Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Getting To Know... Brian Stewart

Today on Getting To Know... I am welcoming author, Brian Stewart (BRM Stewart). Brian is the author of the Digital Circumstances and Digital Investigations

Both Digital Circumstances and Digital Investigations are very tech heavy, what is it that fascinates you so much about computers?

It goes back to a programming course I did at Glasgow University – this was in the early 70s, and the computer took up the whole basement of one of the buildings. I just loved the process of getting it to do things, both the intellectual activity and the results. Ten years later I had a computer in the house, and we had a dozen of them in the school where I taught.
Then email and the world wide web in the early nineties, and all that interaction and information right there for you. Now I have Raspberry Pis and Arduino boards connected to LEDs and motors, and a robot project underway. All fascinating.
I just love it all, despite viruses and cyber crime and the rest.

Does a lot of research go into your writing both with the technical side and the police procedural side of things?

I like to be accurate about tech because I don’t like books and films where they do ridiculous things as a lame plot device – just ‘hacking into’ computers as if it was trivial. So I do enough research online to make sure the tech side is right. I also know tech experts who reassure me, and I plan to check with them in advance on the next project.
I don’t dwell heavily on police procedurals – plenty of others do that, and do it very well – but I like, again, to be accurate. I have a brother-in-law who is in the police, and he helped a lot with what the structure of a major enquiry would now look like in Police Scotland nowadays, with a Major Investigation Team rather than just the local DCI.
When I was writing Digital Investigations, I went up to Maryhill and into Maryhill Police Station, and a very nice PC on the desk answered a lot of my questions. Possibly the most important fact was that they didn’t have a canteen there (I’d already written a big scene in the canteen, so that was quickly changed!).

Do you have a favourite character that you have written so far?

This is a tough one. Martin McGregor is me, of course, born later and with a different start in life, so I sort of have to like him, though he can be annoying. I like Mark Grosvenor, the jaded wise old owl from the FBI, and the earnest Amanda Pitt. I wouldn’t like to pick a favourite character in case I annoy the others!

Over the past few years you have done quite a bit of travelling, do you have a favourite place that you have visited?

I loved BC and Vancouver for its friendly people and the space and beauty. I loved where we went in Australia for the lifestyle, and – again – the beauty and scale of the place. Norway is such a sensibly run country that you can’t help but feel Scotland could have been like that.
But I’ve been to the Algarve several times and I love the people, the climate, and the history. So maybe that’s my favourite.

When you're not writing what would we find you doing?

I’m a member of Rotary – in fact I’m currently president of our club – and we’re well involved in raising money for groups and individuals, and supporting the community, so that takes time. I’m in our local Speakers’ Club, and got the job of allocating tasks for meetings. I enjoy playing bridge. I try to swim or get to the gym a few times a week – or out on the bike if the weather’s fine - and I usually play golf twice a week. There’s Eden Court for plays and films. I was never this busy when I was working!
And I play with tech, of course. The house is alive with gadgets doing stuff. My wife just smiles.

Most people say that you can do either maths or English but not both. You however can do both as you used to be a maths teacher and now you are an author. Do you have a preference of one subject over the other?

This does seem like a paradox to some people, including several former colleagues of mine, but it’s not really. Maths is a creative subject – it’s not just sums.
I love both sides, though, but when I’ve finished the whole creative process of writing the story, I go back and check it all makes sense – that it’s logical! I think the whole left-brain right-brain thing is a simplification, and often used to justify a weakness in one area – ‘I can’t do maths!’ Everyone uses both sides.

Do you have a set routine or schedule that you like to follow when you are writing?

When I retired and started writing seriously, I studied a short OU course on creative writing. I learnt a lot, and was reassured that I actually had a talent, but mainly it got me in the habit of writing. My routine is usually to write in the mornings, then do other things – like taking exercise while thinking about where the story is going -  and maybe do some editing and revision later in the day if there’s time. I write in my study, with no music.
Over the last couple of years I’ve got more flexible. I can write anywhere in the house on my laptop, and at different times of day. But if I have more than a couple of days without writing, I feel unsettled and strange.
The only schedule I’ve ever had was this year when I determined to knock out a first draft of a new project between January and the end of March. I made it! But usually it’s putting the hours in: sit down and write. I can always edit and delete later, but it has to be written first.

If you could give younger you any advice about your writing journey, what would it be?

Be more confident about yourself and what you can achieve, and stop wasting so much time thinking about doing things: just damn well get on with it.

Do you have a favourite author?

I mostly read crime fiction and I’ve read all the big-hitters, of course, but I’d be reluctant to pick a favourite.
I’d rather give a different answer to the question and select my favourite books from the past few years – either books that I feel a better person for having read, or books that just seemed to be perfect. I’d single out ‘Sweetland’ by Michael Crummey, ‘The Guilty One’ by Lisa Ballantyne, and ‘Little Black Lies’ by Sharon Bolton. I’m sure I’ll think of others once I’ve emailed this back to you.
And add to that list just about anything by Terry Pratchett or Jasper Fforde, who create such wonderful alternative worlds.

What can we look forward to next from you?

There’s a third ‘Digital’ book currently with a couple of beta readers. It’s a bit different from the others, and actually has less tech in it. Amanda Pitt is again the major character.
I’ve also been working on a book which is set in the near future (though my wife says I’ve spent so long on it it’s going to be set in the present). I think I have a good draft but there’s something missing and something not quite right, so I’ve a lot of work to do on it. It’s almost a political thriller, but there is a police anti-terrorist aspect to it.
And somewhere in the back of my mind are all the lies and situations from Martin McGregor’s and Amanda Pitt’s past lives. I can see little possibilities of scenes that would play out. ‘Digital Revenge’ would be a working title.

Thank you so much to Brian for joining me today and answering my questions!

To connect with Brian

Twitter - @BRMStewart

Digital Circumstances

Martin McGregor left school in Glasgow with nothing but a talent for working with computers. He built up a successful business, installing hardware and software for companies and individuals. He was settled in a loving relationship. 

But Martin's company steals theirs and their clients' data, all of it: account details, credit card numbers, identities - and sells them on to international cyber-criminals. 

Martin never meant this to happen: it was all from circumstances all through his life, starting with a gangster's money which gave him what he thought was his first lucky break. 

Now he is trying to get clear, but his attempts attract the attentions of police and gangsters from three countries, and some people die. His partner knows something is going on, and she once told him never to lie to her. 

And in New York, FBI agent Mark Grosvenor is on his trail. 

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