Paul Gitsham is the author of the DCI Warren Jones series, as well as a teacher, Trekkie and fan of true crime documentaries- the perfect person for an interview with the Dorset Book Detective! He shares insights into his work and how he’s created such an iconic police procedural series.
What is your background and how did you get in to writing professionally? How do you draw on your past when writing crime fiction?
I was always a book lover, filling my library card each week. I also loved writing stories and always wanted to be an author, but for most of my life it was little more than a hobby. My other passion is science, and after gaining a PhD in molecular biology, I spent some years doing research as a biologist, before finally retraining as a science teacher. But in all that time, I kept on reading and always had something I was tinkering with.
The first DCI Warren Jones novel, The Last Straw, is about the murder of a reviled university professor, and so my background in academia became really useful.
How does your experience as a teacher influence your writing?
The most obvious example is the novella, A Deadly Lesson. The story centres on the murder of a deputy head teacher in her office late one night. Being so familiar with the way modern schools work not only allowed me to write an accurate story, it also suggested ideas and plot twists that I could incorporate into the story.
Like anyone who works in a profession, I cringe sometimes when I see teaching portrayed either in books or on TV. Schools are dynamic, changing places and education evolves constantly. It’s really obvious when a writer is a non-teacher and hasn’t set foot in a school since they were pupils!
The other way in which being a teacher influences my writing is that Warren’s wife, Susan, is a biology teacher and I do bring that into their home life.
What drew you towards writing crime fiction novels?
My earliest scribblings were science fiction based, but often with elements of crime mixed in. When I finally realised that the murder subplot of a Sci Fi novel I was working on was becoming the dominant thread of that story, I finally realised that somebody was trying to tell me something!
By this time, my taste in books had largely gone full-circle; the first books I read as a child were Enid Blyton, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew etc. I then read a lot of science fiction before drifting back to the crime genre. By the time I sat down to write The Last Straw, I was almost exclusively reading crime and thriller.
Please tell me about the DCI Warren Jones series and why you believe that they’re so popular?
The DCI Warren Jones series are modern police procedurals, set in a fictional Hertfordshire town. Starting with The Last Straw, they now number six novels and 4 novellas, with this year’s A Price to Pay, the most recent.
I really love a good, twisty plot with some red herrings. Something that many of my readers comment on is how normal Warren is. I realised very early on, that I didn’t want to write a broken, alcoholic divorcee – not because I don’t like those characters – but because I didn’t feel I could necessarily add something substantial to the host of brilliantly written characters that already exist. So instead, Warren is happily married without any substance-abuse problems or dark, depressive tendencies.
Many readers have found it a refreshing change! That’s not to say I don’t put him through the wringer, and he has experienced more than his fair share of tragedy, but he still passes the ‘Friday night pint test’ – i.e. would I like to go for a pint with him on a Friday evening? And yes, I think I would!
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 partner and I are big true-crime fans; we watch a lot of dodgy documentaries on Freeview! Interestingly, it’s not the story that inspires me -after all, that tale has been told. It’s the tiny little detail that sends my imagination flying off at a strange tangent. I keep a file of ideas on my phone, usually little more than a single sentence, and I am forever adding to them. But nine times out of ten, anyone reading what I jotted down during the programme would probably struggle to make the connection between the idea and what was on screen!
In terms of writer’s block, because I write out of sequence and fit it all together at the end, it’s rarely a big problem. If a section isn’t behaving itself, I put it one side and write something different.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?
This is where I have to leave the crime genre and proudly display my geek credentials: I am a HUGE fan of Star Trek and the novels based on the series. I own hundreds and have read even more. Back in the late nineties, two Trek authors – Judith and Garth Reeves-Stevens – teamed up with William Shatner and wrote a series of fantastic novels continuing the story of Captain Kirk after he supposedly died in Star Trek: Generations. They finished after three trilogies and I doubt there will be anymore. I have read them all at least half-a-dozen times. It would be a dream to continue that series, but collaborating with the Reeves-Stevens (ideally with Bill Shatner involved, obviously). If you are reading this Pocket Books, please don’t be shy about emailing …
What do you like to read and how does this influence your own writing?
Aside from the aforementioned Star Trek novels that I still love to pick up now and again, I have been reading a lot during lockdown. Will Dean’s Tuva series are an inspiration when it comes to describing environment – I read Red Snow during a mini-heat wave but had to stop myself from turning the radiators on as I was transported to Sweden.
Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series is a masterclass in character growth. Harry is an unmovable constant – yet he never stops changing. It’s a wonderful paradox and I love being immersed in that series. If I could make a returning reader of my Warren Jones series feel just a taste of the warm, comfortable feeling I get when I pick up the latest Bosch, then I will have succeeded beyond my dreams.
Do you have any projects or new books coming up that you are particularly excited about?
The eBook of A Price to Pay came out in June and I’ve been exchanging notes with my audiobook narrator ready for the audio and paperback release on August 6th. By far the bulk of my sales are Kindle, but there is still something special about having the paperback sitting on my shelf, and hearing Malk reading out my words.
I am also into the final stages of next summer’s book, snappily titled DCI Warren Jones Book 7, Title TBC.
I have a ton of editing and rewriting to do, but two days ago, I wrote the scene where Warren finally charges the killer with the murder. It is a wonderful feeling.
Are you planning on using the current crisis in any of your future works, and how do you think it will affect the world in which your characters live?
In terms of the DCI Warren Jones series, I am in the fortunate position that the series’ chronology runs a few years behind the real world. I have another couple of books to go before I have to start thinking about what the hell I’m going to do about 2020 – a year that if you had pitched it to an editor as dystopian fiction 12 months ago would have been rejected as too dark and unrealistic.
The big changes will be to the standalone that I have been writing in my ‘spare’ time. I wrote a large chunk of it over summer 2019, before putting it to one side to start the next Warren Jones. I had been planning on finishing the first draft this summer before starting Warren Jones 8. However, half the book is set in July 2020. Changing the date it is set in will need significant work but won’t be impossible, however things are so uncertain at the moment that it feels risky to assume that everything will be back to normal next summer and just change all the dates to 2021 – I really don’t want to have to do it again!
So, I have decided to push on and write the next couple of Warren Jones before coming back to the standalone when I have the benefit of hindsight. I have written enough that it will definitely be finished one day, but I’m not sure exactly when!
What new books or debut authors are you looking forward to reading and finding out more about in the future?
Last weekend was the Two Crime Writers and a Microphone Locked Up online festival in aid of the Trussell Trust. My partner and I spent a LOT of money at Waterstones the day after it concluded. I’ve bought/pre-ordered a couple of old favourites: Steve Cavanagh’s next Eddie Flynn – Fifty-Fifty will be devoured at an indecent pace. As will Alex North’s latest, The Shadow Friend. Last year’s The Whisper Man was brilliant.
We have all of Vaseem Khan’s Inspector Chopra’s signed and face-out on the bookshelf, so we are intrigued to read Midnight at Malabar House, the first in his new series. And finally, from the New Blood debuts panel, Nadine Matheson’s The Jigsaw Man sounds like it’s just up my street. It’s not due out until next spring, so I will see if I can persuade someone to send me an arc!
Huge thanks to Paul for answering my questions- it’s been a blast!