> Interview - Martin Stewart On Double Proof And Life As A Writer - SNACK: Music, film, arts and culture magazine for Scotland

Interview – Martin Stewart On Double Proof And Life As A Writer

Better known to date as a writer of children’s and young adult fiction, Martin Stewart has published his debut crime novel, Double Proof. The novel manages to bring fresh ideas and faces to the genre, with a few twists and new takes on his home city of Glasgow, where the novel is set.

Crime fiction in Scotland has never been more interesting and wide-ranging than it is at the moment, and it’s refreshing to discover a new voice who adds to that situation. SNACK spoke to Martin Stewart to learn more about Double Proof, and about his life as a writer.

The Glasgow crime novel has a long tradition, one which you seem to acknowledge and subvert, playing with stereotypes while offering something new. Was that something you wanted to do?

Absolutely – with the emphasis on playing. Double Proof was so much fun to write, largely because I was very aware of the established tradition with which I was engaged. I love genre fiction: readers bring their experience and expectations, and the writer’s job is to balance those with the unexpected. I loved creating these archetypes, people we immediately recognise and think we understand – bent cops, hired muscle, old money – and putting them in new or uncommon situations. In this, I was drawing on a more American ‘gumshoe’ tradition in the style of Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen, which fused with the elements of Tartan Noir in a tremendously fast, funny way.

There are many memorable characters in Double Proof, particularly the central figure of Robbie Gould. Where do you begin to create the people who populate your work? Do they drive the plot, or is it the other way round?

It’s a combination. Sometimes the plot demands a character. Patrice Adams, the membership secretary of an exclusive members’ club founded with the profits of slavery, grew out of my desire to address that aspect of Glasgow’s history. In those cases, I’ll write the scene over and over until I find the character’s voice and they begin to take meaningful shape on the page.

Other times, I have a very strong sense of who’s lurking in the darkness around Robbie, and those characters drive the story in a particular direction. Ben Mears – the salvage expert who finds the titular haul of whisky – arrived fully formed in all his obnoxious glory. His confrontations with Gould felt effortless to write, as though I was taking dictation, which was thrilling.

Current crime fiction seems to be in a really interesting and diverse place, often merging and crossing genres. Do you agree, and is it something that excites you?

I absolutely do, and yes, it very much does! I think the evolution of crime fiction was inevitable, because it really is the novel in its ultimate form: compulsive, challenging, shocking, cerebral, and with the most satisfying conclusion possible on the page – the conjuring of order from chaos. In solving the crime, the sleuth reassures the fearful and soothes the reader’s soul.

You’re best known to date as the author of children’s and YA books. How did that begin, and did you always plan to diversify?

I had always expected to write a book like Double Proof – then I began teaching English in secondary schools, and found I loved working with young people. This recalibrated my writing, which became focused on creating stories both for and about young people, using the voices around me in the classroom.My writing since has been diverse in both genre and audience: soggy Dickensian fantasy in Riverkeep; 80s comedy-horror in The Sacrifice Box; and whimsical heart-warming mysteries in the Bridget Vanderpuff series.

What unifies all this into a coherent body of work, I hope, is my voice – which has a lot to do with the rhythm of the sentences – and the use of humour. In that sense, the move to adult crime for Double Proof is a continuation of this diversity, and this one felt very natural – the cheerful belligerence of the Glaswegian character was a very comfortable fit! The biggest change was writing about Glasgow: previously I’ve always built my own worlds, and I was nervous about the constraints of real-life geography and place. But I absolutely loved it, and can’t wait to revisit Gould’s Glasgow.

Through your writing you have done a lot of work in schools. What is that experience like?

I love working in schools – as I write, I’m preparing for another week of events in local primaries, and looking forward to it enormously. It’s a privilege to write children’s fiction: nothing we read as adults can ever have the same impact – that same sense of discovery – as the books we read when we’re young. I cherish my role promoting reading for pleasure, and the pursuit of creative ambition, in schools.

And the questions you get in primary schools are fantastic. Recent favourites include: ‘How old’s your dog?’ ‘What’s your favourite cereal?’ ‘Can you do a backflip?’ (For the record: eight, Weetos, absolutely not.)

Glasgow novels are in people’s thoughts at the moment after the critical success of Yorgos Lanthimos’ adaptation of Alasdair Gray’s Poor Things. Do you have favourite examples?

I loved Lanark, and really dwelt on its reflections on Glasgow (‘nobody ever imagines living here’ really stuck with me). A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away, by Chris Brookmyre, was a transformative book for me at a pivotal age: its elevation of quotidian spaces like the QM (at Glasgow University), tenement closes, Woodlands Road… the book’s geography was incredibly exciting to me, manifesting the rich creative possibilities of the world in which I already lived. Lobey Dosser’s statue appears in Double Proof as a wee hat tip to that story, which shaped me as a reader and as a writer.

Double Proof is published by Polygon Books

Main Photo Credit: Esther Morgan Photography

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