ON THE cobbles of Larbert Street, Anna Acquroff’s attempts at fake laughter are making her laugh for real. A December afternoon in Glasgow and the 18-year-old model-stroke-musician is pulling shapes for the camera.

Eyebrows bleached, jewellery rattling, she is a 5ft 5in blur of constant motion, arms stretched and folded, legs raised and lowered, face never still. She pulls the collar of her coat tight (it’s her mum’s) and then lets it go. Every time the camera clicks she changes positions. In short, she is giving every indication that she’s having fun.

And why wouldn’t you when you’re 18, full of life and hope and potential; potential that others are beginning to recognise.

This month Acquroff turns 19. Her last teenage year will have to go some to equal the one just gone. A year ago she was a music student at Edinburgh University.

A year on she still is. But in that time she’s also became the frontwoman in a band, signed for the agency Model Team and modelled for the French photographer and fashion designer Hedi Slimane.

Acquroff was born Anna Reeves in Aberdeen and grew up in Alloa. She was “super academic” at school but she always had a desire to stand out. When she was 14 she plucked her eyebrows off. Around the same age she had her nose pierced.

“My mum Caroline took me for the piercing. She dyed my hair for the first time when I was four.” They are clearly close and it sounds as if daughter takes after her mother. “She didn’t have a mohawk when I was born but I think she might have had one when she was pregnant with me.”

The bleached eyebrows? “I really wanted to try something that would make my face look even weirder.”

The surname? “My mum’s grandad was Russian. They moved to Edinburgh. There’s a wee monument in the Meadows to Helen Acquroff. She was a blind singing nun. She was anti-alcohol.”

The present-day Acquroff has always sung. She used to perform at family weddings and assemblies. What was her party piece? “Caledonia. My mum really likes it.”

Now she sings with Medicine Cabinet, a five-piece who make “very self-aware, tongue-in-cheek, disco-ey, punky music,” she says.

There’s a Riot Grrrl influence going on, she admits. “Yeah, Kathleen Hanna [of American Riot Grrl pioneers Bikini Kill] was a big influence. We were a pretty square punk band for like a month because we thought a very good way to get everyone comfortable was just by screaming for two minutes.”

Acquroff had done some modelling for friends at Forth Valley College but it became a little more serious when she was spotted walking down the street in Glasgow and asked to do some modelling for Sassoon.

Soon, she was approached by the Colours Agency and then moved to Model Team. The modelling was just another chance to try new things, she says. Acquroff hasn’t a bad word to say about the experience.

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“It’s been lovely. Modelling gets a bad rep, but, see if you’re friendly and you turn up and chat, they’re always going to be nice to you. And if they’re not, it’s never because of you. I’ve had very few bad experiences.”

Has anyone said she is too small for modelling? “Now you’ve pointed it out, every shoot I’ve turned up for, the first thing people say is, ‘Oh, you’re really small.’ But I don’t hear it as a bad thing. People are booked for so many reasons. Some people are booked because they’re really tall, some people are booked because they are really strong. I think my thing is just something else.

“I’m booked for shoots for my personality. The one I did with Hedi Slimane, that was because of the band.”

Anna Acquroff hates people who don’t hate anything and people who hate everything. Oh, and “wet eating noises”. She loves feather boas, costume jewellery and “really nice fountain pens”. She loves cooking and baking, is vegan by choice and in a perfect world would love to be the support act for Blondie.

Who’s to say it won’t happen?

Medicine Cabinet support the Van Ts at King Tut’s, Glasgow, on January 25


How did the idea for your debut novel Pine come about?

The experience of living in the Highlands as a child has never really left me. One day I imagined a road running through a bleak, hilly landscape in Sutherland and a woman appearing, standing in only a dressing gown by a passing place. I wondered who she was and why she was there, and the idea for the novel grew.

Give us a brief plot summary.

Lauren and her father Niall live alone in the Highlands, in a small village surrounded by pine forest. When a woman stumbles out onto the road one Hallowe’en night, Niall drives her back to their house in his pick-up. In the morning, she’s gone.

Mysteries like these are not out of the ordinary. The trapper found hanging with the dead animals for two weeks. Locked doors and stone circles. The disappearance of Lauren’s mother a decade ago.

Lauren looks for answers in her tarot cards, hoping she might one day be able to read her father’s turbulent mind. Neighbours know more than they let on, but when local teenager Ann-Marie goes missing it’s no longer clear who she can trust.

Where did you draw inspiration from?

The novel is set in a fictional village called Clavanmore, derived from the Gaelic word for buzzard (clamhan), a bird that features in the novel. The village I grew up in, Clashmore, was an inspiration, as well as Dornoch.

In reality, Dornoch is a lovely town, but has a dark history in being the last place in the UK to execute someone for witchcraft, Janet Horne in 1727. I named the fictional town in Pine – Strath Horne – after her and created somewhere that was darker in atmosphere.

What are the themes at the book’s heart?

My novel is called Pine because it is set around a huge, dark forest and is also about pining for a lost love and being haunted by it.

Writing Pine allowed me to explore my own anxieties, societal anxieties, about violence against women and the threat of their abduction, but gave these themes a feminist twist, which only becomes clear as the novel progresses.

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I felt like I couldn’t write a novel set in the Highlands without incorporating a bit of witchiness and the supernatural too.

Can you sum up Pine in five words?

A ghostly mystery about longing.

Pine has all the ingredients of a modern gothic novel. What drew you to the genre?

Sutherland is an incredibly atmospheric part of the world, with a landscape that lends itself to storytelling. I grew up with people around me recounting ghost stories and myths about selkies, kelpies, witches and ancient stories of Vikings.

Some of the stories I heard would scare me to death, but I found a kind of power in being able to retell these stories myself, as a child, learning the art of suspense and plot twists.

In a similar way, the 10-year-old protagonist Lauren finds a power in being able to read people their tarot cards, which is a form of storytelling itself.

You are a commissioning editor at Sceptre, an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton. What is it like to have your own debut novel published?

It has been a fantastic experience, my editor Fiona Murphy and everyone at Doubleday have been so lovely that I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. Some people have asked whether I found it strange as an editor, being edited, but I loved it. It feels great to have people interact with your work and set challenges that push your writing further.

Is there a second book in the pipeline?

I have a few ideas for a novel about a teenage girl drawn into a strange group of friends, that might be set in Fife and Edinburgh, but it’s in the early stages.

Pine by Francine Toon is published by Doubleday on January 23, priced £12.99


THREE years ago Su Shaw decided to change everything. She gave up her job, gave up her house in the wilds of Fife, moved to Dundee and started making music again.

“I was at a point in my life where I was rethinking or questioning a lot of decisions I had made up until that point,” Shaw says as she sits in a cafe in Edinburgh’s Old Town, her hand periodically sweeping the hair out of her face. “That involved relationship breakdown, moving away from the country, leaving my job. In the space of six months I did a 180.”

The result is a new musical identity, SHHE, a new album of the same name, which came out late last year, and a new beginning.

Released on the One Little Indian label (also home to Bjork and Kathryn Williams), the album is a thrill of a thing – all space, echo and throb; a hypnotic fusion of synth and guitar riff with a voice that’s both bruised and defiant threaded through it.

You can maybe hear echoes of the xx and Daughter in its twilit mood and the way it layers voice and sound on top of each other. But it has its own identity, a hallucinatory soundscape that seems designed for listening to late at night.

Maybe that’s because that’s when it was made. Out of necessity, Shaw says. “Dundee was a bit noisy during the day and it was difficult to do a vocal take without the sound of a bus in the background.”

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Years ago Shaw performed under the name Panda Su. She even painted her face like a panda’s to perform (for a while at any rate; eventually she stopped only to be told that people still expected it). But this is the first time Shaw feels she’s in control of what she is doing.

“I think the reason SHHE has been received in the way it has been,” she says, “is because it’s the first honest thing I did, actually. I think with other projects I was never really 100 per cent committed to putting myself in there.”

The album certainly reflects its creator: restrained, intense, striking. Now in her early 30s, Shaw was born in Wick and grew up in St Andrews. She’s the product of a Scottish father and a Portuguese mother (they were pen pals).

She started making music under the Panda Su name in 2009, but it was never a full-time commitment. She made a living organising overseas mountain treks for a charity based in St Andrews and when she wasn’t climbing mountains retreated to a house near Tentsmuir Forest.

“I’d always dreamed of country living and isolation and it was beautiful, but actually not very productive.”

For a while she even gave up making music but then came that reinvention. Shaw moved to Dundee and began to make new connections that ultimately resulted in her new musical identity, SHHE. “My gender has never informed or influenced any of the decisions I’ve made.

“Someone asked me the other day why is there suddenly this surge of women producers and musicians, and actually the answer is there’s always been women producers and women musicians.

“It’s just that now people are questioning a festival bill and why there are only two women on there. But the thing is I never want to be placed on a festival bill because of my gender. I want to be placed there because of my talent.”

Who is Su Shaw? It’s a question she’s been thinking a lot about in recent years. She’s spending her summers in Lisbon these days, exploring her Portuguese heritage. Winters often find her in Iceland and when she can she goes to Sweden where her girlfriend is studying in Malmo.

Dundee remains her base, however. “Dundee is the place where I go to unwind and relax. People try to convince you that to get anywhere, to be successful, you should move out of Dundee. You should go to Edinburgh or even London. I think Dundee has always been a bit of an underdog, but I have faith.”

SHHE is out now on One Little Indian. SHHE plays Summerhall, Edinburgh, on January 23, the Chaplaincy Centre, Dundee, on January 24 and The Hug and Pint, Glasgow, on January 25 as part of Celtic Connections


When the Dead Come Calling has a very different feel to your debut novel The Comet Seekers and second book The Growing Season. How does it feel to delve into a new genre?

I started writing a crime book because I needed a complete change after The Growing Season. I felt trapped and uncomfortably visible and needed to free myself up. Part of that was writing in a new genre, and part of it was telling myself I’d never show it to anyone, and it would never be published.

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It was a liberating thought and writing the book itself was the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything. Writing crime seemed to fit with my writing style, and it’s a wonderful feeling when a story gathers momentum and the writing just seems to flow; I love losing myself in those moments. But then I did show it to someone, and it is being published – so now, of course, I’m terrified.

Give us a brief plot summary.

In a run-down village in rural north England, the brutal murder of an “outsider” exposes the prejudices and desperation of a crumbling way of life. Amid racism, homophobia and misogyny, the local police discover that no one is innocent; and for the stranger hiding in the haunted cave beneath the cliffs, the past crimes of the village are beginning to resurface.

The book is set in the fictional village of Burrowhead. Where did you draw inspiration from and how does the location shape the storyline?

My original inspiration came from a visit to St Ninian’s Cave. The weather was brutal as I scrambled along the rocky beach to get to the cave in the cliffs, where the walls are scratched with prayers and every crevice has been stuffed with crosses made from twigs.

I’d been to Wigtown Book Festival that week and heard some inspiring crime writers. Standing in that cave I thought: “This would make a really creepy setting.”

St Ninian’s Cave is in Dumfries and Galloway, though, and soon after I started writing I knew I needed to move the story to the north of England, so I shifted my fictional cave a few miles south. Burrowhead became very much a northern English village.

Meanwhile, I live in the Scottish Highlands. The evidence of how ways of life can be destroyed is all around, but so is the sense of being part of a community. In rural places, extreme poverty can go hand-in-hand with natural beauty; bitterness and desperation can be paired with a strong sense of belonging and history. I wanted to write about that duality.

Tell us about the lead character, Detective Inspector Georgie Strachan.

Georgie has lived in Burrowhead for decades but she’s not from there, as the other residents never let her forget. She grew up in North Carolina and was an activist in her youth, fighting racism until tragedy drove her to a different way of life. She moved to Burrowhead with her husband for the peace and quiet and natural beauty of the area, but now finds herself at the head of a murder investigation.

She’s a mixed-race woman running a small rural police station in the north of England who tries really hard to think the best of people and to forgive – but that is all about to change.

What research did you undertake?

I read loads about what happens to bodies after they die. It’s fascinating – I began to wish I had become a forensic anthropologist instead of an author.

Forensics by Val McDermid is essential and left me with ideas for about 10 new novels. The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure by Michael O’Byrne was very useful for the technical aspects of police work as well.

I wrote the first draft of the book while I was pregnant and edited it while my daughter was a baby, so I watched as many crime series as I could get my hands on during the all-night breastfeeding sessions: Broadchurch, Shetland, Twin Peaks, Line of Duty, Fortitude, Unforgotten – and all in the name of research, of course.

Is this the first in a series of the Burrowhead Mysteries?

I have three books planned so far, and after that, who knows?

What did you enjoy most about writing it and what were the biggest challenges?

I loved writing about the place itself, the landscape, the history. The book is also told from multiple points of view, and I really enjoy being able to switch perspective, to look through different people’s eyes at the world around them.

The biggest challenge was incorporating technical aspects of police procedure – I’m so used to being able to follow my imagination. My wonderfully patient editor often had to ask me to rework scenes because, “that’s just not how the police operate”.

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Every time I fixed an aspect of police procedure, I rewarded myself by writing something spooky or supernatural or blurring the laws of time and space elsewhere in the book. I think it’s fair to say that it is not a traditional crime novel …

When the Dead Come Calling by Helen Sedgwick is published by Point Blank on Thursday, priced £14.99