Saturday, March 07, 2015

Guest Blog: Gillian Galbraith

Aline here. I'm delighted to have Gillian Galbraith as my guest this week. As a former advocate specialising in cases of medical negligence and a writer of law reports for the Times, she's got an impressive pedigree for a crime writer and the details of her detective Alice Rice's cases are always authentic and handled with the assurance of familiarity. She writes cracking good plots too, usually with Edinburgh as their vivid setting.

She is a countrywoman at heart, though, and she now writes full time in rural Kinross in the company of dogs, cats, hens and, I believe, even the occasional bee buzzing past.
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I spent last year learning a great deal about the Scottish Blood Transfusion Service in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and the threat posed to those dependent upon its products from the Hepatitis C and the Aids viruses. My involvement in the Judicial Inquiry into the contamination of the Scottish Blood supply and its effects on haemophiliacs and other patients came about because of my past life.

Prior to taking up writing on a full-time basis I was an Advocate (Attorney) specialising in Medical Negligence. The offer to participate in the Inquiry was too good to turn down from a financial point of view and also because I thought the experience would be too interesting to miss.

And I was right. During it, I encountered a charming civil servant with a tattoo of Audrey Hepburn on her back (in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” garb) and an encyclopaedic knowledge of Dr Who, and an aged member of the Judiciary who regaled me with his fish recipes in between arguing forcefully if I attempted to alter his prose by adding or subtracting a word. I witnessed the tearful aftermath of vitriolic phone calls by assorted, aggrieved lobby groups, felt claws unsheathed in office spats and earwigged for scintillating snippets of legal gossip.

More importantly, I also discovered how innocent lives had been destroyed in a multiplicity of different ways through the contraction of one or other, or both, of the viruses. My work place was a dark and dingy Victorian terrace in the new town district of Edinburgh, my office, wood panelled and dusty and my companions, astonishingly tolerant of the new recruit. Outside, the capital hummed and buzzed as it always does but with extra volume due to the excitement generated by the , then impending, Scottish Referendum.

What a contrast. For more than ten years I have spent day after day alone in my kitchen on a remote Scottish hillside in the county of Kinross-shire. Once my husband and daughter disappear to work and school, respectively, the principal companions of my working hours have been two cats and three dogs.

So, last year’s experiences should provide much needed grist for the mill. Somewhere within all of that there must be a plot. I certainly hope so as I am due to meet my publishers later this month.

So far, plots have in some mysterious way presented themselves in the nick of time. The first in the Alice Rice mystery series, “Blood In The Water” arose out my experiences within the medico-legal world. The second, (“Where The Shadow Falls”) whilst using that background, centred around the passion wind farms generate, as I had become involved in a battle raging around the potential construction of one on my own hillside. To the delight of this author’s ears, I even heard threats being made to those in hard hats who might despoil a much loved landscape. Prostitution figured in the third book (“Dying Of The Light”) , assisted dying in the fourth (“No Sorrow To Die”) and homelessness in “The Road To Hell”. All of the Alice Rice books are set in Edinburgh.

Sometimes, but not often enough, plots appear with the ease of dreams. Sometimes they have to be extracted like rotten teeth, arriving garlanded with blood, sweat and tears. All that is needed is a spark of interest. For the latest in the Alice Rice series, “Troubled Waters” it was effortless. I opened an art exhibition and got talking to the Art Club president. A chance remark by her about her upbringing amongst a strange sect, once commonplace amongst small mining and fishing communities in Scotland, lit the fire.

From that point onwards, in my experience, the sub conscious mind takes over and as one drives along, feeds the hens, runs a bath or performs other mindless, or semi-mindless tasks, ideas bubble up, submerge and re- emerge. Of course, what one is creating is, in essence, one long and sustained lie. But part of the beauty of being an author is that within that lie one can explore truths, psychological, moral or whatever in a non- didactic fashion. More I suspect is revealed of an author in their works than they might know, or wish. Preoccupations are likely to emerge.

Whilst I was beavering away within my office in Edinburgh, daffodils blooming in the gardens opposite, my first Father Vincent Ross mystery (“The Good Priest”) was published. In my experience, the many and sophisticated tools available to a modern day police force inevitably affect the plot of a police procedurals. I wanted a return to an amateur sleuth, reliant only on his intelligence, in order to avoid such plot constraints.

Sin is also, of course and delightfully, a much wider canvas than crime. When I was thinking of the plot for that book, the newspapers were awash, as tragically they still are in Scotland , with dark secrets concealed by the Catholic church. Plentiful motives for murder were apparent in the copy. Also I wanted, in my fiction, to leave Edinburgh and return to the countryside.

So, the setting I chose was my own, the sleepy village of Kinross, lying on the banks of Loch Leven. As I gaze out of my kitchen window today onto a landscape simplified by snow, racking my brains for a plot, in the foreground a dog lies asleep with a Siamese cat slumbering between her paws. Alice Rice has a dog, Vincent Ross, a Siamese cat. As I said, we all reveal ourselves in our fiction.

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