Billed as “an exploration of Scottish crime writing from opposite sides of the country”, the session opened with readings from each of the author’s respective novels, then moved on to explore the past careers of both Mina and Johnstone, before a discussion of Scottish crime was conducted in intriguing and amusing detail.
Mina’s reading from her newest novel, The Red Road, was a hugely engaging and confident presentation. The seven page long extract felt a fraction of its actual length, due in part to the minimalist yet expressive style of Mina’s prose and the natural manner of her delivery. There is a real sense, on hearing or indeed reading Mina that, as Mina herself later pointed out in the session, her novels rely much more on the perception and imagination of the reader( or in this case listener) than on overt descriptions of horror or gore. Her description of blood “oozing like mud through toes” is an example of her ability to create images which evoke a visceral, physical reaction without resorting to the literary equivalent of cheap shock tactics.
After such an absorbing reading from Mina, Doug Johnstone was given the rather uneviable task of following with a reading taken from his latest novel, Gone Again. It is just as well then that Johnstone is every bit as capable of capturing the attention of an audience as Mina. By his own admission and breaking from what he would routinely present at such an event, Johnstone read a passage from the middle section of his novel, while also skilfully providing the audience with a little context and plot overview in the process. His reading from Gone Again proved to be an equally absorbing scene of a typically “sweary” school fight, written from a semi-autobiographical stand point. Johnstone’s passage recounted the point of view of Mark, a father caught in the social catch-22 of separating his son’s fight without reacting to the instigator, a character described in slyly pithy terms: “Primary 2 and he already knows the word ‘fuck'”.
Following these provocative yet gripping readings, Mina and Johnstone moved on to a lively discussion of Crime Fiction as a genre, together with its changing public perception; they also discussed attitudes to writing and literary awards. Johnstone, a successful freelance arts journalist as well as a musician in his own right, described his fiction as drawing on aspects of “classic noir” in that he is interested in examining characters who are “morally compromised” and the effect such characteristics have on the relationship “between victims and criminals”. Johnstone also noted that Gone Again represents, in part, an attempt to bring this complex characterisation to the figure of the child in his writing, which in the genre are almost always , in Mina’s words, “little cardboard cut-outs of adults”. Mina, while agreeing with Johnstone’s comments on the depiction of children, also stated that the assumption of crime writing as somewhat “low class” writing was beginning to become less common. Mina, however, also voiced the intriguing opinion that, in contrast to Ian Rankin’s long held stance, crime writing should not be considered for the Man Booker Prize on monetary grounds as the literary works of other “struggling” writers earn far less in book sales. This comment came as part of a larger discussion in which Mina, the recipient of multiple awards, expressed scepticism about the value of awards and shortlists. , The relaxed familiarity and confidence of Mina and Johnstone lifted the atmosphere and content of this event to create a hugely enjoyable discussion peppered with witticisms, profanity and a sample of some of the best Scottish writing around.