1. How did you get started writing
At the grand old age of 42, I had a child. Up until then I had been a full-time Advocate, practising at the Bar in Edinburgh. After, Daisy was born, my thyroid gave out and then a diagnosis of a heart problem was made for Daisy ( now thankfully resolved). Consequently, I could no longer practise law and I had to think of an alternative career. I started writing then and have not really stopped since. The life of a writer suits me well.
2. What drew you to write a crime novel
Basically, I had an idea for a crime novel as opposed to any other sort of literature. At the heart of such a novel is always some sort of transgressive act by somebody, so the kernel of a plot already exists. Having written one, the publishers wanted more with the same central character and so I continued with crime. In any event, I have never had, sadly, an idea for any other kind of novel. I do, however, live in hope.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing
Difficult to say who has influenced my style. I have always read a great deal and that must have its effect. If we assume that the most formative years are the teenage ones, I liked both Graham Green and Ernest Hemingway particularly then. However, I no longer do. In truth, I don’t think I’m sufficiently analytical of my writing to know, and wishful thinking would probably cloud the picture anyway.
4. You have also started a new mystery series featuring Father Vincent Ross, What was your inspiration for doing this
I wrote the Father Ross novel because I wanted a change from writing police procedural novels. I also wanted to be able to plot freely without the plotting constraints which modern police forensic techniques impose. Sin is also a much wider field than crime. Finally, I wanted to set a novel in the countryside and, for my own interest, to have a man as the main protagonist. Finally, morality is more nuanced that the Law.
5. What was the inspiration when you first thought of writing the first DS Alice Rice novel Blood in the Water
The inspiration for “Blood In The Water” was an idea for a particular type of injustice combined with sympathy for good people who, for understandable reasons, end up doing bad acts.
6. There are many interesting characters in your Novels, do you have a particular favourite one
I like most of my characters. In some ways, partly because I know her well as she has been in all the Alice Rice novels, my favourite is Elaine Bell. While she’s a terrific hypochondriac, and has an unhappy marriage, I admire her uncompromising nature and forthrightness Everyone knows exactly where they are with her and she, despite her gender, gives orders easily. Real introspection is unknown to her. I am also rather fond of Father Vincent’s cat, Satan, as he is based on my own Siamese cat, Finn.
7. Why did you choose to set your Alice Rice novels in Edinburgh
Because of its extraordinary beauty and because it is the only city that I know. It’s also the capital, with all that that entails, and a good size- large enough for plentiful murders, small enough for word of mouth to retain its power. Its also fragmented into many different areas each with their own distinctive character from Gorgie to Stcokbridge or the Grassmarket to Muirhouse.
8. With the amalgamation of the Scottish Police Force last year, how has it changed your Novels
Not a bit yet. I have an Alice Rice novel coming out this September but it is set before the re-organisation .I plan to begin another one this Autumn and the first thing I will have to do is contact the newly re-organised force in order to research the effect the changes have had on the police detection process. I’m quite looking forward to learning all about it and seeing what changes I’ll have to introduce in order to accommodate the new order.
9. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novels
In order to maximise my own interest in the series I always chose an area that I will have to research for each book. In “Where The Shadow Falls” I used my knowledge of wind farms, in “Dying of the Light” I learnt about prostitution and in “The Road to hell” I researched homelessness in Edinburgh. In the new Alice Rice, “Troubled Waters” I looked into religious cults. Equally, every plot raises new forensic science questions, police procedure questions, so I am always having to find out something new. In “The Good Priest” I had to learn about life as a catholic priest and the matters covered in the Murphy report and the Cumberlidge report. I enjoy the research phase of writing a book tremendously.
10. Are the characters in your books based on any real life
Nowadays they tend to be amalgams of the characteristics of people I know. When I started I lifted them more from life but learnt my lesson quickly when someone recognised their godmother in an eccentric old lady and asked me directly if that character had been drawn from life.
11. Since you have started writing have any well known authors given you any advice
At a Crime Writers Association lunch, Mr I Rankin gave me unsolicited tax advice relating to record collections ( sadly, not needed so far) and Alexander McCall Smith has given me general encouragement. That’s the best I can do, I’m afraid!
12. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa
The nearest in personality to me is Alice Rice but she is more elegant, younger and can function within a hierarchy. She and I think in similar fashion, her logical processes are mine, we both love the beauty of the countryside and are, essentially loners. Elaine Bell has, sadly, my impatience. The rest of my vices are shared around fairly evenly.
13. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned
In September, “Troubled Waters” comes out. It is another in the Alice Rice series but has, I think, a slightly different feel to the others. To my mind it is more tense, more worrying, as gradually the reader realises that the life of a child is at stake. I read it after Sarah Water’s “Fingersmith” and that gave me an idea for a plot, something new that I have not used before. I hope next to start another Father Vincent and I think I will be researching madness.
14. Out of all the Novels you have written do you gave a favourite one that stands out to you
The one closest to my heart is always the most recent one that I’ve written as enthusiasm is necessary to sit alone at the kitchen table day after day , in effect, talking to oneself. So, “Troubled Waters” is my current favourite but I will always love “Blood In The Water” as its relative success meant that I could go on writing. Finally, I am also fond of “The Good Priest” as I am not constrained in the way I described earlier by police/forensic matters and the canvas feels wider
15. As a well known crime writer do you have words of advice you can share
To be frank I am always hesitant about these things. Its a bit like when you have a baby and find yourself with books all offering diametrically opposed advice. So, all I’d say is: write what enthuses you, treat it like a job and follow your own instinct.
Alice Rice Mystery
1. Blood in the Water (2007)
2. Where the Shadow Falls (2007)
3. Dying of the Light (2009)
4. No Sorrow to Die (2010)
5. The Road to Hell (2012)
6. Troubled Waters (2014)
Father Vincent Ross Mystery
The Good Priest (2014)
Amazon Author Page