Charlot King Interview: “I didn’t consciously choose a writing style, it chose me”

charlotte king

Charlot King, author of the Cambridge Murder Mysteries series featuring the feisty Elizabeth Green, discusses her work, how she draws on her time at the BBC and her new role as mother to a very excitable puppy!

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction?

I didn’t consciously choose a writing style, it chose me after I’d written for a while. I think writers are trying to figure out why we humans are like we are, to try to make sense of the world – even if just for themselves. If that’s the case then there is space for endless stories and styles because we are still so far away from understanding everything about human nature. In the end, writers write what they know don’t they? I feel very lucky to be able to write about Cambridge.

The Cambridge Murder Mysteries and writing crime fiction I suspect came about because I grew up loving so many detective shows like Columbo, The Rockford Files, Magnum P.I., The Sweeney, etc… I also read Raymond Chandler and P.D. James when I was a little younger and still dip in now and then. And I especially enjoyed reading Colin Dexter’s Morse books. I was lucky enough to live in Oxford for a bit and was absorbed into that world of Dons and garden parties and great characters, which he captured so well.

Other influences drawing me to crime fiction may have come from spending years as a journalist at BBC news before I moved to drama. I worked on some big murder trials, sitting in courtrooms, listening to evidence, visiting locations, speaking to the police, and interviewing some involved. I found the trials fascinating, chilling and sad.

I find making up the puzzle side of crime fiction very absorbing and enjoyable. Working out when to plant red herrings and drop clues, to see just how subtle I can make them while ensuring that they still work at the end. I like the challenge of the whodunit and it keeps me out of trouble.

How do you draw on your past working in BBC Drama when writing fiction?

During my time at the BBC I worked with teams of writers, directors, actors, execs and crew in a wonderful ensemble of extremely talented people. I script edited close to a hundred episodes of television and read scores of film scripts while working in drama and film, so my time was pretty full on thinking about story and characters every day. It’s a strange existence. You go to work to make things up- you’re lying for a living. It was fun working with others to make characters do things, experience things, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes; all of that stuff that we can’t do ourselves in real life maybe because we’d upset someone or it might be to dangerous. It’s a totally absorbing and fun process.

When I chose to leave the beeb it felt like quitting an orchestra to go and play an acoustic solo in an empty room. I stepped off a big partying cruise ship onto a quiet desert island where I could hear the waves whoosh and not much else. I think I needed that time of quiet though to find my ideas for writing. It wasn’t until I left that I came up with the Cambridge Murder Mysteries series of novels. I have a great summerhouse in my garden where I do most of my writing; only this time the team around me consists of two cats and a dog.

Please tell me about the Cambridge Murder Mysteries series. Why do you believe they have become so popular?

The Cambridge Murder Mysteries are a series set in the heart of Cambridge, featuring a vegan and animal loving sleuth Elizabeth Green, and her sidekicks Inspector Abley and grandson, Godric. In her fifties, the chief protagonist Elizabeth Green is quintessentially English. An eccentric professor in her ivory tower, she maintains a sharp wit and is not that interested in connecting with many people, instead giving off a cold, opinionated and sometimes acerbic air. Though very kind to animals and a great gardener, in truth she keeps her friends close, and only lets a few dear people into her world.

These books are ultimately about her journey following her husband’s death and how she copes and responds to what life throws at her. Elizabeth is a lecturer of plant sciences at the University of Cambridge, specialising in poisonous flora. From time to time Cambridgeshire police, especially Inspector Abley, call on her skills to help deal with cases involving poison. Book 1, Poison, starts when a junior lecturer dies an horrifically painful death and police pathology can’t establish the cause, Elizabeth Green is desperate to help, especially as it happened in her own back garden. Book 2, Cursed, continues with Elizabeth, Godric and Inspector Abley, this time the porters at All Saints’ College, Cambridge, feel under threat. There are witchy spells, hate mail and buckets of flour over the Porters’ Lodge and Inspector Abley’s mind is elsewhere, so Professor Elizabeth Green starts to dig out clues to try to help, but can’t solve the mystery before the death of a porter.

When I started writing I had absolutely no idea my novels would become as popular as they have, and I’m truly thankful to the readers. I started from a place where I wanted to read crime fiction based in Cambridge and have a strong female protagonist, so I thought why not try and write it myself. With Elizabeth, I didn’t want to write a likeable character. She’s not plucky or vulnerable, no dark secrets or big flaws she’s working through – all those things that usually might make a protagonist loveable and attractive to the reader. Instead she’s very strong, extremely clever, doesn’t suffer fools and doesn’t really have much time for more than a few people. She is the most together of all the characters in the book. Maybe that’s something people want to read? Many women are strong and formidable, yet on the whole there are more male main characters in crime fiction.

I get many kind messages from readers, for which I’m extremely grateful. These messages spur me on to write more. I certainly have a lot of plots swirling around in my head, and they often come to me while I’m out walking.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

My characters and stories come out of my imagination, which is increasingly very messy. Usually when I’m not consciously thinking about writing then the ideas will pop up. For the Cambridge Murder Mysteries, I also walk around The Backs and through the colleges quite a bit, and while on my walks ideas will often drift into my head. So I would say the beauty of Cambridge helps me write and find a sense of place, time and incident too.

I am very lucky in that I haven’t suffered from writers block (yet). Once I get the spine of a story and the ending then I spend time plotting everything out in great detail before I start to write. I travel to other locations that I like to use for inspiration for the books, or that feature in my novels. I feel like I have put some distance between Cambridge and myself too, as it figures so heavily in the books that I’d be lost in the woods if I didn’t leave occasionally!

The characters of Elizabeth Green, Inspector Abley and Godric have all lodged themselves in my head now, and often keep me company when I walk about the city looking for inspiration. I don’t think they are leaving for while.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Oh, what a lovely question. Can I have two, as I can’t decide between them? It would be E.F. Benson and P.G. Wodehouse, because they wrote my favourite books, the Mapp and Lucia and Jeeves series. It would be real treat to sit with them (individually) and feed them stories and characters so they could make them funny. Everyone knows that writing funny is the hardest thing to write and I’m in awe at how both these writers made it look so easy. To spend time with such clever people would be the biggest treat. I hope they wouldn’t find me too ‘tarsome’.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

Yes! I have just taken responsibility for a very bouncy puppy this year whose idea of helping me write is eating draft pages or knocking my laptop off my knees. She’s knocked me off course with my writing a little too, as I’ve taken a short break from the murder mysteries and I am currently writing a book from the perspective of dogs, and it is set in the future. But I will be back to writing the mysteries after this as I am beginning to miss writing them.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to coming up?

At the moment I’m reading Peter James’s Dead Simple, the very first Roy Grace novel – can’t believe I haven’t read before – it’s gripping and I’m so pleased that I have a big series to get lost in. I know it’s not a new book, but I have also just bought Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain, as I’ve heard good things about it. Finally, I’ve been dipping into Why We Love Music by John Powell, which isn’t fiction, but it’s about how music can change our emotions, very insightful.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Hmm, only that I’m just wondering if the Dorset Book Detective has a secret life she doesn’t tell anyone about? I reckon she is also a super sleuth herself and this blog maybe just a cover? Down on the sand sifting for clues, in a tea shop watching the couple at the next table, or deciphering the clue from the new advert on card in the post office window… she’s there, isn’t she? Feels like a perfect lead character in a crime fiction series to me. Thanks for having me, and happy reading.

Many thanks to Charlot for taking the time- I wish I had a secret life as a super sleuth! You can find out more about her work by checking out her website HERE.

The Top Five Best John Rebus Novels

strip jack

When I was younger, following on the heels of my obsession with Henning Mankell, I moved on to Ian Rankin and his brilliant Rebus novels. Whilst I’ll admit that haven’t kept up with the adventures of Ian Rankin’s dour Scottish detective over recent years, I have always enjoyed his escapades as he seeks to bring justice to the lawless Edinburgh streets.

What really makes this novels stand out to me is their multi-dimensional protagonist. Although John Rebus is an alcoholic, womanising former solider with authority issues and a grumpy ex-wife (thereby encompassing just about every stereotype going), Rankin portrays his character with great skill, and the reader is able to get inside Rebus’s head and really understand his thought process.

Much like my all-time favourite fictional detective, Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, the reader is able to see the good and the bad of Rebus and really understand his actions. Check out my top five picks which are guaranteed to get you hooked.

5. Fleshmarket Close: Touching on contemporary issues such as immigration and gang violence, Fleshmarket Close is an exciting novel with a strong, exhilarating plot. As ever, Rebus has to contend with a number of obstacles in his pursuit of justice as he battles to uncover the perpetrators a number of potentially related crimes.

4. Black & Blue: On trial in more ways than one, and hunting what he suspects is a renowned serial killer, this novel shows us Rebus at his best; backed in a corner with a murderer to catch. Showcasing multiple settings, the novel seamlessly blends between them as Rebus races to uncover the, as ever, unsavoury truth.

3. The Black Book: Possibly one of the most twisted, confusing novels I have ever read, The Black Book skilfully guides the reader through a series of interlinked crimes without becoming convoluted or preposterous. Rebus is on top form as he commits many derelictions of duty and blatantly flouts the rules in his quest for justice. Through Rankin’s novels I am always incredibly surprised that Rebus is not simply fired from the force for his behaviour, but then I suppose that would make this an incredibly short series. 

2. Knots and Crosses: The beginning is always a good place to start, and the Rebus series starts with a bang as we meet Detective Inspector John Rebus, who is hunting a child abductor and murderer. He is soon thrust into a high stakes race against time as the killer decides to make things personal, and the detective is forced to confront his past in order to overcome his demons and retrieve the missing girls, one of whom is his own daughter. A thrilling opener this novel makes for a great introduction to this exceptional character.

ian rankin

1. Strip Jack: This early Rebus novel is my favourite as it draws the character into the murky world of politics, where his hard hitting, tough talking ways are somewhat out of place as he investigates the framing of a young MP. It quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems in this gilded young man’s life as Rebus wades through brothels, asylums and constant lies to uncover the truth following the disappearance of the MP’s wife.

Need You Dead Review: Roy Grace is Back and Ready to Go

Need You Dead. HB. High Res Jacket

Following on from the fascinating interview author Peter James gave me recently (check it out HERE) I review his latest novel featuring his Brighton based detective Roy Grace, Need You Dead.

The thirteenth Roy Grace novel is as steely and intriguing as the others, with dizzying twists throughout the narrative that will keep even the most jaded reader hooked right to the end.

Grace, still reeling from the recent revelations about his missing, now late wife Sandy and the arrival of the son he never knew they had, is drawn into a seemingly open and shut murder case. The victim had an abusive husband with a history of escalating violence who runs when confronted by the police.

However, discoveries about the victim and her colourful private life come to light that threaten Grace’s team’s certainty. With twists and turns in every chapter, James does his utmost to keep the reader hooked right to the end, an even a seasoned whodunit reader won’t guess the explosive twist implemented right at the very end of the novel.

The ultimate thriller, this novel is well researched and features a number of memorable characters. It is characterisation that really scores James points in Need You Dead; from Grace’s team of coppers through to the myriad of shady suspects, everyone has a great internal monologue and a sense of purpose. The dialogue is equally strong, although sometimes the police meetings can become plodding, with everyone determined to say their piece. Whilst I appreciate James’ need for accuracy, there is sometimes something to be said for artistic license, and if ever there was an occasion to cut some dialogue, it’s here.

Overall this is a great novel that benefits from strong characterisation, an intriguing and virtually unguessable plot and more twists than a fairground ride. With plotting like this it is easy to see how James has managed to sell over 18 million Roy Grace novels around the world.

Maigret And The Case of the Confused Detective


As with a number of my Crime Fiction obsessions, I was recently drawn to George Simeon’s seminal novels featuring the dour yet dogged detective Jules Maigret by the TV adaptation of the books, featuring the exquisite Rowan Atkinson as the titular protagonist. Sleek and intriguing, this portrayal made me want to seek out and explore this writer in the way that the very best adaptations do, and I was not disappointed by the writer’s grim yet optimistic style, as he and his determined detective delve into the murky Parisian underworld in search of some truly vile and disgusting criminals.

Previously I had watched a couple of episodes of the Michael Gambon version, which took a literal representation of the character as a human cannonball, barrelling through crime scenes clumsily, with an awkward way of speaking and a generally slightly confused manner.

Whilst Maigret does exhibit a number of these characteristics in the novels, he is a great enigma there also; like the TV adaptations each book, as with each portrayal, shows a different side to the character. He is equal parts confused and determined, at times forceful and unrelenting and others surprisingly understanding, as well as being both thuggish and compassionate simultaneously. In short, he is quiet possibly the most human detective I have encountered since I began my love affair with Henning Mankell’s Inspector Kurt Wallander many years ago.

So what makes Maigret so popular? Why is this detective, written by a Belgium author during the Golden Age of Crime Fiction, so widely read and so regularly adapted for the screen?

After all, the character has been portrayed for numerous audiences around the world by a myriad of actors, from Mr Bean himself through to Soviet Union Russian theater actor Boris Tenin and there were even Japanese and Italian versions on TV over the years. In film a number of actors including Pierre Renoir have taken a go at portraying the character, each brining a different element into the mix. There are even comic book strips devoted to the character, which highlights his suitability for various types of media.

my friend maigret

These portrayals are all incredibly diverse, which is partially down to the range of emotions the character exhibits throughout the novels. It is hard to lay down exact character traits for Maigret as he develops drastically over the years, growing and being affected by his life and work in the same way that a real person would, unlike some characters who remain stagnant even after many years have passed and dozens of books have been written about their exploits.

The characters’ growth can be seen as central to his versatility, as many of those portraying him look on him at a different stage in his development, or choose to exacerbate certain traits, such as his determination and stoic expressions, in the case of Gambon, or his compassion and the silent contemplation with which he undertakes a case, as in the case of Atkinson. With such a variety of traits to choose from those bringing the character to the screen have an important decision to make; which to cut from their depiction and which to focus on. After all, such a changeable and complex character suits books, as the medium affords the reader more time to understand the detective and grow alongside him, whereas on screen viewers seek an identifiable character with highly accentuated traits that remain static, as the story is more vital in this medium.

At the end of the day, it is Maigret’s changeability and human qualities which make him the international success he is, and offer the ideal platform for such a vast variety of actors, including the excellent Rowan Atkinson, to show off their skills and pass on their interpretation of this firm, irritable, flawed and intellectual character.

Blue Gold Review: An Innovative Dystopian Thriller That Shows Great Promise

blue gold

Recently dystopian thrillers have become my go-to as Trump wages war on everyone’s rights and between them he, Putin and Kim Jong Un all conspire to create a frightening and at times utterly abhorrent world for us all, so I was gleeful at the prospect of the intriguing and tantalising Blue Gold, the debut novel of Banker David Barker.

Set in a dystopian future reminiscent of P.D James’ The Children of Men, Blue Gold depicts a time when, instead of infertility, it is water that is the issue, and this vital resource is the centre of great unrest.

A fascinating concept let down by slightly overly complicated dialogue, this is a riveting thriller with some pretty interesting characters and a plot that is both well thought out and not completely unbelievable. The info dumping in the dialogue and wider narrative could do with fine-tuning but beyond that there are really great chapters and at times the reader is able to race through the novel at breath taking speed.

Overall, I did have some misgivings about Blue Gold, but there are more positives than negatives and, in a literature market saturated with fluffy, feel good books designed to make you happy, it’s nice to read a thriller that can make you think.

David Videcette Interview: “My books cross over into the real world”

I can't tell you the truth, but I can tell you a story both books TTP and TD

Former crime fighter turned writer David Videcette talks me through how he draws on his experience in the police when writing his novels.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction and thriller writing?

Having worked in the Metropolitan police for twenty years, most of it spent investigating organised crime and terrorism at home and abroad, there isn’t much that I haven’t seen of human nature’s darker side.

What has always surprised me however, when reading a book or watching a film, is how many authors and filmmakers portray things so very differently to how they are in real life – even the basics such as police procedure, which anyone can research. If there are crucial errors or discrepancies, they would throw me out of the story I was reading, or the film I was watching. More than that, there would be hugely fanciful plots and storylines that I just couldn’t relate to.

I realised that there must be a number of people like me, that got frustrated by these things. So, after having consulted for various television projects such as ‘Burgled’, ‘The Bill’ and ‘Crimewatch’, and having written articles and blogs for many years, I knew that it was time to take the plunge into books.

I had a story that needed to be told, which I will go into later, but because I signed the Official Secrets Act, I wasn’t allowed to write an autobiographical, tale. So I decided to turn to crime fiction – and I leave it up to the reader to decide how much is real and how much is poetic license. However, I believe that my books are as close to crime fact as crime fiction will ever get.

Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?

 My debut novel, The Theseus Paradox, was inspired by the day I went out to work and came home two weeks later wearing the same clothes and with fifty-six people dead. the day of the London 7/7 bombings.

The book provides a ground-breaking new theory about the motives behind the 2005 attacks on the capital. It was an investigation I worked on as a detective with Anti-Terrorist Branch for five years. It was a case I could never let go of and one which would never let go of me – and as an ambassador for the 7/7 Tavistock Square Memorial Trust, the events are still very close to my heart.

The truth behind the fiction was investigated by one of the UK’s leading journalists, Andrew Gilligan, for the Sunday Telegraph – and sales and downloads are raising money for the Police Dependants’ Trust, a charity which helps officers and their families who’ve been affected by tragic events. 

How do you draw on your past as a former police officer when writing fiction?

In my books you sit on the shoulder of Jake Flannagan, a no-nonsense detective inspector. He is very much modelled on my own experiences; he’s his own worst enemy. He knows the rules, and how to bend them – or completely avoid them in many cases – to get to the truth. I tell the story of events from his point of view, so the evidence is presented to you in the way that a detective would see things happen in real life, and you can attempt to solve the mystery as you read.

Jake is a complex character who on the one hand sees the world through his very clear sense of right and wrong – (i.e. assist the victims, uncover the bad guys) – but also has to deal with the conflicts of being human, being fallible, coping with PTSD, and making decisions that cross the line into a murky, grey area. As I always say: to catch the bad guys, you have to think like a bad guy, and that’s why the best detectives always have a dark side.

You get to experience the genuine, authentic world which Jake and the people around him inhabit. Within that landscape sit the frustrations, the pain, the anger and often the sheer desperation which Jake experiences in trying to solve the unsolvable before it tears him apart.

You get to be that dogged investigator in a real-life situation, trying to track down those responsible for some of worst crimes that a police officer could ever possibly come face-to-face with.

For many years I worked with spies and intelligence agencies, both in the UK and abroad – and Jake also unpacks that world for you. He shows you how this shadowy side interfaces with the world that we more commonly see and understand, and how the decision making inside these intelligence agencies impacts upon the events that play out on our news channels.

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Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular?

My books cross over into the real world. They appeal to fans of hardboiled, gritty crime who want an author who’s been there and done it. Readers love the fact that my stories put a different spin on cases and issues they’ve read about in the news, but in a page-turning, easy-to-read way.

I use real-life crimes, real facts and ground-breaking new theories, told from an insider’s perspective. I use my detective knowledge and policing experience to shed new light on old cases. My readers love to have their eyes opened to other possibilities and I like to challenge pre-conceptions. Forget what you though you knew about certain events and why they happened.

Equally, if it couldn’t have happened, then you won’t find it written in the pages of my books. As a detective, all my theories are credible and have to work. Not just within the pages of my book, but when they’re held up to scrutiny in the real world too. I want readers to have a genuine understanding of why and how something has happened, and the motives behind it.

However, as I’m prevented from writing non-fiction due to the Official Secrets Act: “I can’t tell you the truth, but I can tell you a story…”

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

I love the escapism of the James Bond franchise and how it’s been updated with time. But, there are rumours that Bond was the idea of another writer, and that Fleming stole the framework and makings of Bond from her. It would be wonderful to sit down with that woman, and get back to the basics of what she thought Bond was, and write a book true to her original intentions – I wonder how different that would turn out from the Bond we know today.

Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?

My second thriller, The Detriment, is released on 29th June. Once again it is based on true events. It’s set against the backdrop of the investigation into the Glasgow airport attack. You may remember the news back in 2007, when one summer’s day up in Scotland, a blazing Jeep was driven into the departures terminal and two assailants set fire to themselves. In his second outing, DI Jake Flannagan uncovers how terror doesn’t always mean terrorism – and how we all have secrets we say we’ll never tell. Readers can pre-order their Kindle copy here.

I’m currently working on my third and fourth books. One may see Jake working abroad, which I’m really excited about, and one may see him in a much earlier setting, fresher in his career, and perhaps slightly less cynical and hard-bitten than he’s become over time!

Is there anything you’d like to add?

I’d just like to say many thanks to you for inviting me to come along and have a chat with you today on The Dorset Book Detective – and letting me share with your readers a little about me and my thrillers.

I love to interact with crime fans. Readers can chat to me on Facebook, or Twitter or Instagram. You can find out more about me here. Take a look at my books on Amazon here. And if you’d like the chance to win a signed paperback copy of my latest release, you can enter your email address here, and you’ll go into the hat each time I have a new release out.

Many thanks to David for taking the time to speak to me, it has been really fascinating.

Peter James Interview: “I never imagined, in my wildest dreams, the global success that Roy Grace would have”

Peter James author photo

I have got a real treat for you as I speak to Peter James, award winning novelist and creator of the Sunday Times Bestseller List stalwart, the Roy Grace series, which is about to reach its 13th book with the upcoming publication of Need You Dead, in which Grace is faced with a challenging investigation as the killer of an abused wife appears closer to home than he’d like. A meticulous researcher and Crime Fiction enthusiast, Peter discusses his journey into writing and how he went from writing for the screen to creating this superb series, which has sold over 18 million books worldwide.

Tell me about how the books you write. What drew you to crime and thriller writing?

I had always wanted to write “crime novels” yet had shied away for many years, because I thought the UK crime fiction genre had very definite rules and conventions that could not be broken. For instance that you had to start with a dead body, preferably in the library of a country house… and the rest of the story was the puzzle of solving what happened. I started writing very bad spy thrillers, then I wrote a number of supernatural thrillers. Then I started reading modern American thrillers by the likes of Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben and James Patterson’s Alex Cross stories, and realized that it was perfectly possible to write crime novels that were, at the same time, fast paced thrillers. The really pivotal moment for me was when Geoff Duffield from my UK publishers, Pan Macmillan, approached my dear late agent, Carole Blake. He told her he felt I had the potential to become the UK’s answer to Harlan Coben if I was willing to write crime thrillers. I jumped at the chance and have never looked back.

What was the first crime fiction novel you read and how did it draw you into seeking out more books of this genre?

When I was 14 I read Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock and this book totally changed my life. It is quite simply the book that made me realize I wanted to be a writer the first time I read it, when I was a teenager. It is also the inspiration behind my setting the Roy Grace series in Brighton. When I put this book down, I made a vow that one day I would try to write a novel set in my home city of Brighton that was ten percent as good as this.

This timeless novel is both a thriller and a crime novel, although police play a small part and the story is almost entirely told through the eyes of the villains and two women who believe they can redeem them. Greene has a way of describing characters, in just a few sentences, that makes you feel you know them inside out and have probably met them, and his sense of “place” is almost palpable.

It is for me an almost perfect novel.   It has one of the most grabbing opening lines ever written (“Hale knew, within thirty minutes of arriving in Brighton, that they meant to kill him.”), and one of the finest last lines – very clever, very tantalizing and very, very “noir” – yet apt. Greene captures so vividly the dark, criminal underbelly of Brighton and Hove, as relevant now as when the book was first written, and the characters are wonderful, deeply human, deeply flawed and tragic. And yet, far more than being just an incredibly tense thriller, Greene uses the novel to explore big themes of religious faith, love and honour.” And additionally, a bonus, is it is also unique for being one of the few novels where the film adaptation is so good it complements rather than reduces the book.

Need You Dead. HB. High Res Jacket

What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I started my career writing back in 1970 when I first arrived in Toronto, and worked for Channel 19 TV as a gofer, on the kid’s daily show Polka Dot Door. One day the scriptwriter was ill and the producer asked me to write the show – I ended up writing it for nearly a year. I used to sit in my flat in Toronto, staring out of the window in the morning looking at the rush hour traffic, thinking, ‘You lucky bastards, you are going to an office, you will meet other people, socialize all day…”. Then after 15 years in film and television as a screenwriter and producer in the crazy movie business, it was sheer bliss to become a full-time writer. I bought a massive Georgian manor house in Sussex and for some years revelled in not having to shave in the mornings- having all day to myself- but gradually I started going nuts with the isolation. One day I found myself carrying the vacuum cleaner across the fields at lunchtime to the repairman in Hassocks in order to have someone to talk to; life as a writer is difficult and I find most full-time writers that I know are a little strange. I love the balance that I have now.

Please tell me more about your books. Why do you believe that they have become so popular?

I never imagined, in my wildest dreams, the global success that Roy Grace would have. I love writing these books more than anything I have ever done in my life and just so long as my readers keep enjoying them and wanting more, I will continue.

In the early days, I had years of rejection letters as an unpublished author. It was as if there was a wall on one side of which were the publishers and the published authors, and on the other side were all those desperate to be published authors – and never the twain should meet. I became hugely despondent in my mid-twenties, really believing that the dream I’d held since the age of eight, of being a published author, would never come true. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never be any good at writing novels, that I just did not have what it took.

I think all of us are the sum of our parts, so I would have to question whether, if I went back into the past and changed anything, I would be lucky enough to be so successful over again.   Writing is a craft, no different at certain levels to other crafts. A wannabe carpenter’s tenth table is going to be better than his first, because practice does make perfect – or at least less bad! My first novel was actually my fourth – I had written three novels in my late teens and early twenties, which, luckily, never got published, before my fourth. But I was to write a further four before I finally achieved my ambition, to make the Top 10 best-sellers list – and exceeded it by reaching No 1.   Knowing what I know now, I don’t think I would do anything differently. Instant success can be a dangerous thing. I’ve seen so many writers get a massively hyped first novel, and then struggle for the rest of their careers to match it – and rarely do. I am very happy with my lot – an overnight bestseller who took 31 years to get there!

The success of these novels has totally astonished me, I never expected them to be this popular – and it is wonderful – I’m immensely grateful to all my readers and, of course, now I feel very protective of him! I think my readers can connect to Roy’s human side which is drawn out of the fact he is based on a real person (David Gaylor) I think they find it interesting that his job is to solve mysteries, and yet he has his own mystery that he can’t solve. I think Roy would be good fun to spend an evening with, but more seriously, if ever I was unlucky enough to have one of my family murdered he’s the man I’d want running the investigation.

Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why? 

I write the way I like to read – which is short chapters, with cliffhanger endings. One trope I do enjoy is using a phrase in the last line of the chapter that I then pick up again in the first line of the next chapter.

What books/ authors do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I’ve learned a lot from some of the great classical writers – in particular Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Scott Fitzgerald and Graham Greene. I read very broadly and very eclectically, and I’ve never been comfortable with “genre” boundaries. In my view, great writing is great writing whether it is labelled “thriller”, “crime”, “general fiction”, “horror” or anything else. Of current writers in the UK, I like William Boyd a lot, and early Ian McEwan. One of my biggest influences was the late thriller writer Desmond Bagley. There are some fine UK crime writers, whose work I really like, including Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Brian McGillivray, Anne Cleeves, Stuart McBride and many others, but I tend to read more US writers. I used to love John D Macdonald’s funky Travis McGee series, I was a great fan of Stephen King’s early novels, in particular Carrie and The Shining, and I think Ira Levin wrote two of the greatest, darkest books ever written, Rosemary’s Baby and The Boys From Brazil. I like James Ellroy, and I love Elmore Leonard – he just writes the most fabulous characters. Two of my favourite crime novels of the past few decades are Silence Of The Lambs and Michael Connelly’s The Lincoln Lawyer.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

In fact, I have just collaborated on a short story which will form part of an anthology called MATCH UP where I have paired up with the wonderful Val McDermid and we have Carol Jordan, Tony Hill and Roy Grace working on a case together. Similarly, I wrote a short story with Ian Rankin in an anthology called FACE OFF, the story being called ‘In The Nick Of Time’ and this complication was a New York Times bestseller. We had Grace and Rebus working on a case together and it was hugely enjoyable writing it!

I hope to also write more with Graham Bartlett too. For many years, David Gaylor was my principal contact in Sussex Police, working closely with me on the planning of my stories and giving me introductions to any officers he felt would be helpful to my research on each successive Roy Grace novel, to lend my books the authenticity I try hard to maintain. When he retired, I was immensely fortunate to have that baton taken on by his good friend, Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett, himself a former senior homicide detective, who then became Commander of Brighton and Hove Police. Graham and I instantly hit it off and he was an invaluable help to me for several years. When he was coming up to retirement he told me he harboured ambitions to become a published author, and sent me examples of blogs he had written over the years, for me to judge his skills. Then I had a true light bulb moment. Many people had been suggesting to me, over the years, that I should write a non-fiction book about my research with the police and throughout his thirty-year career, Graham had the unique experience of policing Brighton and Hove at every rank and had been involved in many of the cases that provided inspiration both for characters and for plots of my novels. He clearly had writing talent. We decided to collaborate and write a book about what it was really like to be a police officer in Roy Grace’s Brighton and it was published last year and went to Number 7 in the Sunday Times Bestseller list!

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

Roy Grace number 13, called Need You Dead will be published on May 18th. The stage play of my 3rd Roy Grace novel, Not Dead Enough is currently touring the UK until July 1st. I’m just editing my latest standalone called Absolute Proof which is actually a move away from the crime genre- it’s a standalone novel on the theme of what might happen if someone claimed to have absolute proof of the existence of God. It is a subject that has long intrigued me, and I have been working on the research planning of this book for nearly two decades. It will be published next year. And I hope also to share some good news about Roy Grace on TV soon!

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year?  

I’m always excited to find a new writer who grips me. I really liked JP Delaney’s The Girl Before and I look forward to this author’s next book.

Do you have anything to add?

I’ve written the foreword to a wonderful work of non-fiction, Dorling Kindersley’s The Crime Book, which has just been published. And in June there is another fantastic book being published, Matchup. It’s an anthology, edited by Lee Child, in which eleven female thriller writers are paired up with eleven male writers, with their central characters working together. Val McDermid and I have Carole Jordan, Tony Hill and Roy Grace working together! Other pairings include Kathy Reichs’s Temperance Brennan working with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. It has been a lot of fun and I think all the stories are great!

Thanks to Peter for taking the time, it’s been really fascinating to learn about his methods, and if you fancy finding out his website HERE.

The Scarlet Coven Review: A New Take on A Classic Style

The scarlet coven

Recently I bemoaned the lack of hardboiled detective fiction in the media, and it seems as though someone has answered my whiney prayers by bringing me The Scarlet Coven, a creative approach to this underrated genre which, although not entirely the same, draws on many classic tropes to create a real page turner that I found very hard to put down.

Set in 1930s New York, The Scarlet Coven is a slick take on hardboiled detective fiction as former detective Simon Finch, who has been looking to give up his time as former policeman and freelance ‘Man about Crime’ is pushed back into detection when he is approached by a stranger who tells him he is in terrible danger and arranges a meeting as a desperate plea for help. When the man is found murdered shortly afterwards, Finch explores the seedy underworld of otherworldly cults, mysterious mob bosses and twisted plots to uncover the truth and save the innocent.

As with many hardboiled detective novels, dialogue is crucial, and David Stuart Davies’s novel is no exception, with witty one-liners creating conversation so good it’s (almost) comparable to Raymond Chandler’s seminal work. The one problem I have is the first person narration, which doesn’t seem to match the droll tone of Finch’s conversation; phrases such as ‘gosh’ and ‘Al had the temerity to giggle’ don’t ring true for a man who otherwise speaks like he’s walked straight out of a speakeasy, offering swift rejoinders and receiving them back with the practiced ease of a proper old school PI.

If you need more of a reason to like this reincarnation a hardboiled novel then look no further than my new favourite synonym: ‘like a naïve trout: well and truly hooked’. The writing is slick, and some of the conversations, particularly any involving Finch and anyone in an official capacity, are memorable for their wit and quick delivery.

Fundamentally this is a really solid representation of hardboiled private detective fiction, and whilst Finch still needs some work he has the makings of a great character and I would definitely like to see more of him.