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Bloody Scotland September Special Crime Author of the month interview with Jackie McLean

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1. How did you get started writing?

I’ve always written (which is probably what every writer says!), and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t clacking away on my wee typewriter or binding my “books” with wool.  Being a child of the 70s, my earliest creative writing was by hand or on a typewriter, and to this day I can’t write creatively directly onto screen, which is really annoying, since it takes twice as long as it should!  My partner recently bought me a proper old fashioned typewriter, which I am delighted with.  But being me, when I want to write a new scene, I now end up trying it out by hand and on the typewriter before it goes onto the PC, so now taking me three times longer to write things…..

2. What drew you to write a crime novel

I’d written four full length novels (including Toxic), but hadn’t thought about them in terms of genre until I decided to try and get one of them published.  When I studied the market and realised the books had to fit into a category, I re-drafted Toxic to make the police investigation more central to the storyline (originally it was the criminal activity that was central).  So, really I set out to write the stories that I wanted to tell, and then thought about what sort of novels they would be.  (As for the other three, two are kind of crimey and one is a tongue-in-cheek post-apocalyptic).

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

I have a really diverse reading interest – when I was wee I’d read anything from Enid Blyton to Dostoevsky!  As for writing influences, when I sat down and thought seriously about completing one of my novels as a marketable book, I studied the writing styles of John Grisham, Stephen King, and Dean Koontz, because I always admired the way they could draw you into their worlds with deceptively simple prose.  I’m a big fan of plain English.  

4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?

I did all the things you’re supposed to do by way of research and sent my book off to a few select literary agents that worked with the sort of material I’d written.  But I realised pretty quickly that unless you’ve written The Most Amazing Book EVER, it wasn’t going to happen that way.  For new writers, it seems the most likely route to publication, unless you plan to self-publish, is with a small independent publisher.  I read about ThunderPoint Publishing Ltd, who’d just begun, and thought that the kind of books they were looking to publish sounded like what I was after, too. 

5. There are many interesting characters in your Novel, do you have a particular favourite one?

Donna and Natesh have to be my favourites, and they weren’t even in the original draft.  There’s a part of the story where one of the characters is up on a roof, and I wondered how it would go if the police negotiator on the loudspeaker just lost the plot and told him to jump.  Donna was created for that role, and she was such a strong character that it didn’t seem right just to have her appear near the end, so I wrote her into earlier parts of the book.  As re-drafting went on, she became the central character.  At another point in the story, Donna gets into a taxi, and she starts to banter with the driver; I then got to like his character so much, that I wrote him up as a main character, too – Donna’s best pal, Natesh.

6. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novel?

For Toxic, there were several key aspects to the research: the chemistry of MIC; police procedures; the geographical area; and Bipolar disorder.  For the chemistry part, my nephew is a toxicologist, so I bombarded him with lots of questions, and stayed up lots of late nights calculating volumes of MIC and how it would react with certain quantities of water or how it could be transported by various means.  I also read a lot about the Bhopal disaster, and watched lots of footage from the aftermath.  For police procedures, my friend is an experienced police officer and gave me lots of handy information.  The geographical area (Arbroath and surrounds) is where I went to school, so I knew it, although I made a few visits to photograph familiar areas, because they’ve changed a lot (or my memory of them is hazy).  As for the Bipolar disorder, I read a lot of factual information and health advice, but also lots of blogs, journals and forums where people living with Bipolar described their experiences.  I was keen to avoid clichés, and wanted it to be a genuine aspect of Donna’s character, not a source of “light entertainment” in the book, as I’ve seen in some crime series.

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

They’re not (well, I don’t think they are, anyway, but sometimes the subconscious can trick you!).  I spent some time developing in-depth “CVs” for each of the characters to get to know them, as I didn’t have a real person in mind for any of them.  However, I have to say, if ever Toxic becomes a film or TV programme, I’d love to see Ruta Gedmintas play Donna…

8. What do you think makes your novels stand out from all the other Crime Fiction Novels out there

I’d like to think some key messages will stay with the reader.  For example, the toxin in Toxic is real, and there are all sorts of incentives for producers to cut corners, and for this stuff to be treated carelessly.  It’s something that could actually happen.  When @CriFiLover wrote that Toxic was “as realistic as it is frightening”, I was chuffed to bits.  Also, I’m keen to develop characters that readers can get to know and like.  Donna’s Bipolar disorder is an attempt to show that people with mental health problems are ordinary people who have to go to extraordinary lengths to deal not only with an illness, but with other people’s attitudes towards them.  And of course, above all else, I’d love for people to find Toxic a fascinating, thrilling and satisfying read.

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

Not really, although the character most like myself is probably Libby (quiet academic type).  What I loved about writing characters like Donna, Natesh and Evanton was that I could push all the boundaries and have them behave and speak in ways that I never would myself. 

10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned.

Toxic is planned as the first in a set of three books.  The second one is called Catching the Shadows, and I’ve finished a first draft.  The re-draft is about to begin.  It opens with a body being washed up on Arbroath beach, bearing the hallmarks of a previous murder.  The investigation goes pear-shaped when it turns out to be more complex than a mere serial killer.  Part of it is set in Cuba, which I’ve had lots of fun researching.  The third book, called Reformed, begins with a train derailing at Perth.  There are fatalities, but a post mortem reveals one of the victims was already dead before the train set off.  This one picks up on the gang warfare themes in the background of Toxic.  Without giving too much away about the ending of Toxic, the other two books feature many of its central characters, with Reformed culminating in Donna having to make the agonising decision to seek Evanton’s help to resolve matters.

11.What was your favourite scene to write in your Novel and why

There are several scenes that stand out for me, such as Gorak and Iksan struggling on the beach, Professor Chisholm’s speech, Donna waking up in Natesh’s house, or the evacuation.  But it was the last chapter that affected me the most, as it reflects back on what happened, and I was actually crying when I wrote it.

12. As a up and coming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share

It’s really important to write what you enjoy writing in the way you enjoy writing it, but you’d be kidding yourself if you thought you could dazzle your way to a publishing deal (although, some writers are really that good).  In reality, take what you’ve written, and compare it with what’s being published at the moment.  Try to imagine which books it would sit alongside on the shelves, study what it is about them that got them noticed, and see if there is something you can learn from them to sell your own work.  Also, practice eavesdropping wherever you go.  It’s a great source of storylines!

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In the Scottish university city of Dundee, life and all its complications are proceeding much the same as usual.

The recklessly brilliant DI Donna Davenport, struggling to hide a secret from police colleagues and get over the break-up with her partner, is in trouble with her boss for a fiery and inappropriate outburst to the press.

DI Evanton, an old-fashioned, hard-living misogynistic copper has been newly demoted for thumping a suspect, and transferred to Dundee with a final warning ringing in his ears and a reputation that precedes him.

And in the peaceful, rolling Tayside farmland a deadly store of MIC, the toxin that devastated Bhopal, is being illegally stored by a criminal gang smuggling the valuable substance necessary for making cheap pesticides.

An anonymous tip-off starts a desperate search for the MIC that is complicated by the uneasy partnership between Davenport and Evanton and their growing mistrust of each other’s actions.

Twitter @JackieJamxx

Amazon Author Page

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=ntt_athr_dp_sr_1?_encoding=UTF8&field-author=Jackie%20McLean&search-alias=digital-text&sort=relevancerank

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