Interview: Tony Black, author
HE made his name in Edinburgh, writing about Edinburgh. So why has crime writer Tony Black, who boasts Irvine Welsh as one of his biggest fans, set his latest murderous tale in the Auld Toun o’ Ayr?
“I’m from Ayr originally,” says the 39-year-old, explaining his decision to leave behind the mean streets of Auld Reekie explored by ex-hack-turned-PI Gus Dury and Detective Inspector Rob Brennan in previous novels.
“I’d been thinking about writing another book in Edinburgh and William McIlvanney said to me that it would be good for my writing to set a book in Ayr.
“He was damn right, and as soon as I moved back to Ayr I was filling notebooks with observations about the changes in the place since I grew up there... just kind of reconnecting with all the stuff that Ayr is about.
“So anyway, I had all this material and I just thought ‘this is gold for a writer’. There was enough stuff for a book to write itself, and that’s pretty much how it happened.”
Like Black, the protagonist in new novel The Storm Without is a man returning to his home town, having made decisions in the past that left him unsure of his direction in life.
“Doug Michie is a recently sacked cop - he’s been in the RUC and seen a lot more than he should have,” says Black. “When he gets the bullet he’s looking for somewhere to go and lick his wounds. So he heads for his old home town of Ayr. That’s Burns Country, of course, and you’d think a pretty scenic spot, but he gets himself caught up in the seedy underside.
“He agrees to help out an old school friend, Lyn, whose son has been accused of murder. As the tale ticks along the mystery of the real killer is addressed - but The Storm Without is really more about how people who don’t move on are doomed to repeat the mistakes of their pasts. And the philosophy of Burns, of course.”
Black describes himself as “a lazy b*****d” (it’s a sentiment that was shared by others when he worked as a sub-editor at the Evening News a few years back!), but he’s nothing if not prolific.
In the four years since his first novel, Paying For It, was launched at the 2008 Edinburgh International Book Festival, he’s published Gutted, Loss, Long Time Dead, Truth Lies Bleeding and Murder Mile, all of which garnered widespread praise.
The Storm Without, however, is the one that he got most satisfaction from writing. “It was a really tricky book to write for a lot of reasons, but it’s the one I enjoyed most,” says Black. “It was actually serialised in the Ayrshire Post, so I had to write it from week to week.
“It was only a thousand words a week, but I was actually just writing it as I was going along. It was a bizarre process, because normally I’d sit down and write about 3000 words a day, and have a functioning first draft after about six or seven weeks.
“This was 38 weeks straight out, and I had to write it and then stop and start it again the next week, waiting for stuff to happen. So it was pretty tricky but I’m really pleased to have pulled it off.”
The Storm Without is out now in paperback, £7.99