The Carston Series by Bill Kirton

The Darkness a change, I stayed with them while they ate. Obsessive, see? About all of it. I suppose I was making myself see the reality of what I was doing. The noises they made, the ridiculous scene, the smell – it was all down to me. I was as chained down there as they were. I had to feed them, empty their bucket. My planning was good, the timing, the effort, it had all worked, against all the odds. And I was stuck with it. Nobody knew they were there. I’d done it. Except for Bailey, of course, but I’d deal with him in time.
‘What’s going on then?’ said Waring.
I just looked at him.
‘What’s the idea? Going to top us, are you?’
Silly bugger. He didn’t realize what terrible timing it was. They all wanted to know, of course, but they were afraid to ask. It was a question I’d asked myself, too. But not for a while up till then. Suddenly faced with it like that, especially that evening, after the fiasco with Gayla, I felt I ought to make up my mind. Up till then, I’d been more or less toying with alternatives. The problem was, I didn’t know the answer. So what I said … well, it came as a surprise to me as well as them.
I was never going to kill them. That wasn’t the idea. Just teach them a lesson. But, with all of them there, and me thinking back on what they’d done, and, worst of all, feeling that there was little difference between them and me, I started to think that maybe death was the only logical outcome. I didn’t know what was right any more. It was all so bloody awful. So many victims, so much contempt for other people, and there was I, in amongst it, adding to it. There was no way out. They all had to go. Including me. And, of course, Bailey.
About the Author

Bill Kirton was a university lecturer in French before taking early retirement to become a full-time writer. He’s produced material in many different media – radio plays for the BBC, stage plays, revue songs and sketches for the Edinburgh Fringe, crime novels and short stories, two non-fiction books aimed at helping students with writing and other skills and, to make a living, he writes DVDs. Brochures and other commercial and training stuff for companies and organisations all over the place. He’s been visiting artist and guest director at the Theater Department of the University of Rhode Island on four separate occasions, TV presenter, voice-over artist and Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at three Scottish universities.

His four published novels are set in the north east of Scotland. Material Evidence, Rough Justice, and The Darkness all feature DCI Jack Carston. The Figurehead is a historical novel set in Aberdeen in 1840. The Carston series has been published in the UK and the USA.
The Figurehead

Return to an age where sail was being challenged by steam, new continents were opening, and the world was full of opportunities for people to be as good—or as evil—as they chose. When the body of a local shipwright is found on the beach in 1840 Aberdeen, Scotland, neither the customers and suppliers he cheated—nor the women he seduced—are surprised. 

But the mystery intrigues wood-carver John Grant, who determines to seek out the murderer. His work and his investigations bring him into contact with a rich merchant, William Anderson—and his daughter Elizabeth. Commissioned to create a figurehead that combines the features of two women, John eventually uncovers a shocking tale of blackmail and death as, simultaneously, he struggles to resist the pangs of unexpected love.
Material Evidence – A Cairnbugh Mystery body of Stephanie Burnham is discovered by her husband. She’d been brutally assaulted then murdered. For Detective Chief Inspector Jack Carston, newly arrived in the town of Cairnburgh, near Aberdeen, Scotland, the case is a conundrum. All the evidence points to the husband – the marriage was a sham – but somehow the pieces of the jigsaw don’t fit together. Who was Stephanie Burnham? A high-flying businesswoman or a middle-aged drunken depressive? Was she sexy or frigid, intelligent or stupid, callous or loving? It seems to depend on who Carston asks. He knows that, to solve the mystery of her shocking death, he must first unravel the enigma of her personality.

Bill Kirton has put together a fine debut with intense plotting, strong characters, and just the right touch of acid in the dialogue (particularly the female dialogue). Fine Rendellian touches and a structure and depth that is rare in a first book make this a cracking page-turner. The denouement, when it comes, will shake you.

Rough Justice – A Cairnburgh Mystery
Floyd Donnelly has spent four of his twenty-six years in prison for robbery with violence. He’s foul-tempered, amoral and anti-social and yet everyone is surprised when his body’s found outside Cairnburgh’s only nightclub.

Detective Chief Inspector Jack Carston thinks he knows who’s behind the murder: self-made man David Burchill. The problem is that the street-wise Burchill has a cast-iron alibi for that night. And he always manages to keep one step ahead of Carston’s investigations. It just needs him to make one mistake, though…

There is a brutal rape in Rough Justice by Bill Kirton. It isn’t there to titillate, but to carry the story forward and ultimately bring about the climax to a thoughtful and thought-provoking book. The detective leading the hunt for the killer of a young thug from a local squat is also after a local self-made man he believes to be behind various rackets and who is protected by fellow masons in the senior ranks of the police force. The book involves some very human, intelligent Scottish coppers and ought to bring Bill Kirton the attention he deserves.

Email and blog for Bill Kirton
I put a few questions to Bill Kirton:
What inspired you to write?
I’ve always written. In fact, in a clear-out a few years back, I came across stuff I’d written as a kid. The strange thing was that it was a play about a crime. I say strange because I became a crime writer by accident so it was bizarre to see I was writing about that when I was probably around 9 or 10. It was, needless to say, complete rubbish. I know some kids’ things are brilliant and I did some work with primary school classes recently and their stories were amazing, but my juvenilia had nothing to recommend it at all.
How many unpublished books do you have lurking under your bed?
I have about a dozen plays – stage and radio – and two crime novels. Another one – a black comedy/satire – is being considered by a publisher at the moment, too.
How did you find the publisher?
Way back, when I turned from plays to novels, it was much easier to get agents. I sent the original version of The Darkness to the late Maggie Noach. She liked it, tried to flog it and Piatkus told her they weren’t planning to publish any stand-alone thrillers but they liked it and asked if I wrote police procedurals. I hadn’t thought of doing that but, with interest from a publisher, you obviously try to oblige. So I wrote Material Evidence and they published that, then Rough Justice. Then my editor left and I was out of favour. Maggie also died tragically young and, by then, agents and publishers had become more difficult to impress. But Bloody Books, in the USA, were starting a series called Bloody Brits (the best of British crime, according to them). Val McDermid was the commissioning editor and she accepted the two for publication there. The Darkness, which I’d rewritten several times by then and made part of the series, was published by YouWriteOn in that initiative they had in 2008 to publish a number of books for free.

I sent The Figurehead to several publishers and it was taken up by Virtual Tales in Canada.

A short answer, though, to your question is that I think it’s getting impossibly hard to interest mainstream publishers and agents but, to counteract that, there are lots of small, Indie publishers around who are willing to take risks. I think writers have to accept that they’ll get plenty of rejection slips but that that doesn’t necessarily reflect on the quality of their writing.
How do your juggle a writing schedule?
I don’t have to. I took early retirement 20 years ago and I spend most of my time writing (when I’m not wasting it on Facebook). The juggling used to be between commercial writing and my own stuff, which I obviously much preferred doing. But I’ve found that commercial work has dried up significantly over the past 12 months so I’ve been able to concentrate on short stories and novels. The trouble is that, as with the vast majority of writers, it doesn’t earn much money, but I love doing it.
What’s the best/worst part of being a writer?
The best part is that we get so absorbed in our fictions and the craft of producing them that time flies by. When I’m into a work, I’m unaware of myself, my surroundings, anything much. You hear golfers and others talking about being in a cocoon of concentration – well it’s like that every day. It’s as if there’s this private world which, paradoxically, has nothing to do with you but to which you’re given free access to wander around, watch and listen to characters and record it all.
I suppose the worst part is the one that’s becoming more and more necessary – the need to spend as much time marketing and promoting as we do writing. I love meeting readers, doing signings, talks, workshops and the rest, but the whole business of having to do the attendant administration, be a salesman, etc. is a nuisance. But, of course, necessary.

What is the most productive time of the day for you to write?
I’m beginning to suspect that my answers all sound a bit forced or precious but I’m telling the truth. When I’m going well, any time is good and, in fact, I’m completely unaware of time. I’m always desperate to get back to the story and find out what happens next. I like getting away, doing some gardening, walking in the hills, and I used to sail but the boat was too far away so I had to sell it. But most of my life is spent writing. And I love it.

Do you start your projects writing with paper and pen or is it all on the computer?
All computer nowadays. Strange really because I used to use a pen and write on one half of the page to leave room for changes, additions, etc. But I could never write on a typewriter. I don’t know if it was the noise of the keys or what, but I tried and just couldn’t. But since we’ve had computers, that’s all I ever use. I actually find writing with a pen hard nowadays.

What/who do you draw inspiration from?
All sorts of things. There are writers I love but it would never occur to me to try to copy their style or techniques. But ideas are triggered by words, images, sounds, individuals, strangers, angers, joy – almost anything.

Do you set yourself goals when you sit down to write such as word count?
No. I don’t really understand how that works for people. At first, the words may come slowly and you may throw most of them away. But once a work is ongoing, it has its own momentum. It’s not to do with the pace of the story either, it’s the pace of the writing. At the end of a writing day, I don’t think ‘How many words?’ but I do think ‘has the story moved on?’ It usually has, sometimes significantly, and that feeling of the organic process of a novel or story growing is the real satisfaction. It may turn out to be 70,000 or 120,000 words – it’s as big as it needs to be. The characters take you along and you just have to keep up with them. They know when it’s time to stop.

Are you a published or a self published author and how do you come up with your cover art?
I’m both. For Material Evidence, Rough Justice and The Figurehead, the publishers commissioned artists to produce covers, all of which I liked. But for The Darkness, I did my own cover – minimalist and basically an attempt to reflect the real darkness in the book but suggest a possibility of light, even if it was fading. Pretentious? Maybe.

What are you working on now that you can talk about? year I was commissioned by Pearson to write a book for students in their Brilliant series. It’s called Brilliant Study Skills and I finished it last October. It’s on sale now and they’ve commissioned me to write two more in the same series – Brilliant Essays and Assignments and Brilliant Dissertations and Project Reports. When I’ve finished them, I have a book of sci-fi/fantasy stories which a publisher has accepted. They want me to add more and make various changes to make them fit more thematically. I can see their thinking and know it’ll make for a better book, so that’ll be the next project. After that, there’s the final Carston to write, then a follow-up to The Figurehead.

How do/did you deal with rejection letters?
They’re a fact of life. When I used to send radio plays to the BBC, the earliest ones were rejected but always with something positive in the replies – good characters, realistic dialogue, funny, little remarks like that. And it was encouraging so it made you try again. Nowadays, that happens very little and sometimes you wonder if they’ve read the stuff at all. But it’s a competitive market place and, when I send new stuff out, I try to make myself anticipate rejection. So when they show interest instead, it feels like a bonus.

Do you have an agent? If not tell us a little about your reasons for “going it alone”.
I’ve had two agents in my time and I think the good ones are excellent at pointing you in the direction they feel your writing should go. But, once again, the market is tending to dictate everything now, so there’s a tendency to try to ride the wave of current fads. The only reason I’d like an agent now is that I’d like someone else to take charge of the whole business of contacting the media, organizing signings, etc. They also know the markets better than I do. I’d always recommend getting an agent but I’d warn anyone trying to to be prepared for yet more rejection slips.

Do you have a critique partner?
No. My wife sometimes reads my things, especially when I’m writing from the point of view of a woman, and she invariably makes useful suggestions. On the whole, though, I go with my own instincts. I do read other people’s work and comment but it’s a time-consuming business and I try to be selective with it.

Finally, what one piece of advice would you give to a new writer?
This crops up at talks and workshops and I always stress three things:

1. Trust your own voice. Some writers think they have to use ‘special’ words or some sort of elevated language. Maybe it works but, more often than not, it’s inhibiting. I often wonder whether education does more harm than good to writers in that it blunts their directness, the raw quality of their experiences. I don’t mean you should be ungrammatical or not bother about spelling and punctuation – you should, they’re part of being professional, but don’t be afraid to use the vernacular. Celebrate your uniqueness.

2. Read aloud when you edit. You’d be surprised at how many things you pick up which you don’t notice on screen – repetitions, clumsy sentences, mistakes, all sorts of things. Read it so that it feels good in your mouth and sounds right in your ears.

3. Cut, cut, cut. All writing is better for being cut. My editor told me to lose 70 pages from Material Evidence. She was right, and it was much better as a result.

Material Evidence – ‘a cracking page-turner. The denouement, when it comes, will shake you.’

 Rough Justice – ‘The book involves some very human, intelligent Scottish coppers and ought to bring Bill Kirton the attention he deserves.’

The Darkness – ‘A guaranteed page turner, dark in every sense but crackling with suspense and energy.’ ‘A wonderful, thrilling, dark, compassionate book.’

One thought on “The Carston Series by Bill Kirton

  1. Bill is one of my favorite authors. I throughly enjoyed THE DARKNESS and am halfway through his new release, THE FIGUREHEAD, a fascinating book about 1840
    Aberdeen, Scotland, shipbuilding and murder. He writes so beautifully that I can't imagine why his work hasn't been picked up yet by one of the major publishing houses on this side of the pond.


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