Since starting this blog I’ve been fortunate to meet some truly talented, accomplished writers. Someone who definitely falls into that category and whose blog I was lucky to find early on was fellow Friday Fictioneer, Iain Kelly.
I’ve always enjoyed reading Iain’s short fiction, so when he announced on his blog he was releasing a thriller, I jumped to order my copy – I was not disappointed. I’m delighted to say Iain agreed to an interview here on Word Shamble, so I’ll leave him to introduce the book and if afterwards you’re tempted to leap into his world, follow the links to buy A Justified State on Amazon UK or Amazon US.
Iain Kelly lives in East Kilbride, near Glasgow in Scotland, where he spends most of his time raising his twin son and daughter. In his spare time he works as an editor of television programmes for the BBC. When he has any other time left over he writes stories, reads stories and watches stories.
His first novel, A Justified State, was published in late 2018, and his website features many short stories.
Hi Iain, thanks for popping over to Word Shamble. For those as yet unfamiliar with the premise of A Justified State, would you like to give a flavour of the story?
Thank you for having me! A Justified State is a political thriller set in the future where a socialist, centrist government rules a country with apparent benevolent intentions. Homelessness and poverty have been eradicated, health care for all has extended and improved lives and technology has provided the answer to food supplies and climate change. However, all is not what it seems to the unsuspecting public. The assassination of a minor local politician sets of a chain of events that leads Detective Danny Samson to discover the dark secrets that lie at the heart of the government and the State.
You’re prose is very accomplished. I was wondering how long you’ve been writing – is it something you’ve always done or have you come to it later in life?
It is something I have done all my life, but off and on until the last few years. At school I was always writing stories from a young age, usually about football! I have always kept a daily journal that I like to write each evening. At university I studied English Literature and did screenplay writing. Then for a few years career and life got in the way. I work as a television editor, so I was still telling stories, but piecing them together through picture and sound rather than words. Once I had settled down I re-discovered the desire to write again. A frustrating thing about working as a TV editor is that you are usually helping someone else tell their story – the director or the producer. With writing I like that fact that it is my creation and my imagination that are in charge!
One thing that struck me while reading the book is the strong sense of place throughout. Is the city depicted based on a real location?
I’m glad you felt this reading the book. The geography and place is based on my home city of Glasgow and other areas around Scotland. I wanted to write a story based in Glasgow precisely because it is a place I know well and one I think is under-represented in much literature compared to the fashionable cities like Paris, London or New York. However, I soon realised that writing a political thriller set in a future Scotland was tricky because in our current times of political upheaval it is difficult to predict where Scotland will be, politically, in the near future, never mind in a hundred or so years from now! There is a strong independence movement within the country, Brexit has still to be resolved etc. So I made the decision to use Glasgow and Scotland but to not name them. Anyone from Glasgow should recognise the descriptions, but those unfamiliar with the locations can enjoy and imagine it to be wherever they wish. And whatever happens the novel will not go out-of-date by being overtaken by real life!
An integral part of the novel is the near-future world you’ve created, one of genetic manipulation, environmental catastrophe and technology embedded at every level. It feels like an utterly plausible version of the future. Did you develop the ideas yourself or base them on anything?
The ideas for the state of the future world were mainly derived from reading news stories about where we are and where we are heading. I wanted to write about a future that was plausible, close to reality and not a fantasy – so no flying cars or a race of Artificial Intelligence humanoids! I took some of the main concerns of our times – nuclear war, climate change, over-population and drew on some examples of change that are being developed now that may be common to us soon. The most obvious example would be the driverless electric cars, GPS tracking implants, and vast machines that scrub the air clean of toxic gases which are stored safely underground – all of these are things that are happening on some level now. I didn’t bog myself down in too much detail, I didn’t want the book to veer away from the characters and become some sort of technical handbook. Rather, I wanted these things to be a background to allow my story to unfold within.
Your main characters are three dimensional and nuanced with all the flaws and quirks of real people. Were they inspired by folk you know or are they entirely your own invention?
The characters are a mix. Some come completely from my imagination, others have one or two traits that I could relate to people I know. Some things are based on my own life – like the main character I have twin children who had a difficult start to life, so I put that detail in and enhanced it. Much of my writing involves real people in real situations, I tend to not write much fantasy or extreme sci-fi, although it can be fun to then put a real character in an extreme situation!
What comes first for you – character or plot?
In this novel, and generally, it was the characters that came first. The character of Gabriella came from a very short piece of writing on my blog that I wrote a year previously. The scene was similar to the opening scene of the book. That character kept nagging at me to tell more of her story. Once I had decided to write more about her and I knew where I wanted to set the novel, then I moved onto thinking about what plot could I involve her in. As she was an assassin, the character of a detective assigned to investigate her crime came pretty easily. Then I had to think of the why – why was she killing? – and the who – who was she killing? The rest sprang from there and came together fairly easily.
I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but by the end of the novel we’ve learned a lot about your characters and some of the secrets the authorities in your book would rather keep hidden. Can you see yourself writing more stories set in this dystopian world?
I have a strong idea for a follow up to this story, and a vague idea about making it into a trilogy. I’m hoping to write the 2nd part this year and the final part next year. Like you say, I have managed – quite undeliberately! – to leave a few vague notions hanging in the air that have since had me mulling them over. It’s always good when you fortuitously stumble onto a new idea, and I’m excited to get going on the next instalment.
What writers do you feel have most inspired your work?
Oh, such a tough question to give a short answer too! There are so many! As I say, I tend to write about real life, so writers who similarly work in that area always interest me – William Boyd is a favourite at the moment, John Updike, Ian McEwan and Iain Banks. I do like a crime novel or a good spy story though so Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon, Ian Fleming, John le Carre, Len Deighton and Martin Cruz Smith are favourites. Growing up I adored Terry Pratchett, and do miss an annual treat from him. I also do like to get through some of the ‘Classics’ and have a soft spot for Alexandre Dumas and The Three Musketeers! I could go on and on, so I’ll stop here!
When you are at your creative best – with a laptop or pen and paper? Staring at a blank wall or a beautiful vista?
I love writing with a pen and paper. I keep a daily journal doing just that. With my blog and novel writing I have moved more recently to working straight onto the laptop – it just saves time to type it all out first time, let it pour onto the keyboard and see what sticks. However, to re-read and edit I still print my work out onto paper and go through it with a red pen before going back and re-typing. There is something about my brain that concentrates on reading much better with paper – which is why I still read books rather than moving over to a Kindle or other e-reader. Through necessity my writing takes place in front of my dining room wall, usually once the children have been put to bed – but I long for a writer’s retreat somewhere warm and sunny where I can sit outside and watch the countryside go by!
I know you’re always writing, so what’s the next project we can expect from you?
I’m two-thirds through a first draft of another novel, provisionally titled ‘The Barra Boy,’ which I hope to finish in the first half of this year and send out to some agents and publishers. After that I will start on the follow up to A Justified State and that should be self-published and available at the end of this year. As always I will be keeping my hand in and brain ticking over with some short stories on my blog.
Thanks for the interview, it was a pleasure to have a chat and I look forward to visiting Word Shambles throughout the future too.
Many thanks to Iain for taking the time to pop over and for such a great interview.
blog: https://iainkellywriting.com/facebook: https://www.facebook.com/iainkellywriting/
twitter: @iainthekidinstagram: iain_kelly_writingA Justified State on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Justified-State-Iain-Kelly/dp/1729347665/
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Justified-State-Iain-Kelly-ebook/dp/B07JYYTL4J/