Denise Mina at Creative Conversations review Pat Byrne

denise mina and zoe strachan

Denise Mina in conversation with Zoe Strachan.

University of Glasgow Chapel

Denise Mina was in sparkling form talking about her latest book ‘The Long Drop’, – based on true crime the subject being the serial killer Peter Manuel, who created terror in Glasgow and Lanarkshire in the 50s.

She kicked off by telling the audience ‘I love true crime’ and how she tended to have an interest in what might be considered ‘low art forms’. She made the point that, since she started out writing twenty or so years ago,  ‘crime writing has become respectable’ and no longer has to be a secret vice.

When talking about ‘The Long Drop’ Denise didn’t have to be so careful about ‘reveals’ as the story about Manuel is already out there. However, there would be many in the audience, too young or not from these parts, that had never heard of him.

She explained that he did not fit into the usual formulaic serial killer mould, for example, he had no particular modus-operandi when it came to choosing his victims. He was, nonetheless, a creepy and particularly strange man. His fascination for Denise Mina was apparent as she explained how he would often break into houses, stay there for some time, taking delight in despoiling the home. For example, grinding mandarin oranges from a tin into the carpet and leaving imprints from his mucky boots on antimacassers.

Apparently, ‘he never shut up’. The prison officers, who were with him all the time while he awaited trial, were driven to despair and reported that he spoke ‘incessantly’. However, the notion of criminality, as pointed out by Denise Mina, is complex and some of the records made by the prison officers showed a more sensitive attitude: ‘the prisoner had a good night’s sleep.’

The writer spoke of the fine line that can be drawn between where criminal activity stops and normal behaviour begins.

One of Manuel’s most bizarre actions was to meet with William Watt, the father of the victims of the first family he had murdered.  When Watt was released from prison after being suspected of the crime, the two spent a whole night together traipsing around Glasgow getting drunk. Mina’s interest in this encounter had been piqued a while back and was the basis for her play ‘Meet Me’ shown at OranMor in 2013.

She spoke of the response invoked when people came to see the play and being enthralled by the many stories people had to tell about Manuel. This  included the view expressed that Watt was not in fact innocent and how people’s narratives often clashed with the official recorded version.

‘The Long Drop’ revisits this encounter between the two men and follows them throughout the night as they traipse through Glasgow’s mean streets, visiting seedy pubs and clubs frequented by criminals and cops.

Mina feels that Glasgow in the 50s was a vicious, chaotic city, perhaps well suited to give birth to the serial killer. A place where criminals and policemen rubbed shoulders in men only clubs such as the Gordon Club

She perused the question as to why women, who went to Manuel’s trial in their droves, were so fascinated by the killer. She also considered why women were such fans of crime writing and put forward the notion that they are possibly aware of their vulnerability and could be rehearsing for the very worse that could happen to them. She made the point that ‘women’s lives weren’t all about choosing Swatches.’

I don’t think there’s little doubt that women will constitute a healthy proportion of the fans of  ‘The Long Drop’.

Pat Byrne, February,2018

the long drop cover

*** Winner of the 2017 McIlvanney Prize for Scottish Crime Book of the Year ***

Published by Harvill Secker, £12.99 and available to purchase from: AmazonFoylesHiveWaterstonesWH Smith

Next Book

Denise Mina’s next book is about a woman, who listens to a true crime podcast and takes off travelling through numerous countries obsessed by a particular crime. When asked if she had had to visit various countries for research purposes, Mina responded. ‘No, I just used places that I had lived or visited on holiday.’ It sounds like a great romp, nonetheless, and I’ll look forward to it.

Mind you, I’ll always have a soft spot for young Paddy Meehan and Alex Morrow, protagonists in her earlier books.

You can catch Denise Mina at Aye Write 18 March, 2018 – introducing Danny Denton and Mick Kitson

Denise Mina Glasgow Writer

Creative Conversations University of Glasgow

Aye Write! Denise Mina introduces… Danny Denton & Mick Kitson 18 March, 2018
Bill Pullman, 23 February Glasgow Film Festival 2018

This section: Books, Talks, Poetry and Creative Writing Events, What's On Glasgow West End: cinema, clubs, theatre, music, events, festivals, community and more, Writing

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

2 responses to “Denise Mina at Creative Conversations review Pat Byrne”

  1. Leela Soma says:

    Great review of a really interesting Creative Conversation at Glasgow University Chapel on Monday, Pat. Denise Mina was in Sparkling form as you said in your review. Her prolific writing, the different literary work, like the graphic novels and the plays were fascinating to listen to. Zoe Strachan’s gentle questioning was just right to prompt some great answers from Dame Denise Mina. CC’s are a wonderful lunch time ‘food’ for the mind.

    • Pat Byrne says:

      Hi Leela, I found Denise’s description of the constraints placed on writing for graphic novels very interesting and surprising. I got so caught up listening that I didn’t take any notes. Zoe is so relaxed and set a perfect atmosphere for the event. It seemed very intimate despite the vastly impressive venue. Anytime you fancy writing a review, I’d like that.:-)

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