Joanna was lucky to contact Colin Galbraith, the Scottish writer of crime and paranormal fiction.
His prompt, courteous responses were much apprectiated. I might go into the publishing business
if it means dealing with people like Colin.
Interviewing a writer, you can easily get upstaged, of course: words are a writer's tools of trade. Did Joanna
hold her own? You be the judge.
Joanna: Hello, Colin. Let's get started. Which do you focus on most: character, setting, or plot?
Colin: Initially, I'll have an idea for a general plot, which I'll then allow to simmer and grow for a while until it forms into a full story. If I feel I have a good match with a character idea I've already created, I'll try and match the two together.
Occasionally though, the character will come first, for example in my 2009 paranormal novella, STELLA, the idea for her came along first, and the story was then built around her.
With setting, that will generally be a place I've been to and have been able to absorb. Living in Scotland, I use Edinburgh and Leith a lot (it's also where I live) but Glasgow features a lot too. I've previously used London a lot, but not for a full plot - my characters tend to find their way home eventually.
No matter what I write, though, I like to live with the characters in my head for a while. So irrespective of the character or plot coming first, the character has to be alive to me before I begin.
Is your favourite character usually the protagonist, or the antagonist?
I tend to be quite cruel to my protagonists and often they can be classed as anti-heroes. I like to see them be human, screw things up once in a while and then have to prove their worth to me (I'm thinking poor old Ronnie Glover in SLICK - he really got the short end of the stick!) It doesn't always work, though, because sometimes they rebel against me and take the story in a different direction.
So I'd say, on the whole, my favourite characters are the protagonists, but only because they rarely tend to be clean-cut people, hence me focussing on them in the first place.
Joanna: In your life, do you gravitate toward certain settings?
Leith is a great place to write crime, as is Glasgow. Between these two and London are generally where I lean towards because of the ever changing cultural landscapes and intricate balance of life - crime seems to fit more naturally in those places.
Edinburgh is a different kettle of fish; its fascinating history, including all the numerous ghosts tales and real-life crimes committed by the likes of Burke & Hare and Deacon Brodie, make it easy to come up with paranormal ideas that can then be intertwined with actual historic events and places that still exist.
What attracts you to horror and crime fiction?
Colin:I've experimented with many genres in the past: humor, westerns, romance, LGBT, vampire, steampunk, but even in the most delicate or non-violent of stories, I find I'm always drawn towards finding a way for a character to be murdered or become involved in some strange mystery.
Also, while I enjoy reading a wide array of books including literary, I do rather enjoy a good crime or thriller story the most.
When it comes to writing crime, however, I love it - it's the genre I feel most comfortable writing and feel I can deliver it to a better and more natural standard. It's easier to turn up at the page each day when one is enjoying the story rather than hacking something out.
Joanna: Looking at the list of writers that have influenced you, I see some conspicuous absences: what about Ramsey Campbell and Robert Aickman?
Truth is I haven't read any of their work. I don't write in the horror genre (not much good at it, I don't think) and so tend not to read it. My crime fiction sits nearer the definition of "tartan noir", which I'm more than happy with.
Joanna: Did any course in school prepare you for your career? Particularly, any course not to do with writing?
Hmmmm, this is a very hard question. I don't think there were any non-writing courses that have helped in any way. I didn't particularly enjoy high school all that much, so I suppose the main thing I took from it is how to procrastinate really well. I've got over that now - I think!
Joanna: Do you believe in ghosts and possibly other paranormal phenomena?
Colin: Absolutely. Edinburgh is one if the most haunted cities in Europe, which has opened up a lot of history lessons and experiences for me, which I was never really into as a kid. I've done a lot of research into real-life paranormal stories here and some of it is remarkable in its connections with the not-so-distant past, while a lot of it is just horrific. Edinburgh has a very violent past and it's therefore no surprise that there are a lot of pissed off spirits still languishing around.
Joanna: There is an undeniable connection between crime fiction and paranormal fiction, even though they aren't the same. Can you explain the connection, as you see it?
This is a great question. I think for me the link that gives me the satisfaction in writing in both genres, would be the fact that they both attempt to peel away the walls we as humans build around ourselves.
In crime, discovering why people do what they do, or rather, under what circumstances will ordinary people behave in such extreme and sometimes violent ways, is undeniably fascinating. We all have a curiosity about what we might do in certain situations, and we've all at one point said things like "I'm going to kill you" but without any desire to actually go through with it. Some people do, though, and living through these characters, however temporarily that may be, can be an experience we enjoy.
Paranormal fiction is the same from that point of view. Whereas with crime the dramas are very real, paranormal is often what we cannot understand or see; therefore, the curiosity is over how we might behave when we are in a situation we cannot fathom, or to be more precise, not immediately logical.
There's also the fascination we have in trying to find answers to questions we might not like to ask ourselves, and this is common to both genres.
For instance: a crime novel might force us to ask: "do I have it in me to kill a man if he hurt someone in my family?" And by the same token in paranormal fiction, we might be forced to ask: "do I have it in me to cope if an aggressive ghost hurt someone in my family?" The gap isn't all that wide from that respect.
Joanna: Do you empathize with a character to the point where you sometimes can't read on (or write on) for fear of what might happen to them? Or, on the other hand, are you able to keep a clinical dissociation from fictional characters?
I have to admit to finding it very hard to let go of my characters, particularly my favourite ones. Because a lot of their stories are told on the same streets I walk through on a daily basis, it makes it hard to let go of them and I constantly want to do more. There is an easy way around this, which is to kill them off, but unless that's being true to the story then I won't.
I do empathize with my characters - I think a writer has to, no matter what their motivations and behaviors are - but I've never experienced being unable to continue with the story because of it; I always want (need) to find out what happens to them in the end, even if that means the worst outcome for them.
(end of interview)
Well, you'll probably want to read more, having had a glimpse into Colin Galbraith's mind.
Here's his facebook page.
Last I looked, he had a great offer on there.
For me, this interview prompts many new questions. Will Colin grant Joanna a second
interview? I'll keep you posted....:)