In which order of importance do you, then, place language, character, plot, and money?
Money’s last, because that’s not something that drives me. I’ve a very Buddhist approach to life, which is to say that if you don’t think about money, money comes to you. I have two jobs, and I’m very well paid for doing both of them, so I’m not going to ever moan about that.
Language: I am a working wordsmith. I don’t approve of having big, fancy words in my writing that people have to look up. The words of good writing should be invisible. They’re like windows you should see through to what’s going on. The minute the words jump out, you’ve lost the reader, so don’t put big words in there. Besides, I’m not very good at spelling and I cannae type.
Character and plot: That’s always a difficult one for me. It varies, depending on where I am in the book. I know that’s a copout of an answer, but I’ll have them in equal first place, please.
Is it fair to say that everybody has their push point, and that your books are about finding them in other people as well as in yourself?
Yes! I always like to think that people are on a tightrope, and I would like to think that I write books that make people think: “That, but for the grace of God, could be me.” Maybe I’m getting a wee bit extreme about that in the next book, but I do believe everybody has a push point. I was on a panel with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir when we were asked if we thought we could kill, because people say it and don’t mean it. My granny was 106 when she died, and she lived on her own. If I had been in that house and some hoodlums had broken in, I would like to think that I would have done something, and if the person at the other end of whatever I was wielding were to die, I would think: “Well, you got yourself in that situation.” I would regret having taken a life, but everybody has their responsibility, and everybody has their push point. So if my dog and Peter Sutcliffe were drowning in the Clyde, who would I save? Emily, the pit-bull. She’s celebrated by Nesbitt in my books.
I was at an event in Glasgow a few weeks ago, where I saw these two men in hoodies, not engaging with anything or anyone there. You could see they weren’t fans of crime fiction, but they seemed to know the librarian okay. At the end, I was signing books and speaking to people, when they filtered their way up to the front and said: “I hope you don’t mind us asking, but have you got a pit-bull?” I thought: “And who are you? The canine police?” So I said: “Yes, what of it?” Then I noticed their matching sweatshirts, saying ‘Scottish Staffie Rescue’, and they would like me to be their spokesperson. Isn’t that lovely? I have yet to get back to them, because life’s been very busy recently, but I think that’s one of the perks of this job. I get to do things like that.
What are the perks of your other job?
Well, I’m an osteopath and an acupuncturist, and, unlike being at the dentist’s, people chat constantly when they’re on my treatment table. Of course, I’m bound by all kinds of confidentiality agreements, so they tell me interesting things, but I get a huge range of humanity. I work in a big practice in Paisley, which is a very varied area, so I never know what I’m going to get. We’re an egalitarian work place, so anybody can walk in, and that makes it interesting.
Are you still talking about your day job?
Ha! Yeah, you never know what you’re going to get with my books, because anybody can walk in. That’s why so much of them is set in Byres Road. Anybody has a legitimate reason for being there.