History Surrounds Us With Stuart S. Laing

It is always a pleasure to have Author and history enthusiast Stuart S. Laing visit Layered Pages. He talks with me about the images he captures of Edinburgh and gives us a glimpse of it’s fascinating history! 

Stuart, I have been enjoying the photos of Edinburgh you have been posting on social media. Even though I haven’t had the chance to visit the city, it is on my bucket list! When you find an image to photograph, what is going through your mind?

Stuart

Stuart S. Laing

Thank you, and I would love to give you a guided tour around town one day. As to taking photos I think it just comes down to being in the moment. I love the architecture of the Old Town, the history surrounding you, and the energy of the people both local and visitors from all corners of the world. Trying to capture just a hint of that is such fun. But I am strictly of the point and click school of photography.

The architecture is certainly breathtaking!  You really do have a great eye for imagery. Which I believe is part of your story telling in books. What do you characters have to say about that?

I think Robert Young would agree with you. He would point out that the more you can see, the more you can know. A shady character like Shug Nicholls would prefer people not go prying into what he and his old adversary, Sergeant MacIan of the Town Guard, get up too. What I try to achieve with words is to paint the reader into the scene so they can be there and feel the cobbled streets beneath their feet and catch a waft of the stink from open sewers or the sweet aroma of perfumed ladies as they pass by.

I notice you choose a black and white medium for your pictures. Is there a particular reason why?

I think the benefit of black and white is it brings an element of doubt into a picture, was it taken yesterday or 50 years ago? It’s my attempt to try to capture the timelessness of a city which seems to never change on the surface but in reality has been in constant motion as old buildings crumble and new ones rise. The thing which saves Edinburgh from the anonymity which besets so many city centres is the fact that in large the centre of town has managed to escape the concrete and glass monstrosities of so many other old cities.

Edinburgh 6What do you love most about Edinburgh?

The simple answer is everything. As I mentioned earlier it’s the history, the buildings, the noise and the hustle and bustle. I know that many locals decry events which fill the centre of town such as the

Festival Fringe which draws tens of thousands daily throughout August but I actually love the crowds. I think that many forget that until the development of the New Town from the 1760s onwards, Edinburgh was largely shoehorned into a space smaller than many modern city parks. It was this which led to Edinburgh Old Town being home to the first skyscrapers as builders went up rather than out. So, for me, seeing those crowds is simply an echo of the past when the Royal Mile was home to shops, coffeehouse, stalls, animals, horses and carts all competing for space. These days there is little risk of having a cow squash your foot under its hoof so people probably should count their blessings

Edinburgh IIHow often do you get a chance to visit the city?

I try to get across as often as possible, and normally at least several times a year. Having a membership of Historic Scotland allows me unlimited entry to Edinburgh Castle which provides another excuse to pop over.

 

 

 

Edinburgh 7

Cowgate before the ‘improvements’ of the 1860s

What have you discovered on your adventures to be the most surprising?

Probably that despite all the changes Edinburgh has faced, urban planners, great fires, which destroyed a large area of the Royal Mile meaning that parts of the New Town are actually older than parts of the Old Town, is the fact that you can take the map of town drawn in the 1740s and use it to guide you through the streets, closes and wynds (alleyways) today. Even when regeneration meant the slum dwellings of the Cowgate were obliterated in the name of progress in the 1860s, the new homes and shops were all built on the footprint of what they replaced. It is still remarkably easy to walk from the Royal Mile to the south side of town following the exact same route you would have taken in the 15th, 16th, 17th or 18th century. That is what constantly inspires me to keep going back.

Edinburgh 4Describe Edinburgh to me from your mind.

Edinburgh, to me, is a strange combination of what you see and what you feel. When I stand on the cobbles by St Giles Cathedral in the very heart of town I don’t only see the beauty of the church before me but, in my mind, I also see the tall, grim walls of the old Tolbooth which once stood here, its location marked by brass markers set in the cobbles. It was here that William Burke, one half of the murderous duo with William Hare, met his end in 1829 on gallows built where the Tolbooth had once stood. It was from the Tolbooth that Captain Porteous of the Town Guard was seized by a mob who would lynch him in the Grassmarket. However it was also here where stalls once stood ran by women selling their wares such as home weaving and hand knitted clothes, fresh wild flowers and vegetables to the people of town. Nearby the famous poet Allan Ramsay operated the first circulating library which opened in 1725. That is what fascinates me about Edinburgh, the constant mixture between beauty and darkness. It was the city of Enlightenment when Scotland led the world in the advancement of science while at the same time huge crowds would gather in good humoured revelry to watch the public hangings in the street. The city itself presents visitors with its split personality. On one hand you have the cramped, towering tenements with the warren of narrow alleys running under and between them where every Close tells its own story and where you can get a taste of how the city once looked and felt, and occasionally smelled as you venture down them. Meanwhile only a short walk away you discover the elegance, charm and open, broad streets of the Georgian New Town where upmarket retailers and fashionistas can be found sipping artisan coffees in the streets where Robert Louis Stevenson grew up. That is what keeps drawing me back again and again. The dual nature of a city where everything changes and nothing does. If that doesn’t make sense you need to visit and spend a day just walking the streets and let some of fair Edina’s spirit work its way into your heart.

Stuart, thank you!

And thank you for allowing me to share my love of Auld Reekie with you. And remember that invite for a guided tour is always open.

Thank you, everyone for visiting Layered Pages today. Stay tuned for our follow up post about History Surrounds Us coming soon here at Layered Pages! -Stephanie

More About Stuart: 

Born and raised on the east coast of Scotland in the ancient Pictish Kingdom of Fife Stuart grew up looking across the Firth of Forth towards the spires and turrets of the city of Edinburgh and its castle atop its volcanic eyrie.

He has always been fascinated by the history of Auld Reekie and has spend most of his life studying Scottish history in all its aspects whenever he finds the time between family, work and the thousand and one other things that seek to distract him.
Despite the vast panorama of Scotland’s history he always find himself being drawn back to the cobbled streets of the Old Town. Those streets have provided the inspiration for his stories and characters.

He would urge all visitors to Scotland’s ancient capital to (briefly) venture into one of the narrow closes running down from the Royal Mile to get a flavour of how alive with mischief, mayhem, love and laughter these streets once were.

Stuart’s Facebook Pages where you can find more images from him and information about his stories HERE.

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(All book reviews, interviews, guest posts and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie Hopkins)

 

 

 

Interview with Author Stuart S. Laing

Stuart Laing

Born in 1966 and raised on the east coast of Scotland in the ancient Pictish Kingdom of Fife. Stuart has been married to the love of his life for 20 years and they have blessed with a daughter. Completing the household is a cat which is also female leaving him heavily outnumbered. He has always been fascinated by the history of Edinburgh and has spends most of his adult life studying Scottish history in all its aspects but always find himself being drawn back to the cobbled streets of the Old Town. He would urge all visitors to Scotland’s ancient capital to (briefly) venture into one of the narrow closes running down from the Royal Mile to get a flavour of how alive with mischief, mayhem, love and laughter these streets once were.

Stephanie: Thank you for chatting with me today, Stuart. It is always a pleasure. You have written so many wonderful stories. Today I want to talk with you about, The Children in the Shadows. Great title by the way. Tell me a little about your story.

Stuart: While Robert and his friends and family attend an engagement party the murder of a young girl casts a grim pall over the evening. Everyone seems convinced that the woman who carried the body into the town Guardhouse is guilty and no investigation is necessary. Robert is pressed to do what he can to help the woman and by doing so he opens up a can of worms that certain people in high office want closed for their own reasons.

The story also allowed me to shine more of a light on the female characters who come to the fore in this. I have always sought to allow them to be as strong and outspoken as they wanted to be and in TCiTS they seize the opportunity with both fair hands.

Alice Galbraith especially truly came into her own when she decides she is going to solve the crime. While this decision places her in great danger as she is kidnapped by the murderer she is not the type of girl who is prepared to set back and wait to be rescued.

Faith also plays a strong part in the book. It serves both as comfort at times of sorrow and inspiration to stay the course and bring the guilty to justice.

Stuarts book cover

Stephanie: What was your inspiration?

Stuart: There has been much said in the British media over recent years regarding ‘people trafficking’ and ‘economic migrants’ from Eastern Europe coming to our shores in search of a better life as though this was something new. Throughout the 18th Century people from the Scottish Highlands had been trickling southwards to find hopefully a better life in the cities of the central Lowlands. Glasgow and Edinburgh had probably hundreds of Gaels struggling to eke out a new life for themselves by 1745 alone. I took that fact and mixed it with my fictional creation of a heartless man who lures children from the Highlands with promises of a happy and wealthy future only to put them to work in the worst sort of brothel.

It was the sad fact that such places existed and the fact that the victims were hidden from sight that gave me the title. That and the fact that certain people wanted the children to remain hidden in the shadows so that their own sins would remain unseen.

Stephanie: Tell me a little about Captain Travers.

Stuart: Charles Travers is a young man aged 25. Formerly an officer in the regular army who sold his commission and returned to his hometown where he was able to secure the position of captain in Edinburgh’s Town Guard. He is looked upon as a popular figure but other than Robert has no’one he can call a true friend. His single interest is solving crimes and this has been to the detriment of his social life. He has allowed nothing else to come before that and it was through work that he first met and then became close friends with Robert. Romance has never really figured in his thoughts.

His parents died when he was a child and he had been raised by an elderly relative who passed away while he was in the army so has no family left.

It was while he was attending Kitty’s to make an arrest that he met Miss Estelle Cannonby who he fell in love with at first sight. He is convinced she is his soul mate and the woman he wishes to make his wife.

Stephanie: What is the most dangerous encounter that Robert Young, Captain Travers have had?

Stuart: For Charles it is when he corners the murderer in A Pound of Flesh in the climactic scene when he finds himself unarmed facing a desperate man armed with a pistol. He tries to persuade him to surrender but…

Robert has largely managed to avoid placing his life in real danger, although like Charles he is there when the killer is confronted in ApoF. However his luck runs out dramatically in The Children in The Shadows when he discovers the identity of the man responsible for exploiting children. Rather than wait for Charles and the Town Guard he attempts to capture the man himself trusting in his own skill with a rapier. His skills may not be all that he hoped however!

Stephanie: Out of all the characters you have written about, which one are you most partial to?

Stuart: Arghhh! Does it have to be only one? Obviously I have to say Robert Young himself as the driving force of the stories but I love his wife Euphemia who has to deal with worrying about him when he is investigating a dastardly crime while looking after two young children. I also have a real fondness for Sergeant MacIan of the Town Guard who believes in ‘traditional’ methods of policing while dear Captain Travers prefers a modern, analytical approach to a crime scene. One character who is always an absolute pleasure to write is Alice Galbraith, a high class prostitute who delights in causing mischief for Robert and Captain Travers whenever she speaks to them. She is not a malicious character in any way, more just a saucy minx with a wicked sense of humour. She really came into her own in the most recent book The Children in The Shadows where she revealed herself to be much more than just an amusing supporting character. Even as I wrote her scenes I was cheering her on.

Stephanie: Is there a scene you wrote where you burst out laughing? If so, do tell.

Stuart: There is a short scene in A Pound of Flesh where Captain Travers and Robert visit Kitty’s (a gentleman’s club for games of chance and meeting young ladies of negotiable affections) to arrest a dubious character. He is busily engaging with two ‘ladies’ in a bedroom and while they arrest him the women, naked as the day they were born, applaud their efforts while they cringe with embarrassment. It was just one of those little scenes that is both important as it leads to a break in the investigation and just amusing for the sheer awful embarrassment for the men as they try to arrest the villain while doing their best not to stare at the naked flesh on display.

Stephanie: Where in your home is your favorite place to write? Do you have a favorite coffee or tea by your side when you write?

Stuart: Normally my armchair with my netbook perched on my lap. I like the small size of the netbook compared to a full size laptop when I am writing. Now, coffee or tea? The eternal conundrum! I tend to stick with coffee when writing but a mug, never a cup, of strong tea is always welcome. Just don’t add sugar!

Stephanie: I write at my desk, living room, kitchen and sometimes in my bed early in the morning. When writing, what is your process?

Stuart: I generally work out the full plot from beginning to end before I write the first word, I even work out a chapter by chapter guide of who does what, when and where in advance. However…pretty much as soon as I get past the first chapter things start to move, if not in a completely different direction, then in a way which I had not planned in advance. Generally only the very beginning and the end will remain unchanged. The crime and the criminal will be as I planned but anything else between the first and last page tends to weave its own path. Characters have a bad habit of doing their own thing. When I am actually writing though I prefer to have the TV switched off and have music playing in the background. Mumford and Sons, Marillion and the Scottish band from the 1980’s Big Country all feature fairly regularly on my writing playlist.

Stephanie: Yes, I agree. Characters do tend to do their own thing. I have noticed a lot of writers like having music on while writing. I’m must be strange, because I need complete silence and no distractions. How many books a year on average do you read?

Stuart: A rough estimate would be somewhere in the region of 50-60 full length books a year on average. I generally read at least one novel a week and goodness only knows how many short stories!

Stephanie: That is about the amount I read. Good number of books. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to try their hand at writing?

Stuart: Do it! Work out your basic storyline, plot and main characters and then just write. It doesn’t matter if you miss words or letters or even have gaps in the plot in that first draft, just get your idea down on paper (or on the computer screen these days) Once you have written that first draft then you can go back over it and catch the things you missed first time around. The single most important piece of advice I could possibly give is simply this. Do it! And have fun while you are doing it! Is that two pieces of advice? Do it and have fun!

Stephanie: Agreed!  

What is up next for you?

Stuart: I am nearing completion of the fourth Robert Young tale, so I think it is safe to say he doesn’t die when he confronts the cad in TCiTS. It has the working title of Major Weir’s Dark Legacy and is about an ongoing argument between two elderly booksellers. When one is murdered and the other found standing over the body with a knife in hand Charles is prepared to see things as an open and shut case. His attention is focussed on an upcoming wedding and he doesn’t want any distractions to get in the way of that. Robert, at his wife’s insistence agrees to do what he can for the accused. Meanwhile a sneak thief is plaguing the town, Robert’s adopted daughter Effie has discovered boys and a demon raising lunatic from the past haunts the dark rooms of an empty mansion.

 Stephanie: How exciting!  

Is there a message you would like to give to your readers?

Stuart: I think the only message I would dare try to give to my readers is that no matter how grim things may seem at the moment, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. With some of my characters that light is provided by their belief in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Others settle for the contents of a bottle! What I hope readers would take from my books is that our troubles, even on the darkest days can be overcome. I would suggest that faith was a better source of hope than a bottle though!

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Stuart: All three novels are available on Amazon in ebook and paperback. A short story featuring the regular cast is also available for the Kindle.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stuart-S.-Laing/e/B007B5H19U/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1