Thursday, 17 October 2013

Dead Man Talking #20 - Russel D. McLean

Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Russel D. McLean

After swanking it up this year with Rankin and McIlvanney at the Harrogate Crime Festival, I ended a great day by going to dinner with Scottish-based crime writers James Oswald and Russel McLean, both of whom admittedly sat as far up the table from me as they possibly could without actually eating their dinner on the fire-escape. However, by scrawling death runes on napkins using tomato sauce and then passing them along the table, I did manage to scare Russel McLean into doing this interview for Dead Man Talking.

McLean is the author of the excellent J. McNee private investigator novels, ‘The Good Son’, ‘The Lost Sister’, and ‘Father Confessor’ as well as a book of short stories called ‘The Death of Ronnie Sweets (And Other Stories)’ He hails from a small village near Dundee, has a beard, wears his hat at a rakish angle and sometimes bashes innocent bystanders on the head with his travel bag. Despite these glaring flaws you should dash off to your nearest bookstore and add him to your collection. He's really rather good.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.
Russel McLean P.I.

McQuade: Today I am interviewing yet another writer with a beard, Russel D. McLean, who sets his gritty tales of crime fiction in the grotty city of Dundee. To make McLean feel at home I’ve arranged to hold this interview in the middle of the Tay Road Bridge. Thankfully neither of us drove here on a bus containing more than sixteen passengers, thus avoiding £1.40 on the toll charges. Hang on, I’ll just wait until this large truck passes by before commencing with the interview as I can barely hear myself speak over the slipstream of the traffic as it is.

: Oh dear God, we’re going to die!

McQuade: Oh stop shaking, McLean, we’re perfectly safe here on the dividing barrier. Righto, let’s start.

I can count on the fingers of one hand, the number of well-known writers whose work is linked with Dundee. Let’s see, there’s William McGonagall, whose fine prose still sends a shiver up my spine. (Editor - last seen on a park bench in Harrogate – McQuade's spine that is, not McGonagall) DC Thomson who wrote stirring adventures about a desperate, big-chinned cowboy named Dan. And now you, McLean. For those disputing my arithmetic, the answer is Yes, I do only have three fingers on that hand, a dog buried the other two. Anyway, my first question is this – seeing as they built a new Tay bridge in tribute to McGonagall’s epic work ‘The Tay Bridge Disaster’, and erected a statue to Thomson’s cow-pie munching anti-hero, Desperate Dan, what sort of lasting monument should mark the work of Russel D. McLean?

McLean: Probably a pub. Or a beer. Yes, my own beer would do quite nicely. Brewed here in the city, of course. Either that or a giant statue of my beard. In fact the more I think about it, let’s go with the bronze beard....

McQuade: A big bronze beard? You do realise people might mistake that a tribute to Sophia Loren? Or even Lulu, come to that.

Instead of foisting yet another maverick Detective Inspector upon the world, you have embarked upon a more traditional approach to crime writing by casting your J.McNee character in the time-honoured mould of a Private Investigator or PI for short. (Editor - in Dundee presumably pronounced as Peh) Was this a conscious decision to hark back to the golden age of Crime Noir? Or were you simply too lazy to acquaint yourself with modern day police procedures like other harder working writers do? Oh, and was that Lorraine Kelly who just passed us driving a Ford Capri?

Lorraine Kelly

McLean: I doubt it was Lorraine. She only ever uses the airport. I believe they’re planning on renaming it Lorraine Kelly International...

But, yes, as to the question, it was actually deliberate. I couldn’t think of any other Scottish PI’s, and I figured that I could try and do for Dundee what Lawrence Block did for New York, what Chandler did for LA and what Hammett did for San Francisco. Lofty ambition, no? Whether I succeeded is up to the reader, but I do think the PI can go places that a traditional police detective can’t. With McNee I get to cross some lines that Rebus and Rankin never could, and I like that idea. Someone who believes in justice but does not necessarily have to follow the letter of the law. Oh, and the research was still important. Real investigators have their own procedures and sets of ethics. So I was very lucky to have some help from a man named Peter Heims who was one of the oldest active investigators working at the time, and a really nice guy who let me ask him all kinds of dumb questions. He died this year, which was a real shame and a loss to the investigative community. Of course, as Peter himself pointed out when I was talking to him, McNee is not a real investigator and there’s a lot of stuff he does that a real investigator would not do, ethically speaking. But dramatic licence is part and parcel of a compelling crime novel, and I hope that everything’s underpinned with a sense of reality that comes from the conversations I had with Peter.

McQuade: Barely heard a word of that due to the traffic but I imagine it made some sort of sense. Your three McNee novels, ‘The Good Son’, ‘The Lost Sister’, and ‘Father Confessor’ have titles that show a distinct underlying pattern, namely in playing upon references to immediate family members. Is this a quirky co-incidence? Or can we expect the next one to perhaps be called, ‘The Lacklustre, Short-Sighted Cousin’ or ‘The Shifty Uncle Nobody Talks About Because He Was Once Caught In An Embarrassing Embrace With A Yorkshire Terrier? By Jove! Someone just leaned out their car window and implied I play the maracas. Bloody cheek.

: Now that might have been Lorraine Kelly... sounds like something she’d do...

Anyway, yes, the family motif was very deliberate. Again calling to mind one of the other great PI writers, Ross MacDonald, who often played with the family motif. I have a thing for family, for exploring what it means, what it can do to people. Sometimes the family motif is not as literal as it sounds. And the next book is called Mothers of the Disappeared. The title was given to me by Canadian author Sandra Ruttan when she saw the first synopsis. The book’s changed a lot since then but the title remains rather appropriate. Oh, and the last book (number 5) in the McNee sequence is called Cry Uncle.

McQuade: I’d like to know a bit more about this Cursed Mask of yours. You see, I once owned a pair of cursed swimming trunks. Every time I wore them something bad happened. Apart from the time they fell down while I was conducting a funeral, and another occasion when I got stung by a jellyfish while paddling in the sea at Anstruther, the final straw was being given a stern ticking-off by the Moderator at the 1973 Synod for draping them over a statue of John Knox.  Anyway, this mask of yours. It doesn’t happen to be a gas mask, does it? I find those scary enough with being cursed.

: Yes, that does sound like the fault of the trunks, doesn’t it? The mask was in a flat that I moved into here in Dundee. All around the place there were wee notes on the wall when I first came in, like, “This is a fridge,” and, “This door sticks a little.” There’s a walk in cupboard in the bedroom, and inside I found a leather mask in the shape of a woman’s face. The note next to it said, “This mask has been here for five previous tenants. We were told not to move it. We pass on the same advice to you.” I haven’t moved it. And now that I’m sadly leaving that flat behind, I’m going to leave a similar note. I don’t want the next tenant to accidentally open up a portal to hell or something.

McQuade: One last question. Earlier in your writing career you wrote a Dr Who story that unfortunately was rejected. I’m sorry to hear that. I once wrote a risqué episode of Dr Finlay’s Casebook which offended the BBC (and Dr Cameron) so much they tripled my license fee and threatened to strike my church off the Songs of Praise roster. Anyway, which Doctor were you writing about? Hopefully not Sylvester McCoy. He was rubbish. And what do you think of Peter Capaldi being instated as the 12th Doctor?

McLean: Unfortunately for you, Sylvester McCoy was the Doctor I grew up with and I maintain he is much better than his reputation with some purists might suggest. Certainly in his last year he found an inherent and interesting darkness which the Virgin novels exploited and which I had intended to do, too. Of course, it was a teenager’s novel and as such a bit daft. I would still kill for the chance to write for Who in any medium.

Sylvester McCoy
As to Capaldi: what a brilliant choice. I rather liked Matt Smith but all that boundless energy could be exhausting. I think Capaldi’s going to dial it back a bit and be absolutely brilliant as a darker but no less alien Doctor. The Doctor should be different. He should feel alien. he is, after all, a Time Lord. That’s why, and this always gets me into trouble with folk, I’m not a big fan of Peter Davison. He is the nicest and most human of the Doctors which to me is not as interesting. I do think Davison was great on screen - he is a superb actor - but what he got in script terms didn’t necessarily interest me that much. It was as though they forgot the Doctor was not of this world. Was different. Was dangerous.

McQuade: Brrrrr. Getting a bit cold sitting here. Fancy some of my home-made scotch broth, McLean? And yes, this is the same flask Ian Rankin left behind in the Little Chef a few months back. A tenner and it’s yours. The flask that is, not the soup That’s free of charge. (Editor – though probably not free of bacteria)

Mclean: Thank you very much. Do you have a change of this twenty? Hey come back! You owe me a bloody tenner!
McQuade: Sorry, McLean, in a rush. I’ll post it to you. (Editor – no he won’t) Thanks for the interview. Mind you don’t lean back too far as there’s a big petrol tanker coming up fast behind you.

(Blaring air horn and THUNK)

McQuade: Ah, he obviously didn’t catch that. I may as well retrieve that flask of scotch broth before the ambulance arrives. Waste not want not. 

Visit Russel McLean's web page

Visit Russel McLean's Amazon Page

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Mezzanine and Other Curiously Dark Tales

Mezzanine and Other Curiously Dark Tales

A collection of curiously dark tales including the vengeful victims of a serial killer, dead wives reanimated for domestic chores, diesel trains possessed by demons, lusty inflatable crocodiles, haunted Christmas cards, corpses posing as movie stars, and a rapist killer with senile dementia. From the author of Carapace, 1-2-3-4, The Garden of Remembrance and Dreaming in the Snakepark.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Dead Man Talking #19 - Ian Rankin

Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Ian Rankin

Last week at the Harrogate Crime Festival I discovered a hangover cure far more potent than raw eggs, Irn Bru, or even square sausages dipped in twenty year old malt whisky. So next time you’re suffering horribly like I was, simply find yourself a table beside a couple of living legends of the Scottish writing scene. Worked wonders for me. The two writers in question were William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin. After aggressively badgering both men to pose for photographs plugging a new anthology of short stories, ‘Noir Carnival’  (you owe me big time, Kate Laity), I took a deep breath (forgot to exhale and almost blacked out…) then enquired if either fancied talking to Strachan McQuade. I’m sure William McIlvanney gracefully nodded his agreement, but in all the excitement I sort of forgot to get his contact details. Doh. But all is not lost. Ian Rankin furrowed his eyebrows and threw me a dubious look, but he did at least promise to look at the questions. And blimey! He’s only gone and done it. So…

There’s not much I can say about Ian Rankin that’s not been said before in a far more eloquent fashion. But for the benefit of any Neolithic Picts recently dug from a peat-bog and revived using a car battery, jump leads and balsamic vinegar – Ian Rankin might possibly be the fifth most famous Scot ever, just slightly behind Robert Burns, William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, and Shrek. The author of a zillion successful novels including those featuring everyone’s favourite cop ‘Rebus’, Rankin continues to lead from the front with his own unique brand of Tartan Noir that fuses crime, contemporary music, Indian Pale Ale, and the psycho-geography of Edinburgh’s rank-rotten underbelly. 

Many thanks to Caitlin Sagan for the Harrogate photograph.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.

Ian Rankin


McQuade: This episode of Dead Man Talking comes to you from a Little Chef cafeteria somewhere on the A9 between Pitlochry and Inverness. We chose this location, not only as a barely perceptible nod of the head to the most recent Rebus novel, but also because Little Chef offers a 50% Presbyterian Minister's Discount every second Tuesday. So while I tuck into fish, chips and mushy Peas (Rankin brought his own sandwiches and thermos flask of tea if youre interested) I'll set the ball rolling with my first question.

Some of your book titles have strong musical connections. For example, there's 'Let it Bleed' (The Rolling Stones), The Falls (The Mutton Birds) and Black and Blue (ahem...... The Backstreet Boys) As a man of a different generation I'd have been more drawn to your work if you had pilfered song titles such as Kenneth MacKellar's Eurovision entry 'A Man Without Love' or indeed, Andy Stewart's 'Donald Where's Your Troosers'. My question is this - when stuck for a new book title, do you simply flick through your gramophone collection for inspiration or visit a High Street retail outlet like Woolworths, whom I imagine have a broader selection of current chart toppers?

Rankin: Ah, dear-departed Woolies - I used to buy records there back in the day. Those ghosted Top of the Pops collections were so reasonably priced. And dreadful, too, of course. I use music in my books because I am a frustrated rock star. My first band, The Amoebas, existed only on paper and inside my head. (I was 12.) Aged 18 I joined Fife's second-best punk group, The Dancing Pigs. We lasted 10 months or so. As a result, my musical career has to live on vicariously through book titles and Rebus's late-night vinyl orgies.

McQuade: By Jove! Dont talk to me about those sinfully depraved images on Top of the Pops long playing records. I still maintain those provocative covers, adorned with bikini-clad young women holding beach-balls aloft, encouraged promiscuity, lewd behaviour and dancing, and no doubt was the likely cause of so many disco-themed dogging sites springing up in my parish! Sorry, did I spit a bit of fish in your eye just now? How rude of me.

Now, Rebus is regarded by most of your readers as the quintessential, die-cast maverick cop. Did you deliberately create squeaky-clean, whistle-blowing, tell-tale-tit, Malcolm Fox as the perfect illustration of the anti-maverick police clipe? And if so - was this polarisation a moralistic ploy to demonstrate that decent, upstanding police officers can top the book charts without incurring moribund stagnation with regard to their promotional prospects? And is that salmon paste on your sandwich? I'd be happy to do a part-exchange swap for these mushy peas if you like.

Rankin: Princes Salmon Spread - paste royalty, my friend. Keep your peas! But to answer your question, I got talking to an Internal Affairs cop and realised the fictional version would be the antithesis of Rebus - playing by the rules, working well in a team, etc. Nobody would read Fox and think of him as Rebus Lite. The challenge was: can I make such a character interesting and appealing? Having spent 2 books on this project, I then decided to show readers what it's like to be a tainted cop on the receiving end of Fox's attentions. Hence the return of Rebus in Standing In Another Man's Grave.

Shocked Otter
McQuade: I once tripped and fell head-first into another mans grave at a funeral, but thats a story for another time. Lets just say, sherry was involved. Sorry, where was I? Ah, yes, back when I was a young minister, I spent an uncomfortable night banged up in the police cells due to trumped up charges of exposing myself to an otter. It was an utterly ridiculous allegation as I had no idea the otter was even watching at that precise moment. Have you ever spent a night in the 'Clink' for research purposes? Or any other reason, come to that?

Rankin: Never a whole night. I've visited cop-shops, of course. And prisons. And even Death Row in Huntsville, Texas. I've sat in cells and interview rooms and comms centres. But I don't want to get too cosy with the police. I don't want my books to become PR exercises for the constabulary. Having said which, I've usually found the polis to be helpful. It wasn't always thus. When I walked into a cop shop in 1985 to research my first Rebus book, the detectives saw a scruffy character spouting a dubious story about writing a novel. As a result, I became a suspect in a case they were working on...

McQuade: If it was possible to stick you in a time machine and have you play a game of dominoes with Sir Walter Scott - who would win? And why? If you're rubbish at dominoes we can always arrange a cribbage match instead.

Domino Champ 1890
Rankin: Years since I've played cribbage. Used to be handy at three-card-brag when we played for our wage-packets in the chicken factory of a Friday afternoon. Dominoes... My dad was a demon. He could count which doms were still to be played. Beat me fairly consistently. On the other hand, could Sir Walter play at all? Maybe I could channel my dad and whip him.

McQuade: Im assured Scotty won the Black Spot Trophy in 1890 held at the Inversnaid Hotel. His opponent was Daniel "Domino" Defoe, so he might not be such an easy touch as you think, Rankin. (Editor- they had time machines back then, too?)

Lastly - back to Rebus and Fox. Rebus is instantly recognisable by his surname (check the Radio Times if you don't believe me) while Malcolm Fox always requires both names when mentioned in casual conversation. A prime example of this phenomenon would be, 'Fancy Malcolm Fox turning up in the last Rebus novel.' So, will you feel Malcolm Fox has only been fully embraced by your readership when he simply gets referred to as Fox? Hmmmm - just noticed I already did just that at the start of the question. Sort of tripped myself up here. But I'm sure you know where I'm going with this. By the way, I'm finished with these chips if you want to help yourself. Sorry about the flecks of denture-paste on those two at the edge of the plate. Just rub them with a napkin and they'll be good as new.

Rankin: Not too many Rebuses in the world but plenty of Foxes. Maybe I add Malcolm so as to avoid confusion. Also maybe because he is a slightly softer character - you can imagine calling him Malcolm to his face while you'd have to have known Rebus for decades before feeling comfortable with 'John'. Right, I've finished my tea and sarnies. Time to get back on the dreaded A9. I'd give you a lift, but I've got death metal on the car stereo. Probably not your thing. Cheery-bye.

McQuade: Wait, hold on…

Sound of door slamming closed and strains of death metal as car revs up

McQuade: By Jove, I only wanted to tell Rankin he’s left his thermos flask behind. Ah, probably not important. Not as if he needs it to stop his car from hitting a tree or anything…

Sound of screeching brakes and car hitting tree.

McQuade: Then again...

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Dead Man Talking # 18 - Neil White

Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Neil White

Last year while packing my case for the journey to Harrogate to visit the Crime Festival I casually tossed in a copy of Neil White’s ‘Lost Souls’, a book I’d had kicking around for over a year and hadn’t yet got around to reading. On the train down I had the option of starting ‘Lost Souls’ or a biography of 70’s glam rockers Sweet. Nostalgia won the day and I spent the train journey wallowing in tales of glittery satin trousers and grown men with badly permed hair. Did this choice of reading material make any difference to my life? Bloody right it did because next morning practically the very first person I had a conversation with at Harrogate was Neil White and I felt awful admitting I’d yet to read a single word of his writing. I did consider lying but as Neil is also a criminal lawyer he’d have cross-examined me and likely had me banged up for a night in the pokey for literary perjury. Glad to say since then I have read Neil’s books and been more than impressed by his pacey writing style and hard-boiled tales of murder and mayhem.
Strachan and I thought it might be fun to turn the tables on Neil and interview him in the clink without the benefit of any independent legal counsel.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.
Neil White

McQuade: I'm sitting here in interview room No 3 at Invergallus police station waiting to give criminal lawyer Neil White a taste of his own medicine. You can bring him in now constable and make sure you cuff his hands just in case he manages to scribble something down on a bit a bit of paper and charges us a hefty legal fee for the privilege. I am now pressing the button on this official police tape recorder that I purchased from a man in a pub last night. Here we go. Testing, testing one, two three. For the record the time is, bother, I seem to have forgotten my watch. In fact come to think of it I’ve also forgotten my entire arm. Anyway, present at today’s interview is me, the Reverend Strachan McQuade (deceased). Also present and securely fitted up like a kipper is the accused, author Neil White who as yet hasn't actually been charged with anything as I've still to fabricate some circumstantial evidence.

Robert Wagner
 Welcome to Dead Man Talking, White. My first question to you is this - In the McGanity/Garrett series of books where two romantically linked characters solve shocking and brutal murder cases together – do you ever get stuck for new ideas? And if so are you tempted to watch old re-runs of MacMillan & Wife for inspiration? I loved that era of family orientated detective programs. Hart to Hart in particular was a special favourite of mine and I always admired the way Robert Wagner who played Tony Hart could make those little animated men out of plasticine. Go on, answer the question, erm.... you slag! And if you say No Comment we'll force you to drink the tea.

White: MacMillan and Wife! Wow, I’d forgotten all about that series. I used to watch it but can only vaguely remember the actors. Did the husband have dark hair? (Editor – One of those actors you only vaguely remember was Rock Hudson and he did indeed have dark hair)

The intention wasn’t really to create family-oriented detective programs, although if ITV want something for their gentle 8pm Sunday night slot, call me. My thinking was really that a reporter was a good “in” for a criminal case because they don’t get bogged down with the procedures, and then once I decided to romantically involve him with a detective, there was a good conflict, as he will want to know about her cases, and she won’t want him to know. So it was the conflict that attracted me, not the family-setting.

Any thoughts of Robert Wagner now means that I can no longer write that yachting scene with the dark-haired leading female character.

: That would be very prudent. Apart from
offending the Natalie Wood fan club, I’ll have you know that yachting scenes of any description are no longer in vogue within crime novels ever since Robert Maxwell fell off one.
Your last novel 'Beyond Evil' featured an anarchistic cult presided over by a man with a beard. Why are cults always led by bearded men? Both the Manson Family and Virgin Media are prime examples of this. Anyway, if you grew a beard and ruled over your own personal cult what would you call it? And what would its aims be other than free love, infrequent bathing, drug abuse and heavy drinking?

White: The beard was an intentional nod to Charlie Manson, and in fact the first draft had him called Charlie Mason, but I thought that was a nod too far. I find the Manson Family thing fascinating because of the way people responded to his barmy ideas, but I suppose the sixties were a bit like that.

Didn’t Jesus have a beard and head up a cult? It must be something to do with hair. I wondered where David Bellamy had disappeared to.

If I had my own cult, it would be based around brew your own beer and watching films into the early hours, where I am hand-fed chicken tikka and required to sample my disciples latest brewing efforts. As for a name, it would be the cult with no name, thus fooling the authorities during internet searches.
(Editor - blimey, you've really thought this out!)

McQuade: Now then, just to see how knowledgeable about the law you really are, here’s a real brain teaser. There is a tree situated on the burial plot directly adjacent to mine but the branches are overhanging my grave and blocking the view of my favourite electricity pylon. Now bearing in mind this is merely ahem.... a hypothetical question and not in any way a billable query - do I have the right to lop off my dead neighbour's branches? And if he kicks up a fuss can I have him exhumed and cremated? Both plots are east facing if that makes any difference.

White: A lot would depend on ownership. You are entitled to lop off overhanging branches, to the extent of the overhang, provided that you return them to the neighbour’s land. This means that you can lop off the offending branches and then pile them onto the neighbour’s plot, thereby making it more difficult for him to reach his bony raggedy hand through the crumbly topsoil as the clock strikes midnight.

McQuade: Excellent. I’ll have my personal handyman M.R. Hall over with his chainsaw next week to do some trimming back.

Your books are very firmly rooted in the crime genre. Is this because you actually enjoy this sort of sordid subject matter? Or did your agent advise you to go down this commercially exploitable route in order to procure more clients? If that's the case, what sort of books would you rather be writing? If not, then what inspired you to write in this Penny Dreadful style of genre? And please accept my apologies, it's been at least three questions since I shouted, You Slag!!! A clear breach of CID etiquette.

White: My only goal was to write a book I would want to read, and I read commercial crime fiction. My crime writing came before I got an agent, and so there has been no redirection of my writing preference. If I had to write in another genre, I think it would be horror, and there is often a crossover, because horror is often crime fiction but where the villains are the dead ones, not the victims.

McQuade: Objection! Not all dead people are villains and we resent being stereotyped as such. Some of my closest friends are dead and many do good works such as running marathons and sponsored home-baking for charity. Barbara Cartland even lends out her old wigs to a bird sanctuary for nesting purposes.

Sorry, getting on my high-horse there. Where was I? Ah, your novels are generally set in Lancashire but you were born in Yorkshire. If a new War of the Roses broke out tomorrow which side would you fight for?

White: Yorkshire. White rose blood to my boots, and we still owe them for the murder of Richard, the last Yorkist thing, who of course suffered the greatest indignity of all: ending up in Leicester.

The beauty about writing about Lancashire is that I don’t feel any compulsion to be nice about the place. If I set it in Yorkshire, I would go all James Herriot.

On the M62 travelling East, there is a white rose on a stone plinth, and I always salute it when I drive past. You’ll know the location, as it gets suddenly beautiful after it.

Having said all that, I have developed a fondness for Lancashire. It’s a patronising fondness, the way one might give your dog a treat at the dinner table, but there are parts that are very attractive. And I’ve developed an urge to live on a canal barge and roam the waters. On the whole though, I think the pretty parts more as the Yorkshire foothills.

McQuade: Excellent. In that last answer you managed to insult those very few people in Leicester who have internet access and might read this, a whole swathe of James Herriot’s readers, as well as the entire county of Lancashire. My own personal legal man, Mr Baldwin from Burnley, will no doubt be in touch to serve you with a handful of writs.
Last question and then we’ll throw you back in your cell for a nifty beating with wet towels. You’ve come up with some pretty shady characters in the course of your writing. When I wrote my best selling book Invergallus I was far too lazy to use my imagination and simply wrote about people I knew and in truth didn’t even bother changing their names. Most of them can’t read and the few that can don’t own a Kindle which ensures I’m perfectly safe from any legal action so don’t even bother offering your services. Are your characters drawn from the sort of low-life scum you deal with in your day to day duties as a criminal lawyer? By low-life scum I am of course referring to your fellow lawyers and rent-boy addicted judges.

White: I have never used an actual case, but I have used snippets of them, or asides that I’ve heard. My publisher was a big fan of the phrase “murder carpet”, because it has been commented on that dead bodies found indoors always seem to be found on faded carpets with brown swirls, so whenever one appears in a crime scene photo, the words “murder carpet” are often used.

I have used some of the lawyers I’ve known as characters, although never favourably. I work on the assumption that because they are so self-absorbed, they won’t recognise the unfavourable traits as their own.

Can I have a drink of water now?

McQuade: Of course you can have a drink of water. Once it’s been wrung from those wet towels we intend beating you with. Anyway, many thanks for taking the time to speak with me and as a parting gift I’d like to present you with an artificial leg. These things can come in very handy especially when getting drunk and impersonating Rolf Harris.  Now then Constable, you can take the prisoner away and for goodness sake don’t let him fall down the ……  (crash, bang, wallop) ………….stairs. By Jove, how does that always seem to happen in police stations? 

Visit Neil White's web page

Buy Neil White's latest book 'Beyond Evil'

Friday, 1 February 2013

Dead Man Talking # 17 - Arne Keller

Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Arne Keller

When I first published a novel called 1-2-3-4 on Kindle, one irate reader sent me back a complete manuscript with all the typos highlighted and corrected (including all the obscure Glasgow swear words) which was seriously impressive especially as the reader was Danish. However this was no ordinary Dane. Step forward Arne Keller, book translator extraordinaire at Danish publishing house KLIM. Strachan McQuade was just itching to have a chin-wag with this talented, beady-eyed, multi-instrumentalist, erm…. actually come to think of it Strachan itches most of the time on account of his festering skin-rash. Hopefully he didn’t leave too much flaky flesh behind after his jaunt to Denmark.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.
Arne Keller


McQuade: For today’s interview I’ve travelled all the way to Langelinje Pier in Copanhagen where the famous statue of the Little Mermaid sits on a rock brazenly flaunting her naked charms to all and sundry. Despite being almost 100 years old she’s still very firm and shapely and has never once subjected herself to the indignity of Botox injections. Take note Joan Collins. With me today is book translator Arne Keller. Hoi, stop eating pastries and pay attention, Keller. Now, obviously translating novels from English to Danish must be a painstaking task. (Editor – Especially if you don’t speak Danish…….. or English for that matter) So, out of curiosity how many books do you translate in a year?

Keller: Hello, Strachan, how nice not to see you. (Thanks to the wonder of the internet). As for the Mermaid, Strachan, you are in luck: No one has sawed off her head recently.  – Book translations have averaged two volumes a year since 2006; other than that, I have produced countless translations of cartoon movie and teenage-show dialogues for dubbing-purposes – that is, for Danish actors to read from. “Curious George” was one of the series. Another was a weird Australian one about girls turning into Mermaids when brushing their teeth or otherwise getting into contact with water.    

Martin Luther
McQuade: Book translation caused a pretty big uproar in religious circles during the Reformation period when Protestants claimed it was unfair for the Bible to be published in Latin mainly because they couldn’t understand a word of it. Martin Luther, I understand was a particularly poor student of the Roman language and consistently had F minus scrawled across his test papers which led to him nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg in 1517. As a young student attending Theological college I was much influenced by Luther and wanted to emulate his brilliant publicity stunt. Alas, I didn’t have 95 Theses to hand and made do with a copy of the Sunday Post. Unfortunately I also hammered the nail through the sleeve of my jacket and was stuck to the church door for seven hours before a janitor freed me with a claw hammer. Sorry, losing the thread here. I’m sure there was a question lurking in amongst this rambling. Ah, yes – have you ever been tempted to translate the Bible into Danish and change all the disciple’s names to things like Dagmar, Jens, Lisbet, Magnus, Ingeborg and Anker? Perhaps even rename it as The Killing IV.

Keller: I have indeed. Very sorely tempted. But as you probably don’t know, McQuade, the thing to do about temptations is to resist them. So, grudgingly I shelved the project. Would have been far too easy, anyway.

McQuade: My research team (Editor – That’s me) has discovered you are a versatile musician playing amongst other things, banjo, violin, and crumhorn, but not usually all at the same time. What other instruments do you play?

Keller: Other instruments: Highland bagpipes, lute and cornet. Sometimes at the same event (we have some odd events over here, believe you me!) Don’t tell me you didn’t know we were playing the pipes in Denmark? Go google – that should enlighten you.

McQuade: Did you ever dream of forming a band with my musical idol, Kenneth McKellar? As that would have resulted in the very catchy moniker of Keller and McKellar which does tickle my spleen somewhat.

Keller: No; but I once played in a duo with one John Kelly. That sounded kind of ticklish, too.

McQuade: Staying on the subject of music, please tell us who or what Gallywampus is. I saw it noted on your CV and thought it must be a Danish typo.

Keller: Gallywampus is a mythical creature, supposed to occur in the American Midwest. Could be extinct by now, though. The band borrowing the name certainly is. 

McQuade: I’m already aware that you have translated books for crime writer, Phil Rickman. What other writers have you translated for? And if you sometimes get stuck at certain words with local colouring do you just make some stuff up? Who would know anyway?

Carolyn Frusciante

Keller: Jeffrey Archer, George Soros, Mervyn Peake, Michael Chrichton, J. E.  Lovelock, Craig Russell, Rebecca Skloot.
Yes, of course I get stuck in cases of some local gobbledygook; then the trick is to think of some equivalent gobbledygook in Danish to replace it with. It has to be done with great taste, though. Who would know anyway? I’ll tell you who would know: Carolyn Frusciante would know. She understands Danish perfectly; she is the Deputy High Priestess of the Phil Rickman Appreciation Society, and she happens to live on the same island as me. So if I were to screw up, she’d be kicking my door in, pretty pronto, no doubt about that!   

McQuade: By Jove! I’ve had previous dealings with that Frusciante woman and I quite understand your reluctance to cause offence. Last time we met she kicked me on the shin and made fun of my favourite tweed jacket. I think she’d been drinking. Now then Keller - famous Danes include - Hans Christian Anderson, Viggo Mortenson, Brigitte Neilsen, Brian Laudrup, and Mr Lurpack who invented Danish butter. If you were to become a famous Dane what would you wish to be famous for? Please note, playing the crumhorn doesn’t count regardless of which nationality you subscribe to.

Viggo Mortenson
Keller: There is also H. C. Oersted, who discovered electromagnetism. And Valdemar Poulsen, who invented the tape-recorder! And Niels Bohr, who helped invent the atomic bomb … well, then there are some infamous Danes too, of course.
I think I would like to be famous for being a perfect gentleman. You see, in Denmark the definition of a gentleman is someone who is capable of playing the Highland Bagpipes – but desists.

McQuade: Were there any particular translators that inspired you to gravitate towards your  trade? And I won’t be accepting Babel Fish as an answer.

Keller: No. Not unless you consider the clowns writing tv-subtitles. I often thought: I can do better. So you don't exactly "gravitate" towards this calling: You soar. It's a hubris, presuming that you can do better than the next guy. But sometimes it works.

It was an author who inspired me: Mervyn Peake.

McQuade: Lastly, if you were stuck on a desert island with only one book to translate - which one would you choose?

Keller: Definitely Philip Gosse's: "The Pirate's Who's Who". It probably pays off to be prepared in this sort of situation.

McQuade: Thank you so much, Keller for a smashing interview. Please accept this pork chop which I discovered in a waste bin on the boat over here. With a bit of apple sauce it should do as a tasty treat for your tea tonight. By the way - you know that Gallywampus creature we were talking about earlier on? Does it have a big hairy body, with a dozen poisonous tentacles and a mouth full of razor sharp teeth? I'm only asking because there's one right behind you. No, honestly there is. I'd move pretty quickly if I were you...... Ah well, at least it left the pork chop behind. Waste not want not, I suppose.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Dead Man Talking # 16 - M.R. Hall

Strachan McQuade (Deceased) Interviews M.R. Hall

By far one of the best xmas presents I got thirteen months ago was 'The Coroner'  - the first book in M.R. Hall's Jenny Cooper series of crime novels. The note attached to the cover simply said, 'You're gonna love this.' And I did. So much so - I immediately dashed to my PC and downloaded the other two available books 'The Disappeared' and 'The Redeemed' to my Kindle as I was so impatient to get started on them. I finished these just in time for Hall's fourth novel 'The Flight' to be published. Then came the withdrawal symptoms. It's been a long year waiting for the fifth book in the series to appear with only a Jenny Cooper novella (The Innocent) to whet the appetite for the latest novel, 'The Chosen Dead' but it's finally going to be available on January 31st.
For those who haven't yet read M.R. Hall's books - Jenny Cooper is a coroner, part-judge, part inquisitor, whose job it is to determine the cause of death when required to do so. As an independent body, the coroner's office is answerable to neither the police or the government and the coroner holds the power to convene inquests and question witness's. This sort of literary landscape naturally allows Cooper to snoop around crime scenes and cause exteme discomfort to those who thought the bodies were safely buried either in soft earth or under reams of legal paperwork.
As an established screen writer, M.R. Hall's writing credits include, Kavanagh QC, Dalziel and Pasco, New Street Law, and Blue Murder among many others. Hall's experience in this field is most likely the contributing factor in keeping the reader's nose firmly pressed to the pages as the storyline unfolds like a snarling paper tiger. This is someone well-versed in pace, rhythm, and creating fascinating characters, as well as the dynamic relationship between dialogue and action. More importantly, M.R. Hall instinctively knows only too well when to pause for a commercial break or just the right place to end a chapter so you can go make a cup of tea to steady the nerves.
As usual, Strachan McQuade, was keen to hold his own inquest into M.R. Hall's writing. The verdict? You can find out for yourself below.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.

McQuade: This week on Dead  Man Talking I've hired a swanky courtroom to hold an official inquest into my own death and in particular - what weight of responsibility lies with M.R. Hall whose Jenny Cooper novels have made such a weighty impact on the reading public at large. So today I shall officiate as Public coroner and cross examine this M.R. Hall fellow to see what he has to say for himself. Time to get this show on the road.

McQuade enters the courtroom and bangs his gavel on the desk.

McQuade: All rise for his majesty the coroner! Thank you. Now sit down again, all except you, Hall. You can step into the witness box and answer some taxing questions. I imagine you’ll know the drill by now, so hop up and swear yourself in, or if you'd prefer, just state your star sign and favourite beat combo.

Hall: I thought you’d start with an easy one. I’ve got Bach, The Inkspots, AC/DC and LMFAO on my ipod, so what does that tell you? Stick Bon Scott, Django Reinhardt and Beethoven together and you might just hit my spot in one. Oh, and I’ve got a guilty sideline in Gospel Bluegrass. It’s niche, I know, but check out a little ensemble called Blueridge and tell me you’re not hooked.

McQuade. I sincerely doubt if Blueridge will come anywhere near the melodic genius of Kenneth McKellar but I’ll give them a spin on my radiogram and let you know. Very good, now the formalities have been taken care of - let’s commence with the hearing. And stand up straight please when I'm pontificating, Hall. I’ll have no slouching in my court room, thank you very much. Now, I'll be the first to grudgingly admit your fictional coroner, Jenny Cooper, is a smash-hit success, but let's be honest. The woman is a pill-popping, mentally unstable, divorcee with a taste for younger men and irresponsible driving. And to make matters worse - she's also a solicitor!

The courtroom erupts in indignant cat-calling forcing McQuade to bang quite a bit with his gavel.

McQuade: Silence in court! And would someone please remove that large gun-totting killer robot? I don’t permit Cylons in court either. Now then, Hall, in your own words, and without any coaching from your legal team, please tell me why you thought Cooper was a viable protagonist as opposed to, say - a respectable, happily married housewife who excels at home-baking and leaves difficult tasks like driving to her husband.

Hall: Jenny Cooper came at me out of the Wye Valley mist. When I sat down to write the first novel I thought it was going to be about a bloke called Jim Cooper who in my mind’s eye was a little bit like Jim Broadbent – a quiet, decent sort of chap who gets jolly niggled when he encounters an injustice being swept under the carpet. Then this woman turned up with a full set of baggage and took over. I just went with her because after ten years writing TV scripts to order, she as a liberating taste of freedom. Some readers ask if I’m in love with her. No, she’d be a bit too hot me for to handle.

McQuade: Jim Cooper? So she’s also had a sex change? By Jove! It just gets worse. Moving on, and I have to advise you that you are still under oath, please consider the following facts. Fact one. You spend much of your time writing from a woman's perspective. Fact two. If you speak aloud the initials M.R. very quickly it sounds like one of the Spice Girls. With that in mind, what sort of manly hobbies do you undertake to counterbalance this infusion of feminine frippery? I myself indulge in Kung-Fu Karate Cribbage which I've found reinforces my inner self image of myself as a physically robust yet intellectual ladies’ man. On the downside it does cost me quite a few bob replacing all those shattered cribbage boards.
Hall: Well, I live in a house surrounded with woods, and I spend most weekends with a pair of chainsaws cutting firewood (my pride and joy sports a monstrous 48 inch bar and 125cc engine) and a selection of axes. I’m also a bit of a hill running nut and hang out with a bunch of sweaty blokes called the Monross Trailblazers. Did the Snowdonia Marathon last year and doing another one in June. Also a bit of an amateur engineer – I run a hydro-electric turbine off my stream and am always tinkering with spanners and grease-guns. Currently sitting at my writing desk wearing a pair of steel toe-capped Husqvarna logging boots. And if you want more proof of manliness, I’ve just written a movie script called ‘Bareknuckle’ set in the bloody world of prize fighting circa 1810. I do however win prizes at the Llandogo village flower show most years, not least for ‘heads of hydrangea’.

McQuade: …………………… (speechless)

Hall: Manly enough for you?

McQuade: (blustering) Well, um, I suppose that’s an acceptable answer of sorts. It’s hardly Kung-Fu Karate Cribbage but I will make a note that the court recognises your inherent manliness, although the village flower show confession may have been a mistake. Now, I do so enjoy reading about Cooper's buxom assistant, Alison, who constantly strives to keep her drug-addled boss on the straight and narrow, and isn't afraid to tick Cooper off when she's being impertinent and disrespectful to police officers above the rank of detective sergeant. I do find this bosomy Alison character a most alluring creature and wondered if she was based on any particular real-life female as I believe I could show her a good time by escorting her to shinty matches and garden-centre tea rooms. So then, Hall. Is she real? And can you pass on my PO Box number?

Hall: She would certainly give you a good time if you treated her nicely, I’m sure – she’s currently on the look-out for a better offer. Alison isn’t based on anyone in particular, rather she’s like some female detectives I came across in my very earliest incarnation as a criminal barrister – a bit conservative, doesn’t like to step outside the rules and hates any woman more than a few pounds lighter than she is. Alison has still got it and is determined to hang on to it. I will endeavour to help her. Be prepared for a shock in The Chosen Dead, though – Alison features heavily in its climax.

McQuade: Climax? Stop being sexually provocative, Hall. I still consider myself to be a man of the cloth and the church of Scotland doesn’t approve of women, especially a buxom temptress like Alison, being associated with climaxes of any sort. It’s indecent and ungodly. My best selling book 'Invergallus' contains no climax of any description and reads all the better for it.

Feel free to accept council from your QC before answering my next question. As a screen writer well used to seeing your creations come to life on the small screen, I assume you have your own short-list as to whom would be the perfect actress to bring Jenny Cooper to life. I myself can easily imagine Scottish pop singer, Moira Anderson, (with the benefit of heavy make-up) playing the role. But this is obviously a subjective preference  - so tell me Hall, who is currently on your flaky-coroner radar to undertake the role?

Dominic West
Hall: In the unlikely event of television commissioners being wise enough to bring Jenny Cooper to the screen, my first choice for the lead would be Emily Watson. She’s a wonderful character actress and did a brilliant job in Appropriate Adult alongside Dominic West playing his namesake Fred West (though DW’s Gloucester accent went all Somerset – though he could do Baltimore for Pete’s sake!).

McQuade: Can’t say I noticed. The subtle nuances between Gloucester, Somerset (and even Baltimore) accents are as confounding and mysterious to me as the ritualistic dogma of the Catholic church. One last question and then we'll break for lunch and perhaps a bit of a lie down if I have pudding. Your latest Jenny Cooper novel 'The Chosen Dead' is published at the end of January (AD 2013). Can we expect to see Cooper continuing with her gadabout lifestyle and narrowly avoiding serious traffic accidents through sheer luck and happenstance rather than skillful driving manoeuvres? - or will she be a reformed character and at least give poor assistant Allison a wage rise and a clothing allowance? In other words, please state for the benefit of the public what the book is all about.

Hall: Funny you should mention car accidents – there is one! I had better watch that tendency in the book I’m currently writing. The Chosen Dead starts with the assassination of an entrepreneurial microbiologist in 1982, skips to the bloody defection of a Soviet scientist in 1989, and collides both events with the present when Jenny investigates a fatal plunge from a motorway bridge. Jenny’s gadding goes into overdrive as she discovers some very spooky connections that lead her into the world of biotech and its close cousin bio-weaponry. My expert advisers started out very enthusiastically, but gathered up their skirts in fright and ran for the hills when the story premise they helped me create actually went down on the page. I scared myself researching this one and learned far more than I wanted to about the many ways in which we might one day wipe each other out.

McQuade: I do hope that’s not a veiled threat, Hall. I’ll take the liberty to point out that nasty microbes pose me no danger whatsoever as I’ve already shuffled off my mortal coil and indeed, am considered by some to be a potent bio-weapon on my own. However – I must thank you for your time. Don’t forget to claim your lunch expenses. Additionally, we always like to give our interviewees a small gift. By sheer co-incidence I have this 24 foot chainsaw which I bought by mistake from Ebay. Thought I’d ordered a luxury rickshaw. So have fun with it and always remember to observe the safety instructions.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz (sound of chainsaw)

McQuade: No! Don’t start it up in here, Hall! That blade hasn’t been secured properly and ……………… Oh. Very messy. Could someone please hose down the witness box. Just put the bits in a box and we’ll sort them out later. If his agent calls we’ll deny everything. The verdict is misadventure. Court dismissed. Run!

Buy M.R. Hall's new book 'The Chosen Dead'

Visit M.R. Hall's Web Site