Blackwood – Haddington/Banktoun – Scotland – SJI Holliday

 Blackwood

Why a booktrail?

A small Scottish town wracked by a crime and riddled with secrets

Story in a nutshell

Black Wood, close to Banktoun nr Edinburgh – something happened to two young girls here leaving Claire paralysed and Jo with deep mental scars. Claire is no longer able to talk of the event due to her injuries and no one really believes Jo’s story.

23 years later, a man wanders into the bookshop where Jo now works…

At the same time, in the sleepy village of Banktoun, a man clad in a balaclava is attacking women near a disused railway.

Sergeant Davie Gray has to unravel a tangled web of past secrets, broken friendships and wake  up a sleepy village which has slumbered for too long…

Place and setting – Haddington (nr Edinburgh)

Haddington - is Banktoun The High St Market St -  Kesley's Bookshop Burnside and the railway walk  Black Wood - there is a Blackwood just a few miles out of Haddington
Haddington – is Banktoun
The High St
Market St – Kesley’s Bookshop
Burnside and the railway walk
Black Wood – there is a Blackwood just a few miles out of Haddington

Banktoun (fictional) is a sleepy village 15 miles or so from Edinburgh. Black Wood is the darkly named and even darker setting for the crime which changes the lives of two young girls for ever.

An event so shocking and chilling that Jo is left in a wheelchair traumatised. Blurred images are all they have left of the two boys who were spying on them. Flashbacks which they don’t know if they can trust.

He spots the two girls through the cracked screen of beech, sycamore and leg-scratching gorse: a flash of red skirt and a unison of giggles

Not somewhere you’d want to be and even less where you’d want to go back to. so when a man wanders into Banktoun books on the High street where Claire works

A small town, dark and claustrophobic where secrets are best kept buried and the darkest ones appear to have stayed buried in the wood. And in that house in Black Wood, the walls have ears and eyes it would seem –

The heavy wooden door swung open with a creak, and instantly the atmosphere changed. The fresh mulchy air of the surrounding wood was instantly replace with a cloud of stale, airless fog

With chapters named either ‘the Woods’ or ‘the boy’ the atmosphere evoked is one of dark deeds and even darker emotions such as resentment, hate and revenge.

As you dare to enter the wood, walking further and further, the twists come thick and fast, watch out for the branches that could take you off in another direction and watch out where you’re walking…

This is a  town where no one really knows each other, not really

Booktrail Review – Susan

Blimey just as well Banktoun is not really a place as you will not want to go there after reading this! It does capture perfectly however the small town thinking and the sense of isolation of a small Scottish town and look at the kinds of characters that might live here. Oddballs living in a small space is a great set up for a chilly thriller and with dark woods nearby, the whole sense is one of black moods, buried secrets and chilling revelations.

I really want to point out that the inspiration for Banktoun – ie Haddington is a lovely lovely place and the author’s home town. The inspiration for Blacktoun yes, but in reality, this place could not be more far removed in every way. A lovely place to visit – quiet, with the feel of a village in the countryside, perfect for children and with a gorgeous bookshop that even gets a mention.

Still a nice place to visit to get the feel of a nice small town just on the outskirts of Edinburgh!

Random – Glasgow – Craig Robertson

random

Why a booktrail?

This side of Glasgow won’t be on any tourist trail or website but it shows the underbelly of a city terrorised by a serial killer who narrates the whole story….

Story in a nutshell

The Cutter

The name leaves little doubt as to the MO of the serial killer stalking the streets of Glasgow. The police have no suspects or motives as the pattern and methods with each murder changes each time. Nothing and no one seems to link each case. Well, there is one thing – each victim has had their little finger of their right hand cut off.

DS Rachel Narey is the one tasked with investigating the murders, but the closer the police get, the more likely it is that his plans will unravel and spill completely out of control.

And that doesn’t bear thinking about

Place and setting

Bath Street Where Jonathan Carr solicitors are Corinthian Club 191 Ingram Street Merchant City Glasgow “The Corinthian annoyed me. It was  a bank until the late 1920s when it became the city’s high court for nearly 70 years” Buchananan Street “He swayed along Buchanan Street as if he owned it” Rhindmuir drive, Bailleston area of city Where Thomas lived and was found murdered Maryhill Road, Bearsden Where William hutchison is found Maryhill Road The supermarket where Fiona Raedale Worked is here
Bath Street
Where Jonathan Carr solicitors are
Corinthian Club
191 Ingram Street
Merchant City
Glasgow
“The Corinthian annoyed me. It was a bank until the late 1920s when it became the city’s high court for nearly 70 years”
Buchananan Street
“He swayed along Buchanan Street as if he owned it”
Rhindmuir drive, Bailleston area of city
Where Thomas lived and was found murdered
Maryhill Road, Bearsden
Where William hutchison is found
The supermarket where Fiona Raedale worked is here

This side of Glasgow won’t be on any tourist map any time soon but then this is what makes it so captivating. Some places you only want to read about in books but its the most chilling view of the city we’ve ever seen.

The story narrated by the killer himself and Glasgow is shaking with fear. Who is stalking their streets and why? The killer gives many interesting view of his Glasgow when stalking his victims. Talking of Jonathon:

I’d followed him. To the Corinthian or from it. From his office to Tiger Tiger. From Glassford Street to the Clyde at Scotstoun.

Glasgow may not know but the reader does from the first few pages. This is the journey of the killer, through his eyes, in his city, on his patch. This man is hunted and with good reason but from both sides – the police and the underworld. And its not the later who he can expect to get the best treatment from.

Glasgow seems a much smaller city at night

The Glasgow underworld are depicted in full graphic detail. Violent and brutal but then the wry comedy emerges –

Nobody in Glasgow was scared of a bit of organised criminal bloodshed

Even the dialect gets in on the act – mirroring the hard faced, graphic, remote, grey and desolate nature of the city itself –

Every one deid is one less bampot on the streets

However, as is very true in Scotland, the moments of comedy can always be overheard in the back of a taxi.

Booktrail review – Clare

With the main character as a serial killer who goes around Glasgow convinced that what he is doing is right and that it needs to be done, this is a crime novel with a difference. His life is a lonely one, full of regrets and he has this urgent matter to take care of, and that is what he is doing now. More importantly he wants others to know about what he is doing and why  – the why being the most important of them all as he wants police and others to know that he’s not just doing this for kicks – no this means something.

How did he get like this and why? What will happen now? Where was the justice system when it was needed? Interesting arguments which I enjoyed getting to grips with.

And Glasgow just has to be the city of choice – its image, style, gallus nature mirrors that of the serial killer. Gallus is a great Scottish word meaning reckless, bold, fearless, cocky….and this is the setting of the novel and its crimes.

The underbelly of the city is vividly and graphically evoked. For me the challenge was to see who I was going to side with – the serial killer or the victims and there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.

At the Water’s Edge – Scottish Highlands, Drumnadrochit – Sara Gruen

at the waters edge

Why a booktrail?

A WWII drama from the writer of Water for Elephants?  Set in the Scottish highlands, with the village of Drumnadrochit and the story of Nessie adding myth to the sense of war time mystery.

Story in a nutshell

Married couple Maddie and Ellis Hyde enjoy all the perks that the highlife in 1942 Philadelphia can offer but following an embarrassing themselves at the social event of the year, they are cut off financially from Ellis’ father. A former Colonel, he’s already embarrassed by the fact that his son is colour-blind so can not serve his country in WW2.

Ellis decides that the way to get back into this father’s guide books is  to succeed at something his father never did – to find the elusive Loch Ness Monster.  So, he and Maddie, joined by rich friend Hank swap the high life for the highlands and travel all the way to Scotland.

But war is never far away and whilst the two men hunt for the elusive monster, Maddie is alone to find her new way in life  and to discover other things which have been hidden under calm waters for too long..

Place and setting

Urquhart Castle - http://www.visitscotland.com/info/see-do/urquhart-castle-p245811 As featured on the PB cover Drumnadrochit - Tourist information https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/VisitScotland+Drumnadrochit+Information+Centre/@57.3295767,-4.4848815,15z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x0000000000000000:0xc37742f71e12e408 Drumnadrochit The main staying place for Nessie fans and tourists alike.  A lovely village in its own right https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Drumnadrochit,+Inverness,+Highland+IV63/@57.3295767,-4.4848815,15z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x488f1059efd8b987:0xb155f5fa219aef12 Loch Ness Where the Americans go to find the elusive creature. It’s about 23 miles long so there’s some hunting to be done! https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Loch+Ness,+Highland/@57.2740355,-4.5016847,11z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x488f16c34da23729:0xd4d749cbf4fe912f Glen Urquhart Granite being one of the few things never in short supply https://www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Glen+Urquhart,+Inverness,+Highland+IV63/@57.3333333,-4.5833333,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x488f1080b1bc02cb:0xae56079b98aebed1 Foyers A village down the shores of Loch Ness where the bombers are targeting the Aluminum Plant in Foyers
Urquhart Castle – http://www.visitscotland.com/info/see-do/urquhart-castle-p245811
As featured on the PB cover

Drumnadrochit
The main staying place for Nessie fans and tourists alike. A lovely village in its own right

Loch Ness
Where the Americans go to find the elusive creature. It’s about 23 miles long so there’s some hunting to be done!

Glen Urquhart
“Granite being one of the few things never in short supply”

Foyers
A village down the shores of Loch Ness where the bombers are targeting the Aluminum Plant in Foyers

Ah the magic of Scotland and the lure of the Loch Ness Monster! The opening scene draws the reader straight into the remote and Loch Ness setting -to the village of Drumnadrochit known for its Nessie associations.

1944 Philadelphia

High society Philadelphia is awash with champagne, good times and chandeliers. cocktails and footmen. So the challenge to head off half way across the world seems extreme especially to Maddie. Life here is good but empty. The marriage of Maddie and Ellis all not what it should be.

1945 Scottish Highlands

The hunt for Nessie begins when the Americans are driving trough the Scottish highlands during wartime. There is still a blackout so conditions on the rural roads are more difficult than ever, the air is frigid and the sheep bleating. Such a contrast to their life before.

As they enter a world where the no nonsense locals will not pander to their every need, where the war still hangs over everyone and everything and where the mist takes no prisoners

She paused at the top, staring at the blackness of the loch. Thousands of tiny whitecaps danced on its surface, seeming to move in the opposite direction to the water

The Scottish highlands during wartime is a unique and poignant setting. Add in the mystical stories of Scottish folklore and the myth surrounding the Monster and how it has captivated people for many many years.

Something happened one day when he was out on the loch and he hasn’t set foot on a boat since.  And neither will he discuss it.

But wartime looms large and whilst the men are distracted in their new pastime, Maddie searches for and finds something of her own.

Bookish musings

Don’t let the idea of Nessie hunting put you off – this is a story of privileged kids from America finding their way in a no nonsense Scottish village. The locals don’t take any prisoners and the Scottish humour weaves its way in through the pages.  Strangers finding their way in the rugged highlands. Always good for a story.

The wartime angle and life in Drumnadrochit during the war with many real events woven in to the plot was a nice and interesting touch. Life in the villages at this time must have been tougher than most but the spirit of those there has to be admired. This novel however is the story of Maddie finding her way in the world away from her husband and life back home. Maddie joins in with local life (maybe a little too much) but at least she tries to blend in whereas the others don’t. I also enjoyed reading the real life events and myths which grew up around Nessie and which still exist today.

An unusual premise for a novel but the mix creates a unique setting for a story where sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.

Cuppa and some Scottish shortbread with Oscar de Muriel – The Strings Murder

photo (13)

To say we’re a little nervous today is an understatement. We are sitting in an empty room with barely a stick of furniture in it except a small table and two chairs. There is an old violin lying on the table, its bow propped beside the chair nearest to us. To the right of us and dominating the room is a fireplace that is in desperate need of a clean…..and the thought of this frightens us.

The room is silent – this dark, wooden floored room in the darkest house in Edinburgh that we’ve ever seen. Glad there’s two of us otherwise I know I would be out of here by now. This is the setting of Oscar de Muriel’s novel The Strings of Murder, about murder, intrigue and supernatural goings on.

That violin catches my eye again and a shiver whistles down my spine..

It’s then that I hear the music…softly at first but its rising tone distinctive. A haunting melody played on…oh ho…a violin and the music is getting closer and closer.. I shoot a look at the table and the violin is still there…but where is the bow?

There is now the sound of beating – but I realise it’s my heart measuring the extent of my anguish…for the violin music is getting louder…closer….so close…it’s as if it’s in the room with us…..

And then the door opens and Oscar de Muriel is standing outside grinning away with a violin in his hand. oooh if there was anything in this room to throw I would have done  😉

If you’ve read the book The Strings of Murder, then this scene setting will explain how much we were engrossed in this book and how when Oscar invited us to Edinburgh, we jumped at the chance….literally as it turned out!

(We allow Oscar to sit down and get comfortable. He’s brought  Scottish shortbread and tea with him so we’ll forgive him for the scare)

Hi Oscar!

oscar

Edinburgh is a strong character in your novel. What made you set it there?

Very early on (and I mean within minutes of coming up with the main premise) I decided I didn’t want to set the story in London – as much as I like the capital, I think it’s been overused in Victorian fiction. My mind immediately went to Edinburgh. I love that city. I’ve been there a million times and whenever I visit I don’t want to leave. Besides its great atmosphere and history, it justified all the English vs Scottish humour I just love to write.

 

You’ve really nailed the English Scottish banter between the two policemen! It’s very funny indeed. When you first visited Scotland did this or the accents not faze you at all?

Not at all. Something about the UK I find fascinating is how you can travel 10 miles and encounter completely different accents and dialects. Frey may have slandered the Scottish speech, but as a former musician I love how rich and resonant it is.

 

Oscar's Edinburgh (pic from the man himself)
Oscar’s Edinburgh (pic from the man himself)

Which Scottish food do you like and which will you not try? ( there was  a funny quote to haggis in the book so we wonder if this will come up…..)

First thing that comes to mind is raspberries in a boozy cranachan.

Being Mexican, people are always surprised when I tell them I really like British food. I must admit haggis was a bit of a dare, though. In Mexico we have a similar dish (moronga) but, at least to me, haggis beats it every time, with the oats and all the spices. I wish I could put an addendum in the book: Frey is a fussy upper-class snub and he of course hates haggis, but that’s just him!

   violins

The violin is a mysterious instrument in this story. What are your own experiences of the violin? We know you play but why did you decide to involve this in your novel?

Being a musician myself helped a lot. There are parts of the book I think only a violin player could have come up with, like getting a rash on your neck when you play for too long!

I’d had this idea in the back of my head for nearly ten years. My violin teacher told me the legend around Tartini and his Devil’s Trill Sonata, and I always wanted to weave that into a story. I never found the chance until I needed a first case for Frey and McGray. It simply belonged there.

 

Will you set a novel in Mexico at some point?

I have several ideas and two finished drafts in Spanish. Mexico has a very rich history and there are several periods I’d like to explore. The 19th century was particularly interesting, and Mexico interacted with the rest of the world in fascinating ways.

 

Did you find something out about Edinburgh in your research that surprised you?

The main surprise was how little the city has changed (layout wise) across the centuries. You can pick up a map from the 1880s and quite happily find your way. That happened to me when I jumped onto the aforementioned bus to Morningside, a few years ago.

 

Edinburgh old town (Pic from Oscar)
Edinburgh old town (Pic from Oscar)

Will we be returning to Edinburgh with Frey very soon?

Yes! I’m working on the finishing touches of the second book. It will be released early 2016 and the plan is to have a new adventure every year. I will not only explore Edinburgh though; there will be trips to Lancashire, the Highlands and London. I’m really looking forward to do that writing.

 

Where is your favourite place in the city?

Hard to pick, but I’d probably go for Arthur’s Seat. How many wild mounts can you find in the middle of a bustling city?

Ah Oscar it’s been a grand chat but this place still makes me nervous. Can we go outside now? I need to leave this place

So with that we’re off… Oscar leading the way….but as soon as I go to close the door, I hear an enormous whoosh – the fireplace has emitted a hazy fog, filling the room. Coughing and screaming, I exit the house in a hurry. Oscar and his violin are nowhere to be seen…

The Black Book – Edinburgh – Ian Rankin

ian rankin

Why a booktrail?

As in other Rebus novels, Edinburgh, its gritty underbelly and much of its surroundings are portrayed and evoked to perfection. A booktrail, a pub crawl and a fascinating view of the city awaits….

Story in a nutshell 

Five years ago, Edinburgh’s seedy little Central Hotel was burned to the ground. The case was never solved but it is quickly reopened when a charred body is found amongst the burned out ruins. There is a bullet in the corpse’s head too.

Is is wise to open up such a cold case – but what about the recently discovered body?

Rebus wants answers. But he’s not prepared for what he’s going to find. especially what he finds in the black note book

Place and setting

Arden street, Marchmont - where Rebus lives  Princes street - where the Central hotel is located before it burned down St Leonard street - police station HQ The Haymarket area of the city where we wish there really was an Elvis themed pub Young Street in the new town where Rebus's favourite Oxford Bar is located
Arden street, Marchmont – where Rebus lives
Princes street – where the Central hotel is located before it burned down
St Leonard street – police station HQ
The Haymarket area of the city where we wish there really was an Elvis themed pub
Young Street in the new town where Rebus’s favourite Oxford Bar is located

As with every one of the Rebus novels, there is a nice tour of Edinburgh and its surroundings within this novel. And while some of them, granted may not be on the Scottish tourist board’s list of places to go, it does paint a fascinating and somewhat  real picture of the hidden part of the Scottish capital. And a very amusing one at that – the first line –

It all happened because John Rebus was in his favourite massage parlour reading the bible

This is the Edinburgh that Rebus inhabits and from the very normal setting of his Arden street flat, this is a tour around the back streets, back alley ways and dingy dark passageways of Edinburgh’s old town.

The busy St Leonard’s Street police station is of course at the centre of the hustle and bustle of the goings on and Rebus’s workplace.

The first murder takes place at a butchers shop in South Clerk Street where a man has been stabbed. The chatter surrounding this crime and the gawping crowds remind Rebus of a familiar sight in Edinburgh on a Saturday-

It reminded Rebus of Saturday afternoon in the St James Centre, when pockets of men would gather outside the TV rental shops, hoping to catch the football scores.

Oh and the crime scene and investigations lead him to several habitués of seedy pubs and to the dark corners of the city you wouldn’t want to visit for real – but perhaps the most interesting in this novel is the Elvis-theme restaurant . Very Rebus and very amusing as The Heartbreak cafe, situated in Haymarket is apparently modelled on s similar sort of place Rankin visited when staying and researching in America. Pick out the names of the food such as love me Tenderloin  hehe

And we get a good look at the character of Cafferty –  Rebus’ arch villain – as soon as he appears on the page you can see him cruising the streets of Edinburgh, in his flashy motor.

The Strings of Murder – Edinburgh 1888 – Oscar de Muriel

photo (13)

Why a booktrail?

A story of murder, mystery and an apparently cursed violin….

Story in a nutshell

Edinburgh, 1888. A violinist is murdered in his home. In his locked practice room whilst the sound of several musicians played in the night. Who could have got in the room whilst it was locked? And who would want to kill a violinist?

Meanwhile in London, the city is awash with panic over the Ripper murders and so Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Frey to investigate under the cover of a fake department specializing in the occult. However, Frey’s new boss, Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray, actually believes in such supernatural nonsense.

Just who or what is crawling the dark dank streets of Edinburgh?

Place and setting

Moray Place where Frey stays with McGray on his arrival in Edinburgh Calton Cemetery where McGray wanders and researches on will-o - the wisps City chambers, The Royal Mile The police station and morgue are located here Dublin Street - New Town  The Ardglass house is located here. The Ardglass family are well known in the city and own many properties Princes Street where he goes in the search for ‘decent food he can actually eat’ Edinburgh conservatoire of music Fictional yet we imagine the grand and majestic Usher Hall on Lothian Road could be it. this is what we imagined when reading the book. Its a very gothic looking and imposing building Connections to the violinist and music
Moray Place
where Frey stays with McGray on his arrival in Edinburgh
Calton Cemetery
where McGray wanders and researches on will-o – the wisps. Calton Hill overlooks it
The City Chambers, The Royal Mile
The police station and morgue are located here
Dublin Street – New Town
The Ardglass house is located here. The Ardglass family are well known in the city and own many properties
Princes Street
where he goes in the search for ‘decent food he can actually eat’
Edinburgh Conservatoire of Music
Fictional yet we imagine the grand and majestic Usher Hall on Lothian Road could be it. This is what we imagined when reading the book. Its a very gothic looking and imposing building and has connections to the violinist and his music

Whoah – this side of Edinburgh is not one you’ll have seen before. It’s not the bustling bright city it is now but one of darkness, the occult, violins played by the devil, a devils sonata and if Inspector Frey is to be believed, bad bad food and even worse weather…

Imagine a person from the south having gone up to Edinburgh for the first time and not liking anything he sees, tastes, feels or imagines in the Scottish capital. On a murder hunt, perhaps it’s to be expected but a rather reluctant visitor to Scotland, as suspicious about things like haggis as much as he is the people he questions makes for some funny South v North moment –

From all directions came cries in that Scottish accent that rolls the R in an even more disgusting way than the Irish.

When he sees McGray tucking into haggis – and his reaction to is must be the funniest reaction we’ve ever read about. McGray thinks of Frey as a soft Southerner however and proceeds to call him ‘ lassie’ throughout the novel.

First impressions are hardly conducive to the rest of his trip when he takes a boat to Leith –

Walking from the dock I found that Leith Dock was a din of seagulls seamen, steamers and coaches.

The city was being lashed by torrential rain than turned everything into blurry splodges.

His home in Edinburgh is to be with McCray himself at his house at 27 Moray Place. Calton Hill Cemetery is his place of interest for it’s here that he roams and indulges his interest in the occult –

On my left hand side I saw an entrance to Old Calton Cemetery, and wondered whether McGray would make me go there at night to hunt will-o’the wisps

The occult and the mystery of the murdered violinist then ramps up with a vengeance – every street, cobbled alleyway, and evening a visit to an asylum in Morningside presents the two policemen with more warped impression s of the world of music and Edinburgh than they could ever have imagined.

And what is this world of the Devil’s sonata and the violin which appears to have been cursed? This locked room mystery seems as bizarre as it first appears and the crime has both fantastical and eerie explanations. Has the occult really got explanations for the murder of a violinist? is his the only murder that can be linked to a the work of the devil in musical form?

The infamous cursed violin. I must admit that the little violin has enough history to make one’s mind wonder

Oscar really captures Edinburgh. You feel you are there, especially in the sewers!. Anybody who likes to read books set in Edinburgh, would love this. There are plenty of nods to the city, e.g. bodysnatching.

Bookish musings

This has to be one of the most fascinating and brilliantly written historical novels and I for one really hope that this is the start of a brilliant series. can we have this on TV please? I want to hear that North/South banter and the jibes between the two police officers for real. See Princes street shrouded in mist, go to Calton Hill and imagine the mysteries there, visit Usher HAll /the Music consevatoire and hear that violin…ok maybe not the last one for reasons clear if you’v read the book but a booktrail here really takes you to the heart of the story. Edinburgh is such a spooky place at night and the writer captures the smallest details amazingly all adding to the overall atmosphere and chills.

Maybe I’m soft but the idea of a spooky violin gave me the chills. Used to play the violin myself and always thought it sounded like someone scratching their nails on a window – but then again maybe that was just me.

Whatever it was – those childhood memories really made this novel stand out. A locked room killing, a violin with occult tendencies and a story and city shrouded in mystery. For any music fans, the way in which the author lovingly describes the intricacies of the violin is fascinating.

Utterly spellbinding

The Last Days of Disco – Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland – David F Ross

last-days-of-disco_December-with-quotes-resized-275x423

Why a booktrail?

Scottish banter and Glaswegian dialect abound with this story about a group of youngsters who set up a mobile disco

Story in a nutshell 

In the decade that taste forgot, two lads, Bobby and Joey set up a mobile disco  to tour around the country. They’v been best friends since primary school and both have their reasons for a new venture to help them forget their real lives. But at the same time Fat Franny Duncan is the current King of the Ayrshire Mobile Disco scene so it’s anyone’s guess if anyone will feel like dancing at the end of it all

Tragic news from the other side of the world brings the story of disco to a head..

The Last Days of Disco is a eulogy to the beauty and power of the 45rpm vinyl record and the small but significant part it played in a small town Ayrshire community in 1982

Place and setting

Onthank fictional Fat Franny Duncan and Joey Miller live here in this working class area and the author William McIllvanny also grew up here Kilmarnock Masonic Hall - 45 London Road one of the early Heatwave Disco gigs takes place here  Police station Don McAllister’s police station. Don's office – if you’re curious – would be on the top floor, far right. Henderson Church - the scene of the riot when Heatwave Disco were ‘supporting’ local band, The Vespas. Dick Institute one of the most handsome and impressive buildings in Kilmarnock. Hobnail’s wife, Senga works there cleaning
Onthank
fictional Fat Franny Duncan and Joey Miller live here in this working class area and the author William McIllvanny also grew up here
Kilmarnock Masonic Hall45 London Road
one of the early Heatwave Disco gigs takes place here
Police station
Don McAllister’s police station. Don’s office – if you’re curious – would be on the top floor, far right.
Henderson Church (Kay Park Parish church) – the scene of the riot when Heatwave Disco were ‘supporting’ local band, The Vespas.
Dick Institute
one of the most handsome and impressive buildings in Kilmarnock. Hobnail’s wife, Senga works there cleaning

1980s Kilmarnock

The 80s was a time for recession in Scotland and this is the setting for the group of adolescents to make a bit of pocket money, even if not a living, by setting up a mobile disco business. How on earth are they going to attempt this and what’s more achieve it?

He had just turned 18. The ink on the cads had barely dried, He just wanted to fanny about. When his dad used that term, it was with disdain, When bobby said it, it sounded aspirational

The relatively small town of Kilmarnock, not far from Glasgow is hardly the ideal place to try you would think  – what with the local gangsters and the lads getting in trouble with the law.

Kilmarnock might not seem a place fora disco battle but with Fat Franny on one side and the two brothers on the other, the stage is set for some fun yet dangerous moves.

Joey was a Rangers fan, but at least he’d grown up on the south side of Glasgow, so he was entitled, Kimarnock was full of fucking Old Firm glory -hunters and Bobby hated all of them

Bobby wants to avoid following his brother into the Falklands war which is ongoing at the time. This as a backdrop together with the recession  really places the book at a particular point in Scotland’s history and gives a sense of hopelessness and poignancy to the lad’s story. The turf war with Fat Franny who fancies himself as the Disco King of Kilmarnock provides the Scottish banter and laugh out loud moments.

And it’s the language – the Scottish vernacular – that really cements the book in the Scottish landscape. If  you don’t speak Scottish dialect then you’ll have learned a few choice words by the end!

are ye listening’ tae me?

And all this time the Falklands war is simmering away in the background, seeping into everyone’s conscience through the media. David Ross gives us bulletins at the start of every chapter about the ongoing war and Thatcher’s wish to send troops there despite not many people in Scotland at the time even caring or knowing where these islands were or why they should be sending their young men out there to fight for them.

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Bookish musings

Kilmarnock is the setting here and since the author was born in Glasgow before moving to ‘Killie’ then you can tell he has taken his experiences and impressions of growing up in and around the area for comedic effect here. It’s Scottish banter at its finest and lots of memories of growing up (in the UK) during the 80s – Tiswas? and all the songs which creep into the story make for a nostalgic read. When the tears flow, it’s because of the Falklands war and what that means for the young men who are forced to go out there and fight. And the tears do flow for there are some sad moments, poignant moments and a realisation via the political reminders at the start of chapters of what the situation was like for so many.

The Last Days of Disco is a fun read about growing up in Scotland, wanting to break out of your little life and get out in the world. So to be trapped in a battle of the disco divas – well this was a fun premise indeed.

Loved the inclusion of the Scottish vernacular although the swearing did get a bit much but then the funny takes over again so I couldn’t be distracted for long. Fat Franny is quite a character and I could see all the characters in the book for they all had their own quirky personalities. If you were growing up at the same time, then this will take you back.

Definitely puts Kilmarnock on the literary map. May we return there very soon!

A booktrail around Kilmarnock – Last Days of Disco – David F Ross

Today we hand over to David F Ross and he takes you on a booktrail of Kilmarnock as seen in his book The Last Days of Disco…..

Last Days: The Spirit of the Place

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Genius Loci is a Latin phrase that architects – my alter ego does that for a living – understand well. It refers to the protective spirit of a place; the unique, distinctive and cherished aspects of it. Its soul, in other terms. When I started to write my first novel, The Last Days of Disco, I desperately wanted to harness the identity of the place in which it would be set. In that sense, writing the book followed a fairly similar process to the one which many architects go through in trying to understand and empathise with the context in which they then attempt to design a response to a particular problem.

The Last Days of Disco is fundamentally about people; their hopes, dreams, fears, concerns, failings. But it’s also about how they respond to the environment around them. Whether they feel trapped by its economic and social constraints or freed by the often subtle – and not always legal – opportunities it nurtures. Place is very important to me, and I set out to write a story in which the context became a peripheral but important character in its own right. The authenticity of the book’s characters hopefully comes across in the way they relate to each other, but also in the familiarity they have with their surroundings.

The book is set in 1982 and located in Kilmarnock, an industrial town in Ayrshire, historically famous for being the home of Johnnie Walker’s Whisky. Like almost all of the town’s industry, the world famous Johnnie Walker plant has now closed. The town hasn’t had its troubles to seek in the 30 years since the book’s timeline ended, however its strength of spirit is palpable.

I’m not from Kilmarnock. I was born in Glasgow but, from my teenage years on, I have lived, loved and prospered there. It’s a part of my soul and I love it dearly, sometimes because of its faults rather than despite them. I hope the book captures some of that unique sense of place and my feelings for it.

There are a few key locations in the book that remain much as they were when I was the same age as the central characters, Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller. The story includes descriptions of these places but I thought it might be interesting to show how they are now. Although for the purpose of authenticity, they are illustrated in black and white. As some of you will recall, in 1982 … in the hinterland of Thatcher’s Britain … everything was monochromatic.

Photo-one

The first photograph shows the ‘entrance’ to Onthank in North West Kilmarnock, where the fictional Fat Franny Duncan and Joey Miller both live … and where I grew up. It’s a fairly typical working class area which has the same problems of unemployment, addiction and a lack of a culture of hope and aspiration as many other areas. But it has wonderful stories and inspirational people such as William McIllvanny, who also grew up there.

Photo-2

In the book, one of the early Heatwave Disco gigs takes place in the Kilmarnock Masonic Hall. It’s the type of impenetrable, defensive building that gives nothing away and that whole storyline was born of simply imagining and exaggerating the myth of the Masons and what they might get up to.

photo-three

Five minutes walk from here, on the edge of the town’s brutally outdated one-way traffic system is the Conservative Club. The sign remains over the door but the building has been unused for decades. A metaphor for the current status of the party in the town, maybe.

police-station

Events at the end of the Conservative Club gig, led to the central characters spending a night here, in Don McAllister’s police station. Don office – if you’re curious – would be on the top floor, far right.

Church

En route to the Conservative Club from the Masonic Hall, you would pass the Henderson Church; the scene of the riot when Heatwave Disco were ‘supporting’ local band, The Vespas. Without giving too much of the magic away, this part of the storyline is drawn more from personal experience than the others.

dick-insitutute

On the other side of the Masonic Hall is the Dick Institute, one of the most handsome and impressive buildings in Kilmarnock. The original printing press that produced Robert Burns first edition of poems (The Kilmarnock Edition) is still housed here. The description of Hobnail’s wife, Senga finding an outlet for her own personal dreams through the classical music that she plays as she works there cleaning the building’s interior is one of my own favourites in the book.

boy-on-bike

In the centre of town, the old street patterns and the unique independent character has been lost as a result of the dominance of traffic planning in the 70s. A one-way road system, a centrally placed bus station and the construction of a massive, impenetrable multi-storey car park tell the story of that dominance far better than I can. Such structures tend to neutralise the public realm around them, and this shot is of the Foregate, where – in the book – the entrance to the Metropolis night club is located, under the mass of the car park above it.

building-car-park

The car park itself offers great views across the town’s distinctive skyline – and all of the key buildings described earlier can be seen from its top deck – but very few people ever go up there. I liked the idea of Wullie the Painter falling asleep in his car up here on his birthday, oblivious to what was happening below.

colour-pic

Finally, I wanted to include a view that isn’t in Kilmarnock but is pivotally important not only to this story, but to its sequel The Man Who Loved Islands. I love this panorama from the promontory at Troon Harbour. You can see the Heads of Ayr to the left, the wonderful isle of Arran to the right and the bizarre volcanic plug of the Ailsa Craig in the middle. It’s a place that always makes me feel calm and I tried to capture some of that feeling for Gary immediately before he left to return to barracks in London. When my dad died, I scattered some of his ashes here. It’s a very important place to me.

I hope I’ve managed to capture the unique flavour of Kilmarnock and its fantastic people in The Last Days of Disco, and that it becomes as fondly representative of ‘place’ as Roddy Doyle’s – one of my literary heroes – work is.

The Last Days of Disco is released on March 8th by Orenda books. Thanks David for showing us around!

Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith – your perfect guide to Edinburgh and Gaborone

Take a tour of Edinburgh and  Gaboronne with your guide Alexander McCall Smith
Take a tour of Edinburgh and Gaborone with your guide Alexander McCall Smith
Alexander McCall Smith
The man himself – Alexander McCall Smith

Join McCall Smith and Good Housekeeping magazine and meet the man who introduced us to Precious of Kgale Hill, Gaborone, Botswana and Bertie of Edinburgh

If you ever fancy travelling to Edinburgh or Gaborone, Botswana then you could wish for no better guide than Mr Alexander McCall Smith. this is a man who has not only lived in both places but who has a deep affection for them and the people there that this emotion comes flooding from each and ever page of his books.

Today he is appearing on the Good Housekeeping magazine Twitter account – a takeover of epic proportions, where he will be answering questions. We’ve sent a few already so why not take your chance now –

@GHmagazine

Allow us to remind you of the place and the things we have seen as we walk in the footsteps of Mr McCall Smith on this very special #Booktravel excursion!

Itinerary of the McCall Smith Tour –  part one Edinburgh

Scotland Street - where it all happens Drummond Place Bertie and his mum are spotted walking along here Dundas Street The home of the Art gallery and Big Lou's Morningside Road - where they go in the search of the Peploe painting only to discover that a certain Ian Rankin has bought it!
Scotland Street – where it all happens
Drummond Place
Bertie and his mum are spotted walking along here
Dundas Street
The home of the Art gallery and Big Lou’s
Morningside Road – where they go in the search of the painting only to discover that a certain Ian Rankin has bought it!

Although Scotland Street is real and can indeed be visited (as we did) no.44 not surprisingly is fictional due to the risk of people, readers etc knocking on the door.

The corner of Scotland Street - 44 would be where the trees are.
The corner of Scotland Street – 44 would be where the trees are.

The street was on the edge of the Bohemian part of the Edinburgh New Town, the part where lawyers and accountants were outnumbered – just – by others.

Ah here we are
Ah here we are

Still, to visit Scotland Street for real is to walk in the footsteps of Irene, Bruce, Pat and of course Bertie and his mum

“That’s where young Bertie lives. you will have heard him playing the saxophone last night I presume..”

Oh the places to visit and the places to linger –

Inside the literary haven that is Big Lou's  on Dundas Street
Inside the literary haven that is ‘Big Lou’s’ on Dundas Street
The inspiration for the Something Special Art Gallery - Dundas Street
The inspiration for the Something Special Art Gallery – Dundas Street
Is that Bertie there with his mum?
Is that Bertie there with his mum?

Itinerary of the McCall Smith Tour –  part two Botswana

Gaboronne Twoklong Road where Speedy Motors is Kgale Hill where the detective agency is
Gaborone
Twoklong Road where Speedy Motors is
Kgale Hill where the detective agency is

Travel to Africa with us – to the bottom of the Kgale Hill to be more precise to visit some of the nicest and friendliest people you will ever meet.

Precious Ramotswe is the only female private detective in Botswana. Her agency – the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – is the best in the country. And the most scenic –

To the front, an acacia tree, the thorn tree which dots the wide edges of the Kalahari: the great white thorns, a warning; the olive-grey leaves, by contrast, so delicate.

The warmth of the stories not only comes from the stunning landscape but the love that both McCall Smith and Precious Ramotswe has for this land –

I love all the people whom God made, but I especially know how to love the people who live in this place. They are my people, my brothers and sisters. it is my duty to help them to solve the  mysteries in their lives. That is what I am called to do.

The view from Kgale Hill - pic from Wikipedia
The view from Kgale Hill – pic from Wikipedia

This is warm hearted fiction – a detective series set on the edge of the Kalahari desert which presents Botswana and its people in a very warm and inviting light.  Precious is a character who will stay with you for ever – she does not suffer fools, is confident full of common sense and keeps the men in their place.

Very very funny

Follow the conversation today via @GHmagazine from 12.30 UK Time