Thursday, 1 March 2012

Author Spotlight and Guest Post: Bill Kirton

A big welcome today to writer extraordinaire, Bill Kirton, who is based in the north of Scotland and writes very successfully in a variety of genres. You can read my interview (in 2010) with Bill here. I'm particularly delighted that the next book in his Jack Carston crime series, Unsafe Acts, is now available. In addition to the excellent story lines in this series, Carston’s own moral viewpoint and work satisfaction are gradually changing with each novel, providing extra layers of interest for readers.

Bill kindly provided the following post about writing in different genres. But first, here’s the blurb for his new novel.

Unsafe Acts

An offshore platform in the turbulent North Sea is a dangerous place…

…there’s the isolation, the machinery and the constant battle with the whims of nature. For Ally Baxter, a safety officer on Falcon Alpha, those whims take a deadly turn. When his workmates decide he’s gay, an evening ashore turns ugly as they indulge in some drunken queer-bashing. Later his body is found along the route the group followed.

For DCI Jack Carston, the case seems simple enough until a second murder is discovered. This time it’s the prostitute Ally always visited - a young mother with a baby son. Complications mount as Carston, in addition to his investigations, has to deal with an inexperienced officer under his command and a disciplinary charge brought against Carston himself by a vindictive superior officer.

The obstacles keep piling up, but more is to come when he finds evidence of a plot to wreck the platform itself.

Unsafe Acts is available from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US)

You can find more information about Bill on his website and blog.

Chasing the unexpected

Writing’s a pleasure. Even if you can organise your time so that you can give regular slots, even whole days to it, it never feels as if it’s a routine. The great French novelist Stendhal always preferred l’imprévu, the unexpected. His heroes and heroines sought and revelled in surprises, unpredictable experiences, accidental meetings and the like. So even if, every day, you sit at the same desk, adjust the same keyboard, switch on the same monitor (or, if you’re a real writer, lick the tip of your stubby pencil and pull the sheet of paper towards you), you’re confident that your characters will take you to unsuspected places.

The same is true of readers, but with a slight difference. They know they’ll be taken out of their world but, quite often, they like the feeling of drifting into one with which they’re familiar, and which is peopled by weel-kent individuals. They want to revisit Harry Potter and his friends, or read yet another Dick Francis adventure featuring horses and jockeys. And this can pose a problem because, in a way, it condemns you to meet their expectations. If they’re used to you telling them about Chief Inspector Bloggs and his team in Auchtermuchty, they don’t want to pick up one of your books and find themselves in a spaceship crewed by Klingons on its way to the radioactive outskirts of the Crab nebula. But what if that’s where you fancy going? Do you indulge yourself and just sit watching the airlocks hiss open and shut? Or do you wave goodbye to the astronauts and trudge back into the Auchtermuchty nick?

I can’t really say it’s been a problem but I do feel the need to warn readers of the differences between my books. I’ve written five in my modern Scottish crime series, all featuring the same central characters. But I’ve also written a spoof crime/mystery, a historical crime which became a romance too, a fantasy novella about online role-playing games, a novel for children and plays and short stories about all sorts of other things. There are also the non-fiction books, but I don’t think my fiction readers are likely to be fooled into straying into a series whose titles all begin with the word ‘Brilliant’.

It’s true that most of my books are crime-based, but that’s because I’m fascinated by people and the bad – and good – things they’re capable of. For me, the human psyche is far more mysterious than any geographical or extra-terrestrial setting. So, whether I’m writing about murders in today’s Scotland, or figurehead carving in 1840, or following the absurdly extreme sociopathic antics of a policeman and a group of individuals who call themselves Eagle, Sparrow, Kestrel and the like, the process is the same. What’s happening to these people as I write may make me laugh, admire or love them, feel distressed, be disgusted – in fact contribute in many different ways to that all-important surprise factor.

So am I saying there’s no difference between writing romance, historical or modern crime, fantasy or satire? Well, yes. I always quote Isla Dewar’s response to a question from an audience, ‘You’ve got to give your characters room to dance’. If your characters dance for you, it doesn’t matter who or where they are – they draw you to them, make you part of their world, however alien, and demand that you tell their stories. With a genre such as satire, it’s maybe a little different because you’re using them to make points about other things, so you’re dealing with two levels of meaning, but I think that’s true of all good writing anyway. Underneath the main story, there are always so many others to be told.

The really nice feeling comes when readers ask you when you’re going to a write a sequel to a stand-alone book. It means they’ve entered its world and want to experience more of it. It’s perhaps the biggest compliment you can get.

OK, that’s enough for today. I wonder where I’ll be taken tomorrow.

Thanks for that very interesting post, Bill.

Bill Kirton was born in Plymouth, England but has lived in Aberdeen, Scotland for most of his life. He’s been a university lecturer, presented TV programmes, written and performed songs and sketches at the Edinburgh Festival, and had many radio plays broadcast by the BBC and the Australian BC. He’s written four books on study, writing and workplace skills in Pearson’s ‘Brilliant’ series and his crime novels, Material Evidence, Rough Justice, The Darkness, Shadow Selves and the historical novel The Figurehead, set in Aberdeen in 1840, have been published in the UK and USA. His short stories have appeared in several anthologies and Love Hurts was chosen for the Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 2010.

Photo by Sara Bain


Bill Kirton said...

Thanks very much, Rosemary, for giving me free rein like this. Like all good interviewers, you ask open questions or give remits that make us look more closely at what we do (and why we do it). There's always something new to learn.

Chris Longmuir said...

Great blog Rosemary and it's nice - is that wrong adjective to use for a crime writer - to see inside Bill and allow him to tell us how he makes his characters dance. I trust that's not at the end of a rope, Bill!Anyway, I enjoyed the blog.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

You're welcome, Bill.

Thanks, Chris - he's an interesting writer!

Myra Duffy said...

It's always interesting to hear how other writers work and I admire the fact you can write so well in different genres,Bill.

Talli Roland said...

Thank you for the interesting post, Bill. What a unique setting for your new novel.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for commenting, Myra.

Isn't it, Talli? Thanks for dropping by.

Gwen Kirkwood said...

Thank you for that Rosemary and Bill. I have always thought crime writers need to be clever and intelligent to weave the ins and outs of the plot. I think that more than ever with a series. I am surprised to find you sound character driven though, Bill. I had not heard "give charcters room to dance" before but I do agree they need room to develop and become fully formed and believable. I look forward to seeing Carston in a TV series.

Joan Fleming said...

Thank you, Rosemary and Bill, for such an interesting post. Writing in different genres seems a challenging prospect, but you make it sound less daunting.

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks, all, for such generous comments. I really don't think genre-shifting is so difficult, as long as you're interested in the characters - whoever or whatever they are. And it's always fun, isn't it, trying to get the right words, then put them in the right order.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for commenting, Gwen - he's a very intelligent and clever man, all together!

Thanks for visiting, Joan - great to see all the different genres in which Bill writes.

scaryazeri said...

Really enjoyed this. Bill has been an amazing (virtual) friend to me. Not only is he a great writer, he clearly is an intelligent, fascinating and very kind and supportive person!

Diane Fordham said...

I enjoyed this post very much, thank you for this Rosemary. x Congratulations and thank you, Bill!

Patsy said...

It's true that reading another book in a series I know does feel like revisiting a real place. It makes sense to warn the reader if you'll be taking them elsewhere.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Absolutely, Scaryazeri! Thanks for commenting.

Thanks for that, Diane.

I'd agree with that, Patsy.

Janice Horton said...

Yep, you hit the nail on the head again Bill (and Isla) with the whole reason for reading, which is of course to be transported (by warp factor if need be) back into our own imagination and to a place of fantastic fiction - and that's where we writers come in, is it not?

Great post - great subject!

Deborah (Debs) Carr said...

Thanks for this interesting interview. I love the idea of such an original setting for a book too.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for that comment, Janice.

Hi Debs - I like that too!

Jenny Harper said...

Great interview and an interesting topic. I love it when characters start to dance!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for your comment, Jenny! That's a great feeling.

Bill Kirton said...

What a kind bunch of followers you have, Rosemary. Thanks to all for the warm comments.