Good Reading : October 2009
OCTOBER 2009 ı goodreading 17 author profile 1 Cold Granite, his first attempt at 'a straight serial killer novel' -- one that scooped the Bar ry Award for best crime debut. While Stuart wasn't enamoured with creative writing while growing up, he did love reading. 'The first books I ever took out of the library myself were the "Hardy Boys" books,' he recalls. 'I'd get one out and say, "Yes, yes Mum. I'll go to bed and put out the light," and then I'd read by torchlight until 3 o'clock in the mor ning, so I could take it back the next day and get out the next one in the series.' Stuart was bor n in Dumbarton, near Glasgow, but his family moved to Aberdeen when he was a toddler. He later shifted to Edinburgh for university, but soon quit to work on the offshore oil rigs that fed Aberdeen industry.Then came working in graphic design, then various IT jobs, a process he describes as drifting down through the career spiral. 'I became a project manager, which really was the most appalling career move I ever made,' he says. 'It was the most awful job. I've cleaned toilets offshore, and that was a better job than being a project manager.' It was during this period that the peer pressure arose and MacBride began a new hobby, writing. 'When I was writing Cold Granite, a lot of that comes from sitting in meetings with people thinking "I really would like to kill you" and then going home and writing,' he laughs. That combination of death and humour threads throughout Stuart's books: police camaraderie is built on merciless mockery, and gallows humour eases tension at gruesome crime scenes. It takes a talented writer to have you chuckling a few pages after someone's had their eyes gouged out, but Stuart MacBride manages it. 'All through my life I've always worked in big teams,' he says, 'and writing the police officers, I thought they'd behave in just he same way. [They're just] people, they're going to make un of each other, to make jokes n poor humour.' A steady drizzle of curse words sprinkles the pages of uart's books, tur ning into a eritable flood whenever DI Steel around. 'I don't know a single person who, if they hit their thumb with a hammer, would go "oh darn",' he says. Put simply, reality rules. MacBride later heard from a retired police officer from Ontario, who'd read his books, who confessed that being a police officer was exactly like that -- full of ribbing and off- colour jokes. That same drive for authenticity stretches to the hometown setting. 'Most of the places are real,' he says. Stuart has been praised for his accurate portrayals of Aberdonian language and locales, and his website includes photos of real settings used in his debut. He's also cultivated close relationships with Aberdonian police, and a senior technician at the local morgue. 'I'm trying to make books that are as realistic as possible -- which sounds daft because i they were I'd be saying the northeast of Scotland was littered with dead bodies -- but yeah, you know what I mean,' he laughs. That authenticity included addressing, in Blind Eye, the growing influx of Polish immigrants shifting to 'the Granite City' for oil industry jobs, a surge that's tested Aberdeen's reputation as a secular and tolerant city. 'We started having [ethnic tensions] in Aberdeen that we'd never really had before,' he says. Some locals spread misinfor mation about the immigrants. 'I should say it's not widespread, but there were these tensions that certain people were stir ring up.' Stuart's newest novel is far less concer ned with authenticity. Halfhead does involve a vicious serial killer, but it's set in a Glasgow of the future: a future of overcrowded super highrise slums, militaristic police, and a new method for dealing with criminals. Serious offenders suffer 'halfheading'; lobotomised with their lower jaw removed, they're put to work as mindless drones cleaning public areas. However, one murderous halfhead 'wakes up' after six years, and sets out for revenge. She's pursued by William Hunter, Assistant Director of the 'Network', who discovers his investigation is linked to a conspiracy to fuel violence among the underclass. MacBride actually wrote the original manuscript for Halfhead before he wrote Cold Granite. At the time, after winning a local science-fiction short story competition he'd entered on a whim, he'd focused on futuristic thrillers. The manuscript got some publisher attention, but it wasn't until his agent suggested he try 'a straight serial killer novel' that MacBride made the leap to published writer. But he shuns the 'sci-fi' label some place on his new book. 'If you write a crime novel and set it in Ancient Greece, it's historical crime fiction.You do a bank heist in Victorian times, it's historical crime fiction. All the way up to today, it's 'something' crime fiction. Set it even five years in the future, and "woah, it's science fiction".' Instead, MacBride sees Halfhead as an extension of his crime writing, just in a new setting. 'It's a thriller,' he says. 'Serial killers, explosions, automatic weapons -- it's just set 0 years in the future -- et's call it a "new future rime thriller".' After all, he is a crime write-ist. alfhead by Stuart MacBride is published by arperCollins, r rp $29.95.