Maybe it’s a quirk of crime-writers that they remain reserved and secretive, but this session afforded little in the way of scoops or sensational confessions from either of the authors. Or perhaps with only an hour in which the audience could question the two crime-writing specialists, such admissions were unlikely.
Quintin Jardine can justifiably be described as a stalwart of crime-fiction, having produced 38 novels across 3 series, most notably his ‘Bob Skinner’ novels (twenty four with four more commissioned). Douglas Skelton is an established non-fiction crime-writer with an expertise in Glasgow’s gangland crime scene, now trying his hand at crime-fiction.
When asked if he considers his writing to be of the ‘hard-boiled’ or the ‘cosy’ variety, Jardine is clear: “I am hard-boiled”. This, I suspect, is doubly true. Though coming across as jovial (albeit closer to the ‘reserved’ end, if jovial has a spectrum) Jardine is certainly a ‘hard-boiled’ archetype. It may be in part that he resembles a couple of the more intimidating senior police officers I have known, but there is an air that warns against positioning yourself on his wrong side. In this regard he is surely the embodiment of his Bob Skinner character, a notion at least partly corroborated by his own admission: “Anything that happens to me happens to him.” Quoting the maxim “write what you know,” for Jardine, life is a research project that forms the basis for the incidental detail of his novels: when Jardine had a pacemaker fitted, Bob Skinner had a pacemaker fitted; as the author recovered and forgot about the procedure, so too did Skinner. Similarly, Jardine is critical of the recent amalgamation of the Scottish forces – now Police Scotland – therefore, so too is Skinner. One of his reasons for writing Grievous Angel (2011) was “to get to know Skinner better”. One cannot help but feel a measure of self-discovery was involved.
Skelton’s expertise comes from years of research and writing about true crime; published this year, Blood City is his fiction debut. As with Jardine, Skelton comes across as guarded, though this tendency is understandable given that he built his reputation writing about Glasgow’s notorious criminal underworld. He recalls being stopped in Glasgow by a policeman who recognised him as the co-author of Frightener: The Glasgow Ice-cream Wars (1992), a book that was highly critical of the police. The policeman’s injunction to “keep it up!” was support as unexpected as it was a relief to the author. I imagine he has been fastidious in ensuring his non-fiction work would not risk too many impromptu challenges in Glasgow’s streets, and he does intimate that the ability to make up characters in fiction writing is “very liberating.” At least they won’t take exception to what is said about them. What has served Skelton in his move into fiction is his approach; being honed in non-fiction prioritises how best to tell the story: “No matter what you’re writing, you’ve got to draw the reader in.”
Both authors highlight spontaneity as integral to their writing process, Jardine insisting that he writes with “no synopsis,” the details being worked out on the page; favourite characters turn up “unbidden” and others are killed off on impulse. Skelton describes his method as “haphazard,” knowing only his destination and not how he will arrive there. The authors are also in agreement about the meaninglessness of the term ‘Tartan Noir’, which they argue serves no real purpose. Equally, they reject the notion that they write ‘police procedurals,’ Jardine having become so tired of the claim that he has simply given up denying it, while Skelton points out that police procedure is, for the most part, so mundane it is not fit for fiction writing. To this end, his writing is “not realistic”, but he hopes it is “realistic enough.”
My confession: I do not read crime writing of any sort. The chances of overturning that on the strength of this event? I would say the jury is out.