Celebrated Scottish crime writer Denise Mina appeared at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe as part of Scottish Book Week, which ran during 23rd – 29th November, 2015
It was an informal night of chat conducted in an easy relaxed manner by Craig Smillie. Denise was tasked with selecting three favourite songs and books, which she discussed and gave us insights into the writing of her famous crime novels, which include Garnethill, The Dead Hour and Field of Blood, among many others.
She’s a great storyteller and speaker. She drew on her large family background and originally from East Kilbride, we heard how the family moved, 21 times in 18 years. She credited this packing up and moving around, with building up a resilience, and making you a distant observer – useful traits for a writer.
In a rather self-deprecating manner, she described herself as a bit of a “chancer”, and seemed reluctant to take on the handle of author/writer.
She said she took a chance and it worked. She wanted to get some of the ideas that were generated through her studies in forensic crime into a format that could be more accessible and she wanted to open people’s eyes to a new way of understanding the world and society.
She started writing fiction by way of explaining the world she was discovering. She didn’t think anyone would read it or that it would be any good – she was wrong on both counts.
We also heard about her foray into comic writing for DC Thomson and the challenges faced by this very different writing discipline.
She spoke about her collaborations in theatre having worked on plays for Glasgow’s Oran Mor, as well as discussing the film adaptations of her novels. She often signs away film rights to many of her books, thinking they will never get made, and she stated the difficulty of controlling the filming process. She expected the TV version of Field of Blood, which starred Jayd Johnson, David Morrissey and Peter Capaldi, to be awful, but she loved it.
Her chosen songs were Amen by Otis Redding, Blue Monday by New Order and Here It Comes Again by The Amazing Snakeheads. Back in the day, before music was as accessible by downloading and streaming, once you got your hands on a record, it was a prized possession. And Denise said she played a record over and over, and over again.
Favourite books were The Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov, The Victorians by A N Wilson and Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg. The latter was translated into the film Angel Heart, which starred Mickey Rourke – an adaptation which Denise didn’t like.
Scotland seems to have a burgeoning crime writers circle, which includes established authors ranging from Denise Mina, Val McDermid and Ian Rankin, while there is still space for new talent, such as Matt Bendoris, to join the ranks.
And Denise’s chat seemed to suggest there was a certain crime community hub in Scotland. In the 1980’s the music scene attracted the attention of those searching for the next Orange Juice or Aztec Camera, and now the Scottish crime writing circle brings its own kudos. There’s an acceptance that if it comes from Scotland, it’s quality writing and worth a look.
All that remains is for us to translate more of this creative crime writing talent to the big screen. We haven’t quite managed to rival the successes of our Nordic counterparts who bring us quality TV dramas such as The Killing and The Bridge. We’ve certainly got the talent and Scotland as a country, with its dark, grittiness and character, lends itself easily as a cinematic backdrop.