LIKE most people stuck in an office for ten hours a day, Neil Broadfoot was happy to have the chance to escape for an hour on his lunch break.
But while all the other officer workers were contemplating what filling they were going to get on their sandwich, or whether they had time to fit in a bit of shopping, Neil was harbouring much more sinister thoughts. Dark thoughts of murder.
“I was wandering along and thinking bad, murderous thoughts and how I could kill someone,” admits Neil. “And then I found it when I passed by the Scott Monument. Someone could fall to their death from the top of that.”
Fortunately for those sharing the same lunch break as Neil that day, he is not a murderer, but the latest talent to emerge on the Scottish crime-writing scene.
And he is very quickly making a name for himself.
Despite having his first novel, Falling Fast, published just three months ago, Neil has been shortlisted for the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award, up against established crime writers including Louise Welsh and Chris Brookmyre.
“It’s very, very surreal, says 39-year-old Neil. “I’m a lover of crime fiction; this is the stuff I read, these are the people I read, and suddenly I’m being told by my publisher I’m on a shortlist with them.
“It’s like the Crime Writers’ Association lunch I went to – people like Lin Anderson and Doug Skelton were there. It was just surreal.”
Falling Fast opens with quite a punch: a woman plunging to her death from the Scott Monument – the moment, of course, inspired by Neil’s lunch-time city centre jaunt.
“I was looking for a way to grab the attention of the readers and the publishers. I wanted to grab people by the scruff of the neck.”
In the novel, the fall certainly does that. In fact it grabs the attention of the book’s main character, local journalist Doug McGregor, who is always on the look-out for a good story.
When his police contact reveals the victim was connected to a prominent Scottish politician, Doug finds himself getting a lot more than he bargained for as he unravels a story of secrets, drug abuse, violence and murder.
A former journalist at both the Evening News and Scotsman, Neil is no stranger to the inner workings of a newspaper reporter. “The protagonist is writing against deadlines, which I know all about, so it makes that side of it easier to write about,” he explains.
Like a lot of authors, Neil’s desire to write started when he was young, and over the years he has written short stories and has always had ideas swimming around in his head.
“That’s what informed my decision to go into newspapers,” says the father-of-two. “I was looking for a way to making a living with words.
“I’ve always written short stories and had lots of ideas and I finally decided it was time to do something serious.
“When I wrote Falling Fast, I didn’t finish it and think I’d written a masterpiece, but I did have a sense half way through that this was different from anything else I’d written.”
Neil wrote Falling Fast around three or four years ago and, like most fledgling authors, struggled to get it published at first.
But his big break came when he was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize for debut novelists.
Although he didn’t win the prize – £10,000 and a publishing deal – it did get him noticed, and he was soon on the books of small Scottish publishing company Saraband.
“I was working full-time, then writing at night,” says Neil, who now works as a communications officer for the Scottish Government. “It’s difficult to call writing a job because it’s doing something that you love. If your publisher wants 3000 words by a certain deadline, you get it done like any other job, but it doesn’t take away the fact that you love it.”
As part of his publishing deal with Saraband, Falling Fast is the first of a trilogy, with the second book currently undergoing a final edit before Neil send it to his publishers. Saraband is running a competition on Twitter for fans of Falling Fast, with the prize being having a character named after them in the next book.
And Neil is already looking past the trilogy.
“I would love to write full-time. I’d love to be a dedicated crime writer,” says Neil. “Crime is a hugely popular genre. There’s a genuine enthusiasm there for the work. In Scotland we can’t mention crime writing without mentioning Ian Rankin and JK Rowling who was revealed as Robert Galbraith – they have given it a huge profile.
“Then there’s TV shows like The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and True Detective. People are interested in the crime genre.”
He laughs: “I’m just waiting for that multi-million pound deal.”
The winner of the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award will be announced on September 20.
“It’s an honour to be shortlisted, and to be picked from that crowd of people to be listed as one of the six is just something else. It’s given my book a huge boost in publicity, especially since it’s a debut book from a small publisher. It’s got it a lot of attention.
“It’s very weird to go into a bookshop and see people looking at your book. I have been known to wander into Waterstones to have a wee look,” he admits. “It still hasn’t sunk in yet.”
Publisher Sara Hunt said: “Scotland is world-renowned for producing some of the best crime fiction writers, and we set up Contraband to showcase some of that talent. Neil is, without doubt, one of our brightest crime-writing stars and it’s testament to his flair that he’s been shortlisted for a major award with his debut novel – it’s a feat that not many authors achieve, so we’re very proud of him and the book.
“Falling Fast is a proper no-holds-barred thriller and a real treat for crime aficionados.”