The Man Who Loved Islands: The Origins of the Story

I’m delighted to host a piece from a fellow Scottish writer, David Ross, whose latest novel, The Man Who Loved Islands is out now.  This is David’s third published novel and I was intrigued to learn about the background to his books.

The Man Who Loved Islands marks the end (perhaps) of a Trilogy of stories spanning from 1982 right up to the present day. The three books are all fundamentally about ordinary people chasing their dreams, sometimes legitimately and sometimes not. In 1982 – when The Last Days of Disco was set – I was about to turn eighteen. I experienced a mix of emotions that are hopefully represented by the two principal characters in that book (Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller). Those remembered emotions are the catalyst for my books.

During the writing process, it was essential for me to reconnect with the times, the vibes and the memories to stage the plots authentically in a way that the reader could identify with. This isn’t just about pure nostalgia for the sake of it; it’s about creating a believable context where the reader can empathise with the characters, by having some personal perspective on the factors that are shaping their stories.

Music places a major part in that process for me, and I’ve written at length previously about the impact that it has on my writing. For this piece, I thought I’d share where the idea for The Man Who Loved Islands came from.

When I was a around six years old, there were three television programmes I was obsessed with.

The first was a truly bizarre American programme called ‘H.R Pufnstuf’. My entrepreneurial father had swapped our budgie and its cage for a loan of a colour TV to watch the 1970 World Cup Final between Brazil and Italy. Such an experience was virtually unheard of in early 70s Glasgow, and in any case, he hated the bird. An opportunity to get rid of it as part of a bizarre pre-Bosman style transfer deal was too good to miss. It was called Joey – the budgie, not the telly – and his failed attempts to get it to talk were the justification for its permanent ‘early bath’. I missed Joey; well for about the first five minutes of a match apparently being played in some footballing technicolor Oz.

But the real bonus, beyond that unforgettable game, was in subsequently watching Mayor H.R.Pufnstuf and the other residents of Living Island try to help young Jimmy (played by English child actor Jack Wild) who had been shipwrecked and led to their remote island, escape the clutches of Witchiepoo. She wants to steal Jimmy’s talking flute (yes, you read that correctly…) to add to her collection of magical objects.

Now ‘H.R.Pufnstuf’ has come under fire for claims that it contained hidden recreational drug references. For example, H.R. was thought to be an abbreviation for ‘hand rolled’, while ‘Pufnstuf’ was inexplicably thought to mean ‘Puffing Stuff.’

I ask you…is there no innocence left? Don’t take my word for it, judge for yourself:

 

The second was black and white re-runs of ‘The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe’. This was a French children’s programme based on the Daniel Defoe novel. It was horrendously dubbed but, for me, it was compulsive viewing in the mid-70s. It had memorable theme music and the opening titles are as familiar to me now as they were then. Perhaps you recall it too:

Both programmes are, in different ways, about solitude and the complex and contradictory nature of that; the loneliness and the opportunity that it fosters. In The Man Who Loved Islands, Gary Cassidy craves this solitude but for reasons that he doesn’t, or cant, fully understand. The book is essentially about regrets and fears and the irrational logic that solitude must surely be the only answer. But as Joe Strummer once said: ‘Without people, you’re nothing.’ That, ultimately, is the book’s central message.

The third was a series of Laurel & Hardy films, and especially, ‘The Laurel-Hardy Murder Case’ which ran at the minors in the local Cinema when I was young. The Laurel & Hardy films were (are) timeless and they too represent the naïve, but ultimately fruitless ambition displayed by Bobby and Joey who are also fans as they set out after their goals. In The Man Who Loved Islands, the films also play a part in reminding them of the depth of their friendship when in later life, that seems irreparably broken.

The theme tune of Robinson Crusoe certainly took me back! And the themes of all three books are ones which I’m sure will strike a chord (sorry, couldn’t resist the poor pun!) with many other readers too. Thanks to David for this interesting guest post and all the very best with your new novel. 

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Cover Reveal for Nailing Jess

As one half of Cranachan Publishing, I read the submissions we receive and this can provoke a mixed bag of emotions. More often than not, it’s a feeling of disappointment that the writer has failed to engage me and the synopsis hasn’t lived up to my expectations. But an email from debut writer Triona Scully arrived in our inbox and it immediately intrigued us. The novel was set in Withering, a fictional town in modern, matriarchal Britain and Triona described her manuscript as “a subversive take on the standard serial killer story. Andrea Dworkin meets Thomas Harris in this fast-paced, corpse-heavy tale of murder and misogyny”.

Opening the document, I was hooked! The voice of sexist D.C.I. Jane Wayne is one the likes of which I’ve never read in any other novel. She is tasked with catching the serial strangler dubbed ‘The Withering Wringer’ who is terrorising local teenage prostitutes and no boy selling sex is safe. The pressure is on Wayne, but she’s not the lead officer on the investigation. Demoted, she must take orders from a man and not just any man, an ugly one.

You can guess why Anne and I were keen to read more, meet Triona and agree to publishing the most unique book I’ve read in a long time. For such a special book as Nailing Jess, we needed a special cover. It wasn’t an easy process but Anne explains how eventually we all knew we’d hit on the perfect image.

From the designer’s perspective…

 

 

“An explosive story needs an explosive cover. It’s fair to say though, that our first cover concepts were perhaps a bit too shocking (a female Jesus, a woman being crucified, and other graphic images) which would perhaps repel readers, rather than intrigue them. Many other concepts were mocked up, with everything from cowboy boots, to gender signs, to men wearing high heels and bearded ladies. And yes, there might have been one or two featuring sperm… Finally, 72 images later, we hit upon the current cover – and we knew we had it. A crime style cover, with the suggestion of blood and the Barbie legs, hint that there’s not only a deeper dimension to this tale, but a bulging vein of humour throughout.”

 

From the writer’s perspective…

“It is a very tricky job, to convey the core of an idea in a few simple images. Luckily for me, that burden fell on Anne, and I think she has captured perfectly the dual narrative at play in ‘Nailing Jess’. It’s a crime novel, but it’s also a novel about gender. The doll’s legs on the blood-stained floor tells us both of those things. Having been privileged enough to be part of the process and allowed input, I found I was only really sure of what I didn’t want, images featuring sperm! Anne sent a lot of carefully considered suggestions my way,  and in some way every image worked!

‘I like that one!’ I’d say. ‘That really works!’ I’d think about the next one. But Anne was a lot harder to please than me, and I’m really glad of that. The final image was perfect. ‘It’s like you’re killing Barbie’, a friend has observed about the image, and that’s quite a compliment.”

What do you think? Do you love it as much as we do?

#BookLaunch #MarysTheName – Ross Sayers, Waterstones (Stirling) 2nd FEb 2017

Last night I had the privilege of not only launching a book, but also a new writer’s career. This lovely account of the event by book blogger Sharon makes me very proud!

chapterinmylife: Scottish Crime Fiction Blogger

Mary's the Name by [Sayers, Ross]

Well what to do on a dark, dreich Thursday night in February? Stay in and wash my hair? Do some household chores? Nah…I hopped on the train over to Stirling and headed for Waterstones to attend the #BookLaunch for Ross Sayers and his debut novel #MarysTheName and can I just say – what a wise choice that was!

Entering the shop, I could hear music and chatter coming from upstairs, sounds busy I thought…BUSY was an understatement – this event was jam-packed! It was just after 6 and you couldn’t move at all! Seriously, I thought I’d come to a gig and not a book launch! Excellent sounds supplied by Danny Mooney to warm up the audience before the big event!

Helen MacInven from #CranachanPublishing gave Ross a belter of an introduction and he filled the audience in on his journey to publication, what it was like to adopt the…

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Guilt Trip!

‘How’s the writing going?’ 

It’s a common question to ask a writer. But what if you’re a writer who isn’t writing much, if anything at all? Kinda embarrassing, eh?

Here’s the truth…

downloadMy Work In Progress (WIP) isn’t doing much as far as the ‘P’ goes – I’ve only written two chapters so far. It’s no wonder then that when my fellow Cranachan author, Barbara Henderson tagged me in a Facebook thread for writers to share the opening sentence in the first few chapters of their WIP, I felt guilty. I’ve failed to sustain the momentum since I started writing my latest novel last year. I could trot out the usual excuses of life and work getting in the way but in reality, I need to stop faffing around and get stuck in!

But in the spirit of playing along, here goes… although bear in mind that as it’s a VERY rough first draft, these words might be ruthlessly chopped during the editing process.

Chapter 1 – September 2014

Saturday 19th – The Day After Scotland Decided

There was nothing else for it but to get pished last night.

Chapter 2 – October 2014

Tuesday 7th – The Naming Game

Eve had put me under pressure, I hadn’t actually promised to return with my great-granny’s badge and it wasn’t as if she knew where I lived or looked likely to do her messages in ASDA.

How’s your writing going?

Or if you’re a reader, does a novel set in Airdrie, North Lanarkshire, in the year following the independence referendum sound of interest? It’s also going to weave in the story of the Siege of Leningrad too so it’ll be something very different for me to explore. Exciting and scary at the same time!

Using Tinder to Promote ‘Mary’s the Name’

This has got to be one of the quirkiest book promo ideas I’ve seen in ages! Sharing the love, literally. 🙂

(Please note: all screenshots were taken with the other person’s permission)

These days, everyone’s after new ways of advertising and promoting. More importantly, everyone’s after free ways of advertising and promoting. My publisher, Cranachan, asked me to think of as many creative ways to publicise Mary’s the Name as I could. Having used Tinder (not very successfully) before, I knew what a large amount of people could be reached with just a few swipes. So I figured, why not re-download (as everyone eventually does) but this time, I’ll make Tinder work for me!

The rules I set myself were:

  1. Always stay on message (e.g. Ah, you’re a horse doctor? You know, that reminds me of MY BOOK.)
  2. Swipe right on everyone, even girls I know in real life. This was the only fair way, I thought. Fair to say, some swipes were nerve wracking stuff..
  3. Don’t message…

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2016 – The Year of the Reading Slump

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For the last couple of years, I’ve kept a record of the books I’ve read (I know, I need to get out more!) and 2015’s total was 44. This wasn’t as many as I’d hoped to read but life got in the way. This year, the total is a pathetic 14!

But I have a very good excuse… life didn’t just get in the way, it changed, BIG time. The major change was that along with my business partner, Anne Glennie, we set up Cranachan Publishing and this made a massive impact on my reading habits.

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I started the year with a healthy tbr pile courtesy of Santa but sadly some of them remain on my beside table. No sooner had Cranachan opened to submissions our inbox was flooded with sample chapters and there was a steady flow throughout 2016 which equated to hunners of thousands of words being read by us both! From these initial submissions, we requested 12 full manuscripts and from these we signed 7 authors. This makes my lack of ‘pleasure’ reading in 2016 understandable but still disappointing as I’m constantly hearing of books I “must read”.

With limited time for my own choice of reading material, it’s meant that I’ve had to be even more ruthless and I’m far more likely to abandon a book these days after only a few pages (I used to operate a ‘you’ve got 50 pages to hook me’ rule). I also now find it hard to read without my editing ‘hat’ on and with a critical eye, the act of reading isn’t as relaxing.

fullsizerenBut the upside is that although I’ve given up on quite a few books, the ones I did finish were all very good apart from two * which disappointed and weren’t worth persevering with to the end. The others on the list were all excellent. Last year, my top pick was by Benjamin Myers and this year I read Beastings by him and it blew me away too. How to be Both by Ali Smith didn’t appeal but it was highly recommended and I’m so glad I listened to the praise as it was such a very clever book.

But hard though it was to choose, I settled on my favourite book of the year as My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal. This short video explains why I picked it and reminded me that I was glad I had an appointment at the hairdresser the next day!

 

Here’s the full list (in order of reading) which is once again dominated by female writers (10/13 to save you counting!) although the gender bias is always unconscious.

  1. How to be Both by Ali Smith
  2. Armadillo by Pauline Lynch
  3. After You * by JoJo Moyes
  4. Viral by Helen Fitzgerald
  5. The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney
  6. My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
  7. The Jump by Doug Johnstone
  8. Asking for It by Louise O’Neill
  9. Beastings by Benjamin Myers
  10. Paulina and Fran * by Rachel B. Glaser
  11. The Siege by Helen Dunmore
  12. Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
  13. Docherty by William McIIvanney
  14. The Mountain in my Shoe by Louise Beech

What was your favourite read of 2016? My new year’s resolution is to get my personal reading back on track and tackle my TBR pile that Santa will hopefully add to!

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Cover Reveal for Mary’s the Name

ross-sayers-bio-photoAnyone who is a regular reader of this blog, or follows me on social media, will know that I’m a huge fan of Roddy Doyle. Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha had a big influence on me as a writer and one of my favourite books is The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe. I also recommend The Good Son by Paul McVeigh which is another book by an Irish writer with a child as a narrator. It’s easy to spot the theme!

I enjoy reading and writing black comedy which features settings I can identify with and focuses on endearing characters. So perhaps it’s not hard to understand that when I was wearing my Cranachan Publishing ‘hat’ I was very excited when we received a submission from a new Scottish writer, Ross Sayers. His debut novel, Mary’s the Name, is told from the point of view of eight-year-old Mary and her story stole my heart.

The blurb explains why I wanted Cranachan to publish Mary’s the Name.

“When me and Granpa watched James Bond films, he told me not to be scared because people didn’t have guns like that in Scotland. That must’ve been why the robbers used hammers.”

Orphaned Mary lives with her granpa, but after he is mixed up in a robbery at the bookies where he works, they flee to the Isle of Skye.

Gradually, Mary realises that her granpa is involved. And the robbers are coming after him—and their money. Mary’s quirky outlook on life, loss, and her love of all things Elvis, will capture your heart.

Full of witty Scots banter, Mary’s the Name will have you reaching for the hankies, first with laughter, then with tears

Mary’s the Name is a very special book and needed a very special cover. My business partner, Anne Glennie, is the design guru and the pressure was on her to create a cover that lived up to the contents.  Anne describes the process behind the final cover…

marys-the-name-pitch-cover-002“The initial cover concepts all included child-like handwritten fonts for the title. As the narrator, Mary’s eight-year-old voice brings the text to life – it seemed to make sense to allude to this on the cover. However, despite several images and concepts, we failed to capture Mary’s energy. We then took a different tack, trying a more stylised cover. Mary loves music and plays her keyboard throughout as she hopes one day to become a concert pianist – so we mocked up several piano themed covers – and all agreed on a very simple, but striking, black and white cover depicting some piano keys. Then we left it to the side, to marinate.

But something wasn’t right. We hadn’t captured Mary’s essence – or any essence – the cover was too plain and too simple – it was definitely a case of style over substance. Covers need to intrigue or attract readers, to generate some sort of response. It was back to the drawing board – again! We reviewed the initial concepts with a fresh eye… and the image of Mary and her granpa by the edge of the sea under a stormy sky was the definite winner. It encapsulated the relationship which is central to the story, it provided a clear setting – and the storm clouds foreshadowed the events which would unfold. With a change of font and colour – we had a cover that we all loved. And the funny thing? We’d come full circle – choosing in the end the very image that we’d started with in the first place.”

mtn-ebook-cover-finalWe’re both chuffed to bits with the result and the main thing is, Ross is too! Here’s his response to the cover…

“We considered a lot of options, but I couldn’t be happier with the final result. I love the evocative landscape and the way the pink really leaps off the page.”

What do you think? Do you love it as much as we do?