I’m delighted to be joined today by a lady I’ve had the pleasure of meeting on several occasions. Jackie McLean is the author of two novels with a third due out this year. Today she’s sharing #TenThings she’d like her readers to know about her. Read on to find out about smoke bombs, writing her first play, murder at Arbroath Football Club and more!
- I wrote my first crime novel, Toxic, because I wanted to write something set in my home town of Arbroath. It’s by the North Sea and has some fabulous cliffs and caves, so it lent itself well to a modern day smuggling story. Initially I wrote about genetically modified seeds being smuggled in and out of the country – a lucrative trade in the wrong hands. However, there had to be more tension in the story than, er, a packet of seeds could produce. I then learned about the substance (MIC) that was responsible for the Bhopal disaster in 1984 and was appalled to discover that it’s still being used. Moreover, in certain manufacturing processes it can help to cut costs, raising the incentive to sneak it in under the radar. It looks just like water, and you can’t smell it until it’s too late….
- Fact, as we know, can be stranger than fiction. I once had a high-speed head-on collision with a dog. It fractured my eyebrow bone, knocked me out, and gave me a concussion and two black eyes. I worked in social work at the time, and every time I insisted “it was the dog” it sounded very unconvincing.
- In common with other crime writers, I do worry about my internet searches ever coming to the attention of the authorities. Research is an important element of writing fiction, even though you get to make a lot of stuff up. In Shadows I was writing a scene where a smoke grenade was used, and I wanted my character to hear it go off from a distance. But I didn’t actually know if smoke grenades make a noise, so I went online to try and find out. There was plenty of information about the devices, but not on whether they make a noise, so I kept following web links, which became increasingly militarised. Eventually I stumbled onto a terrorist recruitment web site, and made a hasty retreat. So I decided to buy a smoke bomb and try it for myself. It duly arrived, and I thought it might make a good backdrop to any talks I was doing on Toxic…so, to check whether it would be safe to use indoors, I decided to set it off in my kitchen. It seemed like a perfectly rational thing to do at the time, but the house became instantly engulfed in smoke, so I threw open the front and back doors, and the smoke plume rushed out into the garden. You might think that was the end of that. But no. We live near a police helipad. Within seconds, the police helicopter was circling the house, and I was in trouble again.
- People are very helpful, however, when faced with all sorts of bizarre information requests. I wanted my third book, Run, to open with a body being found at a football club. Obviously, for me this had to be Arbroath Football Club, so I got in touch and asked it they’d be okay with that (not everyone is happy to be associated with murder). The club directors discussed the matter and told me they’d be delighted to be the scene of the opening murder. They invited me up for a look around behind the scenes for ideas, and also suggested that I make the victim the referee! I thought that was a great idea, but wasn’t sure if the character I had in mind would be allowed, in real life, to be a referee. So I contacted the SFA to ask, and got a very helpful reply back which, among other things, confirmed that my dodgy character would, indeed, be allowed to be a referee.
- The main character in my books is DI Donna Davenport, but she wasn’t actually in the original draft of Toxic. I invented her to fulfil a particular role late on in the story, but I liked her so much, that I wrote her in earlier and earlier until the book was centred around her. I was also keen, through Donna’s character, so show some of the heroic struggles people go through with mental health. She was my protest character against the caricatures that were around at the time, where mental health was being used as a form of comic relief.
- It’s a common fallacy that writing is a solitary activity. While the actual writing can only be done by you alone, all of the activity around promoting your writing involves working with lots of people, and research requires plenty of people-watching. In addition to writing, I work full-time, and the workplace is a great place to spy on human behaviour! One of my favourite things to do at meetings is to pick two people and study their body language, to figure out the things they’re trying not to say. You’d be amazed at the hidden messages you can pick up, but a writer never tells…
- One of my earliest writing memories is the Pair O’ Wellies Cafe – a play I co-wrote with two friends at primary school. It told the story of four families who took on the lease of a cafe, having been conned by the landlord into thinking they were each the only ones with the lease, and having to find ways of working together and sorting out their differences. The play got performed at the school, and during a charity week, we actually set up and ran the Pair O’ Wellies Cafe to raise funds. I’d love to have a go at re-writing the play with my two old friends.
- Obviously encouraged by the Pair O’ Wellies experience, I went on to dabble in a bit of acting… At secondary school our French class decided to make a video, the story being that Martians had landed in Arbroath. We dressed all in green, covered our skin in green body paint, and off we went to the sea front to film. It was freezing cold and had just been snowing, but we were young and hardy. We made our way down onto the beach, set up in front of the (very high) sea wall, and had a great time shooting our video. Before we knew it, the tide had come in around us, and with only that (very high) sea wall behind us, there was no way to get out. When our cries for help went unanswered – this was the ‘80s and there were no mobile phones – we ended up taking our chances and wading through the water until we found the steps back up to dry land.
- I’ve travelled many times to Turkey, where I set part of the story in Shadows. It’s a country I love. However, it’s a wonder they let me in. I was stretchered off the plane by paramedics after fainting during my last flight from there, banging my head off the food trolley, knocking myself out. The pilot was about to divert the flight to Germany, thinking I’d had a stroke. I’ve had several injurious experiences in Turkey, and during an earlier trip there, me and my friend ended up in the local papers…I’ll say no more.
- I do love a harebrained scheme. My dream is to have a writing retreat on the Isle of Mull. I’ve got it in my mind’s eye, and it’s called the Wild Orchid Writer’s Retreat. One day… one day!
PS Smoke grenades make a whooshing noise!
Thanks Jackie – a writing retreat on Mull sounds just wonderful. Here’s to dreams coming true!
Jackie lives in Glasgow with her partner Allison. She has a varied background, including being a government economist, a political lobbyist, and running a pet shop. She started a mathematics PhD counting fish, and currently works with East Ayrshire Council, counting people.
- Toxic is her first crime novel, introducing DI Donna Davenport, and was shortlisted in the Yeovil Literary Prize before publication by ThunderPoint Publishing Ltd.
- The sequel, Shadows, was published in October 2017, and
- Her third book in the DI Davenport series (Run) will be published during 2019.
Jackie has appeared at crime writing festivals Newcastle Noir and Crime at the Castle, and regularly appears at Noir at the Bar events (including Edinburgh, Newcastle, Dundee and Dunfermline). She also forms part of the Dangerous Dames and Murder & Mayhem along with a number of other crime writers, and has appeared at events in libraries and bookstores across Scotland as part of these.
Facebook – Writer Jackie
Amazon page – Jackie McLean
In the Scottish university city of Dundee, life and all its complications are proceeding much the same as usual.
The recklessly brilliant DI Donna Davenport, struggling to hide a secret from police colleagues and get over the break-up with her partner, is in trouble with her boss for a fiery and inappropriate outburst to the press.
DI Evanton, an old-fashioned, hard-living misogynistic copper has been newly demoted for thumping a suspect, and transferred to Dundee with a final warning ringing in his ears and a reputation that precedes him.
And in the peaceful, rolling Tayside farmland a deadly store of MIC, the toxin that devastated Bhopal, is being illegally stored by a criminal gang smuggling the valuable substance necessary for making cheap pesticides.
An anonymous tip-off starts a desperate search for the MIC that is complicated by the uneasy partnership between Davenport and Evanton and their growing mistrust of each other’s actions.
Compelling and authentic, Toxic is a tense and fast paced crime thriller.
When DI Donna Davenport is called out to investigate a body washed up on Arbroath beach, it looks like a routine murder inquiry. Then the enquiry take on a more sinister form.
There are similarities with a previous murder, and now a woman connected to them both has gone missing too. For Donna, this is becoming personal, and with the added pressure of feeling watched at every turn, she is convinced that Jonas Evanton has returned to seek his revenge on her for his downfall.
Fearing they may be looking for a serial killer, Donna and her new team are taken in a horrifying and unexpected direction. Because it’s not a serial killer – it’s worse.
Moving from Dundee to the south coast of Turkey and the Syrian border, this is a fast paced novel about those who live their lives in the shadows, and those who exploit them.