Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Men adrift in a world of violence: a 9mm interview with Neil Broadfoot

Welcome to the latest issue of 9mm, the long-running author interview series here on Crime Watch. Earlier this year we hit the 150 interviews mark, and I took a moment to reflect on all the authors who have been interviewed thusfar (full list here), and where I could take 9mm in future.

If you have a favorite crime writer you'd love to see interviewed as part of the 9mm series, please do let me know, and I'll look to make it happen.

Today, I'm very pleased to welcome Neil Broadfoot, a talented Scottish crime writer, to Crime Watch. I first met Neil at the Bloody Scotland festival in 2014, where he was part of the Scottish crime writers team that hammered their English counterparts the day after the independence vote fell short. Neil is an experienced storyteller - fifteen years as a journalist for local and national newspapers - but at that time he was a relative crime writing newbie, having just published his first novel, FALLING FAST.

FALLING FAST is an action-packed tale where journalist Doug McGregor investigates the grisly suicide of a victim who had connections to a prominent Scottish politician. It quickly established Neil as an exciting new voice in Tartan Noir, being shortlisted for both the Dundee International Prize and the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award. Neil has continued the adventures of Doug McGregor and his police contact DS Susie Drummond in THE STORM and ALL THE DEVILS.

And now, Neil Broadfoot becomes the latest author to stare down the barrel of 9mm.


1. Who is your favourite recurring crime fiction hero/detective?
It’s difficult to single out one favourite, as I love crime fiction and many of the series out there. Like a lot or readers, my first exposure to a recurring character in crime fiction was Sherlock Holmes, and I still find myself going back to Baker Street from time to time; there’s a lyricism and pace to the writing that just lures you in. I also love Laidlaw and the trilogy written around him, McIllvanney really did blaze the trail for us all to follow and showed us just what a so-called genre novel could do as it delved into the human condition and the character of a man adrift in the world of violence.

Of the contemporary series characters that are going around, I’m a sucker for Craig Russell’s Lennox. A Canadian inquiry agent in 1950s Glasgow, he’s a damaged man with a quick wit and a shrewd eye. The books are superbly atmospheric and Lennox, along with the supporting cast, are fascinating, well-rounded characters.

2. What was the very first book you remember reading and really loving, and why?
Going all the way back, probably The Monster At The End Of This Book featuring Grover from Sesame Street, who undertook increasingly dramatic attempts to stop the reader from turning the pages to get to the monster. I was only about three or four, but I remember my gran reading in with (to) me, and she always made me laugh.

The first book that really had an influence on me as a writer was probably Carrie by Stephen King. I first found it as a bored 13 year old wandering the school library. And no, it wasn’t on a shelf, the librarian was reading it and I decided to, ah, borrow, it from her. It’s got its faults, but what hit me was the pace of the writing, you could almost feel the speed with which King hammered it out. It was the first time that a book hit me as a visceral experience, and it made me want to write something like that myself.

3. Before your debut crime novel, what else had you written (if anything) unpublished manuscripts, short stories, articles?
I’ve always written and told myself stories, it’s just something that’s built into me. I suppose I followed a fairly well-worn path, starting out with short stories to test what I was capable of and ramping up to novellas and then books from there. I used to write a lot of horror, mostly on a bet with my oldest friend that I couldn’t write something that would terrify him. A bet, I should say, he lost!

I was a journalist for 15 years, so I’ve written more news stories and features than I care to remember, most of which are probably kicking around in paper libraries somewhere. And, like every writer, I’ve got a box full of jottings and half-finished ideas that I keep going back to.

4. Outside of writing, touring and promotional commitments, what do you really like to do, leisure and activity-wise?
The majority of my time off is spent with my four dogs, two-year-old daughter and the world’s best wife.  But, away from them, I like to try and keep fit so I’m usually rattling around the gym. Like most writers I’m also an avid reader, so I try – and fail – to make a dent in my teetering to-be-read pile. Aside from that, my neighbour has been trying to get me involved in cricket for a few years now. I enjoy the training, but never get the time for a full game, so will have to try and change that!

5. 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?
Book a room- and no, not in that way before you think it! Dunfermline is seen as a commuter town, the gateway to Fife after crossing the Forth and heading up to the East Neuk or St Andrews, which are the well-known tourist hot spots. But it’s sometimes forgotten that Dunfermline is the ancient capital of Scotland, and awash with history of its own. It’s also the home of Andrew Carnegie, arguably the world’s first true philanthropist, and his legacy can be seen around the town, especially in the gorgeous Pittencrieff Park, which is maintained by the Trust he set up in his name. So come, get a steak bridie, wash it down with a pint from the micro-brewery then take a walk around and lose yourself in the past for a while. Just watch out that you don’t bump into me, as I might well be wandering around the Park thinking out my latest book!

6. If your life was a movie, which actor could you see playing you?
I’m not sure any actor could fully convey the crippling self-doubt and trauma a writer goes through when they’re waiting for feedback on their latest book! Joking aside though, I’m not really good at visualising people in roles. For example, I have no idea what Doug or Susie  from the books look like. I know who they are, and how they’ll react to a situation, but I’ve never seen their faces. That said, if my rapidly dwindling hairline is anything to go on, Sir Patrick Stewart or Jason Statham would both have to be on the shortlist to star as me – poor sods!

7. Of your books, which is your favourite, and why?
The next one. That sounds like a line, but it’s true. I’m trying to improve with every book that I write, so hopefully I bring something new to the reader every time. That said, I’m proud of my latest. All The Devils. I really tried to up my game on this one, stretch myself as a writer, and the early indications and feedback I’ve received from other writers and readers seems to indicate I pulled the trick off, which is a relief!

8. 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?
The first reaction was shock. I got a message from my now-publisher saying they “wanted to take things further” with Falling Fast, and the world just froze for me. See, I always wanted to be published so I could fulfil a promise I made to my gran when I was a kid, which was to dedicate my first book to her. I waited for years to make it happen, and then, suddenly, it did. I poured a very large whisky then went and wrote the dedication to her, which you can find in Falling Fast. And now, three books in, I’m still not used to seeing my name on the shelf!

9. What is the strangest or most unusual experience you have had at a book signing, author event, or literary festival?
One of the best things about being a writer, especially in crime, is going to the festivals and meeting other writers, reviewers and readers. There’s a real community feeling to it all, which is fantastic. There have been a few odd experiences over the last three years – meeting Lee Child, getting whisky with a chunk of raw ginger in it, finishing a really sweary rant at an event and looking down to see my day job boss smiling up at me and nodding along, being grilled by English lit students in Dundee with one of the worst hangovers of my life.

But by far the strangest was at the Edinburgh International Book Festival this year. They take photos of all the authors appearing then dot them around the Square for visitors to see.  I was doing an event with Michael J Malone and the photographer hit on the idea that we should have stockings over our faces. So there I am, me in one stocking leg, Michael in another, back to back and trying to glower at the camera as the flash blinds us. And two things hit me at the same time- I’m actually appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as a published crime writer, and the take-home image a lot of people will have is of me with a stocking over my head. Crime writing is great, but sometimes it isn’t big on dignity!

Thank you Neil, we appreciate you chatting to Crime Watch.

You can read more about Neil Broadfoot and his books at his website, or follow him on Twitter

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