I'm delighted to be interviewing bestselling Scottish novelist Craig Robertson for my blog today. A former journalist, Craig Robertson had a 20-year career with a Scottish Sunday newspaper before becoming a full-time author. He interviewed three Prime Ministers, reported on major stories including 9/11, Dunblane, the Omagh bombing and the disappearance of Madeleine McCann. He was pilloried on breakfast television, beat Oprah Winfrey to a major scoop, spent time on Death Row in the USA and dispensed polio drops in the backstreets of India.
His gritty crime novels are set on the mean streets of contemporary Glasgow. His first novel, 'Random', was shortlisted for the 2010 CWA New Blood Dagger, longlisted for the 2011 Crime Novel of the Year and was a Sunday Times bestseller. He is also the author of a series of novels featuring crime scene photographer Tony Winter and Detective Sergeant Rachel Narey; 'Snapshot', 'Cold Grave' and 'Witness the Dead'. I reviewed 'Witness The Dead' for my blog a while ago. You can read what I had to say about it here.
Let's get on with the questions for Craig...
How difficult are you to live with when writing a novel? Tiger or pussy cat?
Hmm, let me ask those who have to live with me… Okay, the answer seemingly is tiger. Bad tempered, grouchy, particularly in the morning, tiger. And apparently only tiger because there wasn’t an option for Tyrannosaurus Rex. I think this is unfair and possibly slanderous but fully accept that I’m rarely a pussy cat.
It’s clear from your tweets you’re a footie fan. Any plans to draw football into future novels?
None at the moment. I’m not sure that sport translates very well into fiction, particularly crime fiction. I now realise I’ve probably just insulted a few friends so they’re the exception to this. There was quite a bit of footie tweeting recently as we had a Scottish Crime Writers v English Crime Writers match at Bloody Scotland. It would be unfair to quote the result (*cough* 13-1) but it’s fair to say that the English guys were unlucky. A lot. And often.
No zombies, elves or chick-lit!
Do you see yourself branching into different genres? If so, which ones, and what do you find compelling about them?
I’m quite happy trying to get the hang of crime fiction at the moment without making things any more difficult for myself. Also, I’m not quite sure where I’d go if I did change tack as there’s a few that are no-go areas for me because I’m incredibly narrow-minded and petty. So no sci-fi, no horror, no supernatural, no zombies, no elves, no chick-lit, no cat mysteries. There I go insulting friends again. What does that leave? Children’s books possibly or maybe some as yet undiscovered genre, like food mysteries or architectural symbolism.
What’s been the most satisfying scene for you to write in any of your novels?
That’s a toughie. Ask me again in five minutes and I’ll probably give you a different answer but… maybe the opening scene of my latest, The Last Refuge. The scene itself happens around a third of the way into the book so I had to wrestle with that plus create an opening that would grab people right off the blocks. I also had to take the reader and immediately transport them to a very different location, the Faroe Islands, giving them the feel of the place without introduction. I made it difficult for myself, which thankfully I like doing, but I’m hopeful that I pulled it off and that’s pretty satisfying.
Inside the head of a serial killer
And the most difficult?
The most difficult is often the most satisfying but if I had to pick another then… maybe a scene from my first novel Random. The protagonist is a serial killer and the book is written first person from his point of view, meaning we are in his crazy head for the entire journey. There’s a scene where he begins to reveal the reason for his rampage and the hurt that he suffered to get him to that place. It’s all pretty raw and I wrote from hurt of my own (hurt that didn’t lead to an outpouring of murder thankfully) and that was pretty difficult to let loose. But, as above, ultimately satisfying.
If you could take any of your characters for a drink, who would it be, and what advice would you give him or her?
Probably Tony Winter, my police photographer. My advice would be threefold. Firstly, just relax a bit and stop being so obsessed with all those photographs that you take of dead people. It’s becoming a bit creepy, dude. Secondly, up your game a bit with Rachel Winter. You’re onto a good thing there so try not to blow it. If you do, I might ask her for a drink instead. Thirdly, if you get invited to an abandoned biscuit factory anytime soon, be very careful. That’s all I’m saying.
Crime fiction as a vicarious thrill...
Have you used any of the situations you’ve been in as a journalist as material for any of your books? If so, tell us more.
I think writers use everything around them so yes, I’ve taken things from my journalism days. Not situations so much as people and their reactions to adversity. I interviewed a lot of people at their most vulnerable, often in bereavement after incidents such as 9/11, Dunblane and the Omagh bombing. That gave me insights that I’ve been able to use in my books. Some of those people have remained friends though so I make sure I do my best to respect the things that I’ve learned rather than exploit them. On a more practical, day-to-day level, I’ve been able to use my experience of dealing with some very bad people. And also some who weren’t journalists.
Why do you think crime fiction is so popular?
Because it’s the bestest genre in the world. I think there are a number of reasons for this. In no particular order… People liked to be scared a little and this is a way of doing it while remaining safe. It’s a vicarious thrill. Crime fiction, more than any other genre, allows us to examine society, to prod and probe it while being entertained. We see people at their most vulnerable and therefore often their most genuine and can learn much from that. Readers like a mystery, a puzzle, and it can put them at the heart of the book, in locus detectus if you like.
We all have our lines; it's up to us whether we cross them
Are there any topics or situations you wouldn’t tackle in your novels?
I don’t think so. Or maybe I should say that I haven’t thought of one that I’d shy away from. That being said, there’s a long way from saying I wouldn’t rule out writing about say the Holocaust or incest to actually wanting to do it. But I’m not much in favour of censorship so I’m not keen to start by censoring myself. We all have our lines and it’s up to us whether we venture to cross them.
To what extent do you plot your novels before starting writing? Do you begin with a solid plan, or do you allow the book to evolve at its own pace?
It has probably changed from book to book. I’ve done it both ways and now plot much more than I used to before. I use the whiteboard and post-its and do a whole lot of thinking before I ever type that first sentence. There’s still plenty of scope for it to change – I’m never going to get all my best ideas at the start – but I like a solid roadmap of where I’m going. Clearly there’s no right and wrong here, it’s just whatever works best for you.
Thank you, Craig!
A huge thank you to Craig Robertson for agreeing to be interviewed for my blog. You can find out more about Craig and his books here, and you can follow his footie tweets via @CraigRobertson_.
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