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An Interview with Scott McGowan, author of County Lines

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Scott lives and writes in a small village an hour north of Inverness, where he is encouraged daily by his wife Rachel. He has self-published six novels, two collections (both containing both poems and short stories), a malt whisky companion, and a book on cocktails. He is currently writing three more novels (all in separate genres), alongside a book on literary criticism and an Ancient Greek Theogony in the creative form. He is also completing the final semester of his honour’s degree in Creative Writing; works full-time; and sleeps less than the average giraffe. He plans to work on his Masters in Comparative Literature come the fall.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

I have always loved to write and tell stories. When I was young, my father used to read to me from Lord of the Rings, Alice in Wonderland, and Narnia. I always found these worlds amazing and loved to follow the characters as they travelled along their respective journeys. However, it wasn’t until I read Terry Pratchett’s Reaper Man that I truly wanted to write for a living. His style and humour were a great lift to me in my teenage years and I knew from the very start that this was someone modern (and still living at that time) who stood up there with Tolkien, Lewis, and Carroll. I then read Good Omens, which Terry co-wrote with Neil Gaiman (whose original story idea it was). This blew my mind and I made the decision, right there and then, to make my future all about story building.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

Most writers require a second job to pay the bills. It is the happily blessed ones who manage to sell enough copies to write full-time. Personally, I have spent fifteen years in the hotel trade, eleven years as a delivery driver, not to mention all the many other jobs I took just so I could keep the lights on (fishmonger, bicycle mechanic, fishe and microfilm scanner for the National Records of Scotland).

Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

I came up with the idea of County Lines in 2019 after being bombarded by the papers and newsreels by such a terrible account of what some young and underprivileged kids had to go through on a daily basis. This had been going on for years, of course, but it wasn’t until the government began its County Lines Programme that people started to sit up and notice. These kids were being forced into doing things that no child should even be aware of and they had nobody to speak for them. It took me a long time to write this book, however.

I began it at the time but when I was around halfway through I started back at university as a mature student and, because I was working full time to pay the bills, I had to shelf all personal projects. The only thing that made me feel any better about this was that the BBC had then produced a drama by the same name and I could relax a little, thinking, someone is giving them a voice just now. My book can wait a while.

Then came 2022 and I found myself with some spare time. I managed to complete my book and edit it, before then publishing it in the following year. It was a long journey but an important one.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

When a writer holds that first finalised copy in their hand, that is when they can say they have completed a book. Before that, everything is in limbo and the whole project could crash at any moment and for any reason. Therefore, with that author’s copy in my hands, I always get a happy and, dare I say it, proud feeling. A completed project, sometimes years in the making. My book.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

“County Lines” by DLR

“Downtrodden” by BB Swing

“Son of a Sinner” by Jelly Roll

“Help Me” by Sonny Boy Williamson II

“Damned” by AC/DC

“Lost” by Linkin Park

“Weedman” by Noah Issa

“The Kids Aren’t Alright” by The Offspring

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I would hope that, on reading County Lines, said reader would come away with the understanding that there is a lot more going on in the world that is below the surface. Scotland is a wonderful place to live and is filled will millions of people who are both loving and welcoming.

However, we, like every other country in the world, have our fair share of seedy underworld and as such there are young ones (teenagers and indeed younger) who are pulled down into these dark worlds, forced to do things they have no wish to be involved in. They need our help and it is up to us to cry out from the top of our ivory towers that WE need to help them. Not simply expect others to do so. We need to speak for those who have no voice of their own.

Now, my novel is indeed fiction but there is a lot in there that is based on truth and you can bet that these things are happening on our streets each and every day. “Save the Children” is not just a phrase, it is a call to arms and we must make it so.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

I wanted to get the message out that children are being exploited on our own streets. It is not an issue that only occurs in other countries. We think that because we are a first-world nation we are better than the rest. We are not. We have our own share of problems and degradation. Our own children are going through things that are harder than anything we went through ourselves. I grew up in Glasgow during the nineties. I have seen what gangsterism can do. This county lines business would even be looked down on by those who were in charge in those dark days. W.N. and A.T. would be rolling in their graves.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

I am not genre-specific in my writing. I have worked in many over the years (crime, fantasy, women’s lit). Currently, I am working on a fantasy novel called Thine Own Self; a sci-fi novel called The Soteria Project; and two non-fiction books, one on literary criticism and another which tells the stories of all the Greek gods and goddesses from Chronos and Ananke, down through the generations to Deimos and his siblings.

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