Novel idea is magic tale

A new book set on Tyneside has alcohol and lust at its core. Alastair Gilmour meets its author

When a book is described as “a sexy, transgressive and very promising debut novel” it should spark interest in the casual reader. When you’re told that the principal characters have a taste for alcohol, you’re tempted to give it a go. Then when you find that it’s set in Newcastle and the main character’s favourite bar is the Bacchus, you’re right in there.

Bad Magic is a suspense thriller written by Newcastle-based author AM Stirling. Set in the art world against the backdrop of post-industrial Tyneside, where gleaming office blocks and hotels arise from the ashes of former industrial sites, the novel explores a number of themes that include sexual obsession, suspicions of murder, and masculinity.

Its main character, Richard Waverley, is a Newcastle art gallery owner who isn’t making much money. Actually, he’s losing money and is being nagged by artists who haven’t been paid for sales and haunted by general unpaid bills, plus he’s getting involved with an unscrupulous property developer. He is constantly asking his grandmother to fund his lifestyle, using his “puppy dog face” to sweet talk her into reaching for her chequebook.

AM Stirling is the pen-name of Mike Golding, an “adopted Geordie”, former a freelance photographer, an artist with several national and international exhibitions to his name, and an academic. After harbouring an ambition to write fiction for far too long, he completed an MA in creative writing at Newcastle University in 2012.

Bad Magic is his first published novel; it’s populated with readily identifiable characters who follow their own agendas involving the hapless Richard (who had been abused as a teenager by his older cousin Amanda). They tend to drink a lot – particularly gin and wine – and fight over an inheritance.

Mike says: “I’ve visualised the art gallery somewhere like Shakespeare Street in Newcastle. The Bacchus on neighbouring High Bridge is Richard’s local.”

Frustrated at not getting his book published, Mike eventually went down the self-publishing route through an Amazon scheme.

“It took two years to write and your attitude changes when you’re writing,” he says. “It’s quite a dark novel. I don’t know how many I’ll sell; it’s difficult to gauge what the response will be as at the moment it’s just a file on a computer.” (It’s now in recognisable book form.)

Using the pseudonym was not only a way for Mike to distance himself from his previous career and start something new but was also a method of researching his family history and keeping it alive.

He says: “RM Stirling is Alexander Marshall Stirling, one of my mother’s brothers. He was a miner in Auchinleck in East Ayrshire and fought with the Chindits in the Far East during the war. He’s buried in an unmarked grave.

“He was a hard drinker, on the verge of alcoholism. My mother was very fond of him; he was her favourite, but she hated his drinking. When she developed Alzheimer’s, she used to talk about him a lot. He once sent her a picture of himself in his football strip inscribed ‘All’s well in Auchinleck but still on the bottle’.”

Bad Magic is laced with fast-moving situations – many of them racy – and invariably punctuated with phrases such as “Catherine mixed him a gin and tonic”, “her drink in her hand”, “they agreed on a bottle of Chianti”, “they touched glasses”, which change the pace and allow the reader to catch up (and perhaps reach for a glass themselves).

It’s a compelling and enthralling tale of kissing ousins with the fact that it’s set on familiar territory giving it that extra edge – dark novel or not.

*Available as an eBook and a paperback, Bad Magic goes live on Amazon on October 1. A book launch will be held at the Lit & Phil in Newcastle on Thursday October 24 at 7.00 pm.