I’VE been asked to link into this little chain blog among crime writers by my pal Frank Muir, whose cracking novels featuring DCI Gilchrist, are all the more readable because they’re set in the picturesque seaside town of St. Andrews – you never know what’s lurking behind the winding streets of one of Scotland’s most famous spots. You can see Frank’s blog on his website… http://www.frankmuir.co.uk… as well as dip into his great novels on this gripping series. Also, I’ve invited the charming and talented Michael J Malone whose novels featuring Glasgow cop Ray McBain are a riveting read.
Here are the questions we’ve been asked.
1 What am I working on….
AT the moment I’m working on the plot of my fifth novel in the thriller series featuring investigative journalist, Rosie Gilmour. This is the stage where much of the story is swirling around in my mind and I spend a bit of time letting it take shape before I start to write. I have to be able to see the characters and get to know them before I begin. Hopefully it will all click in soon and I will open the prologue.
2 How does my work differ from others in the genre…
THERE is so much crime fiction out there, it is a highly comeptitive market, but one that is lapped up by millions of readers as crime continues to be the biggest seller in fiction. Most crime fiction features a police detective, and there is a lot of fantastic books around. My books are different because my main character is a journalist and not a cop. Her driving force is to get a story into the newspaper. Rosie Gilmour is an intrepid reporter and will stop at nothing as she tears down the walls of corruption from the streets to the top of the establishment. But as a journalist, her burden of proof of her case is different. She doesn’t need to get the bad guys in court. She just has to have enough to unmask them in the newspaper. So my work is different in that respect. And also, as Rosie is a journalist and not a cop, she is not tied to one city – hence the reason my novels usually move from Glasgow to various places in Europe as Rosie investigates.
3 Why do I write what I do…
THIS is an easy one. I write what I do, because I’ve been there as a journalist. I worked for what seems like two hundred years as a frontline journalist covering breaking stories and investigations all over the world. In short, the character of Rosie is based on much of my experience. But she is younger, better looking and much braver than me. But a lot of my own sentiments are in her, and we both share the same sense of compassion and determination.
4 How does my writing process work…
ONCE I type the opening scene of my novel, it’s like a weight off my shoulder. I read it back, and think….yes…I can do this. I think it’s a writer thing. You get so wrapped up in the editing and proof reading and revision of your last book, that there has been a few months where you are just planning. Then comes the test. So once I start, I usually work then in the afternoons. I don’t write all day, but once I start, I’m in the zone, living with the characters, waking up with them and all that madness. Sometimes I have to remind myself where I am when I’m out walking, planning a chapter, as I’m away in another world! I write a chapter, go for a walk, come back and make some changes. Then I like to start the next chapter and rough it out. The following afternoon, I go over it again, change it again, and then write another chapter. My revision and editing process is continual while I go along, and it works better for me. Once it’s done and I’ve read it over so many times I can almost recite it, I send it to my editors, Jane Wood and Katie Gordon at Quercus. Then I hope for the best. Once the call comes back to say I’ve passed muster, the editing process begins. No matter how many times I read and re-read, I still leave typos and words out or in that shouldn’t be there. I’m a little scatty that way. So thank God for the proof readers!
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THERE’S a giddy joy that begins at the airport — the minute I’m through enemy lines.
I’ve been patted down, stripped of my boots, belt and jacket, and my bags rummaged for exploding face creams.
I’m finally on the red-eye flight to Malaga — and the worst thing that can happen now is for the well-fed guy squeezed into the seat next to me to have had chickpeas in his curry last night.
There is no greater sound than the dull thud of an air- craft door tightly closing and realisation that nobody can’t shout me back.
I’m off! Adios, cold, dismal Scotland. I hope the weather picks up for you.
Is that the reassuring clink of the drinks trolley trundling up the aisle? Sod this sleeping — make mine a G&T!
These days, I write crime novels for a living, so much of
my time is spent staring into space absorbed in characters that don’t exist but are very real to me.
It’s a bit like living with a mental condition but it works for me — and nobody’s offered to lock me up. Yet. So, this lit- tle sojourn across Spain should blast me right out of my com- fort zone into the unknown.
Nervous? Of course I am.
I’m travelling on my own, only on public transport — mostly trains. And I’m trying to speak Spanish.
The problem is, I have this peculiar habit of lapsing into broken English with the corre- sponding accent of whatever country I’m in. I hear myself saying things like: ‘Yes, I theenk I weel have the feesh and cheeps, por favor.’ That has to change, because outside of the Costas, most Spaniards don’t even speak my broken English.
So, come with me now, to the glorious Costa del Sol.
Three days down, and I’m
settled into expat life in the former fishing village of La Cala de Mijas, a 15-minute, 1.50 euro bus ride south of Fuengirola.
It’s midnight at Legends club, and the glitter ball is throwing shadows on the ceiling and crimson velvet curtains.
Dean Martin is on stage and his dulcet tones have the crowd swaying to Volare. Then Sammy Davis Jr and Frank Sinatra burst on from the wings as the Ratpack are in full throttle — Ain’t That A Kick In The Head.
This is downtown Mijas Costa, and this is how the tourists roll.
The lads from Liverpool, Man- chester and Birmingham might not look much like the Ratpack, but they sure as heck sound like them. What a brilliant turn. I’m standing at the bar on
my second pacharan — my favourite tipple made from blue- berries — so a couple of these and I’m well into my five-a-day health plan. With a kick.
The sometimes notorious Costa del Sol, is where I come to write. And, she whispered, it’s not exactly short on inspi- ration for a crime novelist.
But this picturesque village of La Cala de Mijas is a little jewel where you can eat terrific tapas, as well Indian, Thai, or roast beef and Yorkshire pud.
There are a lot of English voices and it can feel like you’ve walked into the Queen Vic or Rover’s Return.
Purists sometimes frown at the Brits playing bingo, carpet bowls or tucking into a fry-up breakfast.
But you know what? Why shouldn’t they have a bit of home in the sun? They’ve
earned it, living the rest of the year underwater in the UK.
And it’s not as if the Span- ish mind. Between UK expats and tourists, they’ve been living alongside each other for decades and the Costa del Sol is still the No1 destination for Brits.
It’s easy to see why.
From La Cala, I can take a bus to Fuengirola, and the train from there, all along the coast to Benalmadena, Torremolinos and even to Malaga airport.
Can you imagine how grateful we’d be in Glasgow or Edin- burgh to walk out the airport straight on to a train to the city for less that three quid?
Spain leaves us standing when it comes to public trans- port. But more of that later.
What I love about these places on the Costa del Sol is they are what they are.
Sure the multi-storey hotels may be a scar on the skyline, but if you’re a family of five
or bunch of mates, your needs are simple. A room with a sea view and good grub and drink that won’t bust your wallet.
If you can’t have a good time here, there’s something wrong with you.
The Costa del Sol has every- thing, from the charming back- streets of Torremolinos, to the pretty port of Benalmadena and the massive shopping malls in Fuengirola.
Down on Fuengirola’s sea- front, there are more mobility scooters than your average Scottish housing scheme. It really is like a scene out of TV’s Benidorm.
But I love that Dunkirk spirit — the Brits refuse to be stuck at home just because they’re knocking on.
Fuengirola is also top place for the young out to party. At the London Pub, on the two- mile promenade, there are girls with tartan tutus and boys being boys at a stag
party. And up the coast in Benalmadena’s 24-hour square, the Brits will be getting blad- dered and mortfying us.
I sometimes pop down to the millionaire’s playground of Puerto Banus, just to inhale the wealth.
You can actually eat here quite reasonably, gazing at the sumptuous yachts, wondering where it all went wrong for you. But hey. Nobody said the world was fair.
And I’m not bitter. Those leathery faced billionaires — that’s just the women — are probably deeply unhappy.
I prefer the exquisite white mountainside village of Mijas Pueblo, 15 minutes by bus from Fuengirola.
You can enjoy a three-hour traditional Spanish lunch, then a trip around the old town on a horse and carriage, or on the back of a donkey, if
you’ve overdone the Sangria again. Two weeks have passed in a blur of good wine and great company.
Now I’m on my first proper Spanish train journey north to Madrid.
It’s like flying just above the ground as the Renfe’s high- speed Ave train cuts a swathe through the country at speeds of nearly 200mph. They even give you earphones to watch the in-train movie. Beat that Virgin Trains.
Suddenly, a wave of loneli- ness washes over me, that sense that I’m very much on my own and far from home.
But I’m inspired by the fam- ous Rudyard Kipling quote, ‘He travels the fastest who travels alone.’ And he’s a man who knew a thing or two about cakes.
Q Follow Anna’s trip across Spain only in your Scottish Sun. Her new novel, Screams In The Dark, features Glasgow journalst Rosie Gilmour. See annasmith scotland.com.