The Five By Five Interview with Gordon Brown aka Morgan Cry
“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!
I don’t remember when I first met Gordon Brown, but between events for his own books, launches for other writers, festivals and of course Four Blokes appearances we manage to bump into each other a fair amount! He also chaired the first Bloody Scotland Book Club event I did, making the whole process a breeze. He became Morgan Cry for a new series of novels set in Spain, but if you meet him he still looks the same, which is handy for purposes of recognition across a crowded bar 😀 You can find my review of Thirty-One Bones elsewhere on the blog.
Gordon Brown has eight crime and thriller books published to date, along with a novella and a number of short stories. Under his new expat alias, Morgan Cry, he has written two novels set in Spain, Thirty-One Bones, and now Six Wounds. Gordon also helped found Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival, is one-quarter of the Four Blokes In Search Of A Plot, is a DJ on local radio and runs a strategic planning consultancy. He lives in Scotland and is married with two children. In a former life he delivered pizzas in Toronto, sold non-alcoholic beer in the Middle East, launched a creativity training business, floated a high-tech company on the London Stock Exchange, compered the main stage at a two-day music festival and was once booed by 49,000 people while on the pitch at a major football Cup Final. Find him on Twitter here: @GoJaBrown @MorganCryAuthor Find his website here: https://gordonjbrown.com/
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?
My first attempt at a novel was back in my early twenties. Hanging off the back of a jeep on the island of Crete, I spotted a man with a back-pack – in the middle of nowhere. I got to thinking about who he might be, why he was here. When I reached a café, I asked for some paper and a pen. The waiter gave me a small order pad and I scribbled the beginning of a book called The Drifter. A day later I nipped to the local supermarket and bought a few jotters to keep the story going. A couple more writing pads, a ton of loose A4 later and the book was done. It still lives in a suitcase under my bed, unpublished.
Fast forward to 2008, a few false starts later, and I’m just finishing up a contract as STV’s marketing director. With a summer ahead, I’d said to my wife, Lesley, that I was going to give writing one more chance. I had a single line in my head – “Falling was the last thing I wanted to do”. I started typing and, two months later, I stopped. I spent a month trying to fix it all, called it Falling and sent the required three chapters and a synopsis to four publishers. Lo and behold one of them came back to me and asked to see the rest of the book. I fired it over by email and was asked to meet up for a coffee with Zander Wedderburn, owner of Fledgling Press. He was honest, said he loved the first three chapters but the rest was “not so nice” (he may have used other words). I was deflated until I realised that, in my haste to send off the rest of the book to him, I’d mistakenly sent a far earlier, unedited version of the book. Suffice to say I sent the final version and a year later Falling was published.
I’m now on my ninth novel, Six Wounds. Set in the expat community on the Costa Blanca, it’s the second in the Spanish crime series starring Daniella Coulstoun.
Q2 What was it like sitting down and writing your first novel, and what is it like now – easier, harder, just different?
I can’t remember who said it first but writing is about making up lies about people that don’t exist. I love the blank page. I never know where it will take me. But it doesn’t get easier. There’s not a lot that is simple about wrangling 90,000 words into something that makes sense and will entertain your readers. When I started out writing I wasn’t a planner. In the early days all I needed was a first line and the starting gun. At some point, a few novels ago, this changed slightly. I am still without a plan but I do have a bit of a routine. I’m not one given to writing in the same place – most of my books have been written on seats/chairs/benches in trains/planes/pubs/cafes/parks and more – all on my (t)rusty MacBook. I write early – during lockdown I was writing from 5am onwards. I like to target 2,000 words a day. After I’m finished scribbling, I’ll then go for a walk, spinning the story in my head, thinking about what could come next – not in depth, just some rough ideas to allow me to rise the next day and craft another 2,000 words. It’s a kind of planning, but I’m definitely not one for wall charts, post-it pads and endless plotting.
Q3 What made you choose a young, female protagonist after writing two male main characters? And how are you finding writing her?
The simple, and really boring answer, is that it’s not hard to write as Daniella at all. I write in first person present tense. All nine of my novels are written that way. I like the immediacy that brings – although it does require some fancy ducking and diving when you need to leave your protagonist’s head and describe the world outside their reach. Daniella actually started out as Daniel but, not long into the first book, Thirty-One Bones, I realised that a male protagonist didn’t work. Daniella inherits a highly dysfunctional bar in the Costa Blanca from her mother. It’s populated by an even more dysfunctional group of expat customers, called the ExPatriots, and Daniella has to fight hard in the book to gain control. When she was Daniel I felt all the scenes with other men were destined to end up in a fist fight; as Daniella she has to be far smarter and less confrontational. This worked so well I just kept going. As they are crime books, Daniella has to navigate and deal with life’s failures, local police, gangsters and all sorts. This is fun to write and it’s no longer a case of me writing as a female – Daniella is Daniella.
Q4 What’s your favourite part about being a writer?
I love the act of writing. Research is something I do when I need to, but imagination is king. I’m always amazed at what ends up on the page. I’ll sometimes bore my wife to bits when looking for inspiration. Lesley has some cracking ideas at times. I recently wrote a short story for an anthology and was struggling with it. I loved the concept but something was missing. While we were out for a walk one day, Lesley threw in one storming idea and the story went from OK to brilliant. Those are the moments that make it all worthwhile. I can always tell when things are flying. As a matter of course, when writing, I read back my work, usually every 8,000 to 10,000 words, and do a light edit. If I find I’ve stopped stop editing and got lost in my own words – I know I’m on a winner. If I can get lost in it, then so will the reader.
Q5 What’s next for you, in terms of writing?
Six Wounds, written as Morgan Cry, is just out. I recently signed a deal with Red Dog Press, for two books writing as Gordon J Brown. Any Day Now is set in Glasgow and London in the 1980s and 1990s among the world of crime and music. The other one is set in Glasgow in 1973, called No More Games, with two 12-year olds as the main protagonists (but it’s not a YA book – far from it). Any Day Now is out early September and No More Games is due next spring.
Now for the quick-fire round…
Q1 Who are your favourite characters in crime fiction?
Can I say my characters are my favourites? Not allowed? Truthfully – that’s hard. A few that spring to mind: Denzil Meyrick’s Brian Scott, Lou Berney’s Frank Guidry, Stephen King’s Bill Hodges.
Q2 What book have you reread the most?
Nightmare Blue by Gardner Dozois and George Alec Effinger. German detective teams up with multi-limbed alien to save the world from aliens who are peddling the most addictive drug ever. Go on, tell me you don’t want to read it.
Q3 What’s your favourite method of killing off characters?
I have a series of books starring a protagonist called Craig McIntyre who is responsible for the death of many people and has never once touched any of them. Remote killing might be the word. But I suppose my favourite way to kill off people is though pure stupidity – you can’t beat it for a methodology.
Q4 What is your most over-used phrase, in life or in writing?
“Blah blah blah,” he/she says while scratching his/her head/chin/cheek/or any other part of their body.
Q5 Do you use a bookmark or do you fold down the page corner?
Bookmark – but never an actual bookmark, it’s anything from a used hankie to a pound coin.
Thanks for those answers Gordan/Morgan! I’m not sure I’d want to employ a used hanky as a bookmark (!!) but it’s better than folding page corners 😀 It’s great to hear that writing Daniella comes naturally, and it’s certainly nice to have a heroine/protagonist who has to rely on their wits and smarts, rather than their fists. I have Six Wounds on my TBR stack and look forward to a little trip to Spain soon – it’ll be as close as I get to a foreign holiday this year!
Gordon/Morgan’s new book is Six Wounds: To make the perfect Spanish whodunnit cocktail, take one dead gangster, mix in six shifty expats, add one ruthless baddie and garnish with a suspicious police officer… Daniella Coulstoun has recently moved to the Costa Blanca. When the dead body of a prominent London gangster is discovered in the cellar of her bar she quickly becomes the number one suspect. With the police closing in, the local expats turning on her and a psychotic rival to the dead gangster in the background, Daniella knows she needs to nail the real killer, and fast.
Gordon/Morgan is appearing at Waterstones Argyle Street, Glasgow on Wednesday 8 June to talk about Six Wounds. Find out more here: www.waterstones.com/events/book-launch-six-wounds/glasgow-argyle-street