Jenny Brown was previously the Head of Literature at the Scottish Arts Council, and the first Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She was one of the primary forces behind the designation of Edinburgh as the UNESCO City of Literature. She is also the Chair of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival, promoting new authors and genres.
Lin Anderson is the author of two crime series, the forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod series and the Patrick de Courvoisier series. She is the co-founder of the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival and the Chair of Society of Authors in Scotland.
Doug Johnstone is the author of eight stand-alone crime novels, the most recent being Crash Land. He was also the finalist in the 2016 McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year for his novel The Jump. He is a journalist and reviews books for the Big Issue. He also happens to be a musician.
The blogger had the magical opportunity of interviewing them together at the Kolkata Literature Festival 2017 and here’s what they said.
Lin: I think it has done a great job because we set off to do three things, first to create new writing, secondly, to establish a new platform for new writers and thirdly, to create an international forum for crime writers. The last five years had five new publications. The competition initially was to pitch in a hundred words.
Doug: To choose writers from among them] in three minutes to publishers and agents, the winner of which went on to become a published writer.
Lin: I think it is a ‘bloody’ difficult thing to do! You really must strive to win it. I think it shows real commitment to land a publishing contract. It really is a wonderful opportunity, albeit a frightening one.
Doug: One of the most interesting things about Bloody Scotland is its very informal atmosphere! There is a general air of encouragement for the new industry formed by aspiring, published or new writers. Often, you find them in a bar, ready to talk to you, even writers who have had five to ten published books! It’s an eye opener for them about how the world works. Then there are agents and publishers, so it doesn’t necessarily happen around the events of the festival but it can also happen in the quiet corner of a bar or afterwards, making it a very interactive exercise!
Doug: Hey, we lost last time so I don’t want to talk about it! I just came up with the idea back then because the Board wanted it. There were several English writers there and we thought, why don’t we clear a little bit of the grass atop the hill? It was kind of a joke, really, but many turned up to watch it! It proved be a great bonding experience in a competition where we all shared a laugh.
Jenny: Also, what I noticed is we don’t have a space like this, an authors’ hospitality area because what we want, as Doug pointed out, it’s all about the authors meeting the readers. What evinces is there evaluation, their amusement as they walk up and have a drink with Doug or Ian (Rankin).
Jenny: What, the informality? Yes, Scottish crime writers form a huge world.
Lin: To be truthful, most of the crime festivals are like that, even the major ones in England. The writers are very supportive of one another and we are not in competition with each other as the literary world suggests. We are eager to chat with the readers, the aspect where they come up and speak to you, once they realise they can! What we write about are crime and death, the darkest sides of human nature. We like to get it all out in the stories, murdering anyone we do not like, suddenly! [They laugh].
Lin: My father had passed away before my first book was published and I dedicate all my books to him. When he was a policeman and I was a teenager, he never told me about his cases. However, a lot of anecdotes in my book come from my personal experience of being a policeman’s daughter, although he wasn’t there to ask questions about them.
Doug: Crime Writing is a very broad category. I do not write about police detectives but about either the criminals doing the crime or the victims. It tends to be ordinary people, like anyone in this room, and throwing them into extraordinary circumstances, how they cope or don’t cope. The genre saw a timeline from the classic Noir to American horror. Sometimes I give away the mystery at the start and I’m more interested in the repercussions of how things pan out. I wasn’t published until I was thirty-six, so it takes a while! [laughs]
Lin: Ian Rankin had once said that Scandinavia does not have better crime writers than Scotland has its PR! Bloody Scotland proves this because our initiative is to promote new ideas, engage with the world at large. What you really want to ask is how the hell did I do that, right? I once had a pupil called Emma Hart who was a bright student and went to University when she suddenly decided to take up forensic science. I didn’t know what it was then. When I started writing, I didn’t consider it to be a longstanding issue but I focused more on my father’s attitude and worries about his daughters turning up at the scene of the crime! That was the original idea when I thought about Emma. There are many detectives with drinking problems which is why I wanted to pursue it. [Doug: She was like, I just did it!] One of my main contacts was Dr. Jennifer Miller who thought she WAS Rhona MacLeod!
Jenny: I think crime writing is ideally suited for international collaborations. There’s such a huge audience worldwide! We’ve seen the appetite in the UK and Scandinavia, albeit a more limited thirst in France and Italy. However, it would be a much easier sell to our audience in Bloody Scotland to say, here are two crime writers from Calcutta who are dealing with these themes. Instantly, they’ll be interested. We are very keen on bridging literary differences and I hope there would be an opportunity in the future!