Allan Watson did me the honor of talking about his tantalizing new book, Heart Swarm, in advance of the launch Thursday, October 5, 2017, 7:30 pm UTC+01 at Waterstones in Byer Road, Glasgow, Scotland. Heart Swarm is being published by Caffeine Nights Press, and it’s fantastic!
Julie: Like your previous novels, Heart Swarm is full of disturbing and dark imagery, but it feels like a definite crime novel as opposed to your horror and fantasy books. Was this a deliberate shift of genre?
Allan: My writing has always had, ahem… genre issues. Even when I wrote 1234 which was more of a mainstream fiction novel, with a few murders thrown in for flavouring, it still got tagged in certain circles as horror. The dividing lines between horror and crime have become blurred over the years. Many crime novels I’ve read lately contain far more gruesome and visceral scenes than any pulp horror novel. But, to answer the question; yes, Heart Swarm is very definitely a crime novel. I realized if I wanted to place this book with a publisher I’d have to pitch the story in a different key. It’s still a very dark book and probably not for those who like their crime cosy and comfortable.
Julie: What did you read growing up in Glasgow and where did you get your reading material?
Allan: Growing up I was a staunch follower of Enid Blyton. I even attended Blyton Camp where the unscrupulous librarian camp leaders encouraged us to form secret societies dedicated to solving minor local crime with the help of a canine mascot. We were also taught to cycle aimlessly around the countryside, drink ginger beer until our urine stung like sulphuric acid, play lacrosse and most importantly, to treat the working class with hostility and unbridled suspicion. Only the subsequent discovery I myself came from humble working class stock gave me the courage to break away from this dangerous cult. From there I stumbled upon Herge’s Adventures of Tin Tin and so began my passion for Plus Fours, Calculus and Haddock. I also loved The Three Investigators. Jupiter Jones was such a cool role model. It’s his fault I spent a period of my life stuffing my face with chocolate-flavoured lard and casually dropping long words such as onomatopoeia and cliterodectomy into conversations with my friends.
Julie: When did you start writing?
Allan: Seems I’ve always been writing in some shape or form. Lyrics, poems, jokes, hit-lists, ransom demands. Does graffiti count?
Julie: Of course. Your books are full of crime, mystery, humor, sex, gore and lots of surprises. How do you get your ideas?
Allan: I set traps for them at night. Little earthenware bowls filled with jam and honey. Obviously you have to sift the good from the bad. The good ones get stored away for later use. The bad ones I stomp on. They make a funny squishy noise when you do that.
Julie: Your books have a tinge of supernatural, sometimes sci fi even- travel between parallel worlds, beings from other galaxies; do you read any sci fi and how has it influenced you?
Allan: I got hooked on Ray Bradbury as a young teenager. His descriptive prose was a revelation and I loved the way he seamlessly shape-shifted between science fiction, horror and dystopian fantasy. His work gave me a real appetite for sci fi and I soon started working my way through the golden greats such as Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein. Later on I fell in love with Iain Banks’ Culture novels and Stephen Donaldson’s Gap series. The fact that science fiction has always enjoyed the allure of limitless possibilities did influence me to push the boundaries of my own work and never feel restricted to only writing about what is solid and tangible. Life is too short for cold, hard reality.
Julie: From what I have gleaned, Glasgow has a reputation for being tough and dangerous. Is that a justified stereotype? How has growing up in Scotland- in Glasgow, particularly- made you the writer you are?
Allan: My job takes me all over the country and I find most cities are basically the same once you put aside the different accents and (sorry, Perth) number of fingers. One thing growing up in Glasgow did give me was a cynical, self-mocking sense of humour. If you take yourself too seriously in Glasgow you’ll get battered.
Julie: Tell us about the setting of the new book – the Cathedral House Hotel and the Glasgow Necropolis. After reading Heart Swarm, I feel that I have been there.
Allan: When I was writing Heart Swarm I was conscious that simply placing my protagonist in Glasgow wasn’t enough. I wanted him to be associated with an aspect of the city that was unique in its location and sense of history. Cathedral House Hotel is perfect for that role being right next door to the medieval Glasgow Cathedral and the famous Necropolis. I loved the idea of having Harlan living across the street from all those mouldering old bones. The hotel itself is one of my favourite watering holes and even has a ghost or two. What’s not to like?
Julie: Your main character, Will Harlan, is such a charming, self-deprecating, tall, gin-drinking kind of guy- is he anything like you?
Allan: I’ve always believed that most writers can’t resist creating a character that epitomises the sort of person they themselves aspire to be, not necessarily who they are. The fact I’m charming, self-deprecating, extremely handsome and drink gin is purely a coincidence. Um, think you forgot to mention the extremely handsome bit.
Julie: And let’s not forget modest. One of my favorite scenes is the exhumation; come to think of it, open graves abound in your books; do we all have a fascination with the grave? Are cremations ruining all our fun?
Allan: I’m all for cremations, but they don’t inspire the same internal concussion of mortality that graves can conjure up at the drop of a coffin lid. There’s just something so bleak and morbid about gazing down into that deep, dark hole in the earth, inhaling the rank miasma of the damp, worm-infested soil, and then, just for good measure, you have a dead body bound in oak and brass (pine is optional) to contend with. Graves certainly win hands down over cremations for pure gothic theatre. The last graveside funeral I attended saw me get a severe dressing down after I referred to the undertaker as Guitar George… because he knew all the Cords.
Julie: That undertaker was in dire straits with you in attendance. For my fellow clueless Americans: in Scottish burial custom, braided silk cords are held by family members to symbolically lower the coffin. Allan’s books are an education.
So….. what’s next on your laptop? Any new books in the works?
Allan: Just finishing up the sequel to Heart Swarm, a novel called Wasp Latitudes. Will Harlan returns to head up the investigation of a bizarre series of murders and abductions. Then again, if no one buys Heart Swarm I may tear it up and start something else.
So place your orders now for Heart Swarm, available on Amazon U.K. and U.S. October 5. And you’ll want to get Allan’s other books via Kindle if you haven’t already: 1234, Carapace, Dreaming in the Snakepark, Monochrome, The Garden of Remembrance, Mezzanine, and …And Other Stories.