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.
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.