It’s not very often that I find myself chatting to an author on-line, decide that maybe his books aren’t quite my kind of reading, but then really want to feature both the author and his books on Being Anne. For author Alan Jones, I’ve made an exception. Both of Alan’s books – The Cabinetmaker and Blue Wicked – have attracted a growing legion of enthusiastic readers and fans, and their excitement is mounting as his third, Bloq, will be available on 1st April.
So first, let’s have a look at the books!
The Cabinetmaker, Alan Jones’ first novel, tells of one man’s fight for justice when the law fails him. Set in Glasgow from the late nineteen-seventies through to the current day, a cabinetmaker’s only son is brutally murdered by a gang of thugs, who walk free after a bungled prosecution.
It’s young Glasgow detective John McDaid’s first murder case. He forms an unlikely friendship with the cabinetmaker, united by a determination to see the killers punished, their passion for amateur football, and by John’s introduction to a lifelong obsession with fine furniture.
This is the story of their friendship, the cabinetmaker’s quest for justice, and the detective’s search for the truth.
This unusual crime thriller contains some Glasgow slang and a moderate amount of strong language. For a Slang Dictionary, a Cabinetmaking Glossary, an interactive map and much more, go to www.thecabinetmaker.info.
Blue Wicked is a gritty thriller set in the south side of Glasgow. Eddie Henderson finds himself as the unlikely investigator with information that there’s a serial killer targeting the substance dependent underclass who inhabit the notorious Glasgow housing estates. The police force ignore his warnings but one young detective believes him and she helps him search for the truth, despite putting her own career at risk.
Their desperate search for the truth on their own proves Eddie right and sparks off a massive manhunt, with Eddie and Catherine, the young detective, at the forefront of the investigation.
The book contains a fair bit of strong language and Glasgow dialect, and has some very violent passages. This book too is supported by an excellent linked website –www.bluewicked.co.uk.
I’m delighted to welcome author Alan Jones to Being Anne…
Hello Alan, and welcome – would you like to introduce yourself?
Hi, Anne. Thanks for the invite. I’m Alan Jones, author of The Cabinetmaker and Blue Wicked, seriously dark Scottish crime stories, and Bloq, a soon to be released gritty, sleazy crime story about a Glasgow man who follows his daughter down to London when she doesn’t turn up at home for Christmas. I’m in my fifties with four grown up
millstones children. I live and work in the animal health industry on the Clyde Coast.
You must be thoroughly delighted with the reviews for both The Cabinetmaker and Blue Wicked. Did you ever imagine this would happen when you started to write?
I’ll be honest. When I was writing The Cabinetmaker, I thought the only route to publication was with a traditional publisher, but when I was unsuccessful, positive comments and ‘nearly but not quite’ rejection letters from one agent and one publisher encouraged me to self-publish. Up until then, I’d never heard of book bloggers and it took me a few months to realise that bloggers were the only way for a self-published author to get noticed. Initially, it was hard to get bloggers to review my book because, understandably, they receive a large number of requests and can’t possibly read them all. A few bloggers did pick up on the book, and slowly, it began to get easier to be reviewed.
I’ve had pretty much 4 and 5 star reviews across the board for both books, which has surprised and delighted me, especially as they have a very dark and gritty nature, and contain a lot of local Glasgow dialect and strong language. I learned a lot from the occasional 3 star review and indeed, Keith Nixon, who praised the first edition of The Cabinetmaker but highlighted some issues, gave me a lot of advice and put me in touch with my editor, who has been a revelation and well worth the expense.
Now, we did agree (didn’t we?) that your books might not be entirely my personal cup of tea. With some noteworthy exceptions, I tend towards pink and fluffy, you do dark and gritty. But we thought The Cabinetmaker might come closest to my tastes. Tell me more about it…
You might like The Cabinetmaker, despite your preferred genre not being dark and gritty – it wasn’t originally written as a crime novel; more of the story of the relationship between the two main characters, a Glasgow cabinetmaker whose son is brutally murdered, and a young detective on his first murder inquiry. When the case goes wrong, and the culprits walk free, the two men become lifelong friends, bonded together by a desire to see justice done, a love of playing amateur football and the detective’s introduction to an enduring passion for fine furniture by his friend. Some readers find it a bit long winded while others love the detail and the character development that the book’s length allowed me to indulge in.
And Blue Wicked is then more of an out-and-out crime novel?
Yes. And brutal in places with it. A lot of reviewers rate it very well but warn readers without strong stomachs to approach it with care. Without giving too much away, the main investigators of a series of brutal killings of young alcoholics and junkies on the streets of Glasgow are an unusual pair; perhaps unique in crime fiction!
I understand you were surprised by the audience that enjoyed and reviewed your books. Tell me more…
|John McDaid’s flat|
When I was writing The Cabinetmaker, I assumed that putting murder, bad language, boorish police behaviour, football and woodworking together would make the target readership 99% male between the ages of 20 and 40. I’ll even admit to initially looking for male book reviewers to read the book before a couple of female bloggers read the book and said they loved it. One major rethink and a lot of reviews later, I’ve realised that most of my readers (of both books) are female from the ages of 18 to 106! It came as a shock to me that the ‘fairer’ sex had such violent thoughts and were more unshockable than their male counterparts!
I’ve read that you use lots of wonderful Glaswegian slang. As a Welsh Yorkshire person, I’ll admit that puts me off slightly more than the dark grittiness…should it?
The Glasgow accent, and dare I say it, a distinct language, has a stark but hilarious beauty, and if you can get your head round it, it’s great to read. Very few other cities are defined so much by their dialect. Each book has its own online slang dictionary with audio (which are good fun in their own right, but strictly for adults). Feedback from readers of The Cabinetmaker led me to include the slang dictionary as an appendix in Blue Wicked as well, but this only really works in the paperback version. Incidentally, when you mentioned your Welsh heritage; I lived in a little rural village in Wales for four years, and learned a fair smattering of Welsh – I loved it. The Welsh people appreciated my efforts to learn it and took great joy in teaching me some of the swear words.
Tell me more about Glasgow as a setting. Was it just a case of write what you know, or did you consider other backdrops?
No, for my first two books, I didn’t look any further than Glasgow. It has its own unique blend of harshness, humour, warmth and danger. It has a reputation, but in a recent survey, it was voted as one of the safest cities to live in. As you say, it was also a city that I knew very well, which made it easier to imagine my characters living, working and moving around in. For my third book, the plot took my main character down to London, so I had to do a lot more research for the locations.
I can get my head round research for a historical book, or one set in an exotic location. How do you research the dregs of Glasgow’s underbelly?
My Gran lived in the notorious Red Road flats in Glasgow, and we used to spend weekends there as children. In those days we had much more freedom than we have now and, even then, I was fascinated by the darker side of life, and the characters that inhabited it. Even living in a small town, I come in contact with people who live on the margins of society, where drugs especially can blight lives, and where the value of life is less clear cut.
I also spoke to people involved in drug rehabilitation and a few ex-addicts. Although harrowing, it gave me a bit of an insight in to how their lives are ruled by their addictions.
And how about you, the writer. Have you always wanted to write fiction? And when you decided to do so, did you simply sit at your keyboard and write?
I hated English at school. I loved reading, and was a voracious reader of a wide range of books, but I felt that books were over analysed and spoiled for me in the English curriculum. The only way I achieved passes in English was by my fictional essay writing, where teachers said I had an over-ripe imagination. It wasn’t until I was in my forties that I went back to writing, although I had been mulling over plot ideas for years before. It took me nearly ten years to believe I could write, but since then I’ve written three books and my mind is swirling with plot ideas for many more.
I’m really interested in your path to publication. How did things happen for you?
I had 33 rejection letters for The Cabinetmaker over a period of two years. Each time I would rewrite the manuscript a little and send it off to another agent or publisher. A small Scottish publisher asked to read the complete book but returned it saying it wasn’t for them, but with a long list of suggested edits attached and a note saying if I refined it, it was publishable. One agent from a large London-based agency wrote saying he almost took me on, but had a similar writer on his books and felt it would be detrimental to his existing client. It was he who suggested that I should self-publish, and said that it wouldn’t shock him if the book did well. I’m now comfortable with self-publishing and, talking to fellow authors who have publishing deals, I’m not sure I would jump at any offer that came my way.
How do you write? What’s a typical writing day?
|Alan’s iPad stand in spalted beech|
I fit my writing in between my job and all my other interests. As you may have guessed, with the subject matter of my first book, I am a very keen amateur cabinetmaker, and I turn out pretty professional pieces that take me so long to make, I couldn’t ever seriously consider doing it for a living. I’m also a bit of an insomniac, so I do a lot of writing on my iPad which I keep at the side of the bed. I use Dropbox to synchronise my files on my laptop, phone and tablet, so I can write anywhere and always have the latest version of my work. Holidays are good; even on the flights and in airport terminals I can often churn out two or three thousand words!
I always do a very detailed timeline which I constantly update, allowing me to keep track of the plot and events throughout the book. I’d be lost without it.
I’m really impressed by the way you use the social media. I know you have websites for each book, and are very active on both Facebook and Twitter. A blessing or a curse?
Both. Social media allows me to be in contact with readers, bloggers and other authors. I’ve been blown away by the friendliness and supportive nature of the reading and writing community, and both Twitter and Facebook are very enjoyable and addictive. Therein lies the problem. It’s very easy to spend too much time on social media so I try to ration myself.
I hate to say it, but I’m a bit of a geek, and I love computers, so doing the websites was good fun and rewarding. I initially thought they would be more important as a portal to promote my books but, although they are useful, I think social media is much more effective in spreading the word about my writing.
What writers do you admire? if someone said “your writing reminds me of…”, who would you like them to mention?
I love Irvine Welsh, and his influence in allowing me to describe the grit and the detail of the seedy side of life, and use the language that the story deserves, puts him up on a pedestal for me. And his books make me laugh, cry, despair and ask fundamental questions about human nature unlike no other author I’ve read. His character Francis Begbie, from Trainspotting, is an exaggeration of an amalgam of characters I have met in real life but is totally believable in the context of the book. One reviewer tweeted that my books had elements of Val McDermid with a taste of Irvine Welsh, which I took with a pinch of salt but more than a hint of pride.
Number three on its way? Is it getting easier, or does the pressure of expectation make it more difficult?
I’m just finishing off the formatting of Bloq for kindle, and the cover is due any day now, so ARC’s should be arriving shortly in reviewers inboxes. Publishing gets easier each time as I’ve learned all the short cuts and I know the process better. I had a wobble in the middle of this book, when I didn’t write much for three of four months, but my excuse was that our Street Cabinetmaking promo event at Bloody Scotland in Stirling, and the blog tour for Blue Wicked took up so much time and distracted me a little. I suppose that is the downside of self-publishing; that everything falls to me to do, and I can’t be in two places at once!
Bloq is less violent than Blue Wicked, and the language is more easily understood, but it is still gritty and has much more sexual content than the others; not gratuitous, but very much in line with the plot. I know I’m not doing very well in trying to persuade you to try my books but I’d rather readers were aware of the nature of my books before they buy them – Strictly 18+ and not for the faint hearted or easily offended!
Thank you Alan – and I’m now convinced that I should try The Cabinetmaker for myself. You can read four free chapters of The Cabinetmaker and Blue Wicked at www.thecabinetmaker.info and www.bluewicked.co.uk respectively, and view a lot of extra content there as well. Alan’s third book, Bloq, will be published on April 1st this year.
(And Alan did ask me to add a PS: Only kidding earlier – my kids are great, and have a healthy disrespect for nearly everything I do. I suspect there may be many who will identify with that one…!)
Follow Alan Jones on Twitter, or via Facebook.