neil-broadfootThis all happened because of Ian Rankin. And Chris Brookmyre’s jobbie.

Sorry, I should probably explain. Last week, it was announced I’ve signed with Constable to write a new crime series based in Stirling. The first book, No Man’s Land, is out (in hardback, no less!) next July. It’s a huge honour to sign with Constable, and I can’t wait to introduce readers to Connor Fraser.

But his creation, and the idea for No Man’s Land, can be traced back to Ian, Chris and Bloody Scotland’s annual Scotland v England football match.

I was playing last year  – well, I say playing, I hadn’t kicked a ball in 20 years before that ill-fated day so I was really just making a good show of running around the pitch like a headless chicken. This probably explains the final score, which I won’t repeat here for fear of giving Craig Robertson a stress-related aneurism.  At one point of the game, I was mercifully subbed off. Staggering off the field, chest filled with shards of molten glass, I passed Ian Rankin, who asked if I was ok then trotted onto the pitch.  Once the immediate threat of a heart attack subsided, I settled back to watched the match and spotted Ian who, for a guy 17 years old than me, was making it look embarrassingly easy.

And that’s where it started. Writers free associate. We take one small thing we’ve seen, connect it to some other random fact and then add another. Before long, an idea begins to form. James Oswald calls it worrying a small problem until it’s big. So I sat there. And worried.

I was thinking about Ian and how he’s brought Edinburgh to life for millions of people around the world. He’s given people who have never visited the capital a taste of the city, a feel for its texture. Its as much a character in his books as Rebus, Clarke or Big Ger. And sitting there on the bowling green beside Cowane’s Hospital in the heart of historic Stirling, I started to think what a great character Stirling would make. Shaped by some of  the bloodiest chapters in Scotland’s history, a city where the old and the new crash together and with some of the country’s most iconic sites in the town itself or within a few miles’ reach, it’s the perfect place for a crime or three. Just as I was kicking the idea around – and making a lot better job of it than I had with the actual ball on the pitch – I heard a shout. Looking up, I saw Chris gesticulating for the ball.

Bang. Free association. Lighting in a bottle. I remembered Quite Ugly One Morning, and that opening. Suddenly I was back reading it, tears streaming down my face, marvelling at the humour and the graphic description of the body with the missing fingers and nose. And that jobbie.

Humour and horror, all wrapped up in one 214-page package.

A few minutes later, the match was forgotten and I was dumping bodies on the bowling green, plotting murders and thinking characters. Who would live in Stirling? A seemingly quiet place that’s an easy commute to Glasgow to the west and Edinburgh to the east? What type of work would they do? Why would they be looking for a quiet life? And what would it take to drag them into a bloody murder case? A message only they could understand, perhaps?

I spent the rest of the day gnawing away at the idea, making the problem bigger. Then, that evening, my agent, Bob, arranged for me to meet Krystyna Green, the publishing director at Constable. Krystyna was a fan of my first book, Falling Fast, and asked if I was working on anything new. I smiled, tried not to laugh like a delighted child, and we chatted.  After that meeting I went home, sobered up after Bloody Scotland, and got to work putting synopses and sample chapters together for the first three Connor books. A lot of people helped and acted as sounding boards, but I owe particular thanks to Douglas Skelton (which hurts) and Craig Russell for their advice and support during Connor’s formative months.

And now, almost a year later, I’m wreaking havoc in Stirling (only on the page, so far!), have a new book deal, and I’m gearing up for Bloody Scotland, where I’m appearing with Gordon Brown, Old Man Skelton (still hurts to think he was nice to me) and Mark Leggatt in Four Blokes in Search of a Plot. Bloody Scotland is a phenomenal weekend, but this year I’ll be celebrating a little harder thanks to everything that’s happened since last year.

And it’s all the fault of Ian Rankin. And Chris Brookmyre’s jobbie