East Coast Crime Writers versus West Coast Crime Writers – the Re-match
Friday 26 June 2015
Waterstone’s, George Street, Edinburgh
Tonight’s battle is taking place in George Street’s Waterstone’s bookstore. After navigating the totally confusing new one way (for parts of the way) system in George Street we manage to get parked nearby and arrive about 10 minutes before the start. Wine is being partaken by authors and audience members alike and we appear to be waiting for one of the Glasgow authors (Matt Bendoris) who arrives with a box of newly published books in a box tucked under his arm.
Craig Robertson is referee/chair/points awarder tonight, ably assisted by Dom Hastings, the festival manager of Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s international crime writing festival based in Stirling, which takes place this year between 11th and 13th September. As Craig tells us, it’s Assault n Battery versus Assualt n Sauce, and is the return leg from a match up which took place last year (which the West Coast won).
On the home team tonight is captain Doug Johnstone, whose new book The Jump will be published in August; Neil Broadfoot, author of Falling Fast and The Storm; and T F (Frank) Muir, whose books, including the latest The Meating Room are set in and around St Andrews. The Glasgow team is captain Caro Ramsay, whose latest book The Tears of Angels was published in May this year; Douglas Skelton who writes fiction and non-fiction about Glasgow’s dark side, including his latest fiction Devil’s Knock; and Matt Bendoris, whose new book DM for Murder was hot off the press on Friday – he’s especially proud of the cover.
The first point of debate is about whether there’s a difference in backdrop when you write about Edinburgh or Glasgow. Caro thinks that Glasgow bears its ugliness on the outside whereas Edinburgh hides its ugliness. East’s Doug agrees, saying that exactly what you say when you get off in the train in Queen Street Station – “this is hideous! “ Douglas retorts with, “no Doug, that’s what we say when you get off the train!” And so the tone of the evening is set…
West’s Matt points out that the tram works were “lovely” – and Craig promptly awards 20 points to the West, just for the traffic in Edinburgh. Caro says that’s one thing about Glasgow, it’s easy to get in and out of, with the M8 running right through the middle of it. Doug points out that if you have to drive through Edinburgh, no wonder you want to kill someone!
Craig brings Frank into the discussion, saying that all cities have a dark history but that it takes an excellent author to do that to somewhere like St Andrews. Frank confirms that there has only been one murder in the town in the last 20 years.
Discussions move onto humour – is Glasgow funnier than Edinburgh. Everyone seems to think so. Caro surmises that perhaps they have to have a better sense of humour because they live there. Doug points out that the humour gets driven out of Edinburgh by the festival and the traffic, whilst Neil counteracts that by saying that Edinburgh humour is there, it’s just more observational, dire and deadpan. After a few more retorts, they all agree that they all hate Aberdeen, and Craig wonders if we can get a hold of Stuart MacBride for a response to that one.
Doug wonders whether everyone moves the police around, do they visit other areas and Craig asks what everyone has done now that there is a single police force in Scotland. The discussion turns to the inequalities in Glasgow and Edinburgh and Doug thinks that there are more extremes in Edinburgh. There is the banking side and the rich folk but then there’s also Craigmillar. Glasgow, to him, seems more level, more of the same class, but Edinburgh has more disparity, which makes for good contrasts. Frank agrees that St Andrews also has its poorer parts and then the students which can always result in a few tensions. Douglas wants to know that if they know that “Craig Millar” is responsible for a lot of crime in Edinburgh, why don’t they just go and arrest him (points to the West for that one).
At this point we find out that one of the audience has been tweeting Ian Rankin during the discussion to see if he’s up for popping into the discussion. He, however, says his dinner’s on the table so he can’t. Doug points out that, surely, coming from Edinburgh, Ian will “have had his tea”.
Craig asks at which event you have more fun – a Glasgow funeral or an Edinburgh wedding. Matt says definitely Glasgow funeral – the last one he went to had a lock in (after of course, lots of respect being paid etc etc). Doug says that the East Coast have a terrible time at all social events.
How do our authors link to a sense of place? Neil says you need to write other places your books go to as a visitor. Doug says he always checks stuff, as it makes a massive difference to those who are reading it. Caro’s latest book is set on Loch Lomond and she has made up an island, but made it fit with the privately owned ones which are there. Matt says he concentrates more on dialogue and characters because he can’t compete with others in writing about Glasgow – he prefers to meet people before he creates character and dialogue. Frank adds that having that sense of place is crucial and that his main character works out of a police station in St Andrews which has now closed down and been moved to another part of town – he’s reluctant to move though and is sticking with the old station.
A discussion ensues about who has moved the mortuary in Glasgow to the new South Glasgow University Hospital – some, like Craig, have moved it, but others like Alex Gray, have left it where it was. The panel also agree that it’s fine for them to slag off their own cities but woe betide anyone else who tries it.
Craig then awards 20 points to the East team because of Doug scoring the winning goal the previous week in the football match where the Scottish Crime Writers took on the Italian Crime Writers and won 2-1. (Doug is still basking in the glory as I heard him talking to the other authors about the game before the start).
The panel discuss William McIlvanney and agree that he led the way for crime writers in Scotland. Matt adds that when you read someone who is really good, there’s no way you can try and copy that, so each author has developed their own style. Doug says that McIlvanney was a naturally poetic writer and he gave voice to the underworld of Scotland.
We then find out that Ian Rankin had been watching the event on Periscope earlier and the point where Doug was talking about his house being burgled and a suspect being charged with burglary. Mr Rankin had tweeted our audience member to say that Doug should know better – burglary is not a term in Scottish Law.
Dom handed the final scores over to Craig who announces that he came last with minus 40 points, the “guy behind Dom” got minus 10; Dom got 20. However, the points that mattered (and there was a trophy for this – a very small one, “in case the East Coast won it” says Caro) was 465 to the East, and 467 to the West. So a very closely fought contest, which according to Craig was supposed to be won by the East. Really entertaining evening.