‘So, Douglas, why yet another new direction?’
I was asked this question recently in relation to my new book, An Honourable Thief (Canelo), an historical adventure/crime/espionage thriller (I think that just about covers it) set between London and Edinburgh in 1715.
It is true that my writing career appears to have encompassed more changes of direction than an indecisive sat-nav – from true crime, to non-fiction history, to biography, to gritty Glasgow underworld fiction, wisecracking private eye novels, a fast-paced New York set conspiracy thriller and dark – may I say lyrical? Yes, I may – crime novels set in the Scottish highlands.
Okay, so why?
Well, I believe authors should always stretch themselves, step out of their comfort zone. But is this new one really THAT much of a change of direction?
Look at the list above. I’ve written historical books before. In fact, that’s how the plot for AHT – as we in the know call it – came about. I was researching Dark Heart, which told the story of Edinburgh’s Tolbooth, a building that played a major role in the city’s blood spattered history, and came across a line about a certain document that old Queen Anne may, or may not, have penned. The story was that the letter may have suggested she favoured her half-brother James Edward Stuart to succeed her to the throne over George of Hanover, of whom she was apparently none-too-enamoured.
That notion stuck in my mind and over the next 20 years or so I added bits and pieces of plot, set-pieces and a protagonist named Jonas Flynt rubbing shoulders with real-life characters of the period. One of those set-pieces features the aforementioned Tolbooth.
Of the non-fiction books with my name on them, I am very proud of Indian Peter, a true-life tale of adventure and legal shenanigans in Scotland and the American Colonies of the mid-18th century.
And the four Davie McCall books are set between 1980 and the millennium. Apparently that’s deemed as historical, although I can remember those years so, frankly, I don’t see it that way.
Then came A Rattle of Bones, the third in my Rebecca Connolly series. The opening chapter was set in 1752 and that prompted crime writer Denzil Meyrick to suggest that I try my hand at historical fiction. I resisted but secretly the idea took root. After all, I’d already done most of the research over the years. Why not give it the old college try?
Fully expecting to abandon it before it was halfway done, I set to the task.
Three months later I had a complete draft, so perhaps all that had gone before was paving the way for the new book.
The words literally fell onto the screen. Yes, they needed work – it was a first draft, remember – but I don’t think I’ve ever written a novel quite so quickly, but then, the narrative style is very much in my ball-park. I think if there had to be a label put onto the series, and there ALWAYS has to be a label, it would be Historical Noir.
With the exception of the Rebecca Connolly series, I’m a believer in the Raymond Chandler dictum that whenever the story seems to slow down, have two guys with guns kick in the door.
In fact, Jonas Flynt is introduced limbering up to do just that, only it’s a brace of flintlock pistols he wields. The streets of Georgian London and Edinburgh are ideal for the genre. They were mean. And dark. And dirty. And far from fragrant.
Oh, and no CCTV or mobile phones and no real forensics to speak of. My goodness, that sure does free things up for the writer. Think about it – Flynt doesn’t need to worry about fingerprints, DNA, contact traces, or disguising his digital footprint when getting up to anything murky. He may be on the side of the angels but he sure as hell ain’t one.
He does have demons because I seem to have a thing for people being haunted by dark pasts. I don’t know why such characters attract me, because I am such a sunny, carefree fellow.
I’ll pause here to let those who know me hoot with laughter.
So, in the end, how much of a departure is AHT? Well, linguistically, chronologically, geographically and other words ending with -cally, it is different.
Otherwise, it’s business as usual. Only with added research!
The second book in the series to feature Jonas Flynt, A Thief's Justice is due to be published in May 2023.
A Thief's Justice by Douglas Skelton. (Canelo Crime) Out May 2023
London, 1716. Revenge is a dish best served ice-cold… The city is caught in the vice-like grip of a savage winter. Even the Thames has frozen over. But for Jonas Flynt– thief, gambler, killer – the chilling elements are the least of his worries… Justice Geoffrey Dumont has been found dead at the base of St Paul’s cathedral, and a young male sex-worker, Sam Yates, has been taken into custody for the murder. Yates denies all charges, claiming he had received a message to meet the judge at the exact time of death. The young man is a friend of courtesan Belle St Clair, and she asks Flynt to investigate. As Sam endures the horrors of Newgate prison, they must do everything in their power to uncover the truth and save an innocent life, before the bodies begin to pile up. But time is running out. And the gallows are beckoning...