Please welcome Gavin Scott to the blog! He dropped by to chat about his new book, The Age of Treachery, and more!
Will you tell us a bit about The Age of Treachery and what inspired you to write it?
The Age of Treachery is a detective thriller set in 1946 whose leading character is Duncan Forrester, a former Special Operations Executive agent who has returned to his old Oxford College intent on forgetting the years of violence and retreating into the world of ancient history he loves so much.
But when another don is found dead and Forrester’s best friend is accused of killing him, Forrester turns detective and finds himself plunged into a mystery involving Satanism, Icelandic sagas and war-time treachery. As the investigation goes on Forrester finds himself meeting J.R.R.Tolkien before he’d finished The Lord of the Rings, Thor Heyerdahl before the Kon Tiki expedition, the young Margaret Thatcher, and Ian Fleming before James Bond – all characters who were around in 1946 – and travelling from war scarred London to the ruins of Berlin and the forests of Norway before he uncovers the real killer.
I was inspired to write it by the wartime experiences of my own father, Duncan Scott, who served with the RAF in North Africa, in Sicily, supporting Montgomery’s 8th Army as it fought its way up the Adriatic coast of Italy, in Austria and finally in Palestine
What makes Duncan Forrester a compelling character? Why will readers root for him?
Forrester comes from a working-class background and fought his way into academic life not just through brainpower but because of his intense love of knowledge, particularly that of the ancient world, which I hope will give him a depth and richness people will respond to. He is also physically brave and highly skilled, as a result of his S.O.E. training, in survival skills. During the war he spent long periods of time behind enemy lines all over Europe, giving him a wide range of contacts among all walks of life across the continent and a vast well of experiences to draw from.
In addition to that he has a tragic romantic past, the details of which I’ll leave readers to discover in the book, but which has a strong influence on his relations with women. I hope readers will feel a kinship with him in his search for love and want him to find and hold on to happiness despite all the challenges he faces.
Finally I like to think of him as a decent man: the sort of person who empathizes with those around him and whose first instinct is to try to do the right thing. I feel there are too many detective heroes these days whose chief characteristic is some self-destructive weakness: in Duncan Forrester I wanted to create someone we can genuinely admire.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
I plunged, with great delight, not just into histories of the period, but into biographies and memoirs which can provide the detail of how life was lived in a way that more formal histories simply can’t. They also reveal all sorts of interesting connections between people which it would never occur to anyone to make up. In some ways researching the novel felt like doing a jigsaw puzzle, with all the satisfaction of finding a piece that perfectly fits the space you’re looking at. For example I was fascinated to discover from several different sources that the department of x-ray crystallography in which Margaret Roberts, later Margaret Thatcher worked in 1946 was run by people with strong left-wing leanings and distinctly unconventional sex lives. Who would have thought?
I should also mention that I was lucky enough to have access to my own father’s wartime diaries from 1944 and 1945 as he fought his way north up the Italian peninsula towards the Reich.
What is your writing process like?
It begins with blue sky thinking about what kind of story I would like to tell, which results in pages of (badly) hand written notes (in a school exercise book) that are a kind of one-man brainstorming.
The next stage is to corral those wild ideas down into the rough outline of the plot.
Then I begin the reading I described above, discovering what real people were doing at the time, which helps me refine the story – and produces many more pages of notes!
Then I turn to the computer to produce a respectable looking outline, which is then revised several times – and finally I start to write.
I work office hours five days a week with morning and afternoon writing sessions divided by lunch and a nap and followed, as a kind of reward, by a walk along Santa Monica beach to the pier and back.
And I religiously take the weekends off to recharge my batteries!
You’re a screenwriter, but have you always wanted to write novels? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
Like Duncan Forrester, I was born in Kingston-upon-Hull, four years after the events in The Age of Treachery. I grew up there, very happily, until 1961, when my father was made redundant from the factory in which he had worked since 1950 and my family emigrated to New Zealand.
My teenage years were spent in the delightful village of Havelock North in Hawkes Bay, where I helped supplement the family income by working in the local orchards and had my cultural horizons widened by the many interesting people who had been drawn to the area over the years.
I then got a scholarship to a boarding school called Wanganui Collegiate (where Prince Edward later taught) and when I finished my university entrance exams went, at seventeen, to Borneo as part of New Zealand’s Volunteer Service Abroad programme, where I spent a year in the jungles of Sarawak teaching the children of headhunters how to speak English. This resulted in my first book, A Day in the Life, which, though it was not published, made me realize how much I enjoyed writing books.
After University (Political Science and English at Victoria, in Wellington) I became a journalist, first with the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation and later, when I returned to Britain in 1973, with BBC: first for the World at One and PM programmes and later for Newsnight. That was when I published my first two thrillers, Hot Pursuit and A Flight of Lies.
Also during the 1980s I stood for Parliament for the Liberal Democrats, made documentaries for Channel 4, began newsreading for ITN, and taught to myself how to write screenplays by reading the paperback edition of William Goldman’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
This led to me being asked by George Lucas to join the little group of writers who were creating his TV series The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, and that brought me and my family to Santa Monica, where we still live.
But satisfying though I have found the life of a screenwriter I had never lost my delight in novels, and a couple of years ago decided to get back into it. The Age of Treachery is the first fruit of this return.
What’s one of the first things that you can remember writing?
A radio play about King Arthur and his Knights which I recorded with some pals while attending the village school in Havelock North. I also took part in quite a lot of children’s broadcasting through the local radio station in Napier – 2ZC.
Why historical suspense? What do you enjoy the most about reading, and writing, in the genre?
I have a great love of history, and the great desire to understand how the world we live in came to be in the wake of the two world wars. What I love most about the genre is plunging back into the recent past and realizing just how connected with it we still are.
What authors have influenced you the most?
The first grown-up authors I read were HG Wells, Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle, closely followed by John Buchan, and I think collectively they still set the standards to which I still aspire.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
The Lord of the Rings. I first discovered it in the school library at Wanganui Collegiate in 1965, long before it became cult reading, and at a time when, as a newly arrived scholarship boy, things were a bit tough. Entering into the world of the Shire, and Rivendell and Lothlorian was pure bliss: and remain so every time I return.
What are you currently reading?
Iris Murdoch, A Life, by Peter Conradi, Mr American, by George MacDonald Fraser, Winter, (the story of a German family from the 1890’s to 1945) by Len Deighton, and How to Run a Bassoon Factory, by Nigel Balchin.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’m writing a sci-fi movie for a producer here in Hollywood, prepping the next Duncan Forrester adventure – and discovering how, when you’ve created a continuing character, he starts to take on a life of his own. I’m also discovering the delights of manning a website – www.gavinscott.co, for anybody who wants to know more.
About Age of Treachery:
It is the winter of 1946, and after years of war, ex-Special Operations Executive agent Duncan Forrester is back at his Oxford college as a junior Ancient History Fellow. But his peace is shattered when a much-disliked Fellow is found dead in the quad, stabbed and pushed from an upper window. A don is suspected and arrested for the murder, but Forrester is not convinced of his friend’s guilt. On the hunt for the true killer, he finds himself plunged into a mystery involving lost Viking sagas, Satanic rituals and wartime espionage.