When Moira Forrest – a writer of romantic fiction – is found dead from a stab wound in Patsy McCutcheon’s garden in Glasgow’s southern suburbs Detective Inspector Sarah MacLeod and her side-kick Hearst are allocated the task of investigating the murder. Sarah – born and raised on the Isle of Harris and in the Wee Free Church – finds the neighbours to be quite alienated from the police and the law as well as each other. Living a privatised existence there is no love lost between the Martins, the Hewitts and the Bensons and it is not just the (initial) prime suspect who is found to be telling a tissue of lies to the police.
Set in the very early years of the New Millennium Sarah MacLeod finds herself embarking on a journey of personal discovery as well as the search for the Deaconsbank murderer. Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, defence solicitor Maria Jannetta is about to embark on a personal journey of her own.
Other Books by Alexis Scott
Nice Time with Brendan Howard
Martyrs and Other Stories with Colin Howard
How did you get started writing
1. I started writing as a child. I was one of those children off school for months and with time on my hands and thinking time alone: in my case it was because at the age of seven I fell off a slide and fractured my leg in three places. That apart, I come from a culture which valued the telling of stories (I am Irish). We went to church a lot and had lots of essay competitions at school and church. Cadbury used to give the best in the class a tin of chocolates for an essay on cocoa production. Quite an incentive! However, I only started thinking about getting published, at least in book form, in the late 1990s when I was between jobs and began to seriously write novels. Before that it was more essays – often political. I was active in various campaigns, include feminist groups, in the 1980s and wrote lots of articles.
What drew you to crime fiction
2. I think the crime thing happened partly by accident and also I wanted to see if I could write a crime novel. It took me longer than a lot of the other work I have written (not all of which has been published). The inspiration for some of the characters was undoubtedly the women’s movement in the early 1980s (specifically the Glasgow Women’s Centre). I think also that I realised I had more chance of getting a crime novel published as crime is very popular though I wasn’t sure I could do it! The plot in Deaconsbank is quite convoluted compared with my other books and I had great fun with it.
Which crime writers past or present have influenced your style of writing
3. I don’t really read crime fiction. That said, I have read and very much enjoyed Sarah Waters’ work although I don’t really think of her as a crime writer – more a writer of literary fiction. Recently I have also enjoyed the work of Emma Donoghue, particularly ‘Room’ which is, of course, about a horrendous crime but is not a traditional crime novel. There again, I like Ian MacEwan’s work which, again, is literary but he often covers crime and criminals as well, including murder. I tend to think the classification of books into rigid categories is mainly for the benefit of publishers and distributors but I can see it can make it easier for the reader too, although it can limit what we read. As regards general reading, I read all of Virginia Woolf’s and most of George Elliot’s books before I was twenty. I have been inspired by strong, female characters and intelligent women writers. Virginia Woolf’s work has been inspiring because of her ‘stream of consciousness’ style which helps the reader get into another person’s mind. Elliot was inspiring because of her strong moral stance. Last but not least I did read most of Agatha Christie’s crime novels when I was a teenager (my father took them out of the library and I read them too) and lately I have been watching crime on television so perhaps I am a fan, after all.
What was the inspiration behind the storyline of Deaconsbank
4. I never start writing with a plot in mind. I start from an idea and the storyline develops from there. This means I don’t really know where a book is going to take me. That is the most exciting thing about writing. It is actually rather sad when I get to the end. The very best bit is at least 30,000 words into a novel when I know it is going somewhere but I have no idea how it will end. The novel begins with Patsy and the working title was ‘Patsy’s Party’. Patsy is an accumulation of lots of characters I have met in real life and she is also a little bit of me. She is finding life tough-going, as it often is, and is also a victim of circumstance. I put her in a suburban estate because I was living in a not dissimilar place (in Livingston) at the time I wrote it – a place where people ostensibly lead quite conventional, outwardly uninteresting lives (but who knows what happens behind closed doors?)
When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest
5. I graduated from the bog standard rejection letter to the complimentary one from agents and publishers alike. Some referred me to other agents and publishers along with recommendations and, in one case, a favourable ‘report’ but the only one who eventually made an offer of publication was the tiny publisher Dewi Lewis who no longer publishes fiction. The trouble with small publishers is not just the paltry advances (I suppose they can’t afford more) and the general lack of marketing but the fact that, on Amazon, for example, you generally can’t ‘search inside’ and most people these days like a free sample before they buy. So I decided to republish Eating Wolves as an e-book and gave it a new name too: Nice Times. By mid 2013 I gave up seeking a publisher and decided to embark on the self-publishing route.
Did you find the experience of writing Deaconsbank different than writing your other novels
6. Yes. It took longer to write. I stopped and started a few times. It took a couple of years at least. Because it did become a crime novel I had to solve the crimes. It ended up there were several murders. I had a lot of fun writing it. I think you can mix genres in fiction and there is nothing wrong with having a sense of humour while writing about murder (and it can also be serious at the same time). In other respects the writing process wasn’t that different. Building characters is at least as important as plot development and that goes for all kinds of fiction.
Why did you decide to set Deaconsbank in a suburb of Glasgow
7. I lived in Glasgow for a few years in the 80s and I worked there for longer. Glasgow is always a place that will be dear to my heart. At the risk of sounding trite, I think it is a friendlier place –especially for a city – than the east coast of Scotland which is where I still live. I have never been to Deaconsbank (a real suburb of Glasgow) but years ago a colleague of mine lived there. The idea of setting a crime novel in suburbia is not a new one, but I like to think I have lent it some new aspects. The main characters are from quite different backgrounds but all are ill at ease with certain aspects of their lives: their jobs/ careers, housing environment and, in Sarah MacLeod’s case, the church. Religion is, of course, often used as an excuse for sectarianism in Glasgow but in Deaconsbank I have gone beyond the obvious Orange/green thing and investigated how religious beliefs can stifle individuals, especially with regard to sexuality.
Do you think that with the amalgamation in April of the Scottish police force in to one organization could effect your books in the future
8. I don’t think Deaconsbank is so much a police procedural so the reorganisation would not be particularly significant for any follow up (which I haven’t written yet and am not at all certain I will). Glasgow will always be Glasgow and characters are more important than any changes the new set-up might bring to the force. I might be tempted to write a crime novel set in the fairly distant past when the police (and writers) didn’t have to worry about DNA, the internet and all that stuff.
What kind of research did you have to undertake for your book
9. I trained as a solicitor (I qualified in 1994 but have never practised) so that helped. I did a wee bit of internet research about the gay pubs in Glasgow. I originally set one ‘scene’ in Vintners but discovered it was closed so changed it to Bennets. The actual street in which patsy lives doesn’t exist (I wanted to avoid referring to a real street where real people live because I was using street numbers quite a bit). Really, the book is mainly a work of the imagination so not a lot of research was required although I like to make sure the legal references are accurate.
Are the characters in your books based on any real life
10. They are an amalgam of real-life characters, including myself but no single character is based on a single real-life person. The political and religious backgrounds of Maria and Sarah respectively are also part of my own (although in different ways). For example, I was brought up a Methodist in what was then a very religious country. Needless to say, the north (Derry) was a very political place too.
Since you have started writing crime novels have any known authors given you any advice
11. In a word, no.
Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa
12. Yes, certainly. For the record I have loved a few women in my time. Otherwise I don’t think I could write with passion about my lesbian characters.
What do you see for the future of Sarah Macleod in your books
13. We-ell, not at all sure about this one. We’ll see.
At the moment there are numerous authors setting their books in Glasgow, what do you think sets yours apart from the rest
14. We are all unique because our life experiences are unique. And Glasgow is a big, big city with diverse characters and (sadly) still a lot of crime. There has to be room for everybody. When I worked in Glasgow I worked in (advice work in )various communities (Carnwadric in the south side, Drumoyne in the east) and as a researcher into the experiences of young people leaving residential care all over the city and beyond. I like to think fiction is a way of giving a voice to the dispossessed, if you like. I try and make my characters speak the way people in Glasgow’s communities speak. I don’t know if that sets me apart from ‘the rest’ but the language / dialect of the characters is an important part of my writing.
As a blossoming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share
15. Write what you know but let the writing lead you. All you need is an idea – and passion. Write what matters to you, believe in your characters. Read it out loud (to yourself if no-one else will listen). Reading aloud will let you know what works and what doesn’t. Be prepared to scrap it if it isn’t any good and start again. If you enjoy the writing process – as you should – a rewrite won’t bother you.
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