Hard Man author is a softy at heart

AS the dark depths of his imagination have produced gritty and gruesome storylines, you might expect crime author Allan Guthrie to be a tough character himself.

But in stark contrast to the protagonists of his dark detective novels, the former Edinburgh bookshop worker has a surprisingly gentle demeanour.

It is an anomaly that tickles the 41-year-old Portobello man, whose life has come under close scrutiny since best-selling Edinburgh author Ian Rankin propelled him from the unknown just over two years ago.

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"There is a dark side to Allan Guthrie but only at the weekends. I try not to kill people during the week," he jokes.

"I'm teetotal and a vegetarian which is sometimes a surprise to people who meet me expecting me to resemble one of the characters in my books.

"I'm really quite normal. My imagination has some serious kinks in it, that's all."

Allan has come a long way since working his final shift as a stock room manager in the West End branch of bookshop Waterstone's just over a year ago.

After securing an astounding three-book deal, he is now looking forward to his third novel, Hard Man, being published next month.

Hard Man - the final book in the trilogy - focuses on Pearce, a time-served Edinburgh hard man, who is asked to protect a pregnant 16-year-old from her violent father, and is set predominantly in Guthrie's home of Portobello.

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His acclaimed first novel, Two-Way Split, was published two years ago while his second book, Kiss Her Goodbye, was nominated for a major American crime-writing award.

Guthrie says his tales of vengeance and violence are inspired by the city which he has now lived in since moving from Orkney just over 20 years ago.

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"There is a wealth of crime writers in Edinburgh and I wonder if those of us who weren't born here are lured here by the Gothic," he says.

"I always find the Old Town inspirational. I can't help but wonder how many stories are locked away among all those closes and wynds.

"I try not to think about writers who came before me when I'm writing myself. If I did, given the abundance of literary talent Scotland - and Edinburgh in particular - has bestowed upon the world, I wouldn't be able to get as much as a sentence written."

After years searching for an agent, Guthrie's writing career began to come to fruition just over two years ago when Ian Rankin, the best-selling author of the Rebus detective novels, announced he was a fan.

Speaking at the 2004 Edinburgh International Book Festival, Rankin urged his audience to read then unknown author Guthrie's new book.

The press coverage that followed undoubtedly helped Guthrie secure a three-book deal with Polygon and the author was paid 50,000 - the largest advance in the publishing firm's history.

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"Ian Rankin has said some flattering things about my work and his support undoubtedly has been of enormous benefit," recalls Guthrie.

"That spurt of publicity resulted in interest from several agents. I found myself in the very nice position of being able to choose.

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"The catalysts for me getting a shot at being published in the UK in the first instance were undoubtedly Ian Rankin and the subsequent Evening News story."

It is an incident that Ian Rankin remembers well and the king of Capital crime-writing has since kept a close eye on Guthrie's progress. "I follow Allan's career with great interest and I have already read an early copy of his new book which I enjoyed," Rankin says now.

"He has huge passion for crime fiction - having been a fan of the genre and having worked in a bookshop before he ever tried writing any - so he brings to his work a lot of knowledge of the crime tradition.

"It's good to see him getting decent advances too - I only received about 800 quid for the first Rebus!"

Guthrie admits he has always been a budding author and he wrote his first short story when he was just five years old.

He continued writing throughout his childhood on Orkney and, encouraged by his teacher, even completed a 100-page novel by the time he was in primary five.

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"On the afternoons when the other kids were drawing and painting, my teacher encouraged me to write," says Guthrie. "By the end of the year I'd completed a short novel of over 100 pages."

"It was a crime novel involving a group of 14 kids who became involved in a series of murders while they were on holiday.

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"I wrote two novels in my teens which were angst-driven existentialist nonsense that thankfully no one but me has ever read."

With fewer children and young people reading than ever before, Guthrie believes that if novelists are to survive, they will have to tailor their work to appeal to readers who spend as much of their time watching crime shows like the Sopranos or who enjoy violent computer games like Grand Theft Auto.

And with his roots as an unknown author still fresh in his mind, he is keen to help new writers via his own website, titled Noir Originals.

"I try to help new writers whenever I can," he says.

"I don't have a great deal of spare time, but I do find that sometimes I'll offer editorial advice on a piece of writing that's been sent to me via my website and it clicks with the writer.

"I love nothing better than when that happens. Of course, sometimes I get the opposite response but I still think it's worth offering my advice for those who want it and feel they can benefit from it."

Hard Man is published by Polygon priced 9.99 on April 1, while Allan Guthrie's Noir Originals website can be found at www.allanguthrie.co.uk