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Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Aline Templeton

Lynne Patrick talks with Aline Templeton

Aline Templeton is a busy woman. Born in a small fishing village not far from St Andrews, she now lives in Edinburgh, and with grandchildren in Kent, she never misses the opportunity to travel south – and that’s as well as being CWA Booksellers’ Champion, and at various times a Justice of the Peace, Chair of the Society of Authors in Scotland, and a member of the Scottish Parliament Cross-party group for Media and Culture before it folded.
But books and writing have been her passion since she first realized she could read at the tender age of four. After reading English at Cambridge and teaching for a while, she married, started a family and cut her writing teeth on freelance articles and stories, all the while working on the first book. An interest in psychology and the hidden, dark side of human nature drew her to crime fiction – and the rest is history.
Her first six books were standalones, and she is now on her second series: first came DCI Marjory Fleming, and more recently Kelso Strang. I caught up with her when the latest, Carrion Comfort, was just out in paperback.

Lynne: Aline, I have to confess I came rather late to your books (so much to read, so little time!) and only discovered Marjory Fleming at The Third Sin – though I’m now enjoying playing catch-up! So, I was delighted to find that Human Face was the start of a new series featuring not only a new protagonist, but also a brand new initiative for Police Scotland. I’m assuming the Serious Rural Crime Squad is your own invention. Where did the idea come from?
Aline: I wasn’t the only Scottish writer who was horrified when the Scottish Government decided to abolish all the constabularies and create a unitary force, Police Scotland. Each region had its own particular character, and most of us had our own favourite patches, in my case beautiful rural Galloway where my DI Marjory Fleming worked. It was meant to save money, of course (though I’m not sure it has!) and make for more flexibility so that police officers could be directed anywhere in Scotland. Departments have been trimmed to take account of the area profile, and major incidents are mainly dealt with from the larger cities.

So it occurred to me that a Serious Rural Crime Squad based in Edinburgh would fit into that picture. Where a place has very little serious crime, the CID is reduced to the point where in an emergency manpower and expertise would have to be parachuted in. I reckoned it would make sense to have a squad that would build up experience of taking control and working with the local force as well as commissioning whatever resources are needed on the technical side. I liked the idea that heading it would be just the job for someone who is a bit of a maverick.

Lynne: The damaged detective is something of a trope in crime fiction; that’s what makes them interesting. After all, who wants to read about well-balanced characters with perfect marriages and well-behaved sidekicks? Kelso Strang and Livvy Murray are chalk and cheese, which also makes for an exhilarating ride; we can never be sure what Livvy will do next, or how Kelso will react.
Where do you find such intriguing characters? Are they pure invention? Or is there a little of people you know in there?
Aline: It’s always difficult to say where characters come from. Often, they just seem to arrive fully formed, and it feels more like getting to know them than creating them. Both Kelso and Livvy developed a lot as I wrote Human Face; so much of the fun of writing is that you don’t know what will happen as the story unfolds. I suppose it was the Serious Rural Crime Squad that prompted Kelso’s background – a former army officer, once a sniper, would have the organizational qualities needed and the temperament and confidence to work on his own. I can’t say there was any one person I thought of, but I do know quite a few army officers – and one or two senior ones who were as pompous and old-fashioned as Kelso’s father! I’ve even attended a party or two that were very similar to the one in Carrion Comfort.  I wanted Livvy to be unorthodox, not someone inclined to toe the line. I have a great affection for Glaswegians with their humour and generosity of spirit – Marjory Fleming’s sergeant Tam MacNee is one too – and once Livvy appeared in my mind, I just let her have her head. She had a lot to learn, and is still working on it. It matters that even though she’s made bad mistakes, mostly from over-eagerness, she is a learner and she’s ambitious.

Lynne: You’ve led a very full life – and still you have time to produce a new book just about every year! Do you have a routine – writing time which is closely guarded? Or does it just have to be fitted in around everything else.
Aline: I think it does a lot for my writing that I don’t spend my whole life staring at a screen, and it’s given me lots of interesting experiences. You might think that my time as a JP would have given me plenty of ideas for plots but I’m afraid it wasn’t really like that. Fictional criminals have devious minds and outwit the police with their cleverly planned crimes; in real life, not so much. My son is a criminal defence solicitor-advocate, and one of his clients went in with a balaclava and a sawn-off shotgun to rob a bank, but when he reached the till he realized that the person on the other side was someone her knew, so what did he do? Lifted his balaclava and said, ‘’S all right, Margaret, it’s only me.’  Not exactly the stuff of which crime novels are made! 

Before my husband retired. I was very involved with his work and I did indeed have to fit writing in, snatching hours when I could. So, it’s a real luxury that now I can have a proper routine: half past nine and I go to work. I come out for coffee, which I take back to my desk, and my husband answers the phone – no long chatty gossips with girlfriends until the afternoon! The afternoon is for all the other things that need doing – emails seem to take up a huge amount of time. I very rarely write then, unless I’m under the cosh with a deadline.

: Degrees, residential workshops and correspondence courses abound nowadays. How do you feel about this plethora of ’learning to write’ opportunities? Are writers born, or can they be taught how to do it?

Aline: I find this very interesting, because when I started out you didn’t really hear about them the way you do now. No one ever told me about the rules of narrative, or even that there were any. I thought you just wrote a story – and when I discovered later what they were, I was pleased and surprised to find they were what I’d done anyway!   Writers come in all sorts of different types. I wrote my first book when I was six on notepaper stitched together with yellow thread, a rather dashing tale entitled The Adventure of Mr Wiz and Mrs Woz, two elf persons who went off together for a weekend in Paris. What Mrs Wiz and Mr Woz thought about this was never disclosed, but my mother kept it and I have it still. I could never imagine doing anything but write. Lots of writers – probably most – don’t start out that way, of course, and I’m sure when you come to it later on you can learn a lot from teachers, even just to get some self-confidence. The other benefit is that you need constructive criticism to improve, and until you have an editor that’s very hard to come by. But having said all that, I don’t believe you can make a writer out of someone who wasn’t born with the talent for it somewhere in their make-up.

Lynne: I’m always interested to know how a new novel gets started in the author’s head. What strikes that first spark for you?
Aline: When I start thinking about a new book I feel I go into a sort of strange state of hypersensitivity. I start noticing events, pictures, places, newspaper reports, and sooner or later something catches my attention and I start playing the ‘what-if’ game. Lots of ideas don’t stick, but then there will be one that comes to life and starts running on almost by itself, and I know that’s the one. Of course, then there’s the stage when I’ve got under way and I have terrible doubts and think perhaps it’s a useless idea after all, and I should abandon it and start again. I think it was Ian Rankin who said that comes at page 68; for Peter Robinson it’s page 184. I think we all suffer from it in some form. I always have to tell myself, ‘Trust the story,’ and so far, that’s worked.

Lynne: The beautiful Scottish landscape plays a large part in your novels, and it always feels right – but Scotland is a large country. Do you visit all your locations? And to what extent does the location dictate the way the story will develop? Do you research first, or do you sit down and write, and fill in the background as it comes up?
Aline: I do indeed visit all my locations, usually more than once and for the Galloway books many times. I know you can research everything on Google, but you need to get the feel of the place, and when you go you’re often rewarded with something that gives you the gift of a perfect idea. For instance, I was walking in the Galloway Forest Park and passed three huge pines that had been toppled together in a storm; the combined roots formed a sort of cave – the perfect place for the body to be found in Lying Dead. On another visit there, I saw the Isles of Fleet, a set of very small islands that, with the impertinent addition of an island of my own, provided the framework for Evil for Evil. When I decide on the location, it’s usually somewhere I’ve been to before, even if briefly, and I can start writing for a bit with a mental picture of it and then visit for longer. In Caithness, where Carrion Crow is set, I knew about the Flow Country, Europe’s biggest area of peat bogs and wetland, but spending time in this extraordinary, even sinister place had a great effect on the way the plot developed. It’s a great treat to have a legitimate, tax-deductible reason to holiday in such wonderful places – though when I said this at one of my launches, a lady who came up to have her book signed told me she was a tax-inspector!

Lynne: What process works best for you? Do you plan everything out in detail, chapter by chapter, or do you start writing and let it run? Do you know how a novel will end when you start writing?
Aline: I write on Canadian/US crime blog, Type M for Murder, and we talk about plotters and (seat-of-the) pantsers. I’m a bit of both; I plan a bit and I think I know how the novel will end, but it probably won’t! I certainly don’t plan it all out. I’m afraid if I did I’d get bored; I’m telling the story for myself as much as for my readers because I want to find out what happens in the end. By that stage, it’s what someone called, ‘writing to the limits of your headlights’, just hoping you will be able to see the next dark stretch of road once you reach it.

Lynne: Series fiction has great appeal for readers, but I can’t help thinking it can present a challenge to the author. How do you go about keeping a series fresh and making each one different, especially a series like Marjory Fleming, which is based in a relatively small area?
Aline: I wrote six standalones before I began the Big Marge series and I was really scared about writing a series at first. It had always been the plot that dictated the place before, and I had backgrounds as diverse as Derbyshire, Wales and the home counties. But the thing about Galloway is that it has astonishingly rich and varied scenery, a real undiscovered gem. There are hills and lochs, fishing villages, rural hamlets, market towns, historic sites, forests – and still more that I haven’t used yet! With Kelso Strang, I can go where I like, and that’s fun too.

Lynne: A book is a very special thing. When you hold your first copy of a new novel, does it feel familiar – or completely different from the manuscript you initially sent out? Do you reread it?
Aline: I do love getting the hardback. I always think new books have such a promising smell that I associate with good things. I don’t reread it at that point because by then I’ll be right in the middle of the next, and I’d be convinced that the new one was no good, because this one had the stamp of approval from the publisher and here it was, looking like a proper book while the one in progress was just stuff on a computer screen that I might decide to delete the next day. Oh dear, that does sound a bit weird, doesn’t it – but fortunately, once the next one becomes a book, I’m convinced it’s the best thing I’ve ever written! When I do have to reread one of them because I’m doing a talk or something, it really is an odd experience. I find myself thinking, ‘Where on earth did that come from?’ I don’t think I’m quite as bad as PD James, though; she used to tell how, rereading one of her books several years after she wrote it, she identified the wrong person as the murderer!

Lynne: Who do you write for? Is there a reader in your mind when you set out to write?
Aline: I write for myself – I have to interest me first. But I always have the sense of a clever reader looking over my shoulder, trying to guess who the murderer is before I want to tell them. I try to give clues, to play fair, but I also try to disguise them. I once rewrote a scene six times to create a red herring that would fool my clever reader into thinking that was the clue, while the real clue lurked unnoticed in the narrative. I certainly fooled my editor!

Lynne: Carrion Comfort, the second Kelso Strang title, is just out in paperback. Does that mean there’s a new novel on the horizon? I do hope so. If there is, can you tell us a little about it?
Aline: Yes, I’m well on the way with the next one. It’s the third in that series, called Devil’s Garden and set in the Borders of Scotland this time. Halliburgh is the home of a globally famous writer, Anna Harper, who has feared all her life that a secret from the past she has tried to bury will come back to haunt her. When her son dies of a drugs overdose in questionable circumstances, she knows that it has caught up with her, but she dares not say anything. DCI Kelso Strang becomes caught up in these events as he and DC Livvy Murray carry out a discreet investigation of rumours of drug corruption in the local force. But Anna is prepared to risk her own life, and even that of her daughter, to avoid telling him the truth. But I have to warn you that this is just what I think will happen!

Lynne: Thank you, Aline. And the best of good luck with all your future writing. I’m looking forward to a lot more catching up with your backlist as well as the new work!

Aline Templeton’s books

DI Marjory Fleming:
Cold in the Earth
The Darkness and the Deep
Lying Dead
Lamb to the Slaughter
Dead in the Water
Cradle to Grave Evil for Evil
Bad Blood
The Third Sin

Kelso Strang:
 Human Face
Carrion Comfort

 Death is My Neighbour
The Last Act of All
Past Praying For
The Trumpet Shall Sound
Night and Silence
Shades of Death

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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