1. How did you get started writing?
I’d always wanted to write. Won essay prizes at school, read English at university, held down jobs in advertising. But for years I was too busy running my own business and raising a family to contemplate anything more. It was only when my children reached senior school that I joined a Dundee University Continuing Education class in Creative Writing. At the end of the year, the group – Nethergate Writers – published an anthology of short stories. I was in print!
2. What drew you to write a novel
Having a number of my short stories published increased my confidence.
A window of opportunity then allowed me to enrol on a one year full-time course in Creative Writing at Dundee, where what became the first scene in my crime novel formed part of my first semester writing folio. My 17,000-word dissertation showed me I had the ability to move beyond the short story so, after graduating MLitt with distinction in 2011, I sat down to write Cross Purpose.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
My style is pared-down, leaving much to the reader’s imagination. It has evolved over time and been subject to many influences: Dickens and Dostoevsky in my teens, Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver in my twenties through to Edith Pearlman and Carol Shields in the present day.
Writers I aspire to include: Chekov, Katherine Mansfield and Lorrie Moore for their short stories, William Boyd for his breadth of vocabulary and empathy, Alice Munro for close observation, Jayne Anne Phillips for dense, lyrical prose.
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
It took several years between completing my novel and seeing it in print.
My first break came when I successfully pitched to agent Jenny Brown, who encouraged me to work with crime editor Al Guthrie.
I then submitted the synopsis and first three chapters of Cross Purpose to a handful of publishers. All of them asked to read the full manuscript. Two made an offer.
I chose to sign with Saraband, under their dedicated crime imprint, Contraband. Owner Sara Hunt offered me a two book deal. Her author Graeme Macrae Burnet was subsequently short-listed for The Booker Prize.
5. There are many interesting characters in your Novel, do you have a particular favourite one?
My readers’ favourite is Big Wilma, probably because she’s larger than life and a bit dodgy.!
I find all my characters absorbing. They live in my head, and have a habit of speaking to me, often at four in the morning. I rarely know what they’re going to do next. If there’s one that intrigues me, it’s ‘baddie’ James Gilruth. It will be interesting to see when, and if, he shows his weak spot.
6. What kind of research have you had to undertake for your Novel?
Until I set out to write a crime novel, I’d read hardly any crime, other than the occasional spy thriller, so the first thing I did was read extensively: mainly Scottish, but also Scandi, French and Italian authors.
In plotting my novel, I deliberately steered away from the well-trodden path of the detective with a drink/divorce problem or the highly-skilled forensic scientist. Instead, my protagonists are two ill-matched non-professional ‘women of a certain age’ – the sort of characters readers’ can readily identify with. Think Tartan Noir meets Happy Valley!
More specific research involved a visit to the Dissection Room at Dundee University’s Life Sciences faculty and to the Council Mortuary in Aberdeen, along with reconnaissance visits to Aberdeen locations I planned to use.
I also sought the assistance of a former Aberdeen detective and a private investigator.
7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life?
No, though they are informed by experience. In the 80s, I lived as a university wife in Old Aberdeen and my son went to nursery in Seaton, so I saw first-hand the void between student life and the deprivation experienced by many residents in Seaton, as evidenced by Willie Meston and his gang of toe-rags.
8. How do you feel to be on the short list for the Bloody Scotland 2017
Macillvaney crime book of the year award
I’m a huge admirer of the late Willie McIlvanney, founding father of Tartan Noir, as Scottish crime fiction has come to be known.
I heard the news on a boat in Bratislava. Sara Hunt, my publisher, had been trying to call me. My phone was switched off, and there was no Wi-fi reception other than in Bratislava’s Old Town. So I rushed ashore, found a bar, and the rest… Well, how would you feel if your debut novel was up there with Val McDermid, Denise Mina, Lin Anderson, Ian Rankin?
I was, as Big Wilma would say, “knocked off my stotter!”
9. Do you see any of your characters’ personality in yourself and vice versa?
My daughter tells me I go at everything head-on, so perhaps there’s a bit of that in Wilma. I’m also driven, as Maggie is in her quest for justice. Plus, my favourite tipple is red wine!
10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you might planned.
I’ve recently submitted to my editor the first draft of Burnout. Every bit as “dark and devious” as Cross Purpose, the second in the Harcus & Laird series features the same cast of characters and addresses white collar domestic abuse. Burnout is scheduled for launch next spring.
11. If you had the opportunity to write a novel with any crime writer alive or dead, who would it be and why
Where do I start? There are so many crime writers I admire and to whom today’s crime fiction authors owe a debt of gratitude. However, I’ll opt for a woman, and that woman is the late Phyllis James. Why? Because she was so wise, and so gracious with it. Also because she lived to a ripe old age!
12. Do you have words of advice you can share with anyone who is interested in writing a novel?
Be realistic. Getting published is a long process. You won’t earn much and will often be disappointed.
If you’re still motivated, sit down and do it. To help you along, join a writing group/book club/evening class. Seek out other writers. Start to think like a writer.
Persevere. It’s 90% a question of chipping away and 10% luck.
When Maggie Laird’s disgraced ex-cop husband suddenly dies, her humdrum suburban life is turned upside down. With the bills mounting, she takes on his struggling detective agency, enlisting the help of neighbour ‘Big Wilma’. And so an unlikely partnership is born.
But the discovery of a crudely mutilated body soon raises the stakes… and Maggie and Wilma are drawn into an unknown world of Aberdeen’s sink estates, clandestine childminding and dodgy dealers.
Cross Purpose is surprising, gritty, sometimes darkly humorous – a tale combining police corruption, gangs and murder with a paean to friendship, loyalty and how ‘women of a certain age’ can beat the odds.
Author, Contraband, the crime imprint of Saraband, publisher of the Man Booker shortlisted ‘His Bloody Project’
Debut novel ‘Cross Purpose’ longlisted for The McIlvanney Prize 2017
Cross Purpose events:
– NoirAtTheBar Dundee 26 July
Amazon Author Page