Desert Island Crime Drama Boxsets

I’ve done a few posts with a ‘Desert Island’ theme and thought I would move onto Crime Drama Boxsets for my latest blog. Most of these are British and European crime dramas, which is the bulk of what I watch. I find many American series tend to go on too long and lose their impact. It’s a debate that I may have started, but apologies to any American readers and feel free to let me know if there are any exceptions that I need to check out.

As usual, this list is in no particular order.

1 – Agatha Christie’s Poirot

Agatha Christies Poirot - Series 1-13: The Definitive Collection DVD:  Amazon.co.uk: David Suchet, Joely Richardson, Anthony Bate, Peter Capaldi,  Christopher Eccleston, Hermione Norris, Damian Lewis, Helen Grace, Michael  Higgs, Rachael Stirling, Elliott

This is one of the few DVD collections that I still own and watch regularly. David Suchet is outstanding in the lead role and the series really developed over the years. The support cast is also exceptional and I could go on forever naming the great performances. Changes were made from time to time with the stories, but I believe that this is the closest we may ever get to witnessing a perfect Poirot portrayal.

2 – Wallander

Wallander- Collected Films 8-13 [DVD] [2008]: Amazon.co.uk: Krister  Henrikkson, Fredrik Gunnarson, Mats Bergman, Johanna Sallstrom, Stephen  Apelgren, Krister Henrikkson, Fredrik Gunnarson: DVD & Blu-ray

I was torn between the Swedish and the British versions of this as the latter is based on the novels whereas the former deals with new stories. In the end I chose the Swedish version mainly due to the performances and the native language.

3 – Vera

Vera Series 1-8 [DVD]: Amazon.co.uk: Brenda Blethyn, David Leon, Paul  Ritter, Jon Morrison, Wunmi Mosaku, Tom Hutch, Sonya Cassidy, Mia Wyles,  Cush Jumbo, Riley Jones, Clare Calbraith, Kingsley Ben-Adir, Helen  Coverdale, Olivia

If there is a theme about lead character performances, then Brenda Blethyn’s turn as Vera had to be included. With a strong support cast, great guest performances and the rugged North East England landscape, this is a series that is right up there with the best.

4 – Line of Duty

Line of Duty: Complete Series One to Five | DVD Box Set | Free shipping  over £20 | HMV Store

Although the strong performance theme can continue with my next choice, the main reason for the inclusion of this one is down to the mind-blowing writing of the series. Each season has you gripped from the first episode and involuntary shouting at the screen is common place when watching the seasons unfold.

5 – The Bridge

The Bridge - Series 1 [DVD] [2011]: Amazon.co.uk: Sofia Helin, Kim Bodnia,  Dag Malmberg, Magnus Krepper, Iggy Malmborg, Julie Carlsen, Puk Scharbau,  Kenneth Carmohn, Ellen Hillingsø, Morten Hauch-Fausbøll, Miodrag  Stojanovic, Majbritt Matthiesen,

I have watched many, many Scandinavian crime dramas, but this one is head and shoulders above the rest. The portrayal of Saga is stunning and her interaction with Martin is a joy to watch, whilst the writing of each season is of the highest quality. The series that cemented my love affair with Denmark, Sweden and the bridge that joins them.

6 – Rebus

Rebus: The Definitive Collection (DVD) – SimplyHE

There are many a debate over the actors chosen to play Rebus, with many thinking that Ken Stott is very close to the written character. Being a big fan of the novels, I loved witnessing some of them come to life on the small screen. The only criticism may be that they didn’t make enough of them.

7 – Midsomer Murders

Midsomer Murders: The Complete Series Eleven [DVD]: Amazon.co.uk: John  Nettles, Daniel Casey, Barry Jackson, Jane Wymark, Laura Howard, Kirsty  Dillon, Pater Smith, John Nettles, Daniel Casey, Caroline Graham: DVD &  Blu-ray

I’ve been watching Midsomer Murders from the beginning and it may be classed as a bit of a guilty pleasure for a serious crime drama lover as myself. Yes, there are more than a realistic number of murders in each episode and some of the methods are silly, but this just adds to the charm.

8 – Foyle’s War

If there was ever a lesson required for excellence in crime drama writing, then Foyle’s War is it. Superb characters, brilliant plots and a real lesson on the devastation caused by the war. Add to that the outstanding performance by Michael Kitchen and you have everything you need for near perfection. I do wonder, however, how many facial expressions made by Foyle were written by Anthony…

This was a real difficult list to choose, and some of my favourites were left off the list – Miss Marple, Shetland and Jonathan Creek to name just three. I know as soon as I publish this, I will remember one that I have missed out or someone will suggest something that should have made the final cut.

Suggestions and recommendations very welcome…

Goodbye Edinburgh, Hello East Lothian

For those who do not know my geographical background, I was born and raised in the West of Scotland before moving to Edinburgh in 2005. When I started writing, around 2011, I knew that my books would be set in Scotland’s beautiful capital city. So much has been been written about Edinburgh and some of the greatest crime writers have written novels based there, with one of the world’s best continuing to produce best sellers well after the main character’s retirement. In fact, when I tweeted about my Edinburgh based crime novel, a replier wished me luck and reminded me of the particularly large shoes I had to fill.

DI Joanne Christie is based at the Corstrophine Police Station, chosen as I passed there every day for many years on my way to work. I was also fascinated by the architecture of the building, which I think would make a great setting should anyone be interesting in televising the series…

Corstorphine Police Station edinburgh

After 15 years living in one of the world’s most endearing cities, we decided it was time to move to pastures new. With our hearts well and truly grabbed by Auld Reekie, we decided to stay within close proximity and chose the stunning East Lothian as our new home.

Around this time, I had noticed a request for short story submissions. There were two requirements, firstly it had to be set in Scotland and secondly it had to fit the banner of ‘Dark Fiction’. Now confession time from me, I had to Google ‘Dark Fiction’ as I had not heard of this particular genre. To my pleasant surprise, rather than a genre it is more an umbrella term for many genres which just happened to include crime fiction.

Deciding to embrace my new home county, I set my story in East Lothian. Famed for its coastline of sandy beaches and geologist’s rocky paradise, I knew that I wanted to capture some of that beauty and darkness. The slither of an idea was tumbling about the creative part of my little grey cells and very quickly ‘In Hiding’ was written. The story revolves around a doctor with an obsession with scalpels and an ex-offender hiding out in rural East Lothian. I submitted the story to Darkstroke books and a few months later, I received an e-mail confirming that it would be included within the anthology ‘Dark Scotland’.

Published on Burn’s Night this year, the anthology donates all proceeds to two Scottish based charities. Feedback so far has been incredibly positive and I am delighted with the end result. It did, however, leave me with somewhat of a conundrum.

Should DI Christie move to East Lothian with me…

Dark Scotland and the first 2 DI Christie novels are all available in paperback and eBook at Amazon. Links to the books are available in the ‘Books’ section of this website.

Introducing ‘Alexander Simpson’

Before I introduce who Alexander Simpson is, I need to take you back to the very start of my writing journey…

The year was 2011 and I was reading a lot of crime novels and watching a large amount of crime drama. I had toyed with the idea of writing a book, much in the same way as many people have/do. I finally decided to come up with a plan to do it, but first I needed an idea. I talk more about this in an earlier blog ‘What’s The Big Idea’, but to recap I wanted to set the novel from the POV of the intended target. ‘Alive’ was born from this idea and I was ready to go.

At this time, I was working for a large financial institution and had struck up a friendship with a colleague who working in the same area. It started with a conversation about a Star Wars figure he had on his desk and moved onto books, films and theatre. I then found out that he too was an aspiring author and I discussed my idea with him. His name was Craig Alexander Simpson and I named my favourite character in the book after him, Alex Simpson.

With ‘Alive’ being in diary format, I wrote the first month relatively quickly. I got into a routine of writing long hand on my 45 minute bus journey home and typing up the results during my lunch hour on the following day. I decided to share what I had written with Craig, as at this point he was the only person who was aware of my secret project. I will never forget his feedback – ‘You are on to something here, you are a talented writer.’ Any lingering doubts I had were quashed that day, I knew that I would finish this book.

I then shared updates with every 2 weeks of the diary, covertly passing him the pages in a brown envelope. Other colleagues were starting to notice, but we kept it to ourselves. 18 months later and I had the final update for him. We met after work and he read it in front of me, fittingly on the bus, as we heading into Edinburgh City Centre. We dined at the Filmhouse Cafe and discussed the book as a completed work. His encouragement never wavered since that first update and he was, and still is, one of the main reasons I continue to write.

What followed was a manuscript that then got passed to other colleagues, having finally gotten wind of what was happening. Eventually, I self published the novel and went on to write some other books. I did, however, have another idea that I shared with Craig. An idea of a writing project that a couple of friends of mine had attempted back in my schooldays. I discussed it with Craig and the passion and enthusiasm he had for my writing mirrored that for this project.

The idea was simple. We would come up with a loose plot for a novel, create 3 main characters each and take it in turns to write the novel. One of us would write around 1,000 words and then pass it to the other to read. Based on what was written the other would then write his part and pass it back and so on and so forth. Around 2 years and 70,000 later, Craig started a new job in the company and the project was paused.

Craig and I continued to write separately and we kept in touch, often raising the subject of our novel and agreeing to get back to it one day. Around 3 years later, both our lives took unexpected turns and after difficult periods for us both, we started writing the novel together once more. It only took a few months to complete and we were both delighted at the outcome. In total, the novel was 6 years in the making and we now had to decide what to do next, but there was something else that paused the process once more.

A call out for writers to submit a short story with a ‘dark fiction’ theme caught both our attention. We agreed that we should individually submit a story for consideration. Craig has read the work in progress for all my novels, providing invaluable feedback from a reader perspective and the short story was no different. This time, however, I was able to return the favour. It was an incredible turn of fate that both stories were accepted and Craig and I had secured our first proper publishing contract together. An anthology for charity was published on Burn’s Night 2021 by Darkstroke publishing. It was almost 10 years from when I started writing ‘Alive’. Craig had to finally commit to an authors name, having flirted with a number of different variations over the years. Brodie Simpson was chosen and I think it is an excellent choice.

Now with the anthology published and gaining positive feedback, our thoughts once more return to our collaboration novel. With Craig’s pen name in print, I asked him recently if we could write under the pseudonym of Alexander Simpson. Not only is this taking our surnames, but it is also the name of the character from that very first novel of mine.

Decisions will be made over the coming weeks about how this book will be published, but we are keen to share this work with the public. I still find in amazing that in the last ten years I have written 3 novels, a number of short stories, published a short story and collaborated on a book of just over 100,000 words. More importantly, I have gained a friendship with someone who encourages and inspires in equal measure.

And it all started with a Star Wars figure…

The anthology ‘Dark Scotland’ containing a short story from me and Brodie Simpson is available in eBook and Paperback from Amazon. A link is included in the ‘Books’ section of this website.

Who is Detective Inspector Joanne Christie?

One thing that is common amongst most crime writers is a character series. Even more common is that the most successful crime writers have a tendency to have multiple character series, going back to the time of Dame Agatha Christie with Poirot and Marple to modern day writers such as Val McDermid, James Oswald and of course James Patterson (who has about 47 series now).

When I started writing my debut novel ‘Alive’, I wanted to do something different. Rather than set the novel from the perspective of the detective, amateur sleuth or the killer, I set it from the murderer’s target’s view. To challenge the reader to work out if the protagonist lives or dies, I wrote it in diary form. Although DI Edward McCreedy appears in the novel, it is not often and written second hand so I was not sure if the novel would be a good starting point for a traditional detective series. My second attempt was DI James Slim, whom would later transform into DI Joanne Christie.

I started writing a series of short stories with DI James Slim, a Partick Thistle supporting detective in Glasgow. The series of stories were named after the track list of Glasgow band Love and Money’s second album ‘A Strange Kind of Love’. I think I wrote stories named after the first four tracks before I decided to change. The story for the song Strange Kind of Love was edited and moved to Stirling for a writing competition (that I never entered ultimately) and is available to read on this website at the ‘Short Stories’ tab in the menu. I was worried that DI Slim was turning into a Glasgow Rebus, so I changed tack somewhat.

Having lived in Edinburgh now for over 15 years, I moved my detective to the Capital which meant that it had to be even less like a certain other detective. I always wanted to write a female detective series so DI Joanne Christie was born. I don’t know why I chose her first name, perhaps I was listening to Jimi Hendrix playing Hey Joe (she is referred more as Jo than Joanne) but the surname was taken from Dame Agatha. She doesn’t have a particularly difficult back story, likes an occasional glass of wine so doesn’t have a drinking problem, has never smoked or taken drugs and trains for triathlons in her spare time. What she does have, however, is the challenge of being a female DI at a relatively young age.

I had enjoyed starting to write short stories with a title, then trying to fit the story to that title. With that in mind, and a large amount of Classic Rock references from her side kick DS Mike Lyle, I picked a classic rock album at random. I think I had just watched a documentary about the making of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours album so chose that one. I instantly had an idea for the first story (Second Hand News). I imagined a body being found outside a newsagent covered in old newspapers awaiting recycling. Second Hand News was written with that premise.

My favourite track on the album is The Chain, which I thought would make a great crime story. I decided to create a killer who would call himself ‘The Chain’. It was my favourite story, and villain, to write, however, I was a little concerned when Adrian McKinty’s ‘The Chain’ novel came out, fortunately the stories are completely different. I did struggle somewhat, however, when I reached ‘You Make Loving Fun’…

Ten short stories and finishing with a novella, ‘Christie’s Early Cases’ was completed. The title was another nod to Dame Agatha’s and in particular Poirot’s short story collection. Over the eleven stories, I had created the characters for a potential series and was happy with the result. DI Christie had solved a number of cases, but I wanted to make sure the other members of her team contributed, rather than just being bit part players in the stories. The main piece of feedback I got was that these characters needed a full length novel, so ‘Five Against One’ was created.

Sticking with the music theme, ‘Five Against One’ was the original name for Pearl Jam’s second album ‘Vs’ and once more I used the track list as inspiration. The book has twelve parts, each named after the tracks and (like Christie’s Early Cases) written in order that the tracks appear on the album. Downloading and streaming has taken away the joy of the album as a complete piece of work for most people, this was my way of appreciating it as a whole.

I’m really happy how the novel turned out and I think that there is much to come from these characters. DI Christie is the detective I wanted her to turn out to be, different from most but interesting none the less.

I hope my readers agree…

‘Five Against One’ will be available soon on Amazon and I will post a link on the ‘Books’ tab of this website when it has been launched.

‘Christie’s Early Cases’ and ‘Alive’ are currently available in eBook and paperback.

‘A Strange Kind of Love’ and three other short stories can be read on this website.

Pearl Jam – Top 10

To celebrate the release of Pearl Jam’s eleventh studio album, Gigaton, I thought I would rank their previous 10 in order of my personal preference.

I should point out that I believe that there are no poor PJ albums and the following is just my opinion. Please feel free to share your own list, there are no right or wrong answers. Music is personal to each individual, songs and albums mean more to some than others. This is just my list…

10 – Riot Act (2002)

Riot Act (album) - Wikipedia

Probably the album that I have listened to the least and I should definitely listen to it more. There are a few good songs on the album such as ‘Love Boat Captain’, ‘I Am Mine’ and ‘Thumbing My Way’. I think this was a difficult album for them, coming off the 9/11 and Roskilde tragedies. There is definitely a different feel to this album than the others and I think there is a mix of anger and hurt that comes through in the songs.

9 – Pearl Jam (2006)

Pearl Jam (album) - Wikipedia

This album starts really powerfully with ‘Life Wasted’ and ‘World Wide Suicide’ and remains uptempo throughout. It was a step up from the more experimental ‘Riot Act’ album. ‘Severed Hand’ is another powerful song and would certainly make a great name for a crime novel…

8 – No Code (1996)

No Code - Wikipedia

This album has some very strong songs on it, although it has a very different feel to the earlier albums. The eerie opening track ‘Sometimes’ leads you into a false sense of security before the power of ‘Hail, Hail’ arrives with ‘Habit’ having the feeling of early Grunge anger and attitude. The stand out track, however, is ‘Present Tense’ with its haunting guitar introduction and Eddie’s stunning vocals.

7 – Binaural (2000)

Binaural (album) - Wikipedia

The explosive opening of ‘Breakerfall’ with Eddie’s twin vocals introduces a really good album. There are a number of excellent tracks on this album including ‘Light Years’, ‘Grievance’ and the humorous, ukulele led ‘Soon Forgot’. The standout for me is ‘Nothing As It Seems’. The screaming, sustained lead guitar over the acoustic works so well before Eddie comes in and sings the powerful lyrics so passionately.

6 – Yield (1998)

Yield (album) - Wikipedia

Although this album is two songs too long for me, with the rather silly ‘Push Me, Pull Me’ and the overly-Beatles styled ‘All Those Yesterdays’ at the end of the album. This does not take away from the number of excellent songs before we get there such as ‘Brain of J’, ‘Wishlist’, ‘MFC’ and ‘In Hiding’. This album contains two of my favourite PJ songs in ‘Do The Evolution’ and ‘Given To Fly’.

5 – Vitalogy (1994)

Vitalogy - Wikipedia

This album was a real change in sound and feel from the first two but it has some of the best PJ songs on it. It may have been higher up in my list had it not been for the number of silly outtake style songs like ‘Bugs’ and ‘Aye Davanita’. The lead single of ‘Spin The Black Circle’ illustrates the more up tempo songs that also included ‘Not For You’ and the excellent ‘Corduroy’. It is the softer songs that I really like on this album such as ‘Immortality’, ‘Nothingman’ and one of their best songs ever written in ‘Better Man’.

4 – Backspacer (2009)

Backspacer - Wikipedia

This was the album that got me right back into listening to Pearl Jam a lot. Even after the first listen, I felt this was a real return to form for the band and I think it has the same feel as the early albums. It starts with a real punch with ‘Gonna See My Friend’ and “Got Some’ before the hit single ‘The Fixer’. There is not a bad song on the album and the beautiful ‘Just Breathe’ has that subtle sound that can also be heard on Eddie Vedder’s excellent solo album “Into The Wild’ which is one of my favourite albums of all time.

3 – Lightning Bolt (2013)

Lightning Bolt (Pearl Jam album) - Wikipedia

I was a little apprehensive when this album came out. I was so impressed with Backspacer and I was worried that the band may change direction again or move away from all the good work from the previous album. From the opening track I knew that this was not the case. A similar feel to Backspacer and the earlier albums, again there is not a bad song on the album. ‘Mind Your Manners’ and ‘My Father’s Son’ and real powerful songs where ‘Sirens’ and ‘Pendulum’ are two of the most beautiful PJ songs ever written. The album also contains the awesome ‘Getaway’, opening the album with a huge punch. I love this song so much, that it was actually it was my ringtone for years.

2 – Vs (1993)

Vs. (Pearl Jam album) - Wikipedia

The toughest part of this list was separating the top two. I even considered having a joint number one, but that would be cheating. I remember playing this album to death when it came out and for many years it was my number one PJ album. The opening two tracks of ‘Go’ and ‘Animal’ are just so powerful. This album has great song after great song, with so many intense songs with intense lyrics. The second album is often the most difficult, but they achieved greatness with theirs. ‘Rearviewmirror’, ‘Rats’ and ‘Dissident’ have the same power as the opening two songs. The softer songs of ‘Daughter’, ‘Small Town’ and the beautiful ‘Indifference’ just add to the overall package. This album means so much to me that I have used it as inspiration in the novel I am currently writing that I have titled ‘Five Against One’ which was the original name for the album.

1 – Ten (1991)

PearlJam-Ten2.jpg

This may very well be my favourite album ever. When this came out I was a teenager learning to play guitar and listening to all the classic rock artists of the day. The grunge movement had the same affect on me as The Beatles, Elvis, Punk or Britpop may have had on their generation. I loved Nirvana as well, but for me PJ were a class above. I love every song on this album and can happily listen to it all the way through today despite the hundreds of plays I have already given it. There is little point in naming the songs as they are all brilliant, well with the exception of one which I have to name and mention.

I remember hearing Alive for the first time and I was just blown away. It remains my favourite song of all time and when I started to write my debut novel, I had the title before I had the story. It was always going to be called Alive in a show of appreciation to the song that has stayed with me, and meant so much to me, since that day.

I hope you enjoyed my list and I would love to know what other PJ fans think. Do I need to go back and listen to a particular album many times again and get it higher up the list?

Alive is available on paperback and eBook – click on the Books section of the menu to order. ‘Five Against One’ will be released in the Summer of 2020.

Desert Island Crime Drama Cars

For the latest in my series of ‘Desert Island’ blogs, I have decided to choose 8 cars that have featured in British Crime Dramas on the television (so Magnum PI’s Ferrari is off the list). Some of the cars may differ from what the crime writers wrote in their novels, however, I have chosen the cars used in the television series as it is easier to visualise (and provide photographs).

I will confess, straight off the bat, that I am not a petrol head and took the information about each individual car from researching the internet, so some of the information may not be 100% accurate. I take no responsibility for any errors due to my lack of classic car knowledge (I’ll stick to classic rock).

Once again, in no particular order…

1 – Inspector Morse – 1960 Jaguar Mark II. Probably one of the most iconic and recognisable cars in all of crime drama. Making an appearance also in the off shoot series’ of Lewis and Endeavour, this car shouts CLASSIC.

2 – Captain Hastings (Poirot) – 1931 Lagonda 2 litre low chassis Tourer. Some of my favourite episodes involve Hastings speeding through the countryside with Poirot in his elegant Lagonda. Hugh Fraser must have loved driving this (there is a chase scene where you can actually see him smiling).

3 – Vera – 1996 Land Rover Defender 90 Tdi. This car is so connected with British crime dramas that it has appeared not only in Vera but at least 3 other crime dramas (Rosemary & Thyme, The Coroner, Strike). The model used apparently is an automatic as Brenda can only drive automatics, so when she changes gear in the series, its more of her superb acting.

4 – Inspector Lynley – 1968 Bristol 410. I loved this series and Inspector Lynley got to drive a couple of classic cars, however, I have chosen this one as it seems to fit the character best.

5 – Wallander (Kenneth Branagh) – 2010 Volvo XC70 D5 Inscription. Okay, I’ve cheated a bit with this one as it’s set in Sweden, but it is from the British series. I dream of driving around Southern Sweden in a Volvo at some point, so I was always going to chose this one.

6 – Rebus – 1998 SAAB 9-3 S. If I was going to have a Volvo on the list, I had better have a SAAB so not to upset any Swedish readers. Rebus didn’t have the best relationship with this car and I think the novels use the earlier 900 model, but it is a great car (when it works).

7 – Bergerac – 1949 Triumph Roadster. Another instantly recognisable car from the classic 1980’s series set on Jersey. A young John Nettles got to drive this before the less exciting choices of his Midsomer Murders character.

8 – Samantha Stewart (Foyle’s War) – 1936 Wolseley 14/56 [Series II]. There is some debate about which model was used during Foyle’s War and I believe they used a number of different cars to shepherd Foyle around. I think that the car and Sam’s driving are such a big part of the series it would remiss of me not to include it.

BONUS CHOICE – DS Mike Lyle (DI Christie series) – Volkswagen Golf GTI. I don’t go into much detail about the exact model, but it’s black and kept immaculate. It is also a four door model to allow suspects to be put in the back. Oh, and it has a fantastic music player to allow all the classic rock music to be played.

Thanks for reading and I hope you liked my choices. You can read more about Lyle’s car adventures in ‘Christies Early Cases’ (link under Books on the menu bar), and watch out for the first full DI Christie novel coming in summer/august 2020.

Desert Island Guitars

Following my last blog when I chose my favourite crime novels, I decided to do the same with my other passion – guitars.

I had a bit of fun on Twitter recently when I asked some people if they could have any other guitarist’s guitar, which and whose would they pick. I got some replies from known guitarists, including James Grant (Love and Money), who is my favourite singer/songwriter and Lloyd Cole.

I then decided to ask five crime writers whom I admire (some who I knew played guitar) and was delighted that they all responded.

Ian Rankin chose Tiny Tim’s ukulele.

Mark Billingham chose Elvis Costello’s Fender Jazzmaster.

Steve Cavanagh chose Jimi Hendrix’s Fender Stratocaster from Woodstock (because it would be worth a fortune)

Luca Veste chose Matt Bellamy’s Manson guitar in red.

Stuart Neville chose a 1959 Les Paul (either Billy Gibbons’ Pearly Gates or Bernie Marsden’s The Beast).

So, would I agree with any of the choices? In no particular order here it is – 

1 – Jimi Hendrix’s Fender Stratocaster. Yes, I agree with Steve Cavanagh on this one, but for the guitar itself rather than the monetary value ($2m when last sold).

2 – Jimmy Page’s Gibson SG Double Neck. Also the choice of James Grant and a good way to get 2 for the price of one. Would also give me a 12 string guitar to play with.

3 – David Gilmour’s Fender Stratocaster serial number 0001. He sold this recently at a charity auction, however, it is a guitar with great history and it would always be good to have a back up Stratocaster.

4 – Bruce Springsteen’s Fender Esquire/Telecaster. Another guitar with a lot of history, this is the guitar of the cover of his Born to Run album.

5 – Bruce John Dickinson’s 1978 Gibson Les Paul ‘Blackfish’. The guitarist of rock band ‘The Little Angels’, I always loved the detail carved into this guitar and the sound is fantastic.

6 – James Grant’s Gibson SJ-200 Acoustic. I would have to have an acoustic guitar and I actually bought the Epiphone equivalent of this guitar because James plays this and I am sure the Gibson will sound so much better than mine.

7 – Phil Collin’s Jackson Dinky Dracula. Def Leppard were one of the first rock bands I got into as a kid and I loved this guitar which Phil used on the Hysteria tour. Known for its low action, this guitar may help improve my playing. Or maybe not!

8 – Angus Young’s Gibson SG. Great guitar player, great showman and someone who makes playing the guitar seem effortless. If I was to have an SG, it would have to be his.

Hope you enjoyed the blog, I’m off now to dream of which one to play first…

Desert Island Crime Books

Most of you will be aware of the long running BBC Radio 4 series, Desert Island Discs. For those of you who don’t, guests are invited to share the 8 songs they would take with them if stranded on a desert island, along with 1 book and a luxury item. I thought I would play a similar game, only changing it to 8 crime novels, 1 song and a luxury item.

1 – Along Came A Spider by James Patterson

I read this book in the late 1990’s and it was what got me first interested in the genre. I quickly worked my way through the Alex Cross series at that time and would then faithfully buy the new books on hardback when they, and other Patterson books, were published. Of course now he publishes so much that a number of years ago I stopped reading his books, but it would be good to go back to appreciate what got me started.

2 – And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Although I have yet to finish all her books, this is by far my favourite. A stand alone novel without Poirot or Miss Marple making an appearance. The set up is fun, 10 strangers are invited to stay on a remote island before one by one they start being murdered. A very clever plot and a well worked out resolution.

3 – The Blackhouse by Peter May

The first book in the Lewis trilogy, this was the first Peter May book that I read. I went on to read most of what he has written and have enjoyed them greatly. The Enzo MacLeod series was also exceptional, however, The Blackhouse grabbed my attention early and it didn’t let up until the end of the third book in the series.

4 – Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd

OK, so this is a little bit of a cheat as it is more thriller than crime novel, however, William Boyd is probably my favourite author and I just could not leave him off the list. Boyd’s characterisation is amongst the best in the business and he often takes his main character through the mill.

5 – Faceless Killers by Henning Mankell

The first book in the Kurt Wallander series, this is a great introduction to one of crime fiction’s favourite detective. I am currently working my way through the full series and it goes from strength to strength with each novel. I also love the Skane setting and having visited Wallander’s home town of Ystad, I have a real affection for these novels.

6 – The Naming Of The Dead by Ian Rankin

Being a fellow Edinburgh based author, as well as one the world’s greatest crime writers, it was inevitable that Ian Rankin would make the list. Another series that I am still working through, however, I have completed the original 17 novels. What I loved most about this Rebus novel was the development of DS Clarke which I thought brought more to the book that previously seen.

7 – Picture Her Dead by Lin Anderson

A friend of mine met Lin Anderson at a book event and told her that his friend (me) had written a book (Alive). She then produced a copy of this book, signed and dedicated to me with a good luck message. Although happy for me, I think my friend was a little disappointed in not getting a copy himself. I loved the book and in particular the setting in Glasgow’s old cinemas and I will certainly read more of the novels having purchased the first 3 in the series.

8 – A Maigret Christmas and Other Stories by Georges Simenon

For the last few years, I have tried to read a Christmas based crime novel at the end of year. I received this for Christmas a couple of years ago and read it between Christmas and New Year that year. If I’m on a desert island, this book will allow me to carry on the tradition, as long as I can work out what day it is.

SONG – Alive by Pearl Jam

Those whom know me will not be surprised at this pick as I class this as the greatest song ever written (in my humble option). I was a teenager when this song came out and I wrapped myself up in the Grunge scene of the early 1990’s. The opening riff, the vocals, the rhythm section and two great guitar solos make it a song that I have played 100’s of times and still enjoy to this day. So important the song is to me, I named my debut novel after it. In fact, I started with the title before I had decided what I was going to write.

LUXURY ITEM – My Guitar

My two main hobbies are writing and playing my guitar. I figured that I could either make up stories in my head, write them out on the sand or create some kind of writing implement during my stay on the island. It would be so much harder to create a guitar, so I would have to take that with me.

I hope you enjoyed my list, I may do a desert island disc blog at some point as I don’t think I will make it onto the show, unlike Ian Rankin who managed an appearance (and well worth a download incidentally). I hope you may have taken a fancy to one of the books on the list (or Alive even) which you will be able to pick up at the usual places (except Alive which is only on Amazon at present – link in the menu).

Music and Crime Fiction

I wrote in my last blog about how important music is to my writing and I wanted to expand on it in my latest blog. So let me start with a confession, I wanted to be a rock star.

I taught myself how to play guitar around 30 years ago and the guitar has always been a trusted friend of mine. I’m no Jimi Hendrix (and I don’t pretend to be), but I can play at a decent standard. The guitar has been my main source of relaxing and de-stressing for these past decades, now only matched by my writing.

In my late teens and early twenties, I played in a number of bands with friends from school. Deep down I knew I didn’t have the talent to make it (similar to my footballing skills), but the sheer joy of creating music with my close friends and then stepping on stage to play in front of (sometimes) 20 people was an experience I will never forget.

I’ve said before that I only took up writing in my mid thirties, however, back in those days I loved writing lyrics, regardless of how good or bad they turned out (usually the latter). I had two rules for my lyric writing. Firstly, they had to rhyme like a poem and secondly, they had to tell a story. These rules were unconscious at the time, but I guess they set me up well for later life.

I wrote one song that I was proud of at the time which had one particular line that I was teased about relentlessly by my bandmates.

‘Lately I have found you, not your usual self. You seem to hide from me, like a book upon a shelf.’

OK, I admit it’s hardly Bob Dylan. I had this picture in my head of someone trying to find a particular book and being unable to find it amongst all the books in front of them. Subconsciously, I was mixing music with literature. Around a decade later, I was listening to a song by Pearl Jam. Eddie Vedder is an outstanding lyricist and pens the majority of Pearl Jam’s lyrics. The song was called ‘Sometimes’ and I thought I heard a particular lyric. I had to listen to it a few times to make sure.

‘My small self…like a book amongst the many on a shelf…’

I punched the air in delight. Eddie Vedder had written lyrics that mirrored mine from years before. If I was brave enough to get a tattoo, it would possibly be that lyric (or the Stickman from the ‘Alive’ record sleeve). I’m not, so I won’t.

Of course, I’m not the only crime writer who puts music into their books. Ian Rankin is as famous for his love of music as he is for crime writing in some circles. Some Rolling Stones albums have been used for the titles of his books. He also consistently name checks his favourite artists when describing the music Rebus and Clarke are listening to.

Mark Billingham has a real love of country music and Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks has an eclectic taste in music. Inspector Morse, of course, has a deep passion for classical music.

Classic rock was always going to be part of my writing. Although I love many genres of music, this is the one I always return to. Having DS Mike Lyle as DI Christie’s trusted partner in crime, it was inevitable that he would like that music also. I made him slightly older than me to give him a wider range of music. I also took the obsession further and had him co-own a Classic Rock themed cafe, The Classic Crock (Crock as in Crockery – you see now!). With his other passion being driving, it gave me many opportunities to slip in a reference to a song or band that I love. Often it was the particular band I was listening to at the time.

I think music and crime fiction go well together and music will continue to play a part in novels to come. It gives the reader a soundtrack to the story and more and more writers are creating playlists on Spotify to go with their books. When I started writing ‘Christie’s Early Cases’ around 2014, I kept a note of all the songs mentioned so that I could do this.

Little did I know, I was not alone…

You can hear the playlist on Spotify – the link is now on the ‘Links’ page of this website.

Christie’s Early Cases is available on Amazon in eBook or Paperback. Click on the ‘Books’ tab on the menu bar for link.

What’s The Big Idea?

How do authors come up with so many different ideas?

Stories generally start with a simple idea by the author and there are many ways in which an author can get inspired to write. In this blog, I wanted to write about how I came up with the idea which would develop into my debut novel ‘Alive’. Before I do that, let me touch on ideas and inspiration first of all.

I mentioned before that I often use song titles as inspiration for my stories. Sometimes I begin with that and see where it takes me, other times I have an idea for a story and try a work a song title into that story. Either way, I enjoy linking music and fiction together, whilst being careful that the story is not connected, in any way, to the song.

I only started writing seriously in my mid 30’s, mainly due to a lack of confidence. I enjoyed writing stories at school, but back then I was reading a lot of James Herbert and his genre was not best suited to high school English class. I remember writing a story in a mock exam which was highly influenced by Mr Herbert and being proud of the outcome. The story was of a man dreaming of being brutally killed before awaking to find a murderer in his bedroom. Ultimately I received a poor grade, not because the story or prose were poor, but because the question was to be a true life example.

I did get a better grade later, on a story I wrote about a boy called Ricky who shot and killed a friend in a teenage drunken evening. I stole the idea (and the main characters name) from Skid Row’s ’18 and Life’ song. A school friend wrote a similar story, based on the same song, but had the sense to change the main character’s name.

Many famous authors have different ways of inspiration. Lots carry around books and scribble notes when an idea appears. I took my eldest daughter to the Edinburgh International Book festival where she met a famous YA author for a signing. She loved her unusual name and took out a notebook from her bag and wrote it down. A couple of years later, my daughter’s name was used as a character in one of her books.

Ian Rankin uses an ideas box, where he keeps scribbles of ideas, or newspaper articles that may inspire his stories. I have a book that I use for some ideas that I may come back to, but I need to get better at recording them whilst they are still fresh in my mind.

When I wrote ‘Christie’s Early Cases’, I came up with the idea of writing a series of short stories to introduce the main characters. I then decided that each story would represent a case that Christie was involved in after her promotion to DI. With her partner DS Lyle being a big fan of Classic Rock music, I took a further step and I decided to name the 11 stories after the track list of a Classic Rock album. I’m not sure why I chose Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ album, although it is a great album and fits the Classic Rock genre perfectly. Some songs were easy to make into crime stories, but I did struggle somewhat with ‘You Make Loving Fun’.

So, let me return to the start and tell you about ‘Alive’.

The year was 2011 and all I had to begin with was the title. ‘Alive’ by Pearl Jam is my favourite song of all time (I can debate this on another blog) so I just had to name my book after this song. Secondly, I had a genre. I wanted to write a crime novel. The fact that the end product is more thriller than crime is immaterial.

Next, I wanted to do it differently to other, more traditional crime novels. I decided that the detective would not be the main character, police or amateur sleuth regardless. I considered writing from a killer’s perspective, but this has been done (by Agatha Christie at least – I won’t reveal which novel as I don’t do spoilers). I settled on the idea of writing it from, what I call, the target’s perspective.

My next consideration was, how can I write from the target’s perspective without revealing whether they live or die? My solution was writing it through Steve’s diary. Great idea, I thought. One of my favourite books as an early teen was Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (Aged 13 3/4). Ok, very different subject and genre, but I liked that you could dip in and out of the book without forcing yourself to the end of a chapter. It also helped with my writing, as I was focused on completing weeks, then months and before I knew it most of the book was complete.

From there, the story took shape. The set up was that the main character, Steve, would receive a note on the 1st of January saying he would be murdered that year. The story would be centred around not only who was doing this, but why they were doing this and would they be ultimately successful in doing it? The diary format did have some issues though. I was writing in the first person and struggled somewhat with description and getting the other character’s perspective over. These turned out as minor issues and overall I’m very happy with the outcome.

Fortunately. most people I have spoken to who have read ‘Alive’ have agreed. I guess my idea was ok after all.

To read ‘Alive’ select Books on the main menu and click on the book cover. Alive is available in both paperback and eBook.