CTG REVIEWS: BLOODY SCOTLAND – the bloody brilliant book! #BloodyScotland

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What happens when top crime writers Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre, Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves, Louise Welsh, Lin Anderson, Gordon Brown, Doug Johnstone, Craig Robertson, E S Thomson, Sara Sheridan and Stuart MacBride put together a collection of short stories inspired by some of Scotland’s most dazzling and iconic historical sites?

A bloody brilliant book, that’s what!

Like an adrenaline fuelled road (and across water) trip through Scotland and the islands, the Bloody Scotland book is a heart-pumping exploration of geography, history and breathtaking crime fiction and suspense.

I loved the ancient mystery of the runes in Lin Anderson’s present day/1151 story ORKAHAUGR – evoking the mystical elements of Maeshowe on Orkney as a Professor sets out to experience the phenomenon of the setting sun entering a 5000 year old chambered cairn and discovers the secret within its walls. The heartbreaking ANCIENT AND MODERN by Val McDermid has the intriguing The Hermit’s Castle as the setting for both romance and revenge, and Doug Johnstone’s PAINTING THE FORTH BRIDGE provides a nail-bitingly tense thriller. One of my favourites has to be Chris Brookmyre’s THE LAST SEIGE OF BOTHWELL CASTLE – it’s full of twists and turns, and brilliant dialogue (especially the hilarious discussions about who’s the better character – William Wallace or Legolas – and whether Robin Hood is real!).

So how did the book come about?

Well, Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is the lead public body charged with caring for, protecting and promoting the historic environment. 2017 has been designated the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology and The Bloody Scotland book is a part of that. James Crawford, Publisher HES and editor of the book says, ‘I found myself talking to the co-founder of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival, Lin Anderson, and its director Bob McDevitt, in the Authors’ Yurt at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2016. ‘What if?’ I asked them. ‘What if we asked twelve of Scotland’s top crime writers to write short stories inspired by twelve of our most iconic buildings? What would they think? What would they come up with?’ This book is the answer… Bloody Scotland, then, is a tribute to two of our nation’s greatest assets – our crime writing and our built heritage’.

The Bloody Scotland Book is out today (21st September 2017). You can order it from Amazon HERE and from Waterstones HERE

The Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in Stirling is a must-attend festival for all crime fiction lovers. Next year the festival will run from Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd September 2018. Hop over to the website HERE for more information.

And don’t forget to check out all the fantastic stops along THE BLOODY SCOTLAND BOOK blog tour…

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The (Not So) Secret Diary of a Slice Girl #BloodyScotland (part 2)

L-R: Kati, Elizabeth, Lucy, CTG (me!), Susi, Alex (c) Eoin Carey

L-R: Kati, Elizabeth, Lucy, CTG (me!), Susi, Alex (c) Eoin Carey

So I’m one of The Slice Girls – a group made up of crime writers, a publicist, and me – who took to the stage (actually, onto the bar) to perform a number at Bloody Scotland’s Crime in the Coo cabaret night. And this is how it happened …

I got ‘the call’, or rather, ‘the IM’ about four months ago. A short message from Slice Girls leader, Alexandra Sokoloff, that simply said, ‘Steph, do you sing?’ It was a simple question, but answering it made me feel a little like Neo in the Matrix – should I take the red pill or the blue one – what should I say? No. Yes. Kind of, well, there was that one time I sang with Danny La Rue …

In the end, I said yes. And so, it began. Well, after Harrogate in July, it began, anyway. I got sent the lyrics and the music for The Cell Block Tango from Chicago, was allocated my part (the “POP” monologue, and given instructions to practice. And practice I did. I also watched Chicago the film, watched clips of the Cellblock Tango performed on Broadway, and also by an all-male cast as part of a Broadway Backwards charity event (and the best rendition of the song in my book!).

L-R: Kati, Elizabeth & Lucy (c) Eoin Carey

L-R: Kati, Elizabeth & Lucy (c) Eoin Carey

But, as the months, weeks and days counted down to Bloody Scotland, I’d still only practiced on my own and in private. The fear set in. What if I forgot the words? What if I couldn’t do it in front of other people? Luckily I wouldn’t be up there alone, I was a Slice Girl now, and I’d be performing with fabulous crime writers Kati Hiekkapelto, Lucy Ribchester, SJI Holliday and Alexandra Sokoloff; and awesome Simon & Schuster senior publicist Elizabeth Preston. I told myself it was going to be fun (and I tried to believe it).

Before long, it was time. I arrived on Friday evening (late, as usual) at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival, and missed the first practice. Not such a great start, but at least I’d made it to the hotel – and the bar. I soon forgot my nerves after a few drinks, but the next day – Saturday, performance day – they were back, along with all the ‘what ifs’.

But I needn’t have worried – Alexandra had a plan. She gathered us together and had us rehearsing for as long as it took to change six people who’d never sung together into a group that might have a chance of looking like they knew what they were doing. There was choreography to learn too. And the challenge of actually getting up onto the bar in the first place (without putting our heels through the barstool covers). But we practiced, and practiced, and weirdly it was kind of fun.

So, to the evening. We met up at the hotel and headed down to the Curly Coo for our technical rehearsal at 7pm (with the bar due to open at 8pm). Dressed in our costumes we got more than a few odd looks from people out and about in Stirling. We had our rehearsal, with the lights being put up and cameras being fixed in place around us, and then, as the doors were about to be opened, I allowed myself a large glass of wine – for courage, you understand.

L-R: Lucy, CTG (me!), Susi, Alex (c) Eoin Carey

L-R: Lucy, CTG (me!), Susi, Alex (c) Eoin Carey

There were some fantastic performances – Val McDermid singing with Doug Johnstone on guitar, Mason Cross reading a rather entertaining one-star review, and numerous brilliant others. But I have to admit it was hard to concentrate knowing that soon we’d be up on the bar, performing our song.

When crime writer (and Maestro of the evening) Craig Robertson gave us a twenty-minute warning two things happened. First, we all got another drink, and second, we started running through our monologues, quietly, in the upstairs hallway.

Then it was time, and we made our way through the crowded bar, climbed up onto the bar (me in a far less elegant fashion than the others), and the music started …

And, you know what, it actually wasn’t as terrifying as I thought it’d be. All the way up to the music starting, I felt the fear – absolute and utterly terrifying. But all the practices of the day had done their work, and we all remembered our words, sung in time and had a very fun time. There’s even a bit of video around, taken by crime writer Mari Hannah – you can watch it here

So a massive thank you to Alexandra Sokoloff for pushing me out of my comfort zone, to the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival for letting it happen, and to my fellow Slice Girls – Alex, Kati Hiekkapelto, Lucy Ribchester, SJI Holliday, Elizabeth Preston.

I truly had a bloody brilliant time!!

L-R: Elizabeth, Lucy, CTG (me!), Susi, Alex (c) Eoin Carey

L-R: Elizabeth, Lucy, CTG (me!), Susi, Alex (c) Eoin Carey

 

L-R: Lucy, Elizabeth, Alexandra, Susi, Kati, CTG (me!)

L-R: Lucy, Elizabeth, Alexandra, Susi, Kati, CTG (me!)

What happened at the brilliant #BloodyScotland Crime Writing Festival 2015 (Part 1)

Whose Crime Is It Anyway? (c) Eoin Carey

Whose Crime Is It Anyway? (c) Eoin Carey

The Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival is one of those festivals that goes from strength to strength. This year the organising team, led by the ever sparky Dom Hastings, put on a fabulous programme of events from panels to interviews, an awards dinner, a pub cabaret, and a football match – there really was something for everyone. In fact, it was so good it’s taken me a week to recover enough to blog about it!

The weekend kicked off with Val McDermid and Peter May in conversation, followed by Whose Crime is it Anyway? – with TV presenter Hardeep Singh Kohli throwing out the challenges to crime writers Christopher Brookmyre, Kevin Wignall and Caro Ramsay to improvise on the spot. Once the opening events finished, as ever at crime writing festivals, the rest of the evening was spent in the bar at the Stirling Highland Hotel with a glass of wine (or two, or three …).

Scotland v England

Scotland v England

On Saturday, I wasn’t able to get to many events as I was in training for a special performance with The Slice Girls at the Crime in the Coo event later that evening. But I heard great things about the Killer Women panel – Louise Millar, Helen Giltrow, and MJ McGrath – who discussed whether the Woman is deadlier than the Male? The thought provoking Self Publishing session with Alexandra Sokoloff and Allan Guthrie, and the New Crimes panel with debut authors Lucy Ribchester (The Hourglass Factory), Chris Dolan (Potter’s Field), SJI Holliday (Black Wood) and Mark Legatt (Names of the Dead) – which all sound like fabulous reads.

In the afternoon, in a brief pause between practices, I did get along to the Breaking the Law panel which had dynamic law buffs Steve Cavanagh, Neil White and Jeffrey Siger, along with Craig Sisterson, talking about the difference between the law in crime thrillers and crime fact, how they draw on their real life experiences in their writing, and the legal thrillers that they especially admire. After that, it was a quick sprint to get ready for the Crime in the Coo before meeting my fellow Slice Girls for one final practice (more about that on the blog tomorrow!)

(c) Eoin Carey

(c) Eoin Carey

After a late, late night on Saturday, my start on Sunday wasn’t especially early! The first event I got along to was the Thriller panel with Simon Kernick, Tom Wood, G.J. Brown and Mason Cross. In a lively debate they talked locations – whether to visit them or not, and the perils if you don’t, the fun of writing “lone wolf” characters, and about their routes to publication (the key, so they say, is not to let rejection stop you).

Then, with the sky getting darker by the minute, it was a short walk up the hill to the bowling green at Cowane’s Hospital where the Bloody Scotland Crime Writers Football Match: Scotland v England was happening. After Scotland’s convincing win last year there was a lot at stake, and as the game kicked off both teams looked very determined. In a tense game, where the players had to contend with alternating sunshine and pouring rain, the two sides looked pretty evenly matched with goal keepers Luca Veste (England) and Craig Robertson (Scotland) kept busy as both sides battled it out to win.

(c) Eoin Carey

(c) Eoin Carey

At the end of the match, the score was 5-5.

The Scotland goals came from Mark Stanton, Christopher Brookmyre, and Doug Johnstone (3). For England the scorers were Vincent Holland-Keane (2), Col Bury (2) and Howard Linskey. The team captains – Ian Rankin (Scotland) and Simon Kernick (England) held the trophy aloft and then, as the rain got heavier, it was time to trot back down the hill (to the bar!).

The final event of the festival was Literary Agent, Jenny Brown, interviewing bestselling crime thriller writer, Linwood Barclay, who was on his first visit to Scotland. To a packed audience, Linwood talked about his writing career, his latest book Broken Promise – the first of a sequence of three connected stories – and on creating a story with a killer hook. Very interesting and highly entertaining, this was the perfect session to end the festival with. Then it was back to the bar, for one final night, before setting off home the next morning.

Jenny Brown interviewing Linwood Barclay (c) Eoin Carey

Jenny Brown interviewing Linwood Barclay (c) Eoin Carey

Next year the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival runs from 9 – 11 September 2016. If you love crime fiction then you absolutely need to be there – put the dates in your diary and book a hotel, now! Trust me, this is one festival that you won’t want to miss out on.

But, of course, there’s something that I haven’t told you about in this blog post – just what happened at Crime in the Coo on Saturday night.

If you want to know, pop back tomorrow for my “(Not so) Secret Diary of a Slice Girl post. 

In the meantime, here’s a sneaky peep …

The Slice Girls on the bar at The Curly Coo (c) Eoin Carey

The Slice Girls on the bar at The Curly Coo (c) Eoin Carey

The Jump Blog Tour: CTG interviews Doug Johnstone about #TheJump

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Today I’m delighted to welcome author Doug Johnstone to the CTG blog as part of his blog tour marking the launch of his new thriller THE JUMP.

And so, to the questions …

Your latest book – THE JUMP – is out this month, can you tell us a bit about it?

The book is all about Ellie, a woman in her forties who is struggling after the suicide of her teenage son six months ago. Her son jumped off the Forth Road Bridge near their house in South Queensferry, and the story opens with her finding another teenage boy on the bridge about to jump. She sees a chance at redemption for what she thinks are her failings as a mother, but in reality she gets sucked into a whole new nightmare that threatens everyone around her.

I’ve been skirting around the issue of suicide for a long time in my writing, and this book feels like a culmination of that obsession. I wanted to write about the loss and lack of resolution for those left behind by suicide, how there are no easy answers, but I wanted to embed that in a thriller storyline. Hopefully The Jump manages to pull that off, but I guess readers will have to decide for themselves. Although Ellie does some terrible things, I think she’s the most sympathetic central character I’ve had in a book, and hopefully, if I’ve done my job, the reader will care about what happens to her and those around her.

How did you get into writing thrillers – what was it about the genre that attracted you?

I kind of fell into it really. My first two books were less obviously thriller-ish, though they were marketed as crime books by the publisher. I’ve always read thrillers and crime, in fact, I never really thought about the distinction between any genres of book when I was reading and then also when I first started writing. All good books have conflict at their core, and more often than not that involves criminal activity.

I suppose I write domestic noir, if you want to define it, thrillers about ordinary people like you or me getting sucked into horrible, extraordinary, tragic situations. Hopefully the reader then wonders what they would do in a similar situation. I’ve always been interested in how ordinary folk act under extreme pressure – we all like to think we’d do the ‘right’ thing, but morality is never black and white, and I have a lot of sympathy for people doing wrong things in seemingly impossible circumstances. So that’s what I write about.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process – do you plot everything out first or dive right in?

I’m somewhere in between. I like to be pretty organized before I begin the first draft, but I don’t have everything nailed down in terms of plot. I usually have a pretty clear idea about the opening few scenes, and the same goes for the final few chapters, but I deliberately leave a little bit of a grey area in the middle to get to where I’m going to. So much of the story depends on the characters and how they react to the crap you’re throwing at them, you have to leave a little wriggle room there. Plot ultimately stems from character, so if I need to change ideas about what happens because of the way the book is progressing, then I’m happy to do that.

What advice would you give a writer aspiring to publication?

It’s kind of banal advice, but just keep at it. Getting published can feel like a war of attrition sometimes, like you’re banging your head against a brick wall, but you just have to keep plugging away at it. Keep reading all the time, even the rubbish books teach you something and act as inspiration to write better. And keep writing all the time, you get better and better at it without even noticing sometimes.

It’s good to be clued up about the industry, but writers should never try to chase whatever they think the next big trend is going to be. For one thing, that bandwagon will be long gone before you can get on it, but more importantly, you’ll be writing something that isn’t true to yourself. Write the story you want to read, write it as well as you can, and eventually, hopefully, people will notice. Don’t be disheartened!

And, finally, what does the rest of 2015 have in store for you?

I’m currently re-drafting the next novel, a kind of femme fatale thing set in Orkney that starts with a plane crash and gets nastier. I’ve still got a fair bit to do on that, so that’ll take me to the autumn, then I usually spend a month or two working on new ideas before I settle down to the next book. I have a few kicking around at the back of my mind, but I try not to think about it while I’m still working on something. Apart from that, two of my books are optioned for film and television, so hopefully there will be some movement there, and I also work part-time at Queen Margaret University as a literary fellow. Plus I’m looking after my two young kids, so plenty to be getting on with!

Massive thanks to Doug Johnson for stopping by to chat about his latest book THE JUMP and tell us about his writing process.

THE JUMP is out now. Here’s the blurb: “You can do anything, if you have nothing left to lose. Struggling to come to terms with the suicide of her teenage son, Ellie lives in the shadows of the Forth Road Bridge, lingering on its footpaths and swimming in the waters below. One day she talks down another suicidal teenager, Sam, and sees for herself a shot at redemption, the chance to atone for her son’s death. But even with the best intentions, she can’t foresee the situation she’s falling headlong into – a troubled family, with some very dark secrets of its own.”

To find out more about Doug Johnstone and his books hop on over to his website at www.dougjohnstone.wordpress.com/novels/ and be sure to follow him on Twitter @doug_johnstone

To look at THE JUMP on Amazon click on the book cover below:

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And be sure to check out these other fab stops on THE JUMP blog tour …

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