Born and raised in Edinburgh, the sternly-romantic capital of Scotland, I grew up with a father and other male relatives imbued with the military, a Jacobite grandmother who collected books and ran her own business and a grandfather from the mystical, legend-crammed island of Arran. With such varied geographical and emotional influences, it was natural that I should write.
Edinburgh’s Old Town is crammed with stories and legends, ghosts and murders. I spent a great deal of my childhood when I should have been at school walking the dark roads and exploring the hidden alleyways. In Arran I wandered the shrouded hills where druids, heroes, smugglers and the spirits of ancient warriors abound, mixed with great herds of deer and the rising call of eagles through the mist.
Work followed with many jobs that took me to an intimate knowledge of the Scottish Border hill farms as a postman to time in the financial sector, retail, travel and other occupations that are best forgotten. In between I met my wife; I saw her and was captivated immediately, asked her out and was smitten; engaged within five weeks we married the following year and that was the best decision of my life, bar none. Children followed and are now grown.
At 40 I re-entered education, dragging the family to Dundee, where we knew nobody and lacked even a place to stay, but we thrived in that gloriously accepting city. I had a few published books and a number of articles under my belt. Now I learned how to do things the proper way as the University of Dundee took me under their friendly wing for four of the best years I have ever experienced. I emerged with an honours degree in history, returned to the Post in the streets of Dundee, found a job as a historical researcher and then as a college lecturer, and I wrote. Always I wrote.
The words flowed from experience and from reading, from life and from the people I met; the intellectuals and the students, the quiet-eyed farmers with the outlaw names from the Border hills and the hard-handed fishermen from the iron-bound coast of Angus and Fife, the wary scheme-dwelling youths of the peripheries of Edinburgh and the tolerant, very human women of Dundee.
Cathy, my wife, followed me to university and carved herself a Master’s degree; she obtained a position in Moray and we moved north, but only with one third of our offspring: the other two had grown up and moved on with their own lives. For a year or so I worked as the researcher in the Dundee Whaling History project while simultaneously studying for my history Masters and commuting home at weekends, which was fun. I wrote ‘Sink of Atrocity’ and ‘The Darkest Walk’ at the same time, which was interesting.
When that research job ended I began lecturing in Inverness College, with a host of youngsters and not-so-youngsters from all across the north of Scotland and much further afield. And I wrote; true historical crime, historical crime fiction and a dip into fantasy, with whaling history to keep the research skills alive. Our last child graduated with honours at St Andrews University and left home: I decided to try self-employment as a writer and joined the team at Next Chapter. . . the future lies ahead.
Interviews & media
Author's note: A Wild Rough Lot - Whaling And Sealing From The Moray Firth
When I was at Dundee University as a mature student, my honours dissertation was on the men and women of the whaling industry. It was the people who interested me rather than the industry, but the two are heavily connected so one thing led to another and I have written a number of books about the industry. A Wild Rough Lot is one, covering the lesser known whaling ports of Banff and Fraserburgh, with Nairn thrown in for good measure. Although Scotland left whaling in the 1960s, and the industry is now quite rightly viewed with revulsion, there is no denying the bravery and hardihood of these men – and the fortitude of the women who waited for them.
Author's note: Window On The Forth
Born in Leith, I grew up with the Firth of Forth as a backdrop to life. I saw it every day, and wondered. The sea stories I read as a boy and a young man seemed to concentrate on places further south so it was not until I was in my late teens that I began to realise that the Firth of Forth, that great bite into eastern Scotland, also had its quota of stories. Why hide them? As well as the real Robinson Crusoe, there was Andrew Wood, who fought off English pirates, there were ferries and fishermen and pirates, the great bridge builders and the first ship to cross the Atlantic entirely by steam. The stories were never ending and worth savouring. The Clyde may once have had the fame, but the Forth caps it with the history.
Author's note: Dance If Ye Can
There are many books about Scottish battles, books that give immense detail about tactics and troop movements. This little volume is not of that type. Rather it is a dictionary of the battles and skirmishes in Scotland, and a few we fought outside our own country. The well-known battles are all here, with Bannockburn, Prestonpans and so on, but I have always been more interested in the lesser known encounters, for instance, why was the battle of Drumclog fought in 1679, who knows about the battle of Boyne near Banff, and who won the encounter at Piperdean? Local historians may know, but we should all know how much effort it took to retain our independence, while still retaining sufficient energy to squabble among ourselves.
Author's note: Like The Thistle Seed - The Scots Abroad
There are said to be twenty million people in the world with Scottish ancestry, with around nine million in the United States and nearly five million in Canada. While most Scots who emigrated merged with the local population to live useful, normal lives, others made a significant impact in their new country. This book lists in alphabetical order some of these Scots. From Alexander Adams who became the Admiral of Hawaii to James Wyllie, a surgeon in Russia, this book mentions the great, the good and the less than good.
My own interest was with the lesser known, such as John McGregor, the piper at the Alamo or the Crusader knight William Douglas of Nithsdale.
Author's note: Shadow Of The Wolf
My first venture into Fantasy, Shadow of the Wolf is based around a real person, Alistair Mor, the Wolf of Badenoch. He is a man who has always fascinated me, the son of a king who became a noted leader of caterans, a nobleman who burned a cathedral yet whose effigy is in an abbey, a man who fathered numerous children by his lover while his wife was still alive. That is only half the story; legends speak of him dabbling in black magic, of having a pact with the devil and of other acts. To write the story, I fused facts and legend, added a few characters and we had a shadow of the notorious Wolf.
Author's note: Our Land Of Palestine
Think of the First World War and the image of the trenches of Flanders and France may come to mind. However, there were other fronts in that war, of which that in the Middle East may have been the most important. It was here that British, Indian and Anzac troops fought the Ottoman Empire; it was here that the allies broke an empire and, in the aftermath of war, created new countries and a whole host of new problems.
Our Land of Palestine is a purely fictional account of a small British unit sent into the Ottoman controlled Holy Land in 1915. The idea was triggered when my wife and I visited St Andrews Church in Jerusalem and saw the memorials to the Scottish soldiers who helped capture the city.
My second Fantasy book and perhaps the one I most enjoyed writing.