When your first book, Bloody January, was met with such praise, did that make it easier, or harder, to sit down and write the next one?
I can barely remember now, because I've got the worst memory in the world. I think what actually happened was, because of the amount of time it takes for books to come out, I think I probably started the second one before anyone could write about the first one.
When people say things, you tend to remember the good bits and forget about the horrible things. So it's nice when people say good things. When I wrote the first book, I just sort of wrote it and put it away in a drawer. I wasn't thinking it was going to be part of a series. I think it's always difficult to write a second book. But it's definitely easier if people actually liked the first one.
What was your initial inspiration for Bloody January, and when did Harry McCoy first pop in your mind?
I was interested in writing about Glasgow, but I wasn't quite sure how to do it. There was a picture in a book of Glasgow photographs, and it was a picture of a place called Springburn, which isn't exactly the nicest part of Glasgow. It was taken at dusk, and Springburn is on a hill, so the lights of Glasgow are below, and it was that sort of twilight magic hour, when everything looks great. And there was a guy shown there in the shadows, smoking a cigarette, and it looked like a Hollywood still. And I thought "well why not think of Glasgow as though it were someplace sort of exotic and interesting?" I was trying to imagine the city as an exciting place, which I always thought it was. So that picture sort of put me in a mindset for the book in terms of the characters, and the feel of it.
Like always, the interesting thing about a city is the very poor people, and the very rich people, and how they interact. And the way they interact usually tends to be through sex, or drugs, or crime. A detective travels all over different parts of the city, and interacts with all different sorts of people, so that gave me the perfect opportunity to explore the city via a character going to all these different places for his job. So the detective came from there, really. In that time, the 70s (the era these books take place), Glasgow police were very Protestant, so I thought if McCoy came from the counterculture, like if he was a drug taker, and liked music, that might be interesting as a policeman to see how he dealt with those two different strands of his life.
Do you think having a background in the music industry helps you write in that you can tune in on the beat of a particular scene in terms of dialogue and flow?
I'm so old that when I started in the music industry and worked on music videos, there were no computers, so I sat in an edit suite with a guy with two big reels and they would cut it the old fashioned way. And it took forever. And what I learned, working on those videos, is to be quick getting in, and quick getting out. And that sort of applies to the writing in a strange kind of way. So yeah, all those years spent in an editing suite helped me with the rhythm of a book because I can always sense "okay, I'm writing a bit too much rubbish here, time to get out."
How does someone with a degree in moral philosophy end up in the music industry, and then the publishing industry?
Again, because I'm so old, when I went to University, the government paid for it. So effectively, you were paid for four years to do whatever you want. So I thought I might as well do something for four years that I actually wanna do, rather than something I though would directly lead to a job. At that time, things weren't quite so hard. Moral philosophy is just one question, "what is the correct action?" And that's it. That's the whole thing you do for four years. I've always been kind of interested in what people will do in extreme circumstances. Most people never really encounter that kind of situation in their life, where they're asked to make big moral choices. But I think, sometimes, policemen, and criminals do. So moral questions serve a detective book because you get to explore those big questions.
Bobby March Will Live Forever will hit a note with U.S. audiences as it deals a lot with police criminality, and that's been a huge problem here over the last handful of years. How do you think Harry McCoy would handle some of the insanity happening over here? Like how would he have dealt with the Capitol Hill riot, for example?
In the early 70s, everything was politicized. Even in the art world. Art was about politics. And that's kind of similar to now. So I think Harry would be how he always is, which is just slightly detached. I don't think he's a man who thinks in black and white. I don't think he'd be prone to support any one side and say "I think that's completely wrong, or that's completely right." I think he'd try to find the way through to what, to him, would be the right behavior.
Bobby March Will Live Forever
The April Dead, your upcoming book, seems to shift themes a bit, centering on an American sailor. How did you arrive at the first rumblings for this new story?
There used to be a place about 30-miles away from here called The Holy Loch that was used as an American Navy base. So these sailors came and because they arrived on these enormous warships, they could bring their cars with them. So you have this little town and then all of a sudden you turn around and there's these guys driving these enormous American Cadillacs. And they built their own little town with bowling alleys, and supermarkets, and it was just this sort of strange juxtaposition. So the book is kind of about that.