Thursday, 5 July 2012

Author Spotlight: Michael J Malone

I’m delighted to welcome debut crime author, Michael J Malone, to the reading and writing blog today. I’ve known Michael for many years now through various writing associations in Scotland. As well as being a well-published author of wonderful poetry, he’s a great guy. I’m not the only colleague cheering to see his first crime novel, Blood Tears, finally and deservedly in print.

I’m halfway through reading it and, besides being a well written police procedural, the humour and banter between the police colleagues elevates this debut Scottish crime novel into a class of its own. Before I chat to Michael, here’s a little about Blood Tears.

Blood Tears

Detective Inspector Ray McBain is in his early-thirties and has three compulsions; work, married women and chocolate. Not necessarily in that order.

A body is discovered, a body that has been horribly mutilated. Ray quickly determines the wounds were committed pre-mortem. They spell out the wounds of the stigmata.

Early on in the investigation, McBain discovers that the victim was a serial abuser in children’s homes and becomes certain that this is a revenge killing.

One of the earlier orphanages where the victim worked is one where McBain himself stayed as a boy. Knowing how important time is and for reasons not even apparent to him, Ray hides this particular fact and remains head investigating officer. This deception is soon uncovered and he is arrested and charged with the murder.

...and the dreams begin. Dreams where a murder has just happened and where he himself is centre stage; covered in blood and choking in a cloud of white feathers.

Ignoring his fears that he might actually be the killer Ray escapes from police custody in search of the truth. A truth that could be locked on his own mind, but he knows that he must act before more people die.

D.I. Ray McBain must find a determined killer before he kills again, save his sanity, his career and his own life.

Blood Tears is available in paperback from Amazon UK and the Book Depositary - it will soon be available as an e-book.
Welcome, Michael, and thanks for taking time out to answer my questions.
Tell us a little about how you became a writer.

I don’t think you have enough space for me to accurately reply to that question, Rosemary. The quick answer would be through lots of reading and then lots of writing. Then when I was doing lots of writing I was seeking feedback from people whose opinions I valued – entering competitions – networking with other writers – learning and honing my craft. Then once I had something I thought was of any value I submitted to publishers and agents – and again with the short version, after about 12 years of this I found a publisher.

You’re also a well published poet. Do you use naturally poetic language in your novels, or did you find a different voice for those. And was the humour intentional?

There are times when I can’t help myself, times when I do it deliberately… but there are also times when I studiously avoid it. Language and the imaginative use of it is important to me and something I look for when I am reading other writers, but I am writing in the crime genre so pace and tension are vital components and lyrical language can slow that side of it down. Being aware of when it works and when it doesn’t is key I think. And that comes from practice.

As for humour, it’s like the poetry in that I can’t help myself. I’m so not funny in person, but when I’m writing – particularly dialogue – that stuff just flows from me. But again, I have to be wary of it and ensure it doesn’t get in the way of the novel. You don’t want a character cracking a joke while they are watching a loved one die. Or maybe you do.

Blood Tears delves into the topical world of Catholic orphanages and the disturbing legacy they left in some children’s lives. Did you have to do a lot of research for this novel?

I didn’t have to do any research for it, for the simple reason that I spent a good portion of my childhood in one of these places. Of course it is all heightened. I’m writing a novel after all. However, there were some things I experienced that made it in to the novel – you’ll just have to read it and see what I’m talking about.

Is DI Ray McBain based on a real person? (You don’t have to admit to it!) Did you approach the police service for procedural information?

McBain is entirely a figment of my imagination who turned up purely by accident one day when I was writing. The attitude, the voice, the salty language were all there the moment I began to write. I needed a detective and there he was. Almost fully formed.

As for the research side of it, I know quite a few guys in the force so I was able to phone them to ensure I got that side of it right.

Is this going to be a series of books? If so, do you think a series is easier or more difficult than stand-alone novels?

It is going to be a series and I think there are pros and cons for both approaches. When I was writing the follow-up everything was there in my head. The characters and the places, I just had to come up with a story to hang them all on. The downside is that when writing a series you can begin to repeat yourself, particularly when you write books that are so strongly character based as I do. If you are writing about the puzzle then all (all???) you need to come up with is a new puzzle, but when it’s about your character as much as the puzzle there is only so much you can put them through before it becomes laughable.

Stand-alone novels might be more difficult in that you have to come up with a new premise, a new setting and a new set of characters each time. But you are less likely to repeat yourself.

Is it difficult to fit your writing around the day job? And do you have a favourite writing place?

It can be difficult to fit writing in. As you well know, life can get in the way of any writing targets you might have, but I think the key is to get yourself a work habit. I know a guy who wrote 5 novels at work during his lunch hours. He had timed it that he had 30 minute slots every day to write – and he just got on with it.
As for a favourite writing place, a friend of mine offers me the gift of time and space in a wonderful house in the north of Scotland. I go there as much as I can and write up a storm.

Do you think eBooks are the future? Or do you prefer print?

I MUCH prefer paper. There’s nothing quite like the experience of browsing the shelves of a bookshop, chatting with other shoppers, or the staff. For me part of the pleasure of reading is a sensual experience. There’s the heft of the book, the smell of the paper, assessing the cover, reading the blurb on the back and then checking out the first page. Sure, you can do some of that with an e-book, but it’s just not quite the same as far as I’m concerned. I have to agree!

However, anyone who says that e-books are not part of our reading future is kidding themselves on. There’s everything to play for and nothing is settled yet but I think both mediums will survive.

Do you find time for hobbies/relaxation?

Absolutely. I’m far too lazy to just work all the time. I have a dog, so he gets an hour or so of my time every day. I also watch way too much telly. And I always find time to read.

What are your current writing plans?

I think it’s important to have some fallow time, to give the brain a break from all that word-work. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. So, right now is a fallow time. Having said that, book 3 in the McBain series is just itching to be written and various ideas are going through the filter of my sub-conscious.

Any tips for new writers?

Put the hours in. Read lots. Write lots. Learn your craft and if you ever hear yourself saying “that’ll do” know that it means it’s not quite good enough and needs more work.

Many thanks for the interesting perspective and great advice!

Michael J. Malone has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK. (His career as a poet has also included a very brief stint as the Poet Laureate for an adult gift shop. Don’t ask.)

His debut crime novel Blood Tears won the Pitlochry Prize (Scottish Association of Writers) and is published by Five Leaves. His next publication, Carnegie’s Call, is a non-fiction work about successful Scots, to be released in October 2012.

Michael reviews regularly for the popular crime fiction website and he blogs at


Joanna said...

A lovely interview, Michael and Rosemary. Thank you.

The book sounds absolutely gripping. My daughters will all be interested in this one. I always love poetic language and I adore humour, especially when it's unexpected. In fact, I guess the surprise element is actually the source of the humour. It feels so good when unintentional comedy inserts itself into the writing process, particularly when it comes from the heart of the character, helping to bring them to life on the page.

Michael Malone said...

Thank you, Rosemary for you "shop window". And thank you, Joanna for your lovely comments.

Mary Smith said...

Excellent interview, Michael and Rosemary. I've read Blood Tears, a darker read than I usually enjoy but it's good to move out of our comfort zones sometimes and I loved the humour. McBain is a great character and I look forward to meeting him again.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks again for your great support, Joanna. It's quite a dark book, but it has that wonderful west of Scotland humour which lightens it now and then.

You're welcome, Michael!

Thanks, Mary - that's exactly how I feel about it!

Chris Longmuir said...

Great interview, Rosemary, and like you I'm in the middle of reading Blood Tears, but it's more than a police procedural, it's also a psychological thriller, and I just love the dark, as you all know!

K. A. Laity said...

Oh, but I *have* to ask about the poet laureate gig!

Bill Kirton said...

Great interview. Congrats to both on it. I've already reviewed Blood Tears and it's GOT to be the first of many. There's lots of mileage in the great (and intriguing) McBain and I want more of both the humour and the darkness.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

You're absolutely right, Chris - and I like the psychological element!

Glad someone has asked, K.A.! Thanks for visiting.

Thanks, Bill - me too!

Jenny Harper said...

Great interview, thanks - and I'm looking forward to reading Blood Tears. Hope to see many more, Michael.

Janice Horton said...

What an interesting interview and congratulations, Michael, on your debut novel!

Best wishes,

Sheila Templeton said...

Great interview Michael! And thanks Rosemary for posting on your blog.
It's so good to be enjoying Blood Tears again after all these years, Michael...and now this piece of great writing has shiny shiny covers on it! Yahoo! You know how pleased I am for you. Sheila x

Maggie Craig said...

Great interview, Rosemary and Michael, thoughtful questions, thoughtful answers.

And Blood Tears is a wonderful read!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks, Jenny - me too!

Thanks for dropping in, Janice!

Hi Sheila - good to see you here. Thanks for supporting Michael!

Thank you, Maggie - I'm really enjoying reading it!

Elizabeth McKay said...

I'm about three-quarters through Blood Tears and really enjoying it. I specially like the references to places in Glasgow that I recognise (well some of them - others I've never been near, I promise!) The only thing is that the image of McBain I have in my head looks a bit like Michael!

Michael Malone said...

Thanks for all the kind messages, folks. And Elizabeth - you're not the first person to say that.

eileen Ramsay said...

Fascinating interview Rosemary and lovely to see Michael on there.
It's been too long in coming, Michael, but I hope to read it and many more.

Patsy said...

I do so agree that 'that'll do' just won't! When we reach that stage, I think we need to put the story away for a while and come back to it later.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Betty - I have to stop myself thinking the same!

Hello Eileen - thanks for visiting. It's definitely worth reading!

Absolutely, Patsy!

Joan Fleming said...

Thanks Michael and Rosemary for a great interview. I now have Blood Tears (thanks for delivery, Rosemary) and I'm about to start reading it. Really pleased to hear the next one's already written, Michael. All best wih the series.

Talli Roland said...

Wonderful interview, Rosemary and Michael. Sounds like a great book, and I love Michael's tips for writers.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Hi Joan - I'm sure you'll enjoy it as much as I am!

Thanks, Talli - it's very good advice!

Melanie said...

Great interview, Rosemary and Michael! Huge congats to Michael for winning the Pitlochry Prize!

Love the cover and the premise for the story. Will be adding it to my TBR list.

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Thanks for dropping in, Melanie!

Katbalou said...

So nice to see Michael in print:-)

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Isn't it just, Karen!

myraduffy said...

A well deserved recommendation!

Rosemary Gemmell said...

It is indeed, Myra!

Vikki said...

Arriving a bit late to the blog! Really enjoyed reading the interview and looking forward to reading the book, Michael!