Scandi crime best-seller Torquil MacLeod reveals mother’s 200 mile round trip to give birth in Edinburgh

Crime-writer Torquil MacLeod was born in Edinburgh. His mother came home specially to give birth but, although he knows the city well and still has family here, he has never actually lived in the Capital.

Saturday, 29th May 2021, 7:00 am
Author Torquil MacLeod

The best-selling author, who is chatting to me ahead of the publication of his eighth Inspector Anita Sundström novel, Mammon in Malmö, explains how he came to be born here.

"Both my parents were from Edinburgh but lived in Durham where my dad was a teacher, but he wanted to make sure that I was born in Scotland, so my mum came up to my grandparents and I was born in Murrayfield."

He wasn't the only one, he adds, "There were five of us, three were born in Scotland and two in England, it became impracticable I think to keep coming back, but I did spend a lot of holidays in Edinburgh, staying with my grandparents. I also spent a lot of my teenage years there."

Torquil MacLeod

The writer, whose uncle was the late local Liberal Democrat politician Donald Gorrie, laughs, as he recalls, "Rose Street and the pubs there figured quite prominently as I got older. I loved the ones with island bars, you didn't tend to get them in England."

However, it was neither Durham nor Edinburgh that has inspired his best selling crime series, rather the Swedish city of Malmo, a place he was introduced to just over 20 years ago when his eldest son settled there. That move came at an opportune time for MacLeod.

Having worked briefly as a teacher ("That wasn't for me"), MacLeod then tried his hand at selling Life Insurance for a month, "That definitely wasn't for me. I managed to sell one policy to a lovely couple who were friends and, after I left the job, they had to send it back because they couldn't afford the payments," he recalls.

A successful career in advertising copy-writing followed but other avenues of exploring his penmanship were never far away either.

Author Torquil MacLeod at Anita's holiday beach

"I always liked to write. At one stage I wanted to be a comedy writer – I managed to get a joke on The Two Ronnies once. I also wrote a couple of sketches for the Naked Radio. Then, I became friends with a film producer and wrote a number of film scripts, but it's a nightmare business to get into. I got a couple of commissions and made a little bit of money but when I realised the films were never going to get made, I decided to turn one of my ideas, which was Swedish-based, into a book instead. That became Meet Me in Malmö.

The irony being, reflects the 68-year-old, is that Meet Me in Malmö, the first book in the series, was recently optioned by a Los Angeles film producer. "It's come full circle in that respect," he says.

Anita Sundström, now a former police Inspector, is based on a real life detective, he reveals.

"One of our great friends, retired now, was a female detective in Southern Sweden and from talking to her, I suppose Anita is to an extent inspired by and based on her. I used elements of her for the character and she seems quite happy about it..." He laughs, as he quips, "Well, she hasn't sued me."

Torquil MacLeod, author of the Anita Sundstrom novels, at home

Each book takes a year to write he says, although Mammon in Malmö took a bit longer.

“It has a lot of history in it, so, lots of research. Also, I started it at the beginning of lockdown which strangely enough seemed to stymie me, I couldn't get motivated. I thought, 'It's ridiculous. I have no distractions,’ and then suddenly I realised that I thrive on those distractions."

In the new novel, published on June 6, MacLeod's protagonist has left the police. With a new Skåne County Police commissioner wanting to make his mark in Malmö, the Criminal Investigation Squad is under pressure when they are called in to solve the killing of a private investigator... Meanwhile, Anita Sundström, out of the force for a year after her resignation, is approached by a dying woman to track down a collection of paintings looted from her family by the Nazis in Budapest in 1944. Needing the money she takes on the seemingly impossible task with no idea of the dangers that lie ahead.

"Sweden is very atmospheric," says MacLeod, explaining the choice of location for his novels. "At the time of the first book I had no idea about Scandi Crime, it hadn't really appeared over here, it just seemed a good place to set thrillers and I love going to the locations I'm going to use or just getting ideas from walking around."

The Anita Sundström novels have also proved a huge hit in audio book format, although MacLeod has a confession of his own to make.

"I can't listen to them," he says, sheepishly. "I listened to five minutes of one and just couldn't... it has nothing to do with the woman who records them, it's just that it's rather frightening hearing my words coming back at me. I suppose it's like the actor who can't watch themselves on screen. If I listen I start thinking, 'Hell, I shouldn't have written that,' or 'I should have used a different word there.'

The writer already has the next two books in the series forming in his head along with the kernel of an idea for another series, a "vaguely amusing crime romp" set in 18th Century Edinburgh that is currently on a back-burner.

He explains. "The first Anita Sundström book actually has a scene in it that takes place at the Edinburgh Film Festival but I was going to write a series of books set in the Edinburgh of the 1750s about a feckless actor called Jack Flyfoot. I wrote the first as an e-book called Sweet Smell of Murder. It started off in Edinburgh with him fleeing to Newcastle after getting into trouble with the local clergy. The second book was going to bring him back to the Capital once the fuss had died down. I'd love to return to that one day. I have all sorts of ideas because, when I was at college, I did a dissertation on Edinburgh theatre in the 1700s so plundered information from that, but right now it's the Swedish stuff that sells."

Mammon In Malmö, by Torquil MacLeod, is published by McNidder & Grace, priced £9.99, on June 6

Tomorrow: Read the first of four exclusive extracts from Mammon in Malmö

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