Most writers would agree that the best bit about writing is the hanging about in the bar at conventions. Second best is the bit where we get to make shit up for a living. Normally my books are set in Aberdeen, and as it’s a real place with real streets and real businesses and real people there’s a limit as to how much I can pull out of the fluff-infested tunnels of my imagination. I have to be at least reasonably true to the place. And I have to be careful what I say about certain institutions if I don’t want to get ostracised or sued.
Which is why I’ve gone "all made up, all of the time" for the new book, BIRTHDAYS FOR THE DEAD, setting it in the fictional town of Oldcastle – halfway between the shiny metropolises of Aberdeen and Dundee.
Of course the joy of writing a crime novel set a town that didn’t exist until I made it up, was that nothing was set in stone before I started. If I wanted a sink estate overlooking the river, there was nothing to stop me putting one there. Not for me the tawdry constraints of real life geography and town planning. Oh no, no, no: if the story needed it, the story got it.
And best of all, no one can email in and complain that I’ve got things wrong. It’s all right, because I say it is. As far as Oldcastle is concerned: I’m God, and what I say goes. BWAHAHAHAHA… Ahem.
Mind you, there is a risk associated with this creating a fictional town thing: I really liked it. I know it doesn’t exist, but Oldcastle now feels a bit like home. It’s mine. And I don’t want to let it go.
I’ve written short stories set there before – quite a lot of them if I’m honest – and in an effort to be consistent to what I’d already done, I had to come up with the map currently stuck to the side of my filing cabinet. So that sink estate that I needed has become set in stone. I can’t move it, unless I want to make those short stories look silly. Like putting a cat in a Santa hat. So the more I write about the place, the more real it becomes, and the more opportunity there is for the interweb’s collection of anorak-wearing pedants to complain if I change a street name between CREEP (a short story included in the Waterstone’s exclusive paperback of DARK BLOOD) and BIRTHDAYS FOR THE DEAD.
So I’ve basically managed to take the joy of making a setting up and turned it into exactly the same problem I had in the first place…
The new book BIRTHDAYS FOR THE DEAD is out now, in pretty much every good bookshop. If the bookshop doesn’t have it: it’s not a good one and you should shun it like a leprous bunion.
And as there’s a new book out, I’ll be off on a whirlwind tour of Scotland:
Thu 5th January, 18:00 I’ll be signing at Waterstone’s Union Bridge, Aberdeen to mark the official publication date.
Sat 7th January, 13:00 it’ll be WHS St Nicholas Centre in Aberdeen’s turn.
Mon 9th January, 19:00 it’s a big launch-flavoured event at The Lemon Tree with a PowerPoint presentation and (I kid you not) a raffle!
Thu 26th January, 18:30 an event at Waterstone’s Glasgow, Argyle Street.
Sat 28th January, 12:00 I’m doing something called a ‘formal signing’ at Waterstone’s in Inverness. I’m hoping that doesn’t mean I have to wear a suit and tie…
Sat 28th January, 16:00 another ‘formal signing’ at Waterstone’s Elgin.
Thu 2nd February, 18:30 an eventy talk thing at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh.
Fri 3rd February, 12:00 I’ll be signing stuff at Waterstone’s West End, Edinburgh.
Fri 3rd February, 17:00 the tie comes out for yet another ‘formal signing’ at Waterstone’s Dunfermline.
Sat 4th February, 13:00 it’s going to be an ‘on floor’ signing at Waterstone’s, Dundee. Or they may let me sit in a chair, who knows?
Sat 4th February, 18:00 believe it or not, I’ll be giving a talk as part of Dundee University’s Saturday Evening Lecture Series.
And that’s probably going to be me until the ever lovely Edinburgh International Book Festival in August. Where I shall no doubt be lowering the tone in conversation with someone altogether more respectable than myself.
BIRTHDAYS FOR THE DEAD is published by HarperCollins