Violence, gangs, killings, kidnapping, an attempt to wrest a hidden fortune from thugs in a run-down area in the west of Scotland, oh, and a Black and White Minstrel troupe… sounds like the usual tartan noir novel.
But Sunny, which will be launched at the Aye Write 2018 festival at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow on 17 March, is a fast-moving crime thriller for school pupils aimed at tackling Scotland’s sectarianism and racism.
Set in the early 1970s, teenager Sunny Wilson is believed to be the only survivor after the adult members of his Black and White Minstrel troupe are killed in an apparent accident when their bus veers off the road after a concert.
While recovering in hospital Sunny realises the number of dead bodies recovered after the crash do not match up with his recollection of events.
During his time on the ward, sectarianism among the boys is partly demolished by the harsh medical realities they are facing.
But on return to school, Sunny suffers “casual racism” from some pupils and teachers due to his tanned skin and bigotry resurfaces.
Author Paul Murdoch, who based some of the novel on his experiences, including being picked on for having slightly dark skin, said: “I was reluctant to soften the story too much. There has to be a degree of realism to appeal to kids.
“There’s a danger of ‘candy-coating’ and straying into Enid Blyton territory. Any adventure story set in the west of Scotland will have sectarianism in it.
“The message is tribalism goes on in schools and children pick on the slightest difference – taking out frustrations on those seen as different.
“I only got a bit of racism but it gave me some insight into what it feels like.
“I hope Sunny provokes debate on what’s changed and what’s not and let youngsters see there are good people out there as well as bad.”
Dave Scott, campaign manager for Nil By Mouth, Scotland’s leading anti-sectarian charity, said Sunny would help children understand the very recent history of sectarianism.
“In 2018 sectarianism can be more attitudinal than violent, but providing teachers understand the issues Sunny will be ideal text for schools.”
Nicola Hay, campaign manager for Show Racism the Red Card, the anti-racism educational charity, said: “We’re happy seeing a novel being launched highlighting issues of racism in a way young people can relate to.
“Encouraging children to read books will not only will improve their literacy but will have strong social and moral messages as well.”