I have always written. I cannot remember a time when I did not write something. My best subject in primary school [my only ‘good’ subject in primary school!] was writing compositions and when I was not writing I was reading.
2. What drew you to write a crime novel?
I came to crime by a diverse route: I was working as a researcher on the whaling industry, where the whaling seamen had the reputation of being a wild bunch. That intrigued me so I investigated further and discovered a hidden world of crime, from smuggling to theft, drunken assaults to murder. I realised that although there were some career criminals, environmental factors heavily influenced crime, and what was considered as crime in any specific period. I am particularly interested in historical crime in the way that circumstances unique to a particular era of history can influence criminal activity.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
I am not sure that I have a particular style of writing! I have always read R. L. Stevenson for his crispness and sense of atmosphere, Dickens and Hogg for their social awareness and sense of place, George MacDonald Fraser for pace; there were so many, most of which I probably assimilated unconsciously.
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
Yes. Probably because my writing was poor! I was not as good as I liked to think I was. Some people seem to be natural writers but I have to work at it. The plot comes fairly easy and I always have a good idea of some of the characters. I was fortunate to find Fledgling Press of Edinburgh who welcomed new authors, and then in 2005 I won the Dundee Book Prize with my historical Whales for the Wizard, which helped.
5. There are many interesting characters in your Novels, do you have a particular favourite one?
Thank you for finding them interesting! I have a few. I do like Sergeant Mendick of my Mendick Victorian crime novels: The Darkest Walk and A Burden Shared, and there is lady named Isabella Navarino who will feature strongly in the next Mendick book, Golden Voyage, which is due out in the spring of 2016. I also like McKim of my First World War novel, Last Train to Waverley. He is the sort of soldier you want on your side when the enemy is at the gates.
6. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novels?
Research is constant. Writing a historical crime novel is not divided into periods of research and periods of writing. Both coexist in the same time frame so I am always researching: every scene requires research, speech patterns, words, streets . . . every book opens up new avenues of knowledge with maps, plans, newspapers, text books and location visits. Darkest Walk took me into the world of the Chartists and a genuine Chartist village, while Burden Shared had me measuring distances in a Dundee graveyard (to the accompaniment of much merriment and raucous comments from a gaggle of local youths) and Last Train to Waverley found me a genuine saying of a First World War soldier that I transferred to the mouth of McKim: ‘death and hell to you.’ Poems, songs and catch phrases help capture the atmosphere of the period.
7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life?
I try not to have real people in the books. In saying that, when I re-read the finished story I can see characteristics of people I know peeping through the fiction, with the occasional supporting character standing out. In many cases what starts out as a controlled fictional character assumes his or her own identity and forces me to write tweaks of personality or idiosyncrasies to fit in with the demands of the character.
8. What do you think makes your novels stand out from all the other Scottish Crime Fiction Novels out there?
That must be the hardest question of all to answer. I hope my books stand out but the reader must decide. My books are historical based with a mixture of fact and fiction – as are most historical detective stories. I intended the reader to be able to walk into the pages and lose him or herself in the Victorian period. I hope I have achieved that.
9. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?
There are experiences that some of the characters have which I have shared. These experiences help shape the lives and thoughts of the characters: in a sense that comes from my own life. I am not sure if that answers the question and I am fully aware it is a bit vague. Perhaps others are more able to give a definitive answer.
10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned.
I have Mendick: Golden Voyage coming out this spring. This one sees Sergeant Mendick chasing a stolen yacht and meeting the lively Isabella Navarino. The story is based on two different and major crimes of the nineteenth century: the first is the theft of a ship named Ferret. If I named the second it would spoil the story. At present I am working on the fourth, fifth and sixth in the series – but publication depends on whether Fledgling Press wants them or not. I also have a number of standalone novels in my head and a second one about the First World War [provisionally entitled Our Land of Palestine] that I am actively searching for a publisher for.
11. Out of all the Novels you have written do you have a favourite one that stands out to you?
I have a favourite. In fact I have two or three. I liked Darkest Walk, which introduced Mendick, and I liked Whales for the Wizard that won the Dundee Book Prize. I also like Last Train to Waverley – all for different reasons.
12. As a known crime writer do you have words of advice you can share
Write for yourself. Be true to yourself. Don’t try and copy somebody else because they are successful. Create a strong central protagonist who is not a caricature of a well-known fictional character, give him or her a back story and use him or her to drive the story on. Above all – never give up.
Whales for the Wizard (2005)
Mother Law (2006)
The Darkest Walk (2011)
A Burden Shared (2013)
Amazon Author Page