When Glasgow journalist Gerry Conway receives a phone call promising unsavoury information about Scottish Justice Minister Peter Lyons, his instinct is that this apparent scoop won’t warrant space in The Tribune. But as Conway’s curiosity grows and his leads proliferate, his investigation takes him from Scotland to Belfast. Shocked by the sectarian violence of the past, and by the prejudice and hatred he encounters even now, Conway soon grows obsessed with the story of Lyons and all he represents. And as he digs deeper, he comes to understand that there is indeed a story to be uncovered; and that there are people who will go to great lengths to ensure that it remains hidden.
After three years in the wilderness, hardboiled reporter Gerry Conway is back at his desk at the Glasgow Tribune. But three years is a long time on newspapers and things have changed – readers are dwindling, budgets are tightening, and the Trib’s once rigorous standards are slipping. Once the paper’s star reporter, Conway now plays second fiddle to his former protégé, crime reporter Martin Moir.
But when Moir goes AWOL as a big story breaks, Conway is dispatched to cover a gangland shooting. And when Moir’s body turns up in a flooded quarry, Conway is drawn deeper into the city’s criminal underworld as he looks for the truth about his colleague’s death. Braving the hostility of gangsters, ambitious politicians and his own newspaper bosses, Conway discovers he still has what it takes to break a big story. But this is a story not everyone wants to hear as the city prepares to host the Commonwealth Games and the country gears up for a make-or-break referendum on independence.
1. How did you get started writing?
I’ve always written. It’s a compulsion. If you’re not compelled to do it, why would you even try?
2. What drew you to crime fiction?
As a reader I like linear plots, a strong sense of place,and characters in jeopardy. I also found that, as a writer, I needed the discipline of a strong plot to get a novel finished.
3. Which crime writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
It’s hard to tell how much influence a writer has had on your style. The writers I most enjoy reading are Graham Greene, Robert Louis Stevenson, Cormac McCarthy, Muriel Spark, Peter Temple and Don DeLillo.
4. If you don’t mind me asking do you find it hard being compared to your dad, Laidlaw creator William McIlvanney?
Not really. It’s been slightly odd with this new book. When I published my first novel, All the Colours of the Town, in 2009, no-one asked me about my old man. This time round, because the Laidlaw books have just been reissued, a lot of the chat has been about the father-and-son angle. It doesn’t really bother me. I write crime novels set in Glasgow, so the comparison is natural, but we’ve got very different styles of writing.
5. Did you find it hard to get publisher interest when you first started writing?
At the only London literary party I ever attended I met an editor from Faber and Faber. He was aware of me through my journalism (I used to review for the TimesLiterary Supplement and the London Review of Books)and knew that I was tinkering with a novel. A few months later he emailed me to ask if I had anything to show him in the way of fiction. I had just written a 500-word description of an Orange Walk, so I sat down and expanded this into a six-thousand-word chapter and sent it off. The editor liked it and recommended an agent and in due course we went to contract on a two-book deal.
6. Did you find the experience of writing your first novel easier or difficult than writing your second novel?
The second novel is much harder. There’s a great thing Anthony Trollope said: “With your first novel you have a story to tell. With your second novel, you have to tell a story.” Also, I think it’s harder to write a sequel, since you have to remember what you’ve done in the first one!
7. Why did you decide to set your books in Glasgow?
It’s the city I know best (or at least the city I’d like to know best). It’s a city of extremes, it’s got a fascinating history of industrialization, de-industrialization, and socialist politics, and it’s got the sectarian dimension. Everything a crime writer could need!
8.At the moment there are numerous authors setting their books in Glasgow, what sets yours apart from the rest?
The imagination is a big place. Denise Mina’s Glasgow, Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow and Liam McIlvanney’sGlasgow are very different cities.
9. What kind of research did you have to undertake for your book?
I pestered some journalist pals with endless questionsabout their trade. I also took a research trip to Belfast forAll the Colours. Research is important but there’s a lot to be said for making things up. It’s called fiction for a reason.
10. Are the characters in your books based on any real life people?
Sometimes a real person will provide the initial impetus for a character, but they become completely imaginary beings.
11. Since you have started writing crime novels have any known authors given you any advice?
I get a lot of advice from my editor and agent, mainly to do with structure and pacing.
12. Do you see any of your characters’personality in yourself and vice versa?
With the new book, my editor was worried that Gerry Conway is not an entirely sympathetic character. I told him that there was a lot of me in Gerry Conway and that I’m not an entirely sympathetic character either!
13. What do you see for the future of Gerry Conway in your books?
At the moment I’m not looking beyond the next Gerry Conway novel, which will be the final book in the Conway Trilogy. I haven’t started it yet so I have no idea what the future holds for Gerry.
14. A lot of crime novelists are now moving away from police procedurals and using Private Investigators or Reporters like Gerry Conway, why did you use this particular career for your novels?
I suppose I wanted to avoid writing a standard police procedural, so a journalist was a useful surrogate. I also wanted to explore the long decline of newspapers, particularly in the Scottish context.
15. As a blossoming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share?
Read a lot. Write a lot. Persevere.
Professor Liam McIlvanney
The Centre for Irish and Scottish Studies
University of Otago
P O Box 56
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