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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=wiswor0a-21&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0273734377&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrLast 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:
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.’