Denise Mina: “Writing is a constraint. It’s not really something you choose to do’

Other writers will understand that writing is a constraint. It’s not really something you choose to do. Around the age of 18, I started putting things on paper and then burning them. I wrote a lot of different things, words, thoughts, considerations, and then I turned to fiction because not enough had happened to me to document my own existence. I think words are addiction and writing fiction is one way to indulge that compulsion to put words together.

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I wrote a book about a professional shoplifter and gave it to someone. They said something slightly ambivalent and I didn’t write for two years. You know those stories of people who sent stuff and got rejected over and over and kept going? I would never have done that, I was too quick to believe the negative feedback. It is therefore only garnethill was released two years later [in 1998] I thought, OK, that might work.

Being inducted into the Crime Writers Association Hall of Fame in 2014 Photo: Shutterstock

Discovering that I had a contract with a book was a very big moment in my life. I haven’t slept for a week. My girlfriend came to my flat in Glasgow and she yelled at my window, “Are you going out for a drink? And I shouted in the street: “I am having a book published! And she shouted: “No way!” But it was very surreal, and I actually felt very scared and exposed. I just couldn’t believe it. I was shocked. It felt like a big, big change. Now, years later, I understand that even if you achieve your dream, you will never feel good. So make peace with the feeling of discomfort. If you are uncomfortable, you are aware of what is going on around you. You should be in two minds about everything, always questioning yourself. You should never feel like oh, here we are, we’ve arrived.

I think the 16-year-old me would be surprised at how much of a daily job being a published writer is. I imagined I was walking around in a cape and that sort of thing. I’ve been very lucky, but my life is always about cleaning the floor and making sure my aunt gets to the doctor – those are the things that are really important, the things that make a day and a life, n ‘is this not ?

Photo: PR provided

For years I dyed my hair black until I looked at a picture and it looked like an Elvis wig. I thought, I can’t go on like this. I told my hairdresser Natalie, “I’m going to go gray.” She said: “It will be very aging but good for you, it is very brave.” I said, “There must be a cool way to go gray,” and she said, “I know what it is.” And she gave me this haircut. I immediately loved it. It makes a difference in people’s perception of me. Also, I think it’s important that we all stop pretending we’re still young.

I would say now to my younger self, don’t worry so much. You are always worrying about the wrong thing. So it’s just a waste of time, whatever will happen will happen. And I wasted a lot of time getting angry. I would also say, quit smoking. I thought it calmed me down, but it made me very, very anxious. And I wasted a lot of money there.

Having my children has been the highlight of my life. I never wondered what I was or what I was doing; I knew exactly what I was doing. I loved almost every moment. I think about my relationship with my mother. We gave him a hard time and it was an intense relationship, but ultimately very close.

The joy of having children is that you don’t think about yourself. You think, my son has never had a 99, I bet he’ll like it. It is such a gift. For years, you think, if I have this and I have that, I’ll be happy. But actually, what makes you happy is giving someone a 99 for the first time.

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If I could have one last stolen moment with anyone, it would be my mother. She died over Christmas after catching Covid. She had a lung disease; she couldn’t quit smoking. I just sat with her because there was nothing left unsaid between us. We’ve always had a pretty rocky relationship, but we had a really good laugh – if you’re from Glasgow you’ll totally understand that. So I just sat with her and held her hand.

If I could go back and relive a moment… remember when London buses had the backs open? You can just jump up or down. Well, when I was 16, the very first time I fell in love, I got on one of those buses to visit her. I was standing with one foot on either side of the pole and we suddenly turned a very steep bend and launched myself straight into the street. I remember it was dark and I swayed in the night, I closed my eyes and felt the wind on my face. Like Gene Kelly but a little more dangerous. It was the first time I fell in love and was really drunk. It was an incredible feeling. I even remember at the time thinking, this is amazing. It is to live.

Trust by Denise Mina is out now (Vintage, £14.99)
Interview: Jane Graham

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