Monday, June 5, 2023

Writing the Voices in My Head

James McCrone Subbing for Annamaria

My MWA-NY buddy James McCrone is back to talk about the experience of writing his latest book -Bastard Verdict. I am reading it now and loving it, as I did the previous books in his Imogen Trager series, which started with Faithless Elector--the book that hooked me.  Reading it, I had to keep going back to check on the year it was published - 2016.  Who knew that four years afterwards, a president's party would try to change the results of the election by tampering with the electors.  Jamie did!

I wonder what prescient details I will find in this one.

Take it away, Jamie!


Bastard Verdict is about a conspiracy to hide officials’ past misconduct during the first referendum on Scottish independence in 2014, as a second IndyRef looms (in the fictional present day). I have longed to write a story set in Scotland, and I've abandoned a number of ill-advised assays until this latest. The problem for me writing a novel set in Scotland is that I’m not Scottish. The use of Scottish vernacular by me might come off as patronizing or false. There are many examples where writers have gotten it very wrong in ways harmful to the story and insulting to those depicted. I didn’t want to be in their number. 


As the story took shape in my notes, I saw that having an American as the protagonist might mitigate that tension. I consulted with professors at University of Glasgow and University of Edinburgh on local things, law, politics and constitutional questions. I worked with a Scottish editor, who not only helped with my tortured prose, but who made sure that what I wrote rang true. I was relieved to find that as far as the dialogue went, there was very little to change. Still, I worried about my outsider status. Readers in the UK would be rightly suspicious.


I lived in Scotland as a boy—attended school there, played (proper) football, learned golf at the local course, and I ran with a group of boys who weren't bad, but we were definitely up to no good. Coming back to the States, my brother and I found we were still outsiders. It was strange to be “back home” in Iowa, among old friends, but still neither fish nor fowl–our Scottish friends had heard only our American accents, and our Iowa friends couldn’t penetrate the Scottish accent. We called the summer we returned the “Summer of ‘What?’”

Out there on the plains, our cadence gradually (re)flattened and words like “skint” and phrases like “didja aye?” faded. But not my memories of how the place felt, the smells, the weather, the people. And I carried the cadences of spoken Scottish with me. When, as a teenager in the US, I got hold of William McIlvanney's Docherty, those voices from my boyhood, long dormant, came flooding back. I tore through my father's bookshelf, Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Scots Quair trilogy, Neil Gunn's Highland River, James Kelman's How Late It Was, How Late--before turning back to Tartan Noir, and McIlvanney again--Laidlaw, Strange Loyalties, The Papers of Tony Veitch. And much more.


Writers “hear” the voices in their heads, and we’re driven to get them down on the page, to bring those voices to vivid life. I needed to write this book, if only to diminish the clamor in my mind. 


Imogen Trager (my recurring protagonist) is on leave from the Justice Department when she’s asked to investigate the ’14 referendum—precisely because she’s an outsider. Her status, and measuring her observations through the prism of an outsider—like me—offered a way in. To keep that point clear, the editor and I decided that the prose should be set in North American English—“color” rather than “colour,” “curb” instead of “kerb,” commas and full stops inside quotation marks. And, in the Scottish dialogue portions, he urged me not to use the apostrophes I was used to seeing in, say, Docherty (written in 1975). The “apologetic apostrophe,” he called it. The apostrophes functioned a bit like “[sic]” in a manuscript, a way of denoting that the language is non-standard, the writer knows this isn’t correct, but isn’t it quaint? Which was definitely not what I wanted. Where there were obvious word contractions, I left the apostrophes in—Ah’m for I’m, for example. (As a side-note, I can’t think of the phrase “for example” without hearing a student teacher’s Edinburgh in lilt as she explained what “e.g.” meant. Mebbe Ah do live too much in ma heid!)


I’m sure there will be things readers notice that neither I, the editor nor the proof-reader caught, just as there will always be the person who notes that a street depicted in a story runs north-south and not east-west—and it ruined the book for them! I put a great deal of love into this book, and I’d hate to diminish it by representing myself as something I’m not.


Bastard Verdict debuted on May 18 – available everywhere.


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You can learn more about the book at . It’s available on, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and at your local bookstore. Kindle, Kobo and Nook eBooks are available too!


James McCrone is the author of the Faithless Elector series—Faithless ElectorDark Network, and Emergency Powers—“taut” and “gripping” political thrillers about a stolen presidency. Bastard Verdict is his fourth novel. His recent short stories have appeared in Rock and a Hard PlaceRetreats from Oblivion: The Journal of NoirCon, and in the short-story anthology Low Down Dirty Vote, vols.2 and 3.


He’s a member of Mystery Writers of America, Int’l Assoc. of Crime Writers, Philadelphia Dramatists’ Center and he’s the vice-president of the Delaware Valley Sisters in Crime chapter.  A Pacific Northwest native (mostly), he lives in South Philadelphia


  1. James! So very happy to see you here and Bastard Verdict is already in my TBR pile. I love this post. Since I always have non-American characters in my books, I worry about this constantly, but it seems that the language you heard as a child was still very much alive in your head. Congratulations!

    1. Thanks Wendell! I'm glad you liked it, and I hope you enjoy BV.
      Thanks again to Annamaria Alfieri for letting me guest post today.

  2. This was so interesting to read, Jamie, now that I’ve finished the book. I don’t know anything about the Scottish dialogue but I love the choice to differentiate between that and the prose. And that’s an interesting note about the apostrophe! It was a great read — I loved the book!

    1. Thanks very much, Rosina, that's lovely to hear. I'm grateful that part worked for you. I keep learning. I wonder what the next book will hold!