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.
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!
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 http://www.crimesquad.com/ and he blogs at http://mickmal1.blogspot.com/.