Launched at Scotland’s crime writing festival, Bloody Scotland, in September of last year, the Bloody Scotland anthology of stories, written by 12 of Scotland’s tartan noirish best, is an absolute blast. Each story is set in a different Historic Scotland venue, not necessarily the most famous, but each is guaranteed to attract some curious tourists to the scene of the crime, as it were. It’s certainly true of me, with a number of the venues within a couple of hours drive. I’m just waiting for the weather to sort itself out and I shall be off to the ruins of Bothwell Castle, scene of my favourite story in the collection. Written by Christopher Brookmyre, it was hilarious (despite the foul language). A trip to Kinneil House in Linlithgow is also called for, thanks to Sara Sheridan’s very creepy contribution. And I’m just hoping that someone will turn Stuart McBride’s tale, set at the Kinnaird Head Lighthouse into a film. It’s a bit too far for me to drive.
I had hoped that I’d have some photographs of the settings to show you, but as I haven’t yet ventured forth from my winter hibernation, this post needs to settle for a blurry photograph from this year’s Ayewrite!
James Crawford said that the main brief for each story was that the place should be a character in its own right, and that is certainly true of the stories written by the famous trio on stage. Moving from north to south location-wise, Lynn Anderson’s chosen venue is Maeshowe, the Neolithic tombs on Orkney. The dual timelines in her story evoke what she described as “the extraordinary feeling of Neolithic and modern-life living side by side” on the island. Val McDermid’s venue is a tiny, concrete fortress, known as The Hermit’s Castle. It’s not an easy journey to get there, and neither is the journey of McDermid’s protagonists – from a proposal of marriage to murder … and all in 18 pages. In Painting the Forth Road Bridge, Doug Johnstone riffs on many of the cultural references to the iconic Queensferry landmark: the myth that painting the bridge never stops, for instance. There’s a nod to the famous scene in Trainspotting and intertextual references to The 39 Steps and Iain Banks’s The Bridge.
Following the introduction of their individual contributions, the authors discussed the influence of setting in crime fiction in a more general way.
- Setting is crucial. If the place is believable, readers are more likely to believe the rest of the story too.
- Use islands to invoke a sense of claustrophobia and inability to escape from surroundings
- Modern crime-solving techniques, enabling the solving of a crime in a matter of hours, have led to the increase of historical crime fiction. There’s far less puzzle in the modern stuff. (Although Lin Anderson pointed out that you only need to head to the West of Scotland, where all the modernities disappear, and detectives once more become totally dependent on what people have seen and what they are prepared to tell.)
- Novels of character and atmosphere will have more longevity than novels of technique.
And on that note of wisdom, the hour was over.
It felt as though I whizzed through the reading almost as quickly. James Crawford said that he was surprised how willing authors had been to contribute to the anthology. From pitch to publication in 13 months! I just hope he’s pitching Volume Two right now. Because I’d love to see and read an encore.