A cuppa and a cake with Dinah Jefferies – author of The Separation

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Dinah Jefferies is due round at any second and I’m just taking the cakes out of the oven. There’s a story behind that – the cake I was planning didnt really work out so I have had to think on my feet and make some more mixture and adapt the original design. blimey you don’t see this on master chef…

Well miracles do happen and the cakes have worked out fine – just time for  a little icing and Dinah will hopefully love them. I’ve misjudged the quantity needed and ended up with 24 so hope she’s hungry!

(door bell rings)

ooh that’ll be her now

Hi Dinah….ooh you’ve brought flowers! Aaah how kind…..

Dinah Jefferies author of The Separation
Dinah Jefferies author of The Separation

First things first. as we are having tea and cake today, what would we be having if this cuppa and a cake were happening in 1950s Malaya?

Well, as I was a child at the time, I wouldn’t have been drinking tea at all, although my parents would have been. I remember delicious coconut milk straight from the garden and a kind of banana flavoured cake. So shall we say tea and banana cake for today? With maybe some lychees and rambutans thrown in for good measure.

(funny you should say that…I did a little research of my own after I’d read your book and……)

img_3818 (banana cake ended up as banana cup cakes. There’s another 23 where that one came from so I hope you’re hungry!)

The inspiration for The Separation arose from a childhood spent in Malaya during the 1950s. How personal a story was it to write?

In some ways it wasn’t a personal narrative at all as the characters and the story are entirely fictional. But personal experience does come into it, and I drew on my childhood memories to bring Malaya and 1950s Britain alive. My mother’s black and white photograph albums helped too, as did her memories of what it was like for adults in Malaya. The most personal part was drawing on my own experience of the loss of my son to write Lydia’s story, though I think that also impacted on Emma’s experience of being separated from her mum and the country she loved. 

Dinah as a young girl in Malaya
Dinah as a young girl in Malaya (c) Dinah  Jefferies

The historical setting really is stunning but what was going on in the country at the time was so shocking. Do you think this is  period of history that is not very well documented in the West?

I think it is partly forgotten, though it was very important at the time. The Emergency was not a straightforward struggle for Independence, but a bid by the Chinese in the jungles to turn Malaya into a communist state. So from the British point of view, and many others too, the Emergency was actually a fight against communism, during which time a great deal was learnt about terrorism and how to deal with it. I don’t go into this so much in the book as I felt it would have complicated the fictional story too much.

On your website you say that ‘the setting is always where I begin’. We love that here at the booktrail! Why is setting so important do you think? What does it mean to you?

A typical malayan house where Dinah once lived -  -I borrowed this from her scrapbook
A typical Malayan house where Dinah once lived (c) Dinah Jefferies

For me the setting suggests everything, followed by the period. Once I think of a place that appeals to me, characters and stories start to form in my mind and a multitude of potential scenes begin to jostle for position. I love investigating a place and time, and am excited by finding out what was going on and who might have been there. I start with WHERE and WHEN and then move on to the WHO and WHAT. I always find it amazing how much story a setting can generate. The hardest part is whittling down the ideas into a coherent narrative.

Meleka today
Melaka today

Which places would you suggest readers visit or learn about to experience your book even more?

I haven’t been back to Malaysia because I didn’t want to lose my sense of the past, so I can’t really answer that as it is a very modern country now. Perhaps buy a travel guide and see what appeals. I was born in Malacca, as it was, Melaka now, and we moved to a different part of Malaya every year. My father’s job was to oversee the repair of postal services damaged during the Japanese invasion and that were, once again, being damaged during the Emergency. So we lived everywhere including Singapore, Johor Bahru, Penang and so on.

Which kind of food and drink would you recommend?

Among others there are three major ethnic groups: Malay, Chinese and Indian. So try something from each. Nasi Goring was my childhood favourite but Malaysian cuisine is highly complex and diverse. Have fun with a broad range of flavours that include lemongrass, coconut and shrimp paste. 

Can you tell us a bit more about the Colonial attitudes in Malaya at the time of your novel?

Colonial attitudes were very different and completely at odds with the way we think these days. Colonials displayed a sense of rightness, of superiority and of entitlement that we find difficult to understand. The Empire and everything that went with that was responsible for their world view and influenced the way they thought about ‘native’ races. My experience of Malaya wasn’t like that as I went to a multi-racial school and had friends of many different nationalities. By then it was the end of Empire and everything was crumbling. I am drawn to writing about crumbling societies that had once seemed so inviolable, and in particular the way that social change affects the lives of women and children. 

What fascinates you about Malaysia and would you like to go back one day?

It isn’t just Malaysia that fascinates me, it’s South East Asia and the Far East generally. I think being born in that region of the world and living there as a child has meant something has remained in my blood. I love the architecture and the style and every house I have lived in reflects that. I would love to go back and was invited to a book fair there this year. Sadly it coincided with a research trip to Vietnam and a book tour in Norway, so I couldn’t go. 

 a tea plantation in Sri Lanka
a tea plantation in Sri Lanka

Your next book – The Tea Planter’s Wife – is set in 1920s and 1930s Ceylon  -Sri Lanka. Can you tell us anything about this?


Well it’s finished and will be published by Penguin in May 2015 and Internationally too.  It’s set in a glorious Tea Plantation in the misty hill country beside a lake in what is now Sri Lanka. I hope the seductive setting with the scent of cinnamon and jasmine in the air will lure a reader in, though when a young girl is faced with a choice no mother should have to make, be prepared for heartbreak. You have been warned! After I finished the first draft I went to Sri Lanka to stay at a tea plantation and absolutely loved it. The research I did there really helped bring the novel alive and I have to say the cover for the book is gorgeous and I can’t wait to reveal it!

As for the ghost stories that inspired some of Emma’s parts of the book. Is there one that sticks in your mind or some story that you feel would entertain readers?

 I love the frighteners (an old fashioned name for spirits or ghosts) who lurk in cracks in the pavement. If you tread on them by accident they will bite off your toes. It’s a bit like our English version: if you step on a line you’ll be eaten by a lion, if you step on a square you’ll be chased by a bear. I found most of the ghost stories during my research and I used them to create Malaya as a land of myth and magic in my character Emma’s memory. She misses Malaya and once we came back to live in England so did I. Like Emma, my early years in the East will always be at the heart of me.

Thank you so much Dinah for popping over today and for sharing your stories and memories – some of them very personal so thank you.  You loved the banana cakes? Well that’s good as there are 20 left so I’ve packed the remainder in a couple of tupperware so you can take them home. Enjoy!

Visit Dinah via her website – http://www.dinahjefferies.com/

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The Separation – 1950s Malaya – Dinah Jefferies

There are novels that are good for booktrails and then there are novels which are perfect – perfect as you don’t even have to go to the place they describe since you are there as soon as you turn the first page.

The Separation by Dina Jefferies is one such book. Stunning in its evocative detail, shocking for the sad events which take place and heartwarming for the innocents caught up in the whole affair.

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I felt tired and emotional after reading this book – all in a good way I assure you – and wanted to take you on a booktrail that will introduce you to this unique setting and thrilling read…..

Malaya 1950s

Imagine for one moment that as a mother you return home to find your husband and children missing. You are on your own and have no idea where they could have gone – not only that, but the servants have gone and the phone is dead.

Now imagine that you are an expat wife and your house in in the middle of the Malayan jungle, you are there as your husband has been posted there for work for the British Administration in Malaya. It’s the 1950s and the country is at war. It is a tense and steamy atmosphere there – the jungle is full of hidden dangers and it’s up to you to find out just what on earth is going on. Where are your children? Now can you imagine?

The journey Lydia faces from Malacca to Ipoh in search of her husband and children
The journey Lydia faces from Malacca to Ipoh in search of her husband and children

The story

Although the story is fictional, a lot has been inspired by and influenced by the real life experiences and impressions of Dinah Jefferies who was born in Malaya before moving to England at the age of 9. The lovely Dinah is popping over for tea and cake tomorrow – (as you’re reading this my arms are elbow deep in dough) so I’ll ask her more about that then. She’s bringing her scrap book of pics over too. Can not wait.

Let’s go to Malaya…

A jungle - fear hidden  in every dark shadow. Lydia must have faced so much hidden danger
A jungle – fear hidden in every dark shadow. Lydia must have faced so much hidden danger

Malaya in 1955 is a frightening and dangerous place to be.

In order to find her girls, Lydia, sets out on a nightmare journey to find her husband – she finds out from his ‘boss’ that he has been posted up country but her struggle to get there is fraught with danger  – not only in there the fact that an attack by guerrillas is ever present – but a white woman travelling alone in the jungle is perhaps even more so.

This is going to be no ordinary journey – the challenges of the heat for one is unbearable and the constant and utter paralsyig confusion as to what this poor woman can do.

Added to her grief, a malayan woman in a village asks her to take her child with her – she wants him to escape with her and take her to a resettlement village. The two become unwitting travelling companions in search of answers..

A typical malayan house where Dinah once lived -  -I borrowed this from her scrapbook
A typical malayan house where Dinah once lived – -I borrowed this from her scrapbook

The heat, the anguish the utter hell on earth…

This was not how she expected Malaya to be. Alex hadn’t mentioned  the endless battle against humming birds mosquitoes, nor the wet heat, which approached like a solid wall – nor the war they called the Emergency

It’s not just Lydia’s voice that we hear however. At the same time as we panic with Lydia, we cry at the injustice of a confused little girl, Emma, trying to make sense of why mummy is not with them. What is daddy not saying? Why are they travelling so far away? why are the travelling to England? Emma is afraid – (the stories of what she hears and remembers are Malaysian childrens tales and are listed at the back of the book) 

Our gardener used to say beware of the lure of the dusk, when demons would come out to play in the shadows of the long grass.

They only came out if somebody was lost

And if you followed them, even once, you’d never be seen again.

A jungle maze as Lydia would have faced
A jungle maze as Lydia would have faced

The Separation is essentially a story about the strong bond between mother and children. The two voices tell of separate yet interweaving fates and we learn from Emma things that we wish we could shout out so that Lydia might find out. Scenes set in England are cold and lonely – in direct comparison with the humidity and stress of Malaya -effective and a real emotional pull.  Given the setting and the background, the separation takes on a whole new meaning. It gives the novel an added layer of heart and soul. In Emma’s words – 

And Though Mummy wasn’t really there, I imagined a fine line that wound halfway around the world. It  was the invisible threat that stretched from west to east and back again; one end was  attached to my mother’s heart and the other to mine. And I knew whatever might happen, that the thread would never be broken.

The history of Malaysia is also where the novel excels – I knew nothing of what the time of ‘The Emergency’ was like and now I feel I at least can imagine what it must have been like for a woman fearing the changes in a country. Details and background are never over done – only snippets given here and there to mirror the confusion of those at the heart of it. The underlying fear is woven through simple understatements for maximum effect – 

Lydia’s bus stops in the middle of the jungle –

A priest, waiting in the crowd as they approached turned to her with a smile, a pistol snug in its holster at his waist. Once the sight of it would have made her shudder, now everyone had a gun and  she hardly raised an eyebrow. The dusty air, and how they’d breathe it if the bus didn’t take them were far more of a worry.

Then we hit against the real crux of what lies behind the Emergency – 

There’s nothing left for the Chinese in Malaya,’ he said. Only the camps or the horror of living on the inside.

Malaya in 1922. (wikipedia) The unfederated Malay states in blue The Malaysia Federated Malay States (FMS) in yellow The Straits Settlements British Straits Settlements in red
Malaya in 1922. (wikipedia)
The unfederated Malay states in blue
The Malaysia Federated Malay States (FMS) in yellow
The Straits Settlements British Straits Settlements in red

And the danger that Lydia finds herself in….the setting acting as both captor and captive – 

The idea of the new villages was to isolate the terrorists from their supporters. Lydia knew that, but was still socked by sharp bamboo spikes embedded in a moat surrounding three, parallel, chain wire fences and, at intervals, huge observation towers.

The blackness was  a time for throats to be slit soundlessly and for children to be stolen

The whole country is being  torn apart by rebels, Lydia is running out of money and hope. Meanwhile Emma is trying to settle in in England. But the two far apart are in danger and an escalating situation that neither of them could have imagined. And what they do when things implode will be the test of them all.

The_Separation_Cover_Final_-_Front__-Small

A very fine, poignant novel, with the heartbreak of a mother searching for answers. A n exotic setting with fear and  danger at its core. All in all, this is a journey to Malaya and a very fine debut full of authenticity and a level of evocative descriptions not seen before. 

This will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.

Author Interview – James Oswald- Natural Causes – part two

A coffee and a chat with an author about his books. What more could I ask for?
A coffee and a chat with an author about his books. What more could I ask for?

Sitting with James here with a steaming cup of coffee and his books – now where were we…a few more questions if I may……ahh yes….

6. How do you create your characters and where does McLean come from?

I tend not to base my characters on people I know, so much as steal individual traits and mash them together to form someone new. I might, when writing a scene, consider how my younger brother might react in that situation and use that as a template. I have stolen a few names of friends – notably DC Stuart MacBride – although Professor Matt Hilton in The Book of Souls was created before I’d ever heard of, let alone met the thriller writer of the same name.

I don’t really know where McLean comes from – there’s undoubtedly bits of me in him, but he’s more than that. I first used him as a character in a comic script I wrote over twenty years ago, and he’s been in several other stories since, each time changing a little, his character slowly developing to fit new ideas and stories.

 

Early inspiration
Early inspiration

7. I enjoyed the supernatural ingredient to the police procedural one. Why did you want to write and mix both?

Probably because I didn’t know better? I started off writing comics, and reading far too  many of them as well. Titles like Hellblazer, Swamp Thing and Sandman were my favourites, and all of them to some extent blend supernatural elements with the everyday.

What I didn’t know, when I first embarked on the story that would become Natural Causes, was how resistant to genre mixing the publishing industry was at the time. That book, and its follow-up, The Book of Souls, were both short listed for the CWA Debut Dagger award, something that usually gets publishers very interested indeed. My experience was almost universally one of ‘we like the writing, but can’t see a market for the mixed genres.’

I find the whole concept of genre profoundly irritating and unhelpful. I read a wide variety of different authors, and don’t really care if it’s a historical novel, something ‘literary’ (and there’s a can of worms best left unopened), hard science fiction or anything else. The only thing that I’m interested in is a good story well told.

cows

8. How do you spread your time between writing and farming? It’s quite an unusual mix.

I’m at my most productive, writing-wise, in the evening. Farming is an activity that takes place mostly during daylight hours. I try to get the bulk of the daily farming jobs – checking and feeding livestock, mainly – done in the morning, giving me the afternoon to edit and the evening to write.

There are times when the farm demands more of my attention – sorting lambs for selling, dosing animals for worms and so on. These tend to be non-writing days, as by the time I’ve been working manually for twelve hours, sitting at the computer for another four tends to be unproductive!

I don’t get to watch a lot of telly these days, and I’ve not been to the cinema in a while either. Now that the books have been far more successful than I could have dreamed, I can afford to hire help in for some of the more time-intensive farming jobs and concentrate more on the writing. I’ve just signed a new deal with Penguin for another three McLean books, and they want one every six months, so I’ll be contracting out a lot more of the farming in the next eighteen months!

 

 

9. Tell us a little about the next installment of Inspector McLean –  The Hangman’s Song

I wouldn’t want to give too much away! The story revolves around a series of suicides, seemingly unlinked and yet too similar to be coincidental. Already under pressure from dealing with the fallout at the end of The Book of Souls, Tony McLean is put under even greater strain as he struggles to investigate these suicides despite being told to do only a basic investigation and wrap everything up quickly. At the same time, he is on secondment to the Sexual Crimes Unit, investigating the strange case of a group of young prostitutes being trafficked out of the city and back to Europe. His team has been split up, too, adding to the stress, so it’s hardly surprising that he starts to make bad decisions.

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10. Have you always been interested in books about gruesome murders and which writers inspire you?

I sort of stumbled into writing crime fiction by accident. I’ve know Stuart MacBride since long before either of us were published. We used to give each other critiques of our manuscripts, and collaborated on a comic strip a very long time ago. Like me, Stuart was writing SF and Urban Fantasy novels, but was advised by his agent at the time to write something contemporary – the result being Cold Granite, the first of his phenomenally successful Logan McRae series of Aberdeen based crime thrillers.

Stuart passed on the advice to me, and persuaded me to go to the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, back in 2006. I knew very few people there, but found all the writers really friendly and supportive – even people I have subsequently discovered to be big names. I came away from the festival determined to have a go, and dusted off an old character I’d come up with many years earlier – Detective Inspector Tony McLean. He’d been a supporting character in that comic script Stuart and I had collaborated on, and I’d used him in a couple of other novels as the token policeman. This time I decided to give him his own starring role, and the result was Natural Causes.

Because I’d not been a massive fan of crime fiction, my knowledge of the genre was limited to a few of Ian Rankin’s books, some Agatha Christie when I was young, the Hardy Boys, of course, and all of Stuart MacBride’s novels, which I’d read as early drafts. I’d also picked up and enjoyed RD Wingfield’s Frost novels, but apart from taking some cues from them, I don’t think I could say I was inspired by them. My major influences are from comics, fantasy and SF. Writers like Neil Gaiman, Iain Banks, John Wagner, Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis are probably my biggest inspiration.

 

A good Scottish dinner party
A good Scottish dinner party

11. At a dinner party on your farm – which 4 writers would you invite living or dead and why?

That’s a thorny one. Only four? Who will I offend by not inviting them? Alas, all-too-recently dead, I would have loved to have been able to spend some time with Iain Banks, so he’d certainly be on the list, as would Neil Gaiman (may he not be dead for very many years yet). I think JK Rowling would be an excellent dinner guest, and since she was a great friend of my grandfather, perhaps Dorothy L Sayers could make up the numbers.

Thanks so much James. Really enjoyed chatting with you. It’s been a pleasure

The Hangman’s Song – coming out in Spring 2014 – see an article on James’ blog http://jamesoswald.co.uk/?p=184

 

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.

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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.

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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!

Natural Causes – Edinburgh part two

Natural Causes book trail part two
Natural Causes book trail part two

1.CARSTAIRS WEDDELL:

 

Carstairs Weddel in the West End
Carstairs Weddell in the West End

 

Mclean remembered a time, not so long ago, when all the Edinburgh family firms, the lawyers and stockbrokers,merchant bankers and importers of fine wares had their office  the grand old houses of the west end, now the streets were full of basement restaurants, boutique shops, health clubs and expensive apartments. times changed, but the city always adapted. – page 99

 

Carstairs Weddell occupied the entirety of a  large Georgian terraced house in the west end of the city. where the more modern and progressive law firms had moved into purpose built offices on the lothian road of further out towards Gogarburn, this one small partnership had held out against the tides of change. – page 99

 

 2. MURDER SCENE – ST GILES CATHEDRAL

 

A murderous location
A murderous location

 

As it was, their destination was only a few minutes from his flat. Patrol cars flashed blue lights on the cobbles of the royal mile just across from St Giles Cathedral as uniforms fended off curious friday night revellers, keen to get an eyeful of whatever was happening. – page 145

 

St Giles Cathedral ….http://www.stgilescathedral.org.uk/

 

3 A GIRL FALLS FROM THE NORTH BRIDGE:

The North Bridge
The North Bridge

Waverley station was busy at the best of times. with the festival and the fringe in full flow it was a nightmare of milling backpacks, horn-tooting taxis and lost tourists. throw in an ambulance ,  a couple of squad cars and a halt on all train movements and the chaos was complete – 220

 

a new vista of the city
a new vista of the city

 

Stepping out on the station roof was a strange experience. it was a completely new vista of the city, looking up at the underside of North Bridge and the lower basement of the North British Hotel, McLean always thought of it as the North British. As far as he was concerned, Balmoral was a castle in Aberdeenshire – page 225

 

4. INSPECTOR MCLEAN AND EMMA DISCUSS THE CASE IN A THAI RESTO NEAR THE STATION – 296

chung1

http://www.jimmy-chungs.com/contacts/

 

I don’t know if this was the inspiration but I went in anyway and ate a meal fit for an inspector!

And he is right, their deserts are pretty special!

 

5. THE FESTIVAL- 326

 

The festival
The festival

The city never really slept, especially during the festival. The usual crowd of late shift workers and rough sleepers was augmented by drunken students and wannabe actors , dustbin men and road sweepers. The streets were quiet in comparison with the day , but it was early yet, and a steady stream of cars still fought their single-occupant ways to destinations unknown.

 

Well I leave Edinburgh for now – I’m reading Book Of Souls and have a chat with the author himself soon – right on this very blog! I’m very excited about it.

Natural Causes in Edinburgh – part one

A SCOTS farmer dubbed the new Ian Rankin celebrated his six-figure crime book deal - by buying a new tractor.

Inspector Mclean is not your average policeman. Orphaned at the age of 4, he was raised by his very wealthy grandmother.

But the thing that really sets him apart is the fact that he is sensitive to the paranormal. Whilst investigating the story behind the mutilated body of a girl murdered 60 years ago,  a body has been discovered walled up in the basement of an old Edinburgh house. She has been brutally murdered, her internal organs removed and placed around her in six preserving jars.

The murder is found to have happened some sixty years ago, as an attempt to re-enact an ancient ceremony of trapping a demon in the dead girl’s body and thus conferring immortality on the six men who each took one of her organs. This supernatural element is unique in a police procedural (at least to my knowledge) and it made it a really interesting premise.

His frustration at his inability to keep a mobile phone battery charged has to be met with sympathy in this day and age!

There is obviously a lot more to be discovered about Tony McLean’s past and the reason why he is sensitive to the evil that lurks in Edinburgh. Why was his family so wealthy? Who was the man in his grandmother’s photo, perhaps even his parents’ deaths will have to be investigated once more.

 Allow Inspector McLean to take you around the city:

1. MCLEAN’S FLAT IN NEWINGTON

Where McLean lives in Newington
Where McLean lives in Newington

This is a street in Newington that I have on good authority was the model and inspiration for Mclean’s flat. Just look at that stunning view!

Some view you've got there Mr Mclean!
Some view you’ve got there Mr Mclean!

The front door of the tenement was unlocked again, wedged half open with  a bit of broken pacing slab. Mclean tough about shutting it properly, but decided against it. The last thing he wanted was to be woken by the students from the first floor flat pressing all the buzzers at four in the morning until someone let them in. – 36

Wrinkling his nose against the spray of too many tomcats, he climbed the stone steps up to the top floor. – 36

Now apart from the wonderful and very realistic description of an Edinburgh tenement building, more the doorbell part than the cat one thankfully, I peered up at the top floor and just wondered if I would be able to see him at his window:

ooh is that Tony at the window?
ooh is that Tony at the window?

Now not knowing Newington all that well, i decided to go and follow in the footsteps of Inspector McClean and explore the area a bit:

The Newington Arms wasn’t the best place to drink in Edinburgh not by anyone’s  measure. but it made up for that by being the nearest to his home. McLean pushed through the swing doors……. – page 39

2. HIS DRINK OF CHOICE:

He bought himself a pint of Deuchars and looked around for any familiar faces…..

deuchars

I didn’t go into a pub or drink Deuchars but I did come across a wonderful little cafe not far away and wondered if McLean had popped in here at all:

coffee here is good
coffee here is good

 3. SETTING FOR MURDER

Without giving any of the plot away, one of the murders takes place in St Andrew’s Square, I decided to visit the spot and imagine Mclean imagining what took place here and to find out this man’s role in the Smythe murder.

St Andrew's Square with a fantastic coffee shop right in the middle - and of course the location for a grisly death in a pub
St Andrew’s Square with a fantastic coffee shop right in the middle – and of course the location for a grisly death in a pub

This man walked into a pub just off St Andrew’s Square about half eleven last night. Went into the gents’ and cut his own throat. It was even the same knife he used on Smythe.’ – 88

4.THE POLICE STATION

Tony McLean’s station does not exist in real life but is instead a strange merger of St Leonards and Gayfield Square Police Stations, so geographically it’s somewhere in the vicinity of The Pleasance.

Inspector McLean works here
Inspector McLean works here

There is a lot more to this book than meets the eye…….and my travels took me to the heart of grisly and murderous Edinburgh. The very next day, I kid you not, a heavy mist descended on the city making it even more realistic a setting for this book and its follow up Book of Souls….there would be plenty more grisly stops along the way…..Come back tomorrow for part two!