Saturday 3 November 2018
Dead in the USA – Trump That
After a hearty breakfast at my hotel I headed off to the Pagoda for the first of Saturday’s sessions. Alexandra Sokoloff and Douglas Skelton were discussing Dead in the USA – Trump That, with Neil Broadfoot in the Chair.
Alexandra kicked off proceedings by suggesting that there is no greater evil and no greater crime than that which is happening in America right now. She finds real crimes and real evil in the White House and she can’t begin to think about finishing her next novel until she knows for sure what the mid-term elections will bring.
For Alex, the need to address and confront the real evils in our society is incredibly important and as an artist she can’t step away from that. Alex started off writing horror and suspense, but soon found that it is real life evil that is the most scary. In her Huntress series (which sparks and crackles and is awesome she wanted to address the evil done to women and children.
Douglas Skelton’s The Janus Run set in a very cinematic New York City is a new departure from his previous Scotland set novels. He began to write it after fellow author Craig Robertson suggested he try writing something set away from Scotland
Douglas sees a real affinity between Glasgow and NYC and as a huge cinema fan, he already feels like he knows New York very well. Douglas is a very visual writer, he thinks in terms of cinematic scenes when he writes them and as an author wants to convey that visual aspect into the reader’s head.
Alex has a substantial background as a screenwriter and she uses that to inform her writing style and structure. Both authors have quite different approaches to writing though. Alex is a real planner and plots pretty much everything before she writes while Douglas has no process at all. He just starts with a sentence and an idea and runs with it.
Whilst Alex will write her series of books as if she were writing a TV series, with each book being a Season at a time and will know her story arc trajectory pretty thoroughly before she starts.
When he was writing The Dead Don’t Boogie, he was 45,000 words or so in before he began to think he’d better come up with a plot! But then, as he says, that’s what second and third drafts are for.
The authors talked about the support they get from other writers and how important it is to have that support network in place.
They discussed location as a character in their novels and Douglas talked about incorporating the rise of hatred in the world into his work when Neil asked how much the real world bled into their books. Alex of course confronts this head on in her Huntress series.
Asked about their writing influencers and who they like to read, Alex cited Denise Mina and Val McDermid along with Thomas Harris’ early work and Douglas says that his go to writer is Ed McBain.
Next for these writers is Book 6 in the Huntress series, which Alex is drawing to a close for now and Douglas has a new book coming out next year, titled Thunder Bay which sounds amazing! Both books will be very high on my ‘must read’ list as these are two awesome writers.
Me and My Book – We’ve Got Issues
Michael J Malone and Craig Robertson were interviewed by Caro Ramsay.
Craig also talked about Murderabilia, his book about the macabre habit of collectors who buy items associated with ‘celebrity’ murderers and whether these items are imbued with evil. He horrified many in the audience when he talked about the items he had bought as part of his research which included a lock of Charles Manson’s hair. It is really a very creepy thing to do when you think about it.
Caro asked each author how they go about ensuring they manage to portray their female characters accurately and with insight. Michael grew up with a twin sister which really helped him to understand what issues women have when growing up and Craig, of course, has Alex Sokoloff to keep him on the correct path.
Michael talked about his strong interest in the way that the brain works and how different men and women can be when it comes to talking, especially about emotional issues. He is really interested in the mental and emotional connections. He spoke about men’s socialisation and the idea of the men’s shed network and how the right situation was required in order for men to discuss their personal lives and emotions.
This led to a wider discussion about mental health and responsibility of authors to make sure they t get things right. Michael talked about PSTD and those who suffered from the trauma after Lockerbie and the terrible way that we as a society treat servicemen and women coming home after terrible battlefield experiences.
Craig talked about an increasing fascination with how much of ourselves we are prepared to divulge to social media; how much information we give away freely. He also feels quite passionately that that dealing with some of the issues that social media throws up are of interest to younger readers as that’s where the next generation of readers are coming from.
There were some lovely humorous moments too, as Caro laid into Craig for his less than kind treatment of animals in at least one of his books and Craig tried to deflect her by suggesting that he was becoming almost vegan. Though having him claim that you don’t have to kill animals to make black pudding was somehow more gruesome than all the beheading you might care to mention.
Authors and Their Lives of Crime
Stuart MacBride and Neil Broadfoot chatted to Douglas Skelton in the first session of the afternoon
MacBride is the author of 12 Logan MacRae novels, the most recent of which is The Blood Road; 2 Ash Henderson books, 4 stand-alones, several short stories and 1 children’s books. Stuart has many awards for writing, including the CWA Dagger in the Library Award. The Dagger in the Library is a prize for a body of work by a crime writer that users of libraries particularly admire. Only librarians can nominate authors for the award. It is one of the most prestigious crime writing awards in the UK. All of that, however, pales into insignificance when you see how proud he is of his award in 2014 for stovie making in the World Stovies Championship. You can see his recipe here.
Neil Broadfoot’s protagonist is Connor Fraser, an ex-policeman in Northern Ireland and now a close protection officer. Inspired whilst watching the annual Scotland versus England Bloody Scotland football match, Neil found himself looking across Cowane’s Yard and thinking to himself….’now that looks like a great place to dump a body…..and wouldn’t it be great if it were decapitated and with its head on a spike nearby’….
His novel No Man’s Land touches on Brexit, paratroopers and radical independence, which is interesting as Stuart then mentioned that his next book also deals with radical independence. Stuart refers to this kind of synergy as morphic resonance where crime fiction will often reflect not just society’s interests but also a sense of place and time and where we are in the world, politically and philosophically.
The pair discussed their writing processes from huge whiteboards and super sticky post it notes to how you know you are winning when your characters start talking back to you. Needing he felt, to change his process somewhat, Stuart changed his up by writing The Blood Road as 6, 1 hour episodes, of a screen play. Stuart was also hugely entertaining with his recounting of the nature of his short story, Daphne MacAndrews and the Smack-Head Junkies, which he describes as his attempt to write cosy crime. One character is murdered and another is castrated, but, he says, apart from that it is very like an Agatha Christie.
Stuart is also very knowledgeable about the life and times of A.A.Milne and was very entertaining on the subject of who some of the characters in Winnie the Pooh were really like. St
Next from these two entertaining and informative writers is a new Logan Macrae book and then possibly a third Ash Henderson novel from Stuart. Neil Broadfoot has a rough story arc for Connor Fraser mapped out up to Book 7, which is great news.
The Series Crime Unit
The final Saturday panel was Caro Ramsay, Alex Gray and Thomas Enger talking about their respective series.
Alex’ most recent book is the 15th in the D.S.I. Lorimer series and was inspired by a real life death she learned about whilst undergoing a forensic science course, where at first the death looked like one thing but proved to be entirely another. This led to her thinking about appearance versus reality and incorporating this idea in her most book Only The Dead Can Tell. The book is about human trafficking, which, as the panel discussed is now the third highest form of global organised crime after drug trafficking and gun running.
Thomas Enger talked about his beautifully written Henning Juul series, the last of which Killed, has now been published. Crime reporter Henning Juul thought his life was over when his 6 year old son was murdered after an arsonist set fire to his home. Now he is about to finally find out who that killer is, and why. This is a dark, intense and emotive series which I’d highly recommend.
Caro Ramsay hurts people for a living and then does it all over again as an author. Her 10th Anderson and Costello novel, The Sideman sees one of her protagonists going rogue. After 20 years as the working partner of D.C.I. Colin Anderson, Costello has chucked it all in and gone solo.
Discussing their writing processes, its clear that each has a different approach that works for them. Thomas spent 6 months planning his Henning Juul series before he started writing, though he says he knew he had to leave room for things to change as he went along.
Alex Gray has an idea – what she calls a ‘what if’ moment and then makes no plan but writes intuitively and listens to her characters as she writes, because they will tell her what happens next.
Caro, on the other hand, writes the end first, then what she calls ‘the good bits’ (by which she means the story spikes) and then the ‘other stuff’.
Thomas, writing this emotionally intense character did try to inject some humour into his character as leavening. Alex is getting to know William Lorimer better with every book, but she does not feel she knows him too thoroughly. She describes it as like ‘having a friend you get to know better every year.’
Is Caro Ramsay Costello? Alex Gray thinks she might be, though Caro says there are bits of both characters in her and Alex says there are parts of Maggie in her.
None of the authors is especially enamoured of the Tartan Noir and Scandi/Nordic Noir labels, though they do acknowledge that there are some close synergies between the writing in these countries. They share a ‘dark night of the soul’ mentality and have the same kind of humour.
CRIME AND DINE
On Saturday night Sharon and I headed out for a small libation before the excellent Crime and Dine event of the Festival. We were treated to a very nice three course dinner and our table h was visited for a course by a number of authors. At our table we were able to chat to Neil Broadfoot, Thomas Enger, Stuart MacBride, Michael Malone and Craig Robertson. The conversation was excellent with questions around Craig’s murderabilia and some other strange recounting, to recipe suggestions for Charles Manson’s hair, to places Thomas had seen on his walk that day which all looked like good dumping sites for bodies. So good people of Grantown, if you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise…..
After such a great day it was off for a reasonable early night to be sure to be fit for the next day’s panel
The Morning After The Crime Before – Killer Women
The Wee Crime Fest tradition is that the Festival’s last session takes place on Sunday morning with bacon rolls and tea and coffee. A great way to start the day in a friendly atmosphere and to reconnect with the folk you met the night before.
The last session of the Wee Crime Fest saw Michael J Malone in conversation with Margaret Kirk, Sandra Ireland and Helen Forbes.
Helen is a former editor, veterinary nurse and now an ex-lawyer in Civil Litigation in social welfare law, which she describes as ‘very difficult’ which is why she no longer does it. Her protagonist is D.I. Joe Galbraith and her novels In the Shadow of the Hill and Madness Lies, are set in Inverness and Harris.
Sandra Ireland was a correspondent for her local newspaper before completing her MLit at Dundee University, and has also worked as a tour guide for the Barry Mill in Angus, a National Trust property. Her novel, Bone Deep, is set by a mill and she describes it as the reader getting ‘two stories for the price of one.’
Margaret Kirk’s novel Shadow Man won the Good Housekeeping Debut Novel Award in 2016. Her elevator pitch is succinct as she describes her book as ‘The North Coast 500 with bodies’.
Location is clearly incredibly important in each of these writers novels.Helen thought it was time for a police procedural to be set in the Highlands and Islands (she began writing before Peter May’s books were published) and she was really very interested in the area.
Sandra Ireland was fascinated by her time working at Barry Mill. She found that the atmosphere changed at different times of the day and there were so many stories of mills; each mill has a kelpie and she combined those stories with the Border Ballad of the Cruel Sister to create a Gothic story with a contemporary setting, but full of history.
Margaret Kirk was fascinated by the idea of someone born in Inverness but who had been away (working in the Met) for a long time and then returned. She wanted to look at how things had changed. She liked the idea of exploring how Inverness had grown from a town to a City, but still in many respects retained the mentality of a Highland town. She deliberately chose to make her book a journey from Inverness to Dornoch up the coast; wanting people to explore the flavour of the Highlands and its history and contrasts.
The writers discussed their early bookish influences. For helen it was the Famous Five and then later, Neil Gunn. For Sandra, Catherine Cookson and the Brontes were her early inspiration and Margaret was an out and out Sherlock Holmes fan.
Their writing processes are very different and the discussion about editing processes was fascinating. It is clear that a good editor, whilst they can be a shock to a new author, can make all the difference.
That was the last session of the Festival and it was a great way to round off a fabulous weekend. You can find my account of the Friday night here. Don’t forget to also check out Sharon Bairden’s blog about the weekend here.
Once again, I have had such a blast at the Wee Crime Festival. You could not want for better hosts than Marjory Marshall, her friends and family and all those who volunteer and make the weekend such a huge success.
The Pagoda was a fabulous venue and a really great chance to hear from some of our best writers up close and personal.
This is such a bargain weekend, you really do need to check it out! All this and fabulous Highland scenery. What more could you want? Roll on next year!