Allan Guthrie writes dark (and sometimes comic) crime fiction. He was born in Orkney, but has lived in Edinburgh for most of his adult life. He is also the author of the award winning ‘Hard Man’ and his latest novel is Slammer. Our friends at Byker Books recently shared a pint with Allan in Glasgow:
Interview with Allan Guthrie
Imagine my surprise, as I wandered into a pub in Glesga with the sole intention of robbing the jukebox, when I noticed the top author and agent Allan Guthrie propping up the bar. In the shake of a barmaids tale I had him bundled into the van and talking for his very life…
So, Allan, what’s happening with you at the minute?
Apart from propping up bars in Glasgow (despite being teetotal and living in Edinburgh, I like to travel to pubs in different cities up and down Britain at the weekend and pretend to be drunk), I’m working on a detective thriller called BLOOD WILL OUT. Bit of a departure for me, writing from the perspective of the police. I tried it out in a novella called BYE BYE BABY (due to be released in July 2011) and it came out pretty well, I’m told, so this is an attempt at something longer and more complex.
Who would you say inspired you to take up the pen initially?
Initially? I was five when I wrote my first short story, although I may have used a crayon rather than a pen. Hard to say who my inspiration was but it was very likely a talking animal.
It’s an absolute nightmare getting anywhere near a publisher these days – how did you manage it initially?
Getting shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger was a big help. I also worked hard on building a list of publication credits. The publishers of my first two novels (PointBlank Press and Hard Case Crime, both American) came to me after recommendations from editors who’d bought short stories and liked what they’d read (it’s not who you know, folks — it’s who knows you). This was after literally hundreds of rejections for my first two or three novels. It was still a long time before I got close to an editor or agent in the UK though. Ian Rankin was the catalyst there. After he told an audience at the Edinburgh Book Festival that he’d enjoyed TWO-WAY SPLIT, I had an agent a couple of weeks later. Pure good fortune on my part.
What are you reading at the minute then?
I’ve been reading manuscripts by my clients now for a few months solid. The last non-client novel I read would have been FLESHMARKET by Nicola Morgan, an outstandingly evocative piece of historical fiction set in the Edinburgh of Burke and Hare.
What have you lashed all the millions on – Premium Bonds, Lager or Chocolate?
When I sold my first short story I bought seventeen houses and a nuclear submarine. Now I only buy countries and toilet roll.
Who would you say literary heroes were and why?
I’m a big fan of dramatists, particularly the Jacobeans and Absurdists. Screenwriters too. Walter Hill’s screenplay for HARD TIMES (no, not the Dickens one) is a piece of laconic genius. I’m a huge fan of Andrew Kevin Walker (SEVEN) as well, love to see what he could do with a novel.
Do you think you could give any advice to any would-be writers?
Only what worked for me, and that was to give up drinking, stop watching TV and learn as much about the craft of writing as I could. But I did drink rather a lot, watched far too much TV and couldn’t write for shit.
Ever considered Celebrity Big Brother?
What’s that? Katie Price’s rewrite of Orwell’s 1984?
Do you draw on past experiences to write your books and if so how many people have you killed?
I have drawn on my experiences, but not greatly. I tend to take a real-life scenario and make wholesale changes to it so it no longer bears any resemblance to the original event. For instance, on many occasions I have failed to kill people. I can hardly get out of bed without not killing somebody (it’s quite a problem). So I take those everyday scenes and change them and voila — people die.
You’re renowned for your ‘grittiness’ but was that any kind of barrier when you were starting out?
Not specifically. Writing about anti-heroic characters is definitely a barrier though. We’re told that the vast majority of the reading public want to read about characters they care about, and the vast majority of publishers want what the vast majority of readers want. It’s a difficult balance, trying to find characters who are interesting and yet likeable and credible, especially if they’re criminals. It’s beyond me, to be honest. That’s why I’m going over to the dark side and writing from the cop perspective. Still plenty gritty though.
Scotland has produced a number of writers in recent years that deal in very entertaining and readable books that are, at the same time, exploring some of life’s more squalid scenarios. Any views on that?
Our time has come. Yes, we have one of the best crop of crime writers in the world. I haven’t a scooby why that should be. Probably a case of success breeding success — one of those aphorisms that’s definitely true in the publishing world. Ian Rankin and Val McDermid opened the door and the rest of us wandered in, looking for drink or the bathroom.
Who would play you in the film of your life?
If you could cross the actor who plays Phil Mitchell in Eastenders with a hamster, you’d have the perfect candidate.
What’s next then?
Dinner. I’m starving.
Buy Slammer from Amazon by clicking the cover below:
Byker Books promote writers who are ignored elsewhere, writers who don’t fit into rigid ‘genres’, writers who are new and uncertain, writers who hail from working class backgrounds and most of all, writers who live in the real world and know that it’s not fair. They put together quarterly collections and ensure that copies get dropped on to the desks of literary agents up and down the UK. More at Byker Books and their work at Radgepacket online.
More on Scottish literature on the first Monday of every month from Alistair Braidwood.
Next month ‘The Shoe’ by Gordon Legge. Buy it by clicking the cover below:
Allan Guthrie talks about Savage Night
Photo Credit: Darcie