A smörgåsbord of red-heads

They can write. But can they act?

As a treat for the grand finale of Bloody Scotland we were served a one-off staging of The Red-Headed League, starring Sherlock Holmes himself as the clever detective. (It was really 'only' Stuart MacBride, not the genuine Mr Holmes.) Karen Campbell was the red-head and Gordon Brown (the other Gordon Brown) was disparaging towards the other red-head hopefuls in the audience.

Lin Anderson was Mrs Hudson, Craig Robertson played Lestrade and Val McDermid was Mr Merryweather. Gillian Philip was the villain of the piece. She villained most convincingly.

Dr Watson had the biggest role and David Ashton Doctor Watsoned so well I wasn't surprised to find he's an actor.

Why is it that watching the 'wrong' people do something, we like it even better?

Once the red-headed jollities had been dealt with, it was awards time.

First out was the Worth the Wait short story competition. Out of 232 entries and 19 shortlisted stories, the winner was Sarah Reynolds who got some very old and rather valuable Glengoyne whisky for her troubles, amongst other prizes. Very good story. In fact, most of them were unexpectedly excellent.

The very first Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2012 came next, and last. Jenny Brown introduced Sheena McDonald who introduced William McIlvanney who told us that Charles Cumming was the winner with A Foreign Country. A large cheque changed hands and Charles made a suitably gracious speech.

And then we all went home.

How adult YA books are...

They do 'like a good murder.' You wouldn't know these 'children's authors' were children's authors if it didn't say so in the programme. So, holding that thought, it might have been better not to mention it. Just as people used to feel that Agatha Christie looked like a nice old lady, the same goes for Helen FitzGerald, Cathy MacPhail and Gillian Philip.

Oops, not nice and old. Nice. And beautiful. And clearly writing some hard-hitting novels, featuring dead bodies, immigration politics, selling body parts and murderous heroines. All typical children's issues.

Gillian Philip, Cathy MacPhail and Helen FitzGerald

Aussie writer Helen FitzGerald talked about seeing dead bodies, and she has a past featuring Barlinnie prison (from the right side, I believe). She read from her new YA novel Deviant, which sounds anything but childish. It's more a perfectly normal story, which just happens to have a main character aged sixteen. (By normal I mean something adults might read.)

Catherine MacPhail read from her next children's book Mosi's War, where a young boy witnesses someone falling of a roof. It sounds like the plot will look at immigration issues seen from two different sides, and I don't think she said, but I would guess it's set in Glasgow.

Gillian Philip read an excerpt from The Opposite of Amber. One of those early and almost invisible parts of the novel, because of what happens later. But she wanted to show that her main character, Ruby, is no angel, and we heard how she was contemplating killing someone and thinking how that would have changed everything that went on to happen afterwards.

All three writers agreed that you don't necessarily tone down the contents of young (crime) novels. You just happen to have a younger protagonist. You can swear, but you can also get past using bad language if you want. And you might need to do without the sex. The main thing to remember is to end with some level of hope. Not happily, but with hope.

Sylvester Stallone is so out. So is using a word like fascist. Nothing dates you like the words you use. Cathy checks out how children talk in her school visits, and Helen pays her teenage daughter to road-test her writing for inaccuracies on being young today.

As Gillian said, if people only knew how adult YA books are...

The worst thing you could do to Cathy is put her books in the Scottish section in bookshops. Next to Nessie.

She'll probably have to murder you in a future book if you slip up.

Post by Ann Giles

Sky high

Crime writers in the observatory...

So you’ll be wondering what a collective of crime writers get up to on conferences when the crowds dissipate? You’re not? I’ll tell you anyway. We go gazing at the stars. The shiny-in-the-sky-peeping-behind-clouds kinda stars. Not Katie Price.

We were sat sitting, after dinner on Saturday night, at the bar: Lin Anderson, Gillian Philip, Cathy MacPhail and me (Michael J. Malone) when we were approached by a small dapper man.

“Want to see my observatory?” he asked.

“Makes a change from puppies,” said Gillian.

“Or kittens,” said Lin.

“Or tattoos,” said Cathy. “Oops, did I say that out loud?”

“At least tell me your name,” says I. “I don’t go to a strange man’s observatory without at least knowing their name.”

“Bert”, says he. “And here at the Stirling Highland Hotel we have an actual, real-life observatory.”

And before you know it, we were whisked off down a long, white corridor and up a steep, white staircase climbing up inside a dark tower.

“Ooh,” says Lin Anderson. “I could fair murder someone up here.”

“Me bagsies that,” says Gillian.

“Where’s my wine glass?” says Cathy.


So, imagine an igloo. Except there’s no snow. And it’s made of wood. And there’s a fricking HUGE metal tube thing stretched across the ceiling. Those in the know – our Bert – call it a telescope.


As Bert describes how the telescope works Lin and Gillian are getting more and more excited. Lin is wondering when Doctor Who will appear and Gillian is staring at this giant metal tube thing making squealing noises that Meg Ryan would be envious of.

Bert is visibly growing before our eyes. His chest is about to burst with pride. And we haven’t even looked through the thing yet.

Sadly, the cloud cover is too thick – the moon has got its cloak on, so to speak – but our Bert has an alternative. The Wallace Tower is lit up in the distance like a beacon and the telescope brings it so close we can see every brick. Gillian’s squeals are so high pitched now that only dogs can hear it. Albeit, every dog within a twenty mile radius.


Back in the bar – pulses calmed, breathing normal, the conversation returns to more mundane matters.

“Can I borrow a red wig from anyone for tomorrow?” asks Cathy.

Post by Michael Malone
Photos by Iain McLean