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Margaret's crime debut

By Margaret Chrystall

Margaret Kirk 2
Margaret Kirk 2

BY the time you've turned the last page of Margaret Kirk's new crime novel, Inverness will never seem the same again.

For anyone settling down to join Margaret's hero Detective Inspector Lukas Mahler returning from London to his home city to solve two murders, her book Shadow Man offers plenty of pinch-me moments.

It is a very recognisable Inverness spreads itself out in front of you as the pages turn.

But with the citizens discovering their police have two grisly murders to solve, as one of the characters in the book says: "... suddenly their Inverness is another kind of place".

Writer Margaret – whose book launches next Thursday in the city's Waterstones – said: "I think that is true.

"But I also say in the book that Inverness is still the kind of place where people turn round to look when they hear a siren.

"I don't want us to ever lose that really."

For Margaret like many, becoming a full-time writer was once a dream – until she won the £10,000 first novel writing competition in Good Housekeeping last year designed to find new talents.

Now her debut crime novel is about to appear on bookshelves all over the country, published by Orion, one of the UK's biggest and best-known names in crime fiction.

But returning to Inverness also played an important part in making Shadow Man happen.

Margaret, who worked for most of her career as a civil servant in England, returned home to Inverness over eight years ago. Later a course at Highland writing centre Moniack Mhor helped her embark on the story that grew into her debut novel.

Margaret said: "I went to a crime writing week at Moniack Mhor where the writers Val McDermid and Louise Welsh were tutoring – and were so good.

"To go on the course I'd had to submit some work and I sent the first chapters of my book."

Encouraged by the two writers, Margaret continued to expand the book and in 2015 gave up work with a local charity to concentrate on her writing. Margaret had the support of her husband and the book is dedicated "To Martin – who believed".

Margaret Kirk 1
Margaret Kirk 1

Now leading crime writer Val McDermid has lent her support to Margaret again, coming up with the kind of quote on the new book cover that should have potential readers snatching it off the shelves – "Shadow Man is a harrowing and horrific game of consequences".

Shadow Man begins with the body of the queen of daytime TV and bride-to-be Morven Murray discovered by her sister, Anna, on the morning of her wedding day back home in Inverness. But immediately DI Mahler wonders whether Anna might know more about the murder than she is letting on.

And with minor police informant Kevin Ramsay the victim of a vicious murder that could be a gangland-style execution, Mahler worries about what Kevin could have stumbled into to justify that violent death.

Margaret said: "Val McDermid is my absolute hero. I've no idea how she does everything she does – she's an absolute dynamo and so supportive.

"But a couple of people have reviewed the book and said that it wasn't as harrowing or horrific as perhaps I thought.

"First of all I think it is pretty horrific – I tell you what happens, though I don't paint it in glorious technicolour.

"Also what I think Val means is that the consequences are harrowing and it's clear I want to show family, friends and the police as human – and they are faced with those horrible things.

"But also, if you don't think it's horrific, then I really worry about you! It's quite horrific enough for me!"

Since Margaret won the Good Housekeeping competition last year and joked she would spend her winnings on "caramel wafers and Jaffa cakes" she has been teaching herself to treat the dream job as a nine-to-five – and has set up a writing shed.

"That's the main change and I think I've learned to become more disciplined. I have always put a lot of effort into finding the exact word and editing, but I'm slowly learning that getting the story down is important so that I keep moving forward too.

"I wrote most of book one just sitting in my armchair with cats on either side," Margaret laughed. "But the shed is very good just to put yourself in a different space.

"And – yes – this is really what I've always wanted to do. So I am living the dream in a way.

"I do think to an extent that the characters have taken over. They are always living in my head."

Ask Margaret if she would find her ex-Metropolitan Police inspector Lukas approachable in real life and her reply is thoughtful.

"I think I would probably observe him from afar – I don't think Lukas is terribly approachable.

"And I'd be quite worried that he was observing me!"

But with book two and possibly a book three now planned by Margaret, there are going to be a lot more clues about Lukas and the other characters to come.

"I knew as I was writing book one that he and Anna and, to a lesser extent, Lukas's mother's stories were too big to fit into one book," said Margaret.

"There is so much more to them and I've barely scratched the surface."

But as well as staying true to her characters, Margaret also wants 'her' Inverness to belong to readers too.

She laughed: "I have had small discussions with Orion about some expressions that I have used.

"For example, we've had the 'wifey' discussion. I had to fight for it, but it's a word we use here and I'm going to be as authentic as I can.

"I remember going to a crime writing conference in Oxford and the Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir said something that stuck in my mind, that she had to work out early on who she was writing for. She said she had decided it was Icelanders, though also appealing to a wider audience.

"And in the end I'm writing for Highlanders. And I think if you stick to that you won't go far wrong."

Margaret explains why dark humour – particularly from Lukas's sidekick Detective Sergeant Iain 'Fergie' Ferguson – features strongly.

"I don't think you can write about such dark things as I do without a bit of humour," Margaret said. "And I think it's the Inverness character, but also the Scottish character.

"We have an interesting sense of humour, we need the light."

Margaret would also love to see Inverness and Lukas's world turned into a TV series in future.

"Why not show Inverness off? It really is good and bad, a real place with real people.

"I like the idea in the book of taking people on a little tour of the Highlands and I think there are amazing locations in the town.

"When we live here it's easy to forget the scenic qualities of where we live.

"Then you go north to Dornoch and Helmsdale and everything changes again.

"So maybe this is my version of the North Coast 500, a slightly darker version... with bodies!"

* Margaret Kirk's Shadow Man is launched at Waterstones Inverness on Thursday, November 2 from 6pm. Find Margaret on Twitter @HighlandWriter or on Facebook www.facebook.com/MargaretKirkAuthor

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