Glasgow criminologist_ ; 7. when no one laughed at her comedy and l' , r' d
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to take herself seriously. But blood, sweat and,“ ' belly laughs went into her debut crime thriller, ’ Gar "Ethi". Words: Brian Donaldson Photograph: Craig Sanders
THE LEAP FROM comedy to slashed throats, ripped innards and pus on the walls may not be as enormous as some would suspect. For Denise Mina, it all comes down to the ’c' word. ’I think a lot of writers write comedy because they don’t have the confidence to take themselves seriously,’ she suggests. 'But I was so unsuccessful at writing comedy that l had to take myself seriously.’
The 31-year-old is steadily emerging as a fresh and serious voice in contemporary literature. Her 'comedy’ past consists of two tiny tomes entitled The Pocket Guide to Men and The Pocket Guide to Flirting. ’You can probably get them in Bargain Books,’ Mina offers semi-jestingly. ’They're in the same line as the They Died Too Young books. They're deleted now . . . probably because they were so successful that they had to take them off the market. Still, they were very useful — particularly the bit on stalking.’
Oddly, there’s more comedy than stalking in her debut crime novel Garnethill. The tale is of Maureen, who comes from what is commonly referred to as a ’dysfunctional' family — drug- dealing brother, alcoholic mother, abusive and absent father. She is all set to finish with her partner when she discovers his corpse in her kitchen - innards, pus, guts etc . . . She finds herself a prime suspect, but as the clues and bodies mount up, the proverbial net begins to close in on the real killer.
It's not merely a corking page-turner: hard subjects like child abuse and False Memory Syndrome are tackled head-on. The plot may flow like a dream, but completing the book was more of a nightmare. ‘I got stuck after about 80 pages,’ recalls Mina. ’I went on a writing course with someone who writes detective novels and sne said, "just finish it — it doesn't matter if none
14 lllEllSTF.‘ 4; I; '39?
of the clues fit, just finish it and go back and revise it." That was really good advice. The first draft was rubbish but after two rewrites it all fitted together.’
Mina's life in education is also something of a jigsaw puzzle. Not many people can say they have been schooled in Paris, Amsterdam, Kent and Perth, among other places. 'SOme of them were very posh, some were very rough. I could do the Glasgow thing and talk about the rough ones but I think I’m the only middle- class person living in Glasgow. When one of my old teachers at Kilgraston was told l was studying law, she said, "I thought she'd be in prison now." Which is kind of a thumbs-up.‘
Mina may not be a jailbird, but her' interests centre on incarceration. She is busy completing a PhD on mental illness in female offenders, and currently lectures on criminal law and criminology. That just about leaves time for a cycling holiday and two sequels to her debut novel, which take the action to London to tie up some of Garnethill’s looser ends and highlight a theme much neglected in literature. 'I wanted to explore what it’s like being a Scot in London,’ explains Mina, 'because I don’t think it's being tackled by a lot of people and it's a huge cultural division. In Glasgow it's very bad manners not to be a socialist; whereas in certain areas of London it's very bad manners to be one.’ More upping of thumbs are on their way.
Garnethill is published by Bantam Press on Tuesday 12 May, at £15.99.