My stop today on In The Silence by M.R. Mackenzie Blog Blitz and I am delighted to share a fab guest post with you
Anna hasn’t set foot in Glasgow for ten years. And for very good reasons…
Anna, a criminology lecturer, returns to Glasgow from Rome during the coldest winter in memory. While out with her best friend from school, Anna has a chance encounter with a former flame, Andrew. Tragedy strikes later that night when Anna discovers Andrew stabbed and dying on a blanket of snow.
Soon Anna finds herself at the centre of the investigation as the star witness for the police, and embarks on investigating the case herself. But Anna doesn’t realise the danger she is in and soon finds herself in trouble.
When another body shows up, who has links to the first victim, it appears that the motive may lie buried in the past.
As Anna gets closer to the truth, the killer starts closing in.
But can she solve the gruesome mystery before the killer strikes again?
But can she solve the gruesome mystery before the killer strikes again?
My debut novel, In the Silence, goes on general release on 10th September 2018, but its story actually begins more than a decade ago – on the 22nd January 2006, to be precise. That’s the starting date on the title page of a script I wrote over the course of a little over two weeks back when I was studying for my MLitt in Film & Television at Glasgow University, inspired by the Italian ‘giallo’ movies of the late 1960s and early 1970s: violent, stylish whodunits centring around amateur sleuths thrust into the thick of the hunt for a violent, deranged serial killer by virtue of having been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Films like Dario Argento’s Deep Red, Lucio Fulci’s A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? and all manner of other weird and wonderful-sounding titles. Because I hadn’t come up with a suitable name for it at the time, I even gave it a working title of “Giallo in Winter”.
The script was rough around the edges – seriously rough, and in fact I now cringe when I try to read any of it – but the kernels of a great idea were all there. Anna, a young university lecturer who has lived in Rome for the last ten years, returns to her native Glasgow during the Christmas break, and on her first night back in town encounters an old acquaintance, Andrew Foley, bleeding to death on the snow-clad slopes of Kelvingrove Park. Convinced that Foley was deliberately targeted rather than chosen at random, and with the police making little headway, Anna launches her own investigation, in the process uncovering a crime committed a decade ago – one so unspeakable its perpetrators are prepared to take their silence to the grave.
Over the years, I rewrote the script numerous times, polishing it, streamlining it and refining its core themes and central message. I submitted it to several screenwriting competitions but failed to make any headway. The most direct piece of advice I ever got from an industry professional was, “It’s a good story, but I don’t feel like I really know your protagonist.”
About five years ago, I returned to my story of a killer terrorising Glasgow’s West End over Christmas, this time switching gears and rewriting it as a novel. My reasons for this change in approach were twofold. Firstly, as hard as it is to get a novel published, the odds of your screenplay being picked up by a studio and turned into a film are infinitely lower. Secondly, since the main criticism of my script was that Anna remained something of an enigma, the format of a novel, with its more measured pace and greater emphasis on introspection and character development, seemed like my best shot at rectifying this. So, over the course of drafting and redrafting, I dug deep into Anna’s psyche and personal back-story, figuring out who she was, how she thought, what her hang-ups were and what were the formative experiences that made her the woman she’d grown into. She started to come alive on the page, transformed from a functional but essentially rather flat movie heroine into a fully layered, nuanced, hot mess of a character – short-tempered, impulsive and dogmatic, but fiercely intelligent and driven by an unshakeable determination to set the world to rights. In hindsight, changing mediums was the best decision I ever made.
For the next few years, I kept refining my manuscript. Whenever people asked about it, I would always say, “Oh, it’s definitely coming out. Probably next year. Maybe.” I wanted it to be perfect – believing, in my naiveté, that such a thing was possible. But, more than that, I was – like Anna – wracked by self-doubt, convinced that I was an impostor, that what I’d written couldn’t possibly be good enough for public consumption. It wasn’t until early 2018 that I finally looked long and hard at myself and told myself it was time to stop hiding behind “just one more rewrite”. (Metaphorically speaking – I didn’t actually stand in front of a mirror and give myself a pep talk.) So I scoured the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, identifying any publishers who accepted unsolicited manuscripts in the crime/thriller genres, sent off a bunch of email and hard copy submissions, crossed my fingers and waited.
About a week after submitting my covering letter, synopsis and three chapters, Bloodhound Books got in touch with me by email. They liked the sample and wanted me to send over the rest. They also asked if I’d submitted it to any other publishers. Initially, my instinct was to pretend I hadn’t sent it anywhere else. Somehow, I’d managed to construe this as a Bad Thing – as if it would look like I’d just been sending it everywhere willy-nilly, and that it would be an excuse for them to pass on it. But then I talked it over with a friend, who said, “No, don’t be ridiculous! Tell them you’ve submitted it to other publishers. It’ll make your book seem like more of a hot potato!” So I took her advice, told Bloodhound they weren’t the only publishers I’d contacted, and sent over the complete manuscript. A little over a week later, I was being offered a two-book deal.
That wasn’t the end of the story, of course. First, the manuscript had to be professionally edited, resulting in one last return to the keyboard to shave off unnecessary digressions and tighten up the second half, avoiding that all-too-common post-midpoint sag, and then came all sorts of decisions about the placement of commas, when to use en-dashes versus ellipses, and the discovery of a bad habit no one had ever pointed out to me before: my love affair with the full colon. But eventually all the remaining niggles were taken care of, and as the publication date looms, it feels as if a story twelve years in the making is finally nearing its climax.
Though, hopefully, the conclusion to this story will also serve as the beginning for many, many more.
M. R. Mackenzie was born and lives in Glasgow, Scotland. He studied at Glasgow University and has a PhD in Film Studies. In 2016, he contributed a chapter on the Italian giallo film to Cult Cinema: An Arrow Video Companion.
In addition to writing, he works as an independent Blu-ray/DVD producer and has overseen releases of films by a number of acclaimed directors, among them Dario Argento, Joe Dante and Seijun Suzuki.
When he’s not doing any of the above, he works in a library, which tests his sanity and keeps him in touch with the great unwashed.
In The Silence is his first novel.