When writing in any genre, new writers in particular have a balance to try to get right. They want to introduce something fresh while still making the writing recognisable to regular readers who expect certain tropes and conceits from their fiction. If you can get the balance right then there is every chance you have a successful novel on your hands.
One of the finest crime fiction debuts of recent years was Claire MacLeary’s Cross Purpose (right). Published in 2017 on the Contraband imprint of Saraband Books, it introduced two new crime fighters in the unfamiliar form of Maggie Laird and “Big” Wilma Harcus, an odd couple in a fine and long tradition from Holmes and Watson to the vast majority of recent TV detectives (Morse/Lewis, Scott/Bailey, Creek/Magellen and Hayes/Addison being just a few personal favourites). Continue reading
This year is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the writer Muriel Spark. You may have noticed – you MUST have noticed – but if you haven’t you soon will as all sorts of events and celebrations are either underway or planned. If ever a writer and their work deserved celebration it is estimable Muriel Spark.
We will be recording a Muriel Spark podcast in the coming weeks to pay our own tribute to arguably the greatest Scottish writer of the 20th century, but in the meantime you can find out all you need to know at MurielSpark100.com to plan your year appropriately. So as not to miss out you can follow what’s going on by Twitter and Facebook, or by using the search #murielspark100.
As this is the case, you may think it incredibly canny that Olga Wojtas’ novel Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar, published on Contraband, (the crime imprint of Saraband) arrives in such a timely fashion, but the Spark connections are more subtle than the timing may suggest. The story concentrates on the adventures of Shona Aurora McMonagle, a former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School For Girls, the fictional setting for Spark’s most famous novel The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie. Continue reading
Every so often a debut novel comes along which confounds your expectations and enchants your sensibilities, making you marvel at a writer who manages to get it so right first time out. David Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device is once such book from earlier this year, and, against most odds, it as happened once again with Ever Dundas’ Goblin.
It’s a novel full of surprises, and which takes you in unexpected directions. After a few chapters I had it pegged as an urban fantasy similar to Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, China Mieville’s King Rat, or even Clive Barker’s Weaveworld, with the young central character, the titular ‘Goblin’, making her way in a Blitz-torn London with various characters and creatures as her eccentric support group – a coterie of Devils, lizards and Monstas. As she gets older and her world gets bigger, Goblin becomes a different novel altogether, more reminiscent of Jenni Fagan’s The Panopticon, following Goblin as she becomes a young woman, discovering more about herself and others as her experiences accumulate. Continue reading
On the latest podcast Ali speaks to writer, and returning guest, Graeme Macrae Burnet. The primary reason was to discuss his latest novel, The Accident On The A35, but the conversation turns to the work of George Simenon, existential fiction, home-town chauvinism, the importance of character, the formative nature of teenage years, the writer/publisher relationship, different approaches to writing, and a whole lot more.
Graeme also looks back on life since his second novel, His Bloody Project, was shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize, and all that has entailed. As mentioned, Graeme was on the podcast back in December 2015 with fellow Saraband/Contraband author, Graham Lironi.
On it he spoke about His Bloody Project, which had only just been published, and it’s fascinating to hear what has happened to writer and novel since then. We’re calling the latest podcast a must-listen for anyone with an interest in books, writers, and writing, and we wouldn’t lie about something like that. Continue reading
How do you follow a cultural touchstone – something which captures a moment, stands aside from what’s around it, and which moves from the reviews to the news section of the papers? If you’re The Stone Roses, after a seminal debut, you lock yourself away for five years in the studio. If you’re Sam Raimi, you basically remake your breakthrough film, Evil Dead, with a bigger budget and call it Evil Dead II. And if you’re J.D. Salinger, challenged to write a sequel to Catcher In The Rye, you admit defeat.
Graeme Macrae Burnet is faced with following his Man Booker shortlisted His Bloody Project, which, partly due to the fact it was published by Scottish indie publisher Saraband, became arguably one of the most famous contemporary novels in the English-speaking world for a time last year. For many this daunting task would be overwhelming, but Macrae Burnet has tackled this potential problem in style by writing his own sequel, and a fine one at that, but to his debut novel The Disappearance Of Adele Bedeau rather than its more famous successor. Continue reading
Glasgow and violence – writers have played no small part in making sure the two are seen as closely related. The 1935 novel No Mean City is perhaps the most infamous text, with its focus on the razor gangs of the Gorbals, but you’ll also find plenty of blood, sweat and tear-ups in the work of writers as diverse as Alexander Trocchi, Frank Kuppner, William McIlvanney, Louise Welsh and Denise Mina, and it’s a list which just goes on. In fact, it is not that easy to think of a Glasgow set novel which doesn’t reference the city’s reputation for being dark and dangerous in some form, and it has become increasingly difficult to find a writer with something new to say.
Michael J Malone’s latest novel, Dog Fight, does just that. Set against the backdrop of illegal underground fights, it is not simply about skelpings and square-go’s – cries of pain and the crack of bones, although there is enough of that to satisfy the most bloody-thirsty of readers. It also examines the reasons that men (and in this case it is men) are drawn to such a world – those on both sides of the ropes. Poverty, blackmail, threats of, and actual, violence are all understandable motivations to fight, but Malone also discusses mental-illness, self-punishment and the complexity of family ties. You may think that this is going to be a book where the good-guys wear white hats and the villains black, but there’s nothing as obvious as that. Motivations are complex, just as they are in real life, and outcomes are never certain. Malone may describe the extreme side of life, but the reasons people find themselves there will be familiar to many. Continue reading
The novella is a form of writing which has fallen out of favour in recent times, and that’s as bewildering as it is unfortunate. We are constantly told that there is little appetite for epic fiction (fantasy aside). If you happen to have a novel on the go at the moment there is a good chance it is between 60-80,000 words long, something which is as much about finance as fashion.
Another trend from the last ten years has been the happy resurgence of the short story which is once more being taken seriously, especially in Scottish literature with Anneliese Mackintosh’s Any Other Mouth, Janice Galloway’s Jellyfish and Kirsty Logan’s The Rental Heart And Other Fairytales all featuring in the recent Books Of The Year lists. If the trend is towards shorter fiction in general, whither the novella?
It has a laudable tradition – longer than a short story but much more than simply “a short novel”, the best of them stand up against any writer’s longer work. Think of James Joyce’s The Dead, Dostoevsky’s Notes From The Underground or Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange – these are among the finest works of fiction ever written, yet some may continue to think of novellas as somehow a lesser literary form, as if quality is measured in quantity. If you are one of those you are missing out as well as wrong. Often concerned with a single idea or theme, novellas are tightly written and edited – clear in thought, intention and narrative. Continue reading
In the latest podcast, Ali and Ian met up with writer Douglas Skelton, initially to talk about his Dominic Queste novels, The Dead Don’t Boogie and Tag – You’re Dead, but the discussion touched upon so much more.
They talk about Douglas’s ‘Davie McCall’ series of novels, his non-fiction, the importance of secondary characters, Glasgow’s fascination with crime, the influence of the novels of Ed McBain, Shane, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and the greatest TV show of all time (TM) – Hill Street Blues.
As you would expect, if you have read Skelton’s recent work, there are plenty of cultural references and enough “film buffery” to keep everyone happy, or at the very least the people in the room.
Douglas knows of that which he writes as he has done the hard research for real-life crime books such as Glasgow’s Black Heart and Dark Heart, and as such the podcast is a must hear for anyone with an interest in crime writing, but will also appeal to a much wider audience, just as Douglas Skelton’s novels do. Continue reading
Among the more welcome returns in 2017 is that of Glasgow detective Dominic Queste in Douglas Skelton’s new novel, Tag – You’re Dead. If you read last year’s The Dead Don’t Boogie (which was one of our Books Of 2016) you’ll have been looking forward to this since turning the last page. If you didn’t that won’t affect your enjoyment of Tag – You’re Dead which works equally well as a stand-alone thriller. But you should.
That’s not to say that this novel is simply a retelling of the first. Genre fiction has some recognisable tropes which are expected, and which are part of the appeal, but Skelton manages to play with those themes and ideas while at the same time adhering to them. However, where The Dead Don’t Boogie was, at least in terms of plot, a detective and gangster novel, here Skelton introduces no little amount of horror, with a faceless killer on the loose with a taste for mind-games, torture, classical music, and possibly steak pies.
There are clues as to where Skelton is taking a story with the references he uses. In the previous novel they were mainly there to establish the character of Dominic Queste, with plenty of nods to Philip Marlowe and other noir fiction and movies. Those are still present, but the references are widened to include (amongst many others) Halloween, Scream, Silence Of The Lambs and Fallen to prove that Queste is as much pop-culture nerd as he is tough-guy gumshoe – in fact the former has a direct influence on the latter. He is creating his own persona in a manner not too far from The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, except Dominic Queste really commits to the role. Continue reading
Let’s begin at the end. On the final page of Kenneth Steven’s novel 2020 there is a significant Publisher’s Note which states, “Difficult though it may be to believe, the novel was not directly inspired either by the Brexit referendum or by the more recent events in Europe, the USA and around the world.” It is an interesting addendum, and understandable as there is little doubt that many would jump to the conclusion which it refutes. The reason being that Kenneth Steven has written a novel which so fits the here and now that it feels like his 2020 could be just around the corner.
I write this review the day a general election has been called, one which promises further division and increasingly extreme reactions to events and statements as people are preoccupied with individual political issues rather than along party lines, and it needs only a small leap of imagination to think that what transpires in 2020 could become prophetic. Continue reading