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’re talking to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.
As a former Scotland Yard detective, David Videcette has worked on a wealth of infamous cases, including the 7/7 London bombings. He is the author of bestselling crime thrillers The Theseus Paradox and The Detriment – based on real events. His motto is: ‘I can’t tell you the truth, but I can tell you a story…’™
When David isn’t writing, he’s commentating for the news media on policing, crime and terrorism. You can find out more about him via his website or chat to him on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. For the chance to win signed copies of David’s books, pop in your email address here.
Thanks to David for taking the time to explain how fiction compares to life at the coal face.
Timing is everything
Having spent a career as a Met detective, I know that the most complex investigations take years to solve. Real life cases involve dead ends, false leads and red herrings along the way, which drain resources and often our will to live. In crime fiction, these real-life tales would never fit into 350 pages, and readers would tire of them. With experts saying crime novels should be tied up in around 90,000 words, this is totally at odds with reality, and my policing brain. But that’s my burden as an author – to make these stories work.
Real detective work is 90% boredom and 10% sheer terror. That 90% is slowly and methodically piecing evidence together – painstakingly linking phone number to phone number, or trawling through witness statement after witness statement for that golden nugget that solves the case. The boredom is not what people want. They want that moment you find the golden nugget and the 10% of sheer terror when someone shoves a gun in your face. And who wants the reality of police officers constantly rowing about childcare with their spouses in their nail-biting thriller? Finding that balance in a novel is important.
All the loose ends
Then there are the nice tie ups that readers expect at the end of a book. That bit where the crime gets solved; the relationship puzzle and sub plots tie up; the sun sets over a glass of wine; and everyone lives happily ever after.
In real life, sometimes we don’t solve the case, sometimes innocent people die, and sometimes we never get the girl…or we work in windowless offices where we don’t see the sun for days on end.
The troubled detective is inescapable
Many people expect police officers to be some sort of cross between Superman and Batman in our day job, then go home and have dinner with our partner and forget all about our investigation till the next shift. Yet there is always a build-up of trauma which will eventually impinge upon your mental health. We teach ourselves to put protective barriers around our emotions, but there are often chinks in our armour.
For example, a lot of police officers find that dealing with adult deaths can become just about bearable, but when suddenly faced with the death, rape or torture of a child, their defences aren’t able to cope and they unravel. If you’re used to dealing with stabbings, but then come across scores of people blown up by a bomb, this can completely wreck the impenetrable armour you thought you had in place.
The troubled detective who drinks too much is no cliche. He or she is very real, made of flesh and blood, and often wishes that he were just a fantasy trope invented solely for the purposes of making crime fiction books more interesting.