This week I caught up with former Detective A.B. Patterson to learn more about his writing and how he draws on his time in the police to help him create memorable crime fiction.
Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards creating crime fiction?
I didn’t set out to write crime fiction when I first started messing around with words. However, that old advice of “write what you know”, combined with (starting about ten years ago) reading a lot more crime fiction, prevailed pretty quickly. I do want to write other stuff as well- more on that later!
Style-wise, I am firmly in the hard-boiled and noir camps with my crime fiction. I enjoy reading that style immensely, and so it came naturally to try writing in it. And the more I do, the more comfortable I am with it. One of my big likes about this style of crime fiction is its accent on characters and social commentary. To me, those two aspects are more important than plot. So my writing is gritty and realistic – not for the faint-hearted!
How do you draw on your past as a policeman in your writing?
I spent most of my police career as a detective, and most of that working in child abuse and paedophilia. Then vice squad for my last 18 months before I resigned. I’ve also worked in investigating government corruption since I was a cop. So, it’s the wealth of experience in terms of cases I’ve worked on and the types of people I’ve met, both in crime and corruption work, that have given me a treasure trove of material on which to base my fiction. I’ll run out of time in my life before I run out of story ideas. I’m very fortunate in that regard. Connected to this is my deep-seated loathing of power abuse, whether it be victimization by criminals, corruption by government people, or workplace bullying. My background, both personal and professional, has me wanting to look after the underdog, so this comes through in my writing, as it is a driving force in me.
Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular?
Sure I want to spin (hopefully) good yarns which entertain people, but one of my big motivating factors in wanting to write is to tell people what actually goes on out in society, both in terms of crime and corruption. The majority of the storylines I’ve used so far are based on truth, to varying degrees. So the sorts of criminal acts and corrupt behaviours you read in my work do actually occur out there.
I also get a kick out of being able to have my main protagonist achieve a certain justice, when in reality this often is not the outcome, sadly. And I like to have a PI as my main character, rather than a cop, as that allows less adherence to the rules. He can be more flawed, which is so much fun.
I’m not at the “popular” stage yet, too early in my writing career. But I do intend to write for the rest of my life, so I’m in it for the long term. If I become popular, then great. What I really want is just to be able to earn a living out of writing, and not have to do more mundane work. When I get to that point, I’ll be a very happy man.
Of course, being a self-published author means that there’s a long road to build one’s profile and grow a readership. So, all the more reason to work hard at it.
Where do you find your inspiration? Are there any particular places or incidents you draw on when you find yourself with writer’s block?
Well, as earlier discussed, my professional background and the cases I’ve worked on are a huge inspiration. So is the desire to tell people what goes on in society, even though it is dressed up as fiction. I also come up with random ideas when I see things. I always carry a notebook so those flashes of inspiration can be jotted down and not lost to the daily noise of life.
For example, I saw a TV documentary a few weeks ago about trafficked African girls working as prostitutes in Italy. That gave me a germ of an idea for a short story, which is now complete and has been submitted to a magazine in the US. You just never know when ideas will come up. If I sit down and try to come up with ideas and write, then sometime that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Earlier on, I used to get frustrated with writer’s block (we all get it along the way). Now, I find it easier in two ways. The first is that as I have become more disciplined at writing most days, even if it’s only for 20 to 30 minutes, I am finding that words flow much more easily. It’s almost as if productivity breeds itself. The second point is that I don’t let myself sit there and get frustrated any more – I simply put the pen down and go and do other related tasks, like research or editing some previous writing. The pernicious trap of writer’s block is that it also feeds on itself.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
What a great question. And so hard to choose an answer. Well, for my style of crime writing, there’d be a few deceased authors – Ross Macdonald, Raymond Chandler, James Crumley all jump out. But I’m going to go with a living author – Ken Bruen from Ireland. An American reviewer likened my style to Bruen’s, and I love his books. Why? Because he writes it gritty and noir with flawed people everywhere – exactly the world I write in. I could pick several others, but I’d be here a while.
Do you have any projects coming up that you are particularly excited about?
Absolutely. The manuscript for my second novel, Harry’s Quest, is in final editing stages now and I expect to publish it in July/August this year. It’s the sequel to Harry’s World.
I’m also working on a number of short stories, and I’ve decided to put together a set of them into a book, either later this year or early next. I have written a number of Harry short stories, but in the first person rather than the third, so this has been a fascinating adventure, writing my main man as “I” instead.
Another project I started a while ago, but need to get back to, is a novella called The Scent of the Wattle. It’s a dark tale about child abuse and paedophilia, fiction still, but very much drawing on the work I did in that area. Again, there are things I want to say and put out there.
And I alluded to writing other genres before. One of my favourite reading genres, aside from crime, is dystopian fiction. So I definitely want to try my hand at that. And, of course, the more I sit and think about it, the more project ideas that will emerge. I love that about being a writer.
Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?
I’m a hopeless addict when it comes to buying books, so my TBR piles are huge, despite the fact that I read on average a book a week – my target for this year is 60, and I’m on track. I’ve been getting into crime and pulp anthology magazines since last year, hence my foray into short story writing, of which I’ve had two published now in Switchblade magazine, an excellent hard-boiled and noir anthology. Aside from the short story being a wonderful format, and I think even more appealing in the current age with people being so time-poor, these anthologies are a great way to find new authors. And then you can go looking for their books if you like their style. So I have “discovered” many indie crime writers and am starting to read their books. Some favourites so far are: Preston Lang, Alec Cizak, Scotch Rutherford, Todd Robinson, J.D.Graves, and Travis Richardson.
There is so much good writing out there, especially in the indie and self-publishing worlds. I think a lot of the best writing out there is overlooked by the mainstream publishing industry, which, after all, is purely commercial in its interests.
If I could give some advice to my younger self, a key point would be “Read more!” Oh, and another one would be “Write!” I wish I’d started that earlier. Still, I’m trying to make up for it now.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Thank you for showing an interest in speaking with me. Aside from having to do “other work” to pay the rent and bills, I do feel very fortunate to have found exactly what I want to spend the rest of my days on this planet doing. I just want to write more and more.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions; it’s been a pleasure hearing from you. You can find out more about him and his writing HERE.