The Mash House is a story of secrets, murder and whisky – and first time novelist, Alan Gillespie cites time spent in the Highlands as his muse.
A Scots author has used his time spent living and working in Ardnamurchan and family ties to Ross-shire for the inspiration behind his debut tartan noir novel, The Mash House.
Alan Gillespie, who is an English teacher in Glasgow, spent his probation year teaching at Ardnamurchan High School in 2012 and has used the rugged landscape of the area as the backdrop to his very first crime novel, The Mash House; a story of isolation and fear set in a fictitious Highland village, Cullrothes, on the Ardnamurchan peninsula.
Ardnamurchan is not the only Highland location to be used as inspiration; the Cat’s Back, the name affectionately used locally for the walk along the Knockfarrel ridge between Strathpeffer and Dingwall, where his wife Chloe is from, also makes an appearance. The atmosphere and landscape of the West Highlands permeate throughout the book.
Alan said: ‘I was inspired at a whisky tasting event at Belladrum Festival, talking about all these family ties and legacies. I also used my experience of touring Scotland’s distilleries to come up with the setting and nugget for the book.’
The story centres around a fictional whisky distillery, under threat by a hostile takeover from America. The distillery owner, Donald, is known as a bit of a Highland gangster and when his son goes missing it sparks off a chain of disastrous events; affairs, gambling, killing, drinking too much, burying bodies and lies. A book for fans of Iain Banks and Graeme Macrae Burnett, The Mash House has been described as ‘a peat-dark picture of a seemingly cosy community, with writing as pungent as a single malt’ by author of Scabby Queen, Kirstin Innes.
The Mash House is a crowdfunded project, with publisher, Unbound. After his submission of just three chapters, Unbound offered Alan a contract. Alan was responsible for raising the funds through attracting pre-orders, and was overwhelmed by the support from around the world.
With rewards for crowdfunding patrons including naming the dog and the minister in the book, Alan raised £8000 through pre-orders, which was more than the total required.
He says the experience was: ‘Intense, but rewarding. It was a great motivation to see the pre-orders coming in to buy a book that wasn’t even published yet. Each supporter has their name printed in the back of the book, which is a lovely acknowledgment that the story wouldn’t have come to life without them. I have a strong bond with my readers. I owe them a lot.’
Ala, who teaches at Fernhill School in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire, studied at the Universities of Stirling, Glasgow and Strathclyde. His articles and stories have appeared in an impressive collection of publications, including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Herald, Northwords Now and New Writing Scotland and in 2011 he was awarded the Scottish Emerging Writer’s residency at Cove Park.
He has also recently appeared at the Aye Write Book Festival talking about the book and the audiobook rights have been acquired by W.F. Howes, a major audiobook publisher. The book will be narrated by Angus King, an award-winning actor who also narrated 2020 Booker Prize winner, Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart.
He added: ‘It’s been a lifelong dream to publish a novel, and now that I’ve done that, I want to write more. I have more stories to tell and hope they find an audience. Earlier this year I wrote a new book – 1000 words a day for about three months – and that’s the next project. It’s a different book, more urban, but still with the darkness and intrigue of The Mash House.’
The Mash House is available now from Waterstones (in-store and online) and independent bookstores as well as Amazon. For more information about The Mash House and to find out more about Alan Gillespie’s next novel, follow him on Twitter @afjgillespie.