Today on the blog I am joined by Allan Guthrie as part of the Bloody Scotland Blog Tour which is taking place between 11 to 13 September 2015. Allan Guthrie is an award-winning Scottish crime writer and ebook bestseller. His debut novel, Two-Way Split, was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger award and went on to win the Theakston’s Crime Novel Of The Year in 2007. He is the author of four other novels: Kiss Her Goodbye (nominated for an Edgar Ward, Anthony Award and Gumshoe Award), Hard Man, Savage Night and Slammer and three novellas: Kill Clock, and Kindle bestsellers Killing Mum and Bye Bye Baby.
Al Guthrie will be at Bloody Scotland in Stirling. For more details please click here and here. His latest book is the Kindle bestseller Bye Bye Baby. He is also the co-founder of digital publisher Blasted Heath.
Describe your writing in a sentence?
Can I do it in a word? Stuttering.
Do you have any literary influences, or writers that you admire?
When I first started trying to write crime novels my main influences were Christopher Brookymre, Douglas Lindsay and Charles Higson. As time went by and I realised I wasn’t capable of being even one-tenth as funny as Brookymre, Lindsay or Higson, I started reading a lot more American noir fiction from the 30s through to the 60s. So my influences tend to come from there – James M Cain, Horace McCoy, David Goodis, Jim Thompson, et al.
When you are writing, which has the slight edge plot or character?
For me, character tends to drive plot. Having said that, a great character with a dull plot is a terrible waste of a great character.
What made you decide to write standalone novels instead of a series?
It wasn’t so much a conscious decision as me just writing some novels back-to-back that happened to be standalones. I also don’t write the kind of novels (at least not so far) that lend themselves to a series. In most of my novels, the few characters who remain alive at the end of the book are too traumatised to go through something similar again. Having said that, I do have a recurring character in Gordon Pearce, who pops up in a few books, sometimes in a central role and sometimes as more of a peripheral figure. He’s a fairly robust kind of guy and apparently quite hard to traumatise. I do try, though.
When can we expect the next book from you? The last book (If I am not mistaken) was Bye Bye Baby back in 2010.
That’s quite true. I did co-write a novella, Replacing Max, with Stuart MacBride (anthologised in Dark Duets (HarperVoyager)), which is slightly longer than Bye Bye Baby. But that was a while ago too. I’ve made several predictions as to when there might be a new book, but they’ve all been horribly wrong. So I’ll not make any more bold pronouncements for now, other than to say that there are a couple of books in the works that might see the light of day sometime soon. Possibly. But don’t quote me on it.
You have also written a number of short stories and contributed an essay to one of my favourite books of all time Books to Die For. Which do you prefer, writing novels or short stories?
Novels are seriously hard work. It should get easier, but I find it gets harder with each book and becomes increasingly labour intensive. So short stories make sense if you don’t have a lot of spare time or write slowly (or especially if both are true). I’ve always been a big fan of novellas, though. Both as a reader and a writer. I like to be able to see the end when I start and then hold the entire book in my head when I’m finished. Novellas are perfect for that.
On the one hand I love Hard Case Crime not solely because of the books that they publish but also because of their covers. The downside is that I have had to stop reading them on public transport because I keep on getting really weird looks. They published Kiss Her Goodbye. How did you feel about being published by them? They are in their own way a unique publisher.
At the time Kiss Her Goodbye was commissioned, Hard Case Crime was brand new, so I had no idea what to expect. But I took to Charles Ardai, the man behind HCC, straight away. He’s one hell of an editor and taught me a lot about the craft. I loved the cover they commissioned for my book too. Some publishers ask for ideas for covers and then proceed to ignore them. Charles asked which scene from the book I’d like to see painted, I mentioned a couple, and one of those ended up as the basis of the cover art.
Of all your books which is your favourite and why?
Slammer. It’s the one that achieves the closest approximation of what I set out to do. I think it’s possibly the most affecting too. But authors are notoriously bad judges of their own books, so although it’s my favourite, it’s quite probably not the best one.
You started Blasted Heath back in 2011 along with Kyle MacRae. What was the reason for this? One has to admit that you have some pretty outstanding books and authors on your list.
Thank you! I think so too. Kyle broached me out of the blue with some fascinating suggestions about how to help authors in this new digital age (as it was then). We talked for a while and then ended up deciding the logical next step was to set up our own publishing company. And Blasted Heath was born. It happened very quickly. We first spoke in July, and launched the company in November. I said at the time that we were insane to be even contemplating becoming publishers. I was right!
England or Scotland for the Crime Writers football rematch?
If last year is anything to go by, you’d want to stake your mortgage on Scotland.
How do you manage to juggle the day job as a literary agent with your writing?
I’ve been doing a lot of editing in the last couple of years, to the point where it’s now become the day job (if the day job is defined as the one that takes up most time). I’ve done a lot of freelancing for various publishers, as well as the bulk of the editing for Blasted Heath, but since March I’ve been working as an executive editor for a fascinating new joint venture between Imperative Entertainment, a Hollywood production company, and Bastei Luebbe, a big German publisher. They’re highly innovative and we’re working on some exceptional projects. I’ve worked part-time as an agent with Jenny Brown Associates for ten years now. I maintain a small but extremely talented client list there. Finding time to write can be a challenge, but it’s usually possible to find an hour or so at the end of the day.
Do you have a favourite recurring crime fiction hero/ detective?
I’d have to go with Charlie Williams’s Royston Blake, the nightclub doorman “hero” of the Mangel series. Royston Blake is an original and Charlie Williams is a comic genius.
Which five crime novels (not necessarily your favourites) would you encourage a new reader of the genre to read?
A Philosophical Investigation by Philip Kerr, – because it’s the book that got me into crime fiction. (Even though some would call it science fiction.)
The Death of Sweet Mister by Daniel Woodrell, – because it does happen to be one of the best
The Missing And The Dead by Stuart MacBride, – because it’s technically brilliant, multi-layered, authentic and ambitious
Double Indemnity by James M Cain, – because it’s beautifully streamlined.
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett – this one’s for writers as well as readers. It’s the best-known example of a technique I’ve heard referred to as “behaviourist”, in which an author chooses to avoid describing any of his characters’ thoughts or feelings. It also explodes the myth that PI novels have to be written in first person.
For those that have never been to Edinburgh describe your Edinburgh?
Ah, but that would be cheating. If you want to know what my Edinburgh’s like, you’ll have to pick up one of my books!
The state of Scottish writing especially Scottish crime writing is amongst the best and is in a buoyant state. What do you think is the reason for this and how do you feel about being seen as part of the Tartan Noir rank and file? What do you think of the term?
It’s an oft-asked question, but I don’t know that anyone’s come up with a terribly good answer. I suspect a large part of the success of Scottish crime writing is down to the early practitioners. William McIlvanney, then Ian Rankin and Val McDermid made Scottish crime writing very attractive to publishers, and canny writers write what publishers find attractive. And we’re a canny bunch up here. I’m happy to be called part of the tartan noir rank and file, but it’s mainly just a useful term that’s used by other people for marketing purposes.
Bloody Scotland has only been around for 4 years now but it has firmly established itself as one of the crime festivals to attend why do you think it has become so successful?
I don’t think there’s any one factor, but it’s more of a combination of the great organisation, the excellent programming, the tremendous writing talent on offer, the financing, the location, the publicity, and most importantly, the readers. It’s great that there’s so much enthusiasm for a celebration of the best of crime fiction from Scotland (and elsewhere) in our own back yard. Long may it continue!
Thanks to Allan for a wonderful interview.
Follow the blog tour at #bloodyblogtour
Follow the blog tour at #bloodyblogtour