Brian RM Stewart was born in Rutherglen and grew up in Grangemouth. He attended Glasgow University and Jordanhill College of Education, taught in Edinburgh, then moved to Nairn where he and his now-late wife Jan raised their children. Brian now lives in Broughty Ferry with his wife Sally, where he is a member of the Angus Writers’ Circle and an active member of Rotary. Brian spent much of his working life teaching mathematics and computing, but is now partially retired and lectures for the OU. When not writing, Brian attempts to play golf and the guitar (though not at the same time), and is a keen Bridge player. He has published two previous movels, Digital Circumstances and Digital Investigation
It’s been a year since Rima Khalaf died in a fall from the Black Rock, deemed to be a tragic accident by the police.
But her grieving parents are dissatisfied with the police investigation, so DS Amanda Pitt is sent north from Glasgow to the small town of Clachdubh to re-examine the case.
Despite the suspicions of the distraught parents, all the circumstances seem to confirm Rima’s death was indeed a tragic accident until another woman is also found dead in the town.
Frustrated by the lack of any real evidence, DS Pitt pushes the limits of legality in her quest for the truth.
1. How did you get started writing?
I always wrote! I was good at essays at school, and I read a lot of fiction, so I always had that desire to write fiction myself. And of course I grew up in the fifties and sixties in a working class family, so the only way to travel and enjoy the high life was through my imagination.
2. What drew you to write a novel?
Really because that’s what I read and enjoyed most. I’ve read some short stories, of course, and can spot a good one – and I admire those enormously. But I don’t read many short stories, so it feels a bit of a cheek to try to write them – although I have tried from time to time!
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
There are many many writers I admire, and I am indebted to the ones who push the boundaries and show what is possible in crime fiction, which is my main genre. My main debt is to all the writers of Tartan Noir who have turned it into such an international brand. Christopher Brookmyre’s style was so refreshing when it appeared – determinedly Scottish and unashamed – and at his best he is unbeatable. Val McDermid showed that you could see inside the mind of the perpetrator, and also that crimes can change entire lives. I admire Michael Connolly, writer of the Bosch series which I first discovered on TV, for giving such authenticity and rigour to a crime procedural. And just about every author I’ve ever read has helped to show me how to construct a good story.
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
It’s been a long road to get here. I first wrote a novel as a teenager and sent it to a publisher, who quite rightly rejected it! Then in the eighties I had another go. I sent a novel, based on my teaching experiences, to an agent in Edinburgh: they said it was well-written but that no one would publish it. So I wrote a crime novel, and a publisher nearly took it. After that my life was simply too busy for many years.
It was only as I was coming up to retirement that I knew I had to have another go, or I would go to my grave regretting it. By this time the publishing scene was harder and agents seemed to be the gatekeepers. I sent Digital Circumstances to a few agents: one rejected it, one ignored it, and one asked for the whole manuscript then rejected it – a process which took almost a year. A direct submission to a publisher I knew got a near miss. It was all a bit frustrating.
But Kindle was there, so I self-published it, and the sequel Digital Investigations (which I’d sent to the publisher I knew and got very good feedback which led to a major re-write of the first half).
The Deaths on the Black Rock is pretty much stand-alone, so I decided to send it to a couple of publishers who were taking direct submissions. Thunderpoint picked up on it. A lifetime ambition achieved! And here we are.
5. There are many interesting characters in your Novel, do you have a particular favourite one?
I like Martin and Michael because they are me, just younger. In a sense I’m living out lives I could never had had – or maybe even wanted to have – through them. Martin in particular has similar good taste to me: he likes local beers and feels the urge to explain things fully.
Keep your eye on Kylie: only a bit part in this novel, she’s got a big future ahead of her.
6. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novel?
A lot of what I write comes from stuff I know, especially locations and technology, but the world wide web is invaluable. I always check carefully any technology tricks – such as tracking a mobile phone without the owner’s consent, or unlocking a MacBook – because I really don’t like it in a book when something magical happens with tech.
I’ll usually go to locations where action happens in the book, just to check it out: this avoids blunders. (I once wrote about someone coming out of Hillhead subway station and commenting that there was a Waitrose in Byres Road. You can’t see the Waitrose from there! A slight amendment sorted that problem.) I wandered into Maryhill Police Station once to ask about a few things – mainly whether they have a canteen. (They don’t.)
I have a brother-in-law in the police, and I check things with him. He told me about the Major Investigation Teams (MITs), and about the Organised Crime and Counter-Terrorism Units. At one point I needed to know whether local police officers would work on a drugs investigation for OCCTU, and he reassured me that it was feasible – that was good enough for me!
7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life?
I try to make the characters realistic, and they are each a kind of conglomeration of people I’ve come across in life. But having worked in education all my life, my teenagers are drawn from that experience. Gary is the kind of boy who sits under the radar with his urges and his fantasy, and nobody notices him. Jamil is angry and disruptive, and the school has never been able to deal with that, so they stopped trying. There are girls like Kylie who are bright and trying to focus their ambition despite being seen by others as simply being ‘pretty’, while Jasmine is actually focused only on her own looks.
8. What has been your favourite book so far to write and why?
Digital Circumstances is the story of Martin McGregor – a genuine rags-to-riches tale – but it’s really an alternative reality for me. It’s what could have happened to me if I’d been twenty years younger, less risk-averse, and better looking. It’s also the first book that was widely read, so it will always be my favourite. However, I like to think my writing is getting better with each book.
9. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?
Amanda has that same dogged determination with a puzzle that I have: she needs to understand events and why they happened. Gaps and missing information annoy her. Martin and Michael have the same love of tech as I have, along with a slight OCD that I refer to as the ability to focus.
10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you might planned.
I’m well through a sequel to Black Rock which has a theme about Internet trolling and bot farms, which have led us to where we are in the world now. It’s a global issue, but I’ve got a thread running through it which is very personal to Martin.
I’ve been working for many years on a separate novel set in a future about ten years from now (though I’ve been working on it for more than ten years!). It’s set in an independent Scotland which is being shored up economically by Chinese investment. Unfortunately the Chinese have brought in all their restrictions on personal freedoms and privacy, but there is a network of people fighting back. In my mind it will be a trilogy, and the first book is almost finished – it just needs an edit and a polish, and I need to be clear about the next two in the series.
11. If you had the opportunity to write a novel with any crime writer alive or dead, who would it be and why
I don’t think I could write with anyone else! I enjoy the process where my publisher comes back with ideas and suggestions on my book and we discuss those, and I have in the past given constructive comments on other people’s writing, but I need to work alone, I’m afraid.
12. Do you have words of advice you can share with anyone who is interested in writing a novel
I would echo Stephen King’s advice: write! It’s a mistake I made in my youth when I ‘wanted to be a writer’. Anyone can be a writer, you just sit down and write.
Editing and honing takes work and commitment – not to mention self-belief – but you have to make your writing the best it can be. So you have to put the hours in.
Once you’re done, then either start the slog to find an agent or a publisher, or go direct to self-publishing. Someone will read it, and they will enjoy it. With luck, they’ll tell you, and that makes it all worth while. With more luck, lots of people will read it, like it, and tell you.
Don’t expect universal praise though, and don’t expect financial rewards: that’s only for the lucky few. Just write, tell people you’re a writer, and enjoy the creative process of making up a story and getting it out there.
The Deaths on the Black Rock Amazon Book Page
Amazon Author Page
Publisher Twitter: @ThunderPointLtd