TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Brian: Wow. I have no idea. If you mean in terms of the actual words, stories etc I produce, the (silly) thing that pops into my head first is that I have used the word ‘muculent’ in two of my novels. I think it’s not entirely impossible – although maybe unlikely - that I’m the only novelist in the world to have done that. I plan to use it in future novels, too. How childish is that?
In terms of the actual day to day business of writing, there are two things I specifically don’t do (does not doing something count as a quirk?). When I first started writing, years and years ago, I would almost always have music playing while I did so. Now, I write in absolute silence. Find even the most innocuous music too distracting. No idea why. Secondly, I have to disconnect the internet when I sit down to write. Ditto on the ‘too distracting’ thing.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Brian: I did not know it until you asked the question – since I hadn’t heard the word before – but I’m a pantser. Or, to be more accurate, I’m a recovering pantser who is becoming a plotter.
My natural instinct is to work from a fairly skeletal outline. Certainly for my first three books – the Godless World trilogy – I knew the beginning and the end and various key points in between, but navigating between those waymarks was a rather fluid process. Nowadays, I recognise that that is probably not my best or most productive way of writing. I’m plotting more, and writing more down by way of notes and outlines. Doing so doesn’t in any way constrain your creativity or freedom – you’re still free to change things as much as you like while actually writing – but it does provide a clarity and sense of purpose each time you sit down to write the next chapter which I, at least, find helpful.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Edinburgh Dead?
Brian: A whole combination of things: happening to read a lot of non-fiction that related to the history of bodysnatching in 19th century Edinburgh and the crimes of Burke and Hare in particular; wanting to write a reasonably fast-paced, stand-alone novel after finishing up with my fairly chunky Godless World trilogy; waking up every morning in Edinburgh, and absorbing the beauty and drama and complicated character of the place.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Edinburgh Dead?
Brian: The quite extensive sort. To be honest, the best bits of writing a book are generally before you actually start – when the ideas are big and beautiful and perfectly executed in your mind’s eye – and when you’ve finished, at which point you heave a sigh of relief. With The Edinburgh Dead, the research, before I had written more than a few pages of text and some notes, was definitely one of the best bits. It gave me the perfect excuse to spend big chunks of time in libraries, especially the National Library of Scotland, and the City Archives. Honestly, I can think of few more pleasant ways to spend a few days than poking around in vast collections of books and manuscripts, reading stuff written long, long ago. It’s a kind of exploration, and I find it both absorbing and relaxing. Very soothing places, libraries. Like worlds – or universes, even – of their own.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
Brian: Easiest would definitely be the main character, Adam Quire. It really didn’t take too much effort to come up with him, in all his troubled, damaged, decent-hearted stubbornness. I ended up liking him quite a bit: not a straightforward hero, but certainly a hero of sorts, if you ask me.
Hardest would probably be Burke and Hare. They’re real characters from history, and this is the first thing I’ve ever written that fictionalises real people. For some reason, I found it vaguely intimidating trying to do that. There are lots of real historical figures in the book, but in the end the only ones who gave me any pause for thought about how to handle them were Burke and Hare, for two reason I think. First, there’s been enormous amounts written about them over the centuries, so there’s almost too much information about them and trying to pick and choose the information and details I actually needed for The Edinburgh Dead was quite hard. Second, they were really, really unpleasant men who did really, really nasty things. Because I’m as sweet and innocent as a babe-in-arms, that made it a little hard to get into their heads.
TQ: Why did you set the novel in Edinburgh?
Brian: Because it’s my hometown, where I was born and brought up and where – after a decade or more away – I have returned to settle down. I know large parts of it like the back of my hand, and have a deep and abiding affection for its architecture, its character, its history and its beauty.
But for all that, I could only produce the novel I did because Edinburgh itself happens to have these little nuggets of darkness and violence scattered through its history. The historical truth behind the fantastical events I describe in The Edinburgh Dead is the biggest single reason for me writing the book: the city volunteered itself as setting for the novel, by virtue of its dodgy past.
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in the novel?
Brian: Bit tricky to answer that without spoiling stuff, but I do know exactly which my favourite scene is. It’s set at night, with snow on the ground. One man pursues another from a graveyard out onto the ice of a frozen loch. One of them is armed with a musket, the other with a shovel. Far out on the ice, they confront each other, just the two of them. The outcome is rather surprising.
TQ: What's next?
Brian: I can’t really say publicly exactly what comes next just yet, I’m afraid. But I have plans, and hopes. One or other, or both, of them, may well turn out to be the answer to that question ...
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Brian: A pleasure. Thanks for the invite to stop by and be interrogated. I mean interviewed.
About Brian's Books
The Edinburgh Dead(Orbit, August 17, 2011)
Edinburgh: 1828Amazon : Barnes & Noble : Book Depository : Books-A-Million
In the starkly-lit operating theaters of the city, grisly experiments are being carried out on corpses in the name of medical science. But elsewhere, there are those experimenting with more sinister forces.
Amongst the crowded, sprawling tenements of the labyrinthine Old Town, a body is found, its neck torn to pieces. Charged with investigating the murder is Adam Quire, Officer of the newly- formed Edinburgh Police. The trail will lead him into the deepest reaches of the city's criminal underclass, and to the highest echelons of the filthy rich.
Soon Quire will discover that a darkness is crawling through this city of enlightenment - and no one is safe from its corruption.
The Edinburgh Dead is a powerful fusion of gothic horror, history, and the fantastical.
The Godless World Trilogy
As much by luck as judgement, I had a series of on the whole enjoyable and interesting jobs, mostly based in London. All of them save one have been in the charity sector, and at various times they have involved extensive overseas travel, environmental and community projects, nature conservation and fundraising.
Writing was a big feature of my childhood, and has ebbed and flowed as a spare-time occupation ever since. I sold a couple of short stories in the 1990s, but didn’t really start thinking seriously about writing novels until the 21st Century had got underway.
At the start of 2003, I turned myself into a freelance consultant on environmental projects, partly in order to devote more time to writing; since then, the writing side of things has taken over almost completely.
My first novel – Winterbirth, the first volume in The Godless World trilogy – was published in 2006. My most recent is The Edinburgh Dead, published in 2011 in the UK and the US.
The Edinburgh Dead
What: One commenter will win a trade paperback copy of The Edinburgh Dead from The Qwillery.
How: Leave a comment answering the following question:
What is your fake definition of "muculent?
Please remember - if you don't answer the question your entry will not be counted.
In addition please leave a way to contact you.
Who and When: The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59pm US Eastern Time on Wednesday, August 24, 2011. Void where prohibited by law.
*Giveaway rules are subject to change.*