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

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Dead Man Talking # 15 - Terry Hopwood-Jackson

Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Terry Hopwood-Jackson

On A May Morning
Almost four years ago I got an email from a strange bloke with a beard called Terry Hopwood-Jackson asking me to provide him with the chords for songs on an album called Songs From Lucy's Cottage. This was the first Lol Robinson & Hazey Jane II CD I'd recorded with Phil Rickman. Having already forgotten all the chords by that point I moaned a bit and then made some pretty little pictures of the weird and wonderful chord variations that made up the songs, emailed them off and waited to receive the high praise I deserved for going to so much time and trouble. Instead I got a reply from Terry telling me my dinky little chord charts were worse than useless as he was blind. Oooops. To cut a long story short - we struck up a very firm friendship and did eventually devise a way to for Terry to play those songs. He even travelled all the way to Kinnersley Castle where Hazey Jane II were playing a gig to play guitar with the band and then turned up at Kentchurch Court (posh gigs, eh?)a few years later to grace us with his presence despite not being invited that time. (Only joshing, mate)
It transpired that Terry was more than musically gifted. He told me that before losing his sight he was an artist but had refused to let this setback stop him from continuing with his work. I checked out his paintings on the web and WOW - check them out yourself. Amazing stuff. I used one of his paintings (Moon's Tune) for the last Candy Seance album and plan on using another (On A May Morning) for the new one. Recently I thought it would be interesting to introduce Terry to Strachan McQuade. Not sure if Terry will ever speak to me again.

Terry Hopwood-Jackson

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.

McQuade: I thought it would add an artistic dimension to this interview by locating this week's Dead Man Talking in the Grande Galerie of the Louvre directly beneath the Mona Lisa's enigmatic smile, as today I'll be talking to blind artist Terry Hopwood-Jackson, which I suppose makes a change from listening to tone-deaf musician Allan Watson. (Editor - Hoi, McQuade. I heard that) I've now been waiting here for over half an hour for Hopwood-Jackson  to arrive. How rude. I did draw a very precise map for him to find the location and ......... ah, just realised my error.

Never mind, here he is now being escorted by two irate gallery curators who probably found him skulking in a broom cupboard somewhere. Welcome to Dead Man Talking, Hopwood-Jackson. My very first question to you is - 'In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is King'. Have you ever sworn kingly allegiance to any one-eyed men you may have bumped into? I once did shake hands with the fellow with the eye-patch from Dr Hook but didn't go as far calling him Your Majesty. I did also vote for Gordon Brown but that isn't the same thing. By the way I'm over here Hopwood-Jackson, that's a statue you're about to talk to.

Hopwood-Jackson: McOy! and my encrusted slavering slave Hypergob – my pc’s irreverent, but not irrelevant, speaky-type voice thingy, has taken a McLook at yer McQuestions and we thinks you need to get McReal!  McChristmas has been and gone, twas ever thus, so I’m going to turn a blind eye to your McPantomime routine; “he’s McBehind you”, et al!  So, if these two goons will let go (here THJ clubs the curators about the head with two soggy leg ends; Nick to the right, Lol to the left), then we can get on with this whole rigmarole!...and to answer your question, I did bump into a tall type person with only one eye or so I thought and it was only after swearing very regally, that I found out later that it was a lamp post!

McQuade: Ha! I'm standing behind you now. Took off my shoes and crept round while you were talking. Now, I suppose the question everyone wants to know is how you manage to produce such inspired paintings. What's your secret? I promise I won't tell anyone. Also, what artists have been your influences over the years?

: (yawns) Wake up and smell the coffee Mac, cos I can smell your endearing fragrance – Essence of Haggis No. 8 is it? – and it gives the game away, especially that rank shank of venison in the corner. 
Well, I guess at this point, you’re expecting a really seereeus answer to your kwestchun, so here goes. (Editor - are you sure that voice translator gizmo is working properly?)
I spend a hell of a lot of time thinking about it and when I’ve finished thinking about that, I spend a hell of a lot of time thinking about my paintings.
I have to pare things right down to the basics and as well as working initially with the canvas on the floor, I also have to visualize how the painting will look when it is upright.
I draw/sketch out my picture with a thin line of plasticine then, apart from the use of pure paint for the sky, for example, I build up the painting with textured areas of plasticine.

But lately, because for whatever reason, the plasticine does not always hold to the canvas, I am, yet again, rethinking my technique and will possibly have to use a medium (Editor - Doris Stokes? Surely not?) – no, not that kind – to thicken the paint so I can apply it with more tactilation.
My main problem is trees, trees and yet more trees.  I love landscapes, but they always feature trees and these are becoming decidedly more difficult to represent realistically and they have a habit – or hobbit!...are they ents? – of coming away from the canvas, hence the rethink.
Well, I don’t know whether they’ve inspired me, unless subconsciously or subliminally, but my favourite artists are: Constable; Munch; Modigliani; Matisse and Magritte – and a few others.  There are also composers who do inspire me: E J Moeran; Vaughan Williams; George Butterworth for my landscapes and Erik Satie for my nudes.

McQuade: Actually, I'm over here now. I wandered across to look at this interesting painting of a lop-sided parrot. Tell me, as an unsighted artist, it must be difficult knowing which colour to apply to your work. How do you accomplish this? Perhaps all the colours have a different odour or maybe you simply use the first one you pick out the box?

Hopwood-JacksonActually McQ, it’s the wall upon which it hangs that is lopsided, not the parrot! 
Anyway, I make sure my paint tubes are brailled up – dat’s de dotty way we total blinkos read – so I know which paint is what.
I could and have used the paint – acrylics by the way, less messy – straight from the tube and paint blind, but as I try to be as representative as possible, I ask my sighted partner to help mix the colours to those I remember.

McQuade: Ha ha. I'm not even in the same room any more. Slipped next door to look at the Venus de Milo. Hang on. (sound of running feet) By Jove, where's he gone? Ah, sorry, wrong room. (more running of feet) Here we are! I'm told you not only paint but also indulge in a spot of writing. Obviously a man of many talents. What do you write about? And how do you know if your pencil has become blunt?

Hopwood-Jackson: Hang on and Venus De Milo don’t go together as she hasn’t any arms, so I guess you grasped her busty protuberances, no doubt!
Well, my writings aren’t in the same league as an, erm, (here THJ dips into his jiggle bucket)  an Allan Watson type author
(Editor - but who is?) and they’re a whole millennia away from the sort of stuff he writes.
They are stories for children, aged five to eight years and they tell the adventures in which three young hedgehogs become involved.  Yeah, I know, but I don’t care, I still believe in the Age of Innocence.
I have written four such stories and am working on two others and I am considering putting them up onto Kindle, once I have found an illustrator – I can no longer see to do line drawings – and hopefully, I think I have found an illustrator; Mairead Reidy.
Other than those, I have written poetry in a balladeer kind of way, nonsense verse  and short stories.

McQuade: Think we’ll pass on the balladeering poetry. The curator is drawing us dirty looks and tapping at his watch. Must be about to chuck us out. So one last question. Do you know where the toilets are? I forgot to pack my catheter and I'm desperate to urinate. While I'm gone you can talk into my Dictaphone about where people can go view your unusual techniques on creating art.
Hopwood-Jackson: Much more preferable than talking to your dick!... (Editor - Did he really say dick? Disgraceful!) and let’s check out those drawings he’s done.  Okay, for those not of a nervous disposition and a staple diet, my picturesque dabblings, plus a whole host of other delights, can be found at:-
And please, when you leave, please turn out the light.  Thank you.

McQuade: (Shouting from toilet) By Jove! – that was quick, I'm still dribbling away in here. Anyway, thanks for talking to me Hopwood-Jackson. In appreciation I'd like to present you with an old Betamax video player. You'll never notice the difference in picture quality anyway. Just as soon as I wash my hands and wipe down any splash-back stains my trousers I'll lead you safely to the exit. In the meantime don't go near that modern art display featuring a tank full of man-eating sharks and killer squid .........................


McQuade: Funny how these interviews so often end up this way. Hmmmmm. Wonder if I can palm off this Betamax player to MR Hall.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Dead Man Talking # 14 - Stephen Booth

 Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Stephen Booth

One writer whose books always feature highly on my Must-Have list is the hugely impressive Stephen Booth. His crime novels set in Derbyshire featuring Ben Cooper and Diane Fry are strangely addictive given that much of the action takes place on the rugged moorlands of the Peak District and surrounding locale. Who on earth would commit cold-blooded murder in sight of so such breathtaking landscape? You’d be surprised. These stylish thrillers have a habit of luring the unwary through bleak and wind-blasted terrain where without the guiding voice of Booth, it’s conceivable you might never make it back. Unlike other more sensationalist police procedurals, these aren’t novels for those who like to wallow in blood-spattered crime scenes. There’s always likely to be more Gore-Tex than gore in Booth’s writing – but its his writing strength and the depth of the characters that capture the reader’s imagination – not reliance on shock tactics. His latest Cooper and Fry novel ‘Dead and Buried’ once again takes us to high, lonely places where rock formations loom out the mist like evil gargoyles. Before reading it I suggest you prepare a sensible packed lunch, wear sturdy footwear and make sure your map reading skills are up to scratch - as in a Stephen Booth novel there’s no predicting what sort of twisted path the tale might lead. As usual, Strachan McQuade fancied himself as the man for the job talking to Stephen – with any luck he’s still stuck up a hill somewhere. Erm…. McQuade that is, not Booth. 

Stephen Booth
Strachan McQuade R.I.P

McQuade: Welcome to another Dead Man Talking. Today I've gone rambling through the dales in the Peak District National Park and trudging along wearily beside me is distinguished crime writer, Stephen Booth, best known for his Police Procedurals featuring those diametric opposites, Diane Fry and Ben Cooper. Oh do try and keep up, Booth. I'm not one for Sunday strolls you know. Anyway, about these characters of yours. Ben Cooper is a plodder. Steady and methodical. A safe pair of hands. Diane Fry however is a woman with a fractured sense of self esteem. She seems to be Cooper's darkly skewed reflection. A get-up-and-sock-it-to-them over-achiever. Did you deliberately set out to create such conflicting characters or did they simply evolve? Maybe best if we stopped to let you catch your breath first.

Booth: At least I've got breath to catch, McQuade. Actually, I was up here not long ago with a group of readers, giving them a tour round some of the locations used in the most recent Cooper & Fry novel 'Dead and Buried' (there's a hint in that title for you, by the way). And I can tell you none of those readers could keep up with me on these hills. Not bad for a man of 105! As for Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, their personalities developed very quickly once they'd appeared on the page. When I set out to write the first book in the series 'Black Dog' I only knew three things about my central characters. I wanted them to be young and junior, since there already seemed to be enough middle-aged alcoholic inspectors in crime fiction (naming no names here). I wanted one of them to be the local lad who grew up in the area, and the other to be an outsider from the city, which gave me to two contrasting pairs of eyes to explore the Peak District setting. And I chose a male/female duo, but decided to do a bit of gender reversal to make them a bit more interesting to write about. So Ben became the sensitive, caring one, and Diane more hard-edged and aggressive. There are reasons from her past to explain why she's turned out that way, of course. You have to read the books to discover those reasons. But I'll tell you one thing - you'd never get Diane Fry up here for a walk. She has a serious aversion to cow pats. I see you don't mind them yourself, since that's the third one you've trodden in.

Strangely Shaped Rock
McQuade: Glad you noticed my deliberate cow pat treading strategy. I’m breaking in these new walking boots for Mark Billingham. Thought it would add a certain authenticity to them. Now, you've named some of your books after rock formations found on the surrounding landscape. On the moorland near the village where I was raised there was a series of peculiarly shaped rocks known as the Spongy Fish, the Devil's Laundry, the Weeping Anus, and the Caramelised Onion. Are there any rock formations around here you definitely wouldn't include in a book title?

Booth: No, they're all reserved as titles for the appropriate book. The Caramelised Onion sounds like a companion volume to The Half Chewed Gristle, which is my forthcoming cookery book. I love the names of these rock formations, because they're often very sinister. It gives you an idea of what dark imaginations our superstitious ancestors had. It's a gift for a crime writer like me who's trying to explore the darkness lurking below the surface. These rural areas often have very murky histories.

: Hand me those binoculars, Booth. I think I've spotted a very rare Whistling Fulvous Duck. I wrote a book about them, you know. I did intend to be meticulous in my research but when I discovered it was taking up far too much of my valuable time studying their breeding habits I blasted a couple of the blighters with a shotgun and then glued one in a sexual pose behind the other. Looked very authentic in the photographs. Then I simply made the rest up. I imagine most non-fiction books are written that way. Here, take the binoculars back and if I find there's boot-polish circles around my eyes when I get home you'll be in hot water with your publisher. Have I asked you a question yet? No? Hang on while I think of something. Right, what's all this about you once being mistaken for Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper? You didn't at any time seek employment as a lorry driver did you? Or, heavens above, consort with and murder prostitutes?

Stephen Booth
Booth: Mmm. If I admitted to one out of three, would it sound bad? Actually, they never let me drive the lorry, only unload things off the back. The Yorkshire Ripper thing was just a coincidence of time, place and facial hair, plus the fact that I used to drive around West Yorkshire and Great Manchester at night, not getting home until half past three in the morning. I can’t have been up to anything disreputable, because I was working for the Daily Express at the time. In any case, I wasn't suspected by the police of being the Yorkshire Ripper, but by my wife. So that was perfectly all right. Since writers like to use everything life throws at them, the experience got me interested in the psychology behind murder. I soon discovered that the vast majority of murders aren’t committed by serial killers, but by someone in the victim's family, which I thought was even more scary, and much more interesting. So that's what I'm writing about in the Cooper & Fry series - why ordinary people find themselves in circumstances where they might commit a murder. Their reasons are endlessly fascinating. Do you know you've got boot polish round your eyes, by the way?

McQuade: Blast! I knew it! You can never trust a crime writer. Don't you ever feel tempted to write a standalone novel? Or do you feel your readership would rise up and send you hate mail, an example of which would probably read, ‘Dear Stephen, we hate you. Yours faithfully. All your loyal fans.’

Booth: What makes you think I don’t get hate mail already? I've managed to upset quite a few sections of the population over the course of 12 books. Mountain bikers, morris dancers, Mancunians, Stoke city fans… I was once accused by a reader of "a gratuitous use of geocaching", which is probably a unique crime (and no, there's nothing sexual about it, McQuade). Readers really are very loyal. So as long as they want to keep reading about Cooper & Fry and I've still got new ideas for stories, I'll probably keep writing about them. That's not to say there aren't any standalones waiting to appear. Keep your eye out for those in the future!

: I would keep them open if I hadn’t rubbed at that boot polish. My eyes are fair stinging. Ah, it’s no use. Have to take them out when I get home. Well, that’s enough walking for today. I’ve just called for my helicopter to come pick me up. Wish I could offer you a lift back but the spare seats are taken up with my well-stocked picnic hamper. Sorry about that. While we wait I may as well ask you one last question. If you were to find yourself hopelessly lost on these moors and only had one book to read while waiting to be rescued, which one would it be? Please don’t cheat and name one of your own as that would lower this conversation to the level of blatant advertising.

Booth: I couldn’t lower the conversation any more than you have already. But my book would have to be Douglas Adams' 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy', which always makes me laugh. Also, I like the fact that Adams got the idea for it while lying drunk on his back in a field, looking at the stars  Oh, and I've got news for you, McQuade. The pilot isn't going to let you into the helicopter with all that cow muck on your shoes. You’re going to be travelling home hanging from a rope underneath. Enjoy the hamper.

McQuade: I’m bungee jumping all the way home? Good Lord. Every day brings a new experience. Tell you what, for making the effort and walking all the way out here to this desolate God-forsaken moorland I’d like to leave you with a little gift. It’s a novelty compass without a needle and on the back it says Get Lost, Booth. Hilarious, eh? If you’re not home by next weekend I’ll send a letter to the Park Rangers. Second class of course. Right, here comes the helicopter. Mind you don’t stand too close to those lethal rotor blades……….. Oh dear. Guess you won’t be needing a haircut any time soon. Join me next week when I’ll likely be interviewing someone far less famous. Up, up and awaaaaay!

Buy 'Dead and Buried' on Amazon

Visit Stephen's Web Site

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Dead Man Talking # 13 - Simon Maginn

 Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Simon Maginn

During the second half of the 90's one of my favourite writers was Simon Maginn, author of such psychological horror masterpieces as Sheep, Virgins and Martyrs, A Sickness of the Soul and Methods of Confinement. Virgins and Martyrs in particular was such a disturbing yet beautifully written classic of the genre that I've now bought and read it three times over the years. It's one of those books you feel obliged to thrust upon friends and demand they read it and then get furiously annoyed when they don't give it back...... ever! However, just when it seemed Simon Maginn had established himself as one the country's best chiller writers he mysteriously vanished off my book-radar. I assumed he was yet another tragic victim of the horror cull that kicked in with the millennium - when entire shelves of horror fiction in bookshops were marched off under cover of darkness to be replaced with wimpy, romantic vampire drivel that made teenage girl's padded training bras heave with unrequited squishy ardour. I hope Bram Stoker burns in hell for what he unwittingly inspired. But all was not lost as far as Simon Maginn was concerned. He popped up from nowhere a few years back with a brilliant novella called Rattus published in the collection, Feral Companions. Since then I've discovered he's also been writing satirical comedy under the name Simon Nolan and published As Good as it Gets (Quartet Books 1999), The Vending Machine of Justice (Quartet Books 2001) and Whitehawk (Revenge Ink 2010). To say I'm highly honoured featuring him on Dead Man Talking is a gross understatement. I thought it would be great fun to have Strachan McQuade conduct the interview in a facsimile of the ruined Brighton Pier in tribute to the novel, Virgin's and Martyrs. But it turned out McQuade much preferred to honour Methods of Confinement instead. Sorry about that, Simon.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.
Simon Maginn

McQuade: Today on Dead Man Talking I’m having a chin-wag with author Simon Maginn. Thought it would make things more interesting by conducting this interview in a recreation of a scene from Simon’s novel Methods of Confinement. That’s why both Maginn and myself have been tied securely to cane chairs set inside a pokey garden shed at the bottom of a big garden. Hope those ligatures aren’t causing you any painful chaffing, Maginn. No? Then let’s begin.

During the 90's you published four excellent novels of disturbing psychological horror. Sheep, Virgins and Martyrs, A Sickness of the Soul and Methods of Confinement. Then you vanished. Where did you go? And did you remember to leave a note instructing someone to feed the cat?

MaginnFeed them? I was assuming that a transdimensional super-being would have figured out how to open a tin of Kit-e-kat by now. You know, McQuade, I sometimes wonder if cats really are our masters. What would happen if we all just rose up and threw away our tin openers? What then, eh? ‘Here you are, oh Great and Wise One,’ you could say, ‘here’s your Kit-e-kat. In a tin. Still feeling superior, are we?’

Well I don’t know what happened about the books really. There’s always this presumption that you’re going to carry on doing more and more of whatever it is you’ve done before. But I never felt that very strongly. I just had a few things I wanted to get off my chest, and then job’s a good ‘un. Sometimes there’s nothing more to say, and that’s about where I got to after number four horror book. There just wasn’t a number five. I started writing different things. There’s a postscript, a horror novella called Rattus, which came out two years ago, after a gap of, what, fifteen years? I have no explanation for any of it, I’m afraid. The cats made me do it.

McQuade: Ha! That old excuse. As a man of the cloth, whenever I got caught with my hand in the biscuit barrel (that's a euphemism for larking about with some flighty HRT-driven parishioner) I just told my wife that God made me do it. It's amazing how easy some women are to fool.

Your remarkable debut novel Sheep was made into a movie starring Sean Bean and Maria Bello. Unfortunately they (the producers, not Bean and Bello - who sound like an ice-skating tag team) seemed to have mislaid the original plot and even released the movie under the title of 'The Dark'. Thankfully there were still a few murderous sheep wandering around to tie things in with the book. How did you feel about the rewriting? We're you incandescent with rage or did you take a more fatalistic view of matters and pocket the money with a don't-care shrug? Damn, I have an itchy nose. Whose stupid idea was it to have us tied up like this? You go ahead and answer while I try to get my penknife out of my pocket. That's not a euphemism. I really do have a penknife in my pocket.

Maginn: Oh well. Worse things happen at sea, as my dad used to say. He was never prepared to be drawn on this, but I later formed the impression from various seafaring gentlemen of my acquaintance that he was perhaps referring to the food? (Editor - or maybe the Flood?)

I have good things to say about the The Dark: handsome-looking film, fine performances generally, a standout from Abigail Stone as the eerie Welsh girl, excellent second unit, some really powerful punch-in-the-gut images, terrific score. Some knockout moments.

And you know, it’s quite difficult to make a film. You need cameras and, well God knows what all else really, and actors and stuff, and so it’s no wonder it all goes hideously wrong sometimes. I mean, I have trouble just opening tins of Kit-e-kat sometimes, and that’s much easier than making a film. It’s mostly in focus, you can mostly see what’s going on (just about), and it’s mostly the right way up. So easy to criticise, but let’s praise what we can, eh?

I try now to think of the film as a ‘response’ to my novel, and that way I feel fine about it.

McQuade: Still no luck with the penknife I’m afraid. By Jove! My leg’s gone completely numb and this rope may have snagged on my catheter. Please excuse any resultant leakage of fluids and the smell of ammonia. Breathe through your mouth, I find that always helps. So, tell me Maginn, where did Simon Nolan the comedy writer spring from? Was he always lurking around the edges of your previous writing? Or were you just big fan of The Nolans, that insipid girly group who didn’t want to make waves. I always hoped they’d end up performing on a cruise ship that got stranded in the doldrums. I’d like to see them refuse to make waves in that situation.

Maginn: You know what makes me angry? Really angry, I mean? People who say The Nolan Sisters. ‘Oh I did used to love The Nolan Sisters,’ they say, ‘who could resist the madcap caprice  of I’m in the Mood for…’ I say, ‘Listen,’ I say it in this special, quiet voice I’ve got, like Ray Winstone, I lean in close and I kind of whisper it, right into their little pink ears, I say, ‘I don’t care who you are,’ then I leave a little wheezy gap, ‘and I don’t care where you come from, it’s The ****ing Nolans. Not The ****ing Nolan Sisters. Now have you got that, or are you going to make me cut you?’ ****s.

OK, possibly The Nolans might not be your best bet for a becalmed cruise liner. Don’t get me wrong, fantastic bunch of girls, but, assuming the cruise liner is being held by gunmen - Somali pirates, presumably -  would you really want to put your life in the hands of a close harmony girl group whose unique blend of winsome charm and girl-next-door flirtatiousness won a nation’s heart? Wonder if you’ve really thought this through, frankly. You could get Steven Seagal for half the price.

As a quite brazenly self-aggrandising aside, I would just add that one of my Simon Nolan novels is shelved in Brighton and Hove City Libraries, not in fiction - but in the Local History Centre. Yes, McQuade; I am in history. How does it make me feel? Well humble, of course. But also, paradoxically, proud. Grateful. Historic. That kind of thing. Unworthy? Whatever.

McQuade: Local History Centre? In Brighton? Hardly counts for much does it? I imagine they've crammed you between an old Vespa Scooter and pair of Peter James's Italian shoes. Now, if you were to be found in the National History museum alongside the Magna Carta and Queen Bodicea's provisional chariot license I just might be impressed. I'll have you know that my old trousers were donated to the notorious Libertine's Lounge in Mussleburgh where I once held sway with my rakish anecdotes while spending the Sunday collection plate offerings on absinthe and haddock-burgers.

 Stop glaring at me, Maginn. Getting trussed like turkeys isn’t completely my fault you know. After all, if you hadn’t written that damned Methods of Confinement book we could be lounging in comfortable leather armchairs in my office and swigging whisky. So stop wincing and answer this…………. Erm, sorry, now I’ve forgotten the question. Tell you what, while I rock my chair back and forward in an attempt to loosen these bonds, answer this instead. What’s your favourite bird between a penguin and a puffin?

Maginn: I presume you mean in terms of survivability? You know, I’ve learned a thing or two about birds, and believe me, if you are going to survive an avian attack, whether by penguin or puffin, the one thing you must always remember is.............

Sound of crashing wood and thudding flesh

McQuade: Help, I’ve fallen over. Looks like I’ll have to finish this interview from a most disconcerting viewpoint on the floor. Oh, I do like your socks, Maginn. Bet they were a Christmas present. And by the way, your hands are turning blue. I’d try to wiggle your fingers around if I were you. Helps with the circulation. Now then, ‘Sheep’ has been re-released as an E-book publication, presumably to be followed by the others. Do you have any plans for releasing new work in E-book format? It can be a nice little earner you know. My million-selling Kindle E-book ‘Invergallus’ has allowed me to buy my own septic tank. Not having a garden it’s rather impractical but I do enjoy filling it with warm water and floating around in the dark and having my consciousness altered beyond any recognisable shape. Sorry, do you even remember what question I asked there?

Maginn: I’ve long thought septic tanks could do with a bit of a rebranding, to be honest. ‘Septic tank’. Does it fill the soul with quivering ecstasy, does it send the spirit soaring on winged horses of delight? It does not. We could perhaps re-niche them, get more of an aspirational feel going. ‘ShitStore’, for instance: that takes away all those ‘septic’ connotations, and introduces the concept of ‘storage’, thus at a stroke redefining and re-valorising the putative contents. Just a thought.

Yes, I probably will get round to ebooking the other titles at some stage. I’m self-pubbing these, as you mention, and so you have to be organised about it, and I quite often forget where I’ve put my end......................

McQuade: Done it! Free at last! Detachable legs can be very useful at times. Well, Maginn, that was a most interesting conversation. As convention dictates I've brought you a little gift to show our appreciation. It's a potato shaped like a horse. I've added a lock of hair to the thing and now you can boast you have the world's first 'My Little Maris Piper'. Here, catch. Ah, sorry, forgot you were still tied up. Now it's impaled itself upon the spikes of that lawn aerator. Don't worry I'll send another by post. Meanwhile you sit tight while I go fetch someone good at untying knots. No, don't tilt your chair like that................. By Jove! That lawn aerator is certainly seeing some action tonight. Best if I erm....... slip off. Bus to catch. Good luck with the books.

Visit Simon Maginn's web site

Buy Simon Maginn's books on Amazon

Buy Simon Nolan's books on Amazon 


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Dead Man Talking # 12 - James Oswald

 Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews James Oswald

For those of us who treat the pastime of reading with something close to religious fervour, finding a new author who ticks all the boxes on our own wish-list of personal preferences is a cause for much heel-clicking and waving of banners. One such author by the name of James Oswald came to my attention a few months ago. His best-selling Tony McLean crime novels set in Edinburgh rank up there beside anything written by Ian Rankin, Stuart McBride or Val McDermid. But what separates Oswald’s books from most other crime writers is the inclusion of a supernatural element to the books. The police procedural purists may grind their teeth or mump their gums at such an heretical inclusion, but adding a touch of the paranormal to the mix has never done any harm to the careers of other successful writers such as John Connolly or Phil Rickman.

James Oswald currently has two novels ‘Natural Causes’ and ‘The Book of Souls’ available in ebook form. Between them they’ve now shifted over 300,000 copies. An incredible figure that sparked off a five-way bidding war between publishers, a battle won by Penguin who will publish both books this year along with the forthcoming new novel ‘The Hangman’s Song’.

Strachan McQuade R.I.P.
Farmer James Oswald

McQuade: Welcome to Dead Man Talking where this week we are broadcasting live from a picture framing studio in the west end of Glasgow. It’s quite a nice place I must say, with all those lovely wooden frames just waiting for the perfect photograph or woodland landscape to set them off. It even smells intoxicating in here. Just breathe in that heady fragrance of freshly cut wood and newly applied varnish. Aaaaah. Lovely. So why here you ask? Where else, I reply. What better background setting could we have for our latest guest on Dead Man Talking. Please welcome James Oswald, writer and framer.

Oswald: I’m a farmer, actually. But I did a bit of woodwork at school, so I could be a framer if it helps.

McQuade: A farmer? Are you sure? It says right here……….. dash and damn. My mistake. Okay let’s cut. Change of background scenery please.

Two Hours Later

McQuade: Ha! It’s been ages since I visited a farm. 1962 to be exact when I spent a whole summer picking apples at Maggoty Latrine Farm. I should have been overseeing the spiritual welfare of my parish that summer but the Moderator had given me a two month suspension without pay for what he high-handedly termed unnatural congress with a horse. It was all an embarrassing mistake of course, and I’ve no intention of retelling that tale.

Now, Oswald - Having so much detailed knowledge of a working farm at your fingertips, not to mention your solid grounding in agricultural arcana, were you ever tempted to create a crime-sleuthing farmer who drives around narrow country lanes on a large tractor solving murders and robberies? Hmmmm, actually I quite like that idea. Might use it myself for a future novel. (Editor – Not if I can help it)

OswaldWhat makes you think I know anything about farming? I’m a framer, aren’t I? (Editor – now, now James no need for sarcasm. Anyone can make a mistake) Seriously though, there’s all sorts of interesting things happening in the countryside, but the crime tends to be of the stealing sheep and molesting chickens variety - not the most exciting thing for a story. Maybe I’ll send McLean out into the sticks for the next book and he can be chased across snowy fields by irate Highland Cows. It’s not as fun (or funny) as it sounds.

McQuade: Your highly successful Police Procedurals featuring detective inspector Tony McLean are set in Edinburgh. Was the city itself a contributing factor in the decision to add a chilling supernatural element to the books? I mean, it’s difficult to walk five paces in 'Auld Reekie' without barging through an organised Ghost Walk led by some drama student rambling on about floating heads in Mary King’s Close, or spectral Covenanters wailing in Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. And while we’re on the subject do you believe in ghosts?

Stuart McBride
OswaldThere’s only two cities in the world I know well enough to set stories in them: Edinburgh and Aberdeen. My friend Stuart MacBride had nabbed Aberdeen for his Logan McRae stories, so it had to be Edinburgh for mine. It’s a great place to set ghost stories, though. There’s so much history.

That said, the decision to write crime with a supernatural twist came first. DI McLean first came to light in a comic script I wrote on spec for 2000AD in the early nineties. He had a small walk-on role as the detective who could see the ghosts nobody else could see. I revived him for a couple of other comic scripts, and he’s been in two unpublished (and unpublishable) novels as an extra before getting his own starring role.

As to believing in ghosts? Well, I don’t actually believe in anything. For a man of faith such as yourself, that may be hard to fathom, but I prefer to keep an open mind.

Daphne Broon
McQuade: McLean was a cartoon character? Like the Broons? By Jove, maybe you could write Daphne Broon into one of the books for the sake of romance and comic resonance. Poor Daphne never seems to get lucky where boyfriends are concerned. Go on, there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house if McLean married Daphne Broon. Big, lanky Hen Broon could even be best man.

I did notice you like to include the names of your mates like Stuart McBride into the books. I also took such a liberty in my own best-selling book ‘Invergallus’ where I managed to name-drop the entire 1971 cup-winning Partick Thistle team who walloped Celtic 4-1. I’d hoped this subliminal tribute would result in me being presented with a free season ticket for Firhill to watch the Maryhill Magyars but so far, no luck.

But back to farming - I remember a farmer once complaining to me that his bullocks were far too hairy (Editor – Careful now, McQuade) and never winning any prizes at agricultural shows. So I invented a cream to denude them called Bull-Immac (patent pending). Never worked that well for the bulls but thousands of fat women trying to lose weight snapped it up in a trice. Anyway, seeing as we’re on a farm I thought it would be a lark to find out how good you are with animal impressions. I can do a very passable mallard duck in addition to any breed of piglet. Which ones are you good at? And please give a demonstration. Go on. I promise it won’t affect your sales figures. (Editor – He’s lying through his false teeth, James. This could end your writing career here and now)

Oswald: My sheep impression is world-famous Baa! I’ve also been working on my cow Moo! I can actually talk to chickens, but they’ve rarely got anything interesting to say.

McQuade: I beg to differ. I once owned a talking cockerel that could discourse upon many interesting topics such as collectable railway timetables and the construction of rude anagrams from the elements in the periodic table. Such a pity we had to slaughter the poor talkative bird when we got snowed in and ran out of chicken dippers and giblet mousse.

Now, many famous writers throughout history have sported beards. Off the top of my head I can think of Dickens, Plato, Tolstoy, Moses, and Barbara Cartland. John Irving had a bear, but that’s irrelevant. So, as the number one bearded writer, in Fife at least, how important is facial hair for writing best selling novels?

Oswald: My grandfather had a pet bear, and when it died he had it stuffed. When I was very small, my brother and sister used to pretend to feed me to it, which was quite terrifying.
What? Oh, you were talking about beards. Sorry. I’m not sure how important beards are for writing best-selling novels, but they’re very useful for storing little bits of food for later. You can let birds build their nests in them, too.

McQuade: Just to show I do my research properly, I’ve been Googling you and discovered you are also a Scottish cellist who was appointed as Chamber Composer for King George III and died in 1769. Hang about, that can’t be right…. Sorry, wrong James Oswald. Um……. and I suppose you’re not the James Oswald, one of Glasgow’s first MPs who snuffed it in 1853? Damn. Just shows what a load of rubbish research is. Come to think of it, Oswald, you don’t sound particularly Scottish at all. I get the distinct feeling you might even be from …..'Down There'. This could be a delicate question,  but please don’t be coy, are you Scottish at all? And if not, why are setting your massively successful detective Inspector McLean series in Edinburgh? Might explain why no-one ever eats square sausages and tattie scones for breakfast in the books.

OswaldOddly enough, both of those James Oswalds are ancestors of mine, as is the fellow who (for now, at least) has a statue in George Square in Glasgow. We used to be big in sugar and slaves when they were socially acceptable things for a merchant to trade in. Robert Burns even wrote a poem about my great something grandmother: Ode sacred to the memory of Mrs Oswald of Auchincruive. He was kicked out of the inn where he was staying to make way for her funeral cortege and for some reason took umbrage.

So the family is very much Scottish, but due to a serious error on the part of my father I was born in the south and sent to posh boarding schools down there where my broad Scottish brogue was beaten out of me by the older boys (jealous, no doubt). On the other hand, I did penance by spending ten years in Wales. And now I live in Fife, which as everyone knows is a kingdom in its own right and will probably undock itself from the mainland and sail out into the North Sea when independence comes.

I had an idea, long ago and never taken anywhere, to write a biography of a family name - a history of all the James Oswalds that have done things of note down the years. Maybe some day I’ll get around to it. It shouldn’t take long.

McQuade: No, probably not. Just hope you don’t forget to include your black-sheep second-cousin Lee Harvey Oswald who popularised the rise of public executions on live television. Thank you so much for taking part and I do apologise for our earlier misunderstanding. I would like to offer as a gift this vintage bottle of Worcester sauce. I did open it and splash a few drops on my square sausage a few years back but found it wasn’t to my taste. By the way I’d take a few steps to the left if I were you. That angry herd of cows look as if they mean business…………..


McQuade: Ah. Too late. Never mind, Oswald. Once they dig you out the mud and brush you down I’m sure you’ll be as good as new. Obviously those cows weren’t enamoured with your rubbish farmyard impressions. Best of luck with the new book and don’t forget my advice regarding Daphne Broon. And now if you’ll excuse me, thought I’d borrow your tractor to go do a little sleuthing. Cheerio.

Visit James Oswald's Web Site

Buy James Oswald's Books