In my Author Spotlight today, I’m joined by Scottish author (in exile!) Ewan Gault. His forthcoming novel The Sound of Sirens will be published by Leamington Books (Garrison) in October. You can pre-order it now.
Welcome Ewan. First of all, would you tell my blog readers a little about yourself?
My name’s Ewan Gault. I’ve been in exile from Scotland for far too much of my adult life, and I’m currently living in London, where I work as an English teacher at a sixth form college in Tottenham. I like long distance running and short story writing.
What inspired you to start writing?
Like most writers I was totally in love with books from an early age and placed authors on a podium somewhere between magicians and pirates. I have none of the necessary qualities or fashion sense to be either a magician or a pirate.
Tell me about your journey to publication
‘The Sound of Sirens’ is my second published novel, but in some ways it feels like my first as the opening chapter is based on a short story that appeared in New Writing Scotland all the way back in 2009. There are some short stories that you feel totally finished with once they’re in print, but there was so much beneath the surface of this one that I kept revisiting it, mining away at the submerged part of the iceberg if you like.
Initially I thought I was going to write a couple of additional short stories about the same group of young people on the edge of getting into serious trouble with the law, but this evolved into a complete crime novel with detectives and a strong central narrative. At the start of 2021, Leamington Books had a submissions window for crime fiction and I sent it off. Peter Burnett their head publishing editor called me to say that everyone on their team had been blown away by the book and that they’d like to publish it. The book is set in a fictitious fishing town in the north east of Scotland, and he was familiar with this part of the world and totally understood the tensions and frustrations faced by young people in some of these communities.
In a nutshell, what is your book about?
‘The Sound of Sirens’ starts with the body of Joe Campbell being pulled up in the nets of his family’s trawler two weeks after he was lost at sea. DI Stark suspects that seventeen year old Malky Campbell and his cousin, Johnny, are responsible for this death. Malky is just out of school and desperate to escape a lifetime of hard manual drudgery at sea and to help his pregnant and heroin addicted girlfriend. To make enough money for them to start up a new life, he uses the family trawler that he has inherited to smuggle drugs into the country. Meanwhile DI Stark is tightening the net around Malky and the county line gang who are controlling his movements and flooding the area with drugs.
How did you come up with the title for your book?
I had another working titles to be honest and then realised it’d been used by another writer. Sometimes changing the title of a short story or novel can be quite unsettling, but I’m really happy with this one as it work on lots of levels. The most obvious of these is that the main character is constantly listening out for the sound of sirens, expecting that the crimes he’s being coerced into committing will lead to his arrest. The novel is set around a fishing community and there are allusions to lingering beliefs in folklore and the sea as a place that is personified or that contains siren type creatures that are both alluring and deadly. Lastly, many of the young people in the novel are struggling with addiction issues and so the sound of sirens, if we think of mythological sirens as metaphorically representing something dangerous but enchanting, can refer to the life destroying but over powering hold of addiction.
How do you plan to celebrate publication day?
I’m planning to have a launch at an indie bookshop in Dalston called Burley Fisher.
Do you have a work in progress just now?
Yes, I’m just at the end of the school summer holidays so have been tapping away at my keyboard. I’ve mainly been writing short stories, but I’ve planned a follow up to ‘The Sound of Sirens’ and have drafted the first couple of chapters.
What one book would you recommend to a friend and why?
That’s a really difficult question without knowing which friend we’re talking about. Last year we rewrote our school curriculum to ensure we were teaching more diverse authors. Teaching Andrea Levy’s ‘Small Island’ seemed particularly pertinent to understanding modern multicultural Britain and its place in the world and relationship with other countries, so I’d recommend this novel to anyone.
What are you reading just now?
I’ve always got a few books on the go at any one moment – which is a good thing as I’m answering these questions during a 5 hour train journey! I’ve just finished Mohsin Hamid’s ‘Exit West’, which feels harrowingly of the moment in its depictions of a young couple fleeing to Europe as militants overrun their unnamed city. I’ve been enjoying Bloody Scotland’s monthly book club and I’m half way through Helen Sedgwick’s atmospheric and beautifully observed ‘When the Dead Come Calling’. Lastly, I’ve just started Fernanda Melchor’s ‘Hurricane Season’, which a lot of friends have been enthusing about and which certainly starts with a bang.
If you were on Desert Island Discs, what one book would you take with you?
Choosing something enormous and difficult always seems a bit pretentious, but if you’re on a desert island you’re going to want a book that can be a genuine companion for a long time. Next year’s the centenary of ‘Ulysses’, so it feels about time to revisit this.
Is there a book you’d love to see made into a film?
That’s a difficult question. There are some of my favourite novels that have been made into films but I don’t dare watch them in case they ruin everything! Crime fiction often transfers pretty well to film. Liam McIlvaney’s ‘The Quaker’ with its Oscar Marzaroliesque depictions of 1960s Glasgow could be an excellent film.
How can people follow you or connect with you on social media?
Until recently I was a bit wary of Twitter as it seemed like a place where I could fritter away a lot of my time getting into pointless arguments, and I can do that easily enough without being on social media. However, I’m now on it. @EwanGault
And finally, if you could be a character in any book you have read, who would it be and why?
This is going to be one of those questions that stick in my head for the next few weeks and that I keep thinking of better answers for, but maybe Nick Carraway, the narrator from ‘The Great Gatsby’. He’s a bit of a flaneur, has a brilliant narrative voice and learns a lot about himself by the end of the novel. He also goes to lots of good parties.
About The Sound of Sirens
In a dead-beat coastal town in North East Scotland, seventeen-year-old Malky Campbell is desperate to help his pregnant and heroin addicted girlfriend.
DI Stark, a middle-aged detective, alarmed by the rise of teenage crime in Port Cawdor, uncovers the operations of a county line gang that are flooding the area with drugs and engaging in a vicious turf war with a local family.
Malky has just started working on his family’s trawler with his cousin Johnny, when their boat pulls up Johnny’s brother in its nets. The rest of the crew, the tightly-knit community and the police start to suspect that the cousins are responsible for his death.
With his brother dead, Johnny inherits the family trawler, which he plans to use to smuggle drugs into the country for the county line gang, giving him enough money to start a new life.
Ewan Gault’s debut, The Sound of Sirens is a tough, modern crime novel, presenting the complexities of young life in a town at the end of the line.