Monday, September 05, 2011

Scene of the Crime with Author Bill Kirton

This week's author might not be known to many of you here in the United States, but I certainly want to change that. Although he writes all sorts of books (including a series of childrens' books about Stanley the miserable fairy), I found Bill Kirton's first Jack Carston mystery, Material Evidence, and really enjoyed it. One of the reasons for my enjoyment is that Jack, a detective chief inspector near Aberdeen, Scotland, is a rare copper-- he's deeply in love with his wife and has a happy home life. Makes a welcome change, doesn't it?

So many of the posts I do lead me to more and more books. As I was checking some links for Bill, I fell in love with the cover of one of his books and quickly made a note of it. I know I'll be going back to do a more in-depth search. I foresee several more scribbled notes....

Bill Kirton
If you're interested in learning more about Bill Kirton, here are a few links for you:

Now let's get to that interview!

What was the very first book you remember reading and loving? What makes that book so special?

Infuriatingly, I don’t remember the title. My age was still in single figures and it was a book about a dragon. I don’t really remember much of what he did but I do remember wanting to be his friend because he was so funny and I knew him so well. I also remember (and this was the first time it had happened) getting to the end and feeling sorry that it was over. I suppose it was my first experience of getting so absorbed in a story that it became more real than the world around me.

Outside of your writing and all associated commitments, what do you like to do in your free time?

It used to be sailing but my boat was moored too far away to justify keeping it. I like making things. As part of my research for my historical mystery/ romance The Figurehead, I started wood carving classes. I wanted to know what it felt like to start with a big lump of wood and ‘find’ the figurehead inside it. I loved it and I’ve been carving things ever since.

If I were to visit your hometown, where would you recommend that I go? (I like seeing and doing things that aren't in all the guide books.)

Well, my hometown is Plymouth, down in England. My house was a hundred yards from the spot where The Mayflower sailed from in 1620, so a quick look at that might satisfy any historical yearnings. Then I’d take you on a guided tour around the historic cobbled streets, Elizabethan houses and back alleys of the area, pointing out specific locations where, in my youth, I did things which had nothing to do with history. You won’t find that in the guide books.

But I’ve lived most of my life in Aberdeen, Scotland, so I’d show you the harbour of Europe’s oil capital, with its supply vessels and other oil-related craft, then – after a quick visit to the huge hole in the centre of the city from which Aberdeen granite was dug, we’d drive out into the hills of Royal Deeside and, further, into the Highlands. I know they’re in the guide books but books can’t convey the experience of actually standing there, listening to the stillness and tasting the air. [No, they can't. I've been there and had to be torn away.]

You have total control over casting a movie based on your life. Which actor would you cast as you?

Alan Rickman
This is interesting because, whoever I choose, it’ll say something about my vision of myself. If I go for the usual suspects – Depp, Pitt, DiCaprio – it’ll suggest I have a high opinion of how I look; if I’m anxious to display my macho credentials, it’ll be Willis, Crowe and the others; if I want to impress you with my sensitivity, maybe Colin Firth. But I’ll go for someone whom I just admire as an actor and who can be all of those things anyway – Alan Rickman. (I do a pretty good sneer, myself.)  [Fantastic choice!]

Who is your favorite recurring character in crime fiction?

Ouch – hard, hard, hard. It has to be someone with a sense of humour, though – but not the type who spins out one-liners and wise-cracks even when he has a gun shoved up his nostril. I enjoy reading those but, in the end, I don’t believe in them. So maybe I’ll go with Grandma Mazur in Janet Evanovich’s  Stephanie Plum series.

Name one book that you've read that you wish you had written. What is it about that book that made it come to mind?

I’m sorry but I’m going to have to turn highbrow for a moment. It’s Madame Bovary. I have many, many favourite books, but that’s one that always comes into my head. I have no idea how many times I’ve read it and, each time, I revisit past pleasures and find new ones in it. It has great characters, humour, puzzles, irony, tragedy and Emma Bovary herself is a sometimes silly, but always fragile, vulnerable and definitely lovable central character with a very unfortunate choice in men. And it uses words and images to create effects way deeper than their surface meanings. I could go on for ages but you get the picture.

What did you do the first time you saw one of your books on a shelf in a bookstore? How did you celebrate when you first heard you were to be published?

Let’s take those the other way round. The news that my first, Material Evidence, had been accepted came through a phone call from my wife when I was in a meeting about a script I’d been commissioned to write for a video programme. I was exploding inside but had to stay professional so I apologised for having had to take the call and explained that I had a novel about to be published. I did it in a way that suggested it happened every week, but the explosive joy of it all stayed with me for days.

Then, rather than seeing the book on a shelf, it was receiving the first actual copy that I remember. I’ve said elsewhere that it’s the closest a man can come to having a baby. I opened the envelope and just held it, looked at it, loved it, didn’t believe it but had to believe it. I’d had radio plays broadcast on the BBC, stage plays and revues performed in the UK and USA, but holding that book beat everything else. And I know that digital books are taking over but I don’t get the same feeling from them at all. I love books as objects. I have a Kindle and enjoy it, but I still prefer the physical experience of turning pages, feeling the pages I’ve read beginning to form a thicker and thicker clump in my left hand as the clump in the right gets thinner. And, when I’ve finished a book, I like to see it by the bed or on a shelf, reminding me of it and its characters.

I don't know if you've seen it, but I love Parnell Hall's video about book signings. What is the most unusual experience you've had at a book signing or author event?

There have been a few but maybe it was the time I was sitting outside a bookshop in Florida, with my table and pile of books beside me. An oldish lady went in and out of the store a couple of times, then walked away and came back again. It was obvious she wanted to speak to me, so I smiled at her and made some weather-related comment or something. That gave her the courage to chat. She asked if I’d written the book and, when I said yes, asked whether there were any rude words in it. We’re talking about a crime novel here, so I’m not sure what she expected. Anyway, the story did have a few low-lifes as well as a rather nasty piece of violence so I told her so. Nevertheless, she was still hesitating and wondering whether to risk it but, from everything she said, I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea, so I told her not to buy it. She seemed grateful and, when she went away, we were the best of friends. Just goes to prove that I’m rubbish at marketing.

The way some people talk, the only way to read now or in the future is with some sort of electronic device, like my husband's Nook. What is your opinion of eBooks, and how will they affect you as a published author?

Ooops, I anticipated this earlier, but I’ll expand on it a little. I don’t like admitting this but ebooks obviously are the future. As a reader, I find the ease and speed of acquiring them is terrific. On the other hand, that in itself creates problems. I have lots of titles on my Kindle which I’ve bought but not yet read, and with some of them, I don’t even remember why I bought them or what they’re about. It’s great to be able to carry an entire library in your pocket but the lack of physicality of the reading experience (which I mentioned earlier), means that it’s qualitatively different from reading a ‘real’ book.

I think the ease of formatting and uploading a book and the lack of any objective editorial quality control means that the already crowded market place is becoming even more so and readers are exposed to some badly-written, mistake-riddled stories which can alienate them. On the other hand, novels are being put in the public domain which might never have made it through the old, self-sustaining system of agents and mainstream publishers.

Swings and roundabouts, I guess, so overall I welcome ebooks but really hope that there are still enough traditionalists around to keep shelves stocked and sustain the demand for those beautiful, if seemingly outdated, ‘real’ objects. Men’s babies.

I love it when people surprise me with their responses to my questions, and you certainly did with Grandma Mazur! Thank you so much for spending some time with us. May your book sales do nothing but increase!


  1. Thanks, Cathy. I like questions that approach you sort of sideways so that you possibly reveal more of yourself than you might in a 'where do you get your ideas?' type of interview. Not that I'm claiming there are any depths to probe, but I really enjoyed it.

  2. Ha! Alan Rickman is *never* a bad choice.

  3. Excellent and enjoyable interview, guys. Read his books, folks - Bill Kirton deserves an audience.

  4. Excellent interview, I really enjoyed it. Bill Kirton is not only a really good writer who has written some fabulous books, but he is also a thoroughly nice guy.

  5. Once again your conversation with an author has convinced me I want to read his books. Kirton is right that your questions reveal the "real guy" behind the publisher's hype. Because I like him now that I've sort of "met" him, I want to find his books to read.

    Oh, and I felt that way about the Highlands too.

  6. Loved the interview. I'd like to learn wodd carving myself. My great-grandfather and his brothers were craftsmen so it should be in my blood but I'm fairly certain that the only blood that would come to the fore would be that which I lost after hacking a finger off inadvertantly.

  7. Spmehow I knew his favorite character would be Grandma Mazur! I about fell off my chair when I read his answer!!!!

  8. Bill-- The pleasure has been all mine!

    Beth-- I am in total agreement!

    Michael-- From emails and comments elsewhere, it seems Bill may have persuaded at least a few of my readers to find his books. (I love it when a plan comes together!)

    Chris-- Now I'm looking at your books as well.....

    Barbara-- Fantastic!!!!

    Kristen-- I think I'd be joining you in the hacked-off finger line.

    Bella-- I had the same reaction, although I didn't think it would be his answer!

  9. Seems my evil plan to project myself as a nice guy is working. Seriously, thanks for the nice comments. As for bloodstained wood, it goes with the territory. I've been carving for several years now and I don't think there's a single one of my carvings that doesn't have traces (or pools) of my DNA in it somewhere.


Thank you for taking the time to make a comment. I really appreciate it!