I CHANNEL MY INNER PSYCHO! Alex Gray Lives to Do Good. So How Does She Write about the Foulest Crimes?
Byline: by Jim McBeth
ALEX GRAY is sipping weak tea and planning a murder. Chicken broth is bubbling noisily on the stove and scones are baking quietly in the oven. Both should be ready by the time her victim shrugs off this mortal coil in an especially hideous manner. All is well with the world.
The former teacher of English pauses, offering a smile as brilliant as her talent for stating the obvious. 'There must be a very dark side to me,' she declares.
To date, the blonde grandmother has visited that dark side on nine occasions creating a series of best-selling crime novels, the latest of which has arrived on the shelves to the delight of avid readers on three continents.
Plunging sinister depths appears, at first glance, to be a bizarre pursuit for this kindly woman and she freely admits that she is often surprised and disturbed by her inner psychopath.
This is, after all, a woman who was once driven by altruism to desert social work for education in an effort to address the problems she saw in the 'Dickensian' tenements of 1970s Glasgow.
But her 20-year mission as an educationalist was cut short by a serious as illness that forced her to retire from the classroom. It turned out to be a silver-lined scenario, allowing her to fulfil a lifelong desire to become an author.
The move was also predicted by one perceptive teacher who stated in e n Gray's Primary 4 report card that she would 'grow up to be a writer'.
'She was right! Some things are just meant to be,' says the best-selling author, a committed Christian who believes not only in God but in the old Scots axiom which says that 'what's for you won't go by you'.
Nowadays, the 60-year-old from Renfrewshire stands alongside contemporaries such as Ian Rankin, Caro Ramsay, Val McDermid, Lin Anderson, Louise Welsh, Stuart McBride, Quentin Jardine and Denise Mina, all of whom have redefined the crime genre.
Scotland's growing canon of murder mystery writers are punching well above their weight, standing toe-to-toe with the all-powerful Americans and, latterly, the new wave of Scandinavian novelists such as Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo.
It is an achievement that will be celebrated in Scotland's first crime writing festival - Bloody Scotland - which has attracted 40 published novelists from Britain, Europe and the U.S., the nation still regarded as the spiritual home of crime fiction.
The festival in Stirling, from September 14 to 16, which is sponsored by the accountancy firm Mazars, has also attracted 30 visitors from Washington's Smithsonian Institution.
IT coincides with a conference at Georg-August University in Gottingen, Germany, entitled Crime Scotland: Then and Now, an academic forum that will examine a phenomenon which includes writers as diverse as William McIlvanney, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
'It's an indication of the esteem in which Scottish crime fiction is held around the world,' says Gray, who scribbled her first 'novel' at the age of 12 in the attic of Leiter Cottage, her parents' holiday retreat on Mull.
Gray, who organised Bloody Scotland with her friend and fellow author Lin Anderson, says: 'Scottish crime fiction is a brand that is international. Alexander McCall Smith and Ian Rankin are two of the world's top ten. That shows the variety before you even get to people like Val McDermid.'
The author concedes that her God works in mysterious ways and, but for her untimely and debilitating illness, she might not have joined such literary luminaries. 'Sometimes adversity can, in fact, be an opportunity,' says Gray, whose ninth novel, A Pound of Flesh, has just been published. …