Crime author returns to St Andrews

James Oswald admits he owes an enormous deal of gratitude for his writing career to his livestock. Pic: David Cruickshanks.
James Oswald admits he owes an enormous deal of gratitude for his writing career to his livestock. Pic: David Cruickshanks.

One of the UK’s best selling crime authors returns to St Andrews this week, admitting he owes an enormous deal of gratitude for his writing career to his livestock.

Fife Farmer turned author James Oswald will be at Topping Booksellers this Friday (March 3) at 7.45pm to talk about his award winning new book, Written In Bones.

It is the seventh novel featuring Inspector Tony McLean, a series blending crime and the supernatural that Oswald admits may not have enjoyed the same success had it not been for his double life.

The wordsmith combines running a 350 acre livestock farm in Newburgh with penning a crime and a fantasy novel every year and is also in the process of building a house.

Avid readers and crime fiction fans will be delighted he has no intention of killing off his rebellious lead character yet, with book 8 also in the process of being written.

He attributes part of his prodigious output, and the popularity of his leading man, to his ability to see things anew whilst driving his tractor or tending his Highland cattle and sheep.

“A surprising amount of plot lines are worked out in the tractor,” says Oswald, whose audiobook sales rank alongside fellow Penguin crime authors, Agatha Christie and Nordic Noir treasure, Jo Nesbo.

“Quite a lot of the farm jobs, like checking the livestock, mucking out the sheds or feeding are not too taxing, so my mind can wander. I might go through situations which aren’t working properly in the book. I might be driving and think: what would happen if I introduced that?

“To be honest, I think that is why I have been able to keep up a crazily busy writing schedule over the past four years- because I have the farm as the day job.

“It is something so different. Sometimes writing can be like wading through treacle and I can just stop, get up, go check the cows or cut some gorse and that can often unconsciously unblock something so, when I sit back down again, I think: oh, that’s how I will do that.”

Oswald almost quit writing after his crime books were rejected by mainstream publishers.

As a last throw of the dice, he self-published ebooks on Amazon, selling 350 000, and sparked a four way bidding war for his services.

Penguin secured the rights to 8 Inspector McLean mysteries and his acclaimed 2013 debut, Natural Causes, catapulted him to fame as the biggest selling debut crime writer in the UK.

The author, whose life has been transformed by his success, believes his stubborn lead character will walk the streets of Edinburgh solving crimes for many more books yet.

“At the moment I don’t have an end game for Tony McLean. I never really did. In fact, when I wrote the first book, I never really intended it to be a series. It just kind of happened that way.

“Tony is only in his mid-40s so he could go on for a while yet. Retiring hasn’t really affected Inspector Rebus, has it,” he laughs.

“As long as I can keep thinking up stories for him, and people want to read him, he’ll be around.”