Let’s welcome Jackie Baldwin to the blog today as she talks about her writing process, and gives us a taste of her prose.
Jackie Baldwin was born in Dumfries. She studied law at Edinburgh University returning to Dumfries to practice criminal and family law for the next twenty years. During that time she married and had two children and a variety of pets. She later retrained as a hypnotherapist. Dead Man’s Prayer is her debut crime novel and is set in Dumfries. When not working or writing, Jackie can generally be found in a forest or by the beach on long muddy walks with her two Retrievers.
Tell us about your current release. What inspired you to write it?
I started this book way back in 2005. At the time I was in a demanding job with two young kids so wanted to keep research to a minimum. I thought what do I know about? The answer was crime and Catholics. I was working as a criminal defence lawyer and I had attended the local Benedictine Convent School. I had always been fascinated by how RC priests seemed so remote and isolated as though they were watching the rest of us from behind glass. It seemed the life of an outsider and struck me as being terribly lonely. I decided to explore this ‘otherness’ so made my main character, DI Farrell, a former priest. Another preoccupation of mine was mental illness. I’m not talking anxiety or depression here but actual psychosis. Someone I was close to suffered a complete psychotic break and it affected me profoundly. Happily, this person made a full recovery. I felt it was important to show that insanity is not always a one way trip. I have also always been fascinated by the whole notion of when bad becomes mad, etc., and how that impacts on criminal and moral responsibility. I decided that the reason DI Farrell had left the priesthood as a young man was due to a psychotic break.
How do you develop your characters? Are they drawn from people you know?
I never write about people I know. I would consider that a gross betrayal. The characters arrive in my head a bit like a ghostly presence and gradually gain substance and personality. As I started out writing drama, I tend to write a monologue for each of my main characters at the outset. Basically, I allow them to have a rant. My original vision for Farrell was that he would be a very austere, ascetic character but his voice came out as warm and with a wry sense of humour so I had to change the character to fit the voice. DC Mhairi McLeod was created to be very different to Farrell which allowed me to include lighter moments to offset the darkness. I see my characters as having a particular appearance in my head but I try not to give too much description so that readers can find their own image.
Where is your book set? What draws you to this setting?
My book is set in Dumfries, a market town in Dumfries and Galloway, SW Scotland. It is also the place I have lived for most of my life. It is in my very bones. It is large enough to have a dark underbelly but small enough for a discomfiting number of people to know your business. On a number of occasions I was seated at the table in court when someone I knew arrived in the dock. I would hunch in my seat, study my notes and appear completely oblivious. I was also caught out by a client at the garage when he gleefully heard me admit in a small voice that I didn’t know how to open my bonnet. You get the idea! I thought that slightly uncomfortable proximity which you don’t get in a city like Glasgow or Edinburgh could provide an interesting source of conflict. It is the third largest region in Scotland and runs from the ferry crossing to Ireland at Stranraer to the border with England which is only around thirty miles from Dumfries. As well as towns it also has wild, rugged coastline, beautiful forests, castles and small islands. In other words, plenty of places to hide the bodies!