New thriller's heroine is a Highland reporter
IF you are a journalist on an Inverness local newspaper, you don’t have to read far into Douglas Skelton’s latest thriller before you are looking round for his secret surveillance cameras lurking round the newsroom.
Douglas’s latest book is set in Inverness and the office of his invented weekly paper the Highland Chronicle.
There, young, smart and ambitious reporter Rebecca Connolly is itching to get her teeth into an intriguing story on an island on the paper’s patch, as a festering saga of murder and suspicion resurfaces on the mythical island of Stoirm.
And if Douglas seems almost psychic about the latest changes to hit newspapers and the print business, making his description of local journalism totally accurate and up to date, there is a simple explanation.
He worked in newspapers as editor of an Ayrshire paper for many years as well as being an investigator of true crime in Glasgow, including working to right the miscarriage of justice in the infamous ice cream wars.
As an experienced journalist, Douglas despaired at some of the decisions taken at his own newspaper.
“I remember someone from the company coming to see us and saying ‘If you have a murder you have to put it on the front page’.
And I said: ‘Thanks very much for telling me that, I’ve only been doing this for 20-odd years!’.
“So they hated me by the end and I think they were quite glad to get rid of me!”
Thunder Bay is Douglas’s eighth novel.
The first four were set in Glasgow, underworld thrillers starring his criminal anti-hero Davie McCall.
“They came out of my experiences of true crime and investigating crime – and the ice cream wars.
“The next were an antidote to that, though they were pretty dark. But I wanted to see if I could do thrillers – still dark – but that were funnier. They still have the edge and the darkness, but I did two of the Dominic Queste books.
“My next challenge was to see if I could write a book that was not set in Scotland and didn’t have any Scottish characters.
“So I did The Janus Run which was set in New York, a chase thriller.
“I did that and thought ‘What next?’
“I did want to come back to Scotland and set something here, but I didn’t want to go to Central Scotland. I wanted something claustrophobic, so I thought about setting it on an island. But I also wanted to see if I could create a location that didn’t actually exist, that would not just be believable, but another character in the book.”
Douglas explained why.
“It’s because my writing hero – the author that turned me onto crime – was Ed McBain who wrote 60 or 70-odd thrillers in the fictional city of Isola he created. It was a mixture I think of New York and Boston, but you feel it really existed because he did it so well. And I wanted to try and do that with the island of Stoirm.”
Other challenges for Douglas with Thunder Bay included writing through the eyes of a 25-year-old woman – Rebecca.
“With all the books I've done, even the non-fiction, I like to set myself challenges. With this one I wondered if I could realistically create a 25-year-old woman when I am not a 25-year-old woman!”
Douglas is not someone who meticulously plans his plot before starting to write as he knows he will change things as he goes along.
“It goes back to the first Davie McCall book, Blood City where there was a character I'd intended would continue over the next couple of books at least. But as I was writing, I decided he was going to be killed and not only that but I knew who was going to do it and that little flash illuminated a lot of what I'd been writing about earlier. There is a theory that something is working at the back of the brain independently of your fingers typing – also working ahead of them!”
Douglas is already 20,000 words into the next Rebecca Connolly book.
“She is back in Inverness,” Douglas confirmed. “So I will be coming to the city for a poke around to do some more research.”
The writer totally understands why Inverness and the Highlands have suddenly become a mecca for many crime and thriller writers over the past couple of years.
“Publishers are not keen on books set in the Central Belt because there are so many now.
“So writers are looking to expand and go elsewhere, into what I am going to call rural crime – which is unfair because Inverness is not rural. But rural crime is very popular.
“And there is the Outlander effect which is a contributory factor because the American market is fascinated by anything set in the Highlands now.”
But one thing doesn’t change with Douglas’s writing, no matter where his fiction is set.
“Thunder Bay is very dark. I don’t think I could repeat that. I think it might be off-putting.
“But there is always darkness – I don’t do happy endings."
Douglas Skelton will be at Waterstones Inverness on Monday, May 20 at 5pm. Former Herald Highland correspondent David Ross will chair the event which is free.