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1 March, 2020
Newsletter Issue #1: The March Missive

Hi Michael,

A warm welcome to the inaugural issue of my newsletter! As a reminder, if you no longer want to receive these emails, you can unsubscribe any time using the link at the bottom of this message.

As I mentioned in the sign-up email, my aim is to send out one of these every couple of months or so — a general summary of what I've been up to writing-wise, any important announcements, and the occasional non-writing nugget that I think might be of interest. I'll also periodically share info about the books I've been reading and the films I've been watching, so it's not just me, me, me.

On the Writing Desk 1: The Library Murders
Broken glasses and a pool of blood (image © Shutterstock)

Work continues apace on The Library Murders, my current work-in-progress.

The Library Murders is a standalone murder mystery revolving — as the title implies — around a series of grisly murders that take place in a public library. Originally, I'd hoped it would see the light of day at some point in 2019, but as the year went on, it became increasingly clear that it needed more time to percolate.

The current draft, which I finished just over a week ago, is the third major iteration of the novel. With my writing, I tend to draw a distinction between completely new drafts, where I generally start a fresh Word document and retype scenes and chapters to which I’m making substantial changes while copying and pasting the parts that remain largely unchanged from the previous iteration, and smaller revisions, where I might still tweak a decent amount of content but am generally working within a complete existing document and maintain the same overall structure. In my experience, three tends to be the magic number for me when it comes to drafts. It tends to be when I properly nail down the structure and all the major twists and turns of the plot, after which any subsequent revisions are less about making sweeping changes and more about perfecting the dialogue and descriptive text, and ironing out any last minute plot-holes that my beta readers flag up to me.

While this draft of The Library Murders hasn’t completely re-invented the wheel, it has nonetheless changed pretty substantially compared to the previous draft. I’ve gone back and more or less turned the novel’s protagonist inside out, really getting to grips with how her mind works and why she is the way she is. The end result, I feel, is a far richer character with clearer motivation and a more compelling back-story. She’s not always the most sympathetic of individuals — I seem to have carved something of a niche for myself when it comes to writing characters that might best be described as “prickly” — but hopefully this new version affords a greater understanding as to WHY she says and does the things she does, even if you don’t necessarily agree with them.

I’ll be returning to The Library Murders imminently, with a view to re-reading and doing another polish on it before sending it out to beta readers. In the meantime, I’ve briefly turned my attention to another work-in-progress, about which more below.

On the Writing Desk 2: The Shadow Men
The view from Queen's Park (photo © Shutterstock)

The Shadow Men is the third instalment in my Anna Scavolini series, which started with In the Silence in 2018 and continued with Cruel Summer in 2019. I wrote the first draft over an intense eleven-week period last summer, and haven’t revisited it until now. Abandoning a novel for six months and returning to it with a fresh pair of eyes is a rare luxury, but something I was glad to be in a position to do on this occasion. As a rule, my second drafts tend to be overly conservative — usually because I’m still too close to what I’ve already written and, as a result, am reluctant to turn it inside out. Having put some distance between myself and the first draft, I feel I’ve been able to approach it in a more objective manner than usual, and therefore have a clearer idea of where its strengths and weaknesses lie. No question about it — it’s going to need a lot of work, not least to try to curtail its excessive length (though I like to think I’m quite good at whittling word counts down without losing any of the substance), but there’s a lot of it that, even in this admittedly rough-around-the-edges form, definitely works, and I’m not ashamed to say I actually found myself laughing out loud on more than a couple of occasions as I rediscovered lines I didn’t remember writing. (It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the previous instalments that most, if not all, of these lines come from Anna’s best friend, the gregarious redhead Zoe.)

The Shadow Men still has a ways to go before it’s fit for public consumption, but I feel this first draft gives me a solid foundation on which to build — to the extent that my target of releasing it before the end of 2020, which until a week ago I’d thought was a long shot, now looks pretty achievable. Stay tuned for more information about The Shadow Men as I continue to finesse it, but for now, here’s a sneak peek at one of the aforementioned lines.

Mandy turned to her, holding up the picture. ‘Who’s this? That yer man?’

Zoe laughed drily. ‘Aye, right. That’s my brother.’

‘Oh, right. Sorry.’ Mandy continued to hold onto the picture, much to Zoe’s unabating discomfort. Her nose curled again, this time in amusement. ‘S’pose, be a bit weird if he was yer man. I mean, he does look kinda like you.’

‘You mean the hair? Family curse.’ Zoe held one of the mugs out to Mandy. ‘One of our ancestors must’ve impugned a witch or something. ’Sides,’ she went on, as Mandy finally put the picture-frame down and took the mug, ‘haven’t ye heard? It’s scientifically inadvisable to breed two gingers.’

‘Oh aye?’ For the first time, Mandy seemed to genuinely let her guard down, turning to Zoe with a look of wry amusement. ‘How come?’

‘Their offspring are like turbo-charged ginger or something. Even their skin’s the colour of Irn Bru.’

On the Bookshelf
A Treachery of Spies

Being long-listed for the prestigious McIlvanney Prize — as well as short-listed for the Bloody Scotland Debut Prize — last year was a massive and unexpected honour for me, and it’s been a matter of some regret that I didn’t get a chance to read all the contenders before the actual event.

I’m still playing catch-up, but am pleased to say I finally got a chance to read joint winner A Treachery of Spies by Manda Scott, and have nothing but positive things to say about it. I love a good crime mystery, and I also love a good World War Two resistance thriller, so a novel which combines these two elements seems almost tailor-made for me.

I hadn’t read the previous book in the series, Into the Fire, but that proved to be no impediment to my enjoyment of this instalment. Indeed, within a couple of pages, I was completely sucked into both the world of police captain Inés Picaut, investigating the brutal murder of a woman in the present day, and that of nurse and secret agent Sophie Destivelle, parachuted into occupied France at the height of the Second World War — and the tumultuous events that connect the two. I spent much of it in awe of Manda’s ability to weave such a complex web of clues, double-crosses, triple-crosses and multiple identities, while delivering a fast-paced, compulsive thriller that kept me guessing right to the last page.

Extremely highly recommended!

The World of Work
Arrow Video

Two weeks ago, I started a new contract with Arrow Video, distributor of home video releases of some of the most celebrated cult and popular films around. I’ve worked for Arrow as a disc producer on a freelance basis since the summer of 2015, juggling my responsibilities to them with my writing and a part-time library job. But, as the saying goes, new year, new you, and, towards the end of 2019, I handed in my notice at the library, with a view to devoting more of my time to both writing and work for Arrow. Then, in January, Arrow offered me the opportunity to come aboard on a permanent basis as a salaried employee — an opportunity I leapt at more or less immediately. From now on, I’ll be working for them four days a week, while dedicating the final three to my writing — allowing to achieve a measure of balance and focus towards both that was impossible when I was effectively attempting the split my time between three careers.

I will, of course, miss working in the library — and not just because of the amount of inspiration it’s provided for The Library Murders! — but, as the cliché goes, all good things must come to an end, and, for a multitude of reasons, I felt it was my time. It’s my colleagues that I’ll miss the most: I’ve made a number of firm friendships over the course of my time there — many of whom has since moved on themselves — and I’m determined not to let them fall by the wayside. In fact, I should be back in my old stomping ground of Partick Library for an author event in the not-too-distant future, about which I hope to be able to share more soon…

That’s All, Folks!

That’s it for the inaugural issue of the M.R. Mackenzie newsletter! If I have any breaking news to share, I’ll do so as it comes up. Otherwise, you’ll be hearing from me again in a couple of months’ time. Until then, take care and happy reading!

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A spooky library staircase. Image courtesy of Pexels.com
Books by M.R. Mackenzie Available Now
In the Silence
Cruel Summer
M.R. Mackenzie

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PO Box 26965
Glasgow
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