Allan Guthrie turns news into novels

IT'S early in the morning and a still-sleepy Allan Buchan is in the back of a taxi on his way to Edinburgh Airport.

He mentions to the driver that he's a bit nervous because he doesn't like flying, and the middle-aged cabbie catches his eye in the rear-view mirror and asks: "Do you want something for it?"

The cabbie with the illicit supplies – Allan thinks they were probably beta-blockers – is just one of the Edinburgh people who might recognise themselves in the crime writer's latest book.

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The 42-year-old – better known to his readers as Allan Guthrie, whose debut 50,000 three-book deal with Polygon broke all records for the publishing house – is recalling the incident in his flat, where he works as an author and literary agent.

Allan takes a lot of his inspiration from Edinburgh – particularly stories he reads in the Evening News.

"I used to live just off Easter Road," he says, "and there was this shop I used to pass every day called Celebrations. I wondered how it could survive selling tat. Then an Evening News reporter outed them – they were selling black market tobacco. When I heard about it I thought 'I can use this' and so one of my characters is a tobacco smuggler."

The character, Tommy Savage, features in Allan's latest novel – his fourth – Savage Night, a bloody revenge drama set over a period of six hours. Tommy was originally conceived as a drug dealer, till Allan spotted the Evening News story and realised tobacco smuggling was "much more topical".

In his Portobello home, where Allan lives with his wife Donna, a 42-year-old adult literacy teacher, the wall-to-wall shelves are laden with books. Fittingly, it was over books that he and Donna met, when they both worked in Waterstone's in Edinburgh's West End.

Originally from Orkney, Allan – who adopted the pen name Guthrie after an ancestor, to keep his private and public life apart – wrote his first novel aged nine.

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A talented bassoon player and pianist, he later won a scholarship to music school in Manchester aged 14, but his heart wasn't really in it and after leaving school he fell into a self-employed career as a computer programmer.

His first break came in 2001 when he was shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger award for unpublished novels. "But even with that endorsement it still took three years to get published."

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Allan, who settled in Edinburgh in 1985, is no quitter though, as he explains. "I always wanted to write. Before Two-Way Split got published, I'd received hundreds of rejections. I must have been really crap," he laughs, "but it's the book that won the Theakston Crime Novel of the Year Award last year.

"It had been rejected loads of times. I went to every single agent in the UK two or three times and every publisher. I'd never been told it was bad, just 'not for us'."

Eventually perseverance paid off and Allan's talent was publicly commended by Ian Rankin at the 2004 Edinburgh International Book Festival.

"Getting an endorsement from Ian Rankin was unbelievable. I'd not only read but sold his books."

It seems reasonable to suppose that his own difficulties getting published may be behind why Allan now dedicates much of his time to helping other budding crime writers.

He denies there's anything altruistic about his motives for being a literary agent, and says helping others into the genre simply grows the potential audience for them all.

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"I've never heard of anyone who reads a good book who doesn't want to read another," he says firmly.

With his fourth novel ready to hit the shops, Allan is getting used to the many talents expected of a published author, including the ability to keep an audience entertained.

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The first event he did was at his old workplace, Waterstone's. He was so nervous his wife told him he was talking in his sleep for nights beforehand.

"I could have done with some of the taxi driver's beta-blockers," he jokes.

With a contract for another book after Savage Night, and a screenplay written of Two-Way Split, the future looks bright for the determined novelist, but he doesn't take his good fortune for granted.

"To get a deal in this day and age is bloody hard. A lot comes down to luck and timing," he insists.

With a smile, he adds: "I was unlucky for 40 years or so."

• Savage Night is published by Polygon on April 3, priced 9.99.


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ALLAN GUTHRIE has won widespread recognition since making his breakthrough with his first novel Two-Way Split in 2004.

The book was shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award, before it won the Theakston Best Crime Novel of the Year in 2007.

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His second novel, Kiss Her Goodbye, was nominated for an Edgar award, an Anthony award, and a Gumshoe award.

The 42-year-old is regarded as belonging to a literary circle including Ken Bruen, Reed Farrell Coleman and Jason Starr.

His other novels are Hard Man and Kill Clock (both 2007) and his new release, Savage Night.