My writing friends have all been much busier than I have recently, which is why, yet again, I’m asking one of them to tell me about his latest novel. This time it’s Michael J Malone, who’s just published a second novel – A Taste For Malice – featuring his detective, D.I. Ray McBain. The first was Blood Tears and it had everything you’d want of a crime novel set in Scotland – a plot full of twists, issues triggered by human relationships, plenty of darkness and plenty of laughs, too. Everyone says the second novel’s harder to write than the first so when I chatted with Michael, that was what prompted my questions.
OK Michael. You know I enjoyed Blood Tears so you won’t be surprised to hear that I’m looking forward to A Taste For Malice. First, can you tell us about the thought process that went into writing it?
I see. OK, let me rephrase that. Tell us about the thought process that went into writing it.
With pleasure. I was driving along the A78 in Ayrshire, passing the Paper Mill when I was struck by a series of “What ifs?”. The first one fired up in my mind from witnessing a near miss on the opposite carriageway. One car narrowly missed another coming off the roundabout and it set me off. What if there was a car crash? What if it was a young woman, on her own, on her way home from work to her son – and she was seriously injured – in a coma for months as a result? What if she was recently divorced? What if, when the wife came out of hospital she had severe memory loss? What if the husband moved back into the marital home as if they had never split up? What if a strange woman appeared pretending to be a friend of the wife’s? The husband can’t tell on her – because she will then tell on him. And what if the family began to trust this woman had only positive intentions? And what if they were soon to find out that she was wrong in every way possible?
The A78’s obviously an inspirational place. But you haven’t mentioned Ray McBain. How did you fit him in with all these what ifs?
After writing Blood Tears, I didn’t really think about writing another crime novel – it was only when I was 80,000 words into this novel that I realised that it was missing something. There was tension from the worry about what this strange woman was up to, but I needed to crank it up. So, I deleted 40,000 words and set McBain on her. He’s back in a job (just) after the events of the previous novel. He’s on forced desk duty and bored out of his skull. He comes across a cold case where a vulnerable family complained about a woman who wormed her way into a position of trust, before mentally and physically abusing the kids and then vanishing.
Sounds intriguing. Maybe that explains some of the things I’ve heard about the book from people who’ve already read it. They say that you’ve come up with an interesting structure – switching the viewpoint back and forward between the investigation and the life of the unsuspecting victim. We also get more detail about potential victims than usual.
Most crime novels concern themselves with the aftermath of a crime. I thought it would be interesting to give the “victim” more of a presence. I wanted this novel to be about the anticipation of a crime and the tension to come from the investigation finding the perpetrator before the crime was actually committed.
I also wanted to see if I could write a crime novel without killing someone. You’ll just need to read the book to see if I was successful in that regard.
I will, I will (and I bet lots of others will too). So, first Blood Tears 12 months ago, now A Taste For Malice. D’you think you’ve learned any new things about the world of writing over that period?
Definitely. As an aspiring author all you think about is getting that publishing deal and when it happens you think all your dreams have come true. But that’s only the first step. You have to get that book into the hands of readers or else it’s only so much paper. Selling books is what it’s all about and that is all about visibility. You need to get your book spotted among the multitudes. When I master the trick of that, I’ll be keeping to myself, so don’t even think of asking. (Cue pantomime laugh.)
(Waits patiently for the echoes of the – it has to be admitted – hammy laugh to die before speaking.) I understand completely but I should tell you that, when faced with such a challenge, I usually find the most effective response is blackmail. But that’ll just be between us. Now, anything else about this writing business?
Aye, learn to live with bad reviews. This is one area in life where you don’t have a right of reply. The vast majority of reviews have been favourable, thankfully, but there has been the odd one that has had me flummoxed. You read them over and over trying to see if there’s anything positive to be taken from them. And usually, there’s not because its more about the reviewer than it is about your book. And as I said, in most other areas of life you do have a right of reply, but in this one you need to step back from the computer. If you do respond, YOU end up looking like a dick. Not the dick who got their jollies from trashing your hard work. Best not to read any reviews. Probably. But then, how do you resist?
Yep. Good advice, but hard to follow. I’m sorry this has been such a short look at what’s behind A Taste of Malice, but it’s certainly made me keen to read it. Thanks for your time, Michael, and lots of luck with the book.
Thank you, Bill.
Surprisingly, the book’s cheaper at Foyles which, as Michael points out, is an actual bookshop, so worth supporting. Alternatively, there’s the ever-reliable Book Depository for overseas readers because they don’t charge for delivery.