Yesterday afternoon, I returned from my annual trip to Harrogate for the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival, the event where 100s of crime writers, bloggers, authors, industry professionals and many, many readers converge at The Old Swan hotel (of Agatha Christie disappearance fame…) for a weekend of talks, parties, drinks, books, scandals and hangovers. As usual, the festival was excellent fun – and even the rain didn’t stop play 🙂
The Pimms-in-A-Tin tent… genius
Promoting my new book The Deaths of December at the Hodder drinks party, which included pulling crackers and saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to a lot of bemused faces (and keeping my reindeer antlers on all night afterwards)
Reading my short story ‘The Chair’ while my fellow Slice Girls A.K. Benedict and Steph Broadribb duct taped author Neil White to a chair at The Blues Bar (thanks to Zoe Sharp for the torch!)
The Slice Girls performance afterwards (as part of fringe event Noir At The Bar)
The Dark Side panel on Friday, featuring Clare Donoghue, Elly Griffiths (this year’s fab festival chair), Simon Toyne, Lesley Thomson & James Oswald – chatting about supernatural elements in crime and why we should all read it
Chocolate cake and Prosecco at the Bonnier drinks party
Hanging out with lots of really cool people and laughing very much at lots of unrepeatable and ridiculous thing (…laughing at Katerina Diamond telling me to stop laughingso much)
Danny not being dead
Not getting a burger because it started to piss down with rain and they had to close it down before everything blew away
Not spending enough time with some people (and not seeing others at all…)
My agent not being there
Forgetting to buy Farrah’s fudge
Thinking about the beautiful Helen Cadbury, who had planned to be there and will always be missed 💔
Some pics below, mostly stolen from others. Thanks to the organisers for a fantastic event, my publishers for spoiling me with a lovely meal and showering me with praise, the cleaner at The Cairn for giving me extra biscuits, and all the lovely people who kept me entertained. Roll on 2018!!
This a little introduction to my main character, Davie Gray, that I wrote for Mystery Readers International. For anyone who wants to know more about where he came from, read on! People often ask me who I’d like to see play Davie on a TV adaptation… well I decided that Dougray Scott fits the bill nicely. If you’re reading, Mr Scott, please get in touch 😉
When I started writing my first novel, Black Wood, I intended it to be a straight psychological thriller – a first person account with an unreliable narrator – a woman confronted with a face from her past, leading to events that sending her into a downward spiral with deadly consequences. But then I realised it was too intense – or the main character was, at least.
I absolutely didn’t want to have any police in the book – main reason being that I didn’t want to go into a lot of procedural detail – that would involve too much research, and for me, research leads to much procrastination… So of course it was a bit of a surprise when my cop walked onto the page. Sergeant Davie Gray (who is NOT a detective) first appears in a scene in the local police station, in my fictitious Scottish small town called Banktoun. This town is very closely based on the town I grew up in, about seventeen miles from Edinburgh, but I changed it a bit to suit my own nefarious purposes (plus, hardly anything happens there – let alone the series of grisly murders I was about to unleash.) The first scene in Banktoun station sees Davie playing wastepaper basketball with his colleague, the two of them spinning about on wheely office chairs. Clearly, they’re bored. Then a call comes in from their Inspector – who is busy on the golf course – telling them to go and investigate a disturbing event up at the old railway track.
This sets the ball rolling for what is to become a full on investigation into teenage girls being threatened by a creepy masked man, and Davie’s role as guardian to my main character, Jo, being pushed to the limits.
How did I go about researching, then – considering I didn’t want to do any police procedural research? Fact is, I didn’t – not really. I found that Davie was an easy character to write, his style of investigation was straightforward, yet thorough. He turned out to be a natural detective after all. He’s reluctant to involve CID, because he’s excited to finally have something to investigate, and he’s convinced that being local and knowing the parties involved, that he is the only man required for the job. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t the clichéd copper with a drink problem, so instead, I gave him a scooter and a Mod hair cut, put him in charge of a karate club and turned him into a bit of a heart-throb. I based his mannerisms on an amalgamation of all the local police I knew, growing up in that town – I’d been questioned by police myself, after a robbery at my dad’s shop where I worked as a teenager – and I got to know others, as I got older, while working as a barmaid in my dad’s pub. Having family businesses in a small town makes you a centre point in the community – especially the type where everyone knows everyone. As for the hair and the karate and the heart-throb parts – they came entirely from my inside my head… although I did do karate myself, so that part didn’t require any research at all. In some ways, it’s his martial arts training that makes Davie good at his job – he is able to calmly assess a situation and work out what he needs to do, rather than jumping in feet first.
So Davie Gray was ‘born’ – and that was that, I thought. He’s not the main character, it’s not his story – he’s just someone who lives there, who happens to be a policeman. Then people read the book – and they enjoyed it – they loved Davie and they wanted to know when he was coming back… Aargh! This wasn’t in the plan!
It was a natural progression after that – the three books that I had planned turned into a trilogy, linked by location and by Davie. In Willow Walk, I give him a girlfriend – he wasn’t particularly lucky in love in the first book, and the readers wanted to see him fixed up. I made his girlfriend the main character, and just as things are starting to hot up between them, I throw in a curveball – give her a dark, dark secret that threatens to ruin her life. Davie is in turmoil, and as well as that, he’s kind of become seconded to CID – he’s turning into a detective! So then I find that I have to do some research, after all. So I start with Google – which leads me to all the local police force websites, then I end up talking to ex-police officers (it’s handy that so many of them are writing crime fiction now, and that I have several of them as friends), and then I talk to a sergeant working at the Scottish Police College in Stirlingshire – and I get lots of great insights there.
So it’s only fair that I let Davie do his detective exams, so that in book three – The Damselfly (out now), he is Detective Sergeant Gray – and he’s dealing with the murder of a teenage girl… and there’s another love interest. This one looks like she’s here to stay.
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All three books in the Banktoun trilogy are available to purchase now – click on the book covers below, or ask your favourite book shop to order one in for you (also available in libraries!). If you’ve already read them, I would love it if you could write me a little review! You can contact me via my Facebook Page and on Twitter too 🙂