Meet the Author: Frank Muir

Frank Muir
This month's author under the spotlight is Frank Muir (who is also published as T.F. Muir). I first met Frank when he was signing his new book, "Blood Torment" in Waterstones in St Andrews. From that meeting, we've kept in touch and met up a couple of times at Crime Writers Association (CWA) lunches. Frank is a fantastic, kind, funny man and I'm delighted he agreed to be grilled by me!

When did you first start writing? And what made you start?
I started writing seriously – meaning, with the intention of writing a book and aiming for publication – almost thirty years ago. Prior to that, I’d dabbled with writing, trying short stories, or beginning a novel only to abandon it when it didn’t seem to be working out. For as long as I can remember, I’d wanted to be an author, but for many years didn’t have the courage to try, believing that I was no good at English, and was more mathematically inclined, and that I didn’t have enough life experience anyway to write anything worthwhile. But one morning in my late thirties, I woke up with the clearest thought that I didn’t want to wake up one morning in my seventies and look back on my life and wish I had given it a shot and written that book I’d always promised I would. That same day, I set a goal to write a novel and have it published, then went out and bought myself a ‘Teach yourself Typing’ book, and a computer.

What was the first full-length novel you ever wrote?
When I started writing seriously, my favourite genre was thrillers, so naturally I began by trying to write a thriller. I’d just moved to the USA after living in the Middle East, and I had this idea of a car accident occurring in Bahrain, and out of the wreckage they pull a briefcase. I had no idea what was in that briefcase, but knew that it held some secret that would put the life of the US President in danger. I ended up with a sprawling international thriller, 120k words long, which started in the Middle East, moved to the UK via MI6, then to Bermuda, and finally on to the USA where a plot to assassinate the US President was foiled. As I was working 60+ hours a week as a civil engineer, it took me two years to complete, and a further two years working one-on-one with a professional editor. I managed to find a literary agent who sent it round all the major publishing houses in New York. It came within a cat’s whisker of being bought by Random House, but was rejected by the editor because he had just moved to Random House from another publisher and didn’t want his first purchase to be from an unpublished writer. That was over twenty years ago.

Do you have any regrets over choosing writing as a career? If so, what are they?
The biggest regret I have is that I didn’t start writing seriously much sooner than I did. Another might be that I regret not having had the strength of mind or the guts just to walk away from civil engineering and follow my dream of becoming an author. I also regret not taking control of my life much earlier.

Your series with Andy Gilchrist is set in and around St Andrews. What’s the link with the “Auld Grey City”? [Note from Frank, keeping me right: It’s more correctly known as the ‘auld grey toon.'] What prompted you to choose it as the setting?
My wife and I holidayed there for many years with our boys, and we came to love the place. The idea for a crime series in St Andrews struck me one night when my wife and I were walking back to the hotel from a night out. I’d had a number of thriller manuscripts rejected by a literary agent at the time, and I was trying to come up with some other story. When we walked into this old cobbled street, I stopped, just struck by the setting. The next day I visited the street again, and it seemed to me that the town was a perfect place in which to set a crime series. The more I thought about it, the more I came to realise that my idea was unique, and with the town having national recognition from a member of the Royal family having attended its University, and international recognition from it being the home of golf, I decided to go for it.

Had you always intended to write a series? Or did you write one and everyone kept insisting on more?
I had originally intended to write a trilogy that ended with the resolution of the accidental death of Gilchrist’s older brother, Jack, in Tooth for a Tooth. But my first two books were published by Luath, and when Constable picked me up, they wanted two more books. So I introduced a new character – DS Jessie Janes – in book number 4 – Life for A Life – and kept on writing.

The series takes place over several years. How do you keep track of what has happened to the different characters over the time? Do you have a long time-line with key points on it? Notes? How do you remember how many years ago particular events were?
I find that I don’t have a problem remembering character details from book to book, but if I ever have any questions about which year one of my stories was set, or which month, I refer to what I call a ‘character chart’ which details all I need to know about Gilchrist and his family, including date of the story, dates of birth, colour of eyes, and most other miscellaneous bits and bobs that I would otherwise forget, or muddle up.

Have you ever been tempted to kill off Andy Gilchrist?
I don’t think I would ever kill off Gilchrist, as he’s central to the series. I don’t have any problem killing off non-central characters, as evidenced in The Meating Room. I’m currently working on Gilchrist #7, and I’m thinking that maybe in a book or two from now it will be about time he was fired from Fife Constabulary, or suspended, or maybe just quits, or maybe gets injured, so I can send him off somewhere else, perhaps overseas. But who knows? That decision will probably be taken away from me by my publisher. If they remain happy to publish more Gilchrist stories, then I’m more than happy to keep writing them.

What are you working on at the moment? What will be the next book to be released?
Number six – Blood Torment – was published in May of this year (2016), and I’m currently developing the first draft of the next book. I’ve found that I don’t like to talk about a book that is as yet unwritten, as I never really know how well it is going to turn out, or whether or not I’ll just bin it and move on to the next one. At the moment, I’m about 60k words into a 100k word draft for number seven, and it’s going okay, although I’ve found that the 60k mark is the point where the story seems to be at its most chaotic, and always has me thinking that writing is such a bloody ridiculous way to try to earn a living, and why did I ever want to do this. But I’ve learned, too, that by continuing to peck away on a daily basis, working through the morass of words, the end soon appears, and all of a sudden writing is once again the most wonderful career of all.

And now for some more random questions... 

What’s your radio tuned to most often?
I listen to the radio mostly when I’m driving, and it’s tuned into Smooth Radio – all the oldies, and nice, gentle music. I’m not averse to switching channels if a song comes on that I don’t particularly like. My taste tends to be eclectic, and I’ll listen to almost anything, although I jump to change the channel at the first hint of rap music, or disco thumpers.

You’re stranded on an island. You can choose one of the following three things. Which do you choose and why?
1. Limitless supply of paper and pens.
2. A computer which will never run out of battery and which can access the internet, but you can’t post anything/get help via it, only read what others have put up.
3. An endless supply of loo roll.
I would need to have a computer to keep up to speed with world news, and where Andy Murray is in the tennis rankings. The definition of ‘murder’ should be ‘a Scotsman rooting for Andy Murray.’ My wife and I watched him thump Kei Nishikori in the first set of the quarter finals of the US Open – then the stadium roof was closed, a noise erupted from the speaker system, and a butterfly floated about the net, all of which sent Murray crashing to an unexpected defeat. It was absolute murder sitting through that lot.

You can only wear one of the following colours for the rest of your life. Which colour do you choose?
Yellow. Orange. Green. White. Pink.
Without blue, black or grey, I’m afraid I would have to walk around in the nude for the rest of my life. Just that thought should get you dashing to introduce a new colour from which to choose.

Jason Bourne or James Bond?
James Bond.

Cats or dogs?
Cats. Not Siamese or any of these bald Egyptian things, but just a regular mix.

City or country?
Country. Cities are only for visiting, then leaving.

Real book or e-book?
Real book.

Fountain pen or biro?

My great thanks to Frank for this interview. I hope all of you enjoyed reading his answers as much as I did.

If you've not yet read all of Frank's books I urge you to do so! They're excellent!