I am delighted to be on tour hosting Douglas Skelton, author of Tag You’re Dead with a very different and entertaining Q & A.
Tag You’re Dead is published by Contraband, an imprint of Scottish independant publishing house Saraband, and is the second book in the series featuring maverick investigator Dominic Quest.
Before we get to the tricky questions shall we do the easy opener? Would you like to introduce yourself and tell us a little about Tag You’re Dead?
I’m a former journalist – not to mention tax officer, bank clerk, shelf stacker, meat porter, taxi driver and wine waiter (for all of two hours) – who switched from writing non-fiction to fiction in 2013.
TAG is my sixth novel and the second in the Dominic Queste series that began with ‘The Dead Don’t Boogie’ last year.
These books are designed as fast-moving thrillers with a strong thread of humour but are not comic novels by any means. They do have quite a dark side. This time, Queste finds himself being terrorised by a serial killer who uses his own love of films against him.
Next we need to know a little more about Dominic Queste. He seems a nice chap, but perhaps a little dangerous to know?
Yes, he does seem to find himself in danger with alarming frequency. Thank goodness – otherwise I wouldn’t have stories to tell. He is, hopefully, likeable and sympathetic but he has demons he must face. He’s a former drug addict who really screwed up his life but is now fighting the good fight alongside a two-fisted priest and two brothers with their own chequered past. There are limited edition mugs out there (six of ‘em!) for TAG which read ‘Dominic Queste and a teabag have one thing in common – they both end up in hot water’.
Queste seems to have a smart quip ready for every occasion and frequently the mouth will bypass the brain which can land him in a spot of bother. Is Dominic able to say all the things which Douglas Skelton would be far too polite to let slip?
He’s able to say the things I’m not quick enough to let slip! Because he’s got me honing his patter for long hours, sometimes until one or two in the afternoon. His humour, though, masks the darkness within. Also, he just can’t help himself. I can suffer a little from that, too.
In Tag You’re Dead (and in the first Queste novel, The Dead Don’t Boogie) there are many light-hearted moments. Is humour too often neglected in crime fiction?
Humour is tricky. I’m told there are readers who don’t like it and publishers can shy away from it. Personally, I enjoy it in my crime as it makes it seem more real. I’m not looking for James Bond-like quips as someone is despatched but I do believe strongly that no matter how dark the situation there will always be someone who will crack wise.
Okay, Dominic Queste does abuse the privilege sometimes but that’s the way he flies.
I’m a huge fan of American writing and they have a number of authors who can write about very dark subjects but also bring those moments of light. My hero Ed McBain was a master, Dennis Lehane did it in his Kenzie and Gennaro novels and Robert Crais in his Cole and Pike. John Connolly is Irish but writes about the US and his Charlie Parker thrillers are dark but still there’s room for some snappy patter.
Films. We have to talk about the film references in Tag You’re Dead – there’s loads of them! Are we allowed to assume that Dominic (and Douglas) are fans of a decent movie – but watch loads of dross too?
Yes, you are allowed to assume that. I do love my movies and Dominic was an ideal way for me to explore and utilise the nonsense that’s trapped inside my head. It also helped give him a character beat that no one else had. But in TAG it’s that film buffery (is that a word?) which is used by the villain to unsettle him.
Let’s dip back a bit and give a wee plug for Davie McCall. After 4 books featuring Davie, a Glasgow gangster I associate with the word “taciturn” we have a new series with motor-mouth Dominic Queste. Did you get fed-up filling in a story around Davie’s silences?
Davie was hard to write because everything about him was internal. I like dialogue and I like it fast and I like it snappy. Davie was capable of banter on occasion but mostly he was doing the broody thing. Dominic is the other way around – he’s all fast talk and snappy comebacks with the occasional brood.
But no, I didn’t get fed up with Davie – I just wanted to do something different, something that was not quite so grounded in reality as those books.
And I may return to that world someday!
You have also penned many non-fiction crime novels. Can you share a few of the subjects which you wrote about? Was it a relief to make the switch to making stuff up rather than trawl through real life instances of murder and mayhem?
I’ve written about a variety of cases in Scotland, including Bible John, Peter Manuel and the Ice Cream Wars case. I’ve also documented the history of the Edinburgh Tolbooth, the old town jail, and the story of Glasgow crime from 1800 onwards.
One book of which I’m particularly proud is Indian Peter, which was a true-life tale of adventure and court room drama about a man called Peter Williamson. He was abducted as a child in Aberdeen and sold into indentured servitude in the American Colonies. He was captured by Native Americans, escaped, fought against the French and their allies, captured, exchanged as a prisoner of war, returned home and faced a 20 year battle to expose the rich merchants behind his abduction. Along the way he became an author, publisher, publican and began Edinburgh’s first Penny Post. It’s a fascinating story.
It was a relief to turn to fiction. I’d wanted to do it for years – have been writing stories since I was a child – and by the time I did ‘Glasgow’s Black Heart’, the story of the city’s criminal past, I felt I’d done everything I wanted.
In a lot of ways writing true crime is easier – the story is there, you just need to research it.
But I do prefer fiction.
Last year you seemed to spend an unhealthy amount of time in the company of Mark Leggat, Gordon Brown and Neil Broadfoot. Would it be fair to say you rocked into towns and asked readers to grill you on all things criminal? Can you share any highlights (other than the times you managed to outfox Mr Broadfoot)?
Yes, it was unhealthy.
Being with those reprobates will do you a damage, even if only psychologically. And yes, that is exactly what the Crime Factor was – we sat ourselves down and invited questions from the audiences. There were no readings, no pre-arranged queries. It was all off the cuff and I think a great success. Everywhere we went was a highlight!
It’s great to meet up with readers and have a conversation about the books and the process of writing. And having a laugh, of course.
And outfoxing Broadfoot is easy.
We readers are an impatient bunch. Tag You’re Dead is in shops now so what can we see from you next?
Unfortunately I have nothing planned as yet but I do hope there will be another Queste novel. Naturally, that’ll be down to the readers.
However, if there is, it won’t be out until next year.
Tag You’re Dead Book Info:
Sam the butcher is missing, and maverick investigator Dominic Queste is on the case. But it’s not because he misses Sam’s prize-winning steak pies…
A dangerous man has arrived in Glasgow. He’s no small-town crook, and he’s leaving a trail of disturbing clues across the city, starting with the missing cousin of Queste’s new lover.
Amidst a twisted game of cat and mouse, suspicious coppers and a seemingly random burglary at the judge’s house, Queste has to keep his wits about him. Or he might just find himself on the butcher’s block.
Purchase Link ~ Tag You’re Dead
Meet The Author:
Douglas Skelton, whose book Open Wounds was shortlisted for Scottish Crime Book of the Year 2016, is a writer who specialises in the darker side of things: he’s a former journalist who has published 11 true crime books.
In 2011 he made the leap to writing crime fiction with the hugely successful series of Davie McCall thrillers. Tag – You’re Dead is his sixth novel and the second to feature Dominic Queste.
You can find out more about Douglas Skelton at: http://www.douglasskelton.com/