North Fife farmer turned crime author James Oswald takes a break from tending sheep to share his firsts and lasts.
Q] First memory?
A] Headlights in the fog making it seem like we were driving down a dark tunnel as we left the house in Essex where we lived when I was very young, headed on the two day drive to my grandfather’s house in Easter Ross.
Q] Last resolution?
A] To make more time for reading. With the farming and writing two novels a year, I’ve fallen too far behind with all the books I want to read, let alone the dozens I get sent every month in the hope I might say nice things about them. You can’t write in a vacuum though; you have to read as much and as widely as possible in order to write well.
Q] First job you had?
A] Plucking turkeys in the run-up to Christmas in, I think, 1982. I’ll never forget the smell or the noise. Turkeys are natural mimics and would copy the sounds from the radio in the shed where we were working. I can’t eat turkey any more as the smell of it cooking takes me right back to those cold, noisy sheds.
Q] Last time you took a holiday?
A] I wish it was more recently, but the last time I took a holiday was when I went skiing in Canada over Christmas six years ago. Writing and farming don’t leave much time for anything else. I’ve travelled to America, France and will be heading to Italy in May to promote books, but that’s work, even if there is often wine involved.
Q] First time you wanted to do the job you’re doing now (and why)?
A] I remember going to a talk in Aberdeen Central Library in the early 1990s, given by Mark Millar and Grant Morrison. They were talking about how they got started in comics. I’ve loved comics all my life, and their practical advice made me realise I might be able to make a living writing. Until then it had always been just a hobby. I had a comic script published very soon after that, but it took another twenty years to get a book deal!
Q] Last time you quit a job (and why)?
A] I’ve never quit a job; I don’t like letting people down. I’ve been happy to leave at the end of contracts though. The last job where I wasn’t self-employed was admin on a Welsh Assembly Government project. They wanted me to stay beyond my initial contract, but I couldn’t cope with the bureaucracy and I’d just inherited the family farm. I was happy to go.
Q] First time you dressed up smart?
A] Six years old, I was Page Boy at the wedding of a family friend. I can still remember the shiny patent leather shoes with their even shinier buckles. There’s probably a photograph of me somewhere, if I haven’t managed to destroy them all.
Q] Last fancy dress costume?
A] I dressed up as Tintin, the boy reporter, for the Aberdeen University floater parade. Bleaching my hair blonde was perhaps taking things a bit too far, but if a job’s worth doing…
Q] First dish you look for on a menu (and how should it be cooked)?
A] Steak tartare. And not at all.
Q] Last thing you cooked yourself (and was it any good)?
A] Chili con carne. I think I used a little too much cumin, but it was tasty nonetheless. They say variety is the spice of life, but I think they mean chili.
Q] First book you loved (and why)?
A] Jennie, by Paul Gallico. I wanted to be a cat too. Still do.
Q] Last book you read (and what did you think)?
A] False Hearts, by Laura Lam. A brilliant science fiction thriller by a rising star.
Q] First car you owned (and what was it like)?
A] Alfa Romeo Alfetta GTV. It was red and awesome, but riddled with rust as so many Italian cars of that era were. It also cost me more to insure each year than it did to buy. I would love to find an old one and do it up, but the few that are left are beginning to get very expensive now.
Q] Last car you bought (and why did you buy it)?
A] 2004 Alfa Romeo GT V6. It’s the last Alfa Romeo model to have the magnificent Busso V6 engine. I’ve been a fan of Alfas ever since that first one, and have owned too many down the years to count. I still have three of them, including a 1967 Duetto Spider. It’s no accident that Detective Inspector Tony McLean drives an old Alfa.
Q] First choice to play you in a film (and why)?
A] I have no idea. I’m not sure why anyone would want to make a film about me, for starters. I’ve not really seen many films recently either, so all of the actors I know are either too old or dead.
Q] Last time you were mistaken for somebody else?
A] I lived near Pittodrie Stadium in Aberdeen in the late 1980s and people would often shout ‘Hey Charlie!’ at me as I walked home from the pub. At the time I wore a long dark overcoat and wide-brimmed hat, and apparently the footballer Charlie Nicholas dressed similarly. As someone who has avoided following football all his life, I never knew until much later what they were on about. He was well liked as a player though, which probably saved me from the infamous Aberdeen Casuals on more than one occasion.
Q] First record you bought?
A] I think it was Chiquita by Abba, when I was about seven or eight. Either that or Bye Bye Baby by the Bay City Rollers. I’m old enough to remember 7 inch singles and fighting with my brothers over who got to play what on the ancient gramophone.
Q] Last time you sang a song (and what was it)?
A] I think the last song I sang was Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol as I was driving back from the post office in Newburgh a week or two ago. I’ll often find myself humming or singing snippets of pretty much anything I’ve heard recently as I go about the daily farming activities. When your only critics are the cows and sheep you can get away with a lot.
Q] First time you spoke in public (and how did you feel)?
A] The BBC turned up to interview me at the launch of my first book, Natural Causes. I thought it would be recorded and go out the following morning, or get lost in the lunchtime bulletin, but instead they went live to Reporting Scotland and the entire nation! It was probably just as well we were at the end of lambing and I’d not had more than three hours sleep a night for about a month. Otherwise I expect I would have been terrified.
Q] Last time you made a fool of yourself (and what were you doing)?
A] I still squirm in embarrassment at stupid things I did decades ago. Having said which, I can’t think of anything recent. Unless you count deliberately making a fool of myself, in which case it was appearing on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson in America when my third book, The Hangman’s Song, came out over there.