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Bloody Scotland September special crime author of the month interview with Paul Johnston

(Photo Francesco Moretti)

1. How did you get started writing?

My father, Ronald, was a thriller writer in the 60s and 70s so I grew up surrounded by authors. That actually put me off till I was about 30, when I realised I had a vocation. That coincided with me being made redundant by the shipping company I was working for in Antwerp and moving to Greece. There then followed a self-imposed seven-year apprenticeship, during which I wrote three unpublished and unpublishable novels (one editor responded, ‘the strangest novel I’ve ever read’, which almost made rejection worthwhile).

2. What drew you to write a crime novel?

My agent at the time suggested I try writing what I enjoyed reading. Whence crime. I’ve been a fan of crime fiction since my early teens and I think sneaking into The Godfather when I was fifteen was what really piqued my fascination with people doing bad things.

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

I’d like to think that my style – or rather styles, as I write several very different series – has developed into my own. But there’s no doubt I have several ‘masters’ – Conan Doyle (for the language as much as dear old Sherlock), Hammett, Chandler, Jim Thompson, George V Higgins and many more. Oh, and Dickens – a great crime writer (among other things). Oh, and R L Stevenson – ditto.

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

As I said, I wrote three novels that were generally greeted with little interest – good for the soul as well as the technique, I told myself. I attracted an editor in 1995, when the crime genre was much more elastic than it is now, at least as regards big publishers. I doubt Hodder and Stoughton would pick up the Quint novels now – it’s too hard to sell crossover crime and SF..

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

All the protagonists have a lot of me in them – Quint Dalrymple, Alex Mavros, Matt Wells, even the mixed race female cop, Joni Pax. They’re my cerebral side, but what I’ve only realised recently is that their sidekicks are equally important as they represent my more earthy side.

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

I do a lot of research – much more than is strictly necessary, though it probably all helps. With the Quint novels I invented an Orwellian independent Edinburgh, which involved reading a lot of dystopian novels. The Mavros novels, set in Greece, meant that I had to dig up my old classical education as well as read a lot about the modern country. The Black Life (2013), which deals with the fate of the Jews of Thessaloniki, was such a major subject that I immersed myself in it and almost drove myself mad. I still don’t know why I did that. Some things just have to be written about.

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

Generally not. Sometimes I take aspects of people I know and combine them with other elements. In Body Politic I turned an idiotic ex-boss into a serial killer.

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

The subject matter and the ways I handle it. Black humour and satire are major features too. Although other people have set novels in futuristic Scotland and modern Greece, I hope my takes on them are original. Who wants to copy other writers?

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

See above. There are probably elements of me in all my characters – especially the baddies. Maybe that’s the way writers exorcise their demons…

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

The seventh Quint novel, Skeleton Blues, is out on Hogmanay – I didn’t plan that, though any excuse for a party. I’ve just finished the first novel in a new series, but I’m afraid I can’t talk about it till my editor’s passed comment.

11. In your novel which scene was your favourite to write and why?

None of them. Writing is hard work, especially when you take on dark themes.

12. As a known crime writer, do you have words of advice you can share?

The only advice for writers is write, write and write again -no excuses, get the words down. Give yourself a daily target and hit it whatever happens. Don’t sit around waiting for the Muse. Muses don’t exist…


The Quint Dalrymple series:

Skeleton Blues (Severn House, forthcoming December 2015)
Heads or Hearts (Severn House, 2015)
The House of Dust (Hodder and Stoughton, 2001) Shortlisted for Sherlock Award for best detective novel; and for John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel.
The Blood Tree (Hodder and Stoughton, 2000)
Water of Death (Hodder and Stoughton, 1999)
The Bone Yard (Hodder and Stoughton, 1998)
Body Politic (Hodder and Stoughton, 1997) Winner, Crime Writers’     Association John Creasey Memorial Dagger for Best First Crime Novel.

The Alex Mavros series:

The White Sea (Crème de la Crime, 2014)
The Black Life (Crème de la Crime, 2013)
The Green Lady (Crème de la Crime, 2012)
The Silver Stain (Crème de la Crime, 2011)
The Golden Silence (Hodder and Stoughton, 2004)
The Last Red Death (Hodder and Stoughton, 2003) Winner, Sherlock Award
for Best Detective Novel.
A Deeper Shade of Blue (Hodder and Stoughton, 2002) Republished in 2009 as Crying Blue Murder by MIRA Books.

The Matt Wells series:

The Nameless Dead (MIRA Books, 2011)
Maps of Hell (MIRA Books, 2010)
The Soul Collector (MIRA Books, 2008)
The Death List (MIRA Books, 2007) Shortlisted for Barry Award for best British crime novel.


Under pseudonym Sam Alexander, Carnal Acts (Arcadia Books, 2014)

Short Stories (selected):

‘All Yesterday’s Parties’, in Guilty Parties: A Crime Writers’ Association Anthology (Severn House, 2014)
‘The World’s End’, in The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 11 (Constable and Robinson, 2014)
‘Big Guy’, in The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 10 (Constable and Robinson, 2013)
‘Moon Landing’, in The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 9 (Constable and Robinson, 2012)
‘Cop and Robber’, in The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 8 (Constable
and Robinson, 2011)
‘There’s No Such Thing as a Victimless Crime’, in The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 7 (Constable and Robinson, 2010)
‘Crime Fest’, in Flesh and Blood 3 (The Do-Not Press, 1999)


‘The Wasp Station’ in The Poetry of Sex (Penguin Viking, 2014)
Water Sports (Ravenglass Poetry Press, 2011)

Amazon Author Page


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