Tuesday 3 August, 2021
In the Silence, my first novel and the first instalment in the Anna Scavolini series, was originally published on 10 September 2018. However, its genesis began more than a decade earlier, in the form of a feature film screenplay that I wrote during a two-week burst of frenzied creativity between late January and early February 2006.
As befits the speed with which it was produced, it wasn’t a brilliant piece of work, and in the years that followed, as I worked and reworked it into something fit for public consumption, the 136-page script that ultimately became a 95,000-word novel changed almost beyond recognition. From the beginning, though, the basic components remained the same: an academic called Anna, who has spent the last decade living and studying in Rome, returns to her native Glasgow shortly before Christmas. After a night out with her best friend Zoe, she stumbles upon an old acquaintance bleeding to death following a vicious attack. As the bodies mount up, Anna turns detective, uncovering a horrific crime committed several years ago, culminating in a tense stand-off at the top of the Glasgow University bell-tower, during which the killer is unmasked and the sins of the past are revealed in all their horrific detail.
It was my ode to the Italian ‘giallo’ films of the early 1970s: a twisty, tricksy whodunit focusing on an amateur sleuth, with plenty of gruesome murders and a killer whose motivation is rooted in a past, psychosexually-charged trauma. Films like Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) and Deep Red (1975) provided the basis for my own particular approach to the murder-mystery genre, as well as the likes of Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972), Sergio Martino’s The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh (1971) and, perhaps most pertinently, Massimo Dallamano’s What Have You Done to Solange? (1972). Along the way, the novel I was crafting began to transform into more than just an homage to a favourite body of films, becoming its own beast as I developed a voice - and a point of view - of my own (though eagle-eyed readers will be able to spot a handful of nods to the films that inspired me). Like many first-time authors, I poured everything I had into the manuscript, determined to get absolutely everything I had to say down on paper - driven, perhaps, by a fear that it would prove to be both my first novel and my last. The end result was a little unwieldy: a final draft of just under 110,000 words - not the longest book I would ever write, but definitely not the shortest either.
When Bloodhound Books accepted In the Silence for publication in the Spring of 2018, I was stunned. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined anyone would want to read my ramblings, let alone publish them. At best, I’d thought a few close family members and friends might buy a copy from me out of sympathy. In my eagerness to please my publisher and give the book the greatest possible chance to succeed, I quickly resolved to make whatever changes to the text they requested. It has to be stressed that they actually asked me to change remarkably little, and none of the revisions they wanted fundamentally altered the plot, its themes or underlying personality. (To this day, I owe them an immense debt of gratitude for understanding that the broad Scots spoken by Zoe is a fundamental aspect of her character and allowing it to remain unchanged. Many other publishers, I’m sure, wouldn’t have been so accommodating.
That said, during the back-and-forth between author and editor that occurs in the process of making any novel publication-ready, I ultimately acquiesced to the removal of some material that I subsequently found myself wishing I’d fought harder to retain - and probably would have if I’d been both more experienced and more confident in standing up for my vision for the book. With this new edition, I’ve taken the opportunity to restore some of that material. The most significant additions are to Chapters 25 and 27, with the latter now split into two due to its expanded length and scope. These previously deleted sections, which largely serve to flesh out the relationships and back-stories of Anna, Zoe and Victor, included brief bits of dialogue that I couldn’t bear to lose altogether and, for the initial publication, therefore repurposed, inserting them into various other scenes throughout the book. These, too, have been restored to their original locations in this edition, so if a particular favourite line of dialogue isn’t where you expected it to be, rest assured it’s still present somewhere - Zoe’s ‘shag a ginger’ line being a prime example. For the initial publication, I moved it to the bedtime scene in Chapter 5. In this revised edition, it can now be found in its originally intended location in Chapter 25. I’ve also restored some additional material focusing on Renfield to Chapter 26, and a few paragraphs involving Anna and Gavin to the start of Chapter 30.
I should emphasise that this was not simply a case of me going back and undoing all the hard work my editor, David B. Lyons, put into making this the best book it could possibly be. If I was to simply revert to a pre-edit draft, the novel would be a good 15,000 words longer and a whole lot less streamlined. Most of the changes David advised were undeniably changes for the better and have been retained here. In particular, his suggestion that I give Anna a mental health condition, while one that I initially resisted, is something I ultimately embraced, realising that it lent a degree of context to some of Anna’s behaviour and teased out an aspect of the character that I realised in retrospect had been present all along.
I’ve also resisted the temptation to go through the entire manuscript line by line, re-tweaking and finessing the prose. That way lies madness. In the Silence was the best book I could have written in 2018, and I suspect any attempt to refashion it into something my present-day self would have written would only have made it different, not better. Instead, I restricted myself to reinstating pre-existing material and correcting unequivocal errors, of which there were fewer than I’d feared but more than I would have liked. The egregious reference to the non-existent ‘Kelvingrove Subway Station’ in the first paragraph of Chapter 23 now correctly reads ‘Kelvinbridge Subway Station’, and Paul Docherty’s seemingly non-sequitur reference, at the end of Chapter 28, to having lied earlier now makes sense, thanks to the restoration of an earlier sentence that was inadvertently deleted. Some minor typos and errors of punctuation that escaped my and the copyeditor’s eagle eyes have also been corrected.
The one error that required me to create a small amount of new material occurs during Anna’s conversation with the taxi driver in Chapter 1. In both versions, the driver attempts to guess which part of the city Anna is from based on her ‘posh’ accent, to which Anna replies ‘Kelvindale’, prompting the knowing response ‘Aye, figured as much.’ It was only when revisiting the manuscript that I realised, to my acute embarrassment as a lifelong Glasgow native, that I’d somehow managed to conflate Kelvindale and Kelvinside, two distinct areas of Glasgow with vastly different socioeconomic profiles. Anna is in fact from the more upper-crust Kelvinside, and her claim that she hails from Kelvindale - which, in the revised version, the driver now sees for the lie that it is - reveals something pertinent about her character.
Looking back on In the Silence, with a further three books and considerably more experience under my belt, do I have any regrets? Surprisingly, no - or at least, none that I intend to lose any sleep over. Going back and rereading it proved to be a far less traumatic experience than I’d anticipated. I remain quite proud of the book and have a huge amount of affection for Anna, Zoe and their fictional version of Glasgow. It is, I think, a testament to the work I put into developing them that they feel real to me in the way that all the best fictional characters do, to the extent that writing them often feels more like reportage than the invention of original material. Anna, admittedly, took some time to crystallise, her quirks, hang-ups, fears and aspirations eluding me for a considerable time. Zoe, on the other hand, leapt off the page more or less fully formed from the first draft. She was less overtly ‘working class Glaswegian’ back then, but her underlying personality - and flaming red hair - remained unchanged through countless rewrites. And, as I make the final edits to the third book in the series and begin the preliminary development work on the fourth, it’s fascinating to observe the ways in which they’ve both evolved while still remaining fundamentally true to themselves.
I hope you enjoy this revised and expanded ‘director’s cut’ of In the Silence. For some additional goodies, including an in-depth character biography of Anna, a deleted chapter told from the point of view of DS Murray and a guide to the locations visited in the novel, be sure to visit my website at www.mrmackenzieauthor.com.
In the Silence now free on Kindle
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