Has Stornoway – most famous as the town displayed at the top of the BBC weather map (usually covered in clouds) and the capital of the islands of the Outer Hebrides just off the west coast of Scotland — suddenly become a focal point for the crime fiction genre? And either way, why the hell am I writing a blog post about it?
Let’s lay out the evidence:
Last week, author Malcolm Mackay won the Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read award for his debut novel, The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter, the first novel published from an already completed trilogy. The novel was also shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association’s John Creasey Dagger for best new crime writer of the year. His second book, How a Gunman Says Goodbye, was awarded the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year at the Bloody Scotland festival just last month, beating Val McDermid’s The Vanishing Point, Denise Mina’s The Red Road and Ian Rankin’s Rebus comeback novel Standing in Another Man’s Grave to take the award.
Malcolm was born in and still lives in Stornoway.
One of the crime genres literary phenomenon’s over the last three years has been Peter May’s The Lewis Trilogy, with all three books winning a host of literary awards around the world.
Peter May was born and raised in Glasgow. Err, so where’s the link to Stornoway, Ian?
Actually, all three crime novels in The Lewis Trilogy are set on the Isle of Lewis, of which Stornoway is the capital, with much of the action taking place in the town. Through detailed research, Peter has atmospherically described the town and the surrounding countryside in exquisite detail. The series has become so popular that local MSP Allasdair Allan has written to Visit Scotland to ask them what can be done to promote the Western Isles as a venue following the success of Peter May’s trilogy.
(Ok, this one might be a bit thin a may have a small hint of self-promotion.)
Author Ian H Sutherland published his debut novel Invasion of Privacy in early 2014 and it’s the first in a series featuring Brody Taylor, the novel’s computer hacker protagonist. In parallel to writing the novel, Ian’s blog is where he shares his news, thoughts, and opinions. His posts usually relate to his writing journey or touch on the cyber-issues explored in his novel.
Err, so where’s the link to Stornoway, Ian?
Ah yes, yours truly spent the early part of his childhood growing up in Stornoway. Ever since leaving the Hebridean island at the age of twelve, I have remained proud of my Stornowegian heritage and maintain that it has had a massive influence on my life since. I still have family living there and I love returning. Stornoway is in my heart.
So, if my novel achieves even a smidgen of the success that Malcolm and Peter’s work has enjoyed, then perhaps the title of this post will one-day become true. For now, it probably ought to be renamed to ‘2 Reasons why Stornoway is a new focal point for the UK crime genre’.
By the way, before this current wave of crime-fiction genre success, Stornoway already had its fair share of literary greatness. Just to give you full value for money in my use of the number ‘3‘ in this blog post’s title, here’s three of these Stornoway related literary greats:
First up is Kevin MacNeil, novelist, poet and playwright. His most famous work is a novel entitled The Stornoway Way, published in 2006 to widespread literary acclaim. One of it’s most wonderfully lyrical lines is reprinted on the back of the book, bluntly sets the tone and entices you in:
“Fuck everyone from Holden Caulfield to Bridget Jones, fuck all the American and English phoney fictions that claim to speak for us; they don’t know the likes of us exist and they never did. We are who we are because we grew up the Stornoway way. We do not live in the back of beyond, we live in the very heart of beyond …”
Ken MacLeod, who was born in Stornoway, is one of today’s most respected science fiction authors, with many of his books winning prestigious literary awards. He is part of a group of British science fiction writers who specialise in hard science fiction and space opera. His contemporaries include Stephen Baxter and Iain M. Banks.
Iain Crichton Smith (1928 – 1998), who was born in Glasgow, but moved to the isle of Lewis at the age of two, was brought up in a Gaelic speaking community, learning English as a second language once he attended school. Crichton Smith was a prolific author in both Gaelic and English and was known for poetry, short stories and novels. His best known novel is called Consider the Lilies and was published in 1968.
For those of you who’ve moved away from your childhood home town, how much do you hanker for it? How much do you think it shaped you? In what way? If you’re a writer, how does it influence your work?
If you live or have lived in Stornoway am I right to be proud – at least from a literary point of view – of the town of my childhood?
Share your thoughts in the comments area below….