An ongoing time travel romantasy series set in Glasgow. Book Three coming summer 20204!
The Shadow City
"Some other wee old lady lay in the coffin, all angelic and dead. Holy fucking buggery shite Kirsty was at the wrong funeral. "
Game of Thrones meets Still Game. With hot Vikings.
How a love letter to Glasgow was born in Alabama...
I was on a train from Atlanta to New Orleans. I'm not fond of flying (I don't do it at all any more), so I'd spent the flight the day before from London to Atlanta bombed out my head on enough diazepam to fell a horse. That morning, I'd been roused from what I can only describe as a small coma to catch the 7am train. I was jet lagged, hungover, and essentially asleep as I dragged my case onto the platform.
I found my seat, and moments before passing out in a drooling, snoring mess, the thought flickered across my mind that my fellow passengers looked as though they'd just stepped off the set of True Blood. Not vampires, you understand, but Southerners. Plaid shirts and trucker caps. Huge hair and floaty caftans. A couple of ten-year-olds sitting across from me were reading the Bible.
Some hours later, I woke with a start and, I suspect, a groan of surprise to find myself on a moving train. We were just about to pull into Birmingham, Alabama. The train stops there for twenty minutes or so for a smoke/stretch-your-legs break (the journey is about twelve hours from Atlanta, and some people had boarded the previous afternoon in New York.)
Stumbling into the sunshine, fairly confident I was still dreaming, I vaguely nodded at one of the plaid-shirt-trucker-hat guys, and he asked me to lunch. At least 75% of my brain was engaged in a tuneless version of Sweet Home Alabama clanging around my skull. Had he pulled off his face to reveal a pink lizard, I wouldn't have been remotely perturbed.
I'd like to take you to the dining cart for a bite to eat, ma'am.
I frowned. Might have still been drooling. These words meant nothing to me.
Lunch, he clarified, terror flickering in his eyes. I want to take you to lunch.
I blinked and looked around. Lunch? What was he talking about? Lunch?
To cut a long story short, this poor boy repeatedly attempted to hit on me while I bellowed at him to explain himself. Yes, we attracted an audience. Eventually, he whimpered we would need to eat soon because he was getting off at the next stop to get the bus to Shreveport.
I should pause to explain that, at this precise moment, I had no idea Shreveport was a real place. I'd only ever heard of it on True Blood and last coherent thought had been about True Blood. Somehow, my brain processed this, added four and seventeen and barked:
WHAT WHERE THE VAMPIRES ARE?
Immediately, the temperature — balmy in November in Alabama — dropped several degrees. Ironically, the chill I felt was probably not unlike shagging a vampire. Several other folk standing around smoking turned to stare. The Bible kids backed away. My would-be suitor paled.
It was then that I realised three things. One, Shreveport is a real place. Two, the entire point of that show is that religious Southerners do not have a sense of humour when it comes to vampires, and I might well be in trouble.
And three, I really wanted to write a bonkers, darkly comic urban fantasy.
I pretended he must have misheard me because of my accent. Of course I didn't say anything about vampires! I'm not proud, but any of them might have had a gun. Probably not the Bible kids, but you never know.
Break over, we all got back on the train, and it trundled on through Tennessee and Louisiana. I stared out the window, catching glimpses of Blue Mountains and moss-strewn swamps. A story was prickling at my brain. Nothing coherent just yet, more a ragtag collection of characters and notions, but I was excited about it.
I spent much of the next few days in French Quarter bars, scribbling with a Hurricane in one hand and beignet in the other. It's the closest I'll ever get to the drug-fuelled creative hazes of Robert Louis Stevenson, Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde. I bet they didn't have pastry.
Then I put it away. Because what was I playing at? I was a crime author. What did I even know about writing fantasy?
A couple of years went by, and COVID-19 arrived. I'd just moved to a house in the Southside of Glasgow. I didn't have any furniture. It was Christmas, and they had just announced a new lockdown that marooned me away from my family in London.
I was on deadline to finish the third Stockholm Murders series for my French publisher, but every time I picked it up, I just… couldn't. Actual life was too dark. I couldn't bear to think about murders and betrayals and twists. I moped around the house for a day or two, having small little panics about writing and also life in general.
On the third day, I was on my slackline in Queens Park (please don't be impressed, I am truly terrible at it, but the sheer daftness of attempting to slackline was a lifeline in lockdown). It was snowing, and the park was almost deserted, but I couldn't bring myself to head home. I'd set my slackline up near the flagpole, and for some reason, a memory of having read that the park was once prime boar-hunting ground popped into my head. It was mid-afternoon and the winter sun was setting, casting an eerie glow over the pristine snow.
I could see a rampaging boar in my mind's eye.
Which was when I remembered I had written a scene about a rampaging, time-travelling boar in Queens Park, in the heady heat of New Orleans three or four years earlier. I hightailed it home, dug out that dog-eared notebook, and Before Again was born…
"I loved the characters and the Glasgow setting. The setting really emphasised the darkness that was going on in the story. Whilst it was a dark tale the main character lightened it up and it was a pleasure to go on the journey with her."