Hat trick of hacks make it as successful novelists

Author Aidain Smith in a publicity shot for his book, Union Jock

Author Aidain Smith in a publicity shot for his book, Union Jock

This less than flattering picture of my old mucker Aidan Smith appeared in Scotland on Sunday’s Spectrum magazine at the weekend.

Now Aidan is a chiselled and handsome sort and I have posted before  (click here) about the many times in his illustrious newspaper career he’s been on the wrong end of a camera. Aidan’s been photographed as a transpotting geek, a Klingon on a Glesgae cooncil bus and as a full frontal nudist.

However, this see-you-jimmy-bunnettedhorrorshow tops the lot. Not an attractive image.

Still, at least this time Aidan has the best possible reason for agreeing to be done up like a dug’s dinner for photographic purposes. He was helping promote his latest book, Union Jock, published by Random House.

Union Jock By Aidan Smith

Union Jock By Aidan Smith

It charts Aidan’s time during the 2006 World Cup campaign when he defied every fibre of his passionate, football-mad Scotsman’s being to support the Auld Enemy. And it is a natural progression from his first published book, when the lifelong Hibs fanatic spent a year supporting arch-rivals, Hearts.

That first book, Heartfelt, was magic and I hope his latest work gets his crafted writing to an even bigger audience. Certainly it has already had winning reviews in both The Scotsman (click here) and The Metro (click here).

But Aidan isn’t alone amongst my old journalistic acquaintances who have got brand new books out right now.

I don’t know what the collective noun is for journalists-turned-novelists, so I’m going to call it a rash. Must be something in the water, because there is definitely a rash of hack-to-paperback publishing events right now.

Caligula by Douglas Jackson

Caligula by Douglas Jackson

Last month marked the book launch of Caligula, by Douglas Jackson. Reviews suggest it is a compelling historical thriller, starkly bringing to life the sights, sounds and smells of ancient Rome during the reign of its most notorious, mad emperor.

Mild mannered Dougie got his inspiration after hearing a chance account of how a live, Roman-era elephant was transported to ancient Britain and must surely have put the wind up the barbarian natives. Intrigued, he put in a bit of historical detective work, established the story was, indeed, based in fact and soon had the idea for his novel.

Then he got down to the tricky job of writing it – on the train as he travelled to and from his home in Bridge of Allan to his job as an assistant editor on The Scotsman. But you can read a lot more about all that here, in an excellent article by one of Dougie’s colleagues at The Scotsman.

I was lucky enough to work with Dougie on the back bench of the Daily Record for a brief period a the end of the 90s. He was a top operator and, to his eternal credit, retained his deft nice-guy touch when it would have been much easier to advance his career by being, well, not such a nice guy.

For the first time in half a dozen years I caught up with him recently and he tells me he already has several follow-up Roman novels in the bag, as well as another book project with a grittier, contemporary, crime theme. All of which, I suspect, are likely to be every bit as successful as Caligula.

He has even charted his career from aspiring writer to successfully published novelist on his blog, here 

Last, but not least, a pal in Newcastle dropped me an email to advise me of yet another former journalistic colleague who has secured a publishing deal for an intriguing work of fiction.

Bait by Nick Brownlee

Bait by Nick Brownlee

This time it is Nick Brownlee, with whom I worked at the Newcastle Chronicle in the early 1990s. At that time he was an idle-but-talented features writer, who got away with murder because he was a born charmer and wrote hilarious columns. Most notable at the time was his weekly diary of fictional Geordie slacker, Bob Brush.

Later his career took him to Fleet Street, though these days he runs the Hadrian News and Featurespress agency in Cumbria and provides a regular diet of exclusives to the Scottish Mail on Sunday, where his good pal Jamie Macaskill is the long-standing news editor.

Crikey – did I say “idler”? I take that back, because even a perfunctory Google search shows that Nick has penned loads of books. Everything from trivia about Britain, to books about addiction, cannabis the Tour de France and cricket.

Despite carving a successful media career, being a dutiful husband and dad and being a prodigious producer of non-fiction, he’s somehow found the time and energy to write a crime novel. Set in Mombassa, Kenya. The book is called Bait .

It’s already earned a rave review from Mark Billingham, who is up there with Ian Rankin as Britain’s most successful crime writer (read the review here). And what’s more the follow-up, Burn, is already completed and due for publication next year.

Congratulations to all three lads for achieving what so many dream about and best of luck to each of them with the sales and ongoing success.

By the way, did I mention a rash? Never mind, I’ve got the perfect prescription. I’ve been ordered to relax by curling up with a good book. Or three.


6 thoughts on “Hat trick of hacks make it as successful novelists

  1. Quite right Doug,
    That was a shameful omission.
    I just assumed everyone would realise you are the finely buffed hunk pictured on the front!

  2. Hi Scott

    And a belated thanks from me too for my plug. Sorry about the picture and of course you’re right to recall my Record outrages. The way the clock was ticking in the SoS photographic studio, with me with a St George’s Cross on my mug looking more and more like the ONLY option, reminded me of those far-off Anderson Quay days and especially the time NO Scottish celeb (from the total number:6) would agree to posing in the scud for a story and it ended up having to be me. Vacating the Record studio was a “model” who’d been posing, fully-clothed, with Easter eggs. The Record snapper asked if she’d hang around for my shoot. She’d have to whip off her Eastery frock, he explained. Aye, nae problem, she said, and was paid an extra ten notes to stand next to me, also bollock naked, who’d entered the journalistic profession in order to write!


  3. Wotcher Scottie

    Many thanks for the kind words. I shall have the words “Idle But Talented” etched on my gravestone – if I can be arsed, of course.

    I was going to set my debut novel in Crete, featuring five regional newspaper hacks on a week-long drinking holiday, with a cast list including two psycho Edinburgh birds, a bloke suspended in a cage, and a honeymoon couple who wake to find an emaciated Jock under their bed.
    Unfortunately my editor thought it was too far-fetched and told me to write about detectives in Kenya instead.


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