Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Festival, jobs and books and stuff

It’s been a while since I blogged and – having nothing better to do than count the amount of snow outside and wait for the central heating to be fixed – I thought I should redress that with a four-month round-up. Or at least as best as I can remember.
In mid-August I did an event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival along with Gillian Galbraith, author of the Alice Rice series. It was my debut in terms of standing up in front of people and making a fool of myself, well in a professional capacity at any rate. Public speaking isn’t really my kind of thing – frankly I’d rather have my nuts eaten by a squirrel – but I think I just about got away with it. I was mildly terrified and under-prepared, apart from a couple of pints of Guinness with my agent Stan, but I settled for just talking nonsense. Gillian and I weren’t exactly helped by our panel’s chairman opening up the discussion to questions from the audience with 35 minutes of the hour still to go! I had to revert to the (then) day job and start interviewing Gillian in order to keep the gig jogging along. Thankfully she was more than able for the task and we managed to pull it off.
Also in August, the big news was that I signed a new two-book deal with the fantastic folks at Simon & Schuster. Book three is contracted to be delivered to S&S by the end of June 2011 and published a year later. The book four dates are a year further on. Actually, saying that book three is due at the end of June reminds me that I haven’t actually started writing it yet…
The timing of the new book deal was near perfect as just a few days after signing the contract, the chance came to take redundancy from the day job. I’d been in journalism for 21 years and the chance to write novels full-time was just too good to turn down. I took the money and ran before they could change their mind. Am I missing journalism? Nope.
The second draft of book two was duly delivered in November – with the addition of an extra 27,000 words amidst the rewrite – and final notes for a tidy-up are to be sent by my wonderful editor Maxine this week. This revision business is all new to me and I’m enjoying the process – or at least I am until I see Max’s latest set of notes…
This week should also see a title settled on for book two. We are down to a shortlist of five as far as I’m aware. I’m still backing my own choice so it’s time for some bargaining.
Next up is the paperback release of RANDOM in February, the same month that the German version hits the buccheregale.
That’s all folks. Nick Clegg is on the telly and I have to go and shout at it and him. Bye for now.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Drogba in, Dagger out

I asked if it was a dagger, I saw before me and now I’ve got the answer. Er, no it wasn’t.

The shortlist for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger has been reduced to a final four and – dagnabbit – I didn’t make the cut. Oh well, it was good while it lasted and anyway, I didn’t really have time to spend an evening in London drinking champagne with people off the telly. I’m pretty sure I’m washing my hair that night.
The final four comprises…

Acts of Violence, Ryan David Jahn (Pan)
Rupture, Simon Lelic (Picador)
The Holy Thief, William Ryan (Mantle )
The Pull of the Moon, Diane Janes (Robinson)

Congratulations and good luck to all of them. I’ll settle for trying to win the office fantasy football league instead. Which reminds me… Rooney or Drogba up front and will Milner start every week if he goes to Man City?

In other news, I interviewed Stuart MacBride yesterday for the day job. Top bloke, top beard, and it was just a pity I had to dash off to catch a train south again just an hour after we sat down.

He was even kind enough to take a copy of Random from me (well I foisted it on him to be honest) even though he has little chance of actually being able to read it due to a current workload that would shame a Dickensian urchin. The latest in his Logan McCrae series has been brought forward six months and by the time it hits the shelves he’ll have had four books published in 18 months. Ouch.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Crime writers called to the bar

The shortlist for the coveted, nay prestigious, CWA John Creasey Dagger (have I mentioned this already…) was announced at the The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate.

It was my first visit to the UK’s biggest crime writing fest and I must admit I was very impressed. There were more crime writers than you could shake a stick at plus a host of publishers, agents and readers.

Over 8500 tickets were sold over the course of the weekend to hear the likes of Ian Rankin, Jeffrey Deaver, Karin Slaughter, Christopher Brookmyre, Joanne Harris and Jeff Lindsay give the benefit of their writing wisdom.

Simon & Schuster were represented by Chris Carter (The Crucifix Killer and The Executioner), Jeremy Duns (Free Agent and Free Country), Chris Ewan (The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam, Paris, and Vegas) and myself.

Most of the time the authors, including such luminaries as Val McDermid, Mark Billingham, Peter James and Stuart MacBride could all be found within a few feet of the bar. This was a practice that I found particularly laudable, allowing as it did maximum opportunities to mingle with readers. Some authors showed dedication beyond the call of duty by staying at their post until last orders and beyond. If that is what it takes to be a proper writer then I am glad that I have put in years of serious training on that front.

Despite being responsible for thousands of deaths between them, the assembled crime writers seemed a very friendly bunch. They were always accommodating to requests for chats, book signings and photographs and genuinely enjoyed meeting the people who bought their works.

My own event at the festival was on the Saturday evening when I hosted a table at the Come Die With Me: Murder Mystery Dinner. It was a fun event where as well as enjoying dinner we had to find the murderer of Mark Billingham among a quartet of literary suspects. With judicious employment of deduction, experience, criminal psychology and dumb luck, we had no problem in identifying the killer as being Stella Duffy. When our expert reasoning was allied to outrageous flattery of Stella’s outrageous shoes, we sealed overall victory. I consider the prize of an XXL Theakstons t-shirt, some literary pencils and an Ian Fleming mug to be my first award as an author. For the avoidance of doubt, yes the t-shirt was far too big.

If any crime fan gets the chance to go to Harrogate next year, when I know some stellar names are already signed up, then I’d heartily recommend it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Is this a dagger I see before me...

I’m trying to play this as cool as possible while desperately attempting an air of casual indifference. But failing. Badly.

Last Friday, the shortlist for the 2010 CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger was announced and, whether by error or design, my name was there. I did a little jig in the manner of Riverdance (the post-Flatley years naturally) and then quickly looked around to make sure no-one noticed.

I suspect, like the other seven writers who have been shortlisted, that getting a book published was itself the realisation of a dream and anything that comes after that really is a bonus. So I’m taking this for what it is, recognition from people who care about crime writing and who must think I’ve done something right. The eight are reduced to a final four on August 9 and my editor Maxine has left me in no doubt how important it is to make the cut. After all it will make the difference between her getting a new frock or not. Fingers crossed, Max.

Reading about the others on the shortlist is a depressing task because they all sound excellent. My hopes for a couple of duffers in there just haven’t materialised at all. The list is …

Acts of Violence, Ryan David Jahn
Cut Short, Leigh Russell
Martyr, Rory Clements
Random, Craig Robertson
Stop Me, Richard Jay Parker
Rupture, Simon Lelic
The Holy Thief, William Ryan
The Pull of the Moon, Diane Janes

Congratulations and good luck to everyone on the list. I’ve a fair idea how much hard work has gone into each book and sincerely hope that all do well both in terms of the dagger and beyond.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Eyes snap shut

Yesterday, Tuesday June 29 at 5.33 pm I finished writing what I have always referred to simply as Book Number Two.

Now that it is finished – and I say hallelujah to that, not caring whether it is the Alexandra Burke or Jeff Buckley version – I can call it Snapshot. Although to be honest, right now I am just glad to call it completed.

How do you feel now that it is finished, I’ve been asked. Excited, proud? Nope. Absolutely knackered.

The overriding emotion is just tiredness. Sheer exhaustion, even. This wasn’t how I pictured it at all.

Maybe it would have been different if I hadn’t been writing it while also doing the day job. Or while watching the World Cup. Or being a naturally lazy sod. Or if I hadn’t let my deadline get quite so close before I finished.

The deadline was today. I hadn’t realised it would mean dead beat, dead tired, dead on my feet.

I ‘celebrated’ with a bottle of champagne, a smoked sausage supper and Spain v Portugal. Then falling fast asleep.

Romantic, it ain’t.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Unhappy happenstance

The title of this blog has never been more apposite, or more ironic, than in the past few days.

On the one hand, I’m the author of a thriller about a taxi driver who goes on a killing spree, murdering people seemingly at random. On the other, I’m still doing the day job as a reporter on a Sunday newspaper.

Last Wednesday, I was told to pack a bag and head for Cumbria – after a taxi driver went on a killing spree, murdering people seemingly at random. No shortage of blood and no shortage of irony.

I’ve been parachuted into “similar” situations often enough before but the odd parallels between my fiction and Derrick Bird’s reality made this slightly different.
Not that there was any time to consider the oddness of the coincidence as there was work to be done. This was a story of national significance and global interest and, whether people think it right or not, the job of the media is to report on it and that meant being there.

On Wednesday, reporters and photographers raced to west Cumbria as news of the shootings broke. By Thursday, Whitehaven and its surrounding villages were under siege by the press, me included. My remit was the stories of the bereaved and witnesses, what might be called the lost and found – those who lost loved ones or those who found the bodies of victims.

It’s a typically cavalier journalistic term, the kind of thing that gets you through a job like this where it doesn’t pay to become too involved, even if that is sometimes easier said that done. The dividing line between reporter and writer stands somewhere along that crevice, where one must remain detached as the other must make a connection in order to understand and therefore relate.

I stood, precariously, with a foot either side of the line.

It inevitably struck me how much easier it is to write fiction about someone being shot, revelling in all the gory detail, than it is to be confronted with the evidence of very real deaths and having to interview the lost and found. A photographer I know was one of the first on the scene and dashed from village to village, trying to record the mayhem as it unfolded. He personally found three bodies as he drove in the wake of the killer, just coming across them as they lay untended by the roadside, blood flowing into gutters, as the police concentrated on catching Bird.

A nice old gentleman that I spoke to, who from my parochial point of view had the added bonus of being Scottish, had to face the horror of one of the victims, a neighbour, being shot on his doorstep. He rushed to her aid but she had died immediately with half her face blown away, a situation that he described with remarkable understatement as “something that you don’t see every day.”

As part of my research for Random, I read extensively about serial killers including various tomes by psychologists who had conducted series of interviews with murderers. I know lots about trigger points and psychoses, Mad Emperor Syndrome, Fractured Identity Syndrome, Looking Glass Self and more.

I know the distinction between serial killers, mass murderers and spree killers – but then any fan of CSI could tell you that. I know the FBI’s Crime Classification Manual divide them into “organised”, “disorganised” and “mixed” killers. Their motives are generally categorised as being “visionary”, “mission-oriented”, “hedonistic” and “power or control”.

But does any of this give me a greater insight into why Derrick Bird embarked on his particular killing spree? Not particularly. As with Thomas Hamilton and Michael Ryan, Bird destroyed the most vital piece of evidence – himself. Without the opportunity to question him, all that is left is the tittle tattle of other taxi drivers, half stories of feuds and tax bills, taunts and vice girls. It’s all grist to the tabloid mill but is unlikely to ever give a definitive answer as to the Why.

It’s all so much simpler in the world of fiction. In Random, as in west Cumbria, there is never any doubt as to Whodunnit as the story is told by the killer himself. The Whydunnit unfolds in due course and all is revealed.

Being inside the head of my killer, The Cutter, was an uncomfortable place to be. Being inside the head of Derrick Bird might be too much for anyone and in the end, it proved too much for him.

Any way you look at it, there was far too much blood and far too much irony.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Yer tea's oot!

It’s penguin suit time tonight. The annual evening of backstabbing, fistfights, hypocrisy and prodigious drinking that is the Scottish Press Awards take place at a city hotel.

A brilliant piece of planning means that the good, the great and the greedy of Scottish journalism gather at 7 and there will be no food served until 9. I’d loved to have heard the discussion process on that one. “We’ll get them there at 7, have the awards and then a lovely meal at 9. What could possibly go wrong?”

Guess what this is a recipe for... take a large banqueting hall, add a couple of hundred Scots journalists, a few hundred bottles of wine, assorted beers and spirits, a two hour time frame, empty stomachs and a succession of deadly dull awards.

Got it? Yes, it’s a recipe for disaster. It will be carnage.

The last time I attended– the time after which I swore I’d never go again – I disgraced myself by asking a particularly irritating award winner outside to discuss the finer points of fisticuffs after he failed to respond to more gentle requests to shut up and go away. I rounded off the night by telling my editor exactly what was wrong with the newspaper and why most of it was his fault. I told him this despite him politely asking me not to on three occasions. It seemed like a good idea at the time. It wasn’t.

Tonight there will pomposity, obsequiousness, aggression, drunkenness, more aggression and the inevitable bit of one two buckle my shoe. And then there will be food.

Tomorrow, bacon rolls and brown sauce. On prescription.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Book signing, signing books

It’s a pretty strange deal being a sort of author. I used to think I wouldn’t consider myself a proper one until I was actually published but now that I have been I’m waiting until it’s translated into Portuguese and made into a movie starring Danny DeVito. At the moment it feels like a two-sizes too big jumper that I’ll need to grow into.

People ask questions to which I have no idea what the answers are. Things like “how are sales going?” or “when will the second book be finished?”. How am I supposed to know?

That’s not say that I know nothing. I know that trying to do a day job and complete a book to deadline is hard work. I know that what seems like a good plotline at midnight is likely to appear duff at breakfast. I know that I have no time for breakfast. I know that David Cameron is mutton dressed as ham but that’s not entirely relevant.

I’ve also learned the difference between a book signing and signing books. The former is something that is done by proper authors, the latter is what the likes of me do. It involves a book and a pen but does not involve interaction with human beings. The publicity team arranged signings at various Waterstones and I had vague ideas of an orderly queue of people forming and me asking if it is Cathy with a C or a K (whether their name was Cathy or not). It’s not like that. You sign a pile of books and the shop stacks them and sells them. Glitzy it ain’t but it’s a suitable antidote for an inflating ego.

On Monday I went to HarperCollins warehouse in Bishopbriggs to be a faced with a table groaning under the weight of 350 books needing a signature. The very sight of so many copies of Random threw me a bit, having never previously seen more than a dozen together in one place. An hour and a half later, the table was no longer groaning but I was. In the process, I learned something else new – that a hardback book is a bad back book. Two hundred of them were hardbacks for a specialist collector shop and so had to be dated as well as signed. Trying to remember the date and write it at speed isn’t as easy as you’d think. Well, not once your brain turns to mush.

Anyway, I’m writing this blog entry while waiting for a cop to phone me about a serial killer, a real one. This is the bit where I have to be careful to distinguish between fact and fiction…

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Why doesn't it always rain on me?

It’s a wet old day in Raintown. Raining down on all those tired eyes and tears and frowns. You know it’s a wet Tuesday when you find yourself quoting Deacon Blue lyrics.

It’s not all bad though. When Glasgow is grey and miserable, i.e. 83% of the time, then it’s much more conducive to crime writing. The remaining 17% when the sun shines and all is warmth, sweetness and light then it is harder to conjure up the image of the victim face down on the pavement or the blood leaking into a gutter on Argyle Street.

Today, no such problem. All is puddles, potholes and pissing down. My mind’s eye sees bleakness, bodies and blood. It’s great.

I’m currently about halfway through the follow-up to Random and this evening will be spent on pursuits of kidnap and casual murder. I’m considering a bullet through the head in front of the new(ish) flats at Glasgow Harbour although other venues are available on request. There’s something about death juxtaposed with regeneration (but hopefully not quite as arsey as that sounds) that is pretty interesting. New builds but still the same old Glasgow. Let’s face it, you can’t beat the romance of a murder in the shadow of the Finnieston Crane.

My main character in the second book is a police photographer and a miserable day on Clydeside is his perfect landscape. In fact the more misery the better as far as he is concerned. He prefers to shoot in black and white and the beauty of a day like this is that everything in the city is already monotone. He’s Oscar Marzaroli with a taste for photographing blood. Nice guy though.

Happy and glorious, long to rain over us, doggone Glasgow.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Roll on lunchtime

You really should be able to get bacon rolls with brown sauce on the NHS. Having woken on day two of authordom with a hangover courtesy of overly celebrating day one, there was only one possible cure. Nothing else, except the unavailable option of more sleep, would do the trick.

Bacon rolls are a panacea for all alcohol-induced illnesses with the possible exception of liver disease. I don’t know if it is the bacon, the roll or the brown sauce but I’m pretty sure that complete efficacy can only be achieved by the combination of all three. Scientists should do tests.

Look, it is a basic tenet of the National Health Service to provide medical treatment “free for all who want to use it”. I want to use it. I want not to have a hangover. I want bacon rolls. It’s why Nye Bevan set the NHS up in the first place.

Feeling politically disenfranchised as I am, I offer this opportunity and advice to all parties. Make bacon rolls with brown sauce available on prescription and you will get my vote and the votes of millions of others. I say all parties but this offer does not extend to the Conservatives. My hangover’s not that bad.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Falling trees

Do you think it’s unreasonable to want people to buy a book but not actually read it? I don’t think it’s too much to ask but my publishers just can’t get on board on this one. Simon & Schuster seem adamant that people reading the book is pretty much a mandatory part of the author-reader dynamic.

I’ve got to say that they are being unnecessarily difficult in this regard. I don’t see why people can’t just buy Random (available in all good bookshops from April 1) then leave it in a prominent place on their bookshelves with a mental note to read it one day because it is probably really good.

They could also tell their friends about it, on the understanding, of course, that they wouldn’t read it either. I’m thinking of it as a “must buy” book rather than a “must read”. It could be a whole new genre. Like trees falling in the forest without making a sound or whisky being bought by collectors who will never drink it.

Or else maybe I could just limit it to friends who could be trusted to say nice things about it even if they aren’t true. Hm, not sure my publishers would be happy with that option. And come to think of it, most of my friends will tell me if they think it is crap. That’s it settled, they aren’t getting to read it either.

As if things weren’t bad enough, I’ve now got to get out from behind my keyboard and go into the real world to meet real people. I’ve been told that there are five book signings lined up for the middle of April at various Waterstones stores. With my luck, some of those that the books are being signed for will want to read the thing. Can’t they just look at the signature? Some people are never happy.

Cold feet? Who, me? Nooooo.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

First Things First

An introduction and an explanation.
My name is Craig Robertson and I am, variously, a journalist, a writer, a traveller, a drinker and a plumber. As of April 1, it seems I can add “author” to this list although until that actually happens then I am still working on the basis that this is all some kind of cruel trick. If my publishers jump out from behind the settee on the day after March 31, screaming “April Fool” then someone’s going to get a slap.
If it doesn’t turn out to have been some elaborate hoax then my first, and perhaps only, novel is due to be out soon and I’m a bit excited. It’s called Random but then if you are reading this then you probably already know that. This blog will detail the unfolding delights/horrors of that debut novel as well as the trials and tribulations of the difficult second book. The follow-up is called Snapshot and has to be completed by June 30. That is a date which is suddenly a whole lot closer than I’d like and I’m around 40,000 words short of finishing so be prepared to read quite a lot of panic between now and then.
Random is a serial killer thriller set in Glasgow and has already been described as “not for the faint hearted”, “this will repulse and sicken some people” and – my personal favourite – “this is the first time in all my years of reading that something has left me feeling actually physically sick”. I am probably prouder of that than I should be.
Those kind words will give some indication of the use of the word Blood in the title of this blog. The reason for the word Irony might also become apparent.
To be fair (to me) other reviewers have written nice things about Random without reference to sickening acts of violence and psychological disturbia. Come on, there are some jokes in there as well and the thing with the screwdriver wasn’t that bad really.
Snapshot is, or hopefully will be, another Glasgow-based thriller with its fair share of dead bodies and there will be more of that in the months to come. Either that or there will be a display of random letters as I batter my head against the keyboard. In the unlikely event that things go to plan, it will be out in April 2011 and will also be published by the wonderful people at Simon & Schuster.
Apart from ramblings about books past, present and future, and all that surrounds it, this blog will also contain thoughts on black pudding, plumbing, whisky and other stuff. That other stuff will almost certainly include politics, sport, beetroot and the blood spatter created by a Heckler and Koch G3A3 from a distance of 400 metres.
The blog exists to allow me to fill in the gaps between writing and the day job and to provide a bit more information in the off chance that someone has read Random and wants to know a bit more. It is a shameless attempt at self-promotion and a desperate effort to sell more books. You can’t blame a man for trying.