This session once again started with a surprise reading from a debut novelist. This time it was Margot McCuaig, an award winning documentary and script writer who has just published her first novel. She reads a section where the main character of her story is finally setting out to get revenge. She arrives to find the man she wanted to kill lying dead on the pavement, and she knows who did it. She listens to the crowd discussing that it must have been a cry for help and watches the ambulance crew arrive, do nothing and call in a car from the morgue. She deeply resents the police for putting a tent over the scene. The only satisfaction she could have extracted would have been watching his body being squashed into a body bag but she’s denied even that.
Once she leaves the stage Michael Malone introduces Lin Anderson and Craig Robertson, asking us to give them a ‘warm bloody welcome’. William McIlvanney was also supposed to be involved but had to pull out due to illness so they began by reading from their favourite McIlvanney books. Anderson chose to read the end of Laidlaw, a book she thinks everyone who’s interested in Scottish crime fiction should read as it has influenced so many people and is such a good book. Robertson reads from the beginning of The Papers of Tony Veitch (sequel to Laidlaw), adding that it’s intimidating to try and read as McIlvanney is such a good writer but also a great performer and he would never be able to do him justice.
Discussion then turns to the fact that Glasgow is the perfect city for crime fiction. The city is an amazing character itself and is also filled with brilliant characters, providing endless ammunition for a crime writer. Anderson talks about being a student in Glasgow and of two shops she used to frequent. The father of the Pakistani family that ran one of them once told her that she was a very long lady, who would need a long man and he just happened to have long children. The man who ran the second shop was called Phallic Alec, which really told you everything you needed to know about him. Robertson loves that people talk to each other on the bus and the subway. He was once sitting on the subway at 6 on a weekday evening when someone started a sing song, to the complete bewilderment of some tourists. On another occasion he watched four people forge a new friendship on the 10-minute train ride to Bishopbriggs. Malone then laughs that he smiles at people on the Tube to see how many Londoners he can piss off.
He reads a short section of an essay by McIlvanney describing how the soul of Glasgow is in its mouth, then telling a story of a man who was pushed against a wall and asked if he was a Catholic or a Protestant he hedged his bets and claimed he was a Buddhist. The men then said “Aye, but are ye a Catholic Buddhist?” Robertson laughs that you can’t write crime in Glasgow without humour, you can do it in Edinburgh but not Glasgow. Anderson adds that in good storytelling you go through something dark and have to release something to come back out. Humour is a good way to do so and works very well in Glaswegian vernacular.
Another McIlvanney essay discusses Glasgow’s great architecture and how glad he is that demolition fever is over and Robertson and Anderson agree. Robertson focuses on demolition fever and urban exploration in his latest book. He explains that the council knows there is someone who will raise fires for developers who want rid of a listed building, but he’s so good that they can’t catch him. The danger of too much development in the centre is that you push the people out and the heart and soul of the city is lost because no one can afford it. Anderson loves the cinemas of Glasgow; at the height of cinema’s popularity Glasgow could seat 136,000 people at once, second only to New York. Many of the venues of the ‘Cinema City’ remain and are magical buildings but often people don’t know what to do with them. She was recently delighted to discover that one had been converted into a library instead of being stripped or demolished, which as Robertson points out is better than the usual pub. He’s recently heard of a place that is the original theatre where Laurel of Laurel and Hardy first appeared, now being restored and reopened as a theatre.
Both then read a section from their latest books. Robertson’s features an urban explorer going in to look at the tunnel of a covered over burn that once formed the eastern edge of the city and powered the mills of industry. He speaks with a mix of claustrophobic fear and excitement that the people on the street above have no knowledge of what lies beneath their feet, or that he is there. Just as he is starting to wonder if the tunnel is getting too narrow he finds a body, and this is where Robertson stops.
Anderson prefaces her reading by explaining that just before she wrote her latest book she was out to dinner with a potential director for an adaptation. He was reminiscing about his early career and talked of going out in Glasgow and meeting two girls who claimed to be practicing witches and thinking that this was very sexy. Anderson’s immediate reaction was ‘careful what you wish for’ and this fed into her book. The section she reads tells the story of a guy going out and meeting a girl. When they get back to her place a black cat appears and once they’re in bed the cat curls up on his face. The girl tells him to leave it there and then the scene cuts to him waking the next morning. Trying to find his way out of the flat he opens the door to a room where he discovers dolls hanging from the ceiling by cords around their necks. The cat is yowling and it’s only when he looks past the dolls that he sees the thing that spooked the cat.
Finally Malone asks about their research for their books. Robertson explains that he’s fine with height and not so good with small spaces. Additionally a great deal of urban exploration is illegal and the well known tunnels often end up fenced off out of health and safety concerns so he hasn’t been to all of the places in his book. Anderson loved doing the research for her book and became fascinated with the patterns and repetition of the number 9 in multiple religions, including Wicca. She also found herself reading a great deal about the paranormal and all the variations of Wiccan beliefs and spells. Robertson asks if she tried any of them out and she simply laughs.