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Monday 1 August 2016

Interview with Lin Anderson and Alex Gray

Marsali Taylor talks to founders
Lin Anderson and Alex Gray
about Scotland’s biggest crime festival
Bloody Scotland

Lin Anderson was born in Greenock. She attended the Universities of
Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Lin is a Tartan Noir crime novelist and screenwriter.
Whilst best known as the creator of forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod, Lin  has a second mystery thriller series featuring private investigator  Patrick de Courvoisier, set in glamorous Cannes, think
 The Rockford Files meets James Bond).
As of 2010 the Rhona MacLeod books are being developed for ITV. 

Alex Gray was born 27 May 1950, Glasgow.  She was brought up in the Craigbank area of Glasgow and attended Hutchesons' Grammar School. She studied English and Philosophy at Strathclyde University and worked for a period in the Department of Health & Social Security before training as an English teacher.
In 1976 she lived in Rhodesia for three months, during which time she got married, and she and her husband returned to Scotland. She continued teaching until the 1990s, when she gave the profession up and began to write full-time.
Alex is a member of the
Femmes Fatales crime writing trio, together with Alanna Knight and Lin Anderson. Her  novels are all set around Glasgow and featuring the character of Detective Chief Inspector Lorimer and his psychological profiler Solomon Brightman.

Marsali: Where and when did the idea come to you?
Lin: It was down at the CWA conference in Lincoln, in 2008. Alex and I were in the bar with that famous bottle of Prosecco that began it all. We were saying how we always come down, to find English events full of Scottish crime writers.  We got really excited about the idea, and inviting people up to Scotland. At the time, Ian Rankin was the UK’s biggest-selling crime writer, with Val McDermid not far behind, and they were both really enthusiastic. Val was one of the founders of Harrogate, and her advice was to find an existing festival to tag ours on to, and a platform to begin on – Harrogate is part of Harrogate International Festival.

Alanna Knight was with us when we came up with the idea while drinking Prosecco. Fortunately our agent Jenny Brown loved the idea when we later proposed it. She was part of the team who founded Edinburgh Book Festival, and she argued the case in Europe for Edinburgh to become a City of Culture – a great person to have on board. Alanna Knight became our first major patron, and is a huge support and inspiration to us all.

Alex: Yes, Alanna drove home with us, and we were so excited by the idea that we talked about it all the way home.

Lin: We looked at loads of places for a venue, and fell in love with Stirling. It’s just such a stunning city, in the heart of Scottish history, with the battles of Bannockburn and Stirling Bridge, the Castle right in the centre and a real sense of the Highlands just looking from the ramparts at the hills – quite different from the central belt towns. American visitors join us as part of a Scottish tour. The Stirling Highland Hotel is a great venue and Stirling Council has been hugely supportive. Stirling Library was doing a book festival in that week, so we linked in with that, and had a joint event on the Friday, as theirs ended and ours began.

Our wonderful logo, with the Scottish map in blood, was also designed locally. We met the media studies group at the local college and asked them to design a logo for us, which was then fine-tuned by a graphic designer. We’re embedded in Stirling.

It was Alex who came up with the name. Bloody Scotland fits the location, and has that wry Scots humour. At the London launch there was always that hesitation before anyone said it!

Marsali:            How much of the organisiation did you do for that first Festival, and how much do you do now?
Alex:                  For that first festival, we did the lot! It was three and a half years in the planning. We met and discussed the programme, and funding – Alanna came up with the patron scheme – and getting sponsors – we have a new one for this year, Bookdonors. We couldn’t do it without Creative Scotland either – a lot of festivals would fold without them. We did all the finance too - for months after that first festival our dining table was covered with invoices ... Now, we have a Festival Director – he was part-time at first, but now he’s full time. Dom Hastings, who was involved in the first four festivals, has moved on to Creative Scotland, and this year, we have Bob McDevitt. Craig Robertson uses his twenty years in journalism to do the copy for the brochure. Lin and I are still very much in charge of the artistic side, but we now have staff and volunteer who do the bookings and finance. It’s a committee thing now, but it’s still our baby.

There are also a lot of volunteers who help at the festival. They get training and free tickets, and as well as being fun, it’s something they can use on their CVs. They’re tremendously valuable.

With so many people helping, we’re able to enjoy the festival more ourselves. The first one, there was so much media interest that we were constantly being interviewed. Now we can pass them on to PR and marketing staff, which means we have time to speak to authors, and attend some of the panels.

Marsali: It’s amazing it’s so young ... it feels like a key part of the crime writing calendar.
Lin: Yes, this is only the fifth festival, and yet anyone in the UK who’s interested in crime, reader or writer, can’t not have heard of Bloody Scotland. In that first year, Ian Rankin famously said, ‘Scandinavia doesn’t have better crime writers than Scotland, it has better PR.’  Well, we added the PR for Scotland’s other national export, and now Bloody Scotland is recognised internationally as one of the UK’s important crime festivals.  Last year we had just under 6,000 visitors at our three different venues.

Alex: The first four festivals were held at the Stirling Highland Hotel, and that was a great venue, but as the festival grew its function rooms weren’t quite big enough. This year we’ve moved to a new venue, the Golden Lion Hotel, and it has a ballroom that will seat 300. It also has the Wallace Room, which will seat 80. That means we have the very large venue, in the Albert Hall, and then a choice for the other events.

Marsali: What sort of events do you try to build in?
Lin: We wanted to make our festival very Scottish. We had three aims: to promote new writing and encourage debut writers, to give a bigger platform to established writers, and to link in with the international crime world through big UK and international stars. It took three and a half years in the planning, but I believed ‘Build it, and they’ll come’.

One thing that readers and writers alike really enjoy is the friendliness of it, the mingling of readers and writers, from the debut authors to the star names. We want to work out ways to be even more accessible to everyone. One popular event is the ‘Spotlight’ where a debut author appears on a platform with several established ones. We talked to the mainstream authors about this beforehand, and they were very supportive. We also do training with the ‘spotlit’ author beforehand – some  have never stood up before an audience of more than twenty before, so it’s a huge leap for them.

Alex: This aspect of the festival – encouraging new writers – is really important to us. This year, I’m hosting a ‘New Crime’ panel, with four of the most exciting new voices in crime fiction.

Lin: Another way of encouraging new authors is our ‘Pitch Perfect’ panel, where authors have  a chance to pitch themselves to the panel of writers and agents. (Their initial pitch in an email is 100 words. They have three minutes at the event itself) This is unbelievably nervewracking – I once had to pitch for a film, and  it was the scariest thing on the planet. It really teaches you about storyline – crime novels are too complex to explain in 3 mins, so you just have to stick with your protagonist, and explain what the story means for them, then give some kind of ending. We’ve had four authors published from this, like Mark Leggat, who says Bloody Scotland gave him his start.

Another new introduction is the drama aspects – two years ago we re-created the Peter Manuel trial, and this year Alanna Knight has written an Inspector Faro play for crime writers to perform – it’ll be a scripted reading.  Crime at the Coo, an author cabaret event, is sold out already! We wondered about taking it to a larger venue, but it’s so good to involve the community in one of Stirling’s unique pubs. Also this year, Val McDermid has devised an ‘Escape Room’, where your team has thirty minutes to solve puzzles to get out, and that’s taking place in the Thistles Shopping Centre.

Forensics is increasingly popular, and it gives huge scope for getting the audience actively involved. We felt that with most festivals, then a lot of the panels are just talking, with the audience listening, whereas crime reading is an interactive process, the reader trying to solve the mystery, so we wanted to recreate this. 

I’ve been working with Professor Lorna Dawson for my Orkney book None but the Dead – she’d done a real Orkney murder, on Sanday, and mine was an old murder, but people are really interested in the way fact plays into fiction, and forensics can be great fun! I’ve been helping with Open University courses, and one was on Forensic Psychology, with Professor Graham Pike. He’s planning an interactive session to see if crime writers are any better than the audience as witnesses to a crime.

Caro Ramsay is going to run a crime quiz, and that’ll be great fun too. I’m glad I’m not on one of the teams – the blurb says, ‘How well do authors know their own books?’ and I’m sure I couldn’t answer questions on mine!

We try to be quirky and different. I love creating that programme!

Marsali: How far ahead do you have to book big names? (Or is there no way Ian will miss captaining his football team...?)
Lin: With international authors, it depends entirely on when their book comes out – if their publisher is sending them over for Harrogate, then they won’t send them back again for Bloody Scotland. At Harrogate, Alex and I go to represent Bloody Scotland, and we just see who’s around, and who might be available for next year, and then we make a formal application. There’s a big desire to come – it’s about managing diaries. It’s not as difficult for UK based authors, and the Scandinavian countries are very supportive of literature and the arts, and very enthusiastic about Scandinavians coming over here.

Our own Scottish stars, people like Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Chris Brookmyre, Stuart MacBride, have been fantastic about supporting Bloody Scotland right from the beginning. And the best thing about it is that Bloody Scotland has at last given Willie McIlvanney his proper place in the pantheon, as the founder of Tartan Noir, with Laidlaw. He was a supporter right from the start – one of my favourite memories is the end of the first festival. It was over, and it had been a success!  Alex and I hugged each other, saying, ‘We did it!” and danced round with Willie. The Scottish Crime Book of the Year has now been re-named the McIlvanney Prize, and this year’s festival is dedicated to his memory.

Marsali: Over the years you must have amassed some heart-stopping ‘this isn’t going to happen’ moments – what’s your personal worst?
Alex: It was last year … I was standing on the touchline of the football ground, dressed as a Ninja, when I got a call from Dom: ‘You’ve got to come and chair Sophie Hannah ...’ There’d been a mix-up, and the interviewer had gone. I had five minutes! I leapt into the back of this huge van, it was the lorry which had brought the goalposts up, and changed into slacks and a top. I hadn’t actually read Sophie’s book, but when I arrived at the venue, I got her to give me a precis of it. I looked at Sophie, and she looked at me, and I said a quick prayer, and we were on ... and nobody realised I hadn’t read the book. As a singer, you learn to control your nerves, and I’ve plenty of interviewing experience, so I knew the kind of questions to ask – it was just fantastic in the end, but oh, it was a heart-stopping moment at the time.

Marsali: And your favourite memory ... a magic moment?
Alex: My magic moment was at the Provost’s reception, in 2012, the first festival. I looked round at all the writers and realised we’d done it! Then, at the end, when Jenny announced the 2013 festival, Lin and I just fell into each other’s arms.

Lin: Last year was magic. Val McDermid and I were having a chat about forensics, and I brought up maggots, and got her to tell her story about how what wasn’t even the remains of a body was identified as a drug dealer by what was found between the maggots’ teeth. We set about making the audience enthusiastic about maggots!

Maggots! ... it could only happen at Bloody Scotland,…
It’s not too late to head for Stirling! Tickets are still available for events at Bloody Scotland on

Books by Lin Anderson:

Rhona MacLeod series
Driftnet (2003)
Torch (2004)
Deadly Code (2005)
Blood Red Roses (2005)
Dark Flight (2007)
Easy Kill (2008)
Final Cut (2009)
The Reborn (2010)
Picture Her Dead (2011)
Paths of the Dead (2014)
The Special Dead (2015)
Patrick de Courvoisier series
The Case of the Black Pearl (2014)
The Case of the Missing Madonna (2015)

Books by Alex Gray
Never Somewhere Else (2002)
A Small Weeping (2004)
Shadows Of Sounds (2005)
The Riverman (2007)
Pitch Black (2008)
Glasgow Kiss (2009)
Five Ways To Kill A Man (2010)  
Sleep like the Dead (2011)
A Pound of Flesh (2012)  
The Swedish Girl (2013)
The Bird That Did Not Sing (2014) 
Keep The Midnight Out (2015)
Her most recent book is
The Darkest Goodbye
Published by Sphere March 2016

When an elderly woman is found dead in her home, newly fledged DC Kirsty Wilson is called to the scene. It appears that the woman had a mysterious visitor in the early hours of that morning - someone dressed as a carer, but with much darker intentions. It soon becomes obvious that this was not death by natural causes - it was murder. Before she can catch her breath, DC Wilson is thrown in at the deep end as another body turns up; this time the victim is a well-known drug dealer from Glasgow's mean streets, and there's no question that this was a brutal execution.
The two cases appear to have nothing in common, but when another vulnerable person is murdered in their sleep, the police realise that it's only a matter of time before the next victim emerges, and Detective Superintendent William Lorimer is called in to help DC Wilson investigate. This case is big and it's about to get more personal than either of them could have imagined...

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

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