Crime thrives at Faclan festival

Author Macolm Mackay
Author Macolm Mackay

This year’s Hebridean Book Festival, Faclan, comes to An Lanntair in Stornoway this month.

The festival was founded in 2006 and this year’s theme is ‘blood,’ with many authors lining up to tell their bloody stories.

“If the brain is the cradle of the mind and the body the vessel of life, blood is humanity’s eternal river,” says Faclan’s founder, Roddy Murray.

Channelling that river onto decadent urban landscapes is the trade of Malcolm MacKay, one of the speakers at this year’s festival, and a native of the Western Isles.

He’s been called a pioneer in the continuing development of ‘tartan noir’, blending the grit and gutter of Scottish crime in a fast-paced realism.

Having been short-listed for the ‘Blood and Dagger Award’ and ‘Scottish First Book of the Year’ - he’s clearly serious.

He says: “I’ve thrown out almost completed novels and started again, and they’ve been better for it.”

MacKay’s advice to prospective writers is an often ignored truism. Write more and read more, he says, echoing Stephen King’s advice in the semi-autobiographical ‘On Writing’.

“It’s never going to be convenient to sit down and try to write a one hundred thousand-word novel when you have work and family and all sorts of other distractions, so you have to make the time.

“Discipline is an important part of any creative process.”

The Faclan book festival is important to Malcolm because he believes that books are such a vital part of our culture, an unmatchable tool for seeing the world and seeing ourselves, and that it is essential we promote accessibility in literature.

“Having a festival locally that helps promote books and put them in the hands of more people is a great thing”, he says.

But it’ll be a somewhat odd experience, he admits, as Faclan will be the first local event on Lewis he’s done

It’s been postulated that an immigrant’s eye can lend a forensic advantage to social commentary, perhaps MacKay writes good Glasgow-based fiction because he’s able to see it from an external perspective.

“Perhaps this is true, given that one of the themes of the books was that the criminals were living lives detached from the rest of the city.

“Seeing a place as an outsider hopefully made it easier to create a sense of isolation.”

Malcolm hasn’t written anything set in the island and doesn’t have plans to, but “never say never”, he says.

“Writing gangland crime fiction meant I needed an urban environment, so setting the books here was never a consideration.

“The setting here would also be entertaining, but given that it’s already been done by others, I’m not sure there’s much room left for crime novels on Lewis.

“We just don’t have enough crime to go round.”

Malcolm Mackay visits the Faclan book festival October 31. He’ll give a talk called The Glasgow Trilogy.

Visitors to the festival can also expect talks and readings from a host of established and emerging writers. There’ll also be films with a criminal or urban element, including Badlands and Get Carter.

The kids won’t be left out, as Gaelic singer and presenter Linda Macleod will lead a fun-filled Gaelic session based on Brianòg Brady Dawson’s comedic children’s book, Fiaclan Granaidh (Granny’s Teeth).

Rather than being in the middle of nowhere, it would seem that for the Hebrides, there’s nowhere else to be.

Faclan runs October 28-31. Line-up at www.faclan.org