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I’m moving!

Posted by on March 8, 2015


Please note that this blog will be moving to my own website at

www.douglasskelton.com

Thanks for reading here over the past couple of years and I hope you will move with me.

Douglas


Self doubt and despair

Posted by on March 5, 2015


Sometimes I think you’ve got to be a few fruit loops short of a full bowl to be a writer.
I know I am.
Let’s look at it this way – you sit in a room by yourself, just making stuff up. People. Situations. Hell, whole worlds.
Now, if that’s not a call to be fitted with one of those tight jackets, I don’t know what is.
Crime writers in particular must be slightly tetched. After all, we not only come up with the good guys (in my case, the occasional good guy) but we have to create some serious heinous villains. We’re all nice people – well, most of us, because, believe me, I’m not that nice. If it’s true that every character carries a tiny part of the writer, what black part of our soul do these people spring from?
Then there’s the crippling self-doubt and the niggling despair that comes when you read something that is just so good you know you can’t beat it. No matter how hard you work at it, you know, deep down, you’re never going to write that well. I’m thinking of a few contemporaries here but I won’t embarrass them by naming them.
I’ve got a full reading list ahead of me but despite that I’ve returned to my crime roots in search of inspiration.
I’m on record as stating that I think the American author Ed McBain is the largely unsung father of much of modern crime fiction. I’m talking the police procedural here, or any book that has a large ensemble of characters – such as I’m trying to write at the moment. You think the Davie McCall books has a lot of people? Wait till you see this.
I began reading him while in my teens, was immediately hooked, never kicked the habit. He died ten years ago this July and I still cry out for a fix. So I go back to his older stuff and wonder at just how easy he made it look.
Honestly, he’s so good he makes me feel as if I’m simply throwing words down and seeing how they land.
I’ll do something more complete about my hero later in the year but for now I’m going to stick with him, hope some of his genius rubs off and pulls me out of this pit of despair.
That means all those great books I’ve not yet read will have to wait a while longer – books by Quintin Jardine, Peter May, Martin Cruz Smith. Then there’s the new ones coming out, from Neil Broadfoot, Matt Bendoris, Craig Robertson, Alex Gray … and more … always more.
Oh God – someone get me a valium…


Leap of faith – or rather, hope

Posted by on February 21, 2015


This is the first time I have put pen to paper – or, more accurately, fingertip to keyboard – for the old Book Banter since December.
There have been big doings here at the Skelton compound – and not just that a brand new sofa has been annexed by the dogs. I should’ve seen that coming, I guess. Could’ve kept the old one and just bought a new cover to throw over it. That would’ve saved a LOT of money.
No, the big doings of which I speak (or, more accurately, type) are that I am no longer in gainful employment.
Yes, ‘tis true. December 31, 2014 saw me walk away from a full-time job in order to watch daytime TV and eat crisps … sorry, in order to write full-time. It wasn’t an easy decision, a regular wage is a wonderful thing, but sometimes you have to take chances. The books don’t make me anything near enough to live on but I have hopes and should they founder a friend of mine has a very nice Wendy House in her garden which she says is mine whenever I need it. I’ve also lined up a succession of spare rooms in which I can doss. It’d be like the Man Who Came To Dinner. I can even grow a Monty Woolley beard. Okay, I realise that only those of a certain age and/or movie buffs will understand that but I fall into both categories. And if you haven’t seen it, then you’re missing a treat.
But I digress. I do that a lot and I should stop.
So – unemployment … sorry, self-employment. It’s a wonderful thing. Goodbye to those Sunday night/Monday morning blues, goodbye to packed lunches, goodbye Piccadilly, farewell Leicester Square (did you know that was the title of the book on which the Hitchcock film ‘Frenzy’ was based? Stick with me, kid, you’ll learn something.)
Here we are facing the tail end of February and I’ve completed book four in the Davie McCall quartet (it’s called OPEN WOUNDS, by the by, a title that was a long time in coming, believe me, and if someone else has already used it don’t tell me). I’ve also just completed a short story, the first of what I hope will be many, inspiration, imagination and perspiration willing. And I’ve thrown myself headlong into a brand new book.
I have plans for more, a lot more, and now I have the time to see them through. I’ll be able to do more author events, if asked. I’ll be able to make more appearances. I’ll write more. If I could spell the word ‘ubiquitous’ I’d use it.
I’d also wash the car, but don’t want to get too ambitious.
So, that’s it. A new-improved Skelton. The old, grumpy, pessimist is gone and replaced by an old, grumpy, pessimist who really wants to be an optimist.
It’s going to be a journey, may even be one hell of a ride, but I’m willing to hitch a ride somehow.
Who’s coming with me?


A short story for Christmas

Posted by on December 23, 2014


Here’s a quick story for Christmas featuring Frank Donovan from the Davie McCall books. It has two functions – first and foremost to entertain (hopefully), but also to introduce a theme that I’ll return to in book three, Devil’s Knock.

Please note, this story contains some distinctly unseasonal language.

Not so Jolly
by Douglas Skelton

Christmas, 1994
DONOVAN should’ve known by the look on the custody sergeant’s face that he was being set up. It wasn’t quite a smirk, a bit distant from a smile but it was decidedly something akin to a suspicious leer.
‘He’s in Interview Room One, Frank,’ he said, that look lingering in his eyes.
Donovan hated working the Christmas Eve shift. It was supposed to be the season of goodwill, for God’s sake, so why do people insist on doing the opposite? This guy, he was told, was caught acting suspiciously near a house in a residential street. Housebreaking in Scotland, burglary in the rest of the world. On Christmas Eve. Prat.
He’d been searched but was carrying no ID and refused to give his name or address, the sergeant told him. He’d remained tight-lipped back at the station and even declined the duty solicitor.
‘You can use your advanced interviewing skills to break him,’ said the sergeant and gave him that look again.
A PC stood guard in the room as Donovan pushed in. Gayle Spencer, a tall redhead who made the uniform look good. Donovan gave her the once over as he entered, surreptitiously of course, because he had the sneaking suspicion she’d take him down with one punch. Shapely she most certainly was but he’d heard she could duke it out with any of the city’s hard men and be the last woman standing. Even so, he couldn’t help himself from letting his gaze flit over her curves. God knows he loved his wife but he was a guy, after all. And things hadn’t been too great at home recently.
Then he saw the prisoner at the table and all thoughts of PC Spencer’s body evaporated. In that moment he knew he’d been done up like a Christmas turkey and he silently cursed the sergeant’s lineage.
The old guy was giving it the full Santa – red costume, full white beard, wee glasses, ruddy complexion. If Donovan made him laugh he’d be unsurprised to hear a full-bodied “Ho, ho, ho.”
He glanced at the red-haired PC, saw a look similar to that worn earlier by her sergeant – they just love sticking it to CID – then sat down with a weary sigh.
The old guy peered at him through his glasses and said, ‘This is playing merry fuck with my schedule.’
‘OK,’ Donovan said, nothing if not business-like, ‘so what’s your name?’
The old man looked down at his red suit and then sneered. ‘Why don’t you take a flyer, son? I’ll give you a hint – I’m no the fuckin tooth fairy.’
Well, Donovan thought, not a very merry gentleman after all.
‘I’m not here to play guessing games, mate. What’s your name?’
The old man sat back, drummed his fingers on the top of the table. ‘You can call me Mr Claus.’
Donovan sighed. This could be a long night. ‘Fine, Mr Claus, what were you doing when the officers detained you?’
‘Delivering presents.’
‘Really? Who to?’
‘Everyone.’
Behind him, Donovan heard PC Spencer stifle a giggle. He resisted the temptation to turn around and decided to play along. ‘Where did you park your reindeer?’
The man snorted. ‘Don’t use fuckin reindeer anymore, do I? Animal Rights lot got on my case so I had to develop a new mode of transportation.’
‘Such as?’
‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.’
‘Try me.’
Mr Claus stared into Donovan’s eyes then nodded. ‘Particle regeneration. Top of the range stuff.’
Donovan smiled. It felt alien to him these days and he liked it. ‘You mean you beam yourself in and out of houses, like Captain Kirk?’
The old man’s nose wrinkled. ‘Knew you wouldn’t believe me.’
Donovan held up a hand. ‘Wait a second, I didn’t say I didn’t believe you. Just want to understand, that’s all. So, when the uniforms found you why didn’t you just beam yourself up, Scotty?’
Mr Claus looked sour. ‘Because I dropped my control panel, didn’t I? They big bastards crept up on me, scared the shit out of me truth be told. I got a fright and dropped it in the bushes.’
PC Spencer piped up then. ‘A TV remote was found at the scene, DS Donovan.’ She laid a plastic evidence bag on the table. Donovan picked it up and studied it.
‘This your control panel?’ He asked.
The old man shrugged, folded his arms.
‘Looks like an ordinary TV remote to me,’ Donovan went on. ‘Kinda like the one I’ve got at home. And I’ve got to tell you, when I press the buttons it doesn’t send me into outer space. Not unless I’m watching Star Trek.’ Donovan pushed a variety of buttons, then said., ‘Why’s nothing happening?’
Santa sighed. ‘Because the controls is isomorphic.’
‘Isomorphic? Like Lucozade Sport?’
‘That’s isotonic, dildo,’ said Santa. ‘They only work for me, linked into my DNA.’
Donovan laid the remote to one side then leaned forward on the table. ‘So, tell me something else…’
‘Aye, you’re ugly.’
‘That wasn’t my question…’
‘You’re a dick, too.’
‘Nor that, but thanks for the input. No, what I was going to ask was this – how can you cover the whole world delivering presents in a single night? I mean, that’s a tall order even for a guy with a magic tv remote.’
‘It’s all down to the appliance of science.’
Donovan’s smile broadened. He could get used to this. ‘What? Like those washing machines on the telly? You use a Zanussi?’
Mr Claus gave him another sneer. ‘I knew you’d never understand…’
‘You do the old Vorsprung durch technic, too?’
‘Fuck off, ya bawbag…’
‘Do you kiss Rudolph with that mouth?’ Donovan couldn’t stop smiling. Maybe the spirit of the season was getting to him after all. ‘No, seriously, Mr Claus – I want to know. How do you do it?’
The old man sighed. ‘Gie’s a fag and I’ll tell you.’
‘Never knew Santa smoked. Does he take a drink, too?’
‘Aye, and he’ll kick your arse and all if you don’t stop making a dick out of him. Now, you gonnae gie’s a fag or no?’
Donovan took a packet of Embassy and a box of matches out of his jacket pocket and slid them across the table. He always kept a pack for interviews, to help break the ice, Smoking not being one of his vices – if Santa had asked him to bet on whether it was snowing outside he’d’ve been tempted. And probably lost. And that would’ve caused more strife at home. Santa lit up and blew smoke into the air with a grateful sigh while Donovan waited, forcing down the negative thoughts of his home life.
‘No had a drag all night,’ said the old man. ‘Magic.’
‘Glad you like it. Now, how do you get around the whole world in one night?’
‘Simple, there’s more than one of me.’
‘Aye, I know – in every department store and shopping mall.’
‘Naw, no like that, dick. They’re just blokes dressed up. I’m the real deal, me, and there’s more of me out there right now, getting the job done? Appliance of science, mind? I’m them and they’re me. They were grown out of my cells.’
Donovan couldn’t help himself any longer. He laughed. He laughed hard. ‘Santa clones?’
The nicotine seemed to have improved the old man’s mood for he didn’t take offence at Donovan’s mocking. He shrugged and continued to puff on the cancer stick. ‘I’ve got very advanced laboratories back home.’
‘That’ll be at the North Pole.’
Santa’s face wrinkled. ‘Ach, away and shite…naw, I don’t live at the North Pole. Too fuckin cold up there for one thing. All the brass monkeys are fuckin eunochs, know what I’m sayin? And it’s crawling with scientists and explorers.’
‘So where do you stay?’
‘I could tell you…’
‘But you’d have to kill me, right?’
‘Naw, was gonnae say I could tell you but I’m no gonnae. Your way sounds fun, right enough.’
Donovan ignored the threat to a police officer’s wellbeing. It was Christmas, after all. ‘Why can’t you tell me?’
‘Cos you’ve pissed me off. I’m tellin you something, mate, there’ll be nae Christmas presents for you this year. The only thing under your tree will be a carpet.’
‘Sorry to hear that and I was hoping for an Action Man, too.’
‘You look more the Barbie sort, to me.’
Donovan also let that pass, still enjoying himself. ‘So tell me some more – what about elves? You got elves?’
‘Aye, but they like to be called Festive Assistants.’
‘Do they take a drink, too? And smoke?’
‘Naw, smoking is bad for your elf…’ the old man began to laugh at his own joke, then lapsed into a hacking cough.
‘You ought to give them up, pal, you’ll live longer.’
‘Been around for hundreds of years already, mate. I’ve smoked everything that burns and I’m still here.’
Donovan stood up and stretched. It had been a long night and he’d not been sleeping too well recently. Cash problems get you like that, he’d heard. ‘Look, pal, you’re not doing yourself any favours here. Why don’t you just tell me your real name? Santa Claus doesn’t exist.’
‘And yet, here I am.’
Donovan nodded, trying to dredge something up from his memory, something about Santa’s beginnings. ‘Aye, here you are, right enough. See, here’s what puzzles me. I seem to remember reading something, years ago, that said Santa originated in Turkey.’
The old man nodded, took a long drag on the fag. ‘Aye, that’s right – Patra.’
‘Was that not a Blue Peter dog?’
‘That was Petra, ya wetend. I thought the ‘I’ in CID stood for Intelligence?’
‘So here’s my point – you don’t look, or sound, very Turkish to me.’
The man in red thought about this, tapped some ash onto the floor. ‘I like to fit in,’ he said, eventually.
Donovan stared at him. He couldn’t tell if the old fella was at the wind up or was genuinely deranged. Santa returned his gaze, calmly sucking on the cigarette. Donovan turned to PC Spencer. ‘What else was found with him when he was lifted?’
‘Just a sack, sergeant’s got it.’
Donovan stood up. ‘I’ll take a look.’
‘Look, is this gonnae take much longer?’ Santa was stubbing his fag out on the heel of his boot. ‘I’m miles behind now and if I don’t get back out there’s gonnae be a hell of a lot of disappointed kiddies tomorrow morning.’
‘It’ll be character building for them,’ said Donovan and left the room. It had been fun but he needed to get this guy processed and banged up.
He found the custody sergeant in the canteen tucking into a cup of coffee and a large chunk of Christmas cake.
Donovan sat down opposite him and said, ‘Is that cake or a half brick?’
The sergeant pushed the plate away and said, ‘I’m no sure myself. Bit into it just before you came and I think it dislodged a filling. How’s Santa?’
‘Might’ve given me a heads up there, Jack.’
‘And where’s the fun in that? He burst yet?’
Donovan shook his head. ‘Where’s the sack he was brought in with?’
‘Locked away safe and sound. All that was in it was presents.’
‘Presents?’
‘Aye, all wrapped up and that. Kids’ stuff mainly.’
‘Nothing else?’
‘The TV remote, I take it Spencer showed you it?’ Donovan nodded and the sergeant gave him a wicked smile. ‘I’ve got some mistletoe downstairs, gonnae try getting her underneath it later.’
‘That’ll really loosen your fillings. What do you make of this guy?’
‘He’s either a few raisins short of a mince pie or he’s trying for some sort of insanity defence. Creepy, though. The boys that brought him in said it was really strange the way they came upon him. He wasn’t there one minute, then he was. Like he’d just appeared.’
‘As if he’d beamed down…’
‘Aye. He kept going on at them about the kiddies, how they’d be disappointed if he didn’t finish his rounds. Gave them dog’s abuse, so he did. No smell of booze, no suggestion of drugs. Like I said, gone Christmas crackers, I reckon.’
Donovan nodded, stood. Nothing fresh to be learned there, so he headed back down to the ground floor to have another go. Spencer was standing outside the interview room when he got back. She saw the look on his face and said, ‘Couldn’t take it anymore. He started at the perv. Asked me if I wanted to get on his naughty list, go for a ride on his sleigh. I thought I’d better get out there before I decided to deck his halls.’
Donovan smiled and opened the door.
Santa was gone. So was the TV remote, although the evidence bag still sat on the table beside the cigarette pack and matches. He looked back at Spencer, who bore an expression of shock. ‘What the fuck…’
Donovan picked up the evidence bag, turned it over in his hand. Surely not, he thought, surely it can’t be….
‘You didn’t leave the door while I was away?’
Spencer shook her head as she walked round the table, looked under it as if the old man could’ve been hiding there. Her face was creased as she straightened again. ‘How the hell did the wee shite get out of here?’
Donovan didn’t say anything, he simply looked from Spencer to the bag in his hand. He couldn’t get his head around it. ‘You’ve moved him, haven’t you?’
Spencer said, firmly, ‘No! I left him in here, straight up.’
Donovan studied her face, saw nothing there to suggest she was lying, then looked back at the bag again. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know if he was just bone weary but he was beginning to believe that….
And then he heard a snigger, which quickly became a full-blown eruption of mirth, from Spencer. ‘Oh, Jesus, your face! You think he beamed himself out of here, don’t you?’
Donovan felt himself redden. ‘No,’ he said, but it sounded weak even to him. He couldn’t admit it had crossed his mind.
Spencer was still laughing. ‘Oh, come on! Pull the other one – it plays “Come All Ye Faithful!” I had you going there – of course I moved him. He’s been sitting here long enough, I thought, so I took him down to a cell. They’ll give him a cup of tea and a mince pie.’
Donovan felt a touch of anger burn. ‘You had no right to do that – I wasn’t finished interviewing him.’
She laughed again. ‘Frank, chill out, for God’s sake. It’s Christmas. The old guy’s looney tunes, needs a doctor, no a cop.’
‘We haven’t even got his name…’
‘His name’s William Burns, was on his driver’s license. He’s got form for housebreaking. The sergeant and me cooked this whole thing up cos it’s been a quiet night. You needed something to take your mind off your troubles – and admit it, it did, just for a wee while. You’ve been looking like death warmed over for weeks now, Frank.’
Donovan couldn’t argue with that. He knew how he looked. He had to see himself every day in the mirror. And it was true – they had taken his mind off his financial woes, if only for a short while. They were still there, though, they would be for some time. He owed money to the wrong people and that would catch up with him sooner or later, unless he had a windfall. The way out nestled in his jacket pocket – a piece of paper with the name of a horse written on it. A sure thing, he was told. He was wise enough to know that the only sure thing is there are no sure things but he held onto the hope of a big win like a drowning man to a piece of driftwood – which happened to be the name of the nag. It would all be fixed come Saturday, he told himself. Why couldn’t it? Christmas is the time for miracles – and God knows he needed one.
As he and Spencer walked down the corridor he decided to get some payback for tonight’s tomfoolery.
‘Jack’s got mistletoe in the custody suite,’ he said. ‘He’s planning to use it with you.’
Spencer snorted. ‘That right? Hope he’s got a good dentist…’


Scotland’s forgotten serial killer uncovered

Posted by on November 16, 2014


THE interviewer was disappointed with me, I could tell. He wanted me attack the police for rejecting out of hand something I’d written ten years before.
I was unwilling to do so. All I’d had was a hunch – and a writer’s freedom to put two and two together, make a leap and come up with six. Or 666.
In 1994 I wrote a book called ‘No Final Solution’ which examined unsolved Scottish murders. One of the chapters proposed that Scotland had a forgotten serial killer.
I suggested links between a series of brutal killings, all committed between August and December 1977. There were four in Glasgow and a double murder in Edinburgh that had become known as the World’s End case.
Agnes Kenny, Hilda MacAulay, Agnes Cooney, Mary Gallacher, Helen Scott, Christine Eadie.
Six young women. Six young lives. All brutally snuffed out.
Glasgow police had – more or less – linked the first four but had always rejected any possibility of a connection with the deaths of Helen and Christine.
By the time I came along, it seemed only the families and friends remembered those terrible days and nights. The public and the media knew all about Bible John, a lone killer who may or may not have murdered three women in the late 60s, but the 1977/78 killing spree was barely, if ever, mentioned.
It was a police officer who had steered me towards the cases in the first place. He told me about Anna Kenny. That, in turn, took me to the other girls.
I became convinced that there were strong similarities, which were noted at the time but still did not lead to any formal link of the Glasgow and Edinburgh cases – the timing of the killings, the link to places of entertainment, the bodies were found in popular quiet locations, there was a strong sexual motivation, they appeared to have been picked up in a vehicle. Vans and taxis played a prominent role in many witness statements. There was a possibility that two men might have been involved. There were similarities in the way they had been bound.
The case that did have slight differences was that of Mary Gallacher, murdered in Springburn. She was not picked up in a vehicle, she was not bound and her body was not disposed of in a remote area.
Angus Sinclair was later convicted of her murder.
When the book was published, a daily newspaper picked up the forgotten serial killer chapter and ran with it. Strathclyde Police rejected the premise out of hand.
Then, ten years later, they announced Operation Trinity, a tri-force initiative to investigate the possibility of a serial killer, or killers, operating in Scotland. They had specific cases in mind – and the Glasgow deaths, plus the World’s End case, were among them. Mary’s was not as Sinclair was already doing time. They now believed there were similarities – and criminal investigation’s wonder weapons of profiling and DNA were to be wielded in order to help bring closure.
That was when I disappointed the TV interviewer. He asked if I felt the police had been wrong to dismiss my suggestion a decade before. But I couldn’t say that.
Police should work on facts, not feelings. I didn’t have a name. I didn’t have any new evidence. I just had a writer’s gut notion that the murders were connected.
Now they’re linking other unsolved killings to Sinclair, including that of Frances Barker, whose 1977 murder sent Thomas Ross Young to jail. No-one has as yet explained how, if Young was innocent, he had items belonging to the poor victim in his possession when arrested. Or the forensic evidence linking his lorry to the scene of the crime.
Just yesterday I was asked if I thought he could be Bible John.
It would be easy for me to say yes. Too easy. Also, I have no way of knowing if Sinclair was free when the body of Patricia Docker was found in February 1968 – he did seven years for the murder of little Catherine Reehill in 1961. He would have been living in Edinburgh when Mima McDonald and Helen Puttock were murdered.
But perhaps there was no Bible John. Maybe Sinclair was involved in one or other of the murders. It was always possible he could travel from Edinburgh to Glasgow.
Perhaps…
Maybe…
It was possible…
That’s what we’re dealing with when we are forced to play a game of sinister join the dots. And for justice to be effective, we have to have more than that.
It looks unlikely that any firm evidence linking him to the three unsolved Glasgow killings will arise now. There is no DNA to pull out of the hat for, according to press reports, the original evidence has been lost.
Angus Sinclair will die in prison.
I don’t think anyone will mourn.


The challenge in the picture

Posted by on October 19, 2014


graves-1

I posted this photograph of an old graveyard in Perthshire on my Facebook page last weekend. I was then, kind of, challenged by someone to write around 500 words on how the picture made me feel. It’s been a long time since I’ve done something like this but this morning I thought, what the hell. Go for it. So here, good, bad or just utter garbage, is what I rattled out.

TOO LATE FOR TEARS
By Douglas Skelton

He stood alone among the shadows.
He had travelled far yet always ended up here, beneath the branches being stripped bare by the season and surrounded by the stones jutting like teeth from the earth. The empty windows of the house on the hill looked down but they could not see him.
He remembered when the house was filled with life, with light, with laughter. Now it was an echo of what it once was. Its interior had died long ago, its floors had rotted and given way, walls had crumbled to dust, staircases had collapsed. He had moved through it many times, listening for sounds of the past but all he heard were whispers on the wind, all he saw were flitting shadows in the gloom.
He had been here in summer when the leaves were full and the sun blinked through the trees to kiss the moss jacketed stones. He had watched tourists pick their way through the forest to step carefully over the tumbledown walls and into the graveyard. He had listened to them as they read the faint inscriptions and wondered aloud what the people had been like. They could not see him as he stood alone among the shadows but he would move off silently, following paths only he knew. For he was not one of them. They were visitors, this was fun to them, the people below merely a diversion on a day’s walk. This had been his home and the people had been his but he did not bear the visitors any ill-will. Life went on and the world changed.
He had changed.
He had not been a good man but he had mellowed. That was why he returned here, to this place, to these stones.
Penance.
For this was his past and he had to atone.
He knew the thick grass beneath him was springy with decades of moss but he did not feel it as he moved through the stones, seeing a name he recognised here and there, sparking the flash of a face, the sound of a voice, the touch of a hand. He knew the air was sharp for he well-remembered the autumn here, bringing with it the threat of winter’s freeze. But he did not feel it.
He weaved through the graves but paused at none for he was aware of the growing shadows. He was here to stand by one particular stone, for that was his custom.
It lay lopsided against the far wall in a corner the visitors seldom reached, which was fitting as the man buried there did not deserve to be remembered. He stared at it, seeing the familiar name and the dates of birth and death. So long ago but he remembered it all. Regretted it all.
The shadows crowded around him now. He could not touch them, could not hear them but he knew them. They were like him and this was their punishment. They could travel anywhere they wished but not be part of it. They were in the world but not of it. They were always together, forever apart.
And so, he stared at his own name on the stone and wished it could’ve been different, wished he could’ve been different.
So he stood alone among the shadows.
And he wept.


Getting the message out there

Posted by on October 18, 2014


I’VE been writing books since 1992 – yes, I know, I don’t look old enough but I put that down to healthy living, purity of mind and body and a steady hand with Photoshop.
Anyway, in my 21 years of having material published I was asked to make personal appearances very seldom. Performing in front of an audience was something I’d not done much as an author. Which was just as well because I’m shy, Mary Ellen, I’m shy.
Curiously, while growing up in Cumbernauld and East Kilbride I did display a tendency towards exhibitionism. I appeared in school plays, I attended the junior course of the Royal Academy of Music and Drama in Glasgow. I was even part of a young person group at the Citizen’s Theatre. Not only that but I wrote and appeared in comedy sketches and did stand-up in school concerts in East Kilbride’s Claremont High School.
Add to that various comedy shows for hospital radio and you had a pretty outgoing kind of guy.
As long as I was performing. Ask me to be me and I sank back into the corner.
I was going to be an actor, you see. That was the plan. I was going to be a sta-ar! I even had a small role in an episode of a then popular TV series – ‘Sutherland’s Law.’ I played a drunken thief.
I was awful. I think it was while watching it that I developed an aversion to being photographed. Or rather, seeing photographs of myself. I’m awkward enough posing but for God’s sake don’t expect me to look at that coupon.
Anyway, I decided Sean Connery’s position as Scotland’s biggest movie star was safe.
By the time my first book was published in 1992 I’d stopped all kind of performing. Sure, I popped up on the telly now and then, talking about this crime or that crime (never actually watched myself, you understand. See above). There were sporadic appearances at book events but they were few and far between – and I never had a launch. I’d heard of others having them but they were, it seemed, not for me.
Then ‘Blood City’ came out last year and was launched in both Waterstones in Ayr and Glasgow’s Argyle Street. There was also an event in the University of the West of Scotland’s plush new campus in Ayr.
I thought the show off in me had died. I discovered he’d only been sleeping.
In the year since I’ve been all over the place trying to make myself windswept and interesting. We have to do it now. There are so many crime writers all vying for attention and we can’t just sit in a room battering out deathless prose. Or at least attempt to batter out deathless prose. We’ve got to get out there, feel the wind on our faces and the rain on our upturned apple cheeks. We’ve got to hustle. And other 70s dance crazes.
And now ‘Crow Bait’ is out (you knew where this was headed right from the start, didn’t you?)
Once again it’s being launched in Waterstones Ayr (Thursday October 23 at 7pm) and Waterstones Argyle Street (Friday October 24 at 7pm).
That fella Michael J. Malone will be in the chair both nights. He’s really good but don’t tell him I said that. He’s also written books you must read. But REALLY don’t tell him I said that. I’ve got an image to maintain.
God knows what he’s going to ask me. It’s quite scary really.
Be good to see you at either one of the events if you can make it.
I’ll try to be windswept and interesting.
crow bait-1


Crow Bait is now in the shops

Posted by on October 5, 2014


CROW BAIT, book two in the Davie McCall quartet, is now out.
You can download it, you can buy it in the shops, you can read it in bed, in the bath, on the train or wherever you do your reading.
So what can you expect this time round?
Well, I’ll tell you…
I can’t tell you.
Not much anyway.
It’s ten years after the events of BLOOD CITY and Davie is getting out of prison. Yes, I know he was only sent down for four years but hey, stuff happens. Especially to him.
As you’ll recall, his dear old dad made a fleeting reappearance at the end of the first book.
Does that mean he’s back to cause havoc?
You bet.
So not only has Davie got to cope with an underworld that has changed considerably, he’s also got his murderous, mad father hiding in the shadows.
I was thankful – and relieved – that Blood City was so well received. I hope the second book meets with such approval.
The third in the series is now written and will be out next year. I’m about to start on the fourth, and final, part. Or rather, rewrite it, because it was written some years ago. However, there’s some tinkering to be done. A lot of it.
So, given that I take the ‘Game of Thrones’ approach to crime writing – in that no character is safe – does anyone buy it in the second book and, if so, who?
Well, you’ll have to but the book to find out.
Momma Skelton didn’t raise no fools….
crow bait-1


Exciting time in Scotland

Posted by on September 28, 2014


It was an exciting time in Scotland during September.
People came together, breathless with anticipation. They gathered, they talked, they listened. They exchanged ideas.
Yup, it was Bloody Scotland time again. What? You expected me to discuss something else that happened north of the border in September?
If you’ve never been to this weekend-long festival – and if not, why not? – let me explain what it is.
Bloody marvelous, that’s what it is.
It takes place in Stirling, the gateway to the Highlands, and it’s a conclave of the best crime writers the country has to offer – plus a few from beyond these shores.
I was lucky enough to be invited this year to take part in two panels.
I chaired one with Andrew Davies, author of ‘City of Gangs’, a fabulous non-fiction account of the so-called razor gangs of Glasgow in the 20s and 30s, and Bryan McLaughlin, a former police detective who told some great tales in his memoir ‘Crimestopper.’ It proved to be a fascinating hour long discussion which I thoroughly enjoyed.
The second panel featured journalists who had turned to crime. On the panel were Tony Black, Doug Johnstone and Robert Ryan. They were all true professionals and I hope we provided an entertaining event for the audience and weren’t too cynical! And that was just me.
Sorry once again to Tony Black for undercutting the number of books he’s written. I was never any good at counting.
Bloody Scotland really is a credit to our cultural calendar and the organizing committee, staff and volunteers all deserve a heart pat on the back for pulling together such a diverse and rich programme of events, all of which went off without a hitch.
And I think that’s enough crawling for now.
Oh – and Scottish Writers beat their English counterparts 12-1 at a special footie match.
I think they now know the meaning of the word ‘gubbed.’


Having fun with the Referendum Shuffle

Posted by on August 31, 2014


To pay tribute to an old Stanley Baxter joke (in other words, steal), I’ve had dozens of requests from one or two people to make the jokey piece I wrote for Red Herrings – the magazine of the Crime Writers Association – more widely available.

So here it is, with a wee cheeky addition about two excellent Scottish writers. They tell me.

It’s meant to be a bit of fun, so the fruitcake elements of both sides in the Referendum Shuffle can remain under their bridges, where trolls belong.

If Scotland votes Yes in the Independence Referendum this September, will it create a new breed of criminal?

Somewhere in England, 2020…..

He had to be careful, for they were everywhere.
Border cops, sharp-eyed, suspicious, vicious when they were of a mind. Which was all the time.
He’d slipped over the frontier, unseen by the guards in the watchtowers, climbed the wall. There weren’t as many as there used to be, for Westminster had other problems now. Wales, Cornwall, Yorkshire, all demanding independence. Pimlico had declared itself a sovereign nation already, but they’d tried that before.
They’d done a good job of building up the old Roman brickwork, he had to admit. Westminster had ordered it almost as soon as the voting was over. The ditch with the piranha fish on the other side was a bit tricky, though. He’d solved that by chucking a side of Aberdeen Angus in first. The fish didn’t seem to care that it was banned from this side of the border. They swarmed over it like politicians looking for a headline, allowing him to wade across nibble-free.
He kept his precious cargo, wrapped in waterproof material, above his head. If any water soaked through it would be rendered useless, unsaleable, and all his risks would be for nought.
Getting through the Scottish lines had been easier. When the wall was built, Holyrood had ordered its own border controls, manned by the 1st Armoured Bagpipe Brigade, who patrolled the fence with wild haggis on the leash. They were tough men doing a tough job, their faces painted uniform blue, prone to lifting their kilts and baring their buttocks to the English guards. But they had a weak spot and he’d taken advantage of it. Every night, at the same time, they gathered at the huge image of Mel Gibson and chanted ‘They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom.’
He’d made the trip many times before but each time he felt it would be his last. If they caught him, he would be finished, for the contraband he was packing was incendiary stuff.
There were lots of things from up north that Westminster had outlawed – fresh Scottish salmon, whisky, anything tartan, Susan Boyle CDs.
He didn’t have anything like that, though. He was smuggling something worse.
He slipped through the darkness, all the time expecting the bright beam of a spotlight to pierce the night and pick him out. Then he’d be penned up in one of the camps to be punished with endless replays of the World Cup 1966 win and live Morris Dancing. There were stories that some kind-hearted locals would smuggle in videos of Andy Murray’s Wimbledon victory and Billy Connolly records as an antidote but he wasn’t sure that was true. He hoped it was, for they were all the same, after all. Give or take a liking for jellied eels.
He was ten miles south east of Carlisle when he rendezvoused with his contact. A weak moon dodged skittish clouds as he caught sight of her, and right away he knew she was a user herself. She had that look about her. A need. A yearning. A desire for product denied her by her own people.
‘Do you have it?’ She asked, licking her lips as her fingers twitched towards him.
‘I have it,’ he said. ‘You got anything for me?’
She nodded to a bag at her feet. He stooped and unzipped it. David Bowie CDs, DVDs of Eddie Izzard, both proscribed in Scotland because they called for the UK to remain together. Bootlegs of the last series of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ and two months worth of ‘Eastenders’ because the BBC has been abolished up north. He nodded, satisfied. They’d make him a few groats back home.
He held out his own package and she snatched it greedily, ripping at the wrapping with fevered fingers. She dropped to her knees and ran her hands through the merchandise.
‘Oh, my,’ she said, her voice hoarse with excitement. ‘Oh, my….’
She caressed the material lovingly, her fingers stroking the names on the book covers like a lover. The latest titles from Ian Rankin, Alex Gray, Quintin Jardine, Stuart McBride, Craig Robertson, Lin Anderson, other Scottish writers who had been outlawed by Westminster, some he’d never heard of. Who were these guys Malone and Broadfoot anyway? They were foreigners now, their work deemed dangerous, seditious. Life in Scotland could not be seen to be carrying on as usual. And they dominated the Kindle chart far too much. Scotland had done the same with Mark Billingham, Agatha Christie, even Lee Child. Politicians fall out and the people suffered.
They parted company swiftly, she holding her precious cargo close to her chest, he loping through the woods with the bag carried easily in one hand.
In the other he had a packet of deep fried Mars bars.
For some reason the piranha loved them…..

Douglas Skelton has no idea which way he’s going to vote.