Tag Archives: Inspector Morse

The Intel: James Lovegrove

James LovegroveThat Sherlock Holmes, aye? A hundred years down the line and authors still can’t get enough of The Great Detective. He’s been reinterpreted, reimagined, rebooted, restyled, and flung through time. Writers have pored over Conan Doyle’s every sentence to find inspiration for untold stories. In Baker Street everyone’s a star. Minor characters have been plucked from obscurity and given their own series – and still readers can’t get enough of his Victorian world.

Now sci-fi author James Lovegrove has given Holmes a steampunk vibe by pitting him against The Thinking Engine. It’s 1895 and Professor Quantock has put the finishing touches to a wondrous computational device that, he claims, is capable of analytical thought to rival that of the cleverest men alive.

Holmes and Watson travel to Oxford, where a battle of wits ensues between the great detective and his mechanical counterpart as they compete to see which of them can be first to solve a series of crimes. As man and machine vie for supremacy, it becomes clear that the Thinking Engine has its own agenda and Holmes and Watson’s lives are on the line as a ghost from the past catches up with them.

James is the best-selling author of The Age of Odin, the third novel in his critically-acclaimed Pantheon military SF series. He was short-listed for the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1998 for his novel Days and for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 2004 for his novel Untied Kingdom. A reviewer for The Financial Times, he’s also  the author of Sherlock Holmes: Gods of War and Sherlock Holmes: The Stuff of Nightmares, which are also published by Titan Books.

In this intel interview, James talks Holmes and zombies, crosswords, Solomon Kane, our old friend Fu Manchu, and the Darwinian business of writing. It’s fascinating stuff — enjoy!

Tell us about The Thinking Engine…

I’ve set the book in Oxford in 1895, drawing on the reference in the Conan Doyle tale The Three Students, in which Watson states that in the spring of that year “a combination of events, into which I need not enter, caused Mr Sherlock Holmes and myself to spend some weeks in one of our great university towns”.

I myself was at Oxford between 1985 and 1988, studying for a degree in English Literature, so I know the place reasonably well and I thought it would be interesting to write a full-blown Sherlock Holmes novel in the City of Dreaming Spires, where he would be surrounded by intellectuals and academics, and also incorporate some of the local history and folklore into the story. I’d done that in Gods of War, which takes place in and around my current hometown, Eastbourne, and enjoyed the process. People tend to associate Holmes with Victorian London, but I think it’s fun removing him from all that’s familiar and giving him a new geography to explore.

The plot of the novel involves the creation of a computation device by a mathematics professor which seems to be capable to solving crimes. The machine is even, its creator claims, the equal of the great Sherlock Holmes. That’s a red rag to a bull as far as Holmes is concerned, so he travels to Oxford to establish the truth and uphold his reputation. There follows a series of mysteries, with the computer, called the Thinking Engine, always one step ahead of the great detective. And I’m not going to say any more than that, so as not to spoil the surprises. Rest assured, though, that all is not as it seems.

Why is the character of Sherlock Holmes as popular now as he has ever been?

A friend of mine, who’s a fellow Sherlockian, once likened Holmes to the ultimate older brother, and I like that description. We all know he’s a younger brother, of course, but he seems to fulfil a fraternal role as far as Watson is concerned, and therefore as far as we, the readers, are concerned, because Watson is our point of identification, the vehicle through which Holmes is mediated. Holmes is smarter, stronger, quicker on the uptake than Watson, always leading him along, goading him, sometimes chiding him, sometimes even bullying. Watson looks up to him, all the same, and we do too.

That, to me, is part of Holmes’s appeal: he feels like close kin. But also, he is resolutely on the side of the angels. He may not be the most patient or empathetic of heroes, but he is nonetheless a hero through and through. He represents certainty, the assurance that things will turn out well, that evil can be overcome through the application of energy and intelligence. That’s a very comforting message.

The analytical Holmes is a perfect fit for a steampunk movie – which director would you like to see adapt your books for the big-screen?

I haven’t really thought about movie adaptations or suitable directors. With all my books, I write them because they’re novels and are meant to be, novels and nothing else. Prose fiction is the medium I work in, the medium I understand best. First and foremost, I want to tell a good story in prose. What I would like to see, though, and be involved in, is a Holmes TV series that injects him into various SF/fantasy/horror situations. The setting would be the Victorian/Edwardian era. Holmes, Watson and all the secondary characters would be exactly as they are in the books. The only difference would be that he has to pit his wits against vampires, zombies, aliens and the like. In fact, I’m making moves in this direction already. Watch this space.

Sherlock Holmes: The Thinking EngineHolmes novels are clever puzzles, and you actually contribute cryptic crosswords to newspapers – do you have to have a logical mind to write The Great Detective?

I’m sure a logical mind helps, especially when it comes to putting together a plot. However, there is plenty of emotion in Holmes stories too, or there should be. He isn’t just a cerebral being, devoid of feeling. He has passions and latent empathy, and it’s important for any Holmes pasticheur to put those across. I love exploring the relationship between him and Watson.

There’s endless possibility for interplay and even humour there. Holmes himself is, in a very acerbic, droll way, funny. Not everyone sees that. He has a very English sense of understatement and irony, and even when he’s mocking Watson or a dull-witted Scotland Yard inspector, he does it with affection. Any novel, but especially a mystery-adventure novel, needs to have strong characterisation as well as rock-solid plotting. Logicality alone would create something that’s dry as dust and no fun.

You’ve written about Holmes as well as the many Gods of the great mythologies as part of your Pantheon sci-fi series – are there any other literary or mythological characters you’d like to get your hands on?

I would love, love, love to write a Fu Manchu novel. I have made noises about this to various publishers, particularly Titan, who are reprinting the original Sax Rohmer stories in lovely new paperback editions. The problem there is partly a copyright issue but also the popularity of the character, which is relatively low, especially when compared with someone as internationally recognisable as Holmes.

There is also the racism issue to address, Fu Manchu being of course the stereotypical “Yellow Peril” villain. I’ve thought of a way of dealing with that, by setting the story in the present day and incorporating the politics of modern China into the narrative. However, I suspect this project will remain forever a pipe dream.

As will my desire to write a Solomon Kane novel. Kane, as I’m sure you’re aware, is one of Robert E. Howard’s lesser series characters, and I feel that Howard could have done more with him outside the handful of short stories and the very bad poems he wrote about him. There was lots to explore there, and the sheer internal contradiction in the concept of a Puritan adventurer is fascinating. Again, there are rights issues to consider here, though, and even the recent movie, which was surprisingly authentic and good, did little to raise Kane’s profile outside genre circles.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That it’s incredibly difficult to make a decent living in this business. I’m doing reasonably well as a full-time writer, better than many, but that’s largely because I work my backside off and have been in publishing long enough (well over a quarter of a century!) and put out enough books (well over fifty!) to have built up a good roster of professional contacts and, perhaps, a reputation.

It’s difficult realising you’re never going to be in the Stephen King or J.K. Rowling leagues, you’re never going to sell books in those quantities, you’re never going to become a multimillionaire writer and be able to retire to the Bahamas and drink cocktails for the rest of your days. Those guys are the exception. The rule is the mid-listers like me who can just about get by. You have to be content with reaching the readers you do reach and simply earning an income from writing stories. Always you can hold out the hope of the big bestseller, the one that finally makes your name and gets the world to sit up and take notice. But, in an industry as tough and Darwinian as this, getting by is good enough.

Who are the crime authors you admire, and why? 

Other than Conan Doyle? I don’t have many favourites. I tend not to read much crime fiction, and especially not police procedurals, which I can’t seem to acquire a taste for. That said, I always liked Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse novels. I’m a sucker, too, for a locked-room mystery, which I like to think of as a cryptic crossword in fictional form, as long as the author plays fair with the reader, just as a crossword setter should play fair with the solver.

I have Otto Penzler’s massive Black Lizard compendium of locked-room mysteries by my bedside and am loving dipping into that, and I’m looking forward to his Holmes-pastiches companion volume which is due out soon. I was also a bit of a fan of Andrew Vachss’s Burke series while it lasted, particularly the early ones, while Darwyn Cooke’s graphic novel adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker stories are things of beauty.

Give me some advice about writing…

You have to work. Work, work, work. Never miss a deadline. Never say no to an offer of gainful employment. Some people seem to think being an author is an honour, a privilege. It is, but it’s also a job. You put the hours in. You do it the best you can. You don’t just sit there and think how wonderful it would be if the words just magically appeared. You make them appear, through effort and thought. Once you figure that out, it becomes easier.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just finished the first of a trilogy, known collectively as The Cthulhu Casebooks, in which Sherlock Holmes tackles gods, monsters and madmen drawn from, or inspired by, the H.P. Lovecraft canon. That’s out in late 2016, with the sequels to follow at yearly intervals.

I’ve just begun work on a new Pantheon novel, one featuring the Ancient Greek demigods. It’s something of a murder mystery itself, with a protagonist who’s a semi-successful crime writer – although a long, long time ago he used to be someone a lot more famous and proactive when it came to dishing out justice. That, too, is out next year, late summer I think, coming on the heels of the second of my Dev Harmer outer-space-action series. I’ve a couple of other projects bubbling away on the back burner. Staying busy!


Sherlock Holmes: The Thinking Engine is out in paperback and ebook, from Titan Books.

The Intel: Jo Spain

Jo SpainWith Our Blessing, Jo Spain’s debut crime novel featuring Irish Inspector tom Reynolds, is a book ripped straight from shocking headlines. It’s set against a background of the infamous Irish Magdalene Laundries and Mother and Baby homes where young mothers were subject to physical and mental abuse.

Jo has worked as a journalist and a party advisor on the economy in the Irish parliament, and as vice-chair of the business body InterTrade Ireland. With Our Blessing is her first novel and was one of seven books shortlisted in the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition 2015. She lives in Dublin with her husband and their four young children.

A generous interviewee, Jo gives us the intel on her debut novel – and how her research into the topic also revealed an astonishing family secret.  And she’s got some really interesting things to say about her own writing process – so dig in and enjoy!

How would you describe Inspector Tom Reynolds?

Tom is a gentleman – relaxed, smart, witty. He likes to indulge in the odd cigar and a nice glass of red, or pale ale. Tom married his college sweetheart and they have one daughter, who they both adore. Unlike many fictional detectives, Tom’s family life works well, but he is struggling to get his head around his only child growing up in With Our Blessing.

Tom’s approach to an investigation is to have a strong team around him and play to their strengths. He’s not threatened by the abilities of his subordinates and he’s happy with where he has reached in his career. He doesn’t want to go further up the ladder, he takes pleasure in solving the puzzles his cases throw up. His strength as a detective is his insight into human behaviour. He interacts well with people, engaging them with an intelligence and kindness they don’t always expect from the police.

Most importantly, Tom has a sense of humour which hasn’t diminished despite his job being oft times harrowing. He still sees the good in the world.

The idea from With Our Blessing came from your own family roots – what was the inspiration?

It’s actually the other way round – when I was researching With Our Blessing, it inspired me to look into my family history and I discovered some astonishing facts. I’d always known my late Dad was adopted, but when looking into the history of mother & baby homes for With Our Blessing, it occured to me that, having been born in 1951, he must have been adopted from such a place. It took painstaking work, but I eventually discovered that his mother had given birth to him in 1951 in Dublin but refused to allow the nuns to take him for adoption. That was incredibly strong of her and virtually unheard of for the time.

She took him out of the home in 1953, but in 1955, alone and most likely destitute, she brought him back and reluctantly gave him up. He was adopted in 1955, age 4. My dad knew none of this and lived a tragic life, always feeling that he’d been abandoned. He died in a fire in 1995, aged 44.

The novel is set against the background of the notorious Irish Magdalene Laundries – what happened there?

I should point out that while the Laundries were fairly prolific in Ireland, they’re not a particularly Irish phenomenon and also not unique to Catholicism. Across the world, there are examples of homes for unwanted or ‘wanton’ women. The Magdalene Laundries seemed to begin as charitable refuges. At some point, that changed and the women and girls held in them were made to work for their bed and meals, even though the State afforded stipends to the institutions for the women there. I don’t have enough word space to go into the history of the Laundries.

Suffice to say, the testimonies of the women who went through them speak of imprisonment, back-breaking manual labour to make profit for the religious orders, physical and mental abuse, torture and hunger. Not in every case, but in most. I recommend the Channel Four documentary Sex in a Cold Climate as a starting point for further information.

With Our BlessingHow has Ireland come to terms with the recent shocking revelations about mother and baby homes?

There’s a part in With Our Blessing where Tom is engaged in a very telling conversation with an elderly nun. She points out that while society holds its hands up and expresses shock at revelations about religious institutions, the same society was responsible for sending their daughters/sisters to those places. As she says, nobody wanted to see a single mother pushing a pram around, evidence of her sin. One of Tom’s detectives points out that society was conditioned by the Church to believe certain things. There’s some truth in that, but there have always been superstitions and stigmas about women, especially single, pregnant women.

Irish people did spend a long time under the cosh of the Church and much of that has faded. What hasn’t faded to the same extent is a particularly Irish trait of not washing your dirty linen in public – keeping family secrets, secret. It has been very empowering for the women who’ve come forward and told the truth about the homes and the sheer emotion of their experiences has forced larger society and the State to recognise the issue and address the legacy.

But that doesn’t mean all people have come to terms with it. There are many elderly people who would dispute the women’s stories and the religious orders deny them. The State has set up an investigation and is moving to give adopted people rights, but the process is shockingly slow and far behind Britain.

There is a general acceptance, though, that thousands of women were forced to give up their children in mother and baby homes, often in illegal adoption situations, and that babies were even sold from such institutions.

With Our Blessing was shortlisted for the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition – what kind of platform did that provide for you as a writer?

It got me a book deal! I’d just finished my first draft of the book when I saw the competition advertised, with a few days to go before the closing date. I entered because it was free and then forgot about it, because it seemed like such a prestigious thing and I hadn’t even edited my submission. When I found out I’d been shortlisted, I knew life was going to change because even that was going to look pretty good in my ‘please publish me’ letter.

My youngest was 12 days old when I got the email saying that while I hadn’t won, Quercus were interested in talking to me about the book and taking it further. A couple of weeks later, they came back with the offer of a two-book deal. I couldn’t scream down the phone because I was holding the baby, but I was yelling inside with happiness. I figured I’d a good five years or more of rejection slips ahead of me, so it was overwhelming.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

I guess that a publishing deal doesn’t equate to you becoming a full-time writer, which is what I imagine most writers aspire to. Maybe one day, but right now, I have two full-time jobs and I write on top of them, along with minding four small children. The six-figure deals that make the headlines are the exception, not the rule. Writing is my dream but it takes a while before it can also become your living and that makes it tough.

Who are the authors you admire and why?

I’m currently obsessed with Tom Rob Smith. I can’t believe I missed Child 44 when it came out – I read it recently and it blew my socks off. It wasn’t just that it’s a great thriller and page turner. It’s beautifully written and the time period is fascinating.

I do tend to veer towards crime books mostly, but I like them best when they’re well written – when it’s not just a plot-focused book or fast-paced action. I love Fred Vargas for her wit and unique style. I love Louise Penny’s Gamache series because I want to spend time with her characters. I love Jo Nesbo because the first time I read The Snowman it sent shivers down my spine. For British authors, it has to be Agatha Christie (who made me want to be a crime writer), Ann Cleeves (for the beauty of her settings and observations about life) and Colin Dexter (because Morse is just so clever).

I could go on and on here… I speed read and have been known to do a book in a day, so there are a lot of authors I love!

Give me some advice about writing.

Plan your novel in advance. Sit down and write it from start to finish, don’t dither going back over sections. Edit it diligently yourself. Then allow yourself to be edited. My husband (a former editor) edits my books before I send them into Quercus and after going through the process twice, I can hand on heart say our marriage could now survive anything. Respect people’s trades. You’re a writer; he or she is the editor.

Hand it over to a couple of good friends (choose these people very carefully) and ask them for honest, constructive criticism. Some people are deliberate ego-crushers, others are just idiots – watch out for them and don’t trust them with your baby. And prepare yourself for subjectivity. Remember that you don’t like every book you read, sometimes even books that sell off the shelves.

What’s next for you?

Aside from world domination? Ha!

I’m at the final edit stage of book two, preparing to send it into Quercus. I’m on my hols as I write and I’ve just done the plot outline for book three, which has me very excited.

I’m hoping my debut will be well received. It’s utterly nerve-wracking sending your hopes and dreams out to the world to be judged. I’d like people who love it to shower me with praise and those who don’t, well, if they could just keep that to themselves…


With Our Blessing by Jo Spain is out now in original paperback, priced at £12.99.

The Intel: M.P. Wright

M.P. Wright

M.P. Wright’s crime novel Heartman is published in a few short days – we reviewed it earlier in the week, of course. You can see that by scrolling down, or if that’s too much effort, click here. I’m happy to say that Mark’s been kind enough to give us the Intel on where the inspiration for the book came from, and on his writing regime. He’s got some really interesting things to say about the hanging in there during the submissions process, and the importance of literary agents. So check this out…

Tell us about JT Ellington…

Joseph Tremaine Ellington is 42 year old Barbadian, who has recently emigrated from his home island in the Caribbean, and has reluctantly settled in the St Pauls district of Bristol. Ellington had been a serving police Sargeant with the Barbados Police Force; he’s a widower and a man with closely guarded secrets. It’s the winter of 1965 and JT finds himself out of work, broke and about to be thrown out on the street by his landlord. The word around St Pauls is the Ellington is an ex copper and that he’s generally bad luck to be around, he’s distrusted by many in his own community and he doesn’t enamour himself with the Bristol police force when he goes head to head with them either.

He’s not your traditional private investigator. JT’s not looking to become a detective, far from it. He just wants work. The job is forced upon him by necessity. He needs food in his belly and a roof over his head, its as simple as that. When we first meet him on a snowy evening, he’s nursing an empty beer glass in a local back street pub searching for work along the ‘job’ columns of the Bristol Evening Post. Desperation forces Ellington to undertake a missing person’s inquiry for local Jamaican Alderman, Earl Linney; it’s not long before JT soon finds himself being dragged into a murky underworld of local vice, corruption and kidnapping.

Where did the inspiration for Heartman come from? 

The origins for Heartman and my Bajan detective, J T Ellington have been hanging around at the back of my head for a good ten years. I’d written for twenty years and done nothing with it. I wrote all kinds of stuff, plays, poetry, screenplays. Heartman was originally titled, ‘Rock a Bye Blues’ and from the beginning I’d got a three book story arc that I had mapped out very clearly in my mind I knew I wanted to create a character that had not been seen too much in the UK crime fiction arena. Reginald Hill had created a series of novels in the early 1990’s which featured Joe Sixsmith, a black private detective who walks the mean streets of Luton. I loved the humour of those books but I wanted to put my own mark by showing a grittier and very much flawed character.

Ellington is certainly a close cousin to many of the US noir detectives of the 40’s, 50’s & 60’s and my admiration of characters such as Lew Archer, Phillip Marlowe and Travis McGee is evident in my writing. My own writing has certainly found a degree of inspiration from the crime writers who I’ve been reading for the past 35 years or more; writer’s such as Ross MacDonald, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Chester Himes, James M Cain and Walter Mosley, James Lee Burke, Ted Lewis, Phillip Kerr and Phillip Kerr to name but a few.

You’ve stated that the book owes a debt to the American crime writer James Lee Burke – what is it about his books that you really like? 

Jim Burke’s writing has been a great inspiration to me and his books have been constant literary companions of mine for over twenty years. If I had to condense the reasons why I adore his work so much I’d have to say that it’s foremost the sense of compassion that he injects into his writing. Burke’s much more than a crime writer and his novels say so much both about the American way of life now, in the 21st century and in its historical past. He’s a true master at evocating strong emotions in the reader and there’s no one like him for offering up a solid sense of ‘real’ time & place.

Louisiana State belongs to Jim Burke, and there is a passion represented in the crime novels for both the fading Cajun and Creole lifestyles that he grew up with and the emergence of a new, modern Southern state that is far removed from his own childhood. Burke voices such important social issues and fears in his detective Dave Robicheaux, surely one of the truly great fictional US detectives.

Why did you choose to set Heartman in 1960s Bristol?

Heartman was originally set out as a TV script, set within the Caribbean community, here in my home city of Leicester. Whilst I love both the city and county I was born in; there simply wasn’t the vastness of scope both logistically and historically – Bristol however hit all the markers. My Partner, Jen, is from Bristol, I fell in love with the city. It’s a port city and even though you are not to near it, you feel close to the sea when you walk its streets. The city has strong ties historically to the West Indies, trade and commerce being one of them and for a long time, sadly, slavery. It was those factual and historical dynamics that drew me to the city and importantly,

Ellington’s new home in St Pauls. The city, beautiful and vibrant as it is today also has a strong historical feeling of the mysterious and slightly dangerous. I like to think of the place as I set it in the 1960’s being a kin to the West Country version of the ‘City of Angels’.

You’re the Writer in Residence at your local pub – how did that come about?

The simple answer is my love of beer, or real ale, to be exact. I’d always written ideas whilst partaking in a pint at the local pub – and as Colin Dexter wrote of, Morse: “When I drink, I think. And when I have to think, I have to drink.”

That’s not to say I write an entire book down the boozer, far from it. The Salmon is a three-times CAMRA award winning pub. It’s atmospheric and it’s also the perfect place to note down ideas. Later this year, after Heartman’s sequel is in the bag, I intend to start creative writing workshops at the pub, get writers in and combine good real ale with good writing. As a note, the pubs in Heartman are all still about and I’ve drank in all of them.

Heartman - M.P. WrightTake us through a typical writing day for you…

I start early, around 7.30am. Once our dogs are walked across the fields and home is spotless, I’m good to go. Heartman is a 60’s set novel and I find I need to be in a certain mindset to work in that defined era. I need to be there whilst I’m writing, walk those streets and hear the characters talk to me. So mobile phones are a no-no and I see and speak to no one whilst I write. I also act out the dialogue, (crazy, I know – but it’s a writers thing, honest). I find that I don’t need an audience to be doing that, so I’m grateful that home is ‘empty’, but for the dogs whilst I work.

Music is important to me. I play the tracks I’m using in the book whilst I write. I’ve also collected film music for 30 years. Soundtracks make good working companions, I find them very inspiring. I make notes, plotlines, story arcs and character descriptions in my faithful Moleskine journal and write at my laptop, often until late into the night. 

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

I know it’s said that there is a ‘book in everyone.’ Perhaps there is, but I don’t believe writing’s for everyone. Being an author a solitary existence at times and can be all consuming whilst you are working. That said, it’s also a real privilege to write ‘full time’ and I truly wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I do think the need to write is something that’s in your soul. You just have to do it. Can it be taught? Personally, I don’t think so. Creative writing classes have there merits, critiquing your work with fellow writers being probably the most important one and just being around others creatively is another. But for me true writing is both a discipline and strangely enough, a gift. It’s my job and I’m lucky to do it.

That said, I’m very self critical and will write and rewrite a line till my head throbs and my fingers are numb. I think that’s true of most writers, but I also think those of us that are writing professionally, for a living as it were, realise that your work impacts greatly on others. If I don’t commit to producing my very best writing then that has a direct impact on both the financial and commercial reputations of my publisher, literary agent, my editor, the press and PR department etc.

Ultimately our writing pays the wages and mortgages of others as well as our own. It’s something creative writing students need to recognise when they are looking to get published and wanting to ‘Live The Dream’. Publishing is still very much a ‘Team’ industry. Loose cannons need not apply. It’s all about working together to bring in the best book possible to the reader. That for me is the ultimate goal.

How do you deal with feedback?

As I wrote previously, critiquing your work is vital. Writing commercially is all about hard knocks. I’m not precious about my work. You find that when you get yourself an editor, being precious about your writing won’t help you with what should be you’re most important ‘shared’ creative process. My editor, Karyn Millar, at Black & White was a star. I have nothing but admiration for her skill and talent. She has such a keen eye. She was so precise in her methods of editing and suggestions on Heartman. As soon as I started working with her, I just knew it was right. I wouldn’t want to work with anyone else editorially. Hopefully Karyn’s stuck with me for a while yet.

My only other advice is to ‘Get a Thick Skin’ real quick, especially if you get to the submissions stage, which can be soul destroying if you allow it to be.

I have a number of personal submission stories that could put some blossoming writers from putting pen to paper ever again. Those stories are best not for print.

How have your own experiences shaped your writing? 

I think that all writers draw from personal experiences and from their daily lives. Professionally, I’ve worked within the kind of dark environments that have certainly had an impact on my own writing. I’ve been around a fair few ‘unusual characters’ in my time. None of those characters will ever enter my books, I know that for sure. Truth in my case has always been stranger and sadder than fiction. Imagination is all important. I take facets of a personality, nothing more.

That said one of the characters in Heartman is named after my old boss. He’s a man whom I admire greatly and who taught me so much. In that case using his name was more a dedication than anything else. They say, ‘Write about What You Know’ and that’s very true, it must though be metered out with a strong sense of ones one imagination and creativity.

Give me some advice about writing…

I think all writers need to start off at one very important point…

Tell the world, “I Am a Writer”, then and most importantly, have the courage of your vocal convictions and believe in your words. As I wrote early, writing is a discipline and to achieve any commercial success takes time, sometimes a very long time. I can honestly say, that I didn’t not wish to write to become ‘famous’ or to sign autographs. I never gave it a thought. I just had to write.

The worst thing I did was not to tell anyone, as I have just advised. I hid my writing for many years. The best thing I ever did was to say simply when asked what I did for a living was to simply reply, “I’m a writer’ It was a very liberating feeling, I can tell you.

It’s not easy to get noticed in the publishing world, so what you write has to be different, you need an individual voice and that’s very important. It’s no good looking at ‘what’s flavour of the day’ in the industry. Times change very quickly in publishing, be aware of that as a writer. Editors and publishing houses want a number of very simple things when looking at new writers, can they tell a good story that’s well written and can they sell your work out in the big wide world. It may be harsh, but it’s true. If you are gonna sit at a desk for 8 hours or more each day, writing your book then my advice is to make sure that your work is both original and attention grabbing.

Patience is another factor. Publishers take time to make decisions on a new writer. Their commitment to you in the future costs them cash. Their investment has to be spot on. Get used to rejection. All writers get it. It’s all very much part of the writing process. What don’t kill you… etc.

Lastly, and this is only my opinion, is the importance of having a literary agent to represent you. I can only speak from a personal perspective here. My agent, the wonderful, Phil Patterson at Marjacq Scripts has been integral to my finding the right home for Heartman. A literary agent can do so much for a writer and Phil has been so important in my early career. I’m sure they’ll be many writers reading this that will say, “I don’t need a literary agent to get my book out there.” Those writers are welcome to their opinions, but as far as I’m concerned my agent paved the way for me. He made the journey to becoming a published writer so much easier.

What’s next for you?

At the moment, I’m just finishing the final edits to Heartman’s sequel, All Through the Night. My editor has just received the first 20 Chapters to dip into. Always a nervous time waiting to hear back. Heartman’s publishing on July 1st, so it’s a busy time with PR and future arrangements for signings and launches.

This Autumn I’ll be writing a script for a new TV drama followed by the third J T Ellington novel in the winter of this year and early spring of 2015. It’s an exciting time, I’m very lucky and I still have to pinch myself to believe it’s all really happening to me… 

TV Crime Log: Endeavour, Mammon

Endeavour MorseThat intense young man Endeavour is back this weekend with the first of four new stories on ITV on Sunday night. Here is the young Morse, looking somewhat forlorn.


Five down. A short description of a book, film or other product for promotional purposes. Ah, yes, blurb:

May 1966. DC Endeavour Morse returns to Oxford City Police after a four-month absence from duty. Reunited with DI Fred Thursday, the young detective’s involuntary furlough has left him wounded – in mind, more than body.

Another dazzlingly complex mystery is set in motion during a Broad Street parade, celebrating the might of Britain’s military accomplishments. The festivities, soured by a rash student stunt, are thrown into sharp relief when a John Doe plummets to his death from a nearby council  building. A clutch of business cards bearing multiple identities suggest the death was more than just a routine suicide.

Endeavour flexes his gumshoe muscles to uncover the corpse’s identity – a solitary pursuit that builds to a trip to London with troubling consequences. Whilst a concerned Thursday looks on, the fractured pieces of the kaleidoscope mirror the young detective’s state of mind, as he pulls two seemingly unrelated cases into the fray – an anguished father searching for a missing daughter, and a smash-and-grab robbery of medieval artifacts at Oxford’s Beaufort College.

Endeavour has a grave propensity to treat its TV ‘tec like a young Hamlet, but of course, the series is like a puzzle where you’re filling in the future personality – piece by piece – of the iconic John Thaw character, as created by Colin Dexter. The episodes are written, once again, by screenwriter Russell Lewis.

There’s a terrific sense of time and place about Endeavour. Your auntie loves stuff set in the 60s, a time when she was young and flirtatious and still had both her own knees. It certainly cranks up the numbers for ITV. Endeavour is one of the network’s top drama performers.

But make the most of it, one wonders how how long Endeavour will run. Star Shaun Evans has already questioned whether he’d want to continue in the role, as Morse hurtles into the 70s. And it’s interesting that ITV has picked up Lewis again. Only last year the other successful Morse spin-off was put into mothballs and it’s already being dusted off for a new series in the spring.

Anyway, that’s Endeavour, at 9pm on Sunday night.

Someone at Channel Four has been eyeing the BBC4 viewing figures of a Saturday night and decided that More4 really needs to get into the Scandi Crime business.

MammonThe six-part conspiracy thriller Mammon is State of Play meets All The President’s Men. At least, that’s what it says in the programme notes. It stars this really huge man to the right.

The blurb also says that it was a big hit when it began in Norway in January, and that a US version is on its way. If you’re thinking that the blurb seems very well informed then, my friend, you’d be correct:

Set over six days, Mammon involves murder and sexual intrigue that starts when a mysterious woman called “Sophia” sends news reporter Peter Verås computer evidence of a multinational fraud, involving Norway’s political and financial elite. This will incriminate Verås’s own brother, Daniel, who then commits suicide. To his astonishment, Peter discovers that “Sophia” was actually his brother.

The drama is described as labyrinthine. Mammon, we are promised, has a dense, multi-layered plot. Which means it’s either going to be utterly compelling or very tedious. Depending, perhaps, on how many glasses of wine you’ve had.

Anyway, Mammon will blister your brain cells on Friday night at 9pm on More4.

Endeavour, ITV, Sunday

UnknownThe roaring success of the Endeavour pilot last January – more than eight million people watched it – made the commissioning of a full-blown series of the Morse prequel something of an inevitability.

And the first of a four-part series starting Shaun Evans as the young Endeavour Morse is broadcast on Sunday night on ITV.

In the first, Morse’s investigation into a student’s death, apparently by heart attack, get him busted back to general police duties. Humiliated and sidelined, he’s forced to solve the case from the sidelines. I’m guessing that his enquiries will taken him into the gleaming spires of the city.

The pilot of Endeavour was pretty good, actually, and that last shot, of Evans looking into a car rear-view mirror and seeing John Thaw‘s eyes staring back as Barrington Phelong’s signature music began to play, sent a bit of a chill down the spine.

Endeavour, with its alienated young lead, promises to be an altogether darker beast than the other Morse spin-off, Lewis, and each of the four episodes have been written by creator Russell Lewis.

The pilot featured numerous other references to Morse including a Colin Dexter cameo, and the new series features other characters from the original series. Evans has big shoes to fill, of course, it was a good idea to partner him with Roger Allam – we like him – as DI Fred Thursday.

Endeavour is on ITV — anyone else keep wanting to call it ITV1? – at 9pm on Sunday night.