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Author interviews

Interview: Craig Russell

August 9, 2010

Craig Russell served for several years as a police officer on one of the most violent beats in Scotland, before becoming an advertising copywriter and later creative director. He has been a full-time novelist since 2004.

Craig has been shortlisted for the CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger and won the Dagger in the Library in 2008 for his Jan Fabel series. His latest novel, The Long Glasgow Kiss, is the second thriller featuring the central character Lennox. The first, Lennox, was published to widespread acclaim. Craig lives in Perthshire, Scotland.

Mark Thwaite: What first gave you the idea for writing The Long Glasgow Kiss?

Craig Russell: I wanted to write something that was truly, definitively noir. Glasgow in the 1950s was the ideal setting. Back then Glasgow was the second city of the British Empire and had a unique personality and Glaswegians had – and still have – a uniquely black sense of humour.

Mark Thwaite: Everybody has an idea of Glasgow and an idea of the 1950s. There’s just something about combining these very powerful concepts that creates something that is bigger than the sum of its parts.

The Long Glasgow Kiss was conceived at the same time as the original book, Lennox. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to take the character I had created forward through an arc of development. That arc spans what was arguably Britain’s most turbulent decade: the fifties and into the sixties. It was the end of Empire and Britain was struggling to find its role in the world.

Mark Thwaite: This is your second book featuring your private investigator Lennox: what has Lennox been up to before this novel and where does the story take him now?!

Craig Russell: Lennox has been trying to straighten himself out. He’s made an effort to increase the number of ‘legitimate’ clients he works for, but as The Long Glasgow Kiss opens, he finds himself dragged back into the world of The Three Kings, the crime bosses who run Glasgow, and other less-than-salubrious characters like torturer/heavy Twinkletoes McBride (who, for some reason I can’t work out, is one of the most sympathetic characters in the novels).

Anyway, Lennox’s efforts to distance himself from Glasgow’s seedier side are thoroughly frustrated (thankfully!).

Mark Thwaite: To me, Glasgow is almost a character in her own right in your novel: is sense of place very important to you as a writer?

Craig Russell: It is absolutely central to what I write. And you’re right, Glasgow is intended to live as a character in the Lennox books just as Hamburg does in the Jan Fabel novels. Two cities with very different, but equally big personalities.

Mark Thwaite: How long have you been writing for? How did your first manage to get published?

Craig Russell: I’ve been a freelance writer for twenty years; eight of those as a full-time novelist. I’m embarrassed to confess that getting published was remarkably easy. It actually all happened so fast that it took me by surprise; I had intended to write under a pseudonym but my real name was out there in the trade press before I had a chance to think of one.

Mark Thwaite: What was the most difficult aspect of writing The Long Glasgow Kiss? How did you overcome it?

Craig Russell: You know something, with the Lennox novels, there really wasn’t a difficult aspect. The Lennox series is enormous fun to write and just seems to flow. It’s something that readers seem to pick up on. I suppose that it’s true to say there is an enormous amount of research involved in writing something that’s set in the 1950s, and I do spend a lot of time checking what was where and when, but I actually really enjoy that aspect of it too.

Mark Thwaite: How did working with an editor help you to shape your work?

Craig Russell: You would expect me to say this on a Quercus site, but it happens to be the truth: I am an enormous Jane Wood fan. I can’t tell you how great it is to work with an editor who is so enthusiastic about your writing and whose ideas and opinions you really value. After Lennox, I talked through where I wanted to take the character in The Long Glasgow Kiss and I can honestly say her opinions influenced the direction I took and really did help shape the novel.

Mark Thwaite: Do you know how your book will end when you begin or is writing a journey of discovery for you?

Craig Russell: I always know the ending and have a clear idea of the themes I want to explore with each novel. After that it’s as much an adventure for me as it is, hopefully, for the reader.

Mark Thwaite: What do you do when you are not writing?

Craig Russell: I spend time with my children; I enjoy good food, both cooking and eating it; I paint, read, try to improve my German, work out, go for long walks with my dog and I have a cinema room set up with a projector and three metre screen where I watch a lot of classic and world cinema.

Mark Thwaite: Did you have an idea in your mind of your ‘ideal’ reader? Did you write specifically for them?

Craig Russell: Benjamin Disraeli once famously said: ‘When I want to read a good book, I write one.’ In a way I follow the same philosophy, writing for a reader who is pretty similar to me. I could never write a novel that I wouldn’t want to read myself. I do my best to treat my reader with respect, and always try to deliver nothing less than my best.

Mark Thwaite: How do you write? With pen or pencil? Straight onto a screen? Revision after revision or spontaneously?

Craig Russell: I write notes with a fountain pen in leather-bound notebooks, which sounds very grand and decidedly low-tech, but thereafter I do the actual writing on an Apple MacBook. I’ve used Apples since they first came out and would really struggle to use a PC. Most of my writing is entirely spontaneous.

Mark Thwaite: What are you working on now?

Craig Russell: I am finishing A Fear of Dark Water, which is the sixth Jan Fabel novel. Then it’s straight onto the next Lennox outing.

Mark Thwaite: Who is your favourite writer? And who is your least favourite?

Craig Russell: Heinrich Böll is my favourite, probably, but there are so many others. Böll wrote a short story called Die Blasse Anna (Pale Anna), which is about the returned man, in the context of immediate post-war Germany in ruins. That story, more than any detective fiction, is probably what inspired me to write Lennox. I have to say, though, there are more laughs in Lennox. In crime fiction, there’s only one guv’ner for me: Raymond Chandler.

I can honestly say I haven’t a least favourite author. If I don’t like a book I put it down; but I would never put another writer down. I have too much respect for someone who finishes the enormous task of writing a novel. Whether it’s good or bad is just a matter of opinion.

Mark Thwaite: Who is your favourite fictional character?

Craig Russell: Philip Marlowe.

Mark Thwaite: Do you have a favourite quote?

Craig Russell: I’m big on quotes. I have lots of them that serve as mottos for me. My favourites (and most relevant here) are:

‘L’écrivain original n’est pas celui qui n’imite personne, mais celui que personne ne peut imiter/The original writer isn’t he who imitates nobody, but he who nobody can imitate.’ (François-René de Chateaubriand)

‘The true genius is a mind of large general powers, accidentally determined to some particular direction.’ (Samuel Johnson)

‘This is Finnish, but not the end…’ R.I.P Uli (Hape Kerkeling), Helsinki is Hell

Mark Thwaite: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer?!

Craig Russell: Write. Write every day. And, most of all, don’t try to be someone else or ‘fit in’ with other writers’ styles. Be yourself: what makes fiction interesting is an original voice (see quote above).

Mark Thwaite: What do you think of e-books?

Craig Russell: I think they will definitely be a part of the publishing landscape in the future. I don’t think they will ever displace printed books to the extent that mp3 has superseded other audio formats, but I can see where they will make up maybe 25% of the market. My thirteen-year-old daughter, who is as technologically up to date as it is possible to be, says she loves the feel and even the smell of a new book. I don’t think e-books will ever fill that tactile need.

Mark Thwaite: Are you optimistic about the future of books and reading?

Craig Russell: Yes. I see a new generation of avid readers coming up. Literature is here to stay.

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