The Five By Five Interview with Neil Broadfoot
“Five By Five?” Um, well… I wanted a name for this (hopefully regular) feature, and as well as being a big crime fiction fan I am also a big Buffy The Vampire Slayer fan, with a soft spot for “rogue slayer” Faith, who uses the phrase constantly – though she never explains what it means, it’s an expression used in telecoms/military coms to confirm a signal is being received clearly, so hopefully this means we’ll get a clearer picture of our interviewees!
Full disclosure: Neil and I have known each other for many years, but his books earn their place on the blog like anyone else’s on the only criteria that matters: are they any good? Trust me, he’d be the first to know if I didn’t think they were… It has been fabulous to see him go from tinkering with short stories in the lulls between editions when we worked for the same newspaper to being on stage at book festivals. If you like fast-paced, twisty crime novels with a good crunch of violence, give him a go. You can read my reviews of No Quarter Given and the previous novels in the Connor Fraser series – No Man’s Land, No Place To Die and The Point Of No Return – elsewhere on the blog.
Neil Broadfoot worked for 15 years as a journalist on local and national titles in Scotland before moving into communications, in both the public and private sectors. He is the author of seven books across two series set in Edinburgh (featuring journalist Doug McGregor and cop Susie Drummond) and Stirling (focused on protection specialist Connor Fraser). The first Doug & Susie novel, Falling Fast, was shortlisted for the Dundee International Book Prize and the Deanston Scottish Crime Book of the Year Award (now the McIlvanney Prize). The first Connor Fraser novel, No Man’s Land, was longlisted for the 2019 McIlvanney award. He is also one of the Four Blokes In Search of A Plot, a quartet of crime writers who live write a story based on suggestions from the audience. Follow him on Twitter here: @NlBro and find his author page on Facebook at: www.facebook.com/abloodierfont
First, the sensible questions…
Q1 Tell us a bit about your journey to publication and how you got to where you are now. Why crime fiction rather than another genre?
I’m a journalist to trade, but writing is all I’ve ever wanted to do. That’s why I became a journalist – to write while I was working on getting published. I always said I’d dedicate my first book to someone very important to me (my gran), but life got in the way a bit until I got a reminder of the promise I’d made. I’m not sure what that did to me, but I was obsessed with getting published from that point. So I started working on what would become my first novel, Falling Fast. I didn’t know I was writing a crime novel when I started it – I only had the opening of the book in my head – but it went on to be nominated for the Dundee International Book Prize and the Bloody Scotland book of the year award [then the Deanston prize, now renamed the McIlvanney Prize] so I must have done something right!
Q2 What was it like sitting down and writing your first novel, and what is it like now?
Same and different, I guess. As I said, the first book was written to honour my gran, so I always had a deadline as it were, just a different type of deadline. Eight (!) books later and the process isn’t really different – I take an idea/scene/line then run with it and see where it takes me. I guess I’m taking more risks now in my writing, there are themes in No Quarter Given I wouldn’t have dreamed of approaching a few books ago and that’s a good thing. As a writer, you need to challenge yourself, take risks, make sure the book you’re working on brings something new from where you were with the last one.
Q3 What are advantages and disadvantages of a background in journalism when you turn to fiction?
I always say writing is a job that never feels like work, but at the end of the day it is exactly that: a job. Coming from a journalism background, I have a deadline and I hit it; I have words to produce, I do it. The other thing is it makes the editing process easier, I guess. As a sub-editor, I edited copy and articles all the time, so I understand the process and that it’s all part of the job of making the work better. As for the writing, I approach my stories as a journalist would – as I don’t plan and have no idea what’s going on, I investigate the story as I go, figuring it out as a reporter would.
Q4 What’s your favourite part about being a writer?
I love all of it, it’s all I ever wanted to do. Covid underlined how important festivals and meeting readers and other writers is, and I’m glad we’re getting back to that. And the sheer thrill of seeing your name on a book cover on a shelf or table in a bookshop, that never gets old.
Q5 What’s next for you, in terms of writing?
I’ve just delivered the next Connor Fraser novel, Violent Ends, which is out later this year. I have plans for more Connor books, and a few plot threads that I need him to deal with (cough Duncan MacKenzie cough), and now that he’s made the acquaintance of a certain Edinburgh-based reporter [first seen in Falling Fast], there’s a lot of potential to explore. Away from Connor, I’ve got a few standalone ideas kicking around in my brain (including one cracker that came to me at 3am and demanded I write the opening), and I owe my oldest friend a good old-fashioned horror novel.
Now for the quick-fire round…
Q1 Who are your favourite characters in crime fiction?
Sherlock Holmes, Laidlaw [by William McIlvanney], Danny Bird [by Derek Farrell], Jan Fabel, Lennox [both by Craig Russell] and, of course, Paddington – Paddington 2 is the epitome of cosy crime. Fight me.
Q2 What book have you reread the most?
Probably The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s an Edinburgh book, and there’s always something new to get from it.
Q3 What’s your favourite method of killing off characters?
Hmmm, whatever I come up with at the time. Though I’m quite fond of the locked-room swimming pool murder in No Quarter Given, even if it took me waaaay too long to work out how the killer did it!
Q4 What is your most over-used phrase, in life or in writing?
My characters nod to an excessive degree. It’s a real pain in the neck…
Q5 Do you use a bookmark or do you fold down the page corner?
Bookmark. I’m not a savage.
I’m pretty sure Mr Broadfoot has a book of mine on loan, so I shall be checking for tell-tale signs of non-bookmarking on its return… Having just watched the Paddington films for the first time, I definitely concur – if you haven’t seen them, I do recommend a viewing if you need something delightful and uplifting. And of course Derek Farrell, creator of the Danny Bird series, is a Friend Of The Blog, so a big WOO-HOO for that choice. Thanks for stopping by to share a little insight into the mind of “a true rising star of crime fiction” (according to Ian Rankin, and who am I to disagree?).
Neil’s latest book is No Quarter Given, freshly out in paperback: She was lying in the road when he found her, crumpled and broken, the car that hit her screaming away from the scene in a haze of tyre smoke and exhaust fumes… Jennifer MacKenzie being hit by a car was a tragic accident. Or so it seemed. Until Connor is summoned to a meeting with his girlfriend’s dad, Duncan MacKenzie. MacKenzie claims that Jen’s accident was actually a message intended for him – and a way to force him to kill his trusted lieutenant, Paulie King, who has now mysteriously disappeared. His request to Connor is simple. Find Paulie and the men who hurt his daughter. Do whatever it takes. As an all-out gang war threatens to explode across central Scotland, Connor begins a journey that forces him to confront some uncomfortable truths about his girlfriend and the family he is connected to through her. But Connor is also driven by a vow – to find Paulie. And when he does, no quarter will be given.
You can buy the Doug & Susie series – Falling Fast, The Storm and All The Devils – in ebook from Amazon (if you’re speedy you can get all three for less than a fiver, they’re on offer right now!). The Connor Fraser novels are available in hardback, paperback, ebook and audiobook.
Neil will be in conversation with James Oswald at Waterstones in Dunfermline on 12 May, talking about their latest books: https://www.waterstones.com/events/an-evening-with-neil-broadfoot-and-james-oswald/dunfermline