I first connected with Jackie Mclean on a writers’ site when she was working her detective novel ‘Toxic’. I was impressed by her writing then and I’m thrilled that she has now been published by ThunderPoint Publishing. I’m also thrilled to welcome her to the blog for my first post of 2015.
On the morning of December 4th 1984, municipal workers in Bhopal, India, were clearing some 4,000 dead bodies and thousands of animal carcasses from the streets following the world’s worst industrial accident.
The toxic cloud that caused the massive death toll formed when water poured into a tank of improperly stored methyl isocyanate (MIC).
It doesn’t look dangerous. And you can’t smell it until it’s too late.
You can only hope it’s not sitting around anywhere near you . . .
In the Scottish university city of Dundee, life and all its complications are proceeding much the same as usual.
The recklessly brilliant DI Donna Davenport, struggling to hide a secret from police colleagues and get over the break-up with her partner, has been suspended from duty for a fiery and inappropriate outburst to the press.
DI Evanton, an old-fashioned, hard-living misogynistic copper has been newly demoted for thumping a suspect, and transferred to Dundee with a final warning ringing in his ears and a reputation that precedes him.
And in the peaceful, rolling Tayside farmland a deadly store of MIC, the toxin that devastated Bhopal, is being illegally stored by a criminal gang smuggling the valuable substance necessary for making cheap pesticides.
An anonymous tip-off starts a desperate search for the MIC that is complicated by the uneasy partnership between Davenport and Evanton and their growing mistrust of each others actions.
Compelling and authentic, Toxic is a tense and fast paced crime thriller.
Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write?
Like most writers, I’ve always written – I need to. My partner Allison says she can always tell when I’ve been writing, as I have my buzz!
Lots of report-writing at work meant I lost the creative writing thing for a while, but it never really went away. Now when I write fiction I can only do so by hand or on a typewriter – I wish I could write straight onto the screen, but I must associate it purely with non-fiction, which is really annoying, as it’s double the work.
Who is your favourite/least favourite character in ‘Toxic’?
Donna is definitely my favourite character. She gets away with all the things I’d never have the nerve to do. I’ve got a soft spot for Natesh, too, and in an early draft where I killed him off, I cried while I wrote.
What was the hardest part of writing ‘Toxic’?
One of the hardest things was keeping on top of the story’s timeline. I ended up with the floor of my study completely covered in index cards. It’s surprisingly easy to forget where you are in a story and to make a plot boob, where something happens that would be impossible with the other events that have happened, or you imagine to have happened. My head’s in the clouds a lot of the time, so keeping a steady steer on the timing of things was hard.
What are you working on now?
I’m half way through ‘search.com’, which is the sequel to Toxic. In my mind, it’s a trilogy (the third book, Reformed, is in sketchy outline). But I’m also part way through a PhD, and finding the time to write is tricky, but I’m starting to get a routine going with it.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
It depends if you’re writing for pleasure or for money. If it’s for pleasure, then just enjoy the wonder of writing whatever you want. There’s nothing quite so therapeutic. If you’re writing for money, I’d say study your market and pay close attention to what’s expected in your line of writing. I’d originally written Toxic with no particular aim in mind – it was just a story I wanted to write. Then when I thought about doing something with it, it came as a bit of a shock to me to learn about how rigidly-drawn the rules of fiction marketing are. Until that point, I’d never thought about the concept of genre, but from then on I re-drafted Toxic to resemble more closely a crime novel. I’m fairly business oriented, and am under no illusion that you’re likely to get anywhere by ignoring the rules.
What book are you reading at the moment?
Modelling and Quantitative Methods in Fisheries. Really. But I’ve just finished I Am Pilgrim, which was great.
Who is your favorite author and what is it that you love about their work?
I’m constantly amazed at coming across new fantastic authors all the time. But my favourite is Fannie Flagg (Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe). Her books are sheer Southern comfort, and I always feel somewhere to belong in the settings she writes. Her characters are wonderfully crafted, and you just can’t help being drawn into their lives. Well, I can’t, anyway. A few years back I had a really terrible cough, and was up all night for several nights in a row. Allison went out in the early hours and bought me a copy of Fried Green Tomatoes. I got so engrossed in it, my cough subsided and I conked off to sleep at the end of the book. It’s a tonic.
The desert island question – if you could only ever read/own five books, what would you choose? Why?
Only five? This is an anxiety-inducing question, as I’m an avid reader of everything. But ones I would absolutely have to have…
Watership Down, Richard Adams – this is my all-time favourite book in the whole world. I read it at least once every year. It’s just lovely.
The Red Tent, Anita Diamant – I’m fascinated by the historical period this is written in, and it’s so well done.
Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan – timeless and instructive.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe, Fannie Flagg – obviously.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver – everyone should read this book. It has important things to say about how our food is produced, and certainly made me change my shopping habits.
Tell us something unusual about yourself.
I once got arrested in Paris under newly-introduced terrorism laws. Oh yes. It was a joy. I am always getting mistaken for dodgy characters and can have a hard time at airports. I’m too scared to ask. Perhaps it’s the beard…
I love a good detective novel but I haven’t read any for a while because I’ve found that the plots and characters have become too stereotypical. ‘Toxic’ however, while still a gripping, intriguing page turner of a story, breaks the mould with its background story of the Bhopal chemical disaster, its realistic characters and procedures and the fabulous lead, Donna Davenport.
This is a fast-paced story that doesn’t neglect character development – a difficult thing to pull off, but Jackie McLean does this skilfully. It’s an impressive debut and, if you like this genre or if you just want a gripping story to hold your attention, then this is an author and a novel that are definitely worth checking out.
Buy a copy here