Don’t Quit the Day Job: Jackie McLean

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

My friend Jackie McLean is here to tell us how her previous day job has helped her write compelling characters. Thanks to Jackie and her partner Allison for always being such fun to be around – can’t wait to see you again soon! 

Vic x

Being able to create believable characters, and knowing which subtle touches to add that will help readers know and empathise with them, is probably the greatest skill in writing.  For honing that skill, there’s nothing better than a spot of people-watching.  Fortunately for me, my day jobs past and present have given me plenty of opportunity to study people in a range of habitats…

Around ten years ago, my partner and I decided to throw in our comfortable public sector jobs and open a pet shop.  It was one of those “we don’t want to look back in twenty years’ time” moments, and for the next six years we had great fun running our shop.

While the routine of running a pet shop revolves around caring for the animals, keeping the place clean and fresh, placing orders and unpacking deliveries, dealing with the customers provided me with some priceless insights into the human character.  I also found that, dealing with around 100 different people every day, I soon learned how to read body language and – crucially – to become very good at spotting when a person is fibbing.  This, in addition to the many humorous anecdotes, meant my notebook was never far away.

There was the man who came in with his young son, concerned that his hamster was ill.  It had developed a swelling under its tail, he told us.  No amount of hinting to him that his boy hamster was now a man hamster made the penny drop, and eventually (having described in my notebook the many facial expressions), we sent him to seek the vet’s advice.

It was surprisingly common for people to mistakenly think that eggs laid by solo birds or reptiles would hatch, but generally they’d realise as soon as we explained the whole thing about unfertilised eggs.  Except for the woman with the solo turtle.

But what will I do with the babies?

There won’t be any babies, the eggs aren’t fertilised.

 Will you take them in when they hatch?

 They won’t hatch, there’s no daddy turtle to fertilise the eggs.

And so on, to no avail, until we gave up and said, “Sure, bring them in when they hatch.”  Good for describing the frustrations of a pointless discussion.


Then there was the large gang of yelling schoolchildren who rushed into the shop one morning, concerned about a seagull that had been hit by a car.  The gull was alive and distressed, but couldn’t fly far.  The vet promised to treat it if we could catch it, which led to a mass chasing along a very long street, armed with boxes and nets.  The chase led through gardens and finally into someone’s shed, where we captured the gull.  There were tears and cheers, and the notebook recorded all the details.

I often wondered if it was because we were animal lovers, but customers would confide the most personal details of their lives with us.  Many were the times we’d laugh and cry with complete strangers, and this (not to be mercenary about it), provided me with great studies in emotional behaviour.

We sold the business a number of years ago, but the notes I took during that time still provide me with plenty of material for developing a rich variety of characters in my writing.

Jackie’s debut novel, Toxic – which was shortlisted for the Yeovil Literary Prize in 2013 –  and the sequel Shadows are both available now. 

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Getting to Know You: Mac Logan

Earlier this year, when reading at Noir at the Bar in Edinburgh, I was introduced to a certain Mr Mac Logan who was also there to read from his novel ‘Angels Cut‘. He’s on the blog today to talk writing with us.

My thanks to Mac for taking the time to chat to us – I look forward to welcoming him at Noir at the Bar Newcastle sometime!

Vic x


Tell us about your books.
In addition to my poetry, I’m writing two fiction series and business non-fiction:

  • The Angels Share series: Angels’ CutDark ArtDevils Due and more to come, see my website for more info on upcoming releases. 

My inspiration comes from personal experience of corruption and greed in both the public and private sectors. Sad to say, this has impacted on my life. However, vengeance in the real world is not acceptable and I wouldn’t wish to harm anyone for real.

In spite of past experience, crime fiction provides a means of pursuing nasty people with satisfying and inventive robustness. My thrillers offer a sense of recourse against the corrupt people and cadres who screw us, steal our money and, what’s more, they provide an insight into what might well be going on.

  •  The Reborn Tree series: I’m currently writing Protector and there are more in the series to come.

My inspiration comes from the time of the five good emperors of Rome. This work is a history-based fantasy.

In the north of Britain the tribes of what is now Scotland (and Irish their cousins) stood against Roman expansionism. The Pictish/Celts faced a massive challenge to their survival as a culture protecting a way of life and their spiritual values and beliefs. Imagine lethal confrontations with the materialistic greed of Rome as well as unexpected friends… and enemies. 

  • Business Non-fiction: I am working on a series of simple explanatory books on topics around the human aspects of work. There are two titles so far on Time and Mentoring (co-written a specialist from St Andrews University). 

Where do you get your ideas from?
Experience, reading and emotional connections. When I watch grown people weep in anguish over cruel circumstances, or hear dishonesty splatter from the mouths of politicians, I am affected. Similarly, when I play with my grandchildren and we laugh, do exciting things and make a noise, I am affected. Such feelings energise me. 

I believe powerful emotions – good and bad – generate ideas. These in turn stimulate my muse and, via the predispositions of my personality, create a tangible output. 

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
The adventure in Dark Art, where Eilidh, is coming to terms with the harsh, deadly world in which she finds herself springs to mind. She starts off dependent yet, like a child, she develops skills and insights essential to her survival. She builds relationships and earns respect on her journey. There is humour and the inevitable mistakes and risks she must navigate to survive. 

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
Write every day. It’s pretty common advice, but practise is key. To that I’d add get it read. My editor is a solid, constructive and fearless critic. She tells me good things and bad with clarity.

What can readers expect from your books?
Pace. Action. Violence. Realism. Humanity. Love. Flaws. Hatred. Greed. People worth caring for. Evil villains that’ll make skin your crawl.


Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Write. Be yourself. Take criticism on the chin and, soon as you can, learn from it. However: remember that not all criticism is correct.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I can’t think of much I dislike except my own procrastination. I love writing and sharing my work. I enjoy readings.
I’ve done a couple of “shows” where I’ve had an audience there to meet me alone, and talk, read from my books and poetry and generally have fun. It’s nourishing.
A biggie is when my granddaughter climbs on my knee and says “Grandpa, tell me a story with your heart.” Making stories up, on request, for young children is an unique compliment.


Are you writing anything at the moment?
Devils Due (Angels’ Share series) is underway and the pressure is mounting for me to finish it. My editor is booked for Protector (Reborn Tree series). She’s expecting it for the end of this month, OMG.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
A business man I know bought 25 copies of Angels’ Cut as Christmas presents. He loves my writing. When he asked me to sign them it felt fantastic.

Sjogren’s Syndrome: a misunderstood condition.

This is not a post about books or writing. Bear with me, normal service will resume soon (I hope).

It’s been a while since I wrote about Sjogren’s Sydrome (pronounced show-grins although there is nothing funny about it). Over the past several weeks, I have experienced what medics and people with autoimmune diseases call ‘a flare’.

Many autoimmune conditions – like Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren’s to name a few – can be compared to waves on a beach. They crest and fall, making the condition totally unpredictable. It’s a constant guessing game. Will I sleep tonight? Will I be in too much pain? Will I walk with a limp tomorrow? Will I walk at all? 

During good times, you can almost forget you have it. Almost. Autoimmune conditions can go into remission but they’re always lurking. In all honesty, most of the people I know who live with autoimmune disease still suffer every day but when things are good, the pain is manageable and they can function. Whether good or bad, I take a lot of medication every day. Even during the good times, I have to pace myself and not over-commit. I find this one of the most frustrating things about Sjogren’s.

Actually, I find hundreds of things annoying about the condition.

Although Sjogren’s is becoming more widely recognised, thanks in no small part to Venus Williams for being so honest about her experiences, Sjogren’s is often represented as a condition where patients have ‘dry eyes and a dry mouth’. I’ve had doctors say to me “Oh, so do you get a dry mouth with that and gritty eyes?” Yes, I do and I wish they were the only symptoms. They’re not pleasant – the dry mouth makes eating certain things difficult and sometimes I get food lodged at the back of my throat – but I would far rather contend with them than what I do actually live with.

In addition to the dryness in my mouth (caused by the fact that Sjogren’s has destroyed many of my salivary glands) and the dry eyes (I produce barely any tears so even when I cry, my eyes are pretty much tear-free), I suffer daily pain all over my body, issues with my lungs and kidneys, brain fog and fatigue. I was told in 2013 by the lung specialist that I may need chemotherapy to dampen down the immune response. Thankfully, that hasn’t been required.

In 2012, when I was going through my last major flare, I was told by a Rheumatologist that I should prepare myself for the fact that I would (not if, would) “end up in a wheelchair”. Every time I wake up with more pain than usual, I panic and wonder if this will be it. I’ve spent time this year working towards acceptance of this. That’s not to say I’m going to hang up my shoes and give up, I will keep walking for as long as I can, however acceptance means I can concentrate on recuperating instead of putting my immune system under further pressure by worrying.

When I saw the emergency Rheumatologist a couple of weeks ago after begging my GP for a steroid injection (which has helped me pick up previously), she commented on how hypermobile I was. People have mentioned this to me before but I never realised that what I could do with my joints was unusual until a nurse went a bit funny during an assessment. The other week, the Rheumatologist warned me to be mindful of dislocation which is common in people with hypermobility but thankfully something I’ve avoided thus far (apart from that one time…). She also congratulated me on not having a steroid injection since 2012, as thought it was something I had achieved which, I suppose, it was in a way.

Over the past few weeks, I have wildly vacillated between sleeping sixteen hours a day and constantly tossing and turning, trying to minimise the pain. It’s the fatigue that has always got me down the most. The feeling that, no matter how long or how well you have slept, you are still exhausted in the most indescribable way when you wake up.

I know I am improving because walking around my house no longer feels like wading through treacle however going to the supermarket is still guaranteed to require a rest before and after.

For those of you who know me, you’ll know I am a motivated person. I hate that this condition makes me appear what some may term as ‘lazy’. I hate that it limits me in more ways than most people can imagine. I feel held to ransom by my own body every day (“if you do x then y, I am going to punish you. So choose one”).

Although I am more accepting of my body and the condition than I ever have been before, I still struggle. I struggle because I want to do more, be more. I don’t want to have to choose to do one thing or another – I want to do both and not suffer for it.

I guess I have a way to go yet. But, you know what? I’m tenacious. I’ll keep on at it. You might see me struggle but you’ll never see me quit.

Vic x

PS – I wrote a poem about Sjogren’s a few years ago, you can read it here.

*Yellow Room Blog Tour* Getting to Know Shelan Rodger.

I’m delighted to be the final stop in Shelan Rodger’s book tour for her wonderful book Yellow Room‘.

Today, we get the opportunity to get to know the author of this extraordinary novel. I’d like to thank her for taking the time to share her thoughts with us – and for writing this thought-provoking story. 

Tell us about ‘Yellow Room‘, Shelan. What inspired the novel?
The notion of personal identity intrigues me – the extent to which our sense of who we are is bound up with the culture and place we grow up in, the way we use a job or a cause or a relationship to create meaning and definition, the extent to which a single event can shape the person we turn into.

In Yellow Room, Chala’s sense of self is moulded by something that happened when she was only four – and the drama takes place when the goalposts of her reality begin to change. Although we think of twists so readily as the realm of fiction, we all face twists at times in our lives. We meet someone out of the blue and fall in love, we lose a loved one suddenly, we have a life-changing accident or illness, a buried secret breaks out into the open… These ‘twists’ can be exciting or they can be appalling, but they always cause some kind of evolution in our being – and this is the kind of thing I wanted to explore in the novel.

And secrets! Sometimes I think of life as a bank of sedimentary rock: layer upon layer of new experience compressed into a formation that looks solid from the outside yet crumbles quite easily; and secrets are like layers of sand within this rock, covering and compressing what lies below. I believe we all live with secrets of one kind or another, even if these are about truths we have repressed from ourselves… and perhaps that is why secrets hold such a peculiar fascination. In Yellow Room, the secret sands of different lives interact in ways that not even the characters involved can always see.

Where do you get your ideas from?
I don’t know how the light-bulb ever actually comes on – for me it tends to manifest in the form of an idea, which then turns into a character – but I am certainly aware of the earth it has grown in: the rather nomadic, multi-cultural mish-mash of my own life!

I was born in Nigeria, grew up in aboriginal Australia, then England, and have spent most of my adult life between Argentina, Kenya and Spain. I’m sure this has created a kind of questioning within my make-up that explains the fascination I talked about just now with personal identity and what this really means.

I think there is also a strong sense of place in my novels and that is certainly grounded in personal experience. Twin Truths, my first novel, is set in Argentina in the nineties, where I lived for nine years. Yellow Room is set in Kenya, where I was living on a flower farm in Naivasha, one of the hot spots that was hit by the post-election violence ten years ago which killed over a thousand people and turned half a million overnight into refugees within their own country. Chala’s personal drama takes place against the backdrop of these real events, and Kenya plays an active role in the story of who she becomes.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Mmm… a difficult question to answer. Writing a novel is a bit like having a relationship; you get to know and live with the main characters inside your head.

My relationship with Chala was conflicting at times; sometimes I just wanted to shake her, but mostly I love her honesty with herself. The twin sisters of my first novel, Twin Truths, are still close to my heart. As for scenes, I love writing scenes that I know are pivotal – those intensely emotional and significant moments that can make or break a novel.

I also love endings – both as a reader and a writer. I think endings are hugely challenging for a writer: how to create a sense of emotional closure that is satisfying but not trite, how to keep the door open for the novel and the future of its characters to linger in the mind of the reader, in a way that is somehow thought-provoking without being manipulative. Yellow Room has two endings in a way: the last page for Chala, and the epilogue, which is told from the viewpoint of another character, and I really felt the last lines when I was writing these.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
My father’s words: ‘Just get it out and suspend judgement until later.’ My father was a poet and a non-fiction writer and these were his words of advice when I was writing my first novel. I’ve never forgotten them. Let it out, get it out. And then, only then, let the jury in and edit and rewrite as much as you need to, but first just pour it all onto the page.

What can readers expect from ‘Yellow Room’?
If I have achieved what I aspired to, the book is compelling and thought-provoking. A drama that explores the power of secrets, the shifting sands of our sense of personal identity, the grey areas that flow between the boundaries of relationships. A poignant insight into the reality of poverty in Kenya and the events that took over a thousand lives ten years ago. Kenya has its own secrets, which are still unfolding today.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
I think I would simply share my father’s words again. They had a profoundly liberating effect on me and I believe creativity is an act of liberation. The attempt to connect with the reader is at its heart, I believe, something deeply intuitive not learnt. Trust your intuition first, question it later.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
It doesn’t happen all the time of course, but what I love most are those special moments when you lose track of time and it becomes almost a form of meditation, with words seeming to flow through you rather than from you. There is something earthy and connected and grounding in that feeling. To be honest there is nothing I really dislike about writing because the different phases, for example editing, are all part of the process of creation. The thing I am most wary of, as you can see from some of my answers, is the monkey that sits in judgement on your shoulder if you let it, sneering and undermining your confidence!

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes, I am working on my third novel, which is another psychological twisty tale, also set in Kenya (but this time on a flying safari). It’s inspired by something that happened two weeks before my father died: he found a novel he’d forgotten he’d written, read it, changed the last line and gave it to me. I never saw him again. In the book, a box of writing by the father she never knew falls into the hands of a drama therapist called Elisa and takes her to Kenya, where a twist presents the one person from her past she never wanted to meet again.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I was driving along a pot-holed road in Kenya to my parents’ house for lunch. The lake filled my view to the horizon as it always did; pelicans and flamingos dipped below me to the water’s edge. But that day the lake looked different. The news I’d just received made everything feel different. Someone – a person who was to become very important and dear to me – wanted to be my agent. Suddenly, the possibility of being what I wanted to be was real, stretching like the lake below me to the horizon. That is the moment I think I would single out, a moment full of hope and beauty, a moment – ironically – intimately connected with my own personal sense of identity.

Review: ‘Yellow Room’
by Shelan Rodger.

What I’m about to say may come as a surprise. ‘Yellow Room‘ is currently a hot contender for my book of 2017. 

Having lived the majority of her life in the shadow of a tragic childhood accident, Chala is shaken by the death of her stepfather who steadfastly supported her throughout. In the midst of this emotional turmoil, Chala decides to volunteer at an orphanage in Kenya. Despite providing Chala with the opportunity to re-evaluate her life, the country remains on the brink of violence and horror. 

Shelan Rodger has deftly created a truly compelling novel featuring complex yet empathetic characters. The author really understands the nuances and complexities of human behaviour and her insights are weaved skillfully into her characters, bringing them to life. 

Yellow Room’ contains everything I could possibly want from a novel: evocative descriptions, well-written characters and an exploration of how power shifts in both personal and political relationships.

Despite being a story that delves deeper than most, ‘Yellow Room‘ is incredibly readable. I honestly did not want to put this book down. Part of me wanted to stay with the characters in this book forever. 

From the opening page, I was hooked by ‘Yellow Room‘ and I suspect that the story will stay with me for a very long time. 

Vic x 

Review: ‘Reality Rehab’ by Lisa Mary London. 


Gloria Grayson’s life is on the rocks – sacked from her starring role in a top soap, divorced from her bad boy husband and obese from eating her feelings, Gloria finds herself the subject of a cruel tabloid article accompanied by unflattering paparazzi snaps. All seems pretty bleak until Gloria’s agent steps in and encourages her – and her fat and feisty dog – to appear on TV show Reality Rehab.

Locked up with the usual shower of Z-list celebrities and an odd American psychotherapist, Gloria is put on a starvation diet while cameras track her every move. However, just when GG thinks it can’t get any worse, there’s a shock new arrival into the house: her alcoholic ex-husband ‘Mad Tommy Mack’.

Reality Rehab‘ features all the tropes of reality TV – ‘showmances’, back biting and drama. Written by former reality TV producer, Lisa Mary London, it’s clear to see London really has written what she knows! The story combines elements of lots of reality shows including ‘Big Brother’, ‘Most Haunted’ and ‘TOWIE’, as well as seeking inspiration from spin-off shows like ‘Katie & Peter: The Next Chapter’.

There are plenty of shocks and surprise twists in this story and the cliffhangers in the novel mirror the format of many reality shows.

The characters, although fictional, seem very familiar and that made ‘Reality Rehab‘ easy and enjoyable to read. I could easily picture the characters and, although I sometimes felt guilty for laughing at them, they were fun to spend time with. ‘Reality Rehab’ is a fun, frothy frolic that, much like Gloria’s diet, leaves you on a sugar high!

Vic x

Guest Post: Rachel Amphlett on Bouchercon 2017

Having been to a few crime writing festivals this year, there is one I’d really like to attend but haven’t managed yet. 

Bouchercon is an annual world mystery convention where readers, writers, publishers, editors, agents and booksellers gather for four days to talk all things crime fiction and mystery. Bouchercon is a non-profit, volunteer-led festival. 

The venue changes every year – this year, everyone gathered in Toronto. Although I wasn’t able to attend, the wonderful Rachel Amphlett has been kind enough to share her experience with us.

Hopefully I’ll get there one day.

Vic x

Bouchercon 2017 from the frontline.
By Rachel Amphlett

Some five years in the planning process, over 700 authors and an equal amount – if not more – of avid readers, and Bouchercon 2017 was ready to open its doors on 12 October at the Sheraton Central in Toronto.

I was astounded at how many avid crime fiction readers descend on the conference – speaking to Mark and Sharon from Denver, it turns out they travel around North America every year to come to these – it’s a “must do”, and it seems they’re not the only ones!

This year was the 48th iteration of the popular conference, and included the thirty year anniversary for Sisters in Crime. The programme boasted an incredible choice of seminars and conversations – it was impossible to get to everything, but here are some of the highlights for me.

Given the number of psychological thrillers/domestic suspense novels out, the “Urban Noir” panel authors were asked: is the city scarier than the suburbs?

Not so, according to Michael Harvey, who pointed out that the current trend of psychological thrillers/domestic suspense often features characters who live in suburbia and, as Rebecca Drake added, often have more capacity for evil.

Gary Dvorik’s view was that the noir energy of the forties and fifties has been “cleansed” from cities, and that urban noir has moved to the suburbs, where it looks set to stay for some time. Julia McDermott raised a good point in that protagonists in urban noir are people who aren’t typically thought of as heroes – hence the popularity of what some are calling “domestic suspense” (although it was discussed whether the changing genre titles are simply down to publishers’ marketing departments!). 

It seems that Breaking Bad still resonates with a lot of people as an example of suburban crime, and as Rebecca pointed out, “noir is a darkness that lurks in all of us, just waiting to be tapped”.

The panel entitled “Unkind Settings” proved popular, and included a wide range of thriller sub-genres including disaster and dystopia. The panel were asked what they thought the allure of apocalyptic settings was, and Tim Washburn said he likes to drop his characters into that sort of scenario to see how resourceful they can be in order to survive. Adam Sternbergh made a great point that, as a writer, the setting should make you nervous – it’s almost like a character in itself.

The panel discussed the advantages of an unkind setting, and agreed that it plants the reader right in the action from the start, and then there’s always room to turn up the heat on your characters even more!

Joe Hart’s closing remark very much made me sit up and think about story potential, in that “when consequences are taken away, a character’s moral restrictions fade, too” – exactly how far would you be willing to go in order to survive?

There were at least two panels taking a look at the advantages and disadvantages of writing a series versus writing a standalone novel.

The first, “Standalones”, moderated by Craig Sisterson and featuring Kathy Reichs and Linwood Barclay, looked at how authors with established series then strike out and write a standalone. The reasons for this were quite similar – two authors had been asked by their publishers to write something new, and another author whose first series hadn’t taken off at that time was requested by his agent to try something different.

We also found out during the panel that Kathy hates bugs – a rather large cockroach appeared on the table in front of her, but was quickly dispatched by fellow panellist Kate White. Reichs admitted afterwards that she’s “much happier dealing with maggots”!

Back to the standalone/series debate and, in all cases, the authors agreed that they relished the change, and felt refreshed upon returning to their series titles. Of course, through writing a standalone, there was also the opportunity to develop a further series if readers liked the characters.

As with all crime fiction festivals, a lot of the time could be spent on the concourse where authors and readers could mingle and share their love of the genre. The hospitality suite, bars and café on the upper levels were certainly doing a roaring trade over much of the weekend.

For me, Bouchercon 2017 was an opportunity to catch up with friends, make some new ones, chat about my own work on influences, research, and writing habits on a couple of panels (“Government Agencies” and “A World of Thrills”), and meet some of my writing heroes while taking copious notes that I’m sure will inspire me for months (if not years) to come.

And for the organisers? Well, they’re already setting their sights on the next four Bouchercon conferences to be held in North America over the coming years, with special guests already confirmed including Karin Slaughter, Mark Billingham, and Ian Rankin (2018 – St Petersburg, FL), James Patterson and Harry Hunsicker (2019 – Dallas, TX), and Scott Turow and Walter Mosley (2020 – Sacramento, CA).

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Dave Sivers

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today as part of ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’, we have Dave Sivers here to talk to us about how being a civil servant helped inspire him to write the Archer and Baines novels. Yes, really! 

My thanks to Dave for taking the time to share his experiences with us. You can find Dave on Twitter and Facebook

Vic x

I’ve pretty much always been a writer, ever since I was six years old. But for 40 years, before I took the plunge into indie authorship, and before the Archer and Baines novels, I was a career civil servant.

Every morning, I’d put on a suit and either catch the train to London or drive off to a meeting somewhere. You’re probably already imagining a grey office, full of grey people, some of them covered in cobwebs, drinking copious cups of tea and churning out dry-as-dust papers on even drier subjects.

It’s a caricature with a grain of accuracy in it, but I mostly enjoyed that career and was usually happy enough to get out of bed in the morning. I worked on a wide range of policy issues, and no two days were the same. I got some great travel opportunities and got to do some interesting things. I also met all kinds of characters, including quite a few military people, and some serious game players who knew exactly how to get their way.

Every writer’s everyday life is grist to the creative mill. What I didn’t know at the time, though, was how much the day job was preparing me a new career, after early retirement, when I’d be writing police procedurals.

Writing those papers was in itself an invaluable writing discipline: adopting the right voice for the right circumstances, drafting and redrafting, writing to a length and deadline. But it’s only recently that I’ve come to realise just how much more I owe to those Whitehall days.

As a storyteller, I’m far more pantster than plotter. When I start a book, I invariably have a body. I (usually) know who did it. But I will have either a hazy idea, or no idea at all, of how the killer will get caught. That comes out in the writing. Effectively, I sit on my cops’ shoulders and watch their investigation unfold. And it’s my civil service instincts that are telling me what they need to do.

For a start, I worked in teams as do the police, in a hierarchy that more or less mirrored the police ranking system. And we might not have unmasking murderers, but there was a lot of problem solving involved – which meant gathering information, and knowing what questions to ask, and whom to ask them of.

Of course, I still need to make calls and do internet searches to check whether what they get up to is plausible, or even legal, as well as checking out some of the smaller details I sprinkle around. But it turns out that all those years in a suit were invaluable training for imagining myself into the briefing room at Aylesbury nick and deciding what Archer and Baines need to do next to catch their killer.

My old day job included drafting answers to Parliamentary Questions, and some unkind souls have suggested – unfairly, obviously – that I was always a fiction writer! I’m saying nothing.

The latest book in the Archer & Baines series – ‘The Blood that Binds’ – is available now.