The Referendum Murders (paperback)

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Sunday, 6 December 2015

Writing political fiction as Whodunit - Author’s perspective. (‘The Referendum Murders”)

I have only written one book before - The Ancient Order of Moridura (2006/2007). My second has just been published as Kindle ebook and in print – The Referendum Murders (2015)

The Ancient Order of Moridura

Before writing both books, I had to make the choice that every writer of fiction must make – from what perspective will the story be told? In both cases, I made the same choice – a combination of author (omniscient) viewpoint and multiple character viewpoint.  (The two main alternatives to this are single major character viewpoint and minor character viewpoint.)


The Referendum Murders – paperback

The Referendum Murders - Kindle ebook

The Ancient Order of Moridura was not a murder mystery, not a whodunit: it lay somewhere between sci-fi and thriller. I aimed loosely at a kind of Rider Haggard/Alan Quatermain style – quest with band of friends, exotic location, mystery, climactic denouement.  If it was judged by sales, it failed, but I plead a contribution from my bad decision to publish through a print-on-demand company and consequential high price beyond my control that put it well out of typical paperback pricing. But I must acknowledge that the ebook has not fared any better.

The genesis of The Referendum Murders was very different. I put my plans to write fiction on hold in 2008 and focused instead on political blogging on Scotland’s independence – like other early bloggers of the same YES persuasion, my motivation was to fill the appalling gap in objective information and informed opinion from Scottish and UK media and to offset their one-sidedness, which I believed to be creating a real democratic deficit. In this period, between the old blog (taken down late 2009 and largely lost) and new blogs I wrote almost one million words

But as the number of bloggers grew, including the highly-professional, powerfully effective and well-resourced online pro-independence blog and online newspapers grew – notably Bella Caledonia, Newsnet Scotland and Wings over Scotland – and with the conversion of the Sunday Herald to independence and the emergence of The National post-indyref 2014, I found that others were saying all I wanted to  - and saying it better - to a wider audience than I was reaching, so I concentrated on my YouTube channel,  and my complementary Twitter activities.

In the summer of 2015, I had the idea of writing a short fiction work set against the last weeks of the 2014 Referendum campaign, and wrote one chapter around July. But other things got in the way, and I forgot about it till August, when Rose Garnett, Greg Moodie’s writing partner and collaborator found out about my aborted book idea, and put a firecracker under me to finish it. I rashly committed to completing a 50,000 novel in just over four weeks to coincide with the 18th of September Referendum ballot anniversary.

My objective was to pay tribute to the activists of the YES Campaign by setting some real life events as the background for a fictional story involving imaginary activists in that campaign caught up in extraordinary events, real and imagined, in that historic timeframe. As always, the central issue for me was – and always has been – the obscenity of nuclear weapons, especially those based in Scotland, and the shadowy forces standing behind and almost certainly within government in the US, Europe and UK who recognised the threat that Scottish independence holds for their amoral, cynical power and profit agenda.


A key question in mystery writing is that of explication in relation to plot and denouement. Explication, from explicit means to make crystal clear. The tradition of the murder mystery, the whodunit, set by Wilkie Collins (The Moonstone, The Woman in White) Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) Agatha Christie (Poirot) G.K. Chesterton (Father Brown) and all who came after has been to set the scene, populate it with suspects, drop heavy clues, then reach a denouement – e.g. the drawing room scene with all assembled – then tie up every loose end, explain everything and reveal the killer or killers. The Rubik’s Cube wriggles, then come right in the end.

This tradition has survived all the way into the film and television age, and although there are notable departures from it, it dominates still, satisfying what appears to be an insatiable reader appetite for a puzzle that resolves neatly – for a predictable, comfortable formulaic approach. Many – not all – rely on the single main character perspective – events as seen by the main protagonist – or by a single secondary character.

But I have adopted a multiple perspective approach, so you must see the unfolding mystery through the eyes of multiple characters with the occasional author or godlike-observer perspective – and at that point, you, the reader, sees only what they see, but as the story builds, you know more than they do, and your reader perspective becomes more complex, more crucial.

So if you are interested enough to buy my book or read my book, be prepared to do some hard head work, and don’t expect clunking clues and a neatly tied-up package. The answers to most of your questions are there in the text, but maybe not all. You must speculate on the motivation of the characters, the contradictions in their behaviour and reach your own conclusions. There’s no Poirot or Sherlock Holmes or Watson in the final chapter to do all the work for you in the drawing room of a country house – the mystery must be addressed by you, the reader, in the context set by me, the author – and you’re free to disagree with me and reach different – and perhaps better conclusions.