I’d like to welcome Stuart S. Laing to talk with me about his latest, “Writing in Progress.” Stuart is one of my favourite people and he is one heck of a writer. We met on social media a few years ago and he has also been a tremendous help in my own writing and the advice he has been giving me over the years has been priceless.
Born and raised on the east coast of Scotland in the ancient Pictish Kingdom of Fife Stuart grew up looking across the Firth of Forth towards the spires and turrets of the city of Edinburgh and its castle atop its volcanic eyrie. He has always been fascinated by the history of Auld Reekie and has spent most of his life studying Scottish history in all its aspects whenever he finds the time between family, work and the thousand and one other things that seek to distract him. Despite the vast panorama of Scotland's history, he always finds himself being drawn back to the cobbled streets of the Old Town. Those streets have provided the inspiration for his stories and characters. He would urge all visitors to Scotland's ancient capital to (briefly) venture into one of the narrow closes running down from the Royal Mile to get a flavour of how alive with mischief, mayhem, love and laughter these streets once were.
Stuart, I am so delighted to hear your latest WIP is going well. Can you tell us a little about some of the dangers your readers can expect in this story?
Thank you Stephanie. Congratulations to you on the new look for Layered Pages. You really doing a tremendous job. Sites such as yours are absolutely vital for all indie-authors if they wish to reach a wider audience, and I truly appreciate all the help you have given me over the last couple of years. You are the best!
Now, as for the book…
A band of Tinkers (Scottish Gypsies) have set up camp on the shores of the Nor’loch, Edinburgh’s famous Princes Street Gardens these days but then an open body of water which served as the city’s northern defence.
These people are seeking only to eke out a simple living by selling their wares, tin-smithing, knick-knacks, odds and ends etcetera to the townsfolk. Among their number is a beautiful young woman, Libby Oliver, who all agree is the finest musician anyone has ever heard. Her fiddle playing could have a dying man jump up from his deathbed and start jigging!
Unfortunately for Libby, she is being used as a pawn to defraud a woman, who she wishes with all her heart to call a friend. She is being forced, through threats and violence, by a vicious brute who is determined to exploit her friendship with Alice Galbraith for his own ends.
He knows something about Libby which could destroy her life if he was to reveal it. Not a nice man!
Meanwhile a shadowy group of city gentlemen are plotting this man’s demise as he holds a dark secret over them relating to a secret they share from their youth. They are stirring up ignorant prejudices against the Tinkers to create an atmosphere of hatred and distrust that will allow them to cause mayhem.
Are there any murders or untimely deaths?
There will be at least one murder, the victim is someone few folks will shed many tears over though! However, his death is going to place poor Libby in the spotlight as the most likely suspect for the death.
This is the point that Robert Young of Newbiggin would swing into action to unmask the true murderer and save her from the noose. Unfortunately, he is confined to bed with inflammation of the lungs and can do nothing to help.
It falls to his wife Euphemia, aided and abetted by Alice Galbraith, to do the investigating using their own contacts (servants, gossips and friends) from the ranks of the upper class. They are convinced of Libby’s innocence but don’t know the girl has dark secrets of her own which she has to keep from them. She may not be the simple Tinker’s Daughter she portrays!
Are there any tea houses in your story, or just pubs?
There are a couple of coffee-houses which feature. Bunty’s is a regular haunt for morning meetings between Euphemia and her friends, while Mr. Mackenzie’s coffee-house on the Lawnmarket is just a couple of doors from her bookshop. It is a useful place to send Robert and Euphemia’s adopted daughter, Effie, to, whenever they have something private to discuss.
Bunty is famous for her tea, coffee and cakes. I’d actually go there myself for elevenses if I could travel back in time.
Robert is more likely to be found in an alehouse or tavern. He will tell you that this is purely work-related though, as it were he is likely to find his informants! Euphemia isn’t certain that is the only reason, and neither am I.
What is a typical day for your main character?
For Robert it depends on whether he has been engaged to solve a crime and clear the name of someone able to pay his fee. When on an investigation his day consists of searching for clues and information using his contacts and own nose to follow a lead. At other times he has to turn his attention to his real work, as his father would describe it, which is helping to run that man’s business empire of mills, mines and textile manufactories centred on the family home of Newbiggin in East Lothian.
For Euphemia, when she is not being driven to distraction by Robert being a typical man with a sniffle, whining for endless cups of tea and sympathy, she is busy looking after two small children under the age of five with Effie’s assistance. Planning literacy lessons for the women and girls of Kitty’s house of gentlemanly pursuits (gambling and ladies of negotiable affection) which she fell into by accident. These lessons take place every Sunday afternoon after church. She loves teaching these women and girls to read and write and led to her close friendship with Alice Galbraith.
How do you keep all your conflicts straight? Which is a lot!
Plotting! Lots of plotting! I work to a basic skeleton which the story is built upon. Having so many regular characters helps enormously as I can trust them to simply be themselves most of the time. Having said that, they will still insist on surprising me by doing something out of the blue and then give me just a shrug when I say “what was that?”
The other help is knowing where the story is going before I write the first word. I know who the victim will be, who the killer will be, and, just as importantly, I know what will be happening in the background with several minor plots which can roll along for one book or, as in the case of Estelle Cannonby and her estranged mother, several.
How much time have you spent working on this story so far?
I have written just a whisker over 50k words so far with this story in 9 separate bouts of writing. Each is normally 5 or 6 hours of doing nothing but write. No TV, no internet, no saying “I’ll just take five minutes to research this” (that always turns into a couple of hours of looking at videos of cats or puppies on facebook!)
The only distraction I allow myself is background music which has to fit the mood of the book. With this one it is a soundtrack of ‘New-Folk’ music that really sets the tone in my head for the words to flow. Artists such as Birdy, Gabrielle Aplin, London Grammar. Beautiful voices, haunting music and lyrics that just warm your soul.
Oh, and endless cups of tea and coffee!
Have you designed your book cover yet?
I have a rough version worked out which may, or may not, be the finished article. I usually design the book cover using a specific scene from the book so that when people read it they can go, ‘oh, that is what the cover is!’
As a wee teaser, this cover may feature the Tinker’s camp in flames!
For those who have not read your mystery series yet, what can you tell them about it?
Set on the old cobblestones of Edinburgh in 1745 and onwards, they feature Robert Young. Son of a rich industrialist, he has discovered a talent for solving mysteries and having the bravery to venture down into the murky underbelly of the city where few others of his class would even dream of going. He has created an eclectic mixture of informants, friends and allies from these dank streets who can, usually, be relied on to delve even deeper into the mire than even he is daft enough to go himself!
Just as important a figure is his wife, Euphemia. She is the bedrock that all he does is built on. She is the calm head who can be relied upon to give sound advice and who isn’t afraid, when it is needed, to step in herself and lend a hand to solve a crime.
As Robert himself ponders, ‘what would it be like to have an obedient wife? Probably dull!’
Alongside the mysteries are tales of everyday life for the great and good, and also the equally important lives of the poor and downtrodden who demand equal billing!
Add to that the ups and downs of married life for Robert and Euphemia and I hope the reader will find themselves transported back to the rich, reeking, mess of a city where 70,000 people live cheek by jowl in a town squeezed within its ancient walls.
Where can readers purchase your stories?
Readers in the US can find the Robert Young of Newbiggin mysteries here in both ebook and paperback
In the UK, please visit
Finally, may I, just once more, thank you from the bottom of my heart for all that you do, not only for me, but for the countless other authors you have encouraged and supported over the years. Without your help we would struggle to reach as many new readers.
Thank you, Stuart for such a wonderful chat about your latest book and a bit about what you write. It is always an honour and delight to be able to chat with my favourite writers and support their endeavours.
You may check out another interview I have had with Stuart here