Your follow up to The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man, is being published very soon. Could you tell us a little about it?
This is a story that delves into the darker aspects of 20th century Scottish history, sparked by the discovery of a perfectly preserved body in a peat bog on the Isle of Lewis, and explored through the thoughts and recollections of a man suffering from dementia. Of course, there is a murder, a mystery, and a resolution.
The Scottish landscape of the Hebrides plays a major role in the novels, was there something that especially drew you to the islands and Lewis in particular?
I created and produced a television drama series in the 1990s which was shot entirely on location on the Isle of Lewis. I lived there for five months a year during five years while filming and got to know every blade of grass and every grain of sand on the island. When I was looking for a location for a new book to follow on from my China series, it seemed like the obvious choice.
Fin MacLeod is such a fantastic character. Having created detectives before do you find it gets easier as you go along? Do you draw on any of the same sets of experiences you used for previous characters?
Every book you write reflects the accumulated experience of all the others, I think. But characters always take on a life of their own – in a strange way almost beyond the control of the writer. I borrow from people I have met in life, and draw on my own experiences, but the created characters become unique and develop their own voices and vices. I often describe the process of writing dialogue as being like a shorthand typist, listening to characters talk and simply writing down what they say.
Is there anything specific to crime fiction for which you had to adapt your writing process? Or did you find your style was naturally suited to it?
I always wanted to be a novelist, not necessarily a crime writer. But the commission and investigation of crime provides the opportunity to explore the human condition, often in its darkest form, which is really what the best novels do. I like to think that I write in a genre that the French call roman noir – the black novel.
Did you always want to become a writer?
I wrote my first book at the age of four, so I think it must have been in my DNA. I wrote three books during my teen years (unpublished), and got my first book published at the age of 25.
What books would you say have been the biggest influences on the style of crime you have developed?
I loved the novels of Georges Simenon, beautifully constructed studies of human frailty. Graham Greene was an enormous influence. The short stories of Somerset Maugham. And, of course, the books which had the most profound influence on my childhood years – Hergé’s adventures of Tintin!
Two of your detectives have had the surname MacLeod, does the name have any personal significance for you?
Hahaha, no. That was an accident. When first written, The Blackhouse was rejected by all the major publishing houses in the UK. I shelved it and didn’t expect it ever to see the light of day. I went on to write the Enzo Files, with my character Enzo Macleod, which I thought had a nice ring to it. My German publisher, which has bought both series, insisted that I changed Enzo’s name to save confusion, so in Germany he is Enzo Maclean.
In our last interview with you, you spoke about screenwriting and how it honed your dialogue writing. Many aspiring writers find dialogue difficult so do you have any tips for them?
If you have put in the work on creating your characters, they will speak to you. You will hear their voices. No need to write the dialogue for them. But I think the secret of good dialogue is not that it is realistic (people talk terrible rubbish), but that it creates the illusion of being realistic. And never write a line that doesn’t either further story or develop character.
What books do you like to read outside of the crime genre? Do you have a favourite author?
Most of my reading these days is confined to research books – many of which I thoroughly enjoy as a great counter-balance to the fiction I write. As a young man my favourite writers were Hemingway, Greene, Steinbeck, H.E. Bates and J.P. Donleavy.
What do you think of online writing, blogs, fan-fiction etc? Are you involved in any online writing yourself?
I think the online world of blogs, Facebook, Twitter and fan-fiction, has given us all a voice, in a way that would have been unimaginable just fifteen years ago. I maintain an author page on Facebook, participate enthusiastically in the world of Twitterature, and have a blog on which I post all too rarely – my publisher seems intent on chaining me to my computer to keep turning out books!
We’re all excited about the third book in the Lewis Trilogy as well as the screenplay you mentioned to us last time, but what does the future hold for you after that? Are you working on anything else?
I am developing a couple of ideas for a new series which I shall start working on seriously next year. The movie of “The Killing Room” grinds slowly towards a shooting date, and I am juggling a number of TV and film offers for the Lewis Trilogy.
Anything you’d like to add?
Buy “The Lewis Man”.