Interview: Douglas Lindsay

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The Scottish author Douglas Lindsay is already internationally known for his Barney Thomson series, in which a dour Glasgow barber finds himself at the centre of a very bizarre and violent set of mysteries. With Robert Carlyle currently filming The Legend of Barney Thomson for release in 2015, Lindsay has changed tack and written a surreal mystery about a man being interrogated for he knows not what. Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite! – named after the track on Sgt Pepper – has recently been published, so we decided to find out more about the author and his work…

Can you tell us a little more about yourself?
I was always a bit like Jonathan Pryce’s character, Sam Lowry, in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Drifting and unambitious, total dreamer, muddling by. Fortunately when I met the woman I’d been dreaming about, rather than having one night of passion before the security services killed her and I went insane, we more mundanely got married. We went off to live in West Africa for a while, and I started writing.

Not that I’m necessarily any more ambitious, and there are still plenty of days of muddling, but now I write books. Essentially, though, I’m still Sam Lowry.


What will crime fiction lovers love about Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite?
Well, first off I can’t really say it’s a crime novel. However, there’s no question that there’s an underlying feeling of transgression. The main character is locked up and interrogated, so that he comes to the point where he begins to think he’s done something wrong. It’s a bit of a surrealist head-scratcher of a novel, part of its surreal quality being this air of wrongdoing.

You’ve written over 20 books now. How would you characterise your style and what inspires your stories?
Although all my fiction is contemporary, all set in very modern, recognisable places and institutions, I’d still describe the writing as fantastical, frequently bordering on the preposterous. I’m not striving to recreate real life. I want to be absurd. I want elements of the supernatural and the ridiculous. I know it creates problems for some readers, because I’m setting stories in very real situations, but at the same time stretching the limits of credulity. The very nature of crime is, of course, innately depressing. Shit things happen to good people. I don’t want to go into that. I don’t want readers to be depressed, even if I am or my characters are. I want them to know they’re reading fantastical fiction. If you want carefully researched reality crime, best look elsewhere.

Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite! seems like quite a departure from your most recent work, A Plague of Crows. Do you like messing with your reader’s head or are you a restless soul?
It probably stems from not originally being an instinctive crime writer. I don’t read many crime novels, it’s not something that I’m drawn to. I never thought of that first Barney Thomson book as a crime novel. It was just a story I wrote that happened to have crime at the centre of its narrative. Eventually, of course, if you keep populating your books with crime and police officers, there’s no point in denying the label.

The follow-up to A Plague of Crows – The Blood That Stains Your Hands – is already in the bag. However, it’s fun to get away from it. To do the weirdness without the body count. That’s what Mr Kite is. My original title was In Search of the Jigsaw Man, and Al Guthrie at Blasted Heath was like, ‘You can’t call it that, everyone’s going to be expecting the jigsaw man to be a psychotic, saw-wielding bastard.’ So we looked around for a suitable Beatles title. In the process the book probably became a bit more Beatles-related than it ever set out to be.

My jigsaw man just sits at a table doing jigsaws.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt during your long writing career?
It’s good to sit at a table doing jigsaws. Helps you think. Alternatively, go outside for a run or a bike ride. Don’t sit staring at a computer or notepad too long, while your head explodes and you drive yourself nuts through an inability to be suitably, effectively creative. Clear your head. Come back to it when you’re ready.


Barney Thomson will be appearing on the big screen next year. How does that feel, and what do you expect director Robert Carlyle to do with Barney?
How does it feel? I’ve been asked that a lot the last couple of weeks. The answer should, of course, be wildly, head-bustingly, spunk-inducingly excited. However, it’s been such a long process – the film option was originally sold a few months before the book was published in February 1999 – so many up and downs, and so much uncertainty that it was ever going to come off, that at some point the only way to live with it was to shut down all emotional involvement. To think, if it happens, good, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a way of dealing with it, but the other side of it is that it’s difficult to then switch back on and start leaping around, kissing random strangers in the street. So, it’s great, and I can’t wait to see it, but I probably haven’t smiled yet as a result. Miserable sod, I know.

I have total confidence in Robert Carlyle. I don’t think there’s any doubt that his Barney is going to be less timid than my Barney, but that’s a positive. Obviously my Barney becomes less timid as the series progresses, so quite happy that Robert will be starting that process right from the off.

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