1. How did you get started writing?
I started writing stories when I was a child, really, and wrote some (poor) poetry in my teens and twenties. I began writing short stories in earnest about 15 years ago, and I completed a first novel, too. It’s a story (called Black Metal) I am proud of, but I could not find a publisher for it. That’s when I immediately started writing The Blue Horse: I was spurred on by that rejection a little bit. I am still fond of my short stories: a handful have been published but more importantly I learned a lot by writing them. They are also a good source for character and situations which I mine for the novels. My next book has a character called John Fallon, for example, who appeared in a few short stories. I still write poetry and have had a few poems published now.
2. What drew you to write a thriller novel?
The Blue Horse has been called ‘literary noir’ and the honest answer is I did not intend to write a novel with thriller elements. I wanted to tell the tale of George Newhouse, a heartbroken, troubled man moving to Edinburgh in search of a lost painting and repairing his lost life. The hunt for the painting, and the events surrounding it, grew in the telling. But I found I quite enjoyed adding and developing the ‘thriller’ or gothic, supernatural elements (if you consider them to be supernatural and not psychological) as I wrote the book. And that element of the plot – the hunt – hopefully drives the reader to the end of the book, and Newhouse’s story.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
I should mention Charles Bukowski, Margaret Atwood, Raymond Carver, Iain M Banks, Richard Ford, Alan Garner, AL Kennedy, Louise Welsh, Irvine Welsh of course…and a lot of poets too. I love John Berryman, TS Eliot, Don Paterson, Alice Oswald, many others. I read a lot of poetry. Don DeLillo, too. As far as specifically crime or thriller writing, I haven’t read much actually, although I have read Henning Mankell quite a bit, and Jim Thompson. But I have watched a fair bit of crime TV: The Wire series remains one of my favourites. It is masterful. I was brought up on Inspector Morse, Agatha Christie and so on, and crime and thriller movies such as The Godfather trilogy, Heat (among my favourites), Goodfellas, The Bourne series, The Conversation, the first Dirty Harry, the Ipcress File, John Le Carre films. Also David Peace and his Red Riding series and GB84 in particular.
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
Yes, it was hard. But I was lucky too. I am the Arts Correspondent for The Herald newspaper and through my work I knew of a few names and publishers and so on – it didn’t help me get published as such (I think…), but it helped me draw up a few lists of addresses, contacts and so on. In the end, Adrian Searle, of Freight Books of Glasgow, took a chance on me and my novel, as he knew my short stories and poetry from the literary magazine they publish, Gutter. I was published in Gutter and that led to Adrian being interested in my manuscript for The Blue Horse.
5. There are many interesting characters in your Novel,do you have a particular favourite one?
I feel quite attached to the main character, of course, but Rudi, his best friend, was more fun to write. He is rude and outrageous and a little unhinged. There is a character called Ivy who I like also…and Tyler became a character I wanted to write more about. She’s interesting. The artist, Brick Macpherson, although completely fictional, was interesting to create. Some readers have said he is a parody, but I think he is a hero in some ways.
6. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novel?
I didn’t set aside much time for actual research: I was restricted to my own mind and knowledge for much of the book, but I read several books on Dutch art, as well as Goya and so on. I used a lot of my experience from being an arts correspondent for many years, too. There were other elements too: I wrote a small blog about the research for the book here, if readers are interested: http://necessaryfiction.com/blog/ResearchNotesTheBlueHorse
7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life?
I would say all the characters are made-up. But some involve elements of character from people I know or have met. Some characters, and scenes, are closer to reality than others.
8. What do you think makes your Novel stand out from all the other Thriller Fiction Novels out there
I might say, if pushed, there are few dark thrillers set in the contemporary Scottish art world.
9. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?
I think it would be hard to say there isn’t elements of myself in some of the characters. Newhouse isn’t much like me: he is better looking, for starters, and more despairing. I don’t spend my daily life wreathed in existential angst, it is quite hard to live that way. But we all have our moments. Life is often grim and baffling.
10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned.
I am writing a new one right now actually. I am about a quarter through the first draft: I write quite slowly. It is again set in a modern albeit mirror-image of Scotland. It involves the newspaper industry and also deep space.
11. In your novel which scene was your favourite to write and why?
There is a chapter called Flight, which is quite abstract and poetic, but it poured out of me and remains on the page essentially as I wrote it. I love that chapter, even though it doesn’t strictly advance the plot. For me it is a key chapter in the book. It both does and does not make sense. And I enjoyed some of the exchanges between Rudi and George, too, especially the strange encounter in the Venetian bar near the end.
12. As a up and coming thriller writer, do you have words of advice you can share?
I am not sure I am a thriller writer yet…I think it takes great skill to be a thriller writer. I am not there yet. I would always say: never give up, and keep writing. Someone said to me: You can’t call yourself a writer if you don’t write, which is harsh but true. Also, try not to take rejections personally (of course I do….so maybe that’s poor advice) and always persevere. I am always very aware of the shortness of our lives on this earth: a day that goes without writing or at least thinking about it, or reading something, feels like a day wasted.
Recently bereaved, George Newhouse, is an art historian and newly appointed curator at the National Gallery who becomes increasingly obsessed with a lost minor Dutch masterpiece, The Blue Horse by Van Doelenstraat. The painting’s provenance is disputed and many doubt its existence at all. But Newhouse has uncovered a letter by Rembrandt where the master states, ‘That damned painting vexes my mind’s eye’.
As Newhouse struggles with his grief, his grip of reality slowly loosening, he embarks on surreal journey of loss and self-discovery, fuelled by alcohol, drugs and self-destructive behaviour. As the lines between reality and imagination blur, will George lose himself in his obsession or return from the brink of destruction in time?
Highly atmospheric and exploiting many of the tropes of art appreciation, this is a compelling literary noir and remarkable debut by one of Scotland’s leading art correspondents.