Tom McCulloch was born and raised in the Highlands of Scotland. He has published prose and poetry in numerous magazines and journals. He was long-listed for the Herald/Imagining Scotland short-story competition in 2011. The Stillman is his first novel.
1. How did you get started writing?
I grew up surrounded by books and both my father and grandfather were writers. So writing seemed like something I should be doing. I started out as a shameless 13 year-old plagiarist, writing sequels (never finished, of course…) to other people’s books; Eric Morecambe’s Reluctant Vampire and Alistair MacLean’s Force 10 from Navarone (which is better than the Guns of Navarone- don’t let Gregory Peck in the film version sway you…).
2. What drew you to write a thriller novel?
Some fiction is so dry you can feel your saliva evaporate as you read. I wanted to say something and to write a story that that was entertaining at the same time. The thriller format, driving a narrative through suspense, seemed the obvious choice for The Stillman.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
The ones I go back to time and again are Iain Banks, Jack Kerouac, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, James Kelman and António Lobo Antunes. Should their style leach into mine, I apologise (I’ve already said I’m a shameless plagiarist…).
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
I wrote an awful lot of awfulness before The Stillman was published. Writing’s a craft like any other. My first couple of novels drew some interest but came up short. I’m in good company though, Iain Banks once said he wrote a million words before he got published.
5. There are many interesting characters in your novel, do you have a particular favourite one?
I like Jim Drever’s son- The Boy. He’s weird, potentially violent and inadvertently wise, a mass murderer or a Nobel Prize winner waiting to happen. He seems to have struck a chord with lots of others too.
6. What kind of research have you had to undertake for your novel?
Having worked in a distillery, that setting was very well known to me. I took lots of notes in my journal when my wife and I visited Cuba for a month. Such a beautiful, ramshackle place, tailor-made for stories. I wanted to make sure I took back as much as I could to recreate later.
7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life?
Some yes, some no. Mostly they’re composites drawn from a dozen notebooks and a dozen years. But if anyone thinks they recognise someone it’s their own projection… nowt to do with me.
8. What do you think makes your novels stand out from all the other Scottish Thriller Fiction Novels out there?
In The Stillman, I wanted to take on the Highland whisky myth. The romanticised, sepia-tinted portrayal of the industry frustrates me. Distilleries are anything but sentimental. They’re industrial workplaces, complicated and class-conscious as any other. I wanted to challenge the romance of the ‘wee dram’, give the lead role to working people who just happen to live among that myth. In a way I wanted to bury the teuchter, the bumpkin.
9. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?
I think there’s more or less of an author’s personality in every character they create. But I don’t think any character in The Stillman is particularly like myself. Apart from JC, or maybe I just wish I had his poise.
10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned?
Well I’m very pleased to say that Sandstone Press has agreed to take on my second novel, A Private Haunting. It’s due out in 2016 and is about secrets, and what happens when two of them collide.
11. What was your favourite scene to write in The Stillman and why?
The back story of Jim’s mother was a treat, immersing myself in a time and place that would have been so exciting to be part of; that whole Rose Street writer scene and the Beat-hippy rollercoaster that came afterwards.
12. As an up and coming thriller writer do you have words of advice you can share?
I’ll defer to the genius that is Samuel Beckett: ‘Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.’
Jim Drever is a man apart. Twenty years a Stillman at a Highland distillery, his closest relationship is with the machinery he monitors, the movies he’s obsessed with. It’s the worst winter in years and the world is closing in. A strike is looming and his daughter is about to get married. His son’s ever-weirder behaviour is becoming a worry and his marriage has disintegrated into savage skirmishes with a wife he barely knows. Then the emails start to arrive from Cuba, sending him letters from his dead mother, and Jim can’t stay on the sidelines any longer.
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