Any downsides for you in 2018?
What are you hoping for from 2019?
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 talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.
It’s my privilege to welcome Paul Harrison to the blog today to talk about how his work in the criminal justice system has influenced his writing. If Paul’s post catches your interest, drop him a tweet or look him up on Facebook.
Thanks for inviting me to speak on the blog. For me, bloggers are one of the most influential part of being a writer these days, so I’m well chuffed to be here talking about my previous life. I’ve been called Britain’s Mindhunter by the world’s media, because of my work with serial killers. However, I much prefer to be Paul Harrison, not some media invention.
When I joined the police service back in the late 1970’s, never, did I anticipate that my working life would be so exciting and filled with mainly positives, there have been a few negatives, but I’ve learned from those. Anyone who believes the British police force is behind its global counterparts, is wrong. I have over a century of policing within the family tree, my grandfather, father, myself and currently my son have been so employed. Even my great grandfather was so employed. Back in Victorian times he was probably the first criminal profiler in history. He’d hang about with criminals and felons and draw up social profiles on the in an attempt to understand who likely victims were likely to be, then he’d sell that intelligence on to the police. He was a big writer and storyteller, so his genes have definitely been passed down to me.
My own police career lasted over three decades and I was fortunate to serve in just about all the specialised fields I aimed for: Dog Handler, Firearms Officer on Special Escort Duties, Promotion, Intelligence Officer and of course, much later, my association with the FBI and profiling. I worked hard to get where I wanted to be, and advise everyone, no matter what they are doing to follow their dreams.
I began writing during my police career, mainly true crime books but the odd football book also crept into print too. These were the days before e-books so it was traditional publishing only, it was difficult trying to sell manuscripts to publishers and hold down a regular job. I was lucky, I guess, and managed to get seven books published during my time in the police.
When I retired from the job I went to work with the Judiciary at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. What an eye-opener that was! Seeing the criminal justice system from the other side, was shocking. Needless to say, I often questioned judgments and tariffs handed down to serious (vile) offenders. I didn’t last long, and I moved on after a couple of years. I took up work in the voluntary sector, helping child victims and survivors of sexual harm. The scale of the matter was shocking and I set up my own service, called SAM (Systematic Abuse of Males) as a signposting agency directing victims to services in their area. As a result of this I was awarded the Outstanding Individual of the Year Award for my voluntary work in this arena.
All the time I was writing, more true crime and finally I went full time, and have moved onto novels. I’m so proud to be part of the Urbane Books team and have just signed a contract with them that I hope will last several years. Of all the publishers I’ve worked with in my time as a writer, covering thirty four books, Urbane Books stand out head and shoulders above the rest for their care and attention to detail. They like great writers, but are focused on producing quality books for the reader.
Over the years, I’ve met some of the world’s worst killers, looked evil in the eye and confronted it. Nerve wracking stuff, however, let me tell you, there’s nothing more worrying than waiting for a publisher’s response to a book submission.
Writing has been incredibly cathartic for me, as is the sense of support that runs throughout most of the crime writing community. There’s a lot more books in me yet, and my fictional detective, Will Scott (named after my grandfather) will go on to endure many more adventures.
Oooh, hello there, readers. Allow me to share with you an excerpt from ‘The Kindness of Strangers‘ by Julie Newman.
When Helen’s chance at happiness is threatened, what lengths will she go to in order to hide the truth? Deceived by her husband and desperate for a ‘perfect’ family life, Helen will do everything she can to get the life she wants.
Following the gripping and controversial ‘Beware the Cuckoo‘, Julie Newman’s new novel lifts the lid on family secrets, and the dark past that haunts a seemingly happy household…
The Kindness of Strangers
EACH NEW SUNRISE does not just herald a new day, it is a new beginning offering new possibilities and the opportunity to be better than before. That’s what I always used to believe. It was the mantra of my boss when I first started working in the city. But now, well now it sounds like a pretentious soundbite that has no validity in the real world, certainly not in my world. Every day is the same for me. There is a brief moment when I first wake when I’ve forgotten he’s gone, then boom, it hits me and the darkness descends once more. Today is no different. Perhaps if I still worked my focus would be on what I have to do rather than what I can no longer do. Maybe that’s the answer, to go back to work; but where? Marilyn has replaced me and I couldn’t go back at a lower level than before. There are other firms, but would they be interested in a 56 year-old woman who’s been out of the game for almost eighteen months? I know I wouldn’t employ me and I know how good I am. Even if I considered a junior position I’d be competing with a new crop of graduates and interns. And besides, there is still more to do here; papers, accounts, and all the interests we pursued together. I must cancel our golf club subscription for a start; I won’t be going there alone and I never liked playing much anyway.
The study is incredibly stuffy. I’ve opened the window but that hasn’t made a great deal of difference. I think I’m going to take some of these files and sit in the garden and sort through them. I make a pot of tea and go outside. It’s surprising how many things we signed up for over the years and more surprising is the fact that I’d forgotten we had them. Our joint account has already been dealt with, as have a couple of accounts that Robert had. But what I’m looking at now is an old account of mine that I haven’t paid attention to for a long time. I transfer money into it each month to cover the direct debits, but I don’t use half the things I’m paying for. This is the downside of not receiving paper statements anymore, I’m rather remiss at checking my accounts online. This is the account that the golf membership comes out of; I write down the account and membership numbers so I can cancel it. There are also a couple of magazine subscriptions, a consumer group subscription and insurances for appliances which I don’t even know if I still have. I write down the relevant information so I can cancel them all. When I’m done I pour another cup of tea – well half a cup as the pot is almost empty – sit back in my chair and look around the garden. Somebody comes to cut the lawn every couple of weeks, everything else in the garden Robert and I do, or did. Well Robert mainly. I suppose I’ll have to get on with it myself now, not that it takes much, it is quite a low maintenance garden. We had a designer revamp it many years ago, and her brief was simple; it had to be full of colour and easy to maintain. It certainly is that, although parts of it are looking a little neglected. The roses catch my eye, they need dead-heading. I go back into the kitchen for a pair of scissors. As I take them out of the drawer I picture Robert standing in the garden waving a pair of secateurs at me and saying, ‘the right tool for the job, Helen’. I smile to myself; a nice memory.
It takes me a little while to locate the shed key. For some reason it’s in a small pot at the rear of one of the dresser drawers, instead of hanging with the garage and summer-house keys in the kitchen. I unlock the shed hoping the secateurs will be easier to find. I never go in the shed, it was Robert’s domain. He liked to sit in there and read; he complained the summer house was too hot, something that never bothered me. I’m pretty sure he used to have a bottle of whisky hidden away in there too. The door creaks a little as it opens and warm air is emitted from within. It smells stale and fusty. It’s clearly in need of ventilating. I pull the door wide, putting a large terracotta pot in front of it to keep it open. I peek in before actually venturing inside; Robert’s old chair sits proudly in the centre, there is a work bench to the right on which sits several pots of various sizes, a couple of gardening books – maybe he did read them after all – and the secateurs. I pick them up and look around the rest of the shed; there is a lot of stuff in here, another thing to sort through in time. As I turn to go back out something catches my eye. It’s the old picnic blanket we used many years ago, I thought it had long since been thrown out. We enjoyed going for picnics, although to be honest they weren’t really picnics. We would head out somewhere for the day, weather permitting of course, and find a nice spot and put the blanket down. We would lay and read for a while; I always took a flask of tea, something for Robert to drink and a few snacks. On the way back we would look for a nice country pub and have a meal before heading home. I pull at the blanket which is draped over something, as it comes off it reveals an old, battered filing cabinet. It’s made of metal, grey in colour and mottled with rust spots. I pull open the top drawer; inside are two glasses and an almost empty bottle of whisky, an unopened bottle of whisky, a box of matches and a half-smoked cigar, and various bits and pieces that include garden ties and string and plant labels. I try the next one but that won’t open. There is a lock at the top of this drawer, and I look around for a key. I can’t see one, but I’m puzzled as to why the drawer is locked and I want to get it open. The roses will have to wait.
After spending almost an hour in the shed looking for a key -to no avail – I’ve come back inside. Where might the key be? I go through the dresser drawers again and the kitchen drawers and I search the utility room. It’s a mystery. There might not even be anything in the drawer, but I won’t be satisfied until I know. I go back out to the shed, pulling the drawer a few more times, but it won’t budge. I look around to see if there is anything I can use to force it open. Bashing it with a hammer doesn’t work, neither does poking around the lock with a penknife. I’m frustrated now, but I won’t be beaten. Maybe, I could ask the gardener when he comes to do the lawn if he could get it open, that’s not for over a week though. Anthony would do it, but after the other day, I don’t think I want to ask him. I’ll have to go and buy something so I can do it myself. The lock can’t be that strong, I’m sure if I had the right tool I could prise it open.
About the Author:
Julie Newman was born in East London but now lives a rural life in North Essex. She is married with two children. Her working life has seen her have a variety of jobs, including running her own publishing company. She is the author of the children’s book Poppy and the Garden Monster. Julie writes endlessly and when not writing she is reading. Other interests include theatre, music and running. Besides her family, the only thing she loves more than books is Bruce Springsteen.
My very good friend, Jackie McLean, author of ‘Toxic’ and ‘Shadows’, is here to chew the fat today. Jackie has appeared on this blog a few times but she’s always such fun and has plenty of advice to give aspiring writers.
My thanks to Jackie – for sharing her time and wisdom with us in addition to being a wonderful, thoughtful friend.
Tell us about your novels.
At the moment, I have two crime fiction books that are published by ThunderPoint Publishing Ltd:
Toxic – An anonymous tip-off sparks a desperate race against the clock to track down the illegal storage of the deadly toxin that was responsible for the Bhopal disaster, the world’s worst industrial accident. However the two senior investigating officers are as volatile as the toxin they’re trying to find, and tensions run high. For the lead character, DI Donna Davenport, the investigation becomes personal. She’s recently broken up with her partner Libby, but Libby’s brother is being set up as a suspect, and Donna struggles with the conflict.
Shadows – When DI Donna Davenport is called out to investigate a body washed up on Arbroath beach, it looks like a routine murder inquiry. However, it doesn’t take long before it begins to take on a more sinister shape. There are similarities with a previous murder, and now a woman who is connected with them goes missing. Meanwhile, Donna can’t shake off the feeling that she’s being watched, and she is convinced that Jonas Evanton has returned to seek his revenge on her for his downfall. Fearing they may be looking for a serial killer, the trail leads Donna and her new team in an unexpected direction. Because it’s not a serial killer – it’s worse.
What inspired them?
I originally wrote Toxic because I wanted to write something set in my home town, Arbroath. It’s by the sea, and has caves in the cliffs, so a smuggling story seemed obvious. In that first version, it was genetic modification (of food) experiments that were being smuggled in and out of the country, but I couldn’t really do anything exciting with that. I needed a dangerous substance that behaved in particular ways, and my nephew – a forensic toxicologist – suggested I look at the Bhopal disaster. As soon as I learned about the substance responsible, I knew it was the one for my storyline. But the research left me deeply disturbed about what happened to the people of Bhopal, who to this day have never received justice for the blatant failures of the company responsible, and so I hope to be able to raise some awareness of that.
The storyline for Shadows came out of a discussion with a friend of mine who’s a midwife, and who told me about some of the murkier sides of her work. She was keen to find a way to highlight what’s going on, and wanted me to write about it.
Where do you get your ideas from?
A lot of the stuff I’ve written is actually based on dreams that I’ve had. However, in recent years I’ve suffered insomnia, so have resorted to spying on people instead. I work full time, and there are always good snippets of information at meetings and in office gossip that can be built into a plot…
Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
My favourite form of writing is actually screenwriting, and I’ve written some comedy pieces with my partner Allison. When we write comedy scripts together, sparks fly and the writing is just great fun. So, while I enjoy whatever it is I happen to be writing at any one time, the screenwriting with Allison is my favourite.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
The best writing advice I’ve seen came from Dr Jacky Collins, whose advice to aspiring crime writers is to get along to their nearest Noir at the Bar and get involved. There is lots of advice out there on how to write – from style, to good writing habits – but I’ve found the best motivation and confidence-builder to me for writing has come from being around other writers, and from the tremendous support we give each other.
What can readers expect from your books?
I hope first and foremost that they’ll enjoy a gripping good read. Characters that they can get to know and understand, and short chapters for a quick read after a hard day at work.
Beyond that, I’m interested in the relativity of crime: by that, I mean there’s always a wider context behind the actual crime that we see, and none of us really can wash our hands of that. For example, the company responsible for the Bhopal disaster clearly cut corners and ignored safety procedures that would have prevented the catastrophe. But companies cut corners all the time, largely because all of us want to buy our goods as cheaply as possible. We’re not very accepting of price tags that reflect the full costs of production – costs that relate to environmental and human pressures. If we buy cheap, it means somebody else – with less power than us – pays the full price. While I don’t want to be preachy, I do think we need to be more aware of our own contribution to the crime we see around us, and I hope my books will give a glimpse into that, too.
Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
You need to love and enjoy what you’re writing. If you want to take it further, and want to see it published, I’d say study the market and treat your finished work like a business. There are rules, and you need to know what these are in your particular genre. When I completed Toxic, I hadn’t thought of it in terms of genre at all, until I researched the publishing world and realised it had to “fit” somewhere, so I re-drafted it to be more compatible with the crime fiction market.
What do you like and dislike about writing?
There are a number of aspects to writing, for example the actual act of writing, researching your topic, and the writing life.
On writing itself, this is going to sound ancient, but I went to school in the days before computers were invented. There, I’ve said it! All of our work was handwritten, including all of our creative writing. When I was a kid, I wrote all the time, and find today that I can still only write creatively if it’s by hand. If I try to write directly onto the screen, it comes out like a work report. Oddly, I both like and dislike that I need to hand write first. I enjoy the feeling of writing by hand, but it does make for double the work.
Researching your topic is really important, and should be enjoyable. If you find the research dull, you’re maybe not writing from the heart. However, you do have to be careful, especially when you’re researching for crime fiction. I inadvertently ended up on a terrorist recruitment website recently while researching smoke grenades (and I was only trying to find out if they make a noise…).
As to the writing life, meeting up with other writers and folk involved in the book world (readers, bloggers, booksellers, publishers, etc) is great. I don’t know about other genres, but in crime writing there’s a real sense of belonging and support, and I say that as someone who’s fairly shy and doesn’t find it terribly easy to do the networking stuff.
Are you writing anything at the moment?
I’m writing the third Donna Davenport book (Run), which completes a particular storyline that started in Toxic. I’ve also begun to outline two more books, and can’t quite decide which one to go for first. One is another Donna Davenport book. Here’s a sneak preview of the other one:
Death Do Us Part – Diane knows she’s the piece in her husband Rick’s deadly game. Claiming the glory when he kills her lovers – who line up to take him on, like rutting stags – keeps Rick as the undisputed crime lord, and their life of riches intact. Dutifully she plays the game. They line up. He conquers. She lives.
Then one day the rules of the game change forever. Diane falls in love with Claire. They both know Rick won’t challenge a woman – there’s no status in that. If he finds out, Diane’s life will be over.
There’s nowhere to turn for help. Claire is the crime gang’s chief mechanic, and as well as knowing where all the bodies are buried, she’s in it up to her neck.
The pair can’t risk being found together.
The only option open to them is to go on the run, but Rick has a reputation to defend, and they’ll have to outplay him at his own game if they’re ever to be truly free.
I also can’t decide if it’s crime or romance – what do you think?
What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
I’ve recently begun to run creative writing sessions, along with a former colleague, for men who are in prison or who have recently been released. Each time we meet, there’s a new favourite moment, and I’ve been blown away by the power of creative writing to mend broken lives. For example, one of the guys, who protested that writing wasn’t his thing and that he couldn’t do it, eventually wrote a poem. He declared that the experience had given him a bigger high than any drugs. That’s priceless, and it’s what I love about writing. Now I’m welling up.
Today our guest is Mike Craven. I honestly can’t remember the first time I met Mike but he is a great laugh and is so supportive of other writers. I’m really pleased to hear of his successes this year – but I’ll let him tell you about them.
My thanks to Mike for taking part in the 2017 Reviews.
Do you have a favourite memory professionally from 2017?
Without a doubt my favourite moment was a signing a two-book contract with the Little, Brown imprint, Constable. Little, Brown currently publish most of my favourite crime writers (including Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, Val McDermid, Michael Connolly and Robert Galbraith) and Constable have a sterling pedigree with crime fiction.
Other highlights were when my second Avison Fluke novel, Body Breaker’s first print run was sold out before publication date, when I met with a major TV production company and they optioned the Washington Poe series and when my agent secured me some cool foreign rights deals.
But there were other highlights that weren’t necessarily about me. My friend Graham Smith’s first Jake Boulder novel became an international bestseller – that made me happy. My friend and former colleague Noelle Holton finally bit the bullet and left probation for her dream job (she’s also bitten another bullet and finished a first draft of her first novel as well). And last, and definitively least (he keeps having me as drunk in his books) Michael Malone wrote a simply superb book called House of Spines which I was lucky to beta read for him. Another mate, Les Morris, got a publishing deal for a great action-thriller book. Think it’s going to do well.
And how about a favourite moment from 2017 generally?
Seeing the first heatbound pre-publication proof of The Puppet Show. It’s going to look beautiful when it comes out in hardback next June. That was pretty special. Oh, and I also managed to (finally) see Iron Maiden.
Favourite book in 2017?
Spook Street by Mick Herron.
Favourite film in 2017?
Favourite song of the year?
Powerslave by Iron Maiden. They sung this at the Newcastle gig and it was a pretty special eight minutes.
Any downsides for you in 2017?
In February I fell coming back from a punk gig and shattered my ankle. I was in hospital for a week and now have more metal in my left leg than Robocop. It put me out of action for over three months and it’s still not healed.
Are you making resolutions for 2018?
To stop writing behemoth first drafts. Washington Poe 2 finished at 139K. I trimmed it down to 92K . . .
What are you hoping for from 2018?
That I repay all the money and effort that has gone into the first Poe book and that it’s as successful as my editor hopes it will be.