: An interview with Andrew Nicoll

xuGosh! A Scottish writer on my blog! It’s a joke, naturally, but you are a very amusing person so this interview will be a little different from the others. My English is horrible, so good luck to both of us. First of all, thanks for accepting my interview and welcome. Let us not forget good manners. Tell us something about you. Where you came from? Where are you studied?

I come from Broughty Ferry, the place where the story of Miss Milne is set. It was once a little fishing village on the east coast of Scotland but, about a hundred years ago, it was swallowed up by the city of Dundee. We have lived here since my grandfather’s day. But we are new arrivals. In the 18th century my family lived about 20 kilometres north of here and my mother’s family about 20 kilometres south. I have no real education. I went to school here, then I went to work.

What jobs have you held in the past before becoming a full-time writer? What can you tell us about this experience?

A full time writer? Well, I suppose I am a full time writer since I have been a newspaper reporter for 36 years but I am not a full time novelist. It’s a hobby. I write books on the train to work. Before I became a reporter, I worked briefly as a forestry labourer after leaving school. I quickly learned that I was not cut out for life as a working man.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

Like most things in my life it was accidental. Turning 40 hit me very hard. I had all the usual feelings of “is this it?”. I wanted to find something else to do, to expand myself in some way. I saw a friend who got a fast car and a young girlfriend but that turned out to be a very expensive hobby. So I began to write short stories with some success. Then I had an idea for a short story and I began to write it on the train to work. It turned into Non Sara Mai Inverno.

Tell us something about your debut. Your road to publication. Have you received many refuses?

Nobody wanted to publish me. Nothing. I gave myself a deadline. I said, if nobody would accept the book after two years, I would stop. I got a deal with ten days to go.

Let talk of The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne. First of all the book  is inspired by a true story, – or, let us say- , by a true inquiry. Right? Could you talk about it?

It’s a story I have grown up with all my life. It happened a hundred years ago but that’s no time at all. I often say that my hand has held a hand that held a rifle in the Great War.  A hundred years ago is just a handshake away. When I was born, there must have been men here in Broughty Ferry who remembered the story from their boyhood. And the legend lived on. I don’t know how many times I have gone past that house with a shiver. But all we knew was that Miss Milne was murdered there and the killer was never found.

This is a difficult question. Can you sum up your book in no more than 25 words?

The story of the unsolved murder of a wealthy and reclusive woman in a quiet Scottish town, based on police files released after 100 years.

You finally give at the case the resolution that it was denied at the time. How did you discover the your truth?

When I stumbled on the police files I was almost breathless with excitement. Here was everything I had ever wanted to know about this legend which had haunted my boyhood years. I read the whole thing, hour after hour and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. So many things that had been simply ignored and disregarded. Her body was found covered in used matches – but nobody made any attempt to explain that. A vase on the stair beside her body was full of urine – but nobody made any attempt to explain that. There were so many strange circumstances that were simply ignored and one in particular which was never examined or investigated in the slightest. It gave me room to let my imagination dance and find an answer that fitted the facts.

Name some of the sources you uncovered while writing The Secret Life and Curious Death of Miss Jean Milne. What kind of research was involved ?

Almost everything comes from the police file but I also consulted library files of newspaper reports at the time. The newspapers, of course, were already known, the police files have been secret for a century.

What role does the Internet play in writing, and researching your book?

Almost nothing.

Who was the most difficult character to write and why? The easiest and why?

I’ve written four, internationally published novels and this was by far the easiest. I know these people and the streets they live in, the houses they live in. The whole story was there. I simply hung clothes on it.

Any movie projects from your books?


Have you received bad reviews?

Oh some stinkers. Particularly from Italy. People buy the book thinking they are going to get a detective story. I hate detective stories. In fact there is only one detective story, endlessly rewritten and repeated, over and over and over. It is the most boring thing in the world. If I wanted to write a detective story, would I choose an unsolved murder to write about? That’s the worst idea in the world. It’s not a “giallo”. It’s a story about people. If you like people, buy this book. If you want to read the same old detective story AGAIN, try another book.

How do you imagine your future right now?

I don’t know. Which is probably lucky. I worked 18 years at my first newspaper, I have worked 18 years at my current paper and, in 18 years, I will be the same age as my father was when he dropped dead in the middle of an email. Let’s not imagine the future too much.

Do you enjoy touring for literary promotion? Tell to our Italian readers something of amusing about these meetings.

It’s the best thing in the world, really. Meeting people who care enough about your work to come out in the evening and talk to you is truly a wonderful feeling. I suppose the funniest thing happened in Romania when I was doing breakfast TV. The interview was in English with live translation and the interviewer had clearly looked me up on Google. It became clear that he had confused me with Andrew Nicol – with one L – who also comes from Broughty Ferry. But only one of us was ever captain of the Scotland rugby team and it’s not me.

Tell me an adjective for each one of these writers:

William McIlvanney,
One word is not enough for Willie. He was a lovely man. Kind, generous, gentle, suave. A hero.
James Ellroy,
Weird. ( good, but weird)
James Crumley,
Raymond Chandler,
Agatha Christie,
Iain Banks,
Rich (also dead)

Who are some of your favorite writers?

Lampedusa. He was my patron saint when I couldn’t get published. Joseph Conrad. RL Stevenson. Joseph Mitchell, who wrote Bottom of the Harbour and Joe Gould’s Secret. I’m in love with the Illiad. The list is enormous.

Who do you feel has influenced your writing?

My reporter colleagues, I suppose. Years of doing it every day. Understanding the knack of saying three things in one paragraph or one thing on three pages.

Will you come to Italy again to introduce your novels?

I’d love to. I have visited Italy only once, briefly last summer. I’d go back in a minute.

Finally, the inevitable question: what are you working on now?iv>

Shhh. Never buy the pram until after the baby is born. Willie Mcilvanney told me that.


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