Stuart MacBride – an interview following the release of his new book, A dark so Deadly

MacBride

1, Now that you’ve written several different series, how did you differentiate A Dark so Deadly from your other works?

For me, it’s all down to the protagonist. Logan McRae is very different from Ash Henderson, and both are very different from Callum MacGregor. So the books feel very different to write. Then you can add the new surrounding cast to the mix, which really changes the way I approached writing the book. And, given that A DARK SO DEADLY is a book about books, the opportunity to comment on and play with the mores and tropes of the genre brought a lot of fun with it.

I love the multiple characters in A Dark so Deadly and would love to see them developed into a series. The length of this book has allowed for the characters to develop into fully rounded individuals, letting the reader get a real feel for them.  Other series sometimes take a while to do this due to their length being shorter than this book, which leaves the reader feeling like they never got to know them and there is a need for a follow up book. The complexities of Stuart MacBride’s universe allows for the possibility of a cross pollination of characters. Other series such as those by Michael Connelly have had characters from other series appear from other books and I feel this integration works well and the Misfit Mob are tailor made for this.

 

2, On the 27th April  2017 when we met  at your  book signing in Waterstones Nottingham you described the motivation for the map inside the front cover of your novel, could you please reiterate this for my readers as you seem to have put a lot of effort into doing this?

A HUGE amount of effort. It was definitely a ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ moment – to reflect the books I’d loved as a child by having a map in the front. It’s not something that I’ve seen with contemporary crime fiction, but I remember it from the big edition of Winnie-the-Pooh I had when I was little. And all the Tolkien I’d read. Plus various fantasy and historical novels. So, because this was going to be a book about books — and in many ways about the lifelong relationships we can forge between them, the people who wrote them, and ourselves – I thought it would be nice to include something of that here.

I’d been building up a more and more detailed map of Oldcastle for years, trying to make sure that I didn’t contradict something I’d said about the city in a previous book, and this was a chance to formalise that into something a bit more recognisable.

It took a little persuading, but HarperCollins let me use their Streetfinder icons and specifications to put my map of Oldcastle into production. Which was nice.

Stuart is right in saying this is not often used in crime novels though I do remember seeing it in an early edition of Peter Robinson’s Gallows View when I was reading it with my book group. This idea was fascinating to me, because as an audio reviewer I would not have seen the map if I had not been there at the talk. The level of detail involved in this map shows how many interconnected stories MacBride has written and it would be very useful to a new reader as it would help shape their minds eye view of Oldcastle and show the level of detail involved in a crime novel and how parallels may be drawn from other genres as Stuart points out.

 

3, In the book there is a character in a wheelchair called Dottie, during your research, how realistic would you find Dottie’s capability doing her job e.g. accessibility and other issues?

Accessibility is a big issue for Dottie. She has a specially adapted vehicle with a wheelchair lift on the roof, but that doesn’t make getting in and out of crime scenes any easier. There are times when she’s got no option but to sit outside and wait, because there’s no way she can get up there.

Luckily she’s a detective sergeant, which means her job is more about organising other people’s efforts and reviewing their results. That should mean she’s not challenged with access issues as often as she would be as a detective constable, but the team is so small — and so dysfunctional — that’s she’s got no choice but to go out there and struggle through.

 

Stuart’s answer highlights the problems which Dottie may have working for the police, but she’s not the only character in detective fiction to have a disability. Another famous example is Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme, who has appeared in thirteen full length novels. However, both characters have problems with access, but as they are mainly in advisory roles the characters remain plausible. During A dark so Deadly Dottie goes on several outings to interview people, but during this we do not see her difficulties in accessing locations and if we had it may have added an extra layer of authenticity to her character. However, as a wheelchair user myself it does give me confidence that people with disabilities are being represented in novels. When I was doing my law degree I had a few weeks shadowing barristers and found that accessibility was difficult in old buildings that were not really designed for people with disabilities and I intend to reflect this in my own future novels.

 

4, In your Logan McRae book, Blind Eye, the plot line is gory in places; do you think that books should have age certificates, like films have?

Not at all. Reading is a wholly subjective experience, what’s appropriate for one person can be inappropriate for someone else. I was reading some very advanced fiction when I was a young lad, and I’d hate to think that I’d have been denied access to it because of my age.

                The depiction of violence in my books is there to put you in the head of the point of view character. It’s there so you can experience these things with them and hopefully identify with what they’re going through. For me, it would be neutering the experience to gloss over those parts. If the POV character experiences it, so do you. Anything else is cheating.

Reading this answer I find that I wholly agree with what MacBride says, however, I think this was a valid point that needed examining. The crime novel can be gratuitously violent and in Blind Eye the idea of removing someone’s eyes was a graphic way of opening that novel. The subjective position that MacBride outlines has been reflected in several conversations I’ve had with my friends and fellow crime readers. For example, the librarian who runs the Kirkby Crime Club has said that she cannot read books if they are too violent and the books that she said were too much for her were, in my view pretty mild. It is possible that age certificates would have impeded a young MacBride from reading the more advanced works of fiction that influenced his later choice of writing style.

5, During A Dark so Deadly, you seem to poke fun at the crime genre, do you have any tips for an aspiring author?

I don’t think I’m so much poking fun at it as I am revealing, and commenting on, the mechanics of not just crime fiction but books as a whole. That was one of the things I wanted to do with this book, and that’s why Detective Sergeant McAdams gets to fulfil the joint role of Greek chorus and metafictional commentator.

As for tips for aspiring authors, I think the three most helpful things I can say are…

ONE: write. Don’t make excuses about why you can’t write. Don’t plan to write. Get your backside in the chair and WRITE.

TWO: your first book will be terrible. It won’t feel like it at the time, it’ll be the best thing ever written, a work of gold-plated genius! But really it’ll be terrible. And that’s OK! It should be terrible. No one would pick up a cello and expect to launch straight into Bach, would they? But we all expect our first book to be a runaway success. No. It’s the book you practice on, the book you learn a lot about writing from. So stop piling up all that pressure of expectation on yourself and it. Enjoy the process. Enjoy learning. And when you’ve finished writing your first book you’re ready to move on to…

THREE: write something else. I’ve met people at writing conventions who’ve been rewriting the same book for ten years. They send it out to agents, and they get it back with a ‘no thank you’, they rewrite it, and they send it out again. No editor or agent wants to work with a writer who only has one book in them. So finish your book and write something else. Take all that stuff you learned writing the first one and write something better. It usually takes three or four books for someone to find their own voice. My first published book was the fifth one I’d written, by which point I’d practiced the craft of writing and found my voice. And if I can do it, so can you. Just always remember: finish the book then write something else.

 

Stuart MacBride has acknowledged that A dark so Deadly is a book about books. DS McAdams outlines all of the clichés of book writing and this hilarious character in particular with his Haiku’s. MacBride’s comic style really gives this book a different flavour and his writing tips speak for themselves. Thanks for these great hints that I shall take to heart.

 

  1. When giving your tutorials to budding writers, how many elements to a story would you recommend to make up the ideal template?

There’s no such thing as an ideal template. The number of elements required depends on the story you’re trying to tell. It might only need one thing. It might need dozens. A good rule of thumb is that anyone who tells you that there’s only one way to do things is usually someone worth avoiding.

Put as many elements in as you think the story needs.

This short and succinct answer reflects the many different ways that stories can be written and it is subjective from author to author. I wrote this question at a time when I was unaware that I was only half way through the book, as it was on audible and this is a prime example to always be wary of when you send your questions in. A dark so Deadly had many different stories running in parallel and a lot of crime books are sadly one dimensional, with one journey and this was not true of this book and I would highly recommend that people read it as a different look at the genre.

 

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