Friday, January 28, 2011

Fannish Boy (or the story of a review website)

By Russel D McLean

“So whaddaya wanna call it?”

I remember shrugging. I remember we’d discussed all kinds of things. Right down to buying an old-school looking telephone, decking the place out like an Eye’s office. It would have been cool.

It would have been my bookshop.

Yeah, for those who don’t know my sordid past, there was a point I thought about opening my own store. A specialist crime store. Because, at the time, the only competition was down in London (that would have been Maxin Jakabowski’s MURDER ONE, then) and I thought I had the drive to do it. So we were really going for it. Had digs picked out, had a website designed (just not the space) and all sorts.

And we were talking about the name.

“The Crime Scene,” said my friend, Becky. And that was the one that stuck. The one we went out to buy the webspace for. Except we couldn’t get it. What we got was crimescescotland*. I worked on the design, got the shopfront built online and then…

The project fell apart. I couldn’t do it. I’m not a numbers man, and I think you need to be on some level if you’re going to run a business. So I was stuck with the webspace. What was I going to do?

That was around the time Anthony Neil Smith was doing PLOTS WITH GUNS and ezines were all the rage. Like the old fanzines I used to read when I was younger, these were online and on the screen and they were about short fiction and new writers. They were often rough around the edges, but they were exciting. And you know what, I wanted a piece of that. So I put up some short stories on the webspace. Some written by friends. Some by me under a pseudonym (one day I may reveal all). It was a bit of a laugh. But it began to grow. And suddenly we were getting real submissions. The site was a labour of love and at the time (I was a student again by then, so I had free time) it was a blur of editing – yes, we did edit the stories, sometimes quite brutally – and reviewing. And I loved it.

The site slowed down, of course, when I got full time employment. And then a few years back we became reviews only and switched to blogger to cut the costs (you can find the new site at and started keeping regular reviews going. Well I say “we” and by then it was truly, “I”. We have had some guest reviews, of course, and author interviews are always fun, but its mostly been me finding time to review that has kept things going.

I realised recently that I hadn’t been doing it for a while. And I was considering maybe just closing shop entirely. But I couldn’t. While I’m a published writer, at heart I’m still that fanboy who wants to rant and rave about the books he loves (and sometimes the books he doesn’t) and I realised that what I’ve been missing recently is the opportunity to do that. So I started writing reviews. And you know what, I’m loving it again. As a writer, doing reviews can be a useful exercise in the way that it makes you look at other writer’s books. It forces you to use the reader part of your brain which I think a great many writers have forgotten about or have suppressed. You start to look at your own work differently. Reviewing is a great thing for writers to do, especially in an honest fashion.

Anyway, today has been all about relaunching Crime Scene Scotland for me and so I couldn’t not write about it here on Do Some Damage. It started as a labour of love, a way for me to spread my fanboy enthusiasm for the genre. And it remains that way, too, even if it is on a less regular basis…

So stop on by the website. Follow us on twitter @CrimeSceneScot. Come and join the fun. You know you want to…

*the webspace is no longer owned by me, just so you know