Bring On The Books! Coming soon: Reviews

A couple of serendipitous things came together to nudge this part of the blog into being – firstly, as I’ve been writing a mysterious New Thing, I’ve been giving myself a little time to catch up on my reading. And though I’ve been feeling guilty about not posting here as regularly as I should, I like to wait until I have something new/noteworthy to talk about.

But as it happens, I’ve been lucky enough recently to have been given advance copies of some really interesting and varied new books, and I think they all deserve a good shout-out.

So from next week, I’ll be adding a Reviews page on here – nothing heavy, nothing demanding, just my thoughts on some things I’ve read recently that I really enjoyed. Starting on Monday with this psychological suspense novel from an accomplished local author, Helen Forbes:

Keep Taking The Tablet(s): In Which I Apologise to all Scots. Everywhere …

‘This conversation with Gudrun? Think there’s a typo in there.’

Hmm. I’m not sure what I expected my brother to make of In The Blood – there’s a definite hint of spookery in my third Lukas Mahler novel, set on Orkney – but I was pretty sure he was mistaken about the typo.

The book had gone through various edits, and okay, I was under a bit of time pressure for the final ones, but I’m fairly eagle-eyed and prone to pounce on spelling and punctuation boo-boos, so I wasn’t too worried … until he sent a screenshot of the page.

Somewhere, between version 1 and version 3 of the final text, a small copy-edit had crept in that I hadn’t noticed. Just a single letter S, that’s all it took to turn this:

Into this:

For the non-Scots out there, Image 1 shows tablet, a sort of crunchy, tooth-rottingly gorgeous Scottish confectionery. Image 2 … you see where this is going, right? My cheery new Icelandic character (think Jane Marple with blue hair, attitude and a sugar addiction) was now a pill-popping junkie, who’d shovelled a shedload of medication into her coffee in front of DI Lukas Mahler. Not the way I’d planned their first meeting to go, trust me.

My stomach did a little slo-mo somersault. And then another one, just for fun. Because the book was already on its way to the printers, and there was absolutely nothing I could do to put things right. (Except maybe leave the country. Which I haven’t absolutely ruled out yet, of course …)

This is my fault, let me put my hand up to that right away. It doesn’t matter that I didn’t introduce the error – the fact is, I didn’t notice the change had been made, and the buck, as they say, stops with me. *Sobs quietly into handy G&T*

But hey, all is not lost. I’ve been promised it will be fixed for the paperback in October – so anyone who buys this first edition (out on 29th April ) will not only get a good laugh at my expense, but might just have bagged themselves a future collectable.

Got to be worth a punt, right?

‘They Wur Cheust Folk’

Not sure how I feel about international ‘Days’, to be honest – maybe it’s just the depressing whataboutery they seem to trail in their wake, maybe it’s just my growing unease at their hijacking by those desperately seeking a feelgood photo opp.

But given my current (nearly finished!) work-in-progress, Dani Garavelli’s piece in The Scotsman for International Women’s Day did strike a chord.

This is the memorial to the Orkney witches at Gallow’s Ha; it’s quiet, it’s simple and all the more moving for that.


And although I don’t do this very often, because it’s so, so timely, this from book 3 (which will be on its way soon, I promise!):

‘We murdered them for so many reasons. For being healers who sometimes failed. We murdered them for being argumentative, for being a bit odd, for getting older and becoming confused … in short, we murdered them because they didn’t fit the mould society thought they should.’


Here’s Tae Us-the Hogmanay Delusion

Small blast from the past here – wish I could say that my hope is still undaunted as we hurtle towards 2020. Have a good one, folks – all my best to you as we face whatever this new year brings us.

Margaret Kirk

Here, at the close of the year, a slightly more personal post as we move towards 2018:

We lived in Glasgow when I was little. I loved it, but my parents, both Highlanders, spent their time there wrapped in a kind of exile mentality. We socialised mainly with other Highlanders, went to concerts and parties at the (now defunct) Highlanders’ Institute, and pretty much let the rest of the city carry on around us while we lived in our little bubble of teuchterdom – my accent, drawn directly from my mother’s Helmsdale cadences and untouched by any hint of Weegie, is undoubtedly the reason my primary school teacher, a fearsome Orcadian called Miss Shearer, had a soft spot for me. I never realised it at the time, but I think she must have been more than a little homesick herself.

Then my father got a new job. In Inverness, the…

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Shadow Man to What Lies Buried – Am I doing it right yet?


My pre-publication self would have rolled her eyes at the thought, but until Facebook reminded me it’s two years this week since Shadow Man was published, I’d actually forgotten.

How on earth could I have done that? When I started writing Shadow Man getting published seemed like a writer’s equivalent of winning the lottery – logic tells you it’s destined to be out of reach forever, but in your day-dreaming moments, you can’t help thinking how wonderful, how amazing, how perfect everything about your life would be if only … then one day, it happens!

Getting your book out there (particularly if you win a first novel competition, like I did) is an amazing thing, of course it is. With more books and more routes to publication available than ever before, if you’ve got to the stage where people are happily handing over their cash to read the words you’ve put out there, well done! Give yourself a huge pat on the back and take time to enjoy what you’ve achieved.

Thing is, though, unless you get a mega-deal (currently rarer than hen’s teeth), your life isn’t going to change that much. You’re still the same person, with the same insecurities and the same hang-ups – you’re just exposing them to more people now, particularly on social media (so do read that tweet again before putting it out there, because they don’t all age well …)

So to finish, here’s a quick round-up of what I’ve learned so far:

Interacting with readers – at festivals, or on social media – is one of the best things ever!

This really surprised me, because I do have massive social anxiety (there, I said it). But somehow talking about books and writing feels infinitely less scary than being just me, so I absolutely love doing events and the like. And touch wood, so far people seem to enjoy what I do too.

Other writers are (mainly) incredibly supportive

Because they’ve all been there. And even the incredibly successful ones have the same hang-ups about their writing as newbies like me – which absolutely blew my mind when I realised it. But why wouldn’t they? We’re all on the same path, all trying to write a really good book. And that never changes, no matter how successful we get. (On the other hand, see above about personality – if you’re a natural-born git, that’s unlikely to change no matter what your level of success 😉 )

No path to publication is more valid than any other

It used to be that self-publishing was sneered at. I think that’s changing rapidly, and not before time! Again, if your book is the best you can make it, if you’ve taken wise advice and done everything you can to make it shine, then be proud of it. People will seek out and read good books.  Always.

Whatever stage you’re at with your writing, there’s always a next step

I’m currently on book 3, and wishing I could go back and revise book 1! I’m still learning – but as long as people want to read about Lukas and Fergie and the rest of Inverness MIT, I plan to keep writing about them.

Wish me luck!







Talking Lukas Mahler – a Criminally Bad Podcast!

If you’d told my terrified teenage self that one day I’d be putting my voice out there, I’d have said the chances of that happening were about the same as Scotland lifting the football World Cup. Yes, I know … and yet, never say never. Because here I am on the Paperback Podcast, talking about Lukas, the Highlands … and why I was always going to turn to crime 😉

( Definitely worth listening to, by the way, just to hear Lukas’s favourite musician, the amazing Julie Fowlis, singing An Eala Bhan )

Morecambe & Vice Crime Festival – Bring Me Sunshine (Please!!)


Okay, the weather was … a little lacking. Less Bring Me Sunshine, more Here Comes the Rain Again at the Morecambe & Vice Crime Festival this weekend.  But the wonderful Art Deco Midland hotel was the setting for a truly fantastic festival.

Pretty much all aspects of the genre were covered, ranging from  ‘What’s the Worst that Could Happen?’, a glimpse into some terrifyingly plausible end of the world scenarios, to the ‘Winner, Winner’ panel – along with Alison Belsham, Robert Scragg and Rachel Sargeant, I shared my unusual path to publication, involving a last-minute decision to enter a competition which genuinely did prove life-changing. I wish I could have stayed to hear Professor Dame Sue Black on her impressive career in forensic anthropology, but we had a long, long drive in front of us back to Inverness, so after the book-signing it was time to head north again – thankfully into better weather after a very soggy Sunday morning!

Staying at the Midland was definitely one of my better decisions – I love Art Deco anyway, and the hotel, renovated in 2008 after years of neglect, was stunning. And can I just give a shout-out to whoever decided to put, not only a fridge in our room, but one containing fresh milk for coffee! Now that’s what I call attention to detail 🙂

A quirky, fun festival, and one I’d love to go back to. Hopefully with better weather next time!


Spooked … by my own audiobook!

photo of black microphone
Photo by Gezer Amorim on


Look, I’ve got a confession to make. I don’t really like audiobooks – I do try occasionally, but I never seem to get on with them, somehow. Maybe I’m simply more of a visual person, but they always make me itch to have the actual book in front of me instead of some unknown narrator talking at me. And I have a very clear idea in my head of what my characters should sound like, so I don’t mind admitting I approached the audio version of What Lies Buried with some trepidation.

But I have to say David Rintoul has done an excellent job. My DI, Lukas Mahler, sounds pretty much exactly as I envisaged him, and there’s a fluidity to Rintoul’s narration that carries the story along beautifully.

Okay, I could wish for a little more of Fergie’s died-in-the-wool Invernessian to come through, and when I hear Anna and June Wallace in my head, they’re even stronger and (to use the dreaded word) feistier than Rintoul plays them. But these are minor quibbles.  With male and female characters ranging from 10 to 83 years old, this has to have been a challenging book to narrate, and it’s a huge tribute to his skill that Rintoul pulls this off with such panache and believability.

But where he really excels for me is in his portrayal of a couple of the worst characters I’ve created to date. My goodness, the menace he injects into their lines is quite something. One scene in particular genuinely gave me chills … and I wrote it!

Chapeau, Mr Rintoul. Chapeau.

What Lies Buried Audiobook


Launch Day … and a bit of a revamp!

And here it is, finally. What Lies Buried had its launch this Thursday at Waterstones Inverness – and what an amazing turn out!
Huge, huge thanks are in order: to Toby and the Waterstones team, to Mallownuts for their delicious, book cover-themed vegan treats … and of course, to everyone who came. Hope you enjoyed it as much as I did!

Oh, and if you think the website’s looking a little bit smarter these days, this is thanks to the amazing photographic talents of Gordon Bain Photography , whose stunning images of Inverness are a perfect match for the world of Lukas Mahler’s MIT.

Thank you so much, Gordon! More of his fantastic pics will follow in the coming weeks, I promise.

Writing Strong Women:Let’s Keep it Real

I never actually intended to write about a male DI, that’s the thing. My first novel (my practice novel, as it turned out) had a female main character and a predominantly female ‘cast’. It wasn’t a detective novel, more of a gothicky chiller – think Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ but set in the present-day Highlands and you’re pretty much there. It did feature a couple of murders, though, and I enjoyed writing it. I wasn’t sure it was absolutely the right genre for me, but it was certainly taking me in the right direction.

Then, three chapters from the end, with ninety percent of the plot out there and my characters firmly established, something happened. Specifically, DI Lukas Mahler happened – he walked in with his sidekick (who at that stage, was fairly anonymous and definitely not Fergie!) with all his mannerisms and his backstory pretty much fully formed in my head. And that, as they say, was that.

The novel’s still on my laptop, and though it’s not terrible, I have a feeling it’s destined to stay there. Because as soon as Lukas appeared, I knew he’d be my main character. With a male sidekick, in a series of police procedurals. And that left me with a massive problem. I wanted to write about women – strong women, to use the overworked, near-cliché. How was I going to manage that, with all that testosterone flying around?

I toyed with various solutions – make his sidekick a woman, maybe? Introduce a feisty female Procurator Fiscal* as a potential source of conflict/love interest? Thankfully, before I drowned in a sea of tropes, I realised I was approaching it from the wrong direction. I was buying in to the notion that there’s only one kind of strength women can exhibit, the ‘kick-ass’ kind that comes wrapped in pseudo-maleness.  I wanted to do better – be better – than that.

So Lukas has a woman boss, June ‘Braveheart’ Wallace, who’s twenty kinds of strong in one formidable package. His mother lives with mental ill-health due to horrendous trauma in her past, but she lives with it and refuses to let it define her. And his ‘love interest’ not only uncovers her sister’s murderer but saves herself and Mahler from him in Shadow Man.

Their stories, like Lukas’s, will change as the series progresses. But their strengths, in all their different manifestations, will remain – their stories, in many ways, echo those of so many women I’ve known. If they find an echo in your imagination, in your experience, then I’ll know I’ve done a decent job in bringing them to life. And I’ll carry on telling their stories for a little while yet.


*Procurator Fiscal – a public prosecutor in Scotland (roughly equivalent to a coroner elsewhere), responsible for investigating all sudden and suspicious deaths in Scotland.




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