1: How did you get started writing?
English, art and sport were my favourite subjects at school (don’t even mention maths!). I joined the Daily Record in May 1967 at the age of fifteen and, basically, I was right at the bottom of a very long totem pole. I was the dogsbodies’ dogsbody!
Somehow, though, I made it onto the Editorial floor via the Twilight Zone that was Advertising Accounts and onto the Sports Desk inside eight months. Amazingly, I was a fully-paid up member of the National Union of Journalists shortly after my sixteenth birthday following periods as a Temporary Member and a Probationary Member. If you wanted to work in newspapers back then you had to be in the union. Changed days!
Everything followed on from that. I was the Record’s Chief Sports Sub-Editor by the time I was twenty-three and I became Sports Editor of the Sunday Mail when I was thirty-five.
2: What drew you to write a crime novel
I had already several football books published – autobiographies and biographies – and I simply thought it would be an interesting diversion to have a go at fiction. The idea for a murder on the small island of Millport during the teeming Country and Western Festival had been rolling around inside my cranium for quite awhile.
I was actually writing a book on Denis Law, my favourite Scottish footballer of all time, when I took time off from mountains of research on his early career when I was still at school. So, I sat down one day, started ‘Who Shot Wild Bill?’ and – hey, presto! – about five or six weeks later it was completed.
With extraordinary coincidence, ‘Who Shot Wild Bill?’ and ‘Denis Law: King and Country’, were published on the same day – August 29 2013. Not sure if that’s been done before!
3: Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
Ed McBain and Kinky Freedman immediately spring to mind, but there are others such as Alistair MacLean, Frederick Forsyth , Robert B Parker, Raymond Chandler etc who would have contributed to my pattern of thoughts. I thought McBain’s pacy 87th Precinct novels were groundbreaking. The TV producers never admitted it, but ‘Hill Street Blues’ seemed very much like 87th Precinct to me. And to McBain, too, for that matter.
Freedman is a cosmic private detective who works out of a loft in New York. His stuff is wonderfully inventive and he rattles a cage or two, but he manages to get away with it. The New York Times Book Review summed him up thus: “The world’s funniest, bawdiest and most politically incorrect country music singer turned mystery writer.” Couldn’t have put it any better!
4: When you first started writing did you find it hard to get a publisher interested?
Mainstream, Purnell and Black and White had already published several of my football books when another publisher, a friend of a friend, phoned and asked me what was in the pipeline. I told him Birlinn were looking at the Denis Law manuscript while I had another – one by Celtic legend Tommy Gemmell – which I was about to complete.
I still had ‘Who Shot Wild Bill?’ to place because I discovered my agent didn’t deal with fiction. He might have dropped that gem of knowledge upon me before I started! I had been too busy with Law and Gemmell to think about the novel. When I told the publisher he said he would be interested in looking at them both.
He published ‘Wild Bill’ through his Crime Lab imprint and Gemmell ended up with CQN Publishers. The follow-up to ‘Wild Bill’ is entitled ‘What Spooked Crazy Horse?’ and that is with another publisher at the moment. We’ll see what happens.
5: There are many interesting characters in your novel, do you have a particular favourite one?
Yes, of course. The main character is a bloke called Charlie Brock who is a world-weary journalist who has quit his newspaper to get some freedom as a freelance. People who have read the novel insist I have fashioned himself on me. They’re not wrong.
It’s not an ego trip, believe me, but I found it extremely easy – and probably safe – to write about a fictional character I knew so well.
There are a lot of characters in the book who would be instantly recogniseable to those in the know. Thankfully, everyone is still talking to me.
6: What kind of research have you had to undertake for your novels?
Not a lot, I’m delighted to say. The football material is something I have dealt with my entire professional life and ‘Wild Bill’ is set on Millport on the North Ayrshire coast and I’ve been visiting that wonderful little island since I was about seven years old.
Once I had the idea for the novel, everything simply fell into place.
7: Are the characters in your books based on any persons in real life?
As I answered in question 5, I thought it would be remiss of me not to dip into my personal reservoir of colourful characters. I joined newspapers straight from school and suddenly found myself in a vast Editorial with so many zany, one-off individuals. One day, I was sitting with my fellow-pupils in 3A and, just over a week later, I was talking to a bloke who had been a Tank Commander in World War II. These were the good, old days when the industry welcomed such vibrant human beings.
Millport, too, is a fabulous island awash with genuine characters. Basically, it would have been a waste of time attempting to invent or formulate characters when I was surrounded with them.
8: What do you think makes your novels stand out from all the other Scottish Crime Fiction novels out there?
It’s a quirky whodunnit set on an island exactly ten miles in circumference with one beat cop and 12,000 suspects. I hope it’s a bit different.
What I have discovered, though, after moving into the world of fiction, is the vast array of Scottish writing talent that is out there. I have to hold my hands up here and admit to being totally ignorant of the many and varied excellent authors on our own doorstep.
I was invited to a Q&A event at Waterstones in Argyle Street last year and met the excellent and prolific Douglas Skelton and Craig Robertson. When I discovered what these two guys had produced, I was hugely impressed. I met Caro Ramsay that evening, too, and, once again, I was left just a tad flabbergasted when I saw what she, too, had written. I now know her as ‘The Doyenne of Darkness’! She very kindly bought a copy of ‘Wild Bill’ and, when I asked how to spell her Christian name, she didn’t even blink.
I’ve got to mention my old Daily Record colleague Anna Smith who has stepped out of newspapers into the world of books with seamless ease. I’m about to begin reading her latest offering, ‘A Cold Killing’, which is the fifth in her Rosie Gilmour series. Like the previous four, I’m sure it will be most enjoyable.
Matt Bendoris, too, is a former colleague who is combining journalism with book-writing. He excels at both. Matt and I have the dubious distinction of being the two authors for the short-lived ‘Crime Lab’ label. Matt’s ‘Killing With Confidence’ came out around the same time as ‘Wild Bill’ was published. It’s a fabulous effort and I know he has another being published by Sara Hunt at Contraband some time soon.
I’m playing catch-up at the moment, but I am reading such excellent stuff by some gifted operators. I’m not exactly re-inventing myself, but I am now a little bit more aware of the genuinely talented folk who occupy this sphere of the written word.
9: Do you see any of your character’s personality in yourself and vice versa?
Again, this question has been covered elsewhere. Yes, Charlie Brock is a bit like me, but possibly doesn’t drink as much!
10: If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned?
No problem. As I have said, ‘What Spooked Crazy Horse?’ is the intended follow-up to ‘Who Shot Wild Bill?’ and, hopefully, there will be news on that in the near future. Crazy Horse is, in fact, the nickname of a Scottish footballer playing for one of the massive European clubs.
He’s got it all – the fame, the money, the cars, the palaces, the models. Then, at his absolute peak and almost Beckhamesque popularity, he comes off the radar. He simply vanishes without a trace. There are all sorts of possibilities and the guessing game runs all the way through the novel until the last few pages when, as they say, all is revealed.
It’s intended to be quirky a la ‘Wild Bill’, so, hopefully, it will do its job and keep the reader turning the pages, smiling while being engrossed. The third in what I plan to become a Brock series is entitled ‘Who Stole Sitting Bull?’. That’s got nothing to do with a Red Indian chief, either. I’m just a few chapters into this one, so can’t really say too much, but, basically, it’s a kidnapping that goes wrong.
Ringwood are publishing my newspaper memoirs in the summer. The book is entitled ‘Jinx Dogs Burns Now Flu’ and, yes, I realise it just sounds like five words randomly picked from the dictionary and thrown together in no particular order.
It’s explained in the book. There has been talk of the possibility of a follow-up and, of course, that would have to be entitled: ‘Jinx Dogs Burns Now Flu Two’!
And just to save me from wearying, I’m halfway through an SAS book with a real live former Sergeant Major. That’s been extremely interesting. We’ve got a couple of working titles – ‘Death Walks Behind You’ and ‘Deliver Us To Evil’ – but something else could pop up between now and the publishing date.
11: What was your favourite scene to write in your novel and why?
You’ll find this hard to believe, but, being a newspaperman, I’ve spent quite a few hours propping up bars in a variety of countries! I have met a few characters in pubs over the years – I’ve no idea how they classify me! – and they have all made a contribution, whether they know it or not. So, pub scenes, with its patter and culture, transferred easily to favourite chapters.
12: As a up-and-coming crime writer, do you have words of advice you can share?
Thanks for the up-and-coming crime writer tag. Not bad for someone who had his first book published in 1988! I get your point, though, I would have been totally unknown to a massive percentage of the Scottish book-reading public. I’ve got to remember that not everyone is a football nut.
If I am allowed to give any sort of advice it would be for someone to follow up their initial thoughts about writing. If they are in full-time employment elsewhere, try to put a few words down in print every day. There’s no need to set yourself a target and then become frustrated when you don’t reach it.
For no apparent reason, the words will flow one day. The next, they will flow like concrete. Just keep going even when there is little inspiration. I don’t know what ‘writer’s block’ really means. Haven’t a clue. Sound a lot like a cop-out, doesn’t it?
So, soldier on, keep going. At some stage, you know you will get the opportunity to go back and put some better clothes on your original offering.
BOOKS BY ALEX GORDON
CELTIC: The First 100 Years (Purnell, 1988)
LISBON LIONS: The 40th Anniversary (Black and White, 2007)
A BHOY CALLED BERTIE: The Bertie Auld Story (Black and White, 2008)
THE QUIET ASSASSIN: The Davie Hay Story (Black and White, 2009)
SEEING RED: The Chic Charnley Story (Black and White, 2009)
CELTIC: The Awakening (Mainstream, 2013)
KING AND COUNTRY: The Denis Law Scotland Story (Birlinn/Arena, 2013)
ALL THE BEST: The Tommy Gemmell Story (CQN Publishers, 2014)
YOGI BARE: The John Hughes Story (Self-Published, 2014)
CAESAR AND THE ASSASSIN: The Billy McNeill and Davie Hay Story (CQN Publishing, 2014).
WINDS OF CHANGE: Celtic managers from Brady to O’Neill (CQN Publishing, 2015)
WHO SHOT WILD BILL? (Crime Lab, 2013)
JINX DOGS BURNS NOW FLU (Ringwood, 2015)
The Millport Country & Western Festival is a carnival of Wild West atmosphere, music with 12,000 would- be Wild West heroes who dress up one August weekend as cowboys and Indians, complete with headdresses, toy guns, mock bar fights and gunfights as Wild West wannabes slug it out, making Millport feel more like a Tombstone at high noon. The festival is held annually on the tiny Island of Cumbrae, population, 1000 souls. Millport was ably serviced by its single policeman, having never had a murder on the island – until now. Wild Bill Hickok, has been found dead, shot right between the eyes. Thousands of toy guns on the island. Turns out one of them is real. Unlikely sleuth Charlie Brock, on the island on holiday, wades through the tumbleweeds to find out which one. He enlists the assistance of a national news reporter friend, known as R.I.P., and a long-time cop pal, El Cid, to set about solving this Millport murder mystery.
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