Ed James writes crime-fiction novels across multiple series.
His Scott Cullen series follows the career of a young Edinburgh Detective investigating crimes from the bottom rung of the career ladder he’s desperate to climb. The spin-off Craig Hunter series focuses on a cop and overcoming his PTSD from his time in the army.
Putting Dundee on the tartan noir map, the DS Vicky Dodds books star a driven female detective struggling to combine her complex home life with a heavy caseload.
Set four hundred miles south on the gritty streets of East London, his DI Fenchurch series features a detective with little to lose and a daughter to find.
Formerly an IT project manager, Ed began writing on planes, trains and automobiles to fill his weekly commute to London. He now writes full-time and lives in the Scottish Borders, with his girlfriend and a menagerie of rescued animals.
Just listened to William McIlvanney talk for an engaging hour. McIlvanney is one of Scotland’s finest authors, though the flame of his reputation has perhaps dimmed in the last decade or so, only to be rekindled recently.
One of the milestones that bloody Scotland celebrates is the 35th anniversary of the publication of his LAIDLAW, cited by Ian Rankin (let’s be honest, my primary influence) as the key inspiration behind Rebus – bloody Scotland also celebrates 25 years since KNOTS AND CROSSES.
I read LAIDLAW for the first time this year, after finding an absolutely mangled paperback copy in a charity shop in Alnwick in Northumbria. Part of the reason his flame has perhaps dimmed is illustrated by that – I had to trawl a charity shop for a copy that fell apart as I read it. If it’s noted as the inspiration behind Rankin’s run with Rebus then that’s all well and good – he has subsequently inspired many writers as well as producing such electric fiction – but it ignores a magnificent novel.
LAIDLAW is both a classic and astoundingly contemporary at the same time. It evokes a Glasgow that doesn’t so much not exist any more but which has been squeezed into the margins, behind Italian centres, knocking down The Gorbals and a Bohemian creative scene second only to London in the UK. Glasgow still has that spirit, the rough edges, but the novel portrays a city modernising even 35 years ago. The themes are starkly 21st century – I will let you read it yourself – and demonstrate a remarkable freshness.
The prose is wonderful, at times hard-boiled, at others flowery, but never distracting or extraneous.
His speech was down-to-earth and honest. He’s an old man and not one who has had the monetary success his work deserves, but then he eschewed the serial fiction that would have made him richer than an Aberdeen oil man. He staggered on stage in dated clothing, the books he was reading from brought on stage in the sort of blue carrier bag a corner shop would sell eight cans of lager in. He read from all three LAIDLAW books and, at the end, teased a fourth.
His books have largely been out of print but a recent deal with Canongate will mean reissueing them and it has fired his enthusiasm for revisiting him.
Check LAIDLAW out:
I’m sitting in Stirling in the mid-September sunshine. I’m at bloody Scotland today, the first literary crime festival in Scotland. Judging by the attendance today, I imagine there will be another one. Just been to a fascinating discussion on ebooks – Downloading the Detectives – which actually made me feel really connected to the writerly world, and I plucked U the courage to ask a question on the old sock puppet / John Locke buying reviews thing.
I’ll blog later about what I’m seeing but it’s quite refreshing to have nothing to do between shows. I’m usually so busy all the time – tapping away on my netbook on the train and so on – that it’s good to just sit and think. I have brought a notebook with me and I’ve been bashing out some ideas for book three – DYED IN THE WOOL – which I’m itching to write…
Apologies for the lack of updates recently – I’ve been flat out finishing off the editing on DEVIL IN THE DETAIL. Not long to go…
(this is part of an ongoing series of writing tips – you might like it, you might not – which, if nothing else, are there for me to remember my own learnings and not repeat my mistakes)
The last you’ve written is the best you’ve written.
What do I mean by that? Okay, this is the first but it’s also a particular one and will require caveating with lots of future posts in this – you can’t just write crap and it’s automatically the best you’ve done.
What I mean by that phrase is that the way I approach writing is a heavily iterative process. I go through the manuscript (actually, technically it should be an autoscript) several times – GHOST IN THE MACHINE had over twenty individual drafts, across seven major revisions and a frustrating three years, four months.
That’s coupled with the internal deadline – I’m an indie author, so I publish as often as I like, but I set myself my own deadlines (e.g. publish DEVIL IN THE DETAIL by October 14, eeek) and I’m therefore looking to track progress. The bad one here is word count – I have a set word count in mind, usually around 75-90k, and I’m continually tracking towards this goal.
One of the things that I came unstuck on as I approached the final, published version, was that I was pushing towards this complete milestone and treating sections as being complete. Those that have read GHOST hopefully found that it had a good flow. It was a nightmare to get right – one of the things I was trying to show was the reality and frustration of the lower levels of a police investigation (example being phoning through the lists of friends on Caroline’s Schoolbook page) but it has to be set against the fact I’m writing a page-turning thriller. It was too much of the reality and it was too tedious. Those scenes were in from the start and were tweaked every time I edited the book.
It’s something I’m finding just now with DEVIL IN THE DETAIL. It’s been with my editors for the last three weeks now and the initial feedback I’m getting is that it starts well (almost all new text) but from about 10% to 30% it is boring and repetitive. One of them commented that “it’s sitting in people’s houses and then in cars”. And that’s fair enough – it is boring, but it’s very difficult to spot that on an edit when you’re really close to the text, like I have been for the last few months.
I wrote DEVIL IN THE DETAIL as a novella almost two years ago and have recently expanded it to a full-length novel (it’s not stretched, in case you’re wondering, it was hyper-compressed before). What I’ve done, though, is leave large chunks of the two year old text not untouched but largely intact, and certainly the flow is maintained. It might have worked in a novella, when that section was roughly 2-3k words, but it’s been expanded to roughly 10k. And it drags. It’s followed by a new section that I hadn’t written before that zings, and the editor is now flying through it again.
So, what I’m getting at here is to attack every draft as if it’s new. If a section is proving difficult, smash it up, rewrite it from scratch. That’s what I’m doing with that section from DEVIL IN THE DETAIL – it’s going to flow much better and be more realistic and intriguing to boot. It is also going to be a bloody nightmare as I have to make sure that I keep all the points I made in there, so that consistency is maintained. But it will make the book better.
Writing is something that you can only improve at by doing more of it. The most recent stuff you’ve written is the best stuff you’ve written, so long as you listen to criticism and tear your own work apart. You have to be brave.
Weirdly had a spike in people looking for EL James – I don’t know if you’ve heard of her, she’s sold a couple of books – but I’m not her. Amazing what one letter can do.
If you’re after some Scottish police procedural crime fiction, then I’m your James. If you’re after some aggressive BDSM then I’m not planning on that until I’m on book seven when Scott Cullen gets kidnapped after page three and gets sexually abused for four hundred pages and suffers from Stockholm Syndrome. That may or may not be true.
Excellent post by the ever-fascinating Russell Blake on selling books –
Apologies for using a classic Vic & Bob pun, but I just could not help myself…
Been hammering away on WHISKY IN THE JAR over the last week, turning a 3,000 word short story into a 15-20k novella. The short story was over-compressed and I’m letting the story actually breathe now and take on a few additional points to make the story intriguing despite its relatively short length (though not ridiculously short). I’m currently halfway through and have edited most of the tough stuff – expanding out the scenes, mainly.
It’s set after DEVIL IN THE DETAIL and shares some of the new characters and the general locale, though it’s largely a standalone tale.
The additional benefit is to get a good feel for how Scrivener works as a tool. I’ve blogged many a time on it but I’m getting over the teething problems with it. There was an update recently which had added much more stability to the platform. The only downside is that it’s a major version behind the Mac version so there’s a lot of major features that I would use that I can’t yet. It feels like in going more slowly than in Word but I think my writing is better and less full of errors first time around. The outlining tools are very good and help keep a track of everything.
Also, did a loose outline for ALL IN A NAME, another novella, and might not get around to that until after the other two are published…
I’m keeping myself busy just now while my editors paw all over DEVIL IN THE DETAIL. My muse shows no sign of giving up so I’m keeping a few irons in the fire as it were.
I’m just about there with the GHOST IN THE MACHINE paperback – using createspace seems just as much fun as KDP. I love Amazon and the opportunity they offer but it’s very reminiscent of hand-coding websites in HTML in 1998…
I’m carrying out an experiment in using Scrivener instead of Word for the writing process. I’ve blogged before about it but it’s essentially not just a word processor – it’s got a lot of workflow and outlining tools as well, and crucially keeps all your notes in one place, rather than the various spreadsheets and txt files I’ve got underway just now. I’m finding out that it’s not perfect for the very start of the process – I draw lots of tube map diagrams and have a spreadsheet which helps assess the quality of the scene. I have used the spreadsheet to track and detail the flow of the story and this is where Scrivener comes in.
What I’ve been using to road test it is WHISKY IN THE JAR. I wrote this as a short story but in reality it was a bit compressed. What’s been a 3k short story will be a nearer 15-20k novella. I plan to get it up on Kindle soonish, though the cost for a POD version would be prohibitive. It’s set a few months after DEVIL and I’ve got another novella set in the same timeframe, ALL IN A NAME, which I plan to get cracking on at some point as well.
I want to use the next month to nail down the other stories I’ve got – DYED IN THE WOOL (book 3), BEAST IN THE SHADOW (book 4), DROP IN THE OCEAN (a buddy cop novella), and a couple of others I haven’t got titles for – a family one and one about animals…
Keeping busy, and I’m really happy with how things are going. I’ve sold over 250 novels, had 25 4/5* reviews and this morning I had an advert from Amazon, advertising GHOST IN THE MACHINE at me…
I’ve just spent today making the final proof edits to GHOST IN THE MACHINE that I should have made in April but, you know, didn’t. Turns out there were 34 clangers in there – missing words, repeated words – that really let the side down. Most importantly, I let the school down, etc. Additionally, there are 625 very minor punctuation fixes – nothing that will change the story, don’t worry. I removed a reference to the killer having a Northern Irish accent – it didn’t go anywhere. Finally, there was a plot thread that was left hanging which I’ve now closed off (email me if you want to know!).
I’m just re-uploading it now and if you have already bought a copy you SHOULD get an email from Amazon notifying you that a new version is available.
The biggest change is the new cover – I love it. Thanks to C for the artwork:
It is in keeping with the DEVIL IN THE DETAIL artwork (more on that in the next few weeks). Let me know what you think of it in the comments below!
Just going to format it for Createspace and then we should have the paperback version out there in the wild.
I just finished the last chunk of editing on DEVIL IN THE DETAIL, the second SCOTT CULLEN book, and it’s away to go to my three lovely editors. I’m on track for it to be published on October 14, 2012. It will be £2.99 and $3.99, so be warned now!
The last bit I did was my “bad words” list – I started this during the final stages of GHOST IN THE MACHINE – and I’m surprised at how many unconscious errors I make. I used the word “seem” 150+ times – SHOW DON’T TELL – and countless others. I find that the chunk of text in DEVIL that pre-exists finishing GHOST was pretty bad for that – I’ve obviously learned a lot of lessons.
Comma use is one of the hardest things for a mathematician like me to master – I think too much in clauses and brackets and nested IF() statements – but I think I’m getting there.
By the looks of things, it looks like it’s taken me from the 29th May to 16th August to write and edit the book. If I can keep this up, I may be able to get more of my Cullen ideas on the page – we’ll see how it goes with DYED IN THE WOOL as that’s starting from scratch.
All I’ve got to do now is:
- Edit GHOST IN THE MACHINE for some typos and minor continuity errors and republish to Kindle
- Redo the artwork for GHOST IN THE MACHINE using the new designs for my books (watch this space)
- Publish GHOST IN THE MACHINE to createspace for the paperback version
- Plot out DYED IN THE WOOL – distill all those mad ideas into a coherent plot
- Redraft WHISKY IN THE JAR for publishing
- Plot out and write ALL IN A NAME for publishing
Nothing like being busy. But for now, I’m going to cook a roast chicken (the weather here in Scotland is decidedly Autumnal – not sure what Americans call that, Fall-al?), drink some red wine, walk the dogs and have the next three days off anything to do with Scott Cullen.
Thanks again for everyone who has bought a copy of GHOST IN THE MACHINE and left a review on Amazon or send me lovely messages here or on Twitter – it has kept my motivation levels up throughout this. I am in a good place just now.
Some great tips from Russell Blake on writing – I agree with most of them.
The most important for me – though they’re all really good – is write fast. Momentum is absolutely everything – especially if you’re an indie.
Russell writes a really good blog, one of the first I check in Reeder every morning.
On holiday this week – not away anywhere, just not at work. One of the big tasks – other than catching up on sleep, which I’m failing on – is to finish the sodding edit of DEVIL IN THE DETAIL. I’m currently at 82% which is bloody good progress – it’s needing a hell of a lot less work that GHOST IN THE MACHINE did.
All the effort I put into plotting is certainly paying off. While I’m certainly of the plot it out school of thought (rather than start writing and let the magic happen) I am picking up a few fun subplots that help the story along. There’s a place for spontaneity, that’s for sure.
I’m also spending some time plotting out elements of DYED IN THE WOOL, and there are a few things in DEVIL that lead in to that. Never thought I’d write a trilogy – can’t see it stopping after three either.
Anyway, I’ve got some gardening to do and then I’ll be allowed to do some more editing…
A couple of big milestones for me in the last 24 hours –
- I sold my 200th copy of GHOST IN THE MACHINE in the UK (I’ve already sold 200 globally). This is just wow – had a monster week of sales last week, all of them from the UK. Again, as always, a huge appreciation to those who’ve bought GHOST.
- I broke the 3,000 followers barrier on Twitter:
Plugging away at DEVIL IN THE DETAIL just now, hopefully that’ll be off to my editors this week. I also might be in the position of publishing the paperback of GHOST… There is some new artwork I’m playing about with.
So I didn’t get selected for the BLOODY SCOTLAND short story competition with my entry, WHISKY IN THE JAR.
I’m not too disappointed – I’m not a short story kind of guy, I barely read them and that’s the first time I’ve written one. It was an enjoyable experience – doing serious in-depth research on a topic I know bugger all about and writing a whole case in a really tight 3,000 words (come on, that’s a chapter!).
It has a lot of assumed history, as in it’s a sequel to DEVIL IN THE DETAIL, so Cullen and Bain and Caldwell are all in there and set up from before, so reading it cold might be for the best. Lesson learnt is that a short story should probably be standalone for a competition. I’m pleased with it – it was great fun to write and really kicked my mojo back into gear after publishing GHOST.
Good things can come out of adversity – my immediate thoughts are to expand it into a slightly longer form, most likely a novelette. It’ll be published probably around about the same time as DEVIL so that you’re getting a good load of Cullen action together.
But for now, I’m all about finishing DEVIL IN THE DETAIL – I’m up to 59% complete on the latest draft so I should complete it by the weekend and then it’s off to my trio of editors. Shaping up nicely – only three scenes I need to go back to so far; pretty pleased with the pace; the new characters seem to work well; the old characters are up to their tricks…
Finally, I’m going to refresh the artwork for GHOST to coincide with the print version and the publication of DEVIL. Some really cool new artwork on its way!
Really good article over at crime fiction collective (one of my very favourite blogs) –
Just had my 20th review on Amazon UK. All reviews are above four stars – 11 fives and 9 fours. This is really astonishing and is not something that I anticipated at all when I published GHOST IN THE MACHINE in April. As I’ve said before, I don’t let praise go to my head but it’s the sort of stuff that really makes the stress I put myself under worth it, to see that I’ve not just wasted that time and effort and that SOMEONE has got something out of it. (I’m stealing myself for the inevitable one star…)
A huge thanks to all that have taken time out to review the book – it’s really appreciated and it is really helping!
Just did my weekly sales OCD – I’m now over two hundred copies sold for GHOST IN THE MACHINE!
A huge thank you to everyone who has bought it, especially those 18 who have reviewed it on Amazon (it’s sitting at an average of 4.6, with all reviews >= 4 stars).
This is absolutely staggering – when I submitted the file to Amazon on 13-Apr, I did not expect to sell this many so quickly. And my sales are on average getting higher. Say what you like about Amazon, the fact that they offer the indie author, such as myself, this sort of outlet is huge. The mental pain I’ve gone through over the last five years looking for an agent and a publisher… Well, it’s almost worth it to be in control now. I’m not making big money (yet!) but I am really enjoying myself – the pace at which I’m attacking DEVIL IN THE DETAIL shows that.
As with last time, I’ll share my channel breakdown chart – it’s very interesting. Bear in mind that I’m a Scottish writer, writing in a Scottish dialect, in Scottish locations about Scottish people…
One final thing, I’ve noticed that my sales tend to spike at the start of the month and then tail off towards the end. I can’t work this out – it’s happened in June and July – other than it might be some seasonal blip, or people have a hankering for indie Scottish crime fiction at the start of the month…
Anyway, back to the editing.
GHOST IN THE MACHINE wasn’t always called that. The working title was HONEY TRAP – those of you who’ve read it might work out why. It’s a crap title though. I decided to change it after I’d written the first draft, way back in 2009, after the idea came to me from a chat with my girlfriend. (Note to self – I really need to dig out those old blog posts from my old site)
She’d been studying philosophy at University and one of the areas she particularly enjoyed was the Philosophy of Mind. This is an area dominated by Rene Descartes and his “cogito ergo sum” (or “I think therefore I am”) and its many corollaries. Gilbert Ryle classified this as a category mistake and refuted the separation of the body and the mind – Arthur Koestler expanded on this in his Ghost in the Machine book in 1967.
… And that’s where I come in. One of the abiding memories of the cupboard that my Dad kept his LPs in was of this beauty:
It is such a cool cover – evoking the retro-futurism of the early digital age, crafting the three faces of the Police members in a digital clock read-out. The red and black is visually striking too, sucking my very young eyes in. I don’t know why but it’s an image that has really stuck with me.
(The album itself is, in my entirely honest opinion, utter shite – this is the point where the Police had most definitely lost it. The predecessor “Zenyattà Mondatta” was a band on the way down, creatively, and this confirmed that. The first two records are very strong and I would recommend anyone to check them out – the last three were precursors as to why Sting is so largely reviled through the 80s and 90s. Shows that you shouldn’t judge a record by its cover…)
That album cover – rather than the content – has really stuck with me and greatly influenced me. Just be thankful that I didn’t try and rip off the album cover for the book cover.
There will be more of these, periodically.
I’m not all about the crime fiction, you know. I’m a big fan of science fiction as well, particularly the writing of Iain Banks, or Iain M Banks as his scifi work goes under. Banks is an enigmatic writer, essentially flitting between the two axes of his writing – the sprawling, wonderful space opera of his scifi from the Culture universe and others; and the mainstream fiction that has produced so many of my favourite novels – The Crow Road, Complicity and Dead Air to name a few. They’re never that clear cut – his mainstream has a huge amount of worldbuilding (and even a few notes examples of scifi in Walking on Glass, The Bridge and Transition) and his scifi is incredibly well-written and includes a narrative flair and humour you seldom see in the genre.
Banks is one of the reasons I write – seeing a fellow Scot making a living out of locally set (and galactically set) fiction is a tremendous inspiration. I may not write in the same style or genre but there’s a lot of Banks in my writing.
Anyway, the Guardian is running a Book Club on his Use of Weapons, a dense scifi mystery, and this week the great man himself goes through some of the themes and problems he had in writing it. What’s interesting is that he wrote it a full ten years before he was published (1984’s Wasp Factory) and he outlines the struggle he had to make it work (something I can associate with from the hell that was writing GHOST IN THE MACHINE) but also shows some of the personal perseverance it took for him to become a success.
And if you’ve never read Banks, you are in for a treat…
… is like dancing about architecture, or so the quote that’s perhaps erroneously attributed to Frank Zappa. But anyway, I wanted to use it to make a serious point.
I’ve just written an 80,000 word novel in about six weeks (okay, so I had a 25,000 word head start) and the real secret to my success is the fact that I devote almost two hours a day to writing. And before you picture me in a book-lined library writing longhand with a quill on parchment, I am sitting hunched over a table on a commuter train writing on a NetBook. What I think makes me get through it is the ability to blot out the world. As soon as I’ve locked my bike at the station, my headphones go on. Standing on the station platform, my NetBook gets powered up and the files loaded. I burst onto the train, grab a table, usually piss someone off and I’m away, writing. I’m organised – I’ve got a spreadsheet which tracks where I’m at in the book and what actions I need to take, so I know exactly where to pick up. It’s efficient for writing and editing maybe not so for planning.
The real success point is the blotting the world out. I generally listen to electronic music, and having some noise that gives me a pulse and also masks out the tedious commuter chat is central.
What’s got me through DEVIL IN THE DETAIL is Thom Yorke’s solo album (it’s amazing and I’m not a big fan of Radiohead), Portishead live at roseland NYC and Third, My Bloody Valentine Loveless remaster, DJ Shadow Endtroducing, Olafur Arnalds’ spooky Icelandic modern classical, Ghosting Season (album and EP) and a load of Oliver Huntemann albums. I use Spotify – ten quid a month for unlimited music and such a range of material. Highly recommended – they’ve ironed out most of the kinks in the iPhone app.
I plan to write more about my love of music. The more eagle-eyed among you will notice that my book titles are all music-related so far…
Now, where is that Warp Artificial Intelligence box set…?