The remote Isle of Lewis has only had three murders in over forty years. When Helen Riley is asked to investigate a suspicious death in Port of Ness, no-one intends to help her uncover a fourth murder. As she gets closer to the truth, Riley faces threats to herself, her client and her family. Riley is confronted by assassination drones plus a powerful international network of collusion and conspiracy that threatens her job, her family and her life. Cut adrift, she embarks on a fight for justice and revenge. The Machair Crow is a novel that features one woman’s battle against the illicit use of assassination drones and how she overcomes the conspiracy to silence her. A fine detective story and also a novel about drones, covert surveillance and the development of secret kill-lists. Riley is a kick-ass combination of Jack Reacher and Lisbeth Salander. She’s a private investigator based in Newcastle upon Tyne. She’s been army trained as an undercover surveillance officer with the army’s special forces. After she left the forces, she worked as a police detective in Newcastle before turning private. She doesn’t do demure and compliant. If you like your heroines demure and compliant, this is not the book for you.
1. How did you get started writing?
It was in a moment of arrogance really. I was reading an eBook that contained a few flaws and I said to myself, ‘I’m sure I could do better than this. How hard could it be?’ Like Mark Twain said, “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” I discovered the hard way how difficult it is to write a good novel that people want to read.
2. What drew you to write a crime novel?
I only used to read about leadership and team working. These were all be ‘How to be a good manager’ type books. I started to read thrillers after my wife dragged me off to see ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.’ I thought it would be about Bruce Lee with subtitles! I came home from the movie and read the first Stieg Larsson millennium novel in one sitting over two days. After that I was hooked. I read the next two Millennium novels, then moved onto Jo Nesbo, Ian Rankin, Lee Child, and Jeffrey Deaver. I read all their books. I was just devouring crime thrillers.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
Ian Rankin is the master of dialogue. Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is a great character, I admire the twists in the Jeffrey Deaver endings, and I love how Stieg Larsson created the whole fictional world around Lisbeth Salander.
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
No. I’ve self-published on eBook for several reasons. I took advice from Mary Wood who was selling well without a publisher after numerous rejections. I watched Ian Rankin’s video diary as he worked to a six-month deadline while writing ‘Standing in Another Man’s Grave.’ I really didn’t want a publisher’s deadline hanging over me while I was learning how to craft my first novel. At the moment I’m on target for two thousand copies sold in my first year, which seems adequate for a first novel, so I’m pleased at how it’s going.
5. When you started writing The Machair Crow what was your inspiration for it:
I was inspired by Lee Child’s novel ‘Nothing to Lose.’ It was the idea of the police being in the pocket of an evil secret organization and moving Jack Reacher out of town in order to stop him asking questions that got me started. You’ll see shades of that scenario with Helen Riley – someone who refuses to take ‘No’ for an answer.
6. There are many interesting characters in your Novel, do you have a particular favourite one:
Helen Riley gets the most coverage as the heroine. Helen Riley’s character drew on the autobiography of Jackie George called ‘She Who Dared.’ Jackie was the first woman in the SAS and she worked on covert surveillance in Northern Ireland. The next step for me was, ‘what if she (Helen Riley) left the SAS and worked as a PI?’
7. Why did you choose to set your novels on the Isle of Lewis?
It’s a wonderful landscape and a delightful culture. I have relatives who live there. I was looking to base the novel in a remote community that lived in a remote landscape, maybe like Montana, but I knew Lewis better so that’s why I chose it. I also loved the notion of The Bridge to Nowhere historically created by the originator of the Lever Brothers empire (The Soap Man).
8. In the Machair Crow do you have a favourite scene or chapter that you enjoyed writing?
Yes, so many. I enjoyed writing the high-confrontation scenes. I think my preference is for the scene where Riley meets her co-partner Donald MacLeod for the first time. They trade information and insults while flirting. An old colleague of mine was a management consultant and he described the initial entry negotiations as being like dogs meeting for the first time in the park and engaging in ‘bum-sniffing.’ Riley and Donald are bum sniffing in that scene.
9. What kind of research have you had to undertake for your Novel:
So much more than I imagined. I use Scrivener to hold all of it now. I needed information about: drones, guns, the SAS, post-traumatic stress, animal illnesses, poisons, post-mortems, Scottish legal processes, and so on.
10. Are the characters in your books based on any real life people?
In a way, yes. I used the technique of copying people’s photos and placing them beside their character profiles. So, Victoria Pendelton for Helen Riley, Sir Chris Hoy for Donald MacLeod, and Robert de Niro for the Chief of Police Matheson. It’s mainly their faces that I use rather than their characters.
11. Since you have started writing have any well-known authors given you any advice.
No, only Mary Wood, but I’ve also read a lot of texts on ‘how to write a book.’ I liked Larry Brooks’ ‘Story Engineering,’ Randy Ingermanson’s ‘Snowflake’ concept, and ‘Hooked’ by Les Edgerton.
12. Do you see any of your character’s personality in yourself and vice versa?
On a bad day I can be as bold and brash as Helen Riley (that’s not usually a good thing) and as generous and cautious as Donald MacLeod, although there is a sense of contempt that both myself and Helen the heroine, feel for his cautiousness.
13. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned?
There is a preview of the sequel to ‘The Machair Crow’ at the end of the book. I’m calling it ‘Dixon’s Revenge.’ Essentially someone tries to assassinate her as she is on her way to work. That sets of a chain of events as Riley tries to work out who has it in for her. She therefore needs to return to Lewis. Her relationship with Donald MacLeod improves and deteriorates over the course of the novel. At the moment I’m only half way through the first draft so there’s much that can change.
14. You have already been compared to some of the well-known crime writers such as Peter May, how does that make you feel:
Honoured and privileged. Peter is a great novelist. Peter has a long list of novels and TV screenplays behind him. I’m a mere beginner. The comparison is only made because we love the island of Lewis so much and we have set a novel or two there.
15. As an up and coming crime writer do you have words of advice you can impart to new novelists:
Only what every other giver of writing advice offers. Don’t give up, keep writing, find yourself a good editor, etc. I’ve discovered that I have a huge blind spot in relation to repeating favourite words or phrases in the same paragraph. I find I fail to see blind spots, because I don’t see how often I miss the repetition of blind spots. You know what I mean?
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