XpoNorth: LG Thomson on Northern Noir

Crime thriller author Lorraine (L.G.) Thomson will make time in her hectic schudule to be at Xpo North this year. She tells us about the importance of creative communities in the Highlands and Islands, and why she went down the self-publishing route

Feature by Galen O'Hanlon | 02 Jun 2016

Lorraine Thomson is a busy woman. "I’ve just got back from coastal rowing, and I’m heading out in a bit to do my local radio show," she says, a little breathlessly, when we catch up with her. Is this still a good time to talk? "Oh yes, of course. I talk a lot."

She’s an absolute powerhouse. She got tired of the years spent sending out her manuscripts to traditional publishers, only to get a rejection letter a few months down the line. "I was sick of almost getting there, but not," she says. "You know, Pete at Emergents was my agent for a time, and he would send out the books to the publishers. They’d say things like, 'We really liked it, but we didn’t love it,' or, 'Sorry, it’s a great book but we’ve already taken a Scottish writer this year.' That’s when I decided to do something different."

So Lorraine went and did it herself. She set up a website in 2013 and published three books that year under the name L.G. Thomson. Her most successful title, Boyle’s Law, is a twisting crime thriller set in the Highlands. It’s full of dark humour and colourful language, as well as a diamond heist and an intense love triangle. Other books of hers deal with post-apocalyptic worlds and in addition she has published a psychological thriller set on a remote Scottish island.

Going indie has brought her remarkable success. The books sell well on Amazon, and you’ll find hard copies in bookshops in Ullapool, Nairn and Kylesku. But self-publishing wasn’t just a reaction to being overlooked by mainstream publishers. "Something about being an indie author really appealed to me," she says. "It’s a bit like the old punk rock days. Getting a band together in the garage. Doing it for yourself."

“There’s a brilliant network in the Highlands and Islands” 

And is it sustainable? Or is the trend for people to self-publish until they get enough attention, and then get sucked into a book deal? The whole publishing industry is transforming, she says: "I’d like to get to a point where it’s just writers and readers. And in reality, I don’t think that many people are going to get the book deal. The whole thing is changing. A few weekends ago I took my daughter to the Moray Game Jam, and it was brilliant. They were talking about the structure of games, the roles and scenarios and it was exactly what writers do in fiction. So now I want to write for games too. Technology is opening up whole new opportunities for writers and creative people. Lots of people feel threatened by it, but I find it really exciting."

Many writers spend much of their time on tasks that aren’t writing, whether they have a publisher or not. Lorraine is no exception: she runs workshops, training sessions, talks, and events – as well as that radio show, and the rowing. Life is hectic, but that’s how it has to be. She's careful to carve out time for writing, whatever else she’s doing. Mornings are best, straight after the girls have gone off to school. Then she’ll tail off in the afternoon, train with the 50-plus coastal rowing club, and maybe pick up again in the evening. Her schedule is always changing, and she has to be flexible, but she makes sure that she always sits down to write – even if only for half an hour, snatched between other engagements.

Speaking of other engagements, what about XpoNorth? "This year I’m just going to be there and enjoy it. Last year I got a call asking me to do a reading, and it turned out to be the opening of the whole thing. I was so nervous beforehand. I’d chosen to read a bit from Boyle’s Law, which has lots of colourful language in it, and I didn’t know how the audience would take it. But I thought, if I’m going to do a reading I have to just go for it, no holding back. I knew I’d enjoy it, even if nobody else would. I’d done low key readings before – for book clubs, small events – but XpoNorth was the first major thing I did."

It was a resounding success – the room was packed out. Jan Patience, communications manager for the festival, had to sit on the windowsill because the seats had run out. That’s where the two met – and the connections that Lorraine has made since XpoNorth have been immensely beneficial for her career. It’s events like these, she says, that give the Highlands a really strong sense of creative community.

We suggest that maybe creative people in the Highlands suffer for being spread out over such a huge area (rather than being concentrated in one of the big cities further south). Lorraine, born in Glasgow, won’t have any of that. "There’s a brilliant network in the Highlands and Islands. I’ve just got back from a trip to Orkney with Emergents. It was so good to meet all the craft makers and designers, and to come together in the same space." Even though their creativity has different outputs, Lorraine found the whole series of events incredibly stimulating. "I was telling a friend from the central belt about it, and they just wished they had something similar."

Of course, the logistics of being part of a creative community in the Highlands has its own challenges. "As with everything, you have to make a big effort to get anything done up here. You know, I went over to the Elgin community the other day, which is a one hour 45 minute drive away, for an hour’s workshop. Yesterday I was in Inverness, but these things are so worth it."

Festivals like XpoNorth play a huge role in promoting the creative talent in the Highlands – but how does Lorraine deal with the self-promotion side of self-publishing? "I’m terrible at it," she says. "I started out on Twitter, saying 'buy my book, buy my book' and so on, but I hated it. So now I just tweet about things that I like." I ask her about a picture she tweeted from Orkney recently. It was a plaque outside a house in Stromness, commemorating ‘Mrs Humphreys House, temporary hospital 1835-1836, for scurvy-ridden whale men who had been trapped in the ice for months.' She got hundreds of retweets and favourites. "It was mad," she says, "I got retweeted by Dawn French and Denis Mina! I had to go to my bed after that, I just couldn’t handle it."

But does that sell the books? Not really. The one thing that works, she says, is word of mouth. And that’s why events like XpoNorth are so important for the Highlands community – and for Scotland’s creative industries as a whole. "Everyone at XpoNorth has been incredibly supportive, and it’s so exciting. And it’s for all of the creative industries – I tell everyone to get the newsletter, and get involved. There’s so much going on. And you meet so many new people."

And with that, she has to go. There’s a local radio show to present, The Saturday Shout. "We cover the most local news we can find. Last week Loch Inver’s sewers got cleaned for spring. This week, we’ve got a whole sport report on the latest results from the carpet bowls." It’s no wonder she’s such a self-publishing success: she seems to run on an endless supply of quirky, creative energy.  

Read more about XpoNorth 2016:

• Art and design: XPoNorth's design programme
• Books: LG Thomson on Northern Noir
• Fashion: Jewellery designer Heather McDermott
• Film: Filmmaking in the North of Scotland
• Music: Lional on swapping Inverness for LA
• Tech: How a solo developer won the 2015 Moray Game Jam

XpoNorth runs 8-9 Jun, Inverness: xponorth.co.uk

More on L.G. Thomson: thrillerswithattitude.co.uk