Brian Taylor introduced Denise Mina by explaining that her latest book is set in Helensburgh. Most would associate the town with ice cream and slightly faded grandeur but the version in Mina’s book is one filled with thugs and crime, and a touch of ice cream. Mina then begins by reading a section about two men waiting for instructions on what to do with a woman they abducted and the realisation that the woman has no understanding of what might be about to happen to her.
Mina then explains that she became fascinated with Helensburgh and it reminded her of Hameau de la Reine, the fake village built for Marie Antoinette. It was a very rich community for a long time, often filled with rich people pretending to live in the countryside. Then there was a fire that killed a family and she went to the trial and read the records. Beneath the quiet civilised façade of Helensburgh was a network of mini cab drivers doing drug deals. One of the men who testified said that at one point he’d had five different mobile phones, each linked to a different deal. She feels it’s the kind of place where it’s easy to get very involved in your own life and social circle and forget the rest of the world. She compares it to people in London caring about their house prices so much that they failed to notice property being bought up by the Russians or that anyone who might want a job cleaning their homes now lived a couple of hours away.
Discussion moves on to writing and the work involved and Mina says she simply gets an idea and starts. She’s wary of too much structure and planning as she feels you can often smell it off the page when an author has over planned. You can tell when people have just got lost in their own story and it’s then easy to get lost yourself. When writing a book she writes solidly for about 8-10 months, going back to rewrite when she gets stuck or lost as the problem usually lies in something she wrote much earlier. She writes all the time and everywhere and loves finding a sentence that just snaps together beautifully.
When asked about her favourite authors Mina says it changes all the time. She has a fairly constant appreciation of Sir Walter Scot and Bulgakov (particularly Heart of a Dog and Black Snow) and she loves Scottish crime. She reads widely and recent favourites include Robert McFarlane’s Wild Places, a collection of essays about fat edited by Dan Kulick and a book about the Elizabethan underworld. Some of this selection is a result of her having three days off and not knowing what to do with herself other than read.
The topic of the referendum crops up throughout and Mina is fascinated by the amiable atmosphere that developed. She couldn’t think of any other issue, particularly not one of such importance, where differences of opinion or total lack of opinion were tolerated so well. She is fascinated by the process and the diplomacy and compassion with which it was handled. An audience member points out that some say we are still a ‘country divided’ and Mina suggests that we often universalise our own experiences. For the majority of Scotland we grew up, found our own voices and were aware and tolerant of different views. However those who happened to remain intolerant (or were surrounded by those who were) found themselves having plenty of arguments and assumed that was true of everyone. Taylor then interjects with a story he was told by a friend in the Foreign Office. It used to be that visiting dignitaries would go to Westminster on their first day and Buckingham Palace on the second day. Now they go to Westminster and then Holyrood because they are all fascinated and eager to see a modern democracy that was created without a single shot being fired.