Q & A with Douglas Skelton


We are delighted to introduce you to one of our new clients, Douglas Skelton, represented by Jo Bell! Douglas has published 12 non fiction books and eight crime thrillers and we are thrilled to begin working with him on some very exciting new projects.

See below for an exclusive Q&A with Douglas:

1. How do you feel your writing process has changed from writing non fiction to crime thrillers?

The obvious answer is that I am no longer constrained by the facts! In writing non fiction, no matter how creative you are with the storytelling, you are guided by what actually happened. In fiction, you can manipulate the ‘facts’ of your narrative to fit whatever direction you need or want to take. Within reason, of course. Generally speaking, you couldn’t have a British bobby on the beat drawing his service pistol and start blasting on the street. Well, not yet anyway. Also, the research can be done as I go along, I can write, then identify what I need to know, whereas previously the bulk of it had to be done before the writing began

2. You have had a wide range of experience in different careers- do you feel like any of your previous jobs have helped you with your writing? Or have they influenced one of your characters?

Working in newspapers clearly informed the Rebecca Connolly books. Like her, I worked in local weekly press and the pressures she faces in the books are very real, although her actual reporting is set against a thriller and mystery backdrop. The investigative work I did, both in relation to a miscarriage of justice and the tasks I carried out for Glasgow solicitors, was very much reflected not just in the way she operates but also in the earlier Davie McCall and Dominic Queste books.

3. What do you think makes Scottish crime thrillers so unique?

There is a texture, a voice, present in much of Scottish crime fiction that I don’t find anywhere else. That’s not to claim that Scottish crime fiction is better, because there is wonderful stuff coming from across the world. A good story is a good story, no matter the accent. But the best of Scottish fiction brings a dark Celtic spirit mixed with a sparky sense of humour and a strong sense of place.

4. What was your main influence for the plot of Thunder Bay (and the sequel, The Blood Is Still)?

For Thunder Bay it was the notion of the prodigal returning to a relatively closed community and the ripples it causes. I also wanted to mix mythology and history in a modern context. For The Blood is Still the springboard was the image of a man on the battlefield at Culloden, dressed in period highland costume, a Claymore through his chest but surrounded by modern day police officers. Again, using the history of the period was uppermost in my mind.

5. Can you give us any hints or clues to look out for in your next addition in the series?

There is an historical connection once more, this time to a miscarriage of justice in the 18th century. The story takes Rebecca out of Inverness to the west coast of Scotland and (perhaps) to Glasgow. I am writing it at the moment and, just at this moment, I have no idea how it ends!

6. How have you found working with an independent publisher?

I’ve always worked with independent publishers, so I really have no frame of reference. There are advantages and disadvantages, just as there are with the major houses I would imagine. But with the best independent houses you feel as if you are part of a family.

7. Where and when would you like to set your next book?

What follows the third Rebecca Connolly book is very much yet to be determined. I have a number of ideas, but can’t settle on one until I finish the current Work in Progress. The worst thing to do is fall in love with a new idea while you’re writing something else. However, I do like to set myself challenges so I may try my hand at something I’ve never done before.

8. What are the origins of ‘Four Blokes in Search of a Plot’- can you tell us a little bit about it?

Four Blokes was born out of two on line events we did for the Saltire Society in Scotland. One was on Twitter, with a host of Scottish crime writers taking it in turns to write a crime story over the day. The other was on Facebook and it was just the four of us, Gordon Brown, Neil Broadfoot, Mark Leggatt and myself. We had already been appearing together as a panel but the fun we had in creating the story – and the high jinks on Skype at the same time – prompted us to take the format on the road.

Basically, it’s a sort of game show. The audience gives as a protagonist and a murder weapon, then selects which author begins the story. He then dons the scared Tea Cosy of Inspiration (from the Billy Connolly quote that no man left alone without a tea cosy doesn’t try it on) and writes around 100 words. While he does so, the other three answer questions from the audience about crime writing and tell stories, some of which are even true. The Tea Cosy then comes off, the author reads what he has written and the audience selects the next victim = sorry, writer - to continue and so on. It pretty soon degenerates into farce, with kites weaponised with Exocet missiles, killer penguins and weapon-toting clergy. There is also a curious obsession with nuns.

9. What do you enjoy most about writing collaboratively with other authors?

With the Four Blokes it’s more of a contest as we try to make it difficult for the next one to pick up the thread. And there are four different styles of writing going on, which is fine because it’s all for fun anyway. I did collaborate recently with Gordon Brown on a novella which is serialised on our publisher’s website (Birlinn/Polygon). He wrote using the protagonist of his new book, Daniella Coulston, and I used Rebecca Connolly. Neither of us are planners so we just kept writing until a plot occurred to us, then polished the final draft!

The good thing about it was that there was always someone there to say if something wasn’t working or the writing was just plain bad – and also to help fix it. It helps if you are not precious about what you write. Two heads are also better than one if there are plot issues. Although difficult to get jumpers that fit.

10. What three books would you recommend reading to those in lock down right now?

Any three of mine! In fact, them all – why be stingy?

Seriously, there are so many great writers out there – too many, I may need to do away with a few – and a lot of them are pals and I don’t want to insult one by picking another so I’ll recommend three of my favourite books. There are so many more but I went for these (come back tomorrow I’ll have three more).

‘Mystic River’ by Dennis Lehane is, for me, as perfect as a crime novel can get. Great writing, superb dialogue, believable characters – and very dark and moving.

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee. Do I really need to say any more than the title? Wonderful, wonderful book.

‘Castle Keep’ by William Eastlake. I read this as a teenager and was captivated by the multi-character strands, the wacky, at times surreal, sense of humour and the moving way it revealed the insanity of war.