Blog Tour – Burnout by Claire MacLeary

It’s my turn on the Burnout blog tour today. I’m hosting a Q&A with Claire to find out a bit more about her and her second novel. But first, the blurb.


The Blurb

“My husband is trying to kill me.” A new client gets straight to the point, and this line of enquiry is a whole new ball game for Maggie Laird, who is desperately trying to rebuild her late husband’s detective agency and clear his name. Her partner, “Big” Wilma, sees the case as a non-starter, but Maggie is drawn in.

With her client’s life on the line, Maggie must get to the ugly truth that lies behind Aberdeen’s closed doors. But who knows what really goes on between husbands and wives? And will the agency’s reputation – and Maggie and Wilma’s friendship – remain intact?

Burnout is the sequel to Cross Purpose, the McIlvanney Prize-longlisted debut that brought crime to Aberdeen.


Welcome Claire. Before we start, could you tell me a little about yourself?
After reading English at university, I had a long and varied career, first in newspaper and television advertising, then in HR. When my children were born, I set up in business, developing a chain of shops and rental properties. It was only after my kids were grown that I returned to writing, attending Creative Writing evening classes and later studying for a MLitt at Dundee.
I have recently down-sized from a Fife village to the West End of Glasgow, and divide my time between there and St Andrews.


Burnout sees the return of Maggie Laird and her business partner “Big” Wilma, first seen in Cross Purpose.  Can you introduce us to your leading ladies?
They’re very different from the professional detectives and forensic scientists crime readers are used to.
Maggie Laird is a stay-at-home mum of two teenagers. Petite, conservative and straight as a die, she is short on confidence and something of a snob.
New neighbour, divorcee Wilma Harcus, herself the mother of two adult sons, is big, brash and a bit dodgy.
The unlikely pair are thrown together by circumstances. When Maggie’s ex-policeman husband, George, is found dead in his struggling detective agency, Wilma rides to the rescue, persuading Maggie to take on George’s business as a conduit both to paying the bills and restoring his good name.
Cross Purpose saw Maggie struggling to contend with the unexpected loss of her husband and she was at her lowest ebb. Do we now see her moving into a more positive place in Burnout?
It’s a gradual process, but she’s working towards it: building up the agency’s client list, settled in her P/T job at Seaton School, her children recovering from the trauma of their father’s death. She has a more balanced view on her quest for justice, and is opening up to the possibility of another relationship.


Wilma seemed the powerhouse in Cross Purpose and it was her energy and drive which pushed Maggie on. Are you turning the tables in Burnout?
A categorical yes. At the beginning of Cross Purpose Maggie was first paralysed by grief, then doggedly determined in her drive to avenge George’s death. Burnout finds her more assertive in arguing the case for taking on new client Sheena Struthers, and confident in her handling of Wilma’s marital problems and support for young colleague Ros. Under Wilma’s influence, she is also becoming less judgemental and strait-laced.


Over the course of the last year you have been promoting Cross Purpose and taking Maggie and Wilma around the country. As they take the language of Aberdeen with them on their travels how have readers been responding to Doric (a Scots language spoken in the North East of Scotland)? 
When I first lived in Aberdeen, I found Doric impenetrable, but grew to love it. In Cross Purpose, it serves both to reinforce the sense of place and add the pithy humour necessary to balance the darkness of the subject matter. I don’t intend to lose the vernacular altogether.  However, for practical reasons – overseas readers find it difficult to follow, for one –  I’ve found it necessary to make some compromises.


Cross Purpose released last year and subsequently became a 2017 McIlvanney Prize nominee. Does that give you a lift when working on the next books or is there now a pressure of reader expectation?
A bit of both. I was beyond thrilled when I heard the news of my longlisting, although the full significance didn’t hit home until I saw the other nominees. For a debut author to be in the company of such stellar names as Val McDermid, Denise Mina, Ian Rankin and my role model, Lin Anderson, among others, was staggering.
The nomination certainly gave me a lift in that it brought my name and novel to a wider audience. Hopefully, it will boost my readership and establish Harcus and Laird as a fresh and original crime series on the Tartan Noir scene. As to reader expectation, I have been heartened by the support of the many booksellers, bloggers, librarians and readers who have championed my writing. I have learned so much from them, but doubt their expectations can be higher than my own.


Thanks for answering the questions and all the best with your book!

You can buy Burnout here.


About the Author

Claire MacLeary

Claire MacLeary lived in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Fife, before returning to her native Glasgow. She describes herself as “a feisty Glaswegian with a full life to draw on”.

Following a career in business, she gained an MLitt with Distinction from the University of Dundee. Her debut novel, Cross Purpose, was longlisted for Bloody Scotland’s 2017 McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Novel of the Year. A sequel, Burnout, will be launched in spring 2018.

Claire’s short stories have been published in various magazines and anthologies, including In Memoriam, a tribute to those who have donated their bodies for research to Dundee’s Department of Life Sciences.


Review – The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor @cjtudor @MichaelJBooks

I’m a bit behind everyone else but I’ve finally managed to read The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor. You may remember that I had a Q&A with C.J. before her appearance at First Monday Crime in February. I said then that I would buy the book there and get it signed. I kept to my word. Before I tell you the blurb and my thoughts, I just want to marvel over the cover of The Chalk Man. Aside from the strikingly simple but effective font and drawing of a hangman, the texture of the cover is amazing. It feels like a chalkboard, complete with smudges and smears. It’s very authentic.


The Blurb

We all have fears we hide from. But in the end they will find us . . .

None of us ever agreed on the exact beginning.

Was it when we started drawing the chalk figures, or when they started to appear on their own?

Was it the terrible accident?

Or when they found the first body?

The Chalk Man


My Review

Told in two time periods – 1986 and 2016 – our narrator is Eddie Adams. Well, Ed in 2016. He’s more grown up now. I can imagine that Eddie’s school report in 1986 might have read ‘easily distracted and prone to flights of fancy’. He and his gang of friends have a habit of getting into scrapes in the small town of Anderbury. But some scrapes are more serious than others and the gang becomes fractured in the process.

In 2016, Ed is still living in the family home. His father is dead and his mother has moved out. Life hasn’t been as kind as he would have liked but Ed gets by on his teacher’s salary and the rent money from his lodger, Chloe. Things are going OK until one of the old gang members reappears digging up the past. But there are too many secrets to discover and too many people who want to keep them hidden.

I loved having the two time periods and I think C.J. Tudor has captured the two voices perfectly. Although I’ve now read the novel, I’d love to listen to the audible version with Andrew Scott and Asa Butterfield. But the thing I liked best about the book was remembering the 80s and the sense of freedom that kids had back then. Riding off on bikes to the local playground or mucking about making dens in the woods. But for Eddie and his gang, they find more in the woods than expected.

There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot – some I guessed, some I didn’t. There’s a pervading sense of creepiness about the whole story but at the same time, very down-to-earth. I could imagine the children and their families – the BBQs in 1986 and then the slow and sad demise of parents in 2016. All stories have imagination but a strong anchor in reality provides authenticity. And I really felt that with The Chalk Man. The events could so easily have happened.

If this is the standard that C.J. Tudor has produced for her debut, then I eagerly look forward to her next novel.

You can buy The Chalk Man here.

You can read my Q&A with C.J. Tudor here.


About the author

CJ Tudor

C. J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, where she still lives with her partner and young daughter. Her love of writing, especially the dark and macabre, started young. When her peers were reading Judy Blume, she was devouring Stephen King and James Herbert.

Over the years she has had a variety of jobs, including trainee reporter, waitress, radio scriptwriter, shop assistant, voiceover artist, television presenter, copywriter and now author. The Chalk Man is her first novel.



The Killing of Butterfly Joe – Q&A with author Rhidan Brook #TheKillingOfButterflyJoe @RhidianBrook @picadorbooks

You may remember that I had a review for The Killing of Butterfly Joe last month. You can read my review here. Well, today it’s published so happy publication day to Rhidian Brook! To celebrate, I have a Q&A with Rhidian.

Country Road Against Sky

So Rhidian, where did the inspiration for The Killing of Butterfly Joe come from?

When I was 23 I had a job selling butterflies in glass cases in America. I worked for a guy who, as well as being a butterfly salesman, wanted to be America’s first Pope (an ambition he ditched on account of him wanting to marry). I drove all over the US, and ended up selling in 32 states. It was 1987, pre-internet, pre-mobile phone. I had a real sense of being in a land far, far away. At the time I was not a writer, but I told myself that if I ever was I would write about my butterflying days. It was nearly my first novel but ended up being my fourth. But I think the distance on the experience enabled me to create my own confabulation from the experience.


I’ve likened Joe to an Old Testament prophet in his zeal for speaking his mind to Christians. Was this something you planned for him as a character or did it come about naturally as you wrote him?

I had in mind a character who had a strong faith but who was not religious. Someone who was an iconoclast – in the true sense. A knocker downer of idols, an exposer of religious indulgence and indifference. So, yes, I think Joe is a bit of an Elijah – albeit a cheerier one. America at that time was awash with TV evangelists and they had a reputation for greed and corruption. But Joe is as much a salesman and scientist as he is a saint. And he’s a spinner of plates. The two literary figures that mainly informed his creation are probably The Cat In The Hat and Zorba (The Greek). Untameable, creative/destructive charismatic mavericks who sweep you along into whatever crazy scheme they’re cooking.


I love the poetry element to this book and the ballad feel it created. How did you get the idea for that?

It came early in the writing. Originally I had the idea that Llew was a travel writer, writing a guide book; but this was problematic in terms of what I wanted to do. I liked the idea of a book within a book and thought that perhaps the poems would add to the meta-element of this book being a written confession. A way of Llew expressing another layer of what he had experienced. It’s risky writing poetry for a novel; but I felt it was true to Llew’s sense of himself as a writer.


You’ve been involved in a wide range of writing – novels, non-fiction, documentary maker, TV script writer and film script writer – do you have a favourite?

The novel. It is the form in which you have the most freedom and the most artistic control. It’s also the most hairy, the most mentally taxing, and requires serious endurance. Scripts are essentially sets of instructions for others to interpret. The instructions need to work, of course; but others are going to bring their talents to bear on things. The collaborative element of film is (generally) a good thing. After a long stint in an office writing 100,000 words without much interaction or feedback or sense of anyone being out there, a script meeting seems like a party. Plus, in film everyone has an opinion about the script. Feedback is a major part of the rewriting process. If I only wrote scripts, I’d learn to direct; for cinema is still a director’s medium. TV is a bit more weighted to the writer and with the public appetite for long form TV, writers who are used to creating a rich narrative and complex world can really thrive in that medium. But there’s nothing like the high wire of starting a sentence. Adding another. And then another. And keeping it going for as long as you can get away with it.


Your last book, The Aftermath has just been made into a film. You’ve seen your work on screen before but as the story is loosely based on your grandfather’s experience in Germany after WW2, did it feel different this time seeing your story come to life?

The Aftermath KK crop
Keira Knightley as Rachael Morgan in ‘The Aftermath’.

It’s magical when you turn up on set and see an actor’s trailer, or several cameramen, or two catering crews and realise that all this stuff is here because a few years before you sat in a room and wrote a story that took you months and years, and that might never have seen the light of day let alone the lights of a film set. To give employ to so many! Yes! My job isn’t useless! The Testimony of Taliesin Jones was made into a film in 1999 and had a wonderful cast. There were so many thrilling moments in that process, not least having Ian Bannen and Jonathan Pryce ask me about the inspiration for their characters. The Aftermath is on a bigger scale and as I was this time a co-writer on the script I had a more intimate involvement with it. Going out to the shoots in Prague and Hamburg with my wife and then with the wider family including my Dad (who’s own father inspired the events that inspired the story) really was quite something. Seeing Keira Knighely on set (effectively playing my Gran) and then my Dad chatting to the actor (Jason Clarke) playing ‘his Dad’ was all quite exceptional. I have yet to see the finished film. But the early cut suggests it will be very intense, very moving, very beautiful and that Keira Knightley has maybe delivered one of the best performances of her life.


Are there any plans for The Killing of Butterfly Joe to be made into a film? Do you have a dream cast?

Yes. But I must be careful not to say too much. Not from superstition, but because I want the book to have its own life first. I have never (despite some critics inferring it) written a novel as a kind of pitch to a film maker. A book can do things a film can’t (or not without difficulty). Not least, explore the interior life of its characters. My first book (about a boy who believes God’s healed his warts) was not obviously a movie but someone had a vision for it. I think I just write in a particularly visual way and have a love of classic 3 act/5 act structure (which script writing really helps hone). The Killing of Butterfly Joe really will make a wonderful film if we can get all the pieces of the jigsaw right, starting with Director and Script. My current cast line up would be: Aneurin Barnard for Llew; Garrett Hedlund for Joe, Meryl Streep for Edith, Tara Lee for Mary, Eve Hewson for Isabelle and Bryan Cranston/Jeff Bridges for Shelby. But more important than any of these is the director. And for that I must keep my powder dry! (you see: I have thought about it!)


Thanks so much for answering my questions. I can definitely see Aneurin Barnard as Llew! And I’m definitely looking forward to seeing The Aftermath at the cinema

The Killing of Butterfly Joe is published today by Picador and can be bought here.


The author

Rhidian Brook

Rhidian Brook is an award-winning writer of fiction. His first novel, The Testimony of Taliesin Jones, won several prizes including the Somerset Maugham Award. His third, The Aftermath, was an international bestseller and has been translated into twenty-five languages; it has also been made inti a major motion picture. He has written for television and the screen and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’. He once had a job selling butterflies in glass cases.





First Monday Crime – March 2018 @1stMondayCrime @JakeKerridge @mattblak @SVaughanAuthor @ellygriffiths @stavsherez

I was a bit worried last week with the Beast from the East – would it stop First Monday Crime? Thankfully, the temperature rose and the snow disappeared completely. In fact, it almost felt spring-like. There was also a very warm welcome in the room to the panel – Matthew Blakstad, Sarah Vaughan, Elly Griffiths and Stav Sherez. Jake Kerridge was there to ask the questions.

FM Mar 18.2

First to talk about his latest book was Matthew Blakstad. Lucky Ghost is the follow-up to Sockpuppet. Matthew’s novels look at the role of technology in our lives and they’ve been compared to the TV series Black Mirror. The latest book focuses on gaming. Players wear a ‘mesh’ to take part and earn Emoticoins for positive interactions with each other. Although the novels are set in the near future, Matthew is looking at how our lives today are bonded with technology and in particular, social media. We often create happy images of ourselves to post online which may be contrary to how we’re actually feeling. Projecting a false happy image makes us vulnerable. But this can happen as a nation as well as an individual. Remember 2016? As Matthew pointed out, as a nation, we felt collectively that it was the worst year ever (little did we know!). Collective emotion can then be manipulated. But will it be for good or for bad?

FM Mar 18.1

Sarah Vaughan used to be the political correspondent for the Guardian. Anatomy of a Scandal was published in January and quite a few reviews have mentioned that it’s ‘timely’. Sarah thought this was quite ironic as she had written and sold the book a whole year before the Weinstein allegations and Westminster scandals. In fact, she first had the idea for the book in November 2013 when talking with friends about consent in relation to a footballer who was appealing against his conviction for rape. She then had a really vivid dream where she dreamt the whole plot (how amazing is that?). For her though, the book is also about entitlement – the toxic male – and political wives. Loving a man who’s been accused and then having to stand by him publicly, whatever you might privately think. Sarah didn’t set out to write a marriage thriller or a domestic noir, though she consciously tried to write something gripping. For her, writing crime is about exploring the grey – so a rape in a relationship that has been consensual but might not be at that moment – rather than the black and white.


Elly Griffiths’ new book, The Dark Angel, is her tenth novel in her Dr Ruth Galloway series. Poor old Ruth has been working hard in Norfolk for the last nine books so Elly has allowed her to go on holiday! Although it’s a working holiday. Friend and fellow archaeologist, Dr Angelo Morelli, has found some ancient bones in Italy and asks Ruth for help. In case this might seem a bit odd to you, Elly’s real name is Domenica De Rosa. So setting a book in Italy is great for her. She originally wrote women’s fiction under Domenica De Rosa but it was deemed unsuitable for Crime. So the pen name has actually come from her grandmother, Ellen Griffiths. As well as writing the Ruth Galloway books, she also writes the Stephens and Mephisto series set in Brighton in the 1950s. Her first standalone will be out in November. Elly said that it was quite different to write a book that had a clear and definite ending.

FM Mar 18.3

Following the technology theme, Stav Sherez’s latest book in his Carrigan & Miller series is The Intrusions. Jake Kerridge warned us that we would want to buy some Blu-Tak after reading the book (I think it may be something to do with webcams) and as Jake said, ‘What tech gives with one hand, it takes away with the other’. Carrigan & Miller deal with a suspected abduction that takes them into the world of cyber-stalking and obsession at a new level. This is the third novel in the series and Stav likes to invest in the inner and outer lives of his police officers. He wants to see how they change over the course of time and how they’re affected by the job and what they see because of it, as well as their private lives. Police officers have the same problems as the rest of us e.g. illness, bereavement, divorce etc. For Stav (and probably most writers), everything he writes is both fictional and autobiographical. Real small arguments can be turned into big divisions in fiction. Personal tragedies can be turned into art and maybe help others in the process. When talking about technology and the trouble it causes, Stav mentioned what happened last time there was a communication revolution. The invention of the printing press meant that during the Reformation, mass pamphlets could be printed and people’s views could be expressed and shared with many people. A bit like Twitter! And of course, when suddenly everyone can express their varied opinions and beliefs, society changes and can collapse.


After talking about their books, Jake Kerridge raised the thorny issue of The Staunch Prize. If you haven’t heard about it, this is a proposed prize for a novel that doesn’t include violence against women in the storyline. It’s had a mixed reception in the Crime genre, as you might have seen on Twitter or in newspaper articles. Jake asked the panel their views on the subject. (I checked with the authors afterwards to make sure they were happy for me to share their comments. I’ve also updated comments to make sure I had an accurate account of what was said).

Matthew Blakstad is always really conscious about what he writes. It’s not his aim to titillate. However, Crime fiction is about darkness. Personally, he’s more concerned about video games where people virtually kill and harm others and thinks this is more of an influence, especially with young people.

Sarah Vaughan initially felt a bit defensive when she first heard about the prize as her book is about a rape case. In writing about a rape trial, she was concerned that nothing would seem gratuitous or titillating: her main focus was (as mentioned above) exploring the issue of consent. Before she wrote her novel, she shadowed a barrister in a rape trial and separate sexual offences case. For her it was important to get the language of the trial correct and to reveal the details of the rape in that way. The words used are sufficiently graphic but we don’t witness it: it’s recounted. Sexual violence against women is an unfortunate fact of life but the Staunch prize risks demonising all portrayals.  She’s had positive comments from women who’ve been in that situation and felt she captured their experience realistically.

Elly Griffiths said that the prize possibly comes from a good place i.e. thinking carefully about what to write but a better way to look at it is by writing a good and balanced book. Intelligent discussion is needed.

Stav Sherez pointed out that fiction has to deal with the bad stuff. Real life is really horrible and this needs to be reflected. In some respects TV and film are more problematic as they leave nothing to the imagination. We’re not going to get away from these issues by silencing them.


As I’ve written these notes up, I’ve remembered something that Stav Sherez said at ChipLit last year. He said that for most readers, crime fiction is not about violence but justice. Personally I think he’s right. Crime fiction often gives us the justice we don’t see in the real world.


To find out more about the authors and buy their books –

For Matthew Blakstad click here

For Sarah Vaughan click here

For Elly Griffiths click here

For Stav Sherez click here



Next month, things get a bit topsy-turvy. Technically, there is no First Monday Crime but in fact Second Monday Crime and Fifth Monday Crime. What, I hear you cry! It’s those pesky but much wanted Bank Holidays that are causing a few problems. So April First Monday will be on 9th April and May First Monday will be 30th April. Hopefully we’ll be back to normal for June!

I’ve had a sneak preview for the guests for April but my lips are sealed. All I’m saying is that you won’t want to miss it, not least because it’s also First Monday Crime’s second birthday. There may be cookies.

You can book you place here.