It’s been a busy few months, but I can finally report that my next novel is finished. It is going to be called The Complaints and will be published the first week of September. I say this without really knowing what anyone thinks of it. Nobody’s looked at it, except me. As soon as I’ve typed out this newsletter, I’ll copy the novel on to memory sticks and send them to publisher, editor, agent… Though it’s tempting to hold on to it for a few more days. As I wrote recently in The Observer, all my novels remain perfect up to the point when I show them to other people - after which they begin to show their flaws. A bit like buying vinyl from eBay. It looks good in the photo, and the vinyl seems flawless when you finally get hold of it and hold it up to the light. But when you place the needle on the run-in groove, you start to hear little pops and clicks and crackles….
Sorry - I’ve been buying too many albums lately.
Though it’s taken five months to get The Complaints down on paper, it hasn’t been all work. I took my son to see Waiting for Godot at the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh. ‘This is amazing,’ he said. ‘Charles Xavier and Magneto on stage together!’ Quite. I also took him to see John Renbourn and Robin Williamson at a folk club in Biggar. He reckoned they looked like retired archaeologists (but he did love the gig!). As for Bob Dylan at the Edinburgh Playhouse: ‘Dad, there’s an old man on stage murdering Bob Dylan songs!’ So it goes… A couple of nights back it was Al Stewart at the Queen’s Hall, which was a real treat (literally so: my accountant provided the tickets), and Jack had nothing in any way demeaning to say about Mr Stewart.
Highlight of the musical calendar so far this year, though, was the Fence Collective’s Homegame festival in Anstruther, back in April. Standout sets from Slow Club, Come In Tokyo, Phantom Band, James Yorkston, Alasdair Roberts and Malcolm Middleton. Managed to miss Pictish Trail, Eagleowl, K T Tunstall and King Creosote, but isn’t that the way with festivals? Great atmosphere throughout the weekend, glorious sunshine on the Sunday, and a little record stall selling yet more vinyl!
In early May I spent a riotous evening traipsing around Edinburgh with actor Alan Cumming. We were being filmed throughout for a TV documentary to be shown in Germany and France. We managed to tell one another dirty jokes in the parliament chamber, sink enough booze to stun a team of oxen, freak one another out in the spooky confines of Mary King’s Close, and tread the midnight boards at the Traverse Theatre. Oh, and we feasted on white pudding suppers along the way. A really good night out and Mr Cumming was everything you want your Hollywood film star to be (namely: homegrown, down to earth and fun to be around).
Saturday May 9th saw me at Stark’s Park for the last game of the season. It was cold and wet and conditions were lamentable. It ended nil-nil… and yet… and yet… four and a half thousand souls had come along to celebrate Raith being crowned Second Division Champions. Val McDermid, another local diehard, was there, too, and we shared tea and pies (plus a small whisky afterwards). Raith have been through dark days, and it was a thrill to be there in the happiest of times. Next season: Division One and the mighty Pars. I can’t wait.
I hadn’t seen Val for a while - the perils of being a writer. You tend to catch up with other writers only when you’re on tour or at a festival. Harlan Coben hit Edinburgh as part of the publicity drive for his new book, and we grabbed some dinner and a bottle or two of wine. He was on terrific form. We’ve known one another for years and he’s an endless source of great tales and anecdotes.
I’ve managed to put in an appearance at a few festivals so far this year (West Sussex, St Andrews, Aberdeen), with more to come. I’ll be at a crime festival in St Malo on the last weekend of May. Then there’s the Borders Book Festival in June (where I’ll be talking about Muriel Spark’s books rather than my own). I’ll take a summer break, but will be busy (as usual) at the Edinburgh Book Festival in August. September, I’ll be touring the UK in support of The Complaints. One appearance will take me to the Stirling Festival. October it’s the Walking Festival (in Yorkshire), the Inverness Book Festival, the Belfast Festival (I think) and Biggar Festival. My standalone graphic novel, Dark Entries, is published on 23 October. More news on that at a later date.
Should I tell you anything about The Complaints? The cops out there will know that the title is shorthand for Complaints and Conduct, this being the department that investigates misdemeanours within the police. My main character is a detective who spends his time rooting out bad cops. This makes him an unpopular figure within his own force. When he himself comes under investigation, there are plenty of people looking for payback. Is that whetting the appetite? The hero is in his early-forties and doesn’t drink. Yes, that’s right, he doesn’t drink. He really doesn’t. Not a drop. (The research, needless to say, was hell…)
Having finished The Complaints, I took a day off and went shopping for records, then wrote the introduction to a book of short stories (for the charity Victim Support Scotland). I am now writing a story for The Times, after which I have to write another story for BBC Radio Four. (This is just in case anyone out there wants to accuse me of slacking between novels…)
No news of Rebus on TV, though a production company outside the UK is looking at one of my non-Rebus books for a drama series. And I’m still working with a friend on a film script. I’m not sure how top secret we’re supposed to be keeping this. Will our producer have a fit if I let slip that it’s a version of James Hogg’s gothic masterpiece ‘Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’? That title’s a bit wordy, but ‘Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ sounds like Robin Askwith will be leaping from bedroom windows just as the husband comes home. Maybe ‘Justified Sinner’, or even ‘Sinner’. This is just one of the problems we’ve encountered while trying to wrest a filmable story from an extremely complex original narrative.
No news either of a release date for the second St Jude’s Infirmary album (featuring some of my lyrics), though SJI have been doing a few gigs and did put out a single earlier this year - hope springs eternal, etc. In fact, now that I think of it, they held a bit of a party to celebrate the single’s release and I did an hour’s DJing. This was the first DJing I’d done since the Cowdenbeath YWCA in 1978. Believe it or not, mostly I played the same songs - and they still got people up dancing. The Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Skids… It was a hell of a lot of fun (for me, at least). But I doubt I’ll be giving up the day job.
Speaking of which, I better get those memory sticks in the post to my publisher. If September comes and goes, and there’s no sign of ‘The Complaints’, you’ll know that the book didn’t go down too well.
The sun’s breaking through the clouds and I hear the clarion call of the pub. Here’s to the first swallow of summer.