pain threshold, better looking –butmentally, how he reacts and thinks and behavesprobably has some of me in him. Other characters, especially the killers, I sincerely hope that I’m just making them up.
13. What do you see for the future of DCI Andy Gilchrist in the future in your books? My current thoughts are to continue to write one Gilchrist book a year, with each of them nudging the calendar year forward a touch. In terms of character, I want Gilchrist to continue to be troubled – he can’t seem to maintain anylong-term relationship with a woman; his relationships with his children, Maureen and Jack, remain distant despite his efforts to be closer; his frequent drinking to excess worries him; his need to solve a crime is all-consuming to the point of obsession – all of which tend tofuel his feelings of failure. In LIFE FOR A LIFE I introduced a new sidekick for Gilchrist, DI Jessie Janes who has moved to Fife from Strathclyde Constabulary. I also retired the ageing police pathologist, Bert Mackie, and introduced a younger Rebecca Cooper to replace him. This allowed me to play with new relationships and open up all sorts of possibilities for Gilchrist, and without giving anything away about LIFE it was really interesting to see how they both reacted to Gilchrist and to each other. I have just started writing the fifth in the series, and already these two new characters are springing surprises on me.
14. Have you been surprised by the success of your novels? The simple answer to that is Yes and No. Yes, I was surprised when my first three novels reached 1, 3 & 4 consecutively and concurrently on Amazon’s paid Kindle best-selling chart last year – the phrase ‘utterly gobsmacked’ springs to mind. And no, I am not surprised after I pick up a book by a best-selling author only to find it does not pull me in or hold my interest. But I know how subjective reading and writing can be, so I try to write what I like to read, try to write the very best story I can, and I know that my novels are suspenseful and entertaining. Of course it is always disappointing when some reader gives a ‘thumbs-down’ review, but you have to shrug it off and keep going. But when some reader posts a review that says they loved my stuff and they can’t wait to read the next one, that, to me, is what success is all about, and that too is such a lovely surprise.
15. As a blossoming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share? I assume you mean share with wannabe authors, in which case I would say – becoming a published author is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, so settle down for the long-haul. Expect rejections, because unless you are extremely lucky, or an unbelievably gifted writer, or have relatives in the publishing business, or all of the above, you will receive lots of rejections. Do not be dispirited by them. They are par for the course. Try to learn something from each and every one. And continue to read and write, write, write. And finally, never ever give up the dream. Writing is what you want to do. Giving up is failing, and failing is not an option. Stick with your dream, believe in your ability, and you will eventually succeed.
D.C.I Andy Gilchrist Series
Eye for a Eye
Hand for a Hand,
Tooth for a Tooth
New Book Life for a Life out on the 5th September
For more information you can go to his website