The roll-call of my successful writing friends continues this week with Chris Longmuir, whose latest book has just appeared. Chris is an award-winning novelist. Night Watcher, the first book in the Dundee Crime Series, won the Scottish Association of Writers’ Pitlochry Award, and the sequel, Dead Wood, won the prestigious Dundee International Book Prize, as well as the Pitlochry Award. Her new book, Missing Believed Dead, is the third in the series and the blurb runs as follows:
Missing children! Internet predators! Dead bodies!
She crossed his arms over his chest, and placed the jade beads in his eyes. ‘To remind you of me,’ she said.
Jade was 13 when she disappeared, five years ago, and DS Bill Murphy suspects someone from her family is responsible for recent Dundee murders. But is it her mother, Diane, who now suffers from OCD? Or Emma, her twin sister, who was catatonic for a year after Jade’s disappearance. Or Jade’s brother, Ryan, who enjoys dressing in women’s clothes and is going through a sexuality crisis, unsure whether or not he is gay.
What happened to Jade? Is she alive or dead? Or has she returned to wreak a terrible revenge on all male predators?
OK Chris, we’ve known each other for a while now and when we meet, you’re always smiling and upbeat and seem to be having a good time. So where does all the darkness in your stories come from?
I’m not really sure, but I’ve always enjoyed reading crime, starting from Agatha Christie in my teens, and graduating to the dark crime books I read now, the kind that Mo Hayder or Val McDermid write. I haven’t achieved the heights, or should I say the depths, of those two writers yet, but I’m working on it.
Well, I’ve read all three of your Dundee Series and it seems to me you’re well on your way. Tell us about that series.
Well, as the label suggests, they’re set in Dundee. My main detective is Detective Sergeant Bill Murphy, although I must admit that when I started to write the books I had intended Detective Inspector Sue Rogers for that role, but she’s had to take the subsidiary role of his partner. I don’t really know how it happened, because Bill’s not the most forceful character, bit of a saddo really, but there he was in prime position, and he’s stayed there ever since. However the main characters in the Dundee Crime Series aren’t the police characters – they’re the victims, the suspects, or the perpetrators, and there are different main characters in each book. It would have been daft though, to change the police characters in each book so they stay the same.
Yes, readers get to know them and their foibles. But I remember you mentioning some time ago that the books were published out of sequence. How did that happen?
Yes, it’s true. Night Watcher is the first in the series, but it was published after Dead Wood, which is the second. The reason for that is that Dead Wood won the Dundee International Book Prize, which made it my breakthrough book. You know as well as I do how hard it is to get published these days. The third book in the series, Missing Believed Dead, has just hit the bookshelves, and I’ve been getting rave feedback from the pre-publication reviewers, so I’m hoping for great things with this one.
Ah yes, the struggle to get published. While we’re on the subject, tell us a bit more about how you hacked your way through the jungle?
Yes, it’s certainly a jungle. I think my experience was probable similar to that of lots of authors (although there are always exceptions). It’s not easy in today’s climate, and if you do get a publisher interested, you’re very lucky. I had four books in my bottom drawer before I struck lucky by winning the prize with Dead Wood. But that book had done the rounds of publishers and agents, and attracted its fair share of rejections. In fact I got a rejection from a publisher – who incidentally had kept the book for four years – a week before it was published as the Dundee prize-winning novel. I had an intense urge to thumb my nose at them and say ‘Yah, boo sucks’, but of course, I didn’t.
Admirable restraint, Chris. Just as well you didn’t set your dark side on them. I must say, when I heard you’d won the prize, I thought ‘Great, Chris has made it’ and I assumed publishing would get easier for you.
Yes, that would be a reasonable thing to think, but unless your publisher has given you a three or six book contract, you’re still on the same merry-go-round. My publisher had an option on my second book, which they declined because they weren’t taking on any new books for the next two years. I’m afraid the recession hit the publishers just as much as any other business. However, it did leave me free to do my own thing.
I still find it astonishing that after winning such a prestigious prize things didn’t improve. Well, not until, as you say, you did your own thing and found success in publishing your own ebooks. What made you decide to take that route?
I must admit I did try to interest publisher and agents initially, and it was through my approach to one agent that I got the advice to epublish. It was the best advice I’ve ever been given – thank you Allan Guthrie. I published Night Watcher as an ebook but it looked very lonely on my Amazon page, so I published my historical saga, A Salt Splashed Cradle, to keep it company.
Ah yes, that’s another of yours that I enjoyed. It showed you’re not all dark crime. There are your two books of short stories, too.
Yes. They’d all been languishing in the depths of my computer, but I don’t think I write in that style anymore.
I notice that you’ve branched out into paperbacks again. What brought that about?
When I started publishing ebooks I had no intention of publishing paperbacks, plus I knew if I went to a publisher for paperback versions, they would want my ebook rights as well, and I wasn’t willing to relinquish those. But every time I gave a talk, there were nearly always readers there who didn’t like ebooks and who asked me about paperbacks. I got to feeling I was letting my readers down by not having paperbacks, so I published the novels as paperbacks myself, using Amazon’s Createspace.
OK, how about the new book? I’ve already quoted the blurb but tell us a bit more about it.
As I said, it’s number three in the Dundee Crime Series and it’s called Missing Believed Dead. It’s about missing children, internet predators, and dead bodies! The main storyline concerns a girl who disappeared five years previously while she was still a child, and whether or not she has returned to punish predators. Running alongside that is the abduction of a teenager. And that’s all I’m prepared to divulge for now.
Clever marketing. OK, so what’s next on the agenda?
Like most writers, I can’t write to order, although if I was contracted to a publisher I would probably have to. I’ve had requests for a follow up to A Salt Splashed Cradle, and also for more Dundee crime novels, but I think I’m going to return to a series I started some time ago, about a policewoman during and after the First World War.
You always surprise me, Chris. I look forward to that. Now, just one last question – any tips for aspiring writers?
The most important thing is to keep reading contemporary fiction. You need to keep up to date. The classics won’t cut it, because today’s readers can be impatient with writing styles that have become dated. Then you need to write, and keep writing. The name of the game is perseverance, because most writers get loads of knock-backs. You have to be able to rise above them. If I’d let rejections discourage me, I’d have stopped writing twenty years ago.
I’m sure, like me, there are plenty who are very glad you didn’t. Thanks very much, Chris, and good luck with the new book.
Thank you for having me, Bill. I’ve enjoyed it.