Anna Smith is an award winning journalist, formerly chief reporter of the Daily Record in Scotland and now a columnist with the Scottish News of the World. She has covered wars across the world as well as major investigations and news stories. The Dead Won't Sleep is the first thriller in a series featuring journalist Rosie Gilmour.
People ask me if I did a lot of research for my debut crime novel The Dead Won’t Sleep.
They ask did I really meet the prostitutes and gangsters like the ones portrayed in the book.
More than I care to remember, I tell them!
But, it didn’t feel like research to me – it was all part and parcel of my daily life as a frontline reporter in Glasgow.
At the height of the heroin explosion in the 80s and 90s, which has decimated big cities across the UK, I spent my days in the dark underbelly of Glasgow among the junkies and prostitutes for whatever investigation or expose I was working on - and some of it still haunts me.
But I suppose somewhere at the back of my mind, though I wasn’t really aware of it at the time, I was squirreling away all the experiences for the future.
To be honest some of the characters you meet as a reporter are so rich in content, you actually couldn’t make them up!
So there is nobody in the novel that I haven’t encountered to some extent as I trawled through the city from my early days as a young reporter in the Daily Record in Glasgow working night shift, to the later years when as Chief Reporter, I was exposing corruption and investigating child sex abuse.
I don’t have to look far to create a character for a novel, because the privilege of being a journalist is that you get glimpses into so many other people’s lives, and if you are perceptive enough you hold onto the graphic images and thoughts you have at the time.
It’s only when I took time to stand back and concentrate on my writing, that I realised I have such a raft of characters and stories for crime novels.
Therefore creating Rosie Gilmour, the Glasgow hack trying to tear down the world and expose all the bad guys, is in some ways an extension of myself – though I like to think I’m not quite as screwed up as Rosie is, but that is for others to decide.
Although Rosie’s first outing is in Glasgow, The Dead Won’t Sleep is very much an introduction to a character that I want to develop and take on a wider remit than crime in the city.
For 25 years at the frontline in daily newspapers I have covered just about every major story across the world. I’ve reported from the orphanages in Romania after the fall of the Communist regime, I’ve covered genocide in Rwanda and conflict in Somalia. I also reported from Kosovo at the height of the refugee plight, and some of the images will stay with me forever. And I was in New York while the twin towers were still smouldering, just three days after the 9/11 terror attack.
In between times, I’ve reported on the Troubles in Belfast, and a vast amount of news investigations and exposes in Glasgow and across the UK, including Fred West.
So on a daily basis you came across amazing characters, and some very dodgy and dangerous ones too.
I was once under police protection in Glasgow after a gangster took out a contract on me. It was quite a scary time, with my house wired up with a panic button – but not without it’s comic moments, because every time I banged a door too hard, the alarm went off and every available policeman within a two mile radius turned up on my doorstep braced for action!
On the other side of the mic with Ali Karim
But in future novels, I want to use that diverse background and experience to take my character travelling.
Many crime novels have a cop as the protagonist, and events centre around one particular area and the police department he or she works out of.
The difference with Rosie and other crime fictions is Rosie is not tied to a police station, and she’s not bound by any restrictions.
As a journalist she’s a law unto herself, so while a lot of my future novels will still retain the gritty Glasgow element to them, I want to take her to places I have been, and hopefully I can make them as graphic.
The last few weeks have been a blur of book launches and travelling, and I’m off to Spain now to do some interviews on radio and newspapers in the hope we can reach out to the ex-pat community. They do like their crime on the Costas!
But I’ve been overwhelmed by the feedback from The Dead Won’t Sleep.
Everyone reading it tells me it’s a fast, exciting read and they can’t put it down.
What’s been incredible is people say they can feel and smell the streets and the people in the novel – and someone emailed me the other day, who’d been reading the novel on the train to Glasgow and when she stepped into the street at Charing Cross in the rain, she felt as though she was walking in Rosie’s shoes! That made my day!
But for me the best thing is that readers have warmed to Rosie and can’t wait to see what’s coming next.
As a debut crime novelist of a series, you can’t really ask for more.
So the second novel To Tell The Truth, is already done and with the publishers to be published next year, when Rosie will be back with a vengeance with a massive and disturbing investigation that takes her from Spain to Morocco and Glasgow.
And I have now signed a deal for two more books with my publishers Quercus, who are a dream to work with.
My editor is the legendary Jane Wood, who is Royalty in publishing! It’s been an education so far working with her and I’m looking forward to the future with the whole Quercus team.
And, of course, talking of legends – my agent is Ali Gunn. She’s an enormous support to me and also great fun.
These are truly exciting times for me, and hugely challenging, as I’m about to sit down and write book three.
Rosie feels very real to me, perhaps that’s because there’s a lot of my own sentiments in her, such as the way she is driven and her sense of outrage and anger when people with no voice walk into her life – because she’s been where they have been.
Publisher: Quercus Publishing Plc (26 May 2011) Paperback Original £12.99
Photographs © Mike Stotter