They call it Tartan Noir, the Scots form of noir crime writing. And Glasgow crime writer Denise Mina is one of its major practitioners. Mina is the author of nine novels: the three installments of the “Garnethill” trilogy featuring Maureen O’Donnell as an unwilling sleuth; three novels (out of a planned five) in the “Paddy Meehan” series–Field of Blood, The Dead Hour, and The Last Breath (titled A Slip of the Knife for the U.S. edition)–featuring the eponymous journalist in 1980s and 1990s Glasgow; and two novels featuring Glasgow DI Alex Morrow, Still Midnight and The End of the Wasp Season (out in 2011). She has also written the stand-alone crime novel, Sanctum, the 2010 graphic novel, A Sickness in the Family, and has contributed to John Constantine, Hellblazer series.
Mina hit the ground running, winning the John Creasy Dagger for Best First Crime Novel in 1998 for Garnethill, the first of a trilogy of the same name. Dubbed the “Crown Princess of Crime” by author Val McDermid, Mina has also earned praise from fellow Scots writer Ian Rankin, who called her “one of the most exciting writers to have emerged in Britain for years.”
Ditto from this end. Denise, it is a joy to finally have you at Scene of the Crime. I love the way you are able to infuse the thriller with depth and real understanding of human nature. Your characters have, as the wine wallahs say, legs. They last; they stick with you.
I live in Glasgow. I moved here when I was nineteen. My extended family lived here but my immediate family moved around a lot ( 21 times in 18 years). I only came back because I ran out of money in Galway in Ireland and came to get the cash to go back to London. I fell in love with Glasgow then. The people are so warm and the architecture is Victorian Gothic, it’s beautiful. No one wanted to live here then and it was possible to rent Victorian rooms for next to nothing.
Best off all the mountains can be seen from the city centre.
What things about Glasgow make it unique and a good physical
setting in your books?
It’s transferable in a day, actually a small geographical area. The people all talk to each other, almost manically. Standing at a bus stop together creates a sort of civil law obligation to tell your life story. Also the people are very funny.
The Garnethill series was a love letter to Glagow, the weather, the amazing light here. I think it’s less of a character in my later books.
How do you incorporate location in your fiction? Do you pay overt
attention to it in certain scenes, or is it a background
inspiration for you?
Yeah. I always try to find the house that the characters would live in before I begin because it gives you so much of a sense of how they live, do they drive to the shops? What happens if they need milk or a gun? I do all the walks in the books as well, just because sometimes you’ll see things you didn’t expect: road works or a collapsed drunk or a memorial garden or something.
How do your various protagonists interact with their surroundings?
In Garnethill Maureen is very much part of the city. In the Alex Morrow books she is trying to get away from the setting, trying to detach herself but still very much coming from the underbelly of the city.
You have a large fan base in the States. Has there been much local reaction to your works?
Glaswegians really appreciate them, I think. It’s hard because my books are addressed to working class Galswegians and readings and emails tend to be from teachers or other people who object to swearing and so on. I did a dismaying reading here once to an audience who didn’t really get it and then afterward went into a really shitty cafe where the waitress recognised me, said she’d read my books when she was in psychiatric hospital and it had changed her life. The Paddy Meehan series is set in the eighties and nineties and depicts the city then. That’s been more controversial because everyone remembers the city differently. But I’m the one who’s right.
Reviews are almost universally good though.
Amazingly, although middle class Glaswegians don’t always get the books middle class people in other countries do: Poland, France, the US and Canada. It’s weird.
Mostly spelling: let this be a lesson to the young. You can’t skip school for the last two years and leave at sixteen without it affecting your spelling. And spell check can’t catch place names. I’ve misspelled most areas in Glasgow.
Of the Glasgow novels, do you have a favorite book or scene that focuses on the place?
The hills aren’t really documented in Glasgow. I’m always aware of how high a place is. Maureen’s house is on a high hill in the centre, Alex Morrow lives far out on the flat plains of suburbia.
Who are your favorite writers, and do you feel that other writers
influenced you in your use of the spirit of place in your novels?
Alistair Gray had a huge impact. No one wrote seriously about Glasgow but he did. Glasgow was a slightly ashamed place back then but he wrote about it with defiant pride and said that Glaswegians couldn’t imagine another life because we never saw ourselves depicted. It made me want to depict the city. And so I did.
What’s next for your protagonists?
Morrow is investigating a murder in a country house ( sic!) and then a bank robbery in which a devout Christian helps the robbers. Then Paddy Meehan comes back for two books to complete the series of five. Also the first Paddy book (Field of Blood) is about to filmed by the BBC.
Thanks for much for speaking about Glasgow and your works, Denise.
For more information on Denise Mina, visit her homepage.