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There’s been a murder interview with MR Mackenzie

M.R. Mackenzie was born and lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He studied at Glasgow University and has a PhD in Film Studies. In 2016, he contributed a chapter on the Italian giallo film to Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion.

In addition to writing, he works as an independent Blu-ray/DVD producer and has overseen releases of films by a number of acclaimed directors, among them Dario Argento, Joe Dante and Seijun Suzuki.

His debut novel, In the Silence, reached #2 in Amazon UK’s Scottish crime fiction bestsellers chart.

1. How did you get started writing?

I suspect I’d credit my granny with infecting me with the writer’s bug. She was a wonderful storyteller with an incredible memory for events that had taken place eighty years ago or more. A lot of people have fond memories of their grandparents reading books to them as children, but with my granny, she always told her own stories. Unfortunately,when, I told my guidance teacher I wanted to be an author, not long after I started secondary school, she replied that hardly anyone made a living as a writer and that I should aspire to become a vet instead! As a result, I didn’t actually return to writing in any serious way until my mid-twenties… and have been making up for lost time ever since.


2. What drew you to write a novel?

At first, there was an element of expedience involved! When I returned to writing in my mid-twenties, I initially pursued a career screenwriting, seeking to combine my passion for telling stories with my love of film. (In fact, my first novel, In the Silence, was originally written as a screenplay.) Ultimately, though, despite making some promising connections and having some positive feedback from submissions to the likes of Channel 4’s 4Screenwriting and the BBC’s Script Room programmes, my big break never materialised, and I initially turned to novel-writing almost by necessity – concluding that, despite the challenges involved in getting a novel written and published, there are comparatively fewer hurdles to getting it out there than there are to getting your spec script turned into a feature film!

It’s probably somewhat fortuitous, then, that I quickly realised I actually enjoyed writing novels more than scripts. Something about that expanded canvass, that ability to really get inside my characters’ heads without that constant feeling of a need to hit an arbitrary page count, and (perhaps most of all) the lack of a need to satisfy an army of executives, producers and script editors, really clicked with me, to the extent that I’m extremely happy with where I’ve ended up. I certainly don’t miss having to format everything in 12pt Courier!


3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?

I read more Enid Blyton than was healthy when I was younger, and I’m inclined to credit her with my fondness for writing about amateur sleuths. I find them so much more interesting than professional detectives, possibly because I can relate to the life of a civilian thrust into unfamiliar circumstances in a way that I can’t an officer of the law.

Denise Mina, with her Garnethill trilogy, shattered my preconceptions about what Glaswegian crime was, eschewing hard-bitten, hard-drinking, middle-aged male policemen in favour of characters who were a whole lot more colourful – and more relatable. Her early novels in particular are chock-full of wonderful observations about the human condition and the weird and wonderful characters that exist in everyday life, and I try to capture some of that in my own writing.

Finally, Tana French showed me that crime can be literary. I’m not nearly as good a writer as she is, but I’m constantly inspired by her command of language and her ability to evoke atmosphere with nothing but text on a page.


4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?

I was actually very fortunate, in that In the Silence was both the first novel I wrote (as an adult – we’ll overlook my no doubt completely embarrassing efforts from when I was younger!) and the first one I ever submitted to any publishers. I spent an inordinate amount of time perfecting it as much as I could, then went through the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbookfrom cover to cover, identifying every publisher who accepted unsolicited submissions in my genre, then fired off a bunch of query letters and sample chapters. Bloodhound Books weren’t the only publisher to express an interest, but they were the first to get back to me and seemed eager to snap me up when they heard I’d submitted to other publishers, so I figured I was onto a good thing with them!


5. There are many interesting characters in your Novel, do you have a particular favourite one?

Zoe! It has to be Zoe! When I initially wrote In the Silence as a screenplay, my protagonist, Anna Scavolini, wasn’t all that well defined and it took a number of drafts before I started to get more of a sense of who she was and what made her tick. But Zoe, her red-headed, larger-than-life best friend, sprang off the page fully formed from the very beginning. She’s such a flamboyant and iconically Glaswegian character, and, when the time came for me to write the sequel, Cruel Summer(releasing on 28 May), I knew I wanted to switch gears and tell that particular story through her eyes.

Of course, that’s not so say that I’m not also very fond of Anna, and in fact I’m currently in the early stages of work on a third instalment, in which she once again assumes the role of protagonist. But I’ll always have a soft spot for Zoe and herlack of an internal filter. There’s something incredibly satisfying about writing a character who always says exactly what she thinks!


6. What kind of research have you have to undertake for your Novel?

Research is probably my least favourite part of the writing process, as it invariably leads to the realisation that a particular plot development I’m desperate to include would never happen in real life. It’s also why I prefer to write about amateur detectives than the professional kind – because they’re so mired in rules and bureaucracy that I’d have to research and then present accurately in order for my writing to have any pretence of authenticity. But that’s not to say I don’t do any research. Right now, for example, I’m completely immersed in Frank Hagan’s Introduction to Criminology. My character, Anna Scavolini, is a criminology lecturer, and, in the in-development third novel in the series, her job comes to the forefront in a way that it hasn’t in the first two, so I feel it’s incumbent on me to get a decent grounding in the topic before I put pen to paper and completely embarrass myself.

Of course, working in a genre with a higher than average body count, part of the research process also involves figuring out gruesome and inventive ways to kill people and making sure I’m describing the effects as scientifically accurately as possible. I don’t mind THAT kind of research!


7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life?

To some extent. I think it’s impossible not to incorporate elements of people you know in real life into your characters, and I think just about everyone has met a Zoe at one point or another! But I try to avoid basing anyone too closely on any single person, not least because a lot of the characters I write about tend not to be particularly nice people, and I don’t want to put anyone’s nose out of joint!


8. Do you have a particular favourite scene in the book and why?

There’s a scene, about a third of the way through Cruel Summer, in which Zoe, who has been conducting an unofficial investigation into a high-rising politician accused of assault, is confronted by a tag team consisting of her girlfriend Carol and her best friend Anna, who are trying to dissuade her from her current path. It’s a small scene but I think it captures the individual personalities of the three characters very nicely, and also manages to convey both the inherent absurdity in what, to Zoe, resembles an intervention or laying on of hands,and her burning anger at the sense that these two people are trying to control her life.


9. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?

I reckon Zoe is just about the polar opposite from me in every respect. Honest, if I met her in real life, I’d probably be a bit intimidated by her! But I’ve said before that, while Anna is very different from me in a lot of respects, we actually do have a fair amount in common. We’re both PhD graduates, we’re both introverts, we were both born in Glasgow within a couple of years of each other, and we share many of the same socio-political views, though we disagree on certain key issues I won’t go into here for fear of spoiling too much of the story.


10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you might planned.

Well, I’ve already mentioned the third instalment in the Anna Scavolini series, which I’m in the process of plotting at the moment. My intention is for it to serve as the conclusion of sorts to a loose trilogy that began with In the Silence and continues with Cruel Summer. It’s very likely that I’ll continue the series beyond that – in fact, I already have rough ideas for Books 4 and 5 – but I envisage them being more standalone in nature, whereas In the Silence, Cruel Summerand the as-yet-untitled Book 3 are much more intertwined – though they can, of course, be read independently as well.

I’m also working on a standalone mystery called The Library Murders, which draws on my day job experience and which I hope will see the light of day as some point this year as well. Stay tuned for more info on that one in the not-too-distant future (hopefully)!


11. If you had the opportunity to write a novel with any writer alive or dead, who would it be and why?

That’s a tricky one to answer as I’m not, by nature, a particularly collaborative person. On the contrary, I tend to resist any and all attempts to change My Vision™, and often have to be dragged kicking and screaming back to my manuscript by admirably patient editors. In contrast to writing for film or television, writing a novel is a very solitary pursuit, and I suspect most authors would probably struggle with the idea of writing with another author, particularly one with their own distinctive style – though I know there have been many successful partnerships, either by established writing teams like Sjöwall & Wahlöö or Nicci French, or one-off pairingslike James Patterson’s recent collaboration with Bill Clinton.


12.  Do you have words of advice you can share with anyone who is interested in writing a novel?

I’d definitely encourage anyone thinking about writing a novel to put pen to paper and go for it. The rise of eBooks, self-publishing and independent publishing houses means that the process has been democratised like never before, and while I think that invariably presents challenges of its own when it comes to getting noticed in an increasingly crowded field, I genuinely think this is a really exciting time to be a writer, and that the opportunities are just waiting to be grasped.

I’d also say try not to be too discouraged if you don’t achieveovernight success. Very few authors shoot to the top of the charts and receive critical acclaim right out of the gate. It takes time to build a profile – I’m only in the early stages of it myself – and it can feel like an uphill climb with the summit nowhere in sight. My long-term goal is definitely to be able to make a living doing this full-time, but until then, I would much rather my work was out there and being read by however many people it can reach – whether that’s a bajillion or just a handful – than locked away on my hard drive being read by no one.

In the Silence (2018)

Anna hasn’t set foot in Glasgow for ten years. And for very good reasons…

When Anna, a criminology lecturer, does return to Glasgow from Rome, during the coldest winter in memory, tragedy strikes. While out with her best friend from school, Anna has a chance encounter with a former flame, Andrew, and later that night discovers Andrew stabbed and dying on a blanket of snow.

Soon Anna finds herself at the centre of the investigation as the star witness for the police, and embarks on investigating the case herself. But Anna doesn’t realise the danger she is in and soon finds herself in trouble.

When another body shows up, who has links to the first victim, it appears that the motive may lie buried in the past.

As Anna gets closer to the truth, the killer starts closing in.

But can she solve the gruesome mystery before the killer strikes again?

Cruel Summer (2019)

Zoe Callahan is having the summer from hell… and it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

She’s stuck in a dead-end job, her relationship is going nowhere, and the memory of the Kelvingrove Park Murders three years ago continues to cast a long shadow over every aspect of her life.

When a prostitute is brutally assaulted by Dominic Ryland, a rising political star with a suspiciously spotless personal reputation, Zoe leaps at the chance to distract herself with a noble cause, and sets out on a one-woman crusade to bring Ryland to justice.

But in doing so, she quickly finds herself on the wrong side of some very dangerous people – people who have reputations to protect and who would think nothing of silencing Zoe by any means necessary.

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