Ragnar Jonasson, Craig Robertson and Quentin Bates during a recent event in Waterstones Argyle Street for the release of ‘Snoblind’. During the chat, talk of noir labelling came up.
READER: So you’re a Scottish writer?
ME: That’s correct.
READER: And you write crime, right?
ME: That’s also correct.
READER: So, it’ll be Tartan Noir you write, then?
I may smile on the outside but inside I’m wincing, just a little.
It’s a handy label to be sure but I think it’s unfair to lump everything together written in the crime and mystery genre in Scotland, or by Scots.
Yes, I’m Scottish. Yes, what I’m writing at the moment could be termed noir. But there’s not a trace of tartan. There’s no shortbread, haggis or bagpipes, either. Although someone did eat some flat sausage in ‘Blood City’.
The crime genre is vast and Scottish writers run the gamut of police procedurals, domestic noir, thrillers, mysteries, cosy crime and black comedy – themselves handy labels which can cover an array of sub-genres.
We write stories that are set in Scotland with a distinct Caledonian background and often with a dark Celtic sensibility.
But here’s the thing –
The majority of them could be set anywhere.
Yes, it’s the strong background that can give them their edge, although not all Scottish crime is edgy, but you could take the plotlines, plonk them down beyond Hadrian’s Wall, create a similarly strong background and they would still have an edge.
My stories, for instance, would work just as well in Manchester, Newcastle, Liverpool or London, had I the local knowledge to make them breathe.
I recently attended an event in Waterstones Argyle Street to coincide with the release of Ragnar Jonasson’s ‘Snow Blind’ (Orenda Press). The subject of the ‘noir’ labelling came up in conversation with Craig Robertson and Quentin Bates, in this case ‘Nordic Noir’.
Sure it’s just a label but Quentin made the point that such labelling shouldn’t be necessary. It’s all crime, whether the accent Icelandic (as in Ragnar’s work), Scottish or English.
A vast amount of superb crime comes from England but I’m not aware of any all-encompassing label for their work.
Nor Irish, nor Welsh.
Certainly we don’t call any crime novel from the USA ‘Yankee Noir’.
So my message is this – view ‘Tartan Noir’ as nothing more than a handy label but don’t let it put you off. Crime writing in Scotland is varied and wonderful and funny and dangerous and dark and exciting and infuriating.
Just like the country itself.
I’ll end with another conversation I had with a crime reader.
READER: I like crime fiction.
ME: Glad to hear it.
READER: No, I really like crime fiction.
ME: I’m really glad to hear it.
READER: I don’t like Scottish crime fiction, though.
ME: Why not?
READER: Well, it’s just so…Scottish.
I was, frankly, gobsmacked.
You see, this reader was Scottish.
Cannae win, neither ye can.