Kristian and I are very much enjoying creating our podcast, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Scottish Literature, as part of Birlinn’s twenty-fifth anniversary year, and we’re delighted to bring you the latest episode, celebrating the life and work of the first woman to be published in Scotland, Elizabeth Melville, and in particular, her dream vision poem, Ane Godlie Dream.
We are excited to shine a light on a name that is probably not so well known in the twenty-first century, but back in Reformation Scotland, Ane Godlie Dream was hugely popular, running to thirteen editions in Elizabeth Melville’s lifetime. And the poem is not only noteworthy because Melville was the first women published, her work stands on its own merits. Her poems are passionate, powerful, and highlight the strength of feeling in religious worship as the power struggles between church, court, and state increased.
We stay in the murky Scotland of the sixteenth century with an enlightening interview with Polygon’s own Shirley McKay. Over the last few years she has given us the hugely enjoyable historical crime series starring her hero, Hew Cullen, a lawyer and academic, who, returns to his home town of St Andrews after educating himself in Europe. Throughout the books he finds himself solving local crimes – including murder and blackmail – as well as falling deeper and deeper into the court intrigues of the newly crowned James VI. If you like a little mystery with your history, they are the perfect read!
So, please sit back, get comfy, and join us as we head back in time to a very different era. We hope you enjoy listening.
You can listen to the latest podcast below, and you can catch up on all previous episodes on iTunes, or on SoundCloud.
In this guest blog, author of the DCI Daley novels, Denzil Meyrick talks about the genesis of his thriller series, and he introduces his latest book Well of the Winds. The book is to be launched on Saturday the 1st of April on Gigha. The event will be streamed live on Facebook. So keep an eye on the Polygon Books Facebook page to join in.
‘It’s hard to believe that it’s almost seven years since I first had the idea of writing a novel. I knew I wanted to write, and initially toyed with the notion of penning a work of historical fiction. However, I was well aware that to do such a project justice, and in pursuit of period authenticity, a great deal of research would be required. The question was: did I have what it takes to write a book, one of any genre?
I decided to follow the age-old advice and write about what I knew. As a former police officer, a crime novel was the obvious choice – but what form should that novel take?
There were three things I was determined to incorporate into this book: humour – not just the dark variety, but also in the way police officers banter with each other in real life; an unusual setting – in that it hadn’t been used before and had something to offer in its own right; and finally, interesting, well-rounded characters who could populate not just one, but a number of books.
Having decided this, I then needed to work out the infamous who, where and when.
The ‘who’, began with the main protagonist. In my mind, this detective had to be of a certain rank – normally either Inspector or Chief Inspector – he had to be solid, dependable and a natural leader. But there had to be something that made him real – he had to have flaws, the like of which we all carry with us. I decided early on that this detective would be a male, slightly overweight, tall and thoughtful – but not oppressively so – he also had to be confident, and not completely enamoured with his choice of career.
I’m a huge fan of some of the fantastic TV dramas that have been produced in the USA over the last twenty years. For me, ‘The Sopranos’ is a work of genius. Visceral, turn-your-head-away violence leavened, juxtaposed even, with comic, laugh-out-loud humour, strong characters, a well-founded setting, and great storylines.
In my search, the ‘where’ came in an instant: Kintyre.
Campbeltown was my home for many years, and though I no longer live there day-to-day, I still think of it as home.
I thought of all the people I’d known over the years – real, genuine characters – and with this in mind, synthesised the personalities of the likes of the enigmatic Hamish to the formidable hotel chatelaine Annie and the supporting cast who populate the town.
Though aspects of them remind me of many people, they are products of my imagination, distilled in my head in the same way a good dram bubbles in a pot still. To make that distinction, I decided to make my Campbeltown the fictitious Kinloch. Though it shares the geography and spirit of the real-life place, the things that happen in my Kinloch would – thankfully – never happen in Campbeltown.
Because Kinloch is a port, it is easy to imagine the shifting sands of humanity who blow in and out of such places across the world, bringing their lives and problems with them. Certainly, many criminals blow into Kinloch, but DCI Jim Daley is there, equal to the task.
There was one piece of the jigsaw missing: I needed a character who could bridge the gap between redoubtable locals and harassed detectives. Brian Scott, Daley’s long-time friend and colleague, sprang to mind. Always ready with a jaundiced-eyed sense of humour, a healthy contempt for authority (including his bosses and force standing orders), and an unerring knack of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, a talent matched only by his bravery.
Wherever I go to talk about the books, whether it be in libraries, at festivals, book signings, or in press interviews, I’m always asked most questions about Brian Scott. He seems to have captured the readers’ imaginations, something for which I’m very glad, as he’s a dream to write.
In the latest book, Well of the Winds, Daley, Scott, Hamish, and Annie all play their parts. Partially set in World War II, this book has an almost epic setting. It’s the first time I’ve woven real events into Daley’s fictitious world.
When the postman on the Isle of Gainsay tries to deliver a parcel to the Bremner family, long-time residents on the island, he discovers a pot boiling on the stove, breakfast on the table, overturned chairs; but of the occupants, there is no sign.
As the investigation progresses, Daley leaves work on the island in the capable hands of DS Scott and new boss Chief Superintendent Carrie Symington, he returns to Kinloch to ponder this mysterious case.
When he comes into the possession of a journal written by his wartime predecessor, William Urquhart, Daley realises that in order to solve the crimes of the present, he must first solve those of the past.
At the heart of this novel lies a fascinating story from the real world. Without giving anything away, it is likely to surprise, even shock the reader. Though I cannot claim credit for its discovery – it’s been in the public domain for many years – I have been able to draw attention to it.
We live in strange, worrying times. It seems that much we hold onto as being solid, immovable – timeless even – is proving less so. It is interesting, if not surprising to note: ‘there is nothing new under the sun’, and that throughout human history, people have been unsettled, even surprised by change.
As Daley tries to straddle the decades, the question is, can he bring justice to bear on both past and present?
Prepare to be surprised – I was!’
Denzil Meyrick, 30 March 2017
Have a look at this book trailer for Well of the Winds:
Kristian and I continue our Birlinn 25th anniversary celebrations with the third episode of our podcast, The Hitchhikers Guide to Scottish Literature, where we discuss the modern phenomenon that is Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting.
It was different, this time, tackling a book that not only was released in our lifetime, and still has a huge impact in the present-day, but was also a book that we were both revisiting, making our reading feel both contemporary and historical. Scotland has changed a fair bit since Trainspotting‘s publication, but has the literary world? And the voices within our epoch-making novels? (Is there such a thing as an epoch-making novel nowadays?)
In any case, Trainspotting has not lost its bite, its wit, its energy, or its power. And neither has the Edinburgh lit scene. It’s in a healthy state just now with a plethora of amazing spoken-word, cabaret nights. One of the most popular, and exciting, nights is run by Neu Reekie, otherwise known as Kevin Williamson and Michael Pedersen. We talk to them about the rise and rise of Neu Reekie, who have cemented their place in Edinburgh life and now also take their literary shenanigans across the world. Michael is also a fantastic performer of his poetry, published by us here at Polygon, and we round off this podcast with performances from his debut collection, Play With Me and his forthcoming collection, Oyster, which will be published in September this year.
So, choose to sit down and have a listen. Choose The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Scottish Literature.