Not that long ago, really. Until the summer of 2010 I worked full time as a teacher, then I got the opportunity to go part-time to write a novel... which wasn't very good. However I finished it, which proved that I had the necessary stamina, and along the way I cam up with a MUCH better idea for a novel – Four Old Geezers And A Valkyrie.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
In Edinburgh, which has meant that I like writing about the city. By any standards Edinburgh is a beautiful place, green, full of history and glorious architecture, but it also is a city of enormous contrasts: rich and poor, old and new.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Yes, and I'd rather not. It wasn't very good.
Who are your favorite authors?
Ah... where to start? I like crime fiction and right at the top of my list comes Donna Leon, whose urbane Venetian detective Guido Brunetti offers so much in so many ways. Leon's stories are so quiet that you can almost hear the water lapping around the stories. Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther is wonderful, as is Michael Connolly's Harry Bosch. Of the home detectives, Ian Rankin and James Oswald are great.
Away from crime, my recommendation would be James Hamilton-Paterson's Gerald Samper trilogy, the first of which is Cooking With Fernat Branca. It's the nearest in style to the stuff I write myself.
What is your writing process?
I sit with a laptop on my knee and write. Sometimes a lot comes out, sometimes very little. But I'm always thinking and surprisingly a lot comes to me while I'm on the golf course. An entire song in Four Old Geezers And A Valkyrie came to me coming down the 17th fairway once, which was a little distracting. I try to remember good dialogue, too, although to be honest if it's not very memorable it's probably not very good.
Describe your desk
My desk is a laptop that sits... quite literally on my lap.
What do you read for pleasure?
Crime fiction, almost exclusively. And the papers. And anything my wife passes over to read.
What is your e-reading device of choice?
A Kindle, where I look for undiscovered writers. It's like panning for gold.
How do you approach cover design?
Generally, I try to get other people to design my covers. I can adapt other designers' ideas, but I'm not very original myself. And I once read that even expert cover designers are advised to get someone else to do their own – authors are generally poor at their own books.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I play a bit of golf, although not very well. I'm a member of two wonderful golf clubs very close to each other on the east coast of Scotland; they straddle a nature reserve which gives me a chance to watch birds, another joy.
I run a self-publishing collective that publishes other writers' work, which is very satisfying. They're encouraged to be honest with each other, which they are with my my stuff to the point of brutality sometimes!
And I have grandchildren...
What are you working on next?
I'm currently working on the very thing I said I'd never manage: a crime novel. I keep starting and juddering to a halt. Crime fiction requires discipline, a control of plot and narrative. The author has to set everything up, know where they're going, then start fleshing out the characters, place and atmosphere.