1. How did you get started writing?
It’s always been there, I think. As a teenager I wrote endless bad short stories and had ambitions to be a writer, but then, after university, life got in the way for too long. I never really stopped writing but it was a long while before I seriously thought about trying to get published.
2. What drew you to write a crime novel?
I’ve loved crime fiction since I first stumbled across Agatha Christie as a teenager. That led me into other ‘golden age’ British crime writing and then to the American greats and eventually to modern crime fiction. I didn’t initially think about trying to write crime fiction myself but, as I struggled to write a first novel, I found myself drawn to the disciplines of the genre as a way of giving shape to the plot. After a while, I realised I didn’t want to write anything else!
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
I always find it difficult to talk about influences because it always feels such a mixed bag. There are writers I read as a child or a teenager who just made me want to write because they showed me what a writer can do – those range from Agatha Christie through to people like Alan Garner. In terms of crime writing, my biggest influence was probably Reginald Hill who I think Is still hugely underrated. If I could produce something half as good as his best novels I’d be happy.
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
For a long time, my attempts to find an agent or get published were fairly half-hearted – I didn’t really believe that it was possible. I’d written a humorous crime novel which I rather liked, but no-one else seemed to. Eventually, I sent it to the man who’s now my agent, Peter Buckman, who basically told me, very gently, that I could clearly write but that he couldn’t sell that particular book and that he’d be interested to see anything else I had. It was great advice because I stopped wasting time on that book and started on what became the first in my series set in Mongolia, The Shadow Walker. Peter took that on and sold it to what was then a brand-new imprint, Quercus. It all happened quite quickly in the end, but as always with publishing it’s as much about luck as anything else.
5. There are many interesting characters in your Novel, do you have a particular favourite one?
My new novel, Candles and Roses, is the start of a new series set in Scotland’s Black Isle, just north of Inverness. I always try to develop an ensemble of characters in my series but I suppose that, for the moment at least, my favourite character in the new series is DI Alec McKay, who’s an acerbic Dundonian who I hope manages to combine charm and irascibility. It’s great fun to write dialogue for him, not least because he’s surrounded by female colleagues who (mostly) keep him in his place.
6. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novel?
The Black Isle’s an area I love and have spent a lot of time in over recent years (and I’m hoping to spend even more time there in the future), and much of my research involves trying to find suitable locations and settings for the books. I also do of course need to ensure I’ve a thorough knowledge of the local pubs and cafes…
I also have a freelance day-job that, over the last few years, has involved me in working extensively with police forces and other parts of the criminal justice sector, so that’s been invaluable in giving me insights about the way the police work – not just the procedures but also the way individuals and teams interact.
In general, I don’t tend to do much advance research, unless there’s a particular topic I know I’m going to want to include, because that can easily suck up all your time. I tend to write a first draft and then research any areas where I feel I need to know more to present a scene or a character convincingly.
7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life?
I’d never admit it if they were! But I think like most writers that I draw on elements of people I know to create characters. Alec McKay, for example, has a few verbal tics and mannerisms that one or two friends may recognise, but he’s a very different character from them in most other ways (he adds, hastily). Candles and Roses does also contain one small cameo (with his permission) from someone who’s entirely real…
8. What do you think makes your novel stand out from all the other Scottish Crime Fiction Novels out there
Scotland punches hugely about its weight in terms of the quality of its crime fiction, and I’ll be delighted if the book stands comparison with any of the best of Scottish crime writing. I hope that the book’s strengths are traditional ones – a gripping plot, distinctive and engaging characters, and a beautiful and atmospheric setting.
I also wanted to write about a real issue. The book is in part about loneliness and rootlessness – the murder victims are individuals without families or close friends whose disappearance is hardly noticed by others. I felt a real shiver when, chatting to a hotelier on the Black Isle recently, he told me in passing a story that exactly replicated the background to Candles and Roses. I hope that the poignancy of that issue gives the book an added dimension.
9. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?
Again, I probably wouldn’t admit it if I did! The honest answer is that there are probably bits of me in many of my characters. The even more honest answer is that some of my characters, including Alec McKay, probably behave in ways that I might like to if my personality was a little different. Writing fiction is a great way of living out your small fantasies!
10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned.
I’ve got a second book in my DCI Kenny Murrain series, Dark Corners, set in and around Manchester, already written and I’m hoping that will be out later in the year. That begins with the apparent kidnapping and killing of a young child and takes us back to a notorious child murder of a decade or so before.
I’m just starting to write the second Alec McKay book. It’s probably too soon to say much about it except that it’s about relationships, old and new, and that it begins with the death of a former colleague of McKay himself…
11. Do you have a favourite scene that is in your new book and why did you pick that one
I’m not sure I have a single favourite scene but I particularly enjoyed writing the scenes that highlight the beauty and distinctiveness of the area. One of the book’s early scenes takes place by the Clootie Well, a supposedly holy stream where visitors tie scraps of cloths to the trees as offerings on behalf of sick friends or relatives. It’s a genuinely eerie and slightly disturbing place, and it seemed an appropriate spot to begin a novel about isolation and murder.
12. As a up and coming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share
For those who seriously want to write, all I can really say is: just keep on writing. It can be hugely frustrating particularly if your work is being rejected by agents and publishers (and even the most successful writers have experienced major ups and downs in their careers), so in the end you have to do it because you really want to.
The other word of advice I’d give is that editing is at least as important as writing. It really helps to have a good editor giving a detached view of what you’ve written, but you can also do a lot for yourself in the first instance. My first draft is usually significantly longer than my final version. I put it to one side for a week or two (or longer if possible) and then come back to it fresh. Then I’m ruthless in trying to cut anything that doesn’t add to the plot, the characters or the atmosphere (as well as details that, while they might have been necessary for my thought processes, the reader doesn’t really need to know). It won’t be true of everybody, but in my case I’m always amazed by how much I can lose without detracting at all from the story, and I usually go through this process several times before I even think of showing the book to anyone else. I think many inexperienced writers, whether they’re looking to self-publish or submit to an agent, are so keen to get their story out there that they neglect this stage, but in my experience it really is critical.
PUBLISHED 27TH SEPTEMBER
Who will live and who will die?
DI Alec McKay is a man haunted by the loss of his daughter. As he obsesses over a missing person case that is going nowhere, McKay’s investigation is interrupted when bodies start appearing on the Scottish Black Isle. Soon McKay and his team start to identify a disturbing pattern behind the killings.
Why are candles and roses placed around the bodies?
What is this twisted murderer trying to achieve?
While the police follow their own leads, a young woman who discovered the first victim begins an investigation of her own.
As the case unfolds McKay will be forced to face his own demons.
To catch the killer McKay must discover the true motive and untangle the web of truth and lies.
As Michael Walters:
The Shadow Walker
(Series set in present-day Mongolia)
As Alex Walters
Nowhere to Hide
Murrain’s Truth (short stories)
Dark Corners (forthcoming)
Amazon Author Page