The prolific Quintin Jardine talks, (eventually) about the creation of Aftershock, the eighteenth book in his best selling DCC Skinner series.
It’s almost twenty years since a journalist turned spin doctor turned media relations consultant/guru sat down on holiday in Spain, and began, on an unfeasibly hot day, to write his first novel. There was nothing premeditated about it; I didn’t know I was going to be a crime writer, I didn’t know that on the first page I was going to meet a character named Bob Skinner, or that he was going to change my life, by giving me a route out of a career that I was enjoying less and less with each passing day, for all the modest trappings that it had brought me. I didn’t know at all, but that’s the way it was.
At that time, my client list included the Faculty of Advocates, (the Scottish bar) and Scotland’s biggest firm of solicitors, so it was pretty much a given that the first person I killed was going to be a lawyer. (That’s not the dumbest thing I’ve ever done; it proved so popular with the reading audience that I’ve bumped off a few more since.) Big Bob’s birth wasn’t like that, though. He appeared in my head, out of nowhere, and jumped down on to the page.
Looking at him there, in Edinburgh’s rain-lashed old town, with my pal Tony’s steel-grey hair and my black leather overcoat, I made a strategic decision that I see in hindsight as hugely important. Skinner wasn’t going to be one more mid-ranking detective with a 100% clear-up rate and a career crippling personality problem . . . I’m not knocking that type of character, not at all; I didn’t want to go there, that’s all . . . he was going to be a high-flyer, who’d already flown. That’s why the man on my sweaty page one was a Detective Chief Superintendent, and that’s why he became an ACC half-way through the book.
I learned a lot during the creation of the work that became Skinner’s Rules, eventually published by Headline in 1993, after a time-consuming struggle to find the right agent. I learned how to plot, I learned how to put on the clothes of different characters and think in different ways, I learned how to keep focussed on the action, and most important, I learned how to trust my instincts. That’s how I came to create a bloody, quick-stepping story, a cityscape full of crime scenes and body parts, leading to a confrontation in one of the city’s wealthier suburbs. And that’s how I came to understand, without being told, that it wasn’t finished. I was happy with it, understand; the problem was, I wasn’t happy enough. So I sat down again, looked at my ‘ending’, and asked the most valuable question a crime writer can ever put to himself, ‘what if . . .’ Sixty-five thousand words later, my original story had been stood on its head and finally, I was there. (There are people who will try to tell you that such moments are better than sex; they’re not, but they’re pretty damn close.) That’s why Skinner’s Rules is the only one of my works to be set in two parts, ‘Right and righteous’ and ‘Adapt and survive’ . . . two parts within a single book, that is.
As Samuel Goldwyn probably didn’t say, we have all passed a lot of water since then. Let’s wind on seventeen years, and I’m back in Spain, in somewhat larger premises, working on a book known then only as Skinner 17. Big Bob’s evolved, he’s now Deputy Chief Constable, he’s gone into and out of a marriage, he has a couple more kids, a new partner and he’s managed to age around six years. . . although his son is seven: work that one out. He’s on sabbatical; his troops are working on an odd series of murders in which the perp seems to have a down on young, female artists. To make it even odder, one of the bodies is found in his own home village. The story evolves and becomes a book called Death’s Door, published in July 2007, by Headline as always. The plot’s tight, the killer gets his, one of Edinburgh’s finest gets whacked in the process . . . this is true; on the very odd occasion where I’ve killed a good guy (good gal once: I’m not sexist) it’s never been pre-planned, always something I’ve known instinctively has to happen for the greater good . . . and in a final twist, Bob and his sidemen, Neil and Mario, are left frustrated by the disappearance of the man who made Maggie Rose a widow.
Except . . . about half-way through the book, I knew that wasn’t quite how it had happened. I had a bigger story in my head, one with plot, counter-plot, sub-plot, twist and finally an enormous rabbit being pulled out of a tiny hat. In other words, in a complete reversal of what had happened during the birth of Skinner’s Rules and the birth of the series, I had far too much to fit into a single novel.
That’s how Aftershock, published on May 2008, the latest in a string of Skinner No 1 best-sellers, came to be . . . not a fully formed plot at that time, but a clear road to follow . . . and I have to say that it was hell of a good feeling. The book begins with DCC Skinner and his team facing an awkward question; how come the young female artist who’s just been found dead in a wood was killed in exactly the same way as those bumped off by the guy who died in Death’s Door? And another; how come the DCC has a picture painted by each of the dead women? Surely it couldn’t have been . . .
More information : http://www.quintinjardine.com
© Portador 2008.