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Coffee – Cake And Crime Event With James Oswald

OUT 27 FEBRUARY 2014

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The body of a man is founding hanging in an empty house. To the Edinburgh police force this appears to be a simple suicide case.

Days later another body is found.

The body is hanging from an identical rope and the noose has been tied using the same knot.

Then a third body is found.

As McLean digs deeper he descends into a world where the lines of reality are blurred and that the most irrational answers become the only explanations.

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   Ten years, ten women.

The final victim, Kirsty Summers, was Detective Constable Tony McLean’s fiancée. But the Christmas Killer made a mistake. In a cellar under a shop, McLean found a torture chamber and put an end to the brutal killing spree.

Twelve years later, and a fellow prisoner has just murdered the incarcerated Christmas Killer. But with the arrival of the festive season comes a body. A young woman: naked, washed, her throat cut.

Is this a copycat killer?

Was the wrong man behind bars all this time?

Or is there a more sinister, frightening explanation?

McLean must revisit the most disturbing case of his life and discover what he missed before the killer strikes again . . .

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A young girl’s mutilated body is discovered in a sealed room. Her remains are carefully arranged, in what seems to have been a cruel and macabre ritual, which appears to have taken place over 60 years ago.

For newly appointed Edinburgh Detective Inspector Tony McLean this baffling cold case ought to be a low priority – but he is haunted by the young victim and her grisly death.

Meanwhile, the city is horrified by a series of bloody killings. Deaths for which there appears to be neither rhyme nor reason, and which leave Edinburgh’s police at a loss.

McLean is convinced that these deaths are somehow connected to the terrible ceremonial killing of the girl, all those years ago. It is an irrational, almost supernatural theory.

And one which will lead McLean closer to the heart of a terrifying and ancient evil . . .

1.How did you get started writing?

I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t writing stories, but my first attempts to write for an audience were comic scripts that I started writing when I was a student at Aberdeen University. I’d been reading comics since I was small – I still do today – and thought it would be a great way to earn a living!

2. What drew you to crime fiction?

This was entirely the fault of my good friend Stuart MacBride. I first met him when we both signed up as contributors to a comics, SF and RPG fanzine a mutual friend was setting up in Aberdeen. When he had his big breakthrough with Cold Granite, he suggested I stop messing around with dragon fantasy and try my hand at crime. I dusted off an old character who’d appeared as a support character in some of my early comic scripts -Detective Inspector McLean – and gave him a lead role.

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

I’d not read a lot of crime fiction before trying to write it myself. My father was a fan of Ian Rankin’s Rebus books, and I used to nick them when he was done with them. I’ve read all of Stuart’s books, often in early drafts. Both of them have influenced my writing, but I’d say more of style comes from reading non-crime. Neil Gaiman and Iain Banks are two major influences.

4. How do you combine your day job as a farmer with your job as a success full crime novelist?

It’s funny. A lot of my press interviews have focused on this, and it’s a question I get asked a lot by readers too. But probably 90% of the published authors I know (and all of the unpublished!) have a day job. Very few writers get to do it for a living.My living is perhaps unusual, I’ll grant you, but no more so than the bus driver who won the Booker Prize.

Writing and farming fit together reasonably wellanyway, as farming is essentially a daytime job and I write most productively at night. The success of the books, whilst very welcome, has put a bit of a strain on that, as I now have to travel all over the place for promotion, events and so on.

I do a lot less of the hands on farm work than I used to. When I got the call from my agent telling me of the Penguin deal, I was mending a fence up the hill in a snowstorm. Now I can afford to pay someone else to mend my fences for me!

5. Can you tell us why you were inspired to start self publishing your novels as Ebooks?

Put simply, no one else would publish them. Both Natural Causes and The Book of Souls had been short listed for the CWA Debut Dagger, but publishers didn’t like the mixture of crime with the supernatural. They weren’t sure that readers would accept that kind of thing, and didn’t know how to market it.

I’m very conservative when it comes to adopting new technology, so I have to credit Allan Guthrie with giving me the idea. He had self-published some of his novellas as ebooks to great success, and suggested I might try the same with my novels. Up to that point I’d be vaguely aware of the Kindle and other e-readers, but had no idea of the self-publishing industry that was building up behind them.

My partner, Barbara, had bought herself a Kindle as she travelled a lot for work and was tired of carrying around heavy books with her. She loved it, and I guess that’s what convinced me there was mileage in the format.

6. Were you surprised by the success of Natural Causes when you put in up on Amazon?

Very. I had hit on the idea of giving it away for a while, in the hope that people would like it enough to pay for The Book of Souls. It took three months for Amazon’s price matching algorithms to drop the price, during which time I sold about two dozen copies in total. Then when it went free it was downloaded 50,000 times in the first month. I have no idea how it caught the public mood, but once these things build up momentum they take on a life of their own.

7. Why did you decide to set your books in Edinburgh?

Because Aberdeen was taken.

I wanted a real setting, rather than inventing somewhere, and Edinburgh’s the only city other than Aberdeen that I know well enough to use. It’s also a very atmospheric setting for ghost stories.

8. 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?

It’s had an effect already. In the next book, The Hangman’s Song, it’s not happened yet, but the process of gearing up to the change is underway. In the fourth book, which I’m writing at the moment, it’s reflected in the plot – McLean spends some time out in Fife.

In many ways the change is a godsend to crime writers in Scotland, as there’s so many opportunities for stories. On the other hand, I don’t slavishly research and follow exact police procedure in my books. The structure of the police is more of a skeleton to hang the rest of the story on.

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

A lot less than you might think. I work on the principle that if I’m obsessing over some aspect of police procedure, then it’s time to write that detail out of the book. It’s important to have a basic understanding of how the police work, since they’re central to the story, but beyond that I just tend to make stuff up. The police station that McLean works out of doesn’t exist, for example. So nobody can accuse me of getting details about the canteen or the locker rooms wrong!

I was contacted not long after Natural Causes came out by a retired detective inspector from Lothian and Borders, wanting to know who my source was. He was fairly sure he knew who I’d based Charles Duguid on. The truth is I don’t have a source, have never spoken to any Edinburgh policemen and really do just make most of it up.

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

I tend to take traits rather than whole people. I’ll think of someone and ask myself how they would respond in a given situation, and then use that for my characters.

I’m a lot worse with names, which will probably get me into trouble some time. I’ve dragged up people I knew at school, or childhood friends, and used their names for characters. And, of course, there’s Detective Constable Stuart MacBride…

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

I find crime authors in particular to be incredibly supportive and helpful. Advice now tends to be on the lines of how to deal with the press and things like that, rather than how to write. I’m incredibly lucky to have a team at Penguin who organise my publicity, and they also put me through an interview training course, which has been invaluable.

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

There’s always a bit of me in all of my characters. I try to keep it well hidden though.

13. What do you see for the future of Tony McLean in your books

I’m not giving anything away! Penguin have bought another three books from me, after the first three, so there’s a good bit of life in him yet.

Or is there?

Penguin have also just bought five books in my dragon fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfro, which kind of brings me full circle. Three of these are already written, but I’ve still to finish the whole cycle. I will be busy for a good few years yet!

14. At the moment there are numerous authors setting their books in Edinburgh, what do you think sets yours apart from the rest?

The ghosts.

Seriously though, we are all different writers, with different styles and different ways of looking at the world. You could give a dozen crime fiction writers a character sketch and story briefing, set them off to write a novel using those and come up with a dozen wonderfully different books set in the ‘same’ place and using the ‘same’ character.

Actually, I think that would be a great idea for an anthology…

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

The most important piece of advice I can give to any aspiring writer is to finish the book. When I was first short listed for the Debut Dagger in 2007, I went to London for the awards and ended up sitting next to one of the other short listed authors – I won’t name him to spare his blushes. He’d been writing his book for many years, and had only finished the first few chapters. He kept on going back to them, working them and reworking them, but never finishing. I couldn’t conceive of even entering the competition with an unfinished novel – even though you only get to send in the first 3000 words and a synopsis.

Get the first draft finished, from start to end. It will be rubbish, but it will be a whole thing that can be worked into shape

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Other Novels

The Ballad of Sir Benfro 1 – Dreamwalker

The Ballad of Sir Benfro 2 – The Rose Chord

The Ballad of Sir Benfro 3 – The Golden Cage

http://jamesoswald.co.uk/

Amazon Author Page

http://www.amazon.co.uk/James-Oswald/e/B007HNLA2U

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