The third book in the awards-listed Harcus & Laird series
When Aberdeen housewife Debbie Milne abruptly vanishes without trace, leaving behind her two young children, husband Scott is too distraught to sit out the police’s 72-hour window and await developments. He turns to local detective agency Harcus & Laird.
Put off by previous “domestic” cases, Maggie Laird isn’t keen, but is cajoled by partner Wilma Harcus into a covert operation. Together they comb through meagre scraps of information, eventually trawling the city’s women’s refuges and homeless squats, in spite of the deadly danger.
Then a woman’s body is discovered in a Dundee builder’s skip. With the clock ticking and the police struggling to make identification, the race is on. Claire MacLeary fashions a surprising, gritty, fast-paced tale with the warmth and wisdom of ‘women of a certain age’.
HARCUS & LAIRD – FINDING THE USP
Claire MacLeary: blog tour for Runaway
Having opted to place Cross Purpose, my debut crime novel, in a domestic setting, it seemed logical to develop themes of particular interest to women readers. My protagonists, Maggie and Wilma, two ordinary suburban housewives, face challenges with global appeal: the push and pull of motherhood. The constant guilt trip: having to make daily choices between prioritising children over partner or parents or one child over another. The sheer drudgery: the relentless round of shopping and cooking, washing and cleaning. For, despite the introduction of internet grocery shopping and labour-saving devices, the burden of running a home still falls heavily on the woman.
But just because my protagonists are ordinary women – and my novels are set in suburbia – doesn’t lead me to write ‘cosy crime’. On the contrary, my Harcus & Laird series tackles not the shallow ‘women’sinterest’ topics we are so often told we want, rather the bigger, harsher issues women have to contend with in their daily lives. In Cross Purpose, these include the lack of affordable childcare, where mothers on the breadline may have to compromise their children’s safety to hold down employment. Then there’s the ease of children’s access to drugs, and the corrupting power of the Internet on young minds. Burnout, launched in tandem with Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement, tackles white collar domestic abuse: the sexual, financial and psychological control to which even affluent, highly educated women are not immune. In Runaway, home and homelessness are the principal themes: both the mindless routine of raising young children and the physical and emotional toll taken from losing one’s home.
Maggie and ‘Big Wilma’ address these social issues with a fierce determination to combat authority and injustice, but also with a sense of humour. Given thedarkness of the subject matter, Wilma’s couthy wit brings colour to the narrative, the Aberdeen Doricinterest to the dialogue. Think Mannofield meets Happy Valley.
So there you have it, a crime series that is different in several respects: protagonists two non-professional women of ‘a certain age’, Aberdeen domestic setting, tackling big social issues, keeping the Doric alive. And readers seem to enjoy this fresh approach, longlisting Cross Purpose for the McIlvanney Prize for Best Scottish Crime Book 2017 and Burnout for Hearst Big Book Awards Crime Novel of the Year 2018.
1. How did you get started writing?
I read English at university, and I’ve always written, be it advertising copy, training manuals or short stories. Raising a family and a business career diverted my attention. It was only when my children were at senior school that I returned to writing, first attending P/T classes then pursuing a MLitt in Creative Writing at the University of Dundee.
2. What drew you to write a novel?
My MLitt studies under novelist Professor Kirsty Gunn, who encouraged me to expand my 17,000-word dissertation into a full length novel.
As to writing crime, the genre featured prominently on the Sunday Times bestseller lists, so seemed a good place to try a follow-up.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
Chekov, Katherine Mansfield and Lorrie Moore for their short stories, 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?
Surprisingly, no. This was due in part to the literary salons held during my MLitt course, which introduced me to agents and publishers, but principally because I had done extensive research before starting to write.
I submitted my debut novel to two publishers and both made an offer. I opted for a two book deal with Saraband. Sara Hunt ‘got’ Maggie and Wilma, women ‘of a certain age’, straight off, and has been hugely supportive ever since.
5. There are many interesting characters in Runaway, do you have a particular favourite one?
I love Maggie and Wilma, my two protagonists. They’re an unlikely pair: Maggie petite, conservative, lacking in confidence; Wilma big, bold, brash and a bit dodgy. You can’t help but identify with Maggie’s family problems and Wilma’s yo-yoing weight and faux pas. But I have a soft spot for DI Chisolm. He appears stern and unapproachable, but there’s a back story we haven’t yet been party to, and will he and Maggie ever become an item. Who knows?
6. What kind of research have you had to undertake for your novel?
Now the third in the Harcus & Laird series is about to launch, I’ve learned to leave much of my research until last. That’s because you can spend time on a plot line which later gets excised. However, I did do extensive research on people trafficking and homelessness for Runawayand spent an instructive morning playing FOTBs in a betting shop when I was appearing at Newcastle Noir.
7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life?
I think they’re an amalgam of traits from several people, plus others I’ve conjured from my imagination. Maggie Laird started out narrow, judgemental, something of a snob, but her entrenched attitudes are softening. Wilma Harcus is big-hearted, but always looking for shortcuts.I think both change with experience, as often happens in life.
8. How did you feel about being longlisted for the 2017 McIlvanney Prize?
I was thrilled, of course, to win recognition for my debut novel, Cross Purpose, and grateful that readers saw it as a fresh and different approach to the genre. But it wasn’t until I was standing on stage with the giants of Scottish crime writing – Val McDermid, Denise Mina, Lin Anderson, Ian Rankin and others – that the significance really sank in.
9. Do you see any of your character’s personality traits in yourself and vice versa?
I think Maggie tends to take a run at things, as do I. Otherwise, no. The backgrounds of all my characters to date are very different from my own.
10. If you can, would you give us a sneak peek into any future novels you might have planned?
I’m working on the fourth in the crime series. All I can say is that it is going to be really creepy.
11. If you had the opportunity to write a novel with any crime writer alive or dead, who would it be and why?
It’s hard to pin down just one individual from the giants of the genre:Conan Doyle through Josephine Tey to Stephen King and the late PD James, whom I greatly admire. I had the privilege of meeting William McIlvanney, godfather of Tartan Noir. But although he has only written one crime novel – Restless, an espionage thriller – I’ll nominate William Boyd who, for me, personifies all that is admirable in a writer: acute observation of the human condition, elegance of style, wry humour, compassion in spades.
12. Do you have words of advice you can share with anyone who is interested in writing a novel?
Persevere. When I first produced a short story for a creative writing class, I wouldn’t have believed I could sustain a full-length novel, far less see it in print. I firmly believe getting published is 95% hard slog and 5% luck, so join a writing group or class to give you the support you’ll need to cope with rejection and keep chipping away.
Runway Amazon Book Page
Claire MacLeary Amazon Author Page