Friday, May 1, 2020

Two Blokes Find A Plot

Today I have been interrogating two, or three people. They are known to MIE as part of the very successful, and funny, Four Blokes In Search Of A Plot. Well two of them found half a plot and decided to do something really a little special with it.

Death Insurance.

Hi to Douglas and Morgan,

So, first who is Morgan Cry exactly?

Douglas: Oooh, I want to know too.
Morgan: Morgan Cry is my ex-pat alias. Thanks to those wonderful folks at Polygon I’m leaving the dark alleyways of tartan noir and heading for the Spanish sunshine. Morgan Cry debuts with a cracking tale of murder, intrigue, and a daughter flung right in at the deep end with her mother's secrets. (plug over)
And who am I really? I’m Gordon Brown – no, not the ex-prime minister who, for information, is actually called James Gordon Brown and my name is Gordon James Brown – got it?
And Douglas, who are you again?
Douglas: Oooh, I want to know too. Can anyone tell me? Anyone? Ramsay? Brown? Cry? Bueller?

Whose idea was the short story?  Was there alcohol involved?

Douglas: It was Morgan/Gordon’s idea and, truth be told, he did most of the work, I just sat back, sipped a planter’s punch (the planter was a socially isolated two metres away sipping mine) and made a few suggestions here and there. Like ‘I think we need a full stop there, old boy, not a comma.’ Gordon would say, ‘I’ll put you in a comma.’ It was all very simple really. For me, anyway.
Morgan: ‘There were two steps in the process’, he lies with ease. The idea to do a joint story in the first place and then the actual story. The original idea for doing a joint story was mine. I’d been thinking about the way that, back in the day, magazines would publish stories in serial form, revealing week by week more and more. I wondered if that would work in today’s digital world and contacted Douglas (one my fellow criminals in Four Blokes) and asked if he would be interested in trying to create something. For reasons only he knows, he said yes.
As to the story itself, well that was totally unplanned. Other than it would star Daniella Coulstoun (my protagonist from ‘Thirty-One Bones’) and Rebecca Connolly (Douglas’s lead from ‘Thunder Bay’ and ‘The Blood is Still’) – we had no plan.


As you know Murder Is Everywhere also has a joint writing team  ‘Michael Stanley,’  why are you two  both taking credit for the short story rather that Douglas Cry or Morgan Skelton, the latter does sound like a bank though….
Douglas: We thought about Douglas Cry but it sounded more like a suggestion during lockdown than a pen name. And yes, Morgan Skelton does sound like a bank, so in hindsight we should have gone for that and we might have been eligible for a taxpayer bailout.
Morgan: We could have gone down the legal route of naming ourselves Morgan, Cry, Douglas and Skelton or even MCDS and charged our services by the hour – but we didn’t. It was always a joint effort designed to help promote our own books so it made sense to have both our names on it – if for no other reason than people would know who to blame.


To nuts and bolts, how does writing a joint story happen?

Morgan: When we are on stage doing Four Blokes, each of the authors takes it in turn to write, reading what the last author has created and writing the next part of the story. So, in these lockdown days, it seemed to make sense to use the same process. I wrote a thousand odd words and passed it to Douglas who wrote the next thousand and so it went on, day by day. At a few key waypoints we did phone each other and utter the words, ‘Where in the hell is this going?’ – but not often.
Douglas: Because Morgan was taking the story from the POV of his character Daniella Coulstoun and I was writing from Rebecca Connolly’s POV it was easy to break down. So Gordon started, I continued, and so on. We edited and honed as we went along – neither of us are precious, which is why Gollum isn’t interested in us. Then, when we had a complete draft we discussed it and adapted.


Most people would say that nothing exciting happens in the world of insurance so why was that  starting  point of the story?
Morgan: A friend of my wife works in an insurance call centre and although she is very discreet with her tales from the office floor she has revealed that some of the calls they receive can be on the weird side of the wonderful. In my new book Daniella works in an insurance office (at least she did) and since I was the one to put pen to paper first I simply imagined Daniella at work and what would happen if she received a crank call that turned out to be a dangerous call.

I know Rebecca is a serial character of Douglas’ s books, what about Daniella ?
Morgan: My new book, ‘Thirty-One Bones’, is set in Spain where Daniella’s mother, the owner of a very dysfunctional ex-pat bar, dies and Daniella flies out to the funeral. Daniella is a thirty-six year old claims assistant that dislikes her life back home – and gets flung into a dangerous world when it turns out her mother had stolen a large amount of money just before she died – and Daniella is on the hook with some nasty locals to get it back.

Was this a publisher’s idea to introduce the characters to a wider audience?  What was the idea behind the instalment release?
Douglas: No, it was always Gordon’s notion to use our existing characters and make it a serial.

The women in the short story are pretty impressive people. There’s a degree or sexual harassment goes on with the office politics. Did that come about because you were both writing about a young female lead or did you write about a young female lead so you could add that extra dimension. ( feel free to say that men get sexually harassed all the time !) 
Morgan: Office politics can be a nasty business. I’ve worked in and about business for thirty-five years and some of the behaviour I’ve seen is appalling. The dynamics in many situations give people power that they happily abuse. Men can be sexually harassed but it’s more prevalent for women. I liked the idea of Daniella fronting up to such harassment as a backstory to reveal to the reader the strength of her character - something that really comes to the fore in ‘Thirty-One Bones’.
Douglas: Rebecca has encountered some subtle sexual harassment, mostly looks and comments, but nothing as overt as Daniella does in this. As for them being impressive, ALL your characters should make an impact, even weak characters should be strong, if you know what I mean, regardless of gender.

What happened when the other author writes something really awful? Do you press delete or mentally take them into a dark cupboard and have a word?

Morgan: It was terrible. Hours and hours of re-writing Douglas’s work took its toll on me. We nearly split up over it – or there is the truth – Douglas is a brilliant writer. I never received anything from him that gave me cause to go back and shout and scream. There were a few small edits or, after a chat, a few changes to make the story flow – but it was all rather amicable and quick.
Douglas: There was nothing of that nature to worry about but we had agreed that If there was something that didn’t work we know each other well enough, and trust each other enough, to feel free to say so. Well, that’s what Morgan/Gordon told me and he’s a big fella so I was not about to argue.


Would you repeat the process?

Morgan: I said to Douglas that this could have been a novel in its own right. It’s already a fifth of one. Maybe we should turn it into a full-blown book.
Douglas: Yes, if the project was right for both of us and the nudity was integral to the plot. Sorry, that’s from another Q&A – Adult Movies in Lockdown.

What are you both writing about at the moment?
Morgan: I’ve just handed book two in Daniella’s life for the publisher to read and I’m now working on a lockdown novel that has nothing to do with the lockdown. I’ve also been editing a 1970’s crime stand-alone that I wrote over Christmas.
Douglas: I’m beavering away. I built a dam yesterday. I really should be working on the next Rebecca Connolly, though. 


What is your involvement with Sbooks? ( I was listening to it and heard the story of ‘Morgan’ as a name ).   Douglas, who has been your best guest?

Douglas: Sbooks is a podcast that is the brainchild of author Denzil Meyrick. He does most of the work while I sit back and enjoy an Old Fashioned. I’m not telling you an Old Fashioned what because it’s not that kind of blog. The idea behind it was to simply chat to anyone connected to books, nothing formal, nothing prepared, just a free-wheeling chat. The one rule was no politics, which is hard. And my best guest was (checks to see who is asking these questions) Caro Ramsay!
 Morgan: Denzil Meyrick interviewed me on the podcast. One of the questions he asked me was where the name Morgan Cry came from. Before writing it I already knew that for a third series the name Gordon Brown wouldn't work. Despite my constant jests about having the same name as the ex PM it’s also a pain promotionally. With ‘Thirty-One Bones’ being the start (hopefully) of a new series it made sense to create a new identity. Morgan is my dad’s name. He was a policeman in Glasgow the sixties and seventies and it’s a bit of a tribute to him. I chose Cry because it sounded good with Morgan – and also sounds crimey (ish). Morgan is also my youngest brother’s name and I had to call him to ask for his permission. He laughed. Said yes, but laughed.


What weird things are you doing to promote your books during lockdown?

Morgan: Death Insurance is part of the promotion for the new book – ‘Thirty-One Bones’ is out in July -available for pre-order now. I’ve also written a Daniella Coulstoun short story that will soon be published. In addition, the Four Blokes are looking to take a ride into the digital landscape in the near future.
Douglas: Well, not sure it promotes my books but I do occasional short videos featuring Spanky the Cheeky Monkey, who tells jokes, answers questions and indulges in various musical interludes. There have also been a couple of short stories here and there, too. I’ve recorded a reading from The Blood is Still but rather than have my face on screen I edited together some footage I shot at Culloden, added some music and posted it to You Tube. Then there’s the four Blokes thing which will be … different.

Will Spanky write his lifestory…..
Douglas: Well, he’s a large glove puppet so it would be called ‘Getting a Hand Up’. And it would be a racy read, I think. He does tend to go bananas.


Best and worst experience of lockdown?
Morgan: Best – more space to write than I’ve ever had. Worst – growing a beard – it’s taking way too long.
Douglas: I live in a relatively remote area of south west Scotland so I’m used to the isolation but I do miss the ability to just get in the car and drive up to Glasgow to annoy Caro Ramsay.

Caro Ramsay
01 05 2020 


  1. Fascinating! I never realised it was so easy to write with someone else!
    How do I get my hands on Death Insurance? On Amazon?

  2. How lucky are those blokes to have you as their Boswell...albeit he an Edinburgher (do chips come with that) and you a Glaswegian. I think the crew should consider renaming itself four blokes in search of a plotting blonde.

  3. I was asked to do something similar, on the fly, at a crime festival in the States. The audience gave us the components for the crime and the panel had to string them together. Funny how everyone started give their brain time to madly invent! Great fun, though.