So on Wednesday evening I ventured east to Edinburgh for the launch of Thunder Bay by Douglas Skelton. Regular visitors to the blog will know that I am a big fan of Douglas and his work, and I think this might well be his best book yet. Released by his new publishers Polygon (who get a shout out for providing wine at the launch!) on 7th March, you can see my review here.
Anyway, Wednesday's event was hosted by Blackwell's Bookshop in Edinburgh, and Douglas was quizzed by friend and fellow crime author Neil Broadfoot. And when these two get together, you know it's going to be a fun night!
This is Douglas' eighth novel (he has also written 11 non fiction true crime books) The four Davie McCall books and the two Dominic Queste ones, all set in Glasgow and last year's The Janus Run which was set in America. All of these are action packed, full of guns and fights, with black humour running through them (particularly the Dominic Queste books). Thunder Bay is very different from all other these. Neil asked about the change in direction. Douglas replied that he'd wanted to push himself. He had never had a female protagonist before, so wanted to do that. Thunder Bay introduces us to Rebecca Connolly, a twenty something journalist. And having moved away from Glasgow with The Janus Run, he wanted to invent a place which he has now done with the Scottish island of Stoirm (Gaelic for 'storm').
Neil asked Douglas about what research he did for this book. As a former journalist, Douglas didn't need to do much work on that, but did have to update his knowledge on current procedures. He explained that whilst Stoirm is fictional, he has visited many of the Scottish islands and all of them influenced him in the creation of Stoirm. And he moved Schiehallion (meaning 'hill of the fairies) from Perthshire to the island. He researched island vegetation, sought help with the Gaelic language and looked at legends and folklore from all over Scotland and used some of it in the story. And he moved something that actually happened on a group of Scottish islands onto Stoirm.
He talked about how it was for him writing something so different. He has always followed the Raymond Chandler suggestion of two men with guns kicking down a door. Things here are very different. Things that happen in Thunder Bay are more introspective, claustrophobic and sinister. The story starts dark and gets darker, and he did worry it would be too dark in places. At one point, he walked away from it for a while. His usual response to darkness is to inject some humour, but that has also been toned down here. He said he looks at it now and wonders who wrote it, which raised a laugh from the audience because Neil had been joking all along that someone else must have written it!
Neil asked Douglas about planning. From hearing these guys speak before, I knew neither were big planners, but Douglas surprised everybody by explaining that there was literally no planning for him! He just had an idea about a guy coming back after a long time to an uproar. He didn't know the story, the ending or who was involved. There were times he finished up for the day with no idea where it was going next. He can't jump around the story either, and there's alot going on here, he just has to keep going.
As it is so tonally different from his other work, Neil was interested if he had done anything different from usual when writing this. Douglas always listens to music when he is writing, often film scores. But he changes what he's listening to depending on what he's writing. In this case, he listened to Rachmaninov's Isle of the Dead & work by Sibelius.
The audience was interested to hear how he found writing a female protagonist because, as Douglas himself pointed out (to much laughter), he is not a twenty something woman! He found that it came organically as he wrote. He didn't want her to get into trouble where she would need the help of a man. Mainly she's a conduit and the jeopardy happens to other people around her. He was careful not to sexualise her, or get clumsy when writing about her, as many lesser male writers do when writing female characters. For the record, he's very successful in this.
Finally, Neil asked Douglas if he had written this as the start of a series. That hadn't necessarily been the plan, but Douglas realised when writing that it could be a series. The next one won't be set on the island, but will have recurring characters and a mention of Scottish folklore and history.
Of course, there was lots more discussion than is covered above, together with great questions from the audience, lots of jokes and loads of laughter. Amongst all the fun Douglas talked at length about the book and the work that went into writing it, without giving away any spoilers, obviously!
The audience all enjoyed it, and Douglas chatted to many of them and signed books.
If you missed Wednesday's event but would like to hear Douglas speak about Thunder Bay, it's not too late to reserve a space at tomorrow's Glasgow launch in the Mitchell Library. The link is here. Straight after that, he will be joining C L Taylor and Anna Mazzola for an Aye Write panel featuring books set on Scottish islands. You can buy your ticket for that here.
And if you would like to purchase Thunder Bay, and I heartily recommend you do, you can do so here.
Finally, the copy of Thunder Bay at the top of the pile above, which is signed, could be yours if you enter my forthcoming giveaway to celebrate my first blog birthday! Details to follow soon so watch this space.