After a successful career in journalism Craig Robertson has taken to a life of writing crime fiction. His work is marked by crisp prose, smart storylines and an inventiveness most authors would envy – death by nicotine inhaler anyone? Last week, we reviewed his third novel, Cold Grave, and today he joins us for a chat about his work…
Tell us about Cold Grave…
It starts with a cold case from 1993. Scotland is in the grip of the coldest winter in years and the Lake of Menteith is frozen over. A young man and woman walk hand in hand to the island of Inchmahome in the middle of the lake. Only the man walks back and the following spring, the girl’s body is found. Twenty years later, as DS Rachel Narey digs into the case that still haunts her ex-policeman father, secrets are unleashed and the cold case begins to crack with deadly effect. It’s a story about atonement and guilt.
What drew you to writing about a cold case?
I think there is an instinctive interest in murder cases that remain unsolved after so long. The roots of it are in fear and morbid fascination and both of those are meat and drink to a crime writer. Ask someone to name a British serial killer and chances are they will say Jack the Ripper. Yet Harold Shipman, the Wests, Beverley Allitt, Dennis Nilson, Peter Sutcliffe and Mary Ann Cotton all murdered more. Jack the Ripper is number one because we’ve never learned who he was. The innate fear of a cold case is that the killer remains at large.
You’ve returned home to Stirling for this book, what prompted that move?
I just wanted to get Narey and Tony Winter out of Glasgow for a bit, to place them in something of an alien environment even though it is less than 30 miles away. They are city cops used to being on the mean streets so I thought it would be fun to mess with them. Also, selfishly, bringing them to Stirling allowed me to play with places near to where I live. The Lake of Menteith was always going to be the starting point for the novel and it’s not too far from Stirling so it seemed a good fit. The book remains largely in Glasgow though and I think that’s probably where Narey and Winter will stay.
What would you say visitors can expect when they come to the Bloody Scotland event in Stirling this September?
Sunshine. Guaranteed. Glorious, warm sunshine.
Also, over 40 crime fiction authors including Messrs Rankin, Brookmyre, MacBride, McDermid, Fossum, Mina, James, McIlvanney and Sigurdardottir. They will be joined, and challenged, by pathologists, cops, historians, forensic scientists and academics. There’s also a day of crime writing masterclasses and workshops at Stirling University with leading authors, publishers and agents. Stirling is a great historical city for visitors, the castle is easily Scotland’s best, so there’s plenty to see even in the unlikely event it’s not sunny.
How’re you finding the experience of being a full time author now?
I’m absolutely loving being a full-time author. I had 20 years as a journalist and enough was enough. I still, very occasionally, hear that some major news event has happened and get that itch to be there and cover it but it’s increasingly less frequent. I was lucky enough to report on some big stories in my time and see a bit of the world doing it but I’m now doing something I’d always wanted to. I miss the banter of the newsroom but wouldn’t swap it for the luxury of being paid to write books.
Do journalists make the best crime writers?
I suspect journalists make good crime writers. Journalism is an excellent apprenticeship for writing any genre of book. You learn discipline, structure, research, and perhaps most importantly, how not to waste words. Through restrictions on available space, you inevitably learn to write with brevity of prose which probably lends itself well to crime writing, particularly noir. You also develop contacts who can point you in the direction of the information you need and you develop skills that are not unlike those of a detective. Happily, you also spend your working life with people who turn out to make outstandingly villainous characters!
What’s coming up next?
I am almost, almost, almost finished the first draft of my fourth book. It again features Tony Winter and Rachel Narey and they are back in Glasgow on the hunt for a copycat killer who has murdered two young women and isn’t finished yet. The investigation leads Tony into contact with the imprisoned murderer responsible for the original killings and they embark on a series of dark interviews where Winter is lured into the other man’s mind. The book examines the question of psychopathy and inevitably comes ladelled with large helpings of guilt, blood and hopefully humour.