Friday, June 9, 2023

Introducing Heather

 Aberdeen  is up in the North East of Scotland,  93 miles from Edinburgh. It’s the  most northern place of dense population, after that it’s mostly sheep, thistles and haggis.

According to Wikipedia, Aberdeen has a long, sandy coastline (true) and features an oceanic climate (The Artic Ocean?) with cool summers (understatement) and mild, rainy winters ( The word mild is relative.)

Stuart McBride writes about Aberdeen. Rankin’s Rebus visits there and  refers to it as Furry Boot Town.

Two things most Scots think of when they think of Aberdeen – Oil. And the mica in the grey granite that makes the whole city twinkle, it’s rather glittery. And mildly radioactive.

Anyway, my guest on the window seat today grew up there.

Heather Critchlow’s new novel, set in rural Aberdeen, amongst other places, was a very accomplished piece of work, tortuous plot and beautifully written. She was a business journalist writing for the media, The Times and The Dow Jones- so she knows how to handle a story!

Tell us a bit about Aberdeen. Have you ever heard it called furry boot town? A certain Mr Rankin called it that!

Ha! I hadn’t heard it called that before… but I can see how Far Aboots you Fae? gets you there… I moved to Aberdeenshire when I was ten and it did take me a year of smiling and nodding when anyone spoke to me before I properly tuned to the accent. My mum hails from Aberdeenshire so it was going home for her but a bit of a culture shock to kids born in the south of England. For the first year we lived with my grandparents on their croft and then in a caravan in the foothills of Bennachie while converting a steading into a house. It was the worst winter to hit Aberdeen in seven years and the snowdrifts were up to my waist. I went to school in the city and during my teenage years divided my time between its nightlife and the hills and woods where we lived. 

You now live in St Albans? Do you yearn for ‘home’?

I definitely miss Scotland and get back up whenever I can to see family in Aberdeenshire and Perth, where my mum now lives. Every summer I take my own children to a different part of Scotland so they get to experience the amazing variety of landscape and places. I feel that I leave a part of myself there and collect it when I go back! I especially miss the freedom to roam and the isolation of the hills – I live on the outskirts of St Albans and can easily get to fields and woodland it’s not proper wild. Somehow, the sky in Aberdeenshire is just bigger…


Reading bits of your bio, was there a huge culture change between Aberdeen and Cambridge when you were a student.

I think Cambridge is a bit of a culture shock for most people who go. The history and atmosphere of the place can be quite intimidating and there’s a definite feeling of not being worthy of it. The big secret is that pretty much everyone fears they don’t belong. I wish I’d realised that at the time! Ultimately, I settled into being a student, hitting the bar, writing essays and spending a lot of time on the river – kayaking rather than rowing, though.

Very accomplished first novel, a genuinely thrilling read. And I missed the baddie although they were there all along. How long had that idea been in your head?

Thank you! I’d wanted to write a podcast novel for a while – I was fascinated by Serial when it came out in 2014 and that started an addiction to true crime podcasts. I also wanted the story to be set somewhere wild and isolated. Initially, I thought about the US/ Canada but I didn’t feel qualified to write about those places. So my mind turned to the hills I knew like the back of my hand… The villain of the piece really developed from Layla’s story. When it came to it, that felt like the right resolution.


The main character is a podcaster. Did he come first followed by the story or the other way round?

Cal appeared when I started to work on the story. He’s loosely inspired by the Canadian podcaster David Ridgen in the way he works and the style of his podcast. After that I let my imagination roll on his past and the motivation he might have for doing what he does. The first scene I wrote for him was him packing to leave his wife and daughter to go to Aberdeenshire – that summarises the dedication and obsession he has, plus the toll it takes on his family and relationships.

Was there really nothing they could have done for the horse? I thought… Oh no!!!

Eeek, I know, I’m sorry! The poor horse was sacrificed to drama. It felt right for the story to have this beautiful creature, that Layla loved and so identified with, make it back but not make it out alive…


Cal’s private life is central to showing him as a character. Is this a long running series?

Yes I hope so! Unsolved is the first in a three-book series about Cal Lovett. Each book will feature a different podcast subject but the backdrop to those stories is Cal’s life and the developments there. Book two takes him to the west coast and brings back some familiar characters…

Your main character Layla is engaging, but is she likeable? Would you like her as a daughter in law?

At times I thought there was something feral about her.

Yes, feral is a good description – and extremely self-destructive! I deliberately made Layla a complicated and prickly character. She’s definitely not meant to be likeable but at the same time I feel that I understand why she’s that way and have a soft spot for her. Hopefully readers can see that she’s a woman born ahead of her time and trapped in limiting circumstances, lashing out. I find the idea that victims have to be perfect damsels in distress disturbing and I wanted to highlight that a little. Layla doesn’t have the opportunities that many of us have.

A sense of place dominates the book.  (Grey, cold and dry is what  we Glaswegians think of Aberdeen.) What would your advice be re writing a convincing landscape?  Michael Ridpath who write about Iceland loves writing about the tiny movements in a landscape that seems incredibly still.

Any really great nuggets you came across while researching this?

Reading other people’s landscapes is such a joy. Place is so important for me in writing and I think when you fall in love with a landscape it’s easy to get carried away! Aberdeen city is grey but so majestic and when the sun shines, the granite glitters. The weather also changes unbelievably quickly – it really doesn’t do that where I live now. That unpredictability is wonderful and so physical, it definitely influences the story.


Unsolved is mainly set out on the road between Aberdeen and Inverness around a hill called Bennachie and these were the secret places of my teenage years – the little scraps of woodland and the hidden places in the heather. For me, they are inextricably linked to teenage angst and yearning! So I decided to let that infuse the characters. The waterfall in the book is based on a real waterfall that’s tricky to find. I took some liberties with the size of it but when I went back to look for it recently, it’s still there down a path covered in fallen trees – you just have to know where to look.  

Thank you Heather! Be interesting to see what Cal gets up to on the west coast in the next book. I predict a murder, and some rain!!




  1. Sounds like a great book!

    Do all women in Great Britain wear only red coats? Do they walk any direction other than away from you? (Sorry, I couldn't resist, I know how covers fall into cliche's, it's all marketing, and "don't judge a book by its cover..." :-)

    Love the sweep of the full, expanded cover painting, though (shown above). And only $2.99 on Kindle. Couldn't resist after reading the sample...

  2. I do want to try it... but maybe start from the 2nd book in the series on (there's going to be another, right?) because I don't want to read about the poor horse dying.