Friday Night Drinks with… Brian Stewart

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Welcome to the end of another week and it’s time to unwind with drinks and chat with another fabulous literary guest. Tonight I am joined for Friday Night Drinks by author… Brian Stewart.

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Brian, thank you so much for joining me for drinks this evening. First things first, what are you drinking?

Friday evenings are usually beers. I subscribe to a beer club so I’ll be sampling one or two of them. (They’re almost all delicious, though I’m not a fan of the fruity sour ones.) I may sample the odd glass of rum later!

If we weren’t here in my virtual bar tonight, but were meeting in real life, where would you be taking me for a night out?

There are so many options in Dundee these days for food, drink and entertainment. The Dundee Rep is always interesting and quirky, the DCA great for food, and the rum cocktails at the King of Islington are amazing! In Broughty Ferry itself, we love Sol Y Sombra for tapas, and the Fisherman’s Tavern has a great range of beers. The Fort Hotel’s beer garden has been a godsend during lockdown, especially on a sunny evening.

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Sounds like Dundee is the place to be! If you could invite two famous people, one male and one female, alive or dead, along on our night out, who would we be drinking with?

Stephen Fry for sure. He has such a breadth of knowledge and has made it cool for an arts/media person to be knowledgeable about science. Previously people in the media were totally ignorant about anything scientific and treated it as a jokey item at the end of the news. I’m sure he would be fantastic company, though I’d struggle to get a word in.

US politics both fascinates and appalls me – the Trump years were unbelievable – so I’d like Kamala Harris to be there so that she can explain both it and her place in the whole thing. Has she any real hope for the future of that country?

Great choices. So, now we’re settled, tell me what you are up to at the moment. How and why did you start it and where do you want it to go?

The most recent novel that I (self-)published was quite dark, involving fake news and online abuse. Around October 2020, when we were heading back into lockdown after a month or so of hope, I was quite depressed by the whole situation and also by the world I was writing about. 

I decided that the only thing to do was to write something a bit lighter! So I started a novel which is almost a comedy-crime caper story, and I’m firing on with that now. I’m a pantster when I write, so I’ve written several chapters and thrown loads of odd characters into the mix. I now need to clarify the crime so that I can get it all done. (The hero is writing a novel and has exactly the same issues!)

Life imitates art! Sounds like fun. What has been your proudest moment since you started writing and what has been your biggest challenge?

After I self-published my first novel, friends told me they really liked it – and I mean, really liked it, even though they said they’d been prepared to lie and tell me they liked it. That was great. My daughter-in-law’s uncles have read my books and raved about them. Every positive review gives me a glow of pleasure. These are the best moments.

The biggest challenge has been trying to get a break in a very crowded field. I’ve seen other authors manage it but I’ve never quite done it myself. There is always hope though.

What is the one big thing you’d like to achieve in your chosen arena? Be as ambitious as you like, its just us talking after all!

I’d like recognition as being a good writer and someone who produces something a bit different, with a bit of an edge and serious social/political commentary underlying it. Almost all the reviews of my books acknowledge this, but I’d like it to be more widely known. And my sister reckons there’s a great TV series ready to be made out of my books!

What are have planned that you are really excited about?

Getting this novel finished, getting the two manuscripts that are almost ready out there, then re-edit the new novel and get it out to agents and publishers (I’ll tell them it’s the first in a planned series, and if it gets picked up I’ll quickly do some planning!). Also excited about travel – see the next question!

I like your style (although your secret is out now, you do realise?). I love to travel, and I’m currently drawing up a bucket list of things I’d like to do in the future. Where is your favourite place that you’ve been and what do you have at the top of your bucket list?

So many places we’ve been to and loved! We adore Canada (and Canadians); Australia was just so wondrous; China was really interesting. I’ve an ongoing love affair with the Algarve and Lanzarote – I could happily spend several weeks of the year in each of those places.

But if pushed I’d go for New Zealand. We were there in 2020, getting home just as COVID struck. The scenery is amazing – like a bigger version of Scotland – and the people are lovely. There’s so much space. Great beer, wine and food too! We know people who made the move there, and others who wished they had, and I can see why – despite that huge distance.

Bucket list? At present we have plans to do an Antarctic trip, and also a tour of Japan, though these are currently pending due to COVID. I still have a fantasy about driving an open-top Thunderbird down the Florida Keys or the Pacific Highway…

I can highly recommend driving the Overseas Highway in an open-top car, finishing with a strawberry daiquiri in Sloppy Joe’s – one of my favourite trips ever! Tell me one interesting/surprising/secret fact about yourself.

I generally like to know what’s going on! I could never do a trip where the next two nights’ accommodation wasn’t booked. And when we have a settled, agreed plan for something, I do freak out a little if the plan changes. I have an issue with spontaneity, I suppose, but I’m getting better (though my wife would probability disagree).

You and I sound like birds of a feather; I am a mega-planner and have to be in charge of all our holidays. It is part of the reason I used to plan holidays for other people! Books are my big passion and central to my blog and I’m always looking for recommendations. What one book would you give me and recommend as a ‘must-read’?

This is just so difficult! Most of the books I’ve read have their own merits, and many are unique in so many ways. Some authors – Terry Pratchett and Jasper Fforde amongst them – have broken completely new ground and need to be read. Others who have written long series of novels have hit moments of absolute brilliance – Chris Brookmyre with Black Widow, Ian Rankin with In a House of Lies.

If pushed, I would say that His Bloody Project by Graeme MacRae Burnet was a must-read: different and just perfect.

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The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country’s finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence. Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.

I loved this book, it is a stunningly original piece of writing. So, we’ve been drinking all evening. What is your failsafe plan to avoid a hangover and your go-to cure if you do end up with one?

I wish! Too much red wine kills me, especially if I don’t take on enough water, so I watch that – I only drink it with a meal, with maybe a final glass afterwards. Too much strong beer is bad. I can only handle one or two whiskies of an evening. Generally I’m OK with rum and coke (or gin and tonic) so if I’m in it for the long haul, I stick to that. 

The only hangover cure is time: have a slow, easy day afterwards with lots of fluid, lots of sugar, several naps, and a couple of beers in the evening before an early night.

After our fabulous night out, what would be your ideal way to spend the rest of a perfect weekend?

If I was somewhere warm then a day on the beach would be ideal. But in Scotland it would be a walk or a cycle to enjoy the peace and the space. A good film in the evening is always nice.

Brian, thank you for chatting with me this evening, it has been great fun.

Brian’s latest book, The CalDat Investigation, is a techno thriller set in Scotland. It is available in ebook format and you can buy a copy here. The book formats part of a three book series, but they can be read in any order.

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Glasgow PI Grant Cairns is asked to investigate a company called Caledonia Data (CalDat) which is suspected of being a conduit for dark money and fake news. As he follows a lead, he finds himself linking with an old colleague, ex-DS Amanda Pitt, who has become obsessed with explaining a murder at a Glasgow hotel, where the murderer could not possibly have known the victim and who died at the scene.

The two of them find their investigations are linked, and that an online hate campaign against an MSP could have fatal consequences for her.

Meanwhile, Martin McGregor’s past life comes back to haunt him, and the world of online abuse becomes very personal for him.

Brian Stewart was born in Rutherglen (near Glasgow) and brought up in Grangemouth. He went to Glasgow University and Jordanhill Teacher Training College, and taught in Edinburgh before moving north to the Highlands. He lived and worked there for many years in education in various roles, including as an OU maths tutor. In 2017 he and his wife moved to Broughty Ferry to be nearer their families.

Having retired from education, he is focused on my writing.

He and his wife enjoy travelling. Highlights have included cycling in Alaska, swimming in the Blue Lagoon, and climbing Vesuvius. They’ve seen Uluru at dusk and at dawn, and swum in the Olympic pool under Sydney harbour bridge. Furthest north they’ve been was North Cape, west was the Pacific coast of Vancouver Island, and of course New Zealand took them furthest east and south. All of that background will seep into his writing in due course in some way or another.

When not writing, he tries to keep fit and to play the guitar and golf (not simultaneously). He is in Broughty Ferry Rotary and also supports his District in his role as Assistant Governor in District 1010. One of the great bonuses of being a Rotarian is the ability to visit other clubs – most recently in Hong Kong and in Blenheim (South Island). He keeps in contact with other writers through social media, writers’ events, and the Angus Writers’ Circle, whose members are a really supportive bunch.

He self-published Digital Circumstances and Digital Investigations. The next in the series, The Deaths on the Black Rock, was published by ThunderPoint on October 23rd 2018. For the follow-up he went back to self-publishing, and The CalDat Investigation came out in February 2021.

You can find out more about Brian and his writing via Twitter and Instagram.

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