Fresh from their fantastically successful Crime Factor Tour, I caught up with writers Gordon J Brown, Neil Broadfoot, Mark Leggatt, Douglas Skelton and chair of events Peter Burnett.
Thanks for taking part everyone, and spilling the beans about what crime readers are talking about and what makes a successful book tour.
M: I’m the author of Names Of The Dead, The London Cage, and The Silk Road (in progress), a series of international thrillers which weave fact and fiction across the globe.
G: I’m the writer of four crime thriller novels set in Scotland and the US and co-founder and director of crime writing festival Bloody Scotland.
D: A former journalist and true crime author now focusing on crime fiction.
N: Journalist by trade, husband, father, dog wrangler. Writer of the Edinburgh-set Doug and Susie series.
P: I've written six novels and some non-fiction, as well as a couple of plays, and poetry in English and Scots. Generally my books have had the themes of technology and art although my best seller is THE SUPPER BOOK – an annotated list of everything that I ate and drank in one year. In my day job I am a hacker and web developer.
P: My favourite question was from a woman in Kirkcaldy, and it was: "Who are you?!" I was hosting the event and I had introduced the four others, but forgotten to talk a little about myself. Half way through the evening, a hand rose and out popped this stunningly direct query. I loved it.
M: “How do you write” – I could talk for hours on the subject! And the short answer is; fountain pens, notebooks, dry markers, Magic Whiteboard, pencils, paper, and dictation software.
G: At the opening of the Falkirk night we asked for the first question from the audience. Up to that point most had been around plotting, setting, inspiration etc. Falkirk's first question was “Have any of you been to an autopsy?” - cue a silence from the panel as we looked around to see if anyone had:
a) Been to an autopsy
b) If not how to answer without just saying no.
N: It’s hard to single one question and answer out, as every event on the tour has its different strengths. However, one recurring theme we keep drifting back to is the level of violence in books, and how we go about addressing that. To me – and, from the answers Mark. Gordon, Douglas and Peter have given on this I get the sense they agree – there’s a responsibility that goes along with portraying violence and evil deeds in books. And it’s not to be taken lightly. This has invariably led to conversations about morality and where we as writers draw the line - and where readers want us to draw it, which is always fascinating.
G: Strongly wouldn’t be the right term. There is a difference in approach to way we write that raises its head. Neil, Douglas and I are not planners. We tend to start writing and see where it takes us. Mark, on the other hand likes to write out a full synopsis and plaster his wall in Post It notes before getting down to writing. As a joke we now refer to Neil, Douglas and my way of working as the ‘Dark Side’ and keep inviting Mark to join us.
D: I tend to disagree with Neil Broadfoot as much as I can but that's simply on principle more than anything else. But apart from that, no. We're all pretty much in accord, although Mark Leggatt does adhere too much to his planning books out ahead method. The rest of us fly by the seat of our pants.
N: I’m contractually obligated to disagree with Douglas Skelton on everything. But, that aside, not really. Every writer has their own point of view, what’s great is the chance to share that, see the differences and, in many cases, the commonality. The only disagreement we really have is on approach - Gordon, Douglas and I tend to write by the seat of our pants while Mark is more the planner. But he’ll come round to our way of thinking soon enough!
P: Nearly. I tried to stimulate a conversation about the stock characteristics of certain types of crime hero; often a middle-aged male; a renegade authority figure; often slightly alcoholic and generally a romantic failure. I recall bringing this up and my fellow panellists (all middle-aged renegades as it happens...) looked at me blankly, as if they had no idea what I was talking about. Before denying everything.
G: Not disappointed but surprised. The audiences have avoided a lot of the ‘cliche ‘questions - e.g. ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ Because of the structure we get some great questions that lead us into new territory each night.
M: Over the whole tour, I think I’ve answered every question, as I’m usually good at sticking my oar in. I can’t think of any question I’d liked to have been asked, other than “Would you like to sign this North American multi-million pound publishing contract?”
G: Regretted - no. Changed my mind - maybe. You tend to learn from the others when they answer questions that you have answered in the past. It’s interesting that I’m probably now more aware of why I write the way I do, because of the debate. For instance I am very much a writer who starts typing and lets the flow take me where it will. It’s only really occurred to me in the last few weeks that the reason I like this is that the storytelling is better. I’m often surprised at where I go and, as a result, I would expect the reader to be surprised - which keeps it all fresh and vibrant.
M: Meeting readers and budding authors is a great buzz, and I love talking about writing; it’s my passion. So the whole thing is just great fun.
G: It’s fun. I have a day job and this is not the day job. That in itself is reason enough to participate. There’s also a part of me that loves being talked to as a writer. As an avid reader I find the experience of being on the receiving end of questions over the art a real eye opener and deeply enjoyable.
D: I think the chance to interact with the most important people in the book process - the readers. Also the opportunity to show people that crime writers are not deadly serious, despite the content of their books. And also, the chance to air some cat jokes. They don't all get a laugh but they tickle me.
N: I love being a writer and I’m an avid reader, so it’s a real kick to talk to fellow writers and readers about a topic and genre I love.
P: I loved meeting the crime readership. I'm already familiar with the readerships of poetry, literary and science fiction, but the engagement levels of the crime audiences surpassed all of those. Plus, the audiences really know their stuff; I can see why a festival like Bloody Scotland is so successful, having met so many crime readers now.
M: Yes, it became less of a Presenter type ‘question and answer’ based format, to a much looser free-for-all, where the audience can ask questions at any time, which really suits our characters as authors. Now Peter is less of the instigator of the question, and more the ringmaster of mirth.
G: Yes. We are getting to know what each other will say to key questions. It allows us to look more fluid on stage as we can build on what others say and anticipate where the conversation is going. It also allows Peter to keep the time each author speaks even - as he can throw in questions from previous events that brings authors back into the conversation. We’ve also been able to make it more fun for the audience. We can set up jokes (there is a ‘cat pun’ thing going on at the moment) and tee up the other authors for the best stories.
N: I’d say so. As we get to know each other, and how we’re each likely to respond to certain questions, we’ve developed a stronger rapport and a shorthand on where the conversation is going. Peter’s great at keeping us on track and making sure none of us dominate proceedings by rambling on.
P: I enjoyed reading the other writers' books as they came out - so first came The Dead Don't Boogie, by Doug, then The London Cage from Mark, and All The Devils from Neil, and I've just recently got my hands on Dynamite, the latest from Gordon. As I’ve read and digested these guys’ books, I’ve come to a more thorough appreciation of their work. I loved that the authors got so much feedback from readers, and I like to think that I could almost feel their work developing through the tour.
M: I would say that unless you’re really confident on your own, take another author with you, so you can bounce off each other, or ask another author to act a compere, or to do the introduction. Also, I would say to get the audience involved as much as possible, so that they get as much out of it as possible.
G: Make it interactive and get the audience involved. Make it more of a conversation. Use humour even to the point of self depreciation. Be insightful - people have a real interest in the writing process and want to know the ‘secrets’ and, in the end, be honest.
D: Don't be boring. Avoid reading your work unless you're really good at it. I mean Christopher Brookmyre good. Don't get too bogged down in the minutiae of writing because it can be like explaining a joke. It takes the magic out of it. Don't be offended if someone doesn't like your work or hasn't read it. That's the nature of the beast.
N: Make it interactive and engage with the audience. And keep it funny. Ultimately, you’re all there to talk about a genre that you love, either as a writer or a reader, so enjoy it.
And remember: nobody turns up to their first event as the finished article.
M: I have written many, many lies at markleggatt.com. Also, the books are in Blackwell and Waterstones stores, Amazon, Kobo, etc.
D: I'm on Twitter and also have a website www.douglasskelton.com.
N: I’m normally rattling around on Twitter @NlBro. I’m in the process of setting up a website, neilbroadfoot.com, and my author bio at http://saraband.net/contributor/neil-broadfoot-2/ has all the gory details.
Leave a comment below by 11th October and 1 lucky winner selected at random will win a book from each of these fantastic authors!