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An Interview with Scotland’s Crime Writers Jenny Brown, Lin Anderson and Doug Johnstone: Bloody Scotland in India

03
Feb 2017

An Interview with Scotland’s Crime Writers Jenny Brown, Lin Anderson and Doug Johnstone: Bloody Scotland in India

Jenny Brown was previously the Head of Literature at the Scottish Arts Council, and the first Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She was one of the primary forces behind the designation of Edinburgh as the UNESCO City of Literature. She is also the Chair of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival, promoting new authors and genres.
Lin Anderson is the author of two crime series, the forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod series and the Patrick de Courvoisier series. She is the co-founder of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival and the Chair of Society of Authors in Scotland.
Doug Johnstone is the author of eight stand-alone crime novels, the most recent being Crash Land. He was also the finalist in the 2016 McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year for his novel The Jump. He is a journalist and reviews books for the Big Issue. He also happens to be a musician.
The blogger had the magical opportunity of interviewing them together at the Kolkata Literature Festival 2017 and here’s what they said.

 

  • To what extent have you perceived the Bloody Scotland Festival a success in terms of encouraging young crime writers to harbour passion for the genre?

Lin: I think it has done a great job because we set off to do three things, first to create new writing, secondly, to establish a new platform for new writers and thirdly, to create an international forum for crime writers. The last five years had five new publications. The competition initially was to pitch in a hundred words.

Doug: To choose writers from among them] in three minutes to publishers and agents, the winner of which went on to become a published writer.

  • How far do you think the system of incentives, be it McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year, which Doug had been the finalist of, or the Bloody Scotland initiative caters to the needs of crime writers?

    Lin: I think it is a ‘bloody’ difficult thing to do! You really must strive to win it. I think it shows real commitment to land a publishing contract. It really is a wonderful opportunity, albeit a frightening one.

    Doug: One of the most interesting things about Bloody Scotland is its very informal atmosphere! There is a general air of encouragement for the new industry formed by aspiring, published or new writers. Often, you find them in a bar, ready to talk to you, even writers who have had five to ten published books! It’s an eye opener for them about how the world works. Then there are agents and publishers, so it doesn’t necessarily happen around the events of the festival but it can also happen in the quiet corner of a bar or afterwards, making it a very interactive exercise!

 

  • A very informal question I must ask but as far as I have read, was there not a football match included within the schedule of the festival?

Doug: Hey, we lost last time so I don’t want to talk about it! I just came up with the idea back then because the Board wanted it. There were several English writers there and we thought, why don’t we clear a little bit of the grass atop the hill? It was kind of a joke, really, but many turned up to watch it! It proved be a great bonding experience in a competition where we all shared a laugh.
Jenny: Also, what I noticed is we don’t have a space like this, an authors’ hospitality area because what we want, as Doug pointed out, it’s all about the authors meeting the readers. What evinces is there evaluation, their amusement as they walk up and have a drink with Doug or Ian (Rankin).

 

  • Does this stem from your personal preference as an agent to maintain close contact with the authors you are working with?

Jenny: What, the informality? Yes, Scottish crime writers form a huge world.
Lin: To be truthful, most of the crime festivals are like that, even the major ones in England. The writers are very supportive of one another and we are not in competition with each other as the literary world suggests. We are eager to chat with the readers, the aspect where they come up and speak to you, once they realise they can! What we write about are crime and death, the darkest sides of human nature. We like to get it all out in the stories, murdering anyone we do not like, suddenly! [They laugh].

  •  [To Lin] Your series revolves around Rhona MacLeod, a forensic scientist. Did the fact that your father worked with the CID help in your characterisation?

Lin: My father had passed away before my first book was published and I dedicate all my books to him. When he was a policeman and I was a teenager, he never told me about his cases. However, a lot of anecdotes in my book come from my personal experience of being a policeman’s daughter, although he wasn’t there to ask questions about them.

  • [To Doug] Can you share a little bit about the inspiration behind your books?

Doug: Crime Writing is a very broad category. I do not write about police detectives but about either the criminals doing the crime or the victims. It tends to be ordinary people, like anyone in this room, and throwing them into extraordinary circumstances, how they cope or don’t cope. The genre saw a timeline from the classic Noir to American horror. Sometimes I give away the mystery at the start and I’m more interested in the repercussions of how things pan out. I wasn’t published until I was thirty-six, so it takes a while! [laughs]

  • [To Lin] You’re a Tartan Noir crime writer. Can you tell us a little more about your field of expertise and about your protagonist who happens to be a forensic scientist?

Lin: Ian Rankin had once said that Scandinavia does not have better crime writers than Scotland has its PR! Bloody Scotland proves this because our initiative is to promote new ideas, engage with the world at large. What you really want to ask is how the hell did I do that, right? I once had a pupil called Emma Hart who was a bright student and went to University when she suddenly decided to take up forensic science. I didn’t know what it was then. When I started writing, I didn’t consider it to be a longstanding issue but I focused more on my father’s attitude and worries about his daughters turning up at the scene of the crime! That was the original idea when I thought about Emma. There are many detectives with drinking problems which is why I wanted to pursue it. [Doug: She was like, I just did it!] One of my main contacts was Dr. Jennifer Miller who thought she WAS Rhona MacLeod!

  • Do you think more such collaborations like the Kolkata Literature Festival should be established to forge linguistic and cultural gaps when it comes to crime writing and other genres?

Jenny: I think crime writing is ideally suited for international collaborations. There’s such a huge audience worldwide! We’ve seen the appetite in the UK and Scandinavia, albeit a more limited thirst in France and Italy. However, it would be a much easier sell to our audience in Bloody Scotland to say, here are two crime writers from Calcutta who are dealing with these themes. Instantly, they’ll be interested. We are very keen on bridging literary differences and I hope there would be an opportunity in the future!

Tannistha Sinha

Tannistha Sinha

Tannistha Sinha is a student of English Literature at Jadavpur University, currently studying in UG III. She takes an active part in a host of extracurricular activities, including debating, MUNing, music, theatre, creative writing and mountaineering. Apart from this, she is a voracious reader, an impulsive cook and a sitcom enthusiast, accompanied by an almost unbearable competitive attitude. At times when her weird spirituality subsides, she believes one lives to eat and never the vice versa.
Tannistha Sinha

Tannistha Sinha is a student of English Literature at Jadavpur University, currently studying in UG III. She takes an active part in a host of extracurricular activities, including debating, MUNing, music, theatre, creative writing and mountaineering. Apart from this, she is a voracious reader, an impulsive cook and a sitcom enthusiast, accompanied by an almost unbearable competitive attitude. At times when her weird spirituality subsides, she believes one lives to eat and never the vice versa.
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