South Africa, Edinburgh, Outer Hebrides – Sewing the Shadows Together – Alison Baillie

cover STST

Why a booktrail?

In the seaside suburb of Portobello, Edinburgh, a dark secret from the past hangs over the present

Story

30 years ago, Shona McIver was raped and murdered in Portobello, the seaside suburb of Edinburgh. A crime which has cast a shadow over the area and the family ever since. Brother Tom and best friend Sarah in particular have never forgotten that dreadful day when their Shona died and their worlds came crashing down.

Now, modern technology and DNA show that the man who was convicted of killing Shona could not have committed the crime. So who did? And what does this mean for Shona’s friends and family?

Place and setting

SCOTLAND-1

Set in Edinburgh, the Outer Hebrides and South Africa, the real horror of who killed a young girl all those years ago is revealed, across the years and across continents.

South Africa – Plettenberg Bay

Tom McIver, Shona’s brother returns from South Africa, the very warm and scenic Plettenberg Bay,a coastal village. He thinks back to how he enjoys driving along the scenic garden route, seeing the sky change colour but then is brought back to reality with the “fishy Scottish air”

SCOTLAND-2

Scotland -Eriskay in the Outer Hebrides

“Herds of white wild Eriskay ponies wandered freely over the roads, knowing that every car would stop for them. At each house they were welcomed in”

Island life. Tom meets old relatives, delves into his own family history and in particular that of his father as he spends time to scatter his mothers ashes and remember her homeland. This is a rural, windswept place, the silver water of the Eriskay sound and the traditional wooly jumpers. With hills of ancient rock and Eriskay, South Ulst and Barra having remained catholic whilst other islands became protestant, religion tradition and community are important here.

Portobello, Edinburgh

“Portobello had not changed much in the last thirty-seven years: the wide sweep of the bay, the faint distant coastline of Fife and the huge pale sky.”

It’s a return to your childhood haunts, the places you knew linked to your sister and her friends. It’s a visit to your old school, meeting the golden boy of your school day who is now somewhat of a local TV star. Sarah, married to this golden boy becomes involved in the discovery of the truth and she and Tom become close. A small town starts to look in on itself and all that it has thought and known for years has been a lie.

There is still a killer in its midst who has been hiding in plain sight all these years.

Review

This was a cracking debut! Had the pleasure of meeting the author at an event and she is passionate about her work and her debut so I really wanted to read this long before I received it! And I was not disappointed in the slightest as this is a book that not only has  a very strong sense of place but one which uses them to dramatic effect. The small island setting and nostalgic trip back to the past, the horrors of the school reunion and the secrets which come back to haunt.

The plot weaved its way in and out of the present and the past and built up a knot of circumstances and twisted secrets. The characters were people everyone of us knows in some way – so believable and complex. She got me doubting everyone at some point and feeling for their concerns.

The author has had this story in her head for some years now she says and only later thanks to encouragement did she decide to write it. Well, I’m glad she did as this was worth waiting for.

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

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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

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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

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

Killing for Keeps – Newcastle, Glasgow, Rojales – Mari Hannah

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Killing for Keeps is the fifth instalment in the Kate Daniels series – set in and around the North East – in this instance Newcastle and Blanchland. This is a hard-hitting and chilling case for Northumbria Police, the worst torture case they’ve ever seen.

Mari Hannah has raised the stakes this time – the prologue sets the scene for what will follow. And the first chapter (six weeks later) opens the door to a thrilling narrative when we see just what has taken place and what Kate and her team are up against.

The Tyne Bridge with the Sage in the Background
Kate Daniels is back – with a vengeance

Story in a nutshell

Two brothers from a well-known criminal family are found dead within a few miles of each other – tortured to death.

Ripples start to spread across the city – associates of the men are uneasy and witnesses scared. Kate has to break some rules, putting herself and her career in jeopardy. But there is someone out there who lives by his own rules and is prepared to remove anyone who gets in his way.

This is one investigation that Kate and the team will never forget.

Place and setting – the booktrail of Kate Daniels’ Newcastle.

Market Street - police station and Kate Daniels HQ. Mosley Street - where Newcastle’s club scene is centered. Byker Bridge - where a meeting takes place with a informant. RVI - one of two incidents takes place here. Silverlink Industrial Estate - the first of two cases takes place here. Exhibition Park - Kate passes here on her way to meet a witness in Paddy Freeman’s park (Heaton Road)
Market Street – police station and Kate Daniels HQ.
Mosley Street – where Newcastle’s club scene is centered.
Byker Bridge – where a meeting takes place with a informant.
RVI – one of two incidents takes place here.
Silverlink Industrial Estate – the first of two cases takes place here.
Exhibition Park – Kate passes here on her way to meet a witness in Paddy Freeman’s park (Heaton Road)

Kate Daniels, working at the city’s incident room in Market Street, has a lot on her plate. She is called to two crime scenes within a short space of time – Silverlink and the RVI. Two inconspicuous places, but ones that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Investigations take the team deep in to the heart of Newcastle – to ‘Club Land’ in and around Mosley street – to find witnesses and links to the crimes.

Kate has her work cut out. Under pressure to solve this case and to raise the flagging morale of her team, she’s battling tensions from all sides. Kate Daniels backed into a corner? She fights and then she fights some more. This is no ordinary case and she is keen to protect witnesses as she gets to the truth.

Blanchland. Silverlink, Newcastle. Glasgow. Rojales.
Blanchland.
Silverlink, Newcastle.
Glasgow.
Rojales.

As the investigation continues, she heads up to Blanchland – “the exquisitely tranquil village . . . at the heart of Catherine Cookson country . . . built from the stone of a twelfth-century abbey, the village hadn’t changed in centuries.”        http://www.blanchland.org/news.php

Blanchland
Blanchland 

Visiting a local beauty spot as part of such a brutal investigation – as was the case when Whitby flagged up as a place of interest – is in direct contrast to the reasons why she is there. Remote, rural and for Kate, dangerous too.

As the case progresses, the investigation takes her and DS Hank Gormley north of the border to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Links with one criminal family have a bearing on the entire Newcastle case. Yet the ‘fish out of water’ works well for Hank’s wit to shine through here – regarding the ‘funny money’ that the Scots use and the notion of ‘Geordistan’. And the lesser-known and rather less fashionable meaning behind D & G.

“Edinburgh was as grey as Glasgow had been – only prettier. If she hadn’t been such a fan of her home city, this was the one place Kate would choose to live.”

When the net widens and the investigation takes Kate across to the Continent, to the Rojales region of mainland Spain, near Alicante, the book races to a thrilling finale. But we’ll stop there since to say anymore would be to spoil the surprises shocks in store. And there are plenty. Believe us.

Killing for Keeps is dangerous, chilling and skillfully plotted. Mari’s best yet. Recently, the series has been optioned for television and she has been shortlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library award proving, beyond doubt, that she is a crime writer we’re going to hear a lot more about. We’re proud to say that she’s a local author and has put the North East region firmly on the literary map.

The Hangman’s Song in Edinburgh

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Setting – Edinburgh, Scotland

 

In this the third in the DI McLean series from James Oswald, the DI has been seconded to the Sexual Crimes Unit (SCU) and so finds himself working on some harrowing cases such as the death of a pimp and two suspicious suicides.

Looking up from Princess Street gardens
Looking up from Princess Street gardens

 

Set in Edinburgh like the earlier books in the series, you really have to have read the first ones to fully understand some of the references or at least to understand the development of the characters as more is revealed of DI McLean in particular which is very interesting.

 

The first two books in the series
The first two books in the series

The Hangman’s Song picks up pretty much where the Book of Souls left off and it grabs you with the scruff of your neck. But this trip to Edinburgh is murkier and more gritty that the others. It’s raw and graphic in places so not for the faint hearted. And DI McLean is understandably a bitter man.

 

The supernatural aspect to the book is what makes it perfect that it is set in Edinburgh so you should definately go on a ghost hunt or just to walk the same streets that McLean does at night to feel the fear.

The streets of Edinburgh
The streets of Edinburgh

 

A lot of the characters are going through changes and so is the police department so everything is up in the air which provides for even more chaos in McLean’s life.

 

Another great chilling trip to Edinburgh’s darkest and dingiest streets

 

Just don’t read it alone

Author Interview : James Oswald – part one

Interview with James Oswald - writer of these two very fine books!

Hello James!

Thank you first of all for your kind interest in wanting to do this interview and for taking the time to answer the questions with such interesting answers. I have hungrily read both of your books and promptly jumped on a train in order to do the book trail! I thought I knew Edinburgh well having lived there as a student but, oh no, I hadn’t experienced it through the eyes of Inspector McLean!!

1.You lived in Edinburgh as a student. You capture the spirit of Edinburgh very well. How did you go about getting this detail right?

What not a lot of people know is that I wrote the first two books, Natural Causes and The Book of Souls, whilst living in mid-Wales. I bought myself OS Landranger maps of the city and surrounding area to make sure I got the names right, but the rest was just dredging up memories. I studied for an MSc in Artificial Intelligence at Edinburgh University in the early nineties (alas, a course I never completed, lacking sufficient natural intelligence.) I also spent five years living in Roslin to the south of the city, commuting in by bike. I’ve known the city a long time, though even I get things wrong from time to time.

photo-139

2. Do you think Edinburgh lends itself well to gothic, supernatural murders? How important were the settings in your book to reinforce the dark content?

Edinburgh is a very old city, with many layers to it both geographically and socially. It also has a long and bloody history and countless tales of ghosts, ghouls and foul goings on. It’s the city of Burke and Hare and Mary King’s Close, the Black Museum at the Surgeon’s Hall and countless horrifying tales. Ghost walks around the Old Town are enormously popular, and walking those dark narrow streets, shadowed by tall tenements, it’s not hard to see why. The settings I use for the books undeniably help to build the atmosphere, and the joy of using the city is that a lot of my work is already done for me.

 photo-138

3. What was your experience of E-Publishing and how do you feel to be a published author now with Penguin?

E-publishing was very easy to do, especially given my background in website development. An e-book is basically a specially formatted web page, so making my books look good on an e-reader wasn’t hard. Making sure the words were all spelled correctly, the punctuation was right and there were no continuity errors was not so easy, and that is where a lot of self-published authors fall down. Proof reading your own work is nigh-on impossible. Designing a cover that is both arresting enough to grab someone’s attention in a fraction of a second and easy enough to be read even in small thumbnail size is another skill most authors don’t have. I paid for professional cover design – not as expensive as you might think – and had several friends read the books for typos before I put them out there. Even so, the finished result wasn’t perfect.

Working with Penguin has been a joy. I always wanted to be a writer, not a publisher, and having professional editors go over my manuscripts has improved them immeasurably.

Holding a print edition of my first book in my hands was undeniably a high point in my life, but the best moment was a couple of months later when I got onto a train in London, heading back to Edinburgh, and sat down opposite a woman who was reading Natural Causes. And yes, I did introduce myself! (Book trail note: Quite right! I would have loved to have been there to see their face!)

 

Those book covers showing a super spooky side to Edinburgh you have never experienced before!
Those book covers showing a super spooky side to Edinburgh you have never experienced before!

4. Any advice to give an aspiring writer?

Finish the book. So many people I know have started writing a novel and then given up after a few thousand words. People often go back and endlessly rewrite what they’ve done so far. Don’t. Leave it alone. It’s far more important to get the whole, finished story down. It will be rubbish, but it will be a starting point for the other key job of an author – that of a rewriter.

Having said which, I would add that you should never take any piece of writing advice as gospel. It’s just advice. Weigh it up, try it for yourself if you think it might help, but don’t struggle with it if it doesn’t fit the kind of writer you are.

 

Inspector Mclean's flat in Newington
Inspector Mclean’s flat in Newington

5. Are any of your characters based on people you know or have known? McLean especially interests me. Oh and I love the name Grumpy Bob.

Grumpy Bob’s name comes from the nickname of an acquaintance of many years ago. I don’t think he knew that was what everyone called him. I love the way the sound of it rolls off the tongue. Grumpy Bob is, of course, notable for his lack of grumpiness, and apart from the name is entirely made up.

There are so many good and interesting answers to my questions that I just had to savour them and share them in two parts. Come back tomorrow for some more insights into McLean’s  Edinburgh. In the words of the man himself!

A book trail to 44 Scotland Street – and the search for Ian Rankin

Well, We’re on the chase for that painting from the Something Special Gallery – I jumped in a taxi and raced along Morningside Road just as Matthew described:

The taxi arrived and they set off for Morningside Road. ‘Holy Corner’, said Matthew, as they traversed the famous crossroads with its four churches.

Holy Corner
Holy Corner

Then they passed the Churchill Theatre, scene of Ramsay Dumbarton’s triumph all those years ago as the duke of Plaza-Toro in the Gondoliers

Church hill Theatre
Churchill Theatre

Then, my heart pumping furiously in my chest as the taxi sped almost ran the lights at the crossing and raced towards that charity shop in Morningside. I knew the one – I just hoped the painting would still be there.

The taxi crested the hill, and there, dropping down below the well -set houses, the Pentland Hills could be seen, half wreathed in low cloud. It was a reminder that the city had a hinterland – a landscape of soft hills and fertile fields, of old mining villages, of lochs and burns.

The taxi
The taxi crested the hill…of Morningside Road

I found the charity shop where the painting is thought to be:

The charity shop in Morningside where the Peploe painting ends up
The charity shop in Morningside where the Peploe painting ends up

But oh no! The lady there , Priscilla I think her name was, told me that this nice young chap called…now what was his name again? Oh ‘that nice man who writes about Rebus’

That nice man who writes about Rebus
That nice man who writes about Rebus

The cafe

Big Lou's
Big Lou’s

Big Lou’s cafe – Glass and Thompson – 2 Dundas Street

Inside the literary haven that is Big Lou's - booktrails with bite!!
Inside the literary haven that is Big Lou’s

Now in the book , Big Lou’s cafe is just opposite the gallery. Glass and Thompson is also in Dundas Street and both looks and feels just like the cafe in the book. So, wanting to get really inside the novel and its characters I went inside to meet Big lou and to have a coffee and a piece of her homemade cakes. I recommend you taste the ginger cake with rum icing…yum yum yum

I wish this computer was scratch and sniff - or scratch and taste!
I wish this computer was scratch and sniff – or scratch and taste! I only ate this for research purposes you understand hehe

Matthew felt as if he was the discoverer of Big Lou’s coffee bar, although, like anything else that is discovered (America or Lake Victoria), it had always been there; or at least it had been there for the last three years or so. Before that it had been a bookshop, noted for its jumbled stock that observed no known principle in the shelving of its collection

Take a look for yourself: http://www.visitscotland.com/info/food-drink/glass-thompson-p305541#overview

Now when I was here, something a little spooky happened. I had a literary thrill  – my next stop on the tour was back at Jenners – the Valvona and Crolla Cafe where Bertie and his mum go to eat. and what should I see from my window of big Lou’s?

It was as if Bertie and his mum knew I was going to follow their part of the trail next
It was as if Bertie and his mum knew I was going to follow their part of the trail next

The Valvona and Crolla cafe  – within foodhall in  Jenners, Princes Street

I admit I looked for Bertie
I admit I looked for Bertie

Bertie visits here with him mum and wants to speak italian.

They had never pushed  Bertie – not for one moment. Everything that they had done with him ad been done because he wanted it. He had asked for a saxophone. He had asked to learn Italian after they had gone to buy sun-dried tomatoes at Valvona and Crolla. They had never pushed him to do any of this.

Buy something for Bertie hehe:

http://www.valvonacrolla.co.uk/

Well these Alexander Mccall smith tours are very interesting and make you hungry all that walking and booktrailing. Might just have to stay here for a bit and have something else to eat….now what’s that I see. Chocolate cake? Well, goodbye for now.