Dance Macabre: A Review Of Douglas Skelton’s The Dead Don’t Boogie…

DDB_CoverLast year we recorded a podcast with Graeme Macrae Burnet and Graham Lironi, both of whom had written novels which could be described as crime fiction, but which were vastly different from one another, or anything else published last year. During the discussion both spoke about the problems they had with their work being labelled as in any way ‘genre’.

If this subject interests you, you can still listen to the full podcast here,  but the short version is this; on the one hand, if you can be categorised as a genre writer it will arguably help booksellers to market you, and perhaps gets your books into the hands of those who otherwise may not have read them. On the other hand, you risk assumptions being made about your writing which are unfair,  or just plain wrong, and which may put off another group of readers. Although you would hope the quality of work would speak for itself, there are prejudices at play, married to the economics and practicalities of selling books, which can be hugely frustrating for writers.

Saraband Books have embraced this apparent dichotomy with their ‘crime/thriller’ offshoot, Contraband. They are the publishers of both Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project and Lironi’s Oh, Marina Girl, accepting both novels for what they are; brilliantly written, beautifully crafted, and original. Other authors published by Contraband include Neil Broadfoot, Matt Bendoris, and Shelley Day, and it is clear that what they have managed, in a relatively short time, is to become known as a place to find offbeat, interesting and quality fiction no matter how you label it. The fact that His Bloody Project has made the Man Booker Prize longlist this year suggests that how we categorise genre and literary fiction can, should, and perhaps is changing. The only question that should matter is, ‘Is the writing good?’, and this is what Contraband puts first. Continue reading

Contraband Of Brothers: The Scots Whay Hae! Podcast Talks to Graham Lironi & Graeme Macrae Burnet…


Graeme Macrae Burnet & Graham Lironi

In the latest podcast, Ali talks to writers Graham Lironi and Graeme Macrae Burnet about their latest novels (Oh Marina Girl and His Bloody Project respectively), both of which have been published on Saraband Books’ crime imprint, Contraband.

The three go on to discuss crime fiction and subverting readers’ expectations, genre fiction, the problem with labels, the DSC_0250importance of editing, unreliable narration, the health or otherwise of the Scottish writing community, and what’s really important in the life of a writer. They struggle manfully not to give away any plot spoilers, and just about manage it.

Clocking in at just over the hour, the time just flew by and we hope you enjoy the chat as much as we did recording it. We’re calling it “a must listen for anyone interested in reading, writing and all things bookish”, and we wouldn’t lie about something like that.

Already established as a name to trust, Contraband Books are consistently proving that crime fiction doesn’t need to be stereotypical, formulaic and one dimensional, and Oh Marina Girl and His Bloody Project are perfect examples of this.  Both feature in Scots Whay Hae’s  Best Books of 2015 list, and mark Graham Lironi and Graeme Macrae Burnet as among the more innovative and interesting writers around today, and Saraband as one of our best publishers.

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Word Up!: Scots Whay Hae’s Best Books Of 2015…


You may have had your fill already of ‘Books Of The Year’ lists already, but we like to think that Scots Whay Hae’s selection is small, beautifully formed and well worthy of your attention.

These are the books which stood out against a lot of stiff competition in 2015. It could have been longer but we decided to stick to the traditional Top Ten. Consisting mostly of novels ,with a couple of music biographies thrown in, these books will take you to North Korea, Detroit, the Firth of Forth, the 17th century and Millport. Taken as a whole they are a testament to the breadth of artistic and cultural imagination at large in Scotland today. Need further convincing? Here’s what we thought at the time:

512+dd1NznL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_A Book Of Death And Fish – Ian Stephen

There is a geographically thorough representation of Scotland as well as a historic and cultural one as we are taken from Shetland to the Solway Firth, West Coast to East Coast, and all around the coast as well. The land and the sea; the one constantly affecting the other, and this relationship comes to define Peter MacAulay’s life… This is an epic novel in more ways than one, but then this is the story of a man from cradle to grave and as such it deserves due consideration. Some people may be put off by the scale, but the writing is concise, accessible and memorable. Give it your time and you will not regret it for one moment. You may well think back on your own life in a different manner as a result.

916FbzrWB6LRise – Karen Campbell

Campbell is a writer who always manages to wrong foot you, seemingly for fun, and the results are never less than thrilling. She builds tension, often unbearably, as lies are threatened to be uncovered, and, even worse, so is the truth. All of her characters are fully developed and all-too believable, and this makes you take closer notice than you may have done otherwise as the various dilemmas unfold. You can not be a passive reader of a Karen Campbell novel. She refuses to let you. Rise is steeped in Scottish culture, but makes no big deal about it, just as it should be. Primarily it is a novel which is thought-provoking and involving, and never less than thoroughly entertaining. Spread the word; Karen Campbell has quietly become one of Scotland’s very best writers, and deserves to be considered as such. Consider it done.

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Rated Bookish: A Review Of Graham Lironi’s Oh Marina Girl…

510rWAcwgQL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Pulp fiction often gets a bad press as it is seen by some as shorthand for bad, or at least sensational, writing which deals in cliches and stereotypes. Nonsense, of course (I believe the term refers to the cheap quality of paper that was used in the original magazines which gave birth to the genre, fact fans). What defines pulp fiction is its tendency to deal with the darker, lurid and sensational side of life, often showing the worst in human nature. The best examples, from  The Big Sleep to American Psycho, do so with a mastery of language and literary style that belies the popular perception of how such subjects are approached.

Alice Thompson’s The Existential Detective and Burnt Island could be described as pulp fiction, but they are also two of the best Scottish novels in recent years. To those, add Graham Lironi’s Oh Marina Girl. Like Thompson, Lironi plays with language, character, structure and ideas of intertextuality, using all of the above to wrong foot readers. Although the themes of murder, suicide, kidnap and torture are pitch black, they are presented in contrasting ways; at times with appropriate seriousness, at others with a sensationalist glee. Continue reading