coming of age in Scotland


About the novel Small Fish Big Fish – Coming-of-Age in Scotland

Paisley in the Sixties

Located just south of Glasgow, the town of Paisley is the ideal location for a psychological thriller. During the nineteen sixties, it was notorious for the gangs that spread fear among many of its suburban population.

The rivalry between those hailing from Paisley, most notably the FERGS, and those from Glasgow (the Tongs and the Maryhill Fleet), and others from neighboring towns like the Bowery boys from Barrhead, was legendary.

I remember one occasion when I held my girlfriend close, pressed against a shop window at the bottom of St Mirren Brae as the rampaging FERGS, wielding knives and hatchets, chased the Bowery Boys out of town.

But Paisley also has a rich historical tradition and is famous for its Paisley pattern and for its two thread mills: the Anchor Mills and Ferguslie Mills.

Paisley Abbey dates from the 12th century when Walter fitz Alan, the first High Steward of Scotland issued a charter for a priory to be set up on land owned by him.

In 1316, Marjorie Bruce, daughter of the famous hero King, Robert de Bruce, and wife of Walter Stewart, the sixth High Steward of Scotland, was out riding near the abbey. During the ride, she fell from her horse and as she was heavily pregnant at the time, she was taken to Paisley Abbey for medical care. There, King Robert II was born by caesarean section, in a time when anaesthesia would not have been available. Marjorie was later buried at the abbey.

About the Paisley pattern

historical fiction set in scotland
The Paisley Pattern

Contrary to popular belief, the pattern was not created in Paisley, but was imported from India.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the British East India Company introduced Kashmir shawls from India to England and Scotland where they became fashionable and soon copied. Later, in the nineteen-sixties, the pattern became popular among the hippie culture.

The first place in the western world to imitate the design was the town of Paisley in Scotland, then Europe’s top producer of textiles.

Technological innovation in textile manufacturing around this time meant that the Scottish imitations of Kashmir shawls became competitive with Indian made shawls from Kashmir, allowing it to be exported all over the world.

For more on the Paisley Pattern, visit Paisley Power.

The Thread Mills

Courtesy: Robert Sweeney / Ferguslie Thread Mills, Paisley, Scotland

Paisley’s textile industry dates back to medieval times. By the 19th and 20th century, over 90% of the world’s cotton thread came out of the Anchor and

Ferguslie mills.

In 1949 there were 10,500 millworkers in Paisley, most were young adults, aged between fifteen and twenty-five, many of them living in the suburb of Ferguslie Park.

By 1991, after four roller-coaster decades of expansion, diversification, merger, closures and three-day-weeks, the Paisley mills employed just 340.

On Friday April 2 1993, the last mill-girl clocked off for the last time.

With that, an era passed.

For a complete history of the thread industry in Paisley, visit Paisley Thread Mill Museum.

Ferguslie Park

Small Fish Big Fish is a page-turning psychological thriller with a twist, set in the working class suburb of Ferguslie Park in Paisley.

In its heyday (during the 1960’s, the timeframe of the novel) there were around 13,500 people living in 3,500 units of housing – row after row of three and four story housing tenements crammed together to accommodate as many families as possible.

Scene from Small Fish Big Fish
Dancing in the streets

The suburb was originally built in the nineteen-thirties and forties to cater for people being cleared from Paisley’s slums.

Many of the families living there over the decades were unskilled, low paid manual workers in irregular employment. Some lived in extreme poverty and others were commonly thought of by the authorities as hopeless cases, dangerous, and requiring supervision and control.

This was of course an oversimplification.

Many of those who lived in the scheme, although poor, were great neighbors, but Council policy at the time dictated that these victims of increasing poverty and unemployment throughout the Paisley area should be re-located to Ferguslie Park. 

This resulted in a disproportionate number of drunks, wife-beaters, child molesters, thieves, murderers and other ne’er-do-wells in the area. Gangs of youths ranging in age from 15 to 25 roamed the streets at will, unimpeded by police who were rarely seen except in dire emergency.

historical fiction set in scotland
Pre-fab homes in Ferguslie Park Avenue

Multiple Deprivation

Multiple deprivation is the term used by the Scottish Government to describe a measurement of employment, income, health, education, access to services, crime, and housing.

Ferguslie Park has twice been named number one on the list of most deprived areas in Scotland.


By 1990, around half of Ferguslie Park was either unoccupied or demolished with the population reduced to 5600.

growing up in scotland
Lone building boarded up

Plans were developed by major corporations to rebuild, with the demolition and rebuilding of most of the streets beginning in 1988.

The houses were rebuilt, as were the retail and social centers, but the problems remained. In 2006, Ferguslie Park was again found to be the most deprived area in Scotland, while some of the new-build housing have fallen into a state of disrepair like that before.

For more information on the demise of Ferguslie Park, visit UK Wiki.

For more great images of old Ferguslie Park, see

The Book that captures the times – Small Fish Big Fish


It’s 1965. The Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction is number one worldwide, Thunderball is setting new box-office records for James Bond movies, and the mini skirt has made its first appearance in London.

Like a lot of teenagers, seventeen-year-old Jamie is struggling to navigate his way through the uncharted waters of growing up: the world of first dates, sexual exploration, friendships, and family dramas.

When he ‘finds’ some money on the floor of the corner store, he thinks his luck is in. But sometimes what seems like fortune’s kindly smile is only a mask hiding something quite ugly.

So it is with Jamie. The seemingly innocent decision to keep the money triggers a series of events that traps him in a quagmire of deception and criminality and threatens the safety of those dearest to him.

Read Small Fish Big Fish and you’ll agree this is one of the best psychological thriller books for teens to portray life as it truly was in nineteen sixties Scotland: a time and place where hope, loyalty, and courage are tested to the limit.

If you enjoy realistic fiction filled with compelling characters, mystery, and a touch of young romance, then you’ll love PJ McDermott’s psychological thriller books with a twist.

Small Fish Big Fish – Coming of Age in Scotland

psychological thriller books with a twist

The Characters

Jamie McCarthy. Doing his best to avoid becoming a victim of the criminal elements in his neighborhood. So far, the seventeen-year-old has been lucky. That’s about to change…

Archie Stewart. The gang leader with big ideas. He comes from an abusive family: his father is an alcoholic who regularly beats his wife and children, his mother is a floozy, and his sister, Trish, despises him. Nineteen-year-old Archie is your nightmare. He will do anything to survive.

Tianyi Chi. Archie’s girlfriend is a fifteen-year-old refugee whose family perished at sea while trying to escape from China before Mao’s cultural revolution made it impossible. Archie wants to keep the relationship secret, fearful of how it might affect his reputation. Tragedy follows Tianyi around like a shark hunting prey… You can have a free peak at Tianyi’s story in Guilt of the Innocents.

Sandy Morrison. Stephen’s violet-eyed, fun-loving, dream girl has a secret. Her brother, Daniel, is serving nine months in Barlinnie prison for aggravated assault. And he’s about to be released.

The 60s style – who do you recognize?

“What a great read, I couldn’t put it down!! Loved the story and all the characters.”

montage of famous people in the 1960's UK and USA
The 60s style – who do you recognize?

Top RowBrit Ekland, singer, actress, sex symbol in 60’s and 70’s. Her first role was in GI Blues, starring Elvis Presley. Vladimir Grigoryevich Tretchikoff was an artist whose painting Chinese Girl, popularly known as The Green Lady, is one of the best-selling art prints of the twentieth century. The Rascals, American rock band  of the mid sixties. Notable #1 hits include “Good Lovin'” (1966), “Groovin'” (1967). Inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame in 1997. Flower Power – girl offers flower to soldier at anti-Vietnam war protest at the Pentagon, 1967. Best selling 1964 British teen magazine, Jackie featuring “you know who” on the cover. The Rolling Stones with Mick in his element (American tour 1969). Bond, James Bond – Sean Connery in Thunderball. The fab four (of course) – clearly fans of 007. 

Middle Row: Poet, artist, singer, the Universal Soldier, Mr. Bob Dylan. The Beetles In Manila (1966). The band  received a hostile reaction after slighting Imelda Marcos. Donna Summer, a.k.a. the Queen of Disco had 42 hit singles on the US Billboard top 100 in her lifetime. She died from Cancer in 2012. In the beginning of the 1960’s, the Twist was a worldwide dance phenomenon. Recorded by Chubby Checker, it became a number 1 hit in both 1960 and 1962. British fashion model and actress, Twiggy, on the cover of American magazine Seventeen. Marvel Comics Superheroes, took the USA and the UK by storm in the 1960’s with superhero titles such as Spiderman created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko. The Assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968 caused massive protests and race riots in over 100 American cities. Dozens of people were killed and thousands of people injured in the rioting.

Third RowThe Locarno Ballroom in Glasgow was a fantastic dance venue in 1965 and hosted a number of great artists including The Kinks and Eric Burdon and The Animals. (Top)Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise – popular and much loved entertainers often featured on the London Palladium TV variety show. (Bottom) Troubled but brilliant American soul/blues singer, Janis Joplin. (Top) Who else would have a surfboard that big? The Beach Boys. (Bottom) Martin Luther King and LBJ signing the voting rights act in 1965 which sought to secure the right to vote for racial minorities throughout America. Archie Stewart from the novel, Small Fish Big Fish. BBC music chart program Top of the Pops featuring the Beatles in 1964. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy’s last moments – Dallas, November 22, 1963.

If you are looking for great psychological thriller books with a twist, SMALL FISH BIG FISH is an absorbing read!

ya books set in scotland

When a ten-pound note falls at Jamie McCarthy’s feet, the teenager thinks his luck is in and heads to the fairground for a bit of fun. This is the beginning of a change in Jamie’s fortunes, but not in the way he hopes. Before long he finds himself on a dark path, trapped by fear, jealousy, and the scheming of bully, Archie Stewart.

Archie has been the victim of fate all his miserable life. He’s watched his younger neighbor, Jamie, seemingly enjoy everything Archie longed for handed to him on a plate: caring parents, close friends, and a rosy future. Envy eats at Archie Now, it’s time for payback.

A gripping young adult thriller, Small Fish Big Fish, tells of the relationship between a group of teenagers struggling towards maturity in a seedy suburb of Scotland during the nineteen sixties. It is a true-to-life drama, written through the eyes of unique individuals. If you enjoy stories with a compelling cast of characters, suspenseful mystery and a touch of young romance, then you’ll love PJ McDermott’s twist on the traditional coming of age story. Judge for yourself whether this is not one of the best ya books set in Scotland! You can get a glimpse of one of the character’s stories in Guilt of the Innocence.

What Readers Say

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The cast of characters are robust and well- developed, which makes this far more complex than a simple ‘good guy versus bad guy’ scenario. There are times when, as a reader, I found myself sympathizing with characters I wanted to help.

This is a tale with a strong appeal to a wide audience. It includes sex and violence but is not gratuitous; both are an essential part of the plot.

I recommend this book to anyone who remembers the struggle of growing into adulthood.

A. Moran-Soley // Amazon UK

“Small Fish Big Fish meticulously, deliberately, and powerfully describes the chain of events that the decisions and actions of both the protagonist and the antagonist—whether made for the right reasons or wrong—have on themselves, on their neighbors, friends, and those they love. The reader is brought along the journey, and left to confront the gut-wrenching question—what would I do, given their situation? 

Kayne Milholme // Goodreads

“This book is fantastic any way you look at it and I think it has a very wide appeal. The author’s writing contains the perfect blend of each element of the story. Characters feel like real people and scenery pops off the pages. As to the story, the main character is a teenager facing very typical issues. You really learn to sympathize with him right away. He is having a rough time but his luck seemingly turns around when he finds a lot of money. He clearly struggles with how to handle it – does he turn it in, or find a way to spend it carefully without drawing attention? Then there’s the neighborhood bully who gives him trouble. It really reminds you of those kids from your school days who used to be jerks and rubbed you the wrong way. Seriously, this is a great read and I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT!”

Doug Egglesten// Goodreads

“McDermott’s writing clearly conveys a solid sense of character, setting and time. I felt like I was really ‘there’ throughout the story. The plot is complex and requires attention, but McDermott’s writing make that easy. This book has multiple elements: mystery, action, romance, and excellent characterization. If you’re looking for a new and different twist on the coming of age story, read this now!”

PM // Amazon

This has to be one of the best young adult thriller books of its kind. The story kept me enthralled from beginning to end. The insights into growing up in an impoverished suburb in Scotland during the swinging sixties were colourful and felt very authentic. The themes of bullying, dealing with exuberant hormones, and just trying to discover who you are and your place in the world are dealt with in a refreshing way. I am a mother and a nurse with grown up children and I enjoyed this book even though the characters are in their late teens.

E McD // Amazon

Rating: 5 out of 5.

“Small Fish Big Fish is an absorbing, well crafted novel that follows Jamie as he navigates through a series of difficult obstacles placed before him. There are a number of memorable characters that enter the story: D, Julie, Archie, and many others, and I found that as the story moved along I became more invested in the outcome of the plot and the fate of the characters.”

K. Kumar // Amazon

Excerpts from the Book:

courage and fear


Archie turned towards them, his face flushed with anger. ‘Where’s the rest of it? This can’t be all you took this week. Fifty-three lousy quid!’ His voice broke as he grasped McIntyre by his shirt. ‘C’mon, tell me, where’s the rest of it?’  He slapped the barely conscious man across the face.

Jamie grabbed hold of Archie’s arm as he swung it backwards for a second hit. ‘No!’ He struggled to hold Archie back and looked defiantly into his eyes. ‘Can’t you see he’s had enough? There isn’t any more. He would have told you by now.’

Archie pulled free of Jamie’s grasp and his fist struck McIntyre like a sledgehammer. As the shopkeeper’s head hit the floor, Archie grabbed his shirtfront and shook him violently.

Jamie wrapped his arms around Archie and struggled to drag him backwards.

Archie lashed out with his boot at McIntyre’s inert body.

‘Enough, for God’s sake! He’s an old man. You’ll kill him,’ Jamie screamed.

Archie swatted him away and Jamie careened across the small room, crashed into the corner of the safe and sank to the floor.

Spasms of pain wracked his back.

representing the excitement of passion


Archie hated his parents, but as he listened to Tianyi, it dawned on him he had been denied something special. 

It made him angry – enough to want to strike out, hurt, and make someone pay. ‘My mother’s a bleeding sot. Do you know what that means? She abandoned us when I was just a kid, eight or nine years old.

‘Oh, I know she had it hard with the old man, but did she think Trish and I had it bloody easy?

‘Every time Dad got pissed he took it out on us. He mostly beat up on me—he just ignored Trish. I know he hates me. I didn’t understand it back then, but later I realized he blamed me for every rotten thing that ever happened to him. 

‘Why? I forced it out of him one night when I was old enough to stand up to him, and he was drunk enough not to care. He says he’s not my father. At least, he thinks he’s not my father.’

Archie’s face was expressionless as he continued. ‘He told me Judy, that’s my mum, gave it out to just about anybody when she was young. That was the only reason he fancied her―the sex. A real whore she was, and she didn’t stop after they were married.’

He laughed bitterly. “I wish he wasn’t my father. I told him to look in the mirror—stupid sod.’

two hearts as one in this contemporary tale


Julie caressed the back of his neck and Jamie’s nervousness disappeared, replaced by a sense of contentment, of being in the right place at the right time, and with the right person.

He was filled with delight when she put both arms around his neck and laid her head against his shoulder. He responded by holding her so tightly, they found it difficult to move.

She laughed in his ear.

Jamie felt as though he had discovered the secret to happiness. Her laugh filled him with unfamiliar but agreeable sensations, but the strength of his feelings both delighted and frightened him.

In the back of his mind, a small voice insisted he didn’t deserve this. There was no way someone as beautiful as Julie could feel that way about him.

tragic endings to the story


Tianyi’s mother had protested the vessel was too small, little more than a wooden fishing trawler, but her father replied she knew nothing of the sea, and the captain had assured him he had made the journey many times without incident.

‘We have no choice in any case,’ he had said. ‘I have paid the money. Either we go now or we stay and starve.’

Her mother gripped Tianyi’s hand so tightly she squirmed.

Her younger brother Shiou was hanging onto his father’s coat, wiping the tears from his eyes, and trying to appear brave.

Tianyi thought she would always remember that moment: the despair of her mother, and the resolution that shone from her father’s eyes.

About the Author: PJ McDermott

PJ McDermott

PJ McDermott lived in Ferguslie Park, the setting for his debut young adult thriller book for teens and young adults, Small Fish Big Fish, until he was fifteen.

At twenty-one he went back to study full-time at Langside College, and from there to Glasgow University, graduating Bachelor of Science.

A regular on the Scottish Folk Club circuit, PJ played guitar and sang with his friends and cousins for pocket money. He lived in Paisley until, at the age of twenty-six, he met and married Sue, who convinced him to return with her to Australia, a move he has never regretted. 

PJ lives with his wife, Sue, on the Surf Coast of Australia. They have two beautiful daughters, and three seriously cheeky grandchildren.

Small Fish Big Fish: one of the best psychological thriller books with a twist


A thrilling and thought-provoking story echoing the uncertainties and hopes of young people everywhere.

Check out the bookstore for more books by PJ McDermott

P.S. Don’t forget to visit my blog for updates.

Follow me here:

Love to hear from you!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: