I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


One of the problems we purveyors of pulp fiction have to deal with is the problem of churning out stuff that readers see as being way too far fetched. Oh aye, Mark. As if…

You do your research and you dig out something that actually happened and you try to work out how it might find its way into a story. Then you get inside the reader’s head and it soon becomes clear there is no way they will buy in to it. Oh aye, Mark. As if…

The last couple of weeks have seen a story play out in the papers and on the tele which is very much a case in point. Dear reader, let’s take a whistle-stop tour through the Grangemouth drama as seen through the eyes of a pulp fiction writer.

The story kicks off way back in the days of flared trousers, kipper ties and platform shoes. We can paint a back drop of Thin Lizzy and endless strikes and nightly news pieces on Vietnam. We have Idi Amin and Ted Heath and 'Tricky Dickie' Nixon. Oh yes folks, it's the gaudy garish days of the early 70’s when Union bosses and big collars ruled the roost.

Enter our main character. He’s a geeky sort of lad from the poorer side of Manchester. Does he go for kipper ties and a big perm? Somehow I doubt it. He has emerged blinking into the light after hour after endless hour doing his homework in a super tidy little bedroom in a Mancunian two up and two down. Teenage years of ten out of ten in science and getting bullied in the playground. A side parting and a pair of those black plastic NHS specs. Well shined sensible shoes and a tweed jacket for his first day at Birmingham University.

It is 1974 and the lights are going out all over Britain. As our man attends his first lecture, Arthur Scargill and his flying pickets are tearing things up at Saltley Gate and bringing the whiff of Moscow to the streets of the Black Country.

The story rolls quietly through the tumultuous days of the 70’s and 80’s as our Mr Quiet lives a life that is far removed from the wildness of the outside world. Our man keeps to his sensible M&S tweeds and brogues as the Sex Pistols use the ‘F’ word on prime time TV. He gets a top degree and a top PHD and he’s cherry picked by the blue chip end of the private sector. It’s ICI as a graduate entrant and for the very first time he sees money beyond science.

Ah the money. Seductive and impossible not to hanker after. The lad from the terraces of Manchester is fascinated by it. Obsessed. He wants to understand it like he understands chemical equations and the mathematic formulae. Our man is no wide boy. Not for him the Thatcherite wine bar yuppy route to piles of cash. Instead he returns to the front row of the classroom and hoovers up the dark arts of accountancy whilst maintaining an unspectacular rise up the corporate chain.

And still he is unnoticed. A grey man. Nothing big and brash. Chemist and accountant and still the tweed jacket and the sensible brogues.

Into the 90’s we go, and he becomes fascinated by the so called Wild East of Russia. And here he sees similarly geeky beaurocratic types who are stepping out of the shadows and into the blazing light. One minute they are the unnoticed middle managers of a crumbling Bolshevik Empire. The next minute they are super rich oligarchs with staggering fortunes and the Chanel suited women on their arms with cheekbones you could cut bread with.

It is his template.

The road from the front desk in the class to the yacht in the Monaco Marina.

OK. Find a huge ugly industrial asset that a fast fading Industrial giant wants rid of so badly that they are more than happy to sell it off quicker than quick. So quick in fact that they completely fail to get a proper handle on how much it is really worth. Here is where all that homework comes to the table. It is where the chemistry and accountancy geek emerges as the top dog. For he knows exactly what these big ugly assets are worth. All he needs to do now is to deploy his knowledge to find two sets of suckers.
First up, he needs a cumbersome industrial giant that is suddenly run by super cool exec types in $5000 dollar suits who all want to be Michael Douglas in Wall St. Well that’s no problem – he works for just such a place. ICI.

Next up, he needs a set of super cool banking types in $5000 suits who all want to be Michael Douglas in ‘Wall St’ to lend him $9 billion. Well in the 90’s these kind of  go, go guys were not exactly hard to come across. He came across them and they lent him money by the ship load.

And in the blink of an eye, the boy from the Mancunian terraces is suddenly the proud owner of massive industrial sites all over the place.

Oh it’s a bit far fetched, but never mind. I mean it might be hard to persuade the reader that a lad from Manchester could borrow $9 billion just like that, but what the hell, let’s press on.

Next comes the high life section. It’s all about a shining multi million lifestyle. Yachts and a move to Switzerland. The whole super rich nine yards. Well if you’ve got it, you might as well flaunt it.

But then…..

Well there has to be a ‘but then…..’ section. No pulp fiction would be worth its name without it. ‘But then……’  the world economic system all but collapses and anyone owing billions of dollars to the cocaine fuelled wide boys of the City is in a world of trouble. Any my oh my, is our boy ever in trouble. But he is no public school type born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He has come from the tough streets of Manchester. Street fighting is in his DNA and he hangs on to the mast whilst the hurricane rages around him.

He makes it.

He keeps his yachts.

He finds calm water.

And then he goes again.

Even bigger fortunes are to be had out in China and over the Atlantic in the booming shale gas fields of America.

But before he can saddle up and head for these new Klondikes, he has some unfinished business to attend to.

It’s called Grangemouth.

For years his sprawling plant at Grangemouth has been good to him. But now it is a problem. Now it is losing money and his new business partner ain’t a happy bunny. To survive the hurricane of the economic crash, he has hopped into bed with the Chinese Government and they now expect him to do what he said he would do. Losing millions a month at Grangemouth isn’t what the lads from Beijing had in mind when they wrote out a cheque.

Our hero retires to his yacht and turns on his Cray computer of a mind. So. The problem. Grangemouth is no longer viable because all the equipment is geared up for the 70’s and not now. To get back into profit, the wretched place needs north of $300 million sinking in to it and the boys from Beijing have made it clear that there will be no more cheques. Worse still, the days of coke snorting City boys are gone as well. So. Who is there who might stump up hundreds of millions of dollars on easy terms?

Of course.

The Government. Who else?

But here’s the rub. Ever since he shifted all his operations out to Switzerland the Government have not liked him much. They see him as a tax dodger and there is no way in a million years they are about to write him the kind of fat cheque he needs.

So he orders up another cocktail and stares out across the shimmering blue waters of the Mediterranean and seeks a cunning plan.

Where is the key thing? The crack in the wall? The Achilles heel?

And lo and behold, the answer starts to take shape.

The answer is Autumn 2014 when the good folk of Scotland will be given the chance to vote for Independence. Of course! For this means that the Government in Westminster will go to almost any lengths to prove that they care about Scotland. And it means that the Government in Edinburgh will go to just about any lengths to prove they can run Scotland.

Now all he needs is a way to put them to the test.

And once again the answer emerges.

To be honest, here is where he gets something of a lucky break.

The MP for Falkirk gets drunk out of his skull and head butts a Tory MP in the House of Commons bar. I know. Rather far fetched, but what the hell. The bar brawling MP is sent off to jail and a by election is called. The Labour Party needs a new candidate and a mighty row soon breaks out. The London brigade want an Oxbridge type who knows how to hold their knife and fork properly and can be trusted never to allow the word ‘Socialist’ to pass their lips. The local Union want someone with fire in the belly who will sing along to ‘Working Class hero’ by John Lennon. Loudly.

So the Union persuades its members to join the Falkirk Labour Party so that they can get a majority in the selection vote.

In the blink of an eye the thing goes nuclear and the press are all over it. The tabloids scream that a return to the bad old days of the 70’s is nigh. It is a hell of a bun fight and a few hundred miles to the south on his gleaming yacht, a lad from Manchester sniffs an opportunity and places a call to the hard faced lads in Beijing.

He tells them of his cunning plan and they like it. They like it a lot. It is right up their street.

So here’s the thing.

The main union guy who has been given the job of getting the lads to join the Falkirk Labour Party works at Grangemouth. And most of the lads that join up also work at Grangemouth. For a while there is some doubt about whether or not the Union has broken the law. So the cops take a look at it and then give the Union a clean bill of health. And then the Labour Party look into it, and with extreme reluctance they also give the Union a clean bill of health.

And then, just as the dust threatens to start settling, our man steps out of the shadows and starts to play his cards.

Card One. He announces his own investigation. As the main players in the drama are his employees, it is only right and proper that as a responsible employer he checks out that no wicked, communist naughtiness has gone down on company time.

And the Union hate it.

Just like he knew they would hate it.

And the Union hate him.

Just like he knew they would hate him.

It’s called pulling the tiger’s tale and they really like that kind of thing out in Beijing.

Once he has the Union well and truly fired up and hungry for payback, he plays Card Two.

Accept less pay and longer hours and no more final salary pension or else. It is like telling a Koppite to wear a Man Utd shirt with ‘Beckham’ on the back. He knows exactly what they will do next. He has riled them up and got them so blazing mad that they have lost their sense of reason. They duly go thermonuclear.


And he smiles contentedly and takes a sip at a cocktail. His mobile rings and the hard boys from Beijing are positively purring.

Time for Card Three.

OK lads. If that’s the way it is, then I’m closing the place. Like right now. Because you can take the boy out of Manchester but you can’t take Manchester out of the boy….

Or the Beijing.....

Mayhem. Wailing and gnashing of teeth. Press filled with stories about how Grangemouth makes up 10% of Scottish GNP. It means 3500 jobs! It is unthinkable!! Terrible!!! Awful. Oh my God!!!!!!!

And in Westminster there are crisis meetings. If we are seen to let this happen, everyone will say we don’t give a shit about Scotland and that jumped up bastard will never shut up about it….

And in Edinburgh there are crisis meetings. If we let this happen the people will think we are incapable of organising a piss up in a brewery and there is no chance in hell that they will vote for independence….

And in the Unite Union HQ there are crisis meetings. If he calls our bluff and 3500 guys lose their jobs, we will look like absolute tossers and members will start leaving in droves…

Well good things come to he who waits. So our man waits. And he sips his cocktail. And he gazes out to sea. And he knows that in time the phone will ring.

It rings.

Westminster calls to say a cheque for $100 million is in the post.

Edinburgh calls to say a cheque for $9 million is in the post.

Unite call to say that they have changed their minds and they will agree to every last one of the new terms.

One, two, three.

And the boys from Beijing call and chuckle in delight, for they like nothing better than winning a high stakes game of poker.

One, two, three.

And the boy from the poor side of Manchester smiles quietly to himself and raises a silent toast.

To himself.

To the lad from the front of the class with the tweed jacket and the sensible shoes.

To the lad who had played bankers and politicians and big businesses and big unions for complete and utter mugs.

You couldn’t make it up.

The whole thing is so far fetched as to be ridiculous.

Aye right, Mark.

As if……..           


  1. Essentially correct though the ex Labour MP is still MP and hasn't forced a by election and the UK government hasn't given any cash. It has given a loan guarantee. The Scottish Government has give £9million in cash. A lot of Scots believe that essential public services and suppliers should be in public hands and this rather underlines that view

  2. That's the thing with pulp fiction writers - we take every bit of artistic licence we can lay our hands on!