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Birthdays For The Dead

Stuart MacBride lives in the North East of Scotland, where he writes gruesome crime novels and grows gruesome potatoes.

Vote For Stuart - Million For A Morgue

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If you want to know what I'm up to, head on over to the diary page!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

That's not what socks are for...

I've been out and about a lot of late, doing exciting secret stuff like going to Tesco to buy the first Brussels sprouts of autumn. So I was late to the whole sockpuppet debacle when it broke on Friday night.

Obviously, it's disturbing to think that the internet is rife with rampant socks, bigging up their puppeteer's own books while heaping scorn and one-star derision on other authors, but I like to think that what we're seeing at the moment isn't the tip of some massive malevolent iceberg, but just a few isolated cases. And I hope, very much, not to be disabused of that. For years those of us in the crime-writing community have banged on about how lovely and supportive we all are of each other, so of course what's happened looks like a vast betrayal of trust. What's worse is that it's not just the targeted authors who suffer from these kinds of practices, but - and probably more importantly - the readers do too.

The whole point of a good review - and by good, I mean well thought out, not necessarily positive - is to help people make an informed decision about whether they're going to give a book a chance or not. Sockpuppetry undermines that.

Let's face it, I'm no stranger to one-star reviews on Amazon. As anyone who's been to see me at an author event knows, I've got a habit of reading out the really vitriolic ones, because they're the ones that have tipped over the edge of constructive criticism into bug-eating insanity, and sometimes bug-eating insanity can be very, very funny. Unintentionally, of course. And do you know what? I'm a big boy now - I have my own beard and everything - a one-star review isn't going to send me rushing to the bottom of a bottle regardless of whether it comes from a genuine reader, a troll, or even an item of hosiery with a hand inside it

Yes, what's happened has been disappointing and a lot of people have been very angry on my and Mark's behalf, but RJ Ellory has apologised for his actions and as far as I'm concerned, I'm going to accept that apology and draw a line under the whole affair. It's time to move on.

There's an open letter doing the rounds at the moment condemning the practice of making socks do unethical things and a lot of very good writers are signatories to that. I'm on there too, because I think it's a dangerous practice to get into. Not only will you get hairy palms, you're also betraying the people who write, publish, sell, and read books. Plus, it's very, very naughty. Don't do it.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to stick some googly eyes on a couple of Argyll socks and go give those jars of Marmite for sale on Amazon some really nasty one-star reviews...

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Out and about.

You know, something that really disappointed me about Canada was the complete lack of anyone saying, "Oot and aboot."* Nor did anyone have big flappy heads and tiny beady eyes. Apparently -- and you may want to hold on to your underpants here -- South Park has been lying to us.

Luckily we have a way to make up for this crushing oot-and-aboot-related disappointment by transferring ourselves from Canadian Canada to Aberdonian Aberdeen! Where, if you know where to hang out and don't mind getting your wellies dirty, you'll find loads of people who'll say it for you in a thick Doric accent. "Aye, we're ga'n oot an' aboot the fields i' day."

Only it won't be the fields we'll be oot-and-abooting! No, we'll be oot-and-abooting in Aberdeen. On the 25th of November, I, and some of the finest minds British Journalism has to offer accompanied by a forensics genius and a certain quantity of Isle of Jura Whisky (that quantity being 'quite a lot' if I've got anything to do with it) are going to do a wee tour of some Aberdeen's best places to kill people and/or dump the bodies.

And if you -- gentle sexy reader -- fancy joining us, you can! Yes, those lovely people at Isle of Jura are having a competition where one lucky person can clamber on board the Crime-Fiction-Mystery-Mobile** for an afternoon of Aberdeen, fictional murder scenes, and whisky tastings! Mmm, whisky...

What do you have to do, to win this fine prize not available in the shops? Well, according to the website:

"To win a coveted place on the tour, all you need to do is email us at with your synopsis for a crime story based on the Isle of Jura. You’ll need to be a registered Diurach as well, so please remember to include your Diurach number as proof. (You’ll find it on your Diurach certificate, which can be found, by clicking on ‘Become a Diurach’). Your entry should be no more than 100 words long."

There are, of course, terms and conditions (something about signing over the soul of your firstborn and agreeing to have my likeness tattooed somewhere about your person***) and you can find them all here. Prize includes the tour, a whisky tasting, dinner, a night in a hotel, breakfast , and maybe a couple of books as well. Oh, it's like Christmas came a month early, only without the family arguments and falling asleep in front of the telly.****

Oot and aboot!

* I also couldn't find anyone who could say, "Soldering aluminium tubes to put herbs such as oregano in." But that's a story for another time.
** Which is a fancy way of saying 'minibus'.
*** Or I might have just imagined that bit. But you could still do it if you liked. I mean, who wouldn't want to have a wee Stuart discreetly tattooed on their hidden areas?
**** Unless you really want to.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Blatant Self Promotion

Well, as if the recent Scottish Parliament, local council, and AV referendum didn't supply us with enough electiony goodness, voting for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year has just kicked off.

It's a good list this year (as always), very strong... But it's nice to be back in the running again - I'm already practicing my 'Of course I don't mind losing, it's an honour just to be nominated' grimace as someone else staggers off with the hand-crafted barrel-O-fun. Assuming, of course, that I manage to wriggle through to the shortlist, which is far from definite.

You can vote to get your favourite book from the longlist to the shortlist by going to the Theakstons website and working your clicky mouse-type magic. Non-shortlisted books will be made to stand in the corner and think about what they've done. And no, you don't have to vote for mine (though, obviously, I wouldn't complain if you did).

In other news* I'm doing a live chat show thing on Thursday evening hosted by Hardeep Singh Kohli at the Lemon Tree. Which should be ... I have no idea, actually. I know it involves curry, so I'm going to take a chance and not eat beforehand. And if things get too grumbly I'm planning to club one of the other guests to death and eat them.

That'll teach them to invite me on things.

* Taking a very lose interpretation of the word 'news'.

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Monday, March 28, 2011


A HalfHead guest post featuring Russel D McLean.

The following blog post is all Russel’s own work, as such the management accepts no responsibility for any rambling nonsense of a different flavour to the usual rambling nonsense. Nor does it accept any responsibility for him spelling words like ‘favourite’ the American way. Honestly, just because he’s signing book deals in the States like some sort of short and hairy Charlie Sheen there’s no need to throw standards out of the window, is there?

And interviewing yourself is the first sign of madness, you know. Well, that and lining your underpants with tinfoil, but we won’t go into that now.

So, without further ado, ladies, gentlemen, and small woodland animals, heeeeere’s Russel:

Dear Mr Russel D McLean

The estate of MacBeard accepts your proposal to come and talk on Halfhead for the final day of your online tour to promote the US release of your second novel THE LOST SISTER (and to big up the UK edition while you're at it). The owner of the blog wishes to meet at [location redacted] to discuss life, work and beard-growing tips. Please arrive at [time redacted] precisely or risk a fate worse than a fate worse than death.

[Lackey's name redacted]
On behalf of,
MacBeard Inc
(a subsidiary of Beardy Crime Writists International)

Russel looks all mean and moody, and not like a badger at allOkay, so I'm here. In this field in the middle of nowhere, and there’s a plane dusting crops where there ain't no crops. Hmmm, that's a bit suspicious. I wish I wasn't wearing my Cary Grant suit.

Eeeek! It's coming right at me! Quick, into the corn fields! Hide! Wait for the plane to hit that oncoming oil tanker... And boom! Okay, okay. What is this? Some kind of set up? Better be careful...

Hang on ... who's this coming through the fields? Is it ... could it be international jetsetter and beardy writist Stuart MacBeard? No ... no wait, it's a cat.

A cat wiping the remains of a mouse from her jaws.

Lucky I can speak cat, I suppose. Oh, hang on. It’s Grendel. MacBeard's familiar and mouse-killer extraordinaire. She's telling me that MacBeard can’t make it himself due to terribly important business* so she is authorized to conduct the proposed interview.

Okay, Grendel, take it away:

GRENDEL THE SCOURGE OF MICE: Welcome to Aberdeen, Russel. How was the trip?

RUSSEL D MCLEAN: Aside from the incident with the plane there, its been uneventful. You know I never usually travel this far North.

GTSM: Yes, you’re from Dundee. Daddy tells me its next a place called Fife that smells of linoleum.

RDM: It is next to Fife. I was born in Fife. I do not smell of linoleum.

GTSM: No, I'm getting a hint of marmalade, jute and ... ink?

RDM: That'll be twelve years in Dundee. Those are the three things its most famous for. That and being the last port of call for Captain Scott's ship, The Discovery. In fact, Dundee's known as the City of Discovery. Not just because of that, but because we're a hub for medical research, too.

GTSM: What are the cats like in Dundee?

RDM: You could quite easily rule them, Grendel. Although there is one cat who lives under my bed**. She might pose a challenge to your authority.

GTSM: She hasn't seen my moves. So is Dundee a hotbed of crime? Is that why you're writing about it?

RDM: No more a hotbed than anywhere else. Some bad stuff has happened here, but it happens everywhere. Back when I was trying to work out where to set my novels, I'd discounted Glasgow and Edinburgh as being too obvious. And then Stuart sewed up Aberdeen and I thought, maybe there's a market for books set in places off the beaten track. I'd been in Dundee for a few years, then, and thought it was worth a shot to set something there.

GTSM: You're a writist, like Daddy. What possessed you to even think of doing such a thing?

RDM: It's indoor work with no heavy lifting. And I was foolish enough to do a philosophy degree at university which left me with very few job choices.***

GTSM: You've written two books. Do either of them feature cats?

RDM: Sadly, neither of them do. The first one does feature an apparent suicide and scenes of violence involving shotguns. And the second has a heavily bearded psychopath and a missing girl. Oh, and a very large axe.

GTSM: But no cats?

RDM: Sorry, no. I'll endeavor to fit a cat into the next one.

GTSM: Daddy says you don't write about the police. I thought all crime novels had to have policemen.

RDM: The police make an appearance. But I write about a private detective. There are two reasons for this. 1) is that I grew up reading American novels, and I loved the ones with private eyes. No one in Scotland seemed to be writing about them so I thought I'd give it a try. And 2) My line of reasoning was that I would have to do less research than I'd have to do writing about the police. That line of reasoning was wrong, and I'm very grateful to a couple of real life eyes who took time out of their busy schedules to talk to me about the business. I do have some policemen in the books, of course. But I wanted to write about places they couldn't go, professionally speaking, so my character had to be a private investigator.

GTSM: I think a cat would make a good private investigator. We're good at slipping in places unnoticed... Speaking of slipping in places unnoticed, I see that you’ve been blogging on other people's sites for two weeks...

RDM: Yes, two weeks of uninterrupted gibberish from a beardy Scotsman...

GTSM: Reminds me of home...

RDM: ...and today is my final post. Which feels like I should be celebrating or something.

GTSM: Here, have a tasty mouse corpse. So what have you learned from your tour?

RDM: That even on the internet, scheduling conflicts can cause chaos. That crime readers are jolly nice when someone invades their favorite blogs. And that while you're physically touring, it's possible to recycle jokes, but it's very tough to do so on a blog tour. That top ten lists are impossible to create without some other agenda in their creation (such as books that changed the you looked at writing). Also, I've learned that my accent is much easier to understand in print.

GTSM: Which is tastier? Dead mouse or dead bird?

RDM: It’s all down to seasoning.

GTSM: I prefer my corpses au-naturel, frankly. Any final words for the readers of Halfhead?

RDM: Diverticulitis.

GTSM: Thank you very much. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve seen a bird that’s just asking to be batted about with my Claws of Death!

With thanks to Stuart for agreeing to host the final day of my blog tour. And to Grendel for stepping in at the last minute to conduct the interview.

*I assume he's off saving the world in some fashion. Or having cake. Its probably the cake.
**This is true. A neighbourhood cat has recently taken to waiting for me to come home and then slipping through my door when I open it and hiding under my bed.
***I kid, of course. I kid.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

The holy see of socks

As I've mentioned previously, I own a sock or two. I've been collecting them for a while now and some are positively vintage. Believe it or not, I've got socks lurking in the darkness of my bedside cabinet that go back to about 3BSWM*. True.

Like a good vintage automobile, there's no point in just keeping antique socks in a garage and admiring them now and then, washing them lovingly and polishing them with a chunk of chamois leather - no, you've got to take them out for a spin. Let them see the inside of your shoes once in a while.

You can tell a good vintage sock in my house by its colour. Nearly all my socks are black. Darker than a politician's soul, only less likely to commit expenses fraud and piss away all our money. You can rarely accuse socks of rampant cock-weaselry. But as they mature, the socks go from that rich lustrous darkness to a sort of deep dove grey. Then the fabric starts to thin, usually around the heel, it's male-pattern-baldness for hosiery.

Then they take that penultimate step and become holey.

It's strange to think that one's intimate footwear products undergo a religious conversion, but clearly it happens. When I buy them they're black and secular, but sooner or later they all seem to have that Road to Damascus moment. One minute they're fine, the next the muted sounds of tambourines and 'Kum ba yah...' comes from the bedside cabinet, muffled by the layer of pants in the drawer above.

I can only assume that they're trying to convert the socky brethren to join them in the service of whatever God socks worship**.

Of course, once they've completed their spiritual awakening, they're ready to move on to the next world, to take that last and final step. When I pull on a sock and I see that it's made that transition from atheist to religious loony, we both know that this is the last outing for Mr Sock (and they're all called Mr Sock). Once more around the block, my old friend; next stop a lavish state funeral with full honours***.

But for some reason, thinking about my old faithful sock minions makes me want to do another episode of Skeleton Bob.

Skeleton Bob, and his friend Stinky Ted
(a little boy who had come back from the dead)...

Now I just need to find lots of things that rhyme with 'BRAAAAAINNNNNNSSSSS!'

* Before She Who Must, which makes some of them nearly 20 years old. That's kinda scary, isn't it?
** Which, given that I'm the one who buys the bloody things, should be me. Surely? Am I not a beneficent deity? Do I not wash and hang them out to dry upon the line in mine bountiful sunshine? Do I not pare them up with whichever sock sort of looks a bit like they do and join them in holy matrimony?
*** Which involves a solemn procession through the house to the kitchen, out the back door, and chucking them in the bin. Saying a few words - usually "Bye, bye, Mr Sock." - and clunking the lid shut. Well, they're only socks.

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

An Musical Interlude

There are times when being a writeist is very cool, and this is one of them. When I was up in Shetland before Christmas I was talking to Donald Anderson of Shetland Arts about the new book, and the website HarperCollins were going to put together for the TV talent show that features in it: Britain's Next Big Star.

And after a few pints of Guinness I managed to persuade him to write a song and perform it for the website. A packet of crisps, and he agreed to dedicate it to Alison and Jenny McGregeor too! Bwahahahahaha. Best cheese-and-onion I ever spent. So when we did the final even of my writer-in-residency, Donald got up and performed the song, Gwilym Gibbons filmed it, I sodded about with some filters so it would fit the BNBS website and Bob's one of your parents' siblings.

And now, after a long time dormant, I can proudly present: Donald Anderson and One More Twist Of The Knife.

What's even more impressive is that the song's actually based on the workshops I was giving while I was in Shetland, and works in a lot of the themes and exercises. How cool is that?

Mr Anderson, our hats are off to you!

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Friday, December 31, 2010

The year, she is wheezy

Yes, it's the end of another year. Another 365 lumbering steps towards the box that awaits us all... Well, unless you're planning on being buried in some sort of larger-than-life-sized papier mache model of a badger, or getting turned into pies, or something like that.

I wonder if a cannibal wake would catch on over here? I mean, the Wari' have been doing it for generations. Mind you, you'd have to do a bit of presentation on the body parts if it's going to be a success in the UK. At the very least you'd have to wrap the various bits in pastry so they look like sausage rolls. Mind you, then you'd never really know what bit you were eating ... much like a real sausage roll then.

Anyway, yes. This has taken a rather macabre turn, hasn't it? I have been eating a lot of cheese at bedtime lately, so maybe that explains it..

Another thing I've been doing a lot of over the festive period is sleeping. Lots and lots of sleeping. Which I suppose isn't that surprising, given how busy 2010 has been. Too many all-nighters pulled trying to meet deadlines, lots of travelling, and the fact that I spend most of my time indoors with Grendel. let's face it, she's a cat -- sleeping is what cats are second best at, closely tied with covering everything in the house in a thick patina of discarded fluff. Honestly, the floor in my study looks like a deep-pile grey mohair jumper. Every time I hoover it's like playing Indiana Jones and the Lost Carpet of Blueness (which would probably still be a much better film than all that Crystal Skull nonsense).

So, the only two options I can come up with are that, A: I've got some sort of sleeping sickness - which I kinda doubt as the only place I've been recently is Shetland, and in addition to its complete lack of anything even remotely resembling a jungle, it's also renowned for not having any tsetse flies. Or, B: being around Grendel so much is turning me into a cat. Which I suppose wouldn't be all that bad -- Grendel has a great life, she's pampered, fed, watered, looked after, has no real responsibilities, and never has to hoover the study in a vain attempt to locate the actual carpet.

Of course the downside would be having to wash oneself continuously using only your own tongue. I've got a bit of a bad back, so that's out. Maybe I'd be allowed to use someone else's tongue on medical grounds? (And don't think Keira Knightley and Ann Widdecombe haven't been fighting over the privilege) But then I'd have to spend the day covered in someone else's slavers, and that's doesn't appeal quite as much as you'd think.

I've completely forgotten where I was going with this.

Anyway, in the absence of yet another 'top ten of 2010' listy post, enjoy your Hogmanay* and if you're in Aberdeen on the 12th of January, maybe I'll see you at the Lemon Tree, where we'll be launching SHATTER THE BONES.

Right, now I'm off for a snooze...

* Which my spelling checker wants to change to 'Mahogany' for some God-forsaken reason. Not quite the same thing, I'm thinking, but I have been known to be wrong in the past. Perhaps people do burst into annual revelry around their sideboards, stripping off till all their wearing are party hats and a cheesy grin? Who am I to judge?

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