Interview with Aline Templeton

DI Marjory Fleming is a happily married woman with a young family; she's not an alcoholic, antisocial loner... Isn't that a bit radical for a Scottish crime novel?

It was certainly seen as radical by my editor! But I felt the conventional image had become a bit hackneyed and unconvincing, and I wanted my DI to be more realistic. She's a modern policewoman, the sort you'd find down the local nick – a working mother, with all the problems that presents when you have irregular hours and a difficult and demanding job, and she has elderly parents too so that there's that constant juggling act to be performed which most women know all too well.

You have chosen to set your novels in Galloway, a fairly quiet and rural part of Scotland. Why was that?

I grew up in the East Neuk of Fife which has many similarities to Galloway with its fishing villages and farming communities. The thing about Galloway is that for geographical reasons it has remained unspoiled, with towns and villages which haven't been killed off by the blight of the superstores and city commuters and there is still a very strong sense of community, which is at the heart of my books. It is also an extraordinarily beautiful and varied area, and provides very different settings – my first book was set in the farming community, the second in a fishing village and the third, Lying Dead (which comes out in May) has the background of a pretty hamlet with second homes and a marina.

Anyone who has lived in Galloway would recognise the real towns and villages which are reflected in your towns of Kirkluce and Knockhaven. How do you go about creating new communities in such a quiet part of Scotland?

I look for a space on the map! An invented town or village gives me more freedom – it's very irritating if you know the place an author is writing about and you find yourself saying, 'But the police station isn't on that corner!' But I did want to give a real sense of place, so that each place has a definite geographical location – Kirkluce, for example, is mid-way between Newton Stewart and Stranraer, so that if you drive along the A712 you can see the space where the town would be. The same goes for Knockhaven – it's on the coast near Port William, and the scenery is just what you would see at that point. I've certainly borrowed features from the real towns and villages, but they're mixed to create my fictional places.

Your first novel, Cold in the Earth, is set during the Foot-and-Mouth crisis which devastated so much of rural Britain. Why did you pick such an emotive backdrop to your first DI Fleming novel?

It happened by chance. I knew the plot for my new book, which involved bulls, and I knew what my detective was like, in personality. I went down to Wigtown to do an event when the foot-and-mouth epidemic was at its height and I was very much struck by the horror of it all – nothing living in the fields, no sheep on the hills, a sort of dead landscape. I began to think how awful it would be for the police force in such a close-knit community, having to force people they knew well to allow the killing-squads on to their land to wipe out stock lines which had perhaps been bred for generations, and then what a terrible dilemma it would be if you were actually married to a farmer. Ideal! As Sam Goldwyn said, 'Writers take imaginary people, then chase 'em up trees and throw rocks at them.'

As DI, Fleming has to enforce the law, including the slaughter of livestock, alienating herself from farmers, including her husband. From the second novel, The Darkness and the Deep, things are only just beginning to return to normal for Fleming and her husband.

In fact, the dreadful thing about an event like foot-and-mouth is that things don't quickly return to normal. It has repercussions which affect whole families, and even in the third book, Lying Dead, its malign effect lingers on. I was very touched when I was told by a Gallovidian that it had had meant a great deal to them that I understood that even though the public thought it was over and done with, the wounds were still very raw within the community.

How much research did you do into the Pamplona Bull Run, and raising cattle?

I visited Pamplona (though not at the time of the bull run!) and still have a photo of the Café Iruña on my notice board. There is always a lot of coverage in the press so I did a lot of reading as well.

Why is DI Fleming so against Tam's quoting of Scotland's National Bard?

Marjory is constantly irritated by the personality cult surrounding a man who was undoubtedly a great poet, but as a person was seriously and quite unpleasantly flawed – his hypocrisy, for instance, in seducing young and innocent girls, while writing 'Is there, in human form, that bears a heart,/ A wretch, a villain! Lost to love and truth!/ That can, with studied, sly, ensnaring art/ Betray sweet Jennie's unsuspecting youth?' From my point of view, it's a useful character motif – and Burns does provide a quote for all occasions!

Can you tell us a little about your next novel, Lying Dead?

Lying Dead has its setting in Drumbreck, on the Cree estuary, near Wigtown, in a (fictional!) small hamlet with a marina and holiday houses belonging mainly to wealthy Glasgow businessmen. It is a decadent place, but when the body of a woman from Manchester is found in the Galloway Forest Park, it takes quite some time before her connection with the place is established. DI Fleming has to struggle with personal problems – like having someone who hates her moving in to the farm cottage - and also finds there are serious tensions within her own team. The key to the case lies in the past, but a tangled web of deceptions in several lives makes it hard to know which line to follow, and there is death and danger before the truth becomes plain. Oh, and there's a rather attractive Chief Inspector from Birmingham....

I have to say that my editor said she gasped when she found out the murderer, and went back to check, and saw the clues she'd missed. Misdirection is my favourite part of crime writing!

Aline Templeton, thank you.