There’s nothing like standing among the dreich, rain-swept tombstones of the Glasgow Necropolis to stimulate ideas for a new book. How about starting with a death? But whose? What would be most dramatic? The hero’s of course. The result was Gallowglass, the fourth and final instalment in the Douglas Brodie series, now collated as The Glasgow Quartet.
Gallowglass [singular and plural] were elite Scottish mercenaries, fighting alongside Robert the Bruce and Irish chieftains. They also got a mention in Macbeth. A fitting nom de guerre for a man like Brodie. In this final chapter, set in the summer of 1947, Brodie’s impetuosity leads him into the murky depths of blackmail, kidnapping, murder and revenge. Not all his fault.
But why kill off a critically acclaimed series starring a character feted as Glasgow’s answer to Rebus? Once my protagonists find their feet, I’m compelled to write scenes true to their personality and hinterland. Brodie, his lover Sam and their pals, respond to situations in a way peculiar to them. From his first appearance in The Hanging Shed – a Kindle #1 for 3 months – through Bitter Water and Pilgrim Soul, Brodie’s story flows naturally and inexorably to a fitting end in Gallowglass, On the surface, these four books were separate ‘investigations’ by a journalist who seemed more adept at causing the news than reporting it. But at a deeper level, the quartet became an over-arching battle for sanity and peace for a man badly damaged by the war.
The second reason for terminating the Douglas Brodie series was just that: it was a series. I’ve devoured Patrick O’Brian’s 20 volumes of Aubrey and Maturin. Twice. I’ve ploughed through Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond and Niccolo chronicles more than once. Bring on The West Wing and The Wire any time you like. As a reader and spectator I’m not averse to a thumping good series. But as a writer, I wanted a different tangent, needed to stretch out. I hugely admire JK Rowling for having the guts and drive to tackle new themes. Whereas I worry for Ian Rankin and his struggle to break free from the golden chains of a hugely successful series.
I also hate being pigeonholed. I never set out to be known as a crime writer; I don’t read much crime, and avoid whodunnits like the plague. In one sense I write love stories with a few murders thrown in for effect. I aspire to write broader based thrillers using the craft skills I’ve honed in my last six books: constructing 3-dimensional characters and dropping them into a crucible of conflict and tension to see how they react. The quality of the prose is also crucial; it’s not just about the story or the people. I’ve set the mark high; my target readers are fans of McEwen, Greene, Boyd, Le Carre, Atkinson.
Will I miss Brodie and his wee gang? Yes. He’s as real to me as anyone I’ve known and liked in my life. Will I be tempted to resurrect him? All I’d say is that Gallowglass marks the end of the Glasgow Quartet. I’m saying nothing about Paris, London or…
Gallowglass is published By Corvus