Douglas Skelton is a Scottish crime writer who writes both fiction and non-fiction that look at the darker side of things. He is known for his Davie McCall series and the Dominic Queste books. I have previously written about his book ‘Tag – You’re Dead’ whohc I found was very enaging and enjoyable to read. His books are mainly based in Scotland and I think this makes me like them further as I am Scottish.
Douglas Skelton has kindly offered to answer a few questions which I greatly appreciate and I am thankful.
- What made you become an author?
I think the yen to write was always there. I can recall at age seven or eight lying on the floor of our flat in Springburn in Glasgow, writing a crime story called ‘Who Killed Cock Robin?’ about the murder of a TV presenter on camera. Years later I discovered Ed McBain had made a far better job of the same idea. In school I wrote plays and in English class what they called compositions always became some kind of horror or crime story. Then, after a spotty employment career, I drifted into journalism and made stuff up for a living.
- Were you influenced by any specific author or book?
I’ve already mentioned Ed McBain. His 87th Precinct novels were – and still are – an incredible influence on my approach to storytelling. He threaded humour through his work and I do the same. He also liked dialogue and so do I. He introduced tiny little characters who sprang off the page, full-blown, and I attempt that, too. I think also his economy, he didn’t mess around, and I like that in a crime novel or thriller.
- Why did you choose to write in the crime/mystery genre?
I’ll do anything if they pay me! Seriously, I think it’s just something that’s in me. A dark side, if you like. I’m a storyteller and that kind of story attracts me. I’d also like to try my hand at a western, though.
Crime is the genre I read more than any others, beginning with Ed McBain. Horror has long since become less interesting to me. I could never get into fantasy. Sci fi was a passing fad for me. Literary novels bore me to tears (sorry, literary folk, but they do). But crime and mystery covers such a wide platform that there’s always something of interest for me.
- Regarding the Dominic Queste books, what made you decide to make the main character of Dominic Queste have a comedic/smartaspect to his personality?
I had just come off the four Davie McCall novels – Blood City, Crow Bait, Devil’s Knock and Open Wounds – and they were pretty dark. They still had humour in them, of course, but the overall tone was dark. Also, Davie was hard to write because everything about him was internal. Most of the other characters in the series thought he was one thing – tough, dangerous, not someone you’d invite to tea – but the reader knew that he was pretty vulnerable. He was taciturn to the point of being monosyllabic at times and I like dialogue. So Dominic Queste was the antidote. He runs off at the mouth, that engine is running even when his brain isn’t in gear, and it gets him into trouble. I also put a lot of myself into him. Like me, he’s a big movie fan and he listens to film scores. And not all of his jokes work. But also, it’s an extension of the traditional private eye – even though he calls himself an odd job man. Smart mouthed, often cynical, heart of mush.
- Why did you decide to set your books in Scotland?
Well, I am Scottish, simple as that. I know the place. And when I started writing non-fiction, the so-called Tartan Noir explosion hadn’t taken place. Yes, William McIlvanney had given us Laidlaw, Peter Turnbull (who is English) had created the P Division series and Ian Rankin and Val McDermid were being published but that was more or less it. When I belatedly turned to fiction, I used all I’d learned through true crime and actually investigating it for Glasgow solicitors to hopefully make it seem as real as I needed it to be. Then I threw it all out for Dominic Queste! However, my next book – The Janus Run, out in September – is set in New York. It’s a gamble.
- Do you have a favourite book that you have ever written?
Each book I write is my favourite, certainly until I start the next one. I’m proud of just about every book I’ve written (not them all, there is one I despise. It was written at a bad time in my life and it’s the only one I’ve ever done purely for cash). I do have a particular affection for the Davie McCall series, particularly ‘Open Wounds’, which was longlisted for the first McIlvanney Prize for a Scottish crime book. I’m very, very proud that it was selected. I like the mixture of darkness and light – my Celtic blood is drawn to the darkness, I think. I’d like to return to Davie’s world some day.
- What process do you go through when writing a new book? Does that differ between fiction and non-fiction?
My process for fiction is this – I have a notion, I start writing. Sometimes I see it through to the end, sometimes I lose interest and give up. I have a number of projects I’ve started and then given up. I don’t plan. I don’t work anything out in detail. I might have an idea for an ending, but not always. I usually have an opening, perhaps a couple of points I want to hit, but beyond that I simply free the rabbit and see which way it jumps.
The non-fiction was different because I was guided by the facts. Yes, I lathered a sheen of storytelling on top but in the end I knew which way things were going to go because they had already happened.
- Do you have a favourite ever author/book?
I have a lot of favourite authors – Ed McBain (surprise! Bet you didn’t see that coming), Dennis Lehane, Robert Crais, John Connolly, William Goldman. There are, of course, lot of Scottish authors who are very good, too many to mention and not all of them are friends of mine (in case you wondered).
As for a favourite book, this varies. I used to say ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ but there are others, so many others, that I hold in high regard, some by the authors I mentioned above, some not.
- Do you have any recommendations on what to read in the crime/mystery genre?
Yes – anything by me. I’m wonderful. I’m kidding (no, I’m not).
I swear by the authors I’ve already mentioned but there are so many other good books out there.
My friends Caro Ramsay, Michael J. Malone, Neil Broadfoot, Theresa Talbot, Mark Leggatt, Denzil Meyrick, Mason Cross all produce fabulous work. Far too good, if you ask me. But the list goes on – Quintin Jardine, Alex Gray, Lin Anderson, Craig Robertson, Gordon ‘GJ’ Brown, TF Muir, James Oswald – all great writers. I’ll have forgotten someone, I’m sure…
- Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring writers and/or avid readers of crime fiction? Do you have any tips?
To be a writer you need a number of qualities.
Perseverance – you need to learn to keep at it, no matter what.
The ability to take criticism – I know you think your work is perfect but really, it isn’t. Listen to constructive criticism, act on it.
The ability to take advice – you don’t always know best.
The ability to roll with the punches – you’ll be rejected. Not everyone will like what you write. People will be mean, especially on line. Don’t let the latter get to you.
For readers, please remember that no one sets out to write a bad book. Just because you don’t like something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad, it’s just not to your taste. Also remember that authors have feelings, too. The author has been labouring with this story for upwards of a year in one way or another. By all means post a review – we not only welcome them but we need them – but please don’t be vicious. Be constructive in your criticism. Although we much prefer being told how wonderful we are.
And if you do post a review, please read the book first. I saw a review recently of a book (not one of mine) that the reviewer admitted not reading! Strange, but true.
Many thanks, Caitlin x
(PS please feel free to comment whether you enjoyed this blog post)