I’m sharing an extract from Claire MacLeary’s latest novel Payback today. This is the latest in her Harcus and Laird series and will be published towards the end of the month. But first, here are #TenThings which Claire would like her readers to know about her.
A city girl, I’ve lived in London, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. But my formative years were spent in Fort William, then a sleepy little Victorian town in the shadow of Ben Nevis.
In the same first year Economic History class at uni as a curly-haired lad called Tom (now eminent historian Professor, Sir Tom) Devine, I was bored witless, English being my main subject and abiding love. By a quirk of fate, we’ve both ended up authors.
I have written since I can remember: short stories, newspaper articles, advertising copy, training manuals. My first cheque was for a short piece in The Lady magazine.
Although my career was in HR and training, I’ve worked as a nanny, barmaid, Hoffman presser, market trader and antiques dealer.
I opened the first independent sandwich shop in Aberdeen. The inspiration for my Harcus and Laird crime series derives from the women I worked with there: mothers of young children whose sense of isolation drove them to take whatever work fitted with school hours, women whose strengths went largely unrecognised. It is these unsung women I’ve tried to encapsulate in Maggie and Wilma.
My role model is Lin Anderson. Over twenty years ago I attended her writing workshop at the Edinburgh Book Festival and we’ve kept in touch since. With typical generosity, she sent me her Crime Duo notes. It was a thrill to stand onstage alongside Lin and fellow titans of Tartan Noir at Bloody Scotland 2017 when my debut crime novel, Cross Purpose, was longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize.
Housewives my protagonists may be, but my books are far from cosy. They tackle big social issues – the lack of affordable childcare, drug and alcohol dependency, people trafficking, money laundering, homelessness – sometimes with uncannily pertinent timing. Burnout, my second novel whose theme was control and consent, launched when the #MeToo movement was in its infancy, and was long-listed for Hearst Magazines Big Book Awards 2018.
Loneliness and isolation – with particular reference to the wellbeing of the elderly – have made headlines during the Co-vid 19 crisis. But old people are not alone in feeling cut off from society. Any woman who has sacrificed years of her life to child-rearing will recognise the sense of being invisible and loss of self-worth. This is the theme of my third book, Runaway.
Writing is a solitary pursuit, made more amenable by the many friends I’ve made: fellow authors, booksellers, librarians, festival organisers. The support of the book blogging community has been invaluable in bringing Maggie and Wilma to a wider audience, and it is a thrill when a reader says they enjoyed my books.
Impatience is my biggest failing. Enough!
‘You’re looking at her,’ Wilma replied, covering her nipples with spread fingers. Clamping a leopard print hand towel to her crotch, she demanded, ‘What do you want?’
Averting his eyes, the taller of the two policemen, a lantern-jawed loon with cauliflower ears, answered, ‘We’re trying to establish the whereabouts of your neighbour, Mrs Laird.’
‘Why do you want to know?’ Wilma asked, water running off her hair and dripping down her back.
‘I’m not at liberty to say.’
‘Well, you’ve got me out the shower,’ she complained. ‘So, whatever it is, you’ll have to come back.’ Taking a step into the hallway, she made to kick the door shut.
‘Hang on!’ The second copper, a well-built lad with a broken nose, shot out a restraining hand. ‘It’s important we speak to Mrs Laird, if only to satisfy ourselves that she’s safe and well.’
‘Why wouldn’t she be?’
‘Do you know where she is?’ he pressed.
‘Out,’ Wilma snapped, shaking with cold by now.
‘Is it work-related? I believe you are business partners.’
‘Work?’ Wilma echoed. ‘On a Friday night?’ Leaping at the opportunity to put the woolly suits in their place, she fibbed, ‘Us private investigators are not so hard up we have to work around the clock.’ Then, following the two constables’ eyes, she realised the towel had slipped, and hastily put it back.
‘She’s on a social visit, then, is she?’ the taller policeman fished.
‘My colleague has a dinner appointment,’ Wilma pronounced in her poshest voice.
‘Even I knew, it’s not something I would be willing to share.’
‘What about the venue?’
‘Look, Mrs Harcus,’ the second copper said. ‘This isn’t the time to go coy on us. We have reason to believe Mrs Laird’s life may be in danger.’
Wilma’s mind whirled. Where was Maggie? And who was she with? Then the penny dropped. If it was who Wilma thought it was, Maggie was indeed in danger. And if anything happened to her, it would be all Wilma’s fault. Forgetting her nakedness, she threw up her hands. ‘Why didn’t you fucking say that in the first place?’
My thanks to Kelly at Love Books Tours for inviting me to take part in the blogtour. Payback will be published by Saraband Books on 23rd April. You will find buying options on the publisher’s website here: Payback
From the back of the book
When police are called to a murder scene at the home of Aberdeen socialite Annabel Imray, they find themselves under pressure to get a conviction, and fast. Meanwhile, local PIs Wilma Harcus and Maggie Laird are at rock bottom, desperate for income. As Maggie contemplates replacing Wilma with an unpaid intern, an eccentric widow appoints them to search for her lost cat – and Wilma goes off-piste to negotiate a loan, with terrifying terms. As the fear caused by a series of sinister break-ins escalates, Maggie blames the aggressive language in public discourse for inciting violent crime. But before long, she finds she is in the danger zone herself.
Will Wilma manage to save her?
About the author
Claire MacLeary lived for many years in Aberdeen and St Andrews, but describes herself as “a feisty Glaswegian with a full life to draw on”. Following a career in business, she gained an MLitt with Distinction from the University of Dundee and her short stories have been published in various magazines and anthologies. She has appeared at Granite Noir, Noir at the Bar and other literary events. Claire’s debut novel, Cross Purpose, was longlisted for the prestigious McIlvanney Prize, Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award 2017, and Burnout was longlisted for the Hearst Big Book Award 2018. Runaway is her third novel and continues the Harcus & Laird series.