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Denise Mina on FIELD OF BLOOD

DM: Hi Paul, delighted to do this.

GM: Hi Denise. Can I begin by asking you how important it is for you to keep up with police procedure and forensic science? Do you have friends in the force who advise you on technicalities?

DM: I do and the Strathclyde police force are very approachable. They actually have a media department and you can send them a list of questions which they'll answer as long as they are clear enough. The problem with the Paddy Meehan books of course is that they're set at different times and police procedure changes all the time, especially now when the science and politics of the force are so fast moving. It used to be a case of catch the baddy and hit him with a stick.

GM: I love the character of Paddy Meehan - different to all those clean-cut designer-suited female detectives we're used to on TV - is she based on a real person?

DM: She's based on a lot of people I know who are slightly shambolic, messy, greedy women. I'm not really friends with many shoulder padded A type personalities, you know, the pretty girl who diets successfully and everyone likes. We're the outsiders.

GM: What made you want to become a writer in the first place, and how difficult was it to get into the business? Winning an award for you first book must have been an enormous boost for you

DM: I thought about being a writer the way most people think about being a pop star: it would be great but probably wouldn't happen to me. Every job I had was conditional because I always felt I had this other possible life and eventually I thought I had to give it one last go before settling into the life of an incompetent academic. That last chance was the first three chapters of 'Garnethill' which won the Creasey Dagger in 1998. I had to do about six rewrites but it didn’t feel like any kind of hardship.

GM: You paint a dark but fascinating picture of Glasgow, yet you obviously have a fondness for the city, or you wouldn't have chosen it as the setting for your books. How do you feel about Glasgow?

DM: I love Glasgow. I came back here when I was nineteen and just fell in love with the city. I'd lived in south London for a long time, an urban spread where it's polite to ignore each other. In Glasgow people talk to each other everywhere, at bus stops in shops and it all feels very communal. The architecture is beautiful and the scale of the place suits me: you can walk from one end of the city to the other in a day which I love. Also south London was very right wing and in Glasgow everyone is a socialist

GM: I nearly always set books in Glasgow but I think of all cities as universal spaces. I like to know the geography of the area I'm writing about and usually the houses people live in. I've been writing 'Hellblazer' for DC comics and had to make a video of the houses everyone lived in for the Argentinian comic artist because I keep referring to specifics.

GM: Field of Blood is the first of five Paddy Meehan novels - will the other four all be murders or do you have anything else in mind for your heroine?

DM: I'm pretty sure each book will have a crime at it's heart, whether that's a murder or not remains to be seen. Like you. I have only the vaguest idea what I'm doing. All of the people, all of the time.

GM: When you create your characters. do you think of actors who might portray the parts on TV or film?

DM: No, I know some people think of film as they write but I find it very hard to do that because the forms are so utterly different: film is about the presentation of events, and books are generally about the internal dialogue of the characters. As to casting, it's very hard to imagine anyone as Paddy for me. What I'd really like is the kudos and cash for a film adaptation without ever having to see the thing. I imagine it would feel like someone dressing up in your clothes and dancing like you do: flattering but ultimately humiliating and hideous to watch.

GM: If so, who do you have in mind for Paddy?

DM: John Hannah. He plays everyone doesn't he? Actually I'd like someone with a young face and a Sophia Loren body. I'd like her to be gorgeous and voluptuous and constantly trying to starve herself to mediocracy.

GM: Why 1981? Was it because of the Paddy Meehan connection? Was Glasgow your home at that period in your life?

DM: I didn’t live here then, I only came back in 1986, but Glasgow didn’t change much for a long time: It was rough and slightly desolate all the way through the seventies and early eighties. I had to make it 1981 because of Paddy Meehan but also I wanted to show the arch in the city's recent history and how far it has come since then.

GM: Let's turn to the Brian Wilcox murder - was this based on the infamous Jamie Bolger case, murdered by Jon Venables and Robert Thompson?

DM: The Brian Wilcox murder in the book is partly based on that case but also on the case of Mary Bell, because Gitta Sereny has documented it so well. In Britain at any one time there are actually about eight to ten children in secure care for committing child-on-child murders but they are generally hushed up from the beginning. The Bulger case was made public because it was a missing child case and so the video was released. It was assumed that the boys had abducted James for an adult. Otherwise we might not even know about it.

GM: Do you have an opinion on juvenile crime of this nature? After all, Venables and Thompson were released a few years ago, having served about 8 years. How do you feel about that?

DM: It's such a complex issue, I think we need to be flexible and take each case on its particulars. Interestingly, in Britain people are shocked that I've written about this at all. In places like Sweden people are shocked that the boys are arrested and held in prison. Given that there are two major concerns in the criminal justice system: retribution and rehabilitation, in this country we tend to emphasise the first at the expense of the second. I think in the case of children this is a big, impractical mistake. Ten year olds don't abduct and kill a child because they are being cared for properly. We're the adults. We're responsible for the circumstances children grow up in.

GM: Can you say what you read as a child, and as a teenager?

DM It took me a long time to learn to read because we moved around so much and lived in France and Holland. My schooling was very confused. When I did start reading I read lots of inappropriate things: Flashman when I was ten, To Kill a Mocking Bird about six times, The Graduate. I remember a nun giving me evil looks when I was thirteen for reading Errol Flyn's autobiography 'My wicked Wicked ways' over lunch in a convent. I never liked Enid Blyton or The Chalet Girls or any of that stuff but must confess a fondness for Jackie. Not 'My Guy'; that was for rough girls.

GM: Can you please name the five authors or books that have had the most influence on you as a writer?

DM: Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, for sheer verve and daring. Zola and Balzac because I read them at a very particular time in my life and was touched and lifted by the descriptive passages.  Orwell because he tried to use literature to do something useful, if you can call averting totalitarianism useful. It's hard to justify your life by just telling stories. I think Harper Lee must have had a huge impact on my writing because I re-read Mocking bird so often when I was young.

Denise, thanks again - it's been a real pleasure, and good luck with the next Paddy Meehan novel!

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