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Can you handle the Truth? Laura Thomson

Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival


The Faculty of Advocates is one of the sponsors of the Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival, which will be held in Stirling from 8 to 10 September.

Arnot Manderson’s very own Laura Thomson, pictured below, will be chairing an event entitled “Can you handle the truth?”, and will interview three lawyers who are also successful crime writers: GJ Moffat, Steve Cavanagh and Imran Mahmood. 

Laura said of her role at the Festival:

In a work of fiction, anything is possible. But where fiction is based on fact, writers carry out meticulous research to ensure that the facts which provide the backdrop to their creative work are correctly stated. This may involve researching a period in history, for example, or politics, or – in the case of crime fiction – police procedure and forensic investigative techniques. I know of several writers of “tartan noir” crime fiction who have fostered close working relationships with Police Scotland, with forensic experts (including pathologists, anthropologists and soil scientists), and who indeed may have studied criminology or forensic science. There will always be the odd exception, but in the vast majority of cases, “police procedural” works of fiction get the police powers and forensic science just right.

Whilst the investigation of crime and identification of the perpetrator are perhaps the most common themes in crime fiction, the subgenre of the “criminal courtroom drama” takes the reader into a mysterious world of wigs and gowns, rules and etiquette which is largely unknown to the layperson. There, the picture often painted is based on stereotypes found in literature, TV and film, and can be inaccurate and misleading. The purpose of the courtroom drama is of course to entertain, and not to educate the reader about a system of criminal justice (whether it be our own, or that of another jurisdiction), to offer an introductory guide to the criminal law, or provide a crash course in court craft. But whilst writers of crime fiction must be allowed to take liberties in the name of entertainment, there is, in my view, a need for a degree of authenticity in the way in which courtroom scenes are drawn. That should include correctly stating both the law and court procedure, and accurately describing the advocacy techniques used in court.

If I sound as though I have a bee in my wig about this, I do. Having practiced law for nearly 20 years, with more than half of that time in Scotland’s criminal courts, and having both prosecuted and defended crimes including murder, rape and historical sexual abuse, I feel qualified to comment in what I hope is a constructive way. Many a good read has been ruined for me by a lack of authenticity in courtroom scenes. Cross examination, in particular, is a very difficult skill to master, requires years of training and practice to perfect, and is not always correctly depicted in works of fiction.

It is possible to paint courtroom scenes that are legally and procedurally “correct”, in which the advocacy techniques employed are true to life, and which are entertaining. It can happen in real life, and so there’s no reason why it can’t in books! Certainly, when it comes to fiction, authenticity and entertainment are not mutually exclusive.

The solution? I would love to see a relationship develop between crime writers and lawyers, where authors might see us as a resource they can draw upon as part of their research where their work of fiction includes courtroom scenes. That’s one reason why, for the first time, the Faculty of Advocates is sponsoring an event at the Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival in Stirling next weekend, which I am delighted to be chairing.

I have been tasked with interviewing (cross examining?) three successful court lawyers, who are also successful writers of crime fiction. I will be sure to ask the question: do lawyers (turned crime writers) get it right? I hope to get a positive verdict.

Laura Thomson, Advocate


Order in court (and on the Bloody Scotland website to see three men who are leading lawyers by day and crime writers by night.

 Imran Mahmood, a criminal defence barrister, is the author of You Don’t Know Me.  Steve Cavanagh, a solicitor in Northern Ireland, writes the Eddie Flynn legal thrillers, including The Liar.  G.J. Moffat is a civil litigation lawyer practising in Glasgow and bestselling author of Blackwater.

You can view the festival programme and book tickets here: