I first came across MR (Michael) Mackenzie at an Aye Write event in Glasgow in March. He was on a panel with fellow crime writers talking about his debut novel, In The Silence. Since then, the follow up, Cruel Summer, has been published and the final book in the trilogy, The Shadow Men, comes out next year. And in The Silence was longlisted for the prestigious McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2019 and is shortlisted (with four others) for the inaugural McIlvanney Debut Prize for Scottish Crime Debut of the Year 2019, which as many of you will know is a pretty big deal. The winner will be announced at the opening ceremony of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in Friday 20th September.
|Crime writers Caro Ramsey, MR Mackenzie, Neil Broadfoot & James Oswald at the Aye Write Book Festival in March 2019|
Tomorrow I will be sharing my review (you can see it here) of In The Silence, but today I am delighted to welcome main character, criminology lecturer Dr Anna Scavolini to the blog for a Q&A. She's sharp as a tack and doesn't suffer fools gladly, and I fear she thought some of my questions were frivolous nonsense, but she was played along anyway and gave some fantastic answers. First, a bit about the book...
DISCOVER A STUNNING MYSTERY THRILLER FROM THE DEBUT AUTHOR EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT.
LONGLISTED FOR THE 2019 MCILVANNEY PRIZE FOR SCOTTISH CRIME FICTION.
Anna hasn’t set foot in Glasgow for ten years. And for very good reasons…
When Anna, a criminology lecturer, does return to Glasgow from Rome, during the coldest winter in memory, tragedy strikes. While out with her best friend from school, Anna has a chance encounter with a former flame, Andrew, and later that night discovers him stabbed and dying on a blanket of snow.
Soon Anna finds herself at the centre of the investigation as the star witness for the police, and embarks on investigating the case herself. But Anna doesn’t realise the danger she is in and soon finds herself in trouble.
When another body shows up, who has links to the first victim, it appears that the motive may lie buried in the past.
As Anna gets closer to the truth, the killer starts closing in.
But can she solve the gruesome mystery before the killer strikes again?
In The Silence was published by Bloodhound Books on 10th September 2018 and you can purchase it from Waterstones, Amazon UK and Amazon US.
Welcome to my blog Anna and thank you for answering my questions.
So, the more serious stuff first:
Tell us a bit about your family and growing up.
I’ll give you the broad strokes if you insist, though I’d much rather put the past behind me and concentrate on the here and now. Not that I had it bad – far from it. I grew up in Kelvindale in the 80s and 90s. My parents weren’t loaded but they were certainly comfortably off, and we lived in a big old house near Great Western Road, just a stone’s throw from Glasgow’s West End. I was an only child, but if you think that means my folks lavished me with hugs and attention, you’ve got another think coming. I don’t mean to say they were unloving, but they weren’t given to strong displays of emotion or affection. They weren’t overbearingly strict either, but they had very definite views on how the world should be, and from an early age I realised those were views I didn’t share. I’m afraid I was a pretty precocious child. Back then, I thought I knew everything, and I had a bit of a tongue on me. To be honest, I still do have a bit of a tongue on me, though I like to think I’m a bit more aware of the limitations of my knowledge these days. Try to outmanoeuvre me on a subject I know inside out, though, and I’ll crush you.
How did you meet Zoe and why do you think you became friends?
We met on our first day at secondary school. Our first period was Art, and the teacher had everyone pair up so they could take turns being the model while the other drew them. Zoe and I were the only ones left without a partner – me because I always freeze whenever someone tells me to do the ‘find a partner’ thing and Zoe because she was the only person there who’d gone to Ruchill Primary and didn’t know anyone as a result. As for why we became friends, it’s very simple. Instead of drawing me, she drew an enormous cock which revealed a far more detailed knowledge of the male anatomy than a twelve-year-old ought to possess. When the teacher asked her what she thought she was playing at, she said she was exploring her creative boundaries as an artist. I realised straight away that I needed someone like that in my life.
She’s quite a character - you know her better than most. How would you describe her?
Zoe? She’s mad – completely and utterly stark raving mad. She’s also one of the kindest, most genuine human beings you’ll ever meet. And she’s extremely perceptive. A lot of people listen to the way she speaks and make the mistake of thinking she’s a bit dense, but in reality she’s one of the smartest people I know – certainly a lot smarter than a lot of people I could mention who were born with silver spoons in their mouths. True, she doesn’t always think things through, and that sometimes gets her into trouble, but everything she does, she does with the best of intentions, and I honestly wouldn’t have her any other way.
And what do you think Zoe would say about you?
Probably that I’m a humourless tight-arse who needs to learn to let her hair down once in a while! Actually, I like to think she helped bring me out of my shell in our teenage years – like, her being so outrageous gave me licence to be a bit more adventurous myself. For example, I remember this time when we were teenagers and we went on a day trip to air. It was November and absolutely blowing a gale, and we were the only people on the beach. And all of a sudden Zoe turns to me with this glint in her eyes, and she’s like ‘You and me are goin’ skinny-dipping.’ And before I know it, she’s busy taking off her clothes like she’s on the clock. Of course, I tell her it’s a bad idea, that we’d both catch our death, and anyway, there’s no way I’m doing it. And she just looks at me like this and says, ‘Well, if I’m goin’ in, you are.’ (Sigh.) And of course we both went in, and of course the wind got up and blew our clothes all over the beach so we had to spend ages hunting them down, and of course we both spent the next week in bed with pneumonia… but do I regret it? No. Sorry, I think I might have shared a little too much there.
I know you left Glasgow for various reasons but why did you choose Rome? And why criminology?
I’d imagine, from my surname, you’ve probably guessed that I have something of a familial connection to the place. My grandparents on my dad’s side are Italian; my mum’s are German. I’m fairly fluent in both languages (though I’ve been told my German has a ‘hilarious’ Kelvinsider’s twang), and I knew I wanted to study outside Scotland, so it was a toss-up between Italy and Germany. Ultimately, though, Italy won out because of the cuisine, the architecture and the culture, and also because the Sapienza University is home to one of the best sociology programmes in the world.
As for ‘why criminology’, it’s because I care about justice. I realise that might sound kinda hokey, and people are going to be like ‘Yeah, OK, we guessed that. Now what’s the real reason?’ But it’s the truth. For as long as I can remember being aware that society was an unequal and unfair construct, I’ve wanted to change it, and, given my disposition, a career in academia always made far more sense than one in the judiciary or the police. For me, it’s all about gaining an understanding of the factors that lead to crime, particularly gender-based crime, and using my position to affect policy change in the areas I care about.
By the way, I also know some people are going to read the book and conclude that a certain formative event in my teenage years pushed me down the path of criminal justice. It might have crystallised matters for me, and I’m sure it played a role on the particular strand of criminology I ended up specialising in, but the truth is I’d already made up my mind what I wanted to do with my life long before that happened.
What was it like coming back after ten years away?
Well, on my first night back in town, I stumbled over an old schoolfriend bleeding to death in Kelvingrove Park, and pretty quickly found myself getting involved in the hunt for a serial killer, so it wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. But it did make me realise something: that Glasgow is and always has been home, and that I’ve still got unfinished business with the place.
You certainly get yourself in some scrapes and tight spots. Do you think you’re attracted to trouble?
Absolutely not. I’d much rather live a quiet life, just me and my research. I’d far rather research crime than become involved in it! But, as I’ve already indicated, I can’t abide injustice, and I also can’t bring myself to sit on the sidelines and watch while something I know is wrong is happening. That temperament has got me into trouble before, and I’m sure it will again.
And now for the fun stuff:
What music do you listen to?
I don’t really know much about music, to be honest. My appreciation of it tends not to run much deeper than ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like that’. When I was growing up, I relied on Zoe for my musical education – she always knew who all the hot bands were and had bootlegs of all the latest chart stuff. She even persuaded me to come with her to a Cranberries concert when they played at the SECC in 1996 – my first and only gig experience. It was too loud and someone spilled beer all over me. Come to think of it, it might have been Zoe.
Are you currently reading anything? If so, what?
The life of an academic means that I’m reading constantly, whether it’s new books or journals published in my field, or students essays and dissertations… though I suspect that’s not the answer you were looking for. To be honest, I don’t have much time for novels and never have. I’ve always struggled to read fiction. Try as I might, a voice at the back of my head just keeps saying, ‘Why are you bothering with this? You know it isn’t real. Haven’t you got something better to be doing?’ If I’m looking to lose myself in someone else’s life, I much prefer films. They’re less of a time investment, and I can suspend my disbelief with them far more readily than with words on a page.
And who is your favourite author?
I could name any number fellow criminologists who impress me with their insight and ability to present a persuasive argument, but I suspect the number of people reading this who’d actually have heard of them would be fairly low. If we’re excluding academic writing, though, I did once get given a book of poems by Christina Rossetti as a birthday present, and I can remember sitting upstairs in my room, reading it from cover to cover in a single sitting. It’s been years since I last looked at it, but a bunch of them have stuck with me – ‘Goblin Market’ especially.
What three things would you take to a desert island with you?
That question suggests I would have actually chosen to go to a desert island, and I can’t see that ever happening. I’d go spare, stranded in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. Sorry, I’m really not the the best at answering these sorts of questions, am I? To be honest, you’d have been better off getting Zoe to do this instead of me… I suppose, if you put a gun to my head and forced me, I’d say sunblock, my laptop and enough unmarked student essays to keep me busy until I could finally get off this bloody island of yours. Can you tell I’m a fun person to have at parties?
If a movie was made about that crazy time in 2009, who would play you?
I can’t imagine anything worse than someone making a film about those events. Honestly, I reckon the people who enjoy that sort of thing need their heads examined. (Same goes for people who read crime novels – you’re all mad!) But, if there has to be a film, I’ve been told I look like Laura Fraser, and she has the advantage of actually being Scottish. Knowing my luck, though, I’d end up with some leggy American doing an awful Glaswegian accent.
What else can we expect from you?
I took a bit of a back seat for the events of Cruel Summer, which details the tumultuous events Zoe managed to get herself mixed up in over the summer of 2013. I’m back front and centre for the next book, though. It’s called The Shadow Men and I’m hoping it’ll see the light of day at some point in 2020. I can’t say much about it now, except that it will contain elements of conspiracy, police corruption and long-buried secrets coming to light. And, of course, a body. Perhaps more than one...
Thank you so much Anna for stopping answering my questions!
In addition to writing, he works as an independent producer and has overseen Blu-ray and DVD releases of films by a number of acclaimed directors, among them Dario Argento, Joe Dante, Hideo Nakata and Jacques Tourneur. He has contributed chapters to books on cult cinema and regularly provides video essays and liner notes for new releases of cult films.
You can find out more by visiting Michael's website, or by following him on Facebook and Twitter.