Bloody Scotland 2014

1stAlex Gray

Alex Gray introduced criminologist, David Wilson (on the left) and Gary Mulgrew (on the right). Gary was one of the Nat West Three and his book Gang of One, outlines his story from being extradited from the UK to the spend time in the US prison system.

From Gary’s viewpoint he was never in discussion with anyone in the US about what he had done or not done. He had come forward voluntarily along with the others involved and delivered the paper trail that led to his and their convictions. Nat West had said there was no crime to answer, and he was ironing when he saw on Sky News that he had been extradited to the US to be charged. David Wilson said it was important that we are as firm with white collar crime as we are with blue collar or street crime. But that Gary Mulgrew was held up to be a metaphor for everything that is wrong about global capitalisation.

Discussion was around the differences between prison in the UK (rehabilitation is attempted) and in the US (punishment is the main focus), and also around how to encourage offenders not to repeat crimes in future. The arts – theatre, writing, music, painting – were seen as very important in giving offenders a different script about their lives which helped them to see things differently.

2ndSara and James

Sara Sheridan and James Runcie both write historical crime novels with an overlapping time period 1953 – 1961. Sara’s novels span the years 1951 to 1961 and are set in Brighton, although her protagonist, Mirabelle Bevan travels to London in the second book in the series and to Cambridge in the third. James’s novels span the years 1953 to 1978 and are set in Cambridgeshire, following the crimes investigated by his clergyman protagonist, Canon Sidney Chambers.

The post-war years were times of great social change. People were recovering from the war and attitudes were changing. Women had been called on in wartime to perform jobs that traditionally men used to do and did not want to go back to simply being housewives again.  As well as prejudices against women there was also racial prejudice. There was a lot of reticence and secret keeping and forensics hadn’t really come into its own although DNA was discovered in 1953

There was some light-hearted banter over whether their two protagonists might meet while Mirabelle is in Cambridge. I’ve enjoyed the first two novels – Brighton Belle and London Calling. And now I can’t wait to read Sara’s third novel in the series, England Expects to find out!

I haven’t read any of James Runcie’s novels yet, but the series with Canon Sidney Chambers has its own website, Grantchester Mysteries,  and ITV are dramatizing the novels in a new series called Grantchester which starts in October 2014. See the trailer here.


A prolific writer of historic regency novels, M C Beaton (Marion Chesney) has written two detective series with the well-known characters Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin. Catriona McPherson asked about the inspiration for these two characters. M C Beaton was inspired to write the Hamish Macbeth series through living in Sutherland while her husband farmed sheep, and the Agatha Raisin series when she and her husband moved to the Cotswolds.

Despite being a prolific writer – she produces two books a year – she finds the writing process hard but treats it like any other job and just gets on with it. She loves being in the Cotswolds and finds it is the best place to write.

Although Hamish Macbeth is a well-known TV character,  loosely based on her novels, Sky 1 HD are doing a pilot of Agatha Raisin at Christmas, which apparently has kept the spirit of the books very well.

MC Beaton is also on Facebook and apparently very amusing to follow. You can read her own write-up of #BloodyScotland here.



The panel from left to right – Sir Tom Devine (leading academic and Scottish historian), Mona Siddiqui (professor of Islamic and Interreligious Studies at Edinburgh University), Iain MacWhirter (political commentator on the Herald in Scotland), William McIlvanney (one of Scotland’s leading writers) and Karine Polwart (Scottish singer songwriter).

As a Scot, living in England, I hadn’t had an opportunity to attend any events live in connection with the Scottish referendum, so this was too good an opportunity to pass by.

We travelled to Scotland on Friday 19th September, shortly after the Referendum result was in. Scotland had voted No by a majority to being an independent country (just in case anybody missed the outcome :)). The day was dank and foggy and as we drove up the A1 we heard the news of Alex Salmond’s resignation. I somehow missed the Welcome to Scotland sign that marks the Scottish border. My husband found this very funny whilst I dealt with inner misgivings over whether I was in one country or another.

This was always going to be an interesting debate because of the participants, irrespective of the outcome of the vote. I sat at the back of the Albert Halls to be ready to make a quick exit if things got too heated but it was a very civilised debate.

I couldn’t do justice to the debate in a write-up, so I’m including a link to a write-up in the Sunday Herald here instead which gives a good summary.



This was a great discussion led by James Runcie about what makes a crime novel – tone, setting and so on. The settings for both authors were very important – Glasgow in McIlvanney’s case and Cairo in Bilal’s. Both Glasgow and Cairo are immense cities with layer upon layer of society all mixed up together. Bilal described Cairo as a place where everything takes place on the streets in front of witnesses. McIlvanney made the point that the borderland between crime and straight living is fluid and anyone may cross it at any time. Setting crime in cities with intricate layers is a good place to start.

William McIlvanney said that when he started out to write the first Laidlaw novel he didn’t know he was writing a crime novel. He couldn’t write one Laidlaw novel a year, although he was advised to, because he doesn’t work that way. Instead he wrote three Laidlaw novels over the course of a few decades.

Parker Bilal is a pen name for Jamal Mahjoub, and he is writing a series of edgy political thrillers set in Cairo in the years 2001 to 2011. He has committed in his own mind to ten novels featuring his protagonist Makana in the years spanning the Arab Spring.

McIlvanney told a wonderful story about writing a poem as a fourteen year old and one of his brothers read it and encouraged him to keep going. There were a lot of questions at the end of the session. I would like to have asked if he still had that poem, but I didn’t.

6thKathy Reichs

Kathy Reichs was interviewed by Ian Rankin and he drew her out about the televised show Bones, based on her novels with the forensic anthropologist, Temperance Brennan, who in the TV series is writing a series of novels about the forensic anthropologist called Kathy Reichs.

Kathy described long commutes to and from work, a full time work schedule, parenting and creative writing. It is hard to see how someone can manage all that. And nowadays, in addition to writing her own novels, she works with her daughter, Kerry (who is a novelist in her own right), on some of the TV scripts for Bones and with her son, Brendan, on a YA ‘Virals’ series with protagonist, Tori Brennan, Temperance Brennan’s niece.

Pitch Perfect 

This is the session where a shortlist of seven people get to pitch their novel concept in three minutes to three leading lights in the publishing industry, This year, the pitch was to Alison Hennessey (Senior Crime Editor at Harvill Secker), Krystyna Green (Editorial Director for Constable & Robinson crime fiction) and Tricia Jackson (Editorial Director  at Pan MacMillan).

I love this session because it’s a time to just sit back and listen. This year all the pitches were well thought out, some were more complex than others but all sounded intriguing.

Top tips from the experts offering feedback on all the pitches were:

  • It is difficult to pitch stories set in the US to UK publishers (even if Mason Cross managed it).
  • It is important to have a great title.
  • Simplify the novel concept and focus on the main thrust of the concept while you are pitching.

The winner this year was Margaret Stewart, a geologist from Edinburgh.  She described her novel as being for readers of Gillian Flynn and  the setting in her story as being a character in its own right. Certainly, her protagonist, forensic geologist, Dr Isabel Ballantyne, had the same appeal for me as Temperance Brennan in the Kathy Reichs series and Dr Ruth Galloway, forensic anthropologist in the Elly Griffiths Ruth Galloway series.

Margaret won the latest Kindle offering with £250 of crime novels already loaded on it.

pitch perfect winner

Picture courtesty of agent Jenny Brown of Jenny Brown Associates who chaired the Pitch Perfect panel.From left to right, Tricia Brown, Margaret Stewart, Alison Hennessy and Krystyna Green.

Other reviews and links from #BloodyScotland

Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival has several sessions running concurrently so one person will never see everything that is going on there. I’m sure that there are lots of reviews I’ve missed but here are a few links to other write-ups and Bloody Scotland links I have spotted so far on social media. Enjoy!