Monday, March 7, 2011

9mm interview: Liam McIlvanney

I must apologise for being a little tardy on new 9mm interview postings this year; but now once again it is time to once again polish off the gun and point it towards a creator of tales mysterious and thrilling. Thanks to everyone for their comments and feedback on the series so far - I really appreciate it, as I know many of the participating authors do as well.

For those new to this rodeo, 9mm consists of the same 9 Murder Mystery questions put to a variety of New Zealand and international crime, thriller, and mystery authors. It’s been fun seeing the variety of answers the authors give to the questions - both in terms of great personal anecdotes and insights, and comparing the influences etc that many authors share. I hope you have all been enjoying the series as much as I (and the authors) have been. Suggestions are always welcome as to who else you'd like to see interviewed.

Today I am very pleased to share the thoughts and answers of another terrific new-ish writer with you; Dunedin-based literary thriller writer Liam McIlvanney, who moonlights as a Professor of Scottish literature and culture during the day. McIlvanney wrote one of my favourite novels of 2009, ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN, a truly terrific debut thriller.

You can read my Weekend Herald article on McIlvanney here, and Sarah Gumbley's review of ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN for Crime Watch, here.

But for now, the Scotsman Professor turned Dunedinite stares down the barrel of 9mm.

Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?Philip Marlowe.

What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?It may have been Treasure Island. I loved the characters (Blind Pew, Long John Silver, Ben Gunn) and the Black Spot and 'Pieces of Eight' and 'Fifteen men on the dead man's chest' and, of course, the map.

Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?I had written quite a bit of 'literary' fiction - mainly fragments and vignettes that never seemed to go anywhere. I needed the discipline of the thriller form and the tight linear plot to get a novel finished.

Outside of writing, and touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
I enjoy playing football and playing with my four sons.

What is one thing that visitors to your hometown should do, that isn't in the tourist brochures, or perhaps they wouldn't initially consider?My home town is Kilmarnock in Ayrshire. Visitors should probably avoid it. No, that's not fair: they should have a single nougat in the Forum Cafe and a pint of heavy in the Kay Park Tavern on their way to see the whale's jawbone in the Dick Institute museum on London Road.

If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?Ken Stott.

Of your writing, which is your favourite, and why?I've only written one novel, so the choice is easy.

What was your initial reaction, and how did you celebrate, when you were first accepted for publication? Or when you first saw your debut story in book form on a bookseller's shelf?I poured myself a Lagavulin and smoked a Romeo y Julieta Churchill.

What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?Being introduced at the Mitchell Theatre in Glasgow by a woman who used to babysit for me in the 1970s.

Thank you Liam McIlvanney. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with Crime Watch.


Have you read ALL THE COLOURS OF THE TOWN? What do you think of McIlvanney's writing? Do you like crime fiction set amongst situations/places packed with real life conflict, past and present? Comments appreciated.


  1. Craig - Thanks, as always, for this interview. Nice to see that the series is continuing. This one's a fine interview, too, and All the Colours of the Town looks interesting!

  2. I enjoyed All the Colours of the Town. I learned a lot about the politics and history of the conflict - I like that in a novel.

    Had the pleasure of sitting at a dinner table with Liam and Val McDermid listening to them discuss British crime fiction - wow!