Spotlight on Bill Kirton

My first novel was a comedy. It also showed me that I could in fact write a novel. Before then Iíd written stage and radio plays, which were broadcast and performed in the UK and the USA, and short stories. But the itch to write a novel was there and, as I tell people at workshops, it sort of creeps up on you. You donít write A NOVEL; you write a few sentences, a few paragraphs, a few pages and, before too long, the pile of paper youíve printed out gets bigger. You look at it and you think ĎHey, thatís quite a few pages. If Iíve managed that many, I can add some more.í And you do, and the novel gets written.

You get a lot of help from your characters; they do and say what they want and you write it down. OK, itís not quite that simple but thatís certainly part of how it happened for me. And once youíve got the first one written, the block has been lifted and you know you can do more.

Iím actually redrafting that first book now. Itís called The Sparrow Conundrum and I still think it has some good laughs in it. But my published novels have been police procedurals. Theyíre set in a fictional town, Cairnburgh, which is just west of my actual home in Aberdeen. My policeman is DCI Jack Carston who doesnít have a drink problem, isnít a social misfit and doesnít indulge in esoteric pursuits. In fact, heís a happily married, childless individual with a strong, independent wife and an active, healthy dislike of admin and bureaucracy as well as the nasty things that criminals perpetrate for purely selfish motives.

But heís changing. In the first novel, Material Evidence, which was published in the UK in hardback in 1995 and in a new paperback edition in the USA in 2007, I learned that I had to cut back on the local dialect so that readers south of Aberdeen would understand it. Instead of making my characters say things such as ĎFah ye spikkin till?í (ĎWho are you speaking to?í) I was told by my editor that letting them say ĎAyeí would be enough to show that they were Scottish. (But theyíre gradually letting more Scottishisms creep in).

The penultimate scene of the book is a nasty one. I figured that thatís what many readers of crime want and, although I still have doubts about the effect such scenes can have, I recognise that thereís a power in stark, visceral things which grabs us in spite of ourselves.


In the second book, Rough Justice, the nasty scene features a rape. Itís not gratuitous and it does play a significant part in the plot. My interest though is mainly in the nastiness that can go on in peopleís heads and in the way they treat others Ė thatís where the real horror lies. And when I said Carston is changing, itís because of his constant exposure to Ďmanís inhumanity to maní (and especially woman). He begins to realise and admit that the potential for darkness is in all of us. Rough Justice was published in 1996 (UK) and 2008 (USA) and, in the third in the series, which has just been published (December 2008), that darkness is even more explicit. In fact, the title is The Darkness. It features a perfectly sane individual who goes about his daily job helping people and showing compassion and concern for them but who, simultaneously, is acting as a vigilante. Heís trapping criminals who have got away with their crimes and subjecting them to inhuman conditions and torments. As the investigation continues, Carston has to keep suppressing the fact that he, too, is glad that the victims are suffering.

Iím getting rather ahead of myself here but, with two more books in the series already written, my plans for the sixth are to create a situation in which he throws off all restraints and almost gives in to the blackness which is part of his character. I think Iím probably going to kill his wife, too, to give him an extra nudge along the road.

Another novel is due out soon. Itís set in Aberdeen in 1840 and features the killing of a shipwright. The central character whose curiosity leads him to investigate the death is a figurehead carver and the bookís called The Figurehead. Itíll be published in the USA by Virtual Tales as a paperback and an ebook. The beauty of setting it in the nineteenth century is that investigations can be speculative processes, without the certainties of DNA profiling and all the other forensic advances that have made detection and proof slightly easier. John Grant, my carver, can hack away at his lump of oak and devise theories to fit the facts, wander around the docks asking questions and, incidentally, begin to fall for the daughter of the owner of the ship whose figurehead heís carving. It helps that she and her mother have asked for it to be a likeness of the two of them combined.

Reading and writing carry the same excitement. As both reader and writer, one gets lost in the fiction, contributes to it, gives the characters their breath and substance. And, when crime is involved, one gets the chance to see behind peopleís facades, to share the murkiest thoughts and compulsions. And the book isnít a closed world. It has its settings, its protagonists, its events, but theyíre always open to many interpretations. On my website, ( I tell of the American reader who was half way through Material Evidence and wrote to me to say he was enjoying it. I replied and said ĎOK, whodunit?í He sent me a closely argued email identifying the killer and giving all the necessary motives, clues and the methods Carston used to catch the criminal. He was Ďwrongí but his arguments were flawless. And I was chuffed that there was enough scope in the book for him to have created his own scenario from it. It took that intimate, magical contact between writer and reader a step further than the norm. And, in the end, thatís the real beauty of writing Ė to become part of another personís experience for a short while. Itís a privilege to be allowed inside someone elseís thinking.


Page by - Gary Cane