Alasdair Wham is another new to me writer, so I wanted to find out a bit more about him and his work.
Alasdair’s latest books is “Devil’s Cauldron”, here’s the blurb:
What would you do if you saw your father murdered and no one believed you? When he was twelve Finn McAdam, saw his father, a scientist, murdered. No one believed him. Now he has returned to his native Galloway to discover the truth. Wherever it leads him. Whatever it costs. But the conspiracy he discovers exposes a cover-up involving leading political figures and places his life in great danger. Some people are determined that the truth must not get out.
Here’s what Alasdair had to tell me about him and his work.
One of my earliest memories is attempting to write a story. It was two lines and I wanted to add if it was true or false. I had probably just started primary school. During primary my compositions were noted for imagination and being somewhat gory. By the time of secondary school, I was writing science fiction but with little success or sense of progress. So, in a sense I have always wanted to write stories.
After university, where I studied Chemistry, I wrote two novels. The first ‘Shadow of the Cloud’ was about a gold heist during a nuclear attack, written in the eighties it was partly to highlight the madness of nuclear weapons. The next novel was ‘Second Chance’ a spy thriller based in Scotland. I sent both books away to agents and publishing houses and got a fairly positive response, one agent seeing potential!
A growing family and a busy teaching career meant that I had no time to write. What kick-started my writing again and took it in a different direction was a weekend trip away when I had the chance to abseil from a disused railway viaduct in Galloway – the iconic Big Water of Fleet viaduct. Along with my sons I became interested in exploring disused railways, discovering their history and what remained. Articles in newspapers and magazines followed and then my first book – Lost Railways of Galloway – a series of explorations of the disused railways in that area. It proved very popular, and I subsequently wrote another seven books on the same theme. The explorations took me all over Scotland and sales of the books totalled about 12,000. I spoke on the radio on disused railways and gave a talk at the Wigtown Book Festival. I have always had a publisher for the railway books.
However, time catches up with you and your knees so in retirement with the encouragement of friends I decided to write another novel. I mulled over the plot in my head for months writing little down and set in the Scottish island of Islay. Machir Bay was the result. The consequence of a wartime tragedy, a mysterious plane crash, missing gold (spot a link to my first novel) and the story of two families. A youthful romance between Peter and Catherine, which ended abruptly and then the return of Catherine to the island years later. Accusations of attempted rape by Catherine which Peter, who was drugged has no recollection. Complicating matters is that in the intervening years Peter had married Jenny, an artist. Peter’s problems lead him into danger as he exposes a drug run between Northern Ireland and Islay operated by Desmond McGrory, an Irish drug baron.
I started, as you do, with the first chapter, rewritten innumerable times, and then the daily discipline of a chapter a day, with weekends off to plot the next section and to my surprise I finished it. I employed a copy editor and decided to publish myself.
To my surprise the book proved popular and sold 1100 copies in paperback and is now on Kindle. Machir Bay was reviewed positively in magazines and newspapers and through Amazon sold all over the United Kingdom. In Islay it was particularly successful. Waterstones and other bookshops had healthy sales and there was a successful launch at Waterstones in Ayr. The sequel Bac Mor continuing the story of Peter and Jenny and their final showdown with Desmond McGrory and takes the story to Mull and Iona. A publisher showed interest in my work, but COVID killed that dream.
I have a plot to complete the Peter and Jenny trilogy but decided to give them a rest, a period of recovery. Still learning my craft, I wanted to try different characters set in a different area.
My writing has been influenced by my railway explorations and the need to describe scenes accurately. I set my stories in places that I know and hope that people would recognise the places that I write about. A major influence is Desmond Bagley, a popular thriller writer from the 1970s. His novel, Running Blind set in Iceland was one of my favourite books and his descriptions of the dramatic Icelandic landscape was remarkable. When the BBC filmed the book, I could recognise where most of the scenes were set. He could also write thrilling chase sequences. I wanted to emulate him, and all my fiction contain chase sequences.
The latest book Devil’s Cauldron is set in Galloway, and I am proud that I could use my knowledge of the disused railways as part of the plot. When he was twelve Finn McAdam saw his father, a scientist, murdered. No one believed him. Now he has returned to his native Galloway to discover the truth.
But the conspiracy he discovers exposes a cover-up involving leading political figures and places his life in great danger. Some people are determined that the truth must not get out.
During the First World War, a large munitions factory was set up in south-west Scotland to meet the crippling shortage of cordite for shells on the Western Front. On a visit, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle labelled the cordite paste as the Devil’s Porridge. After the world wars, the area was used mainly for storing munitions until a new unit nicknamed the Devil’s Cauldron was set up.
Mainly set in Galloway, the story should appeal to those who enjoyed John Buchan’s classic novel ‘The 39 Steps’ or Dorothy L Sayers’ Five Red Herrings’.
A fourth novel, Delivery Boy, written during lockdown, is completed in draft. Billy Baxter’s life was ruined when he lost his parents in a car crash as a boy. His Uncle Dean’s offers of help came at a price and Billy was drawn into a nightmare from which he can’t escape unless…. Now everyone is out to murder Billy, but murder is the least of his fears.
So far, all my novels have been told through the eyes of the narrator which I have found a useful approach, allowing me to show the vulnerability of the character and conceal information about him. Peter, Jenny and Finn are all very human faced with great danger they survive. They are not heroes in the classical sense, but ordinary people face with challenging situations, reacting as I think we might if faced with the same circumstances. I also like telling a story partly in flashback gradually revealing more of their background. Peter’s earlier life is important and is told between chapters set in the present. The two stories gradually merge and then the pace picks up.
Basically, I love writing and plotting and become very absorbed in my tales. Once I start, I try to write a chapter each day, then take the dog for a walk, come back and edit my efforts. Some days there are few changes, other days there can be a rewrite but the momentum to keep up the pace means that it only takes a few months to complete a novel. Often the choice phrases that I thought I would use in the initial draft are edited out.
My favourite character is Finn McAdam, the main character in the Devil’s Cauldron. Not just because he is a Chemistry teacher! He faces challenges, the opposition of his family and the people involved in the conspiracy and doesn’t give up. Finn is vulnerable, has too high an opinion of his dad, suffers from PTSD but is determined to expose the wrongdoing that killed his father.
I worked as a deputy head teacher, at a large comprehensive secondary school in Ayrshire, for many years and live in Ayr with my wife and a lively Border Collie and enjoy retirement. Since the age of five I have wanted to write a novel. It only took 60 years for me to fulfil my ambition.
I have previously written a series of popular books exploring Scotland’s disused railways, recording the history of the lines and incidents and personalities associated with the routes. The first explorations took place in Galloway over twenty-five years ago and now cover ‘lost railways’ from Galloway to the Borders and the Trossachs. The explorations were a family affair with the help of my four sons.
I love writing, exploring different parts of Scotland and using my imagination.
Interesting to see the reference to Desmond Bagley – I used to love his work too. Thanks to Alasdair and Reading Between the Lines for including me on this blog tour. Best luck with the book.