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Bloody Scotland: Chance to ‘hang out at the bar’ with top crime writers Irvine Welsh, Ian Rankin, Val McDermid and many more

Val McDermid is heading to Bloody Scotland.
Val McDermid is heading to Bloody Scotland.

As Bloody Scotland marks its 10th anniversary, Gayle Ritchie chats to co-founder Lin Anderson and writers Doug Johnstone and Abir Mukherjee.

Love crime writing? A huge fan of the “big” writers, whether Sir Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Irvine Welsh or Christopher Brookmyre?

Keen to let down your hair, hang out with some of your favourite authors and chew the fat over a few pints?

The chances are you’ll be able to do exactly that if you head along to Bloody Scotland, the annual international crime writing festival which takes place in Stirling this week.

Over four days, the event will cover a range of criminal subjects from fictional forensics, psychological thrillers, Tartan Noir, cosy crime and much more.

Irvine Welsh is on the Bloody Scotland line-up.

This year’s festival is particularly special – it marks the event’s 10th anniversary, and the 2022 offering is bigger, bolder and better than ever before.

Launched in 2012, it’s gone from ambitious twinkle in the eyes of co-founders Lin Anderson and Alex Gray to world-renowned event.

Abir Mukherjee

Scottish-Bengali author Abir Mukherjee, who’s on the Bloody Scotland board, says being able to bounce back and celebrate the 10th anniversary is “just fantastic”, especially given the tough last two years.

“The festival went online in 2020 and we did a sort of hybrid festival last year,” he says.

“We’re coming back bigger and better – the festival is now four days instead of three and we’ve got such a diverse range of authors from all over the world.”

Range has grown

Abir first got involved with the festival as a fan in 2016 and then joined as a board member three years ago.

“It’s wonderful to see how it’s grown in that time. Because we’re online we have fans from the US, Australia, New Zealand, Asia and all over Europe tuning in,” he enthuses.

“Also the range of writers has grown. We’ve gone from predominantly British-based writers to a more balanced rota.

“We have people from the Americas, from Asia, from Europe, and it’s wonderful to see the diversity of voices and talent.”

Abir Mukherjee.

As well as appearing alongside Sir Ian Rankin, Abir will be interviewing Lord Jeffrey Archer in person, plus he’ll chat to king of the suspense thriller, Dean Coontz, live from his home in California.

Abir’s also co-hosting ‘Red Hot Night of a Million Games’ with author Vaseem Khan, billed as a mash-up which steals the best of 80s quiz shows.

“It’ll be a trip down memory lane with celebrity writers competing for the cheapest trophy you’ve ever seen,” he laughs.

It’s wonderful to see the diversity of voices and talent.”



One of the best aspects of Bloody Scotland, in Abir’s mind, is how welcoming, warm and friendly everyone is.

“There are so many bars in which writers and fans hang out. There’s a great open night at the Curly Coo, a sort of cabaret, where authors step up on stage and do whatever they want.

“When I first came to the festival as a fan, I feared the big writers were unapproachable. I think a lot of people are scared to speak to them. But after a few drinks, that fear disappears and everyone gets along.

“If you’re a fan of crime fiction, or if you’re new to the genre, give it a whirl. It’s a hugely welcoming community. People say we get our anger out on paper but there are very few writers you wouldn’t want to have a drink with.”

Accountant turned writer

Abir, a former accountant, came to writing, in his mind, “late”.

“I spent 20 years in finance in Glasgow and while I’d always wanted to write, I never had time. I’d write 5,000 words, read it, get scared and stick it in a drawer.”

Aged 39, he spotted a competition in the Telegraph, inviting new writers to submit the first 5,000 words of a novel. He sent off the first 5,000 words of his idea for book based around a British detective in India, although he feared it was “awful”.

When he found out he’d won the competition, and that he’d be published, he started swearing!

That was the beginning of his journey, and those 5,000 words became his first novel, A Rising Man. He’s since written five books in the Wyndham and Banerjee series.

“I’m very fortunate. A lot of it has been about luck. But if you want to write, you should. Even Sir Ian Rankin and Val McDermid are on this journey – of writing. We’re all on the same road.”

Doug Johnstone

Edinburgh-based crime writer Doug Johnstone has been at every Bloody Scotland and deems it to be a “unique festival with a great sense of camaraderie”.

“I’ve done loads of book events, and been shortlisted for the (annual Bloody Scotland) prize a few times, but it’s all the other stuff at the festival that sticks in the mind,” he reflects.

“I’ve played for the Scotland team against England in the football, I always turn up at Crime at the Coo to play some songs, my band the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers have headlined a few times, and I’ve been in the late night quiz.”

Doug Johnstone can’t wait to celebrate Bloody Scotland’s 10th anniversary.

Death by day

Doug’s event, Death as the Day Job, in which he features alongside Mary Paulson Ellis and AK Turner, should be a highlight on the festival calendar.

The three authors have written books based around the edges of crime, dealing with different aspects of the death industry.

Mary’s latest is about a trauma cleaner, who has to go in and tidy up after a death, while Alison’s central character in her series is a mortuary technician.

“My own last four books have been set in a funeral home, so between us we’ve got a lot of experience writing about death,” says Doug.

“I suspect there will be plenty of morbid laughs amongst all the death chat.

“It’s a fascinating aspect of life that we tend not to look at too directly, so hopefully the three of us will be lifting the curtain a little bit.”

Black Hearts

Doug’s latest book, Black Hearts, is the fourth book in his series about the Skelfs, three women from different generations, running a funeral home business and solving mysteries.

“Black Hearts is more directly about grief than the previous ones. But it’s not at all gloomy – there’s a seam of black humour running through the whole thing,” he says.

“The book starts with a fist-fight at an open grave, and takes in issues of faked suicide, stalkers, murder, violent ghosts (maybe), decomposing corpses and supermassive black holes. A barrel of laughs, basically.”

I suspect there will be plenty of morbid laughs amongst all the death chat.”


Crime obsessed

When asked why we’re so obsessed with crime writing, Doug says he has no idea. But he adds: “There’s the theory that we experience that trauma at a safe distance through fiction, but I’m never sure about that.

“It comes back to basic tropes of good versus evil, about heroes and villains, all that stuff. Humans have told those kinds of stories for millennia, really.”

Having watched it grow from a small festival to an “absolute cultural milestone”, Doug can’t wait to celebrate Bloody Scotland’s 10th anniversary.

“It’s an important part of the calendar for crime writers in Scotland and abroad. They’ve always created a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, which is the key to their success.

“They’ve had great initiatives reducing costs for readers and encouraging new and unpublished writers, and they’ve always bent over backwards to make sure readers are welcome and get great value for money.

“I can’t praise the festival enough, really.

“If you’ve never been to a book festival before, it’s a perfect introduction. Everyone is so approachable and friendly. I’ll be at the bar – come and say hi.”

Lin Anderson

Tartan Noir crime novelists and former teachers Lin Anderson and Alex Gray co-founded Bloody Scotland in 2012.

They were at a Crime Writers’ Association weekend in Lincoln when the idea came to them.

“We thought that instead of us going south to celebrate crime writing, we should invite folk to come to Scotland,” recalls Greenock-born Lin.

“We had some of the greats up here, including Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Denise Mina, Stuart McBride, Craig Russell, all international stars. Plus Tartan Noir was born here with the now late, great Willie McIlvanney.”

Co-founder Lin Anderson.

Celebrate Willie’s legacy

Lin says the hope was that Bloody Scotland would celebrate Willie’s legacy while nurturing new talent, and giving a platform to those setting out on their writing careers.

Once they had enlisted Jenny Brown, their literary agent, they asked the “big names” if they would show face and gathered enthusiasts to make up the first committee and set about finding a location.

“Stirling won, because of its excellent location and history – of many battles – which prompted the name,” says Lin.

“Alex came up with the name. The thinking was that when crime writers and readers were asked where they would be in September, she wanted them to say, ‘Bloody Scotland of course’. Which is what now happens.

“And when Ian Rankin opened our first festival he said: ‘Scandinavia doesn’t have better crime writers than Scotland, it has better PR’, which is what Bloody Scotland set out to change.”

Author Mark Billingham will be at this year’s event.

A talented bunch

So why does Scotland have such a talented bunch of crime writers?

Lin believes that many have been influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde and James Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner, which are “particularly about the dark and light in all of us”.

However she says the “biggest influence” for her is Willie McIlvanney’s Laidlaw.

“I realised I could reflect the Scottish world I knew, with language familiar to me in a crime novel,” she says.

“Until then most crime novels I’d read didn’t reflect that, but more of the class, society and language from outwith Scotland, with my favourites being PD James and Agatha Christie.”

Crime writer Joanne Harris.

World of opportunities

Since Bloody Scotland was born, opportunities have widened via the Pitch Perfect competition, where folk can submit an 100-word pitch for a crime novel, which could lead to pitching in person to a panel of agents and publishers.

“In the years this has been running we have had a novel published every year,” says Lin.

“Also we have ‘Spotlighters’ who with their first novel get to read before major stars. Plus our short story competition has entries from around the globe.”

For Lin, the greatest highlight over the festival’s 10 years was having Willie McIlvanney appear on stage at the Albert Halls in 2013. he died two years later.

She says: “Alex and I wanted to give Willie his proper place in the story of Tartan Noir and we achieved that via Bloody Scotland.”

Lucy Foley is heading to the festival.
  • Bloody Scotland runs from September 15 to 18. Lin Anderson appears with Chris Brookmyre and Clare Mackintosh on 16 September at 6pm. Abir Mukherjee appears with Ian Rankin on September 15 at 9pm. Doug Johnstone’s event is on September 16 at 10.30am with Mary Paulson Ellis and AK Turner.
  • Doug’s novel, A Dark Matter, will be serialised in The Courier in October.