As a book reviewer I have made contact with authors from all across the globe and feel immensely privileged to be able to share some amazing work. However, there is always something rather special when a book comes to my attention which has been written by an author in my part of the North of England. So with this in mind I have great pleasure in featuring some of those authors who are literally close to my home. Over the next few Saturdays, and hopefully beyond, I will be sharing the work of a very talented bunch of Northern authors and discovering just what being a Northerner means to them both in terms of inspiration and also in their writing.
Today I have an exciting double bill for you !!
I am thrilled to feature Lancashire based author, A D Garrett and policing and forensics expert, Helen Pepper.
|A D Garrett|
I’ve based novels all over the north west in my twenty years as a professional writer. A series based in Chester and written under my real name (Margaret Murphy), was very successful – published in the US and Canada as well as the UK, and selling well in translation, too. But my publisher considered Chester ‘too provincial', if you can believe it. That narrow perception was one of the reasons I founded Murder Squad.
Attitudes to northern settings in crime have changed since then – witness Cath Staincliffe’s Blue Murder TV series, and more recently, Ann Cleeves's VERA, as well as the likes of Happy Valley and Scott & Bailey.
But why write regional novels at all? People aren’t so very different across geographical locations, are they? Perhaps not, but place, landscape, climate, and history do affect traditions, temperament, attitudes, and language from south to north and east to west.
Okay, but why novels about the north of England?
If I’m honest, my memories of growing up in Liverpool in the 1970s are all grey. Senior school for me was a bus ride away from my home in south Liverpool to the tough Everton district where my mother was raised, and where my grandparents and great grandmother still lived. From my Catholic high school at the top of Everton Brow I heard the Orange Lodge march past every July. I raced for the bus home down a hill that was still littered with bomb debris from WW2, and I witnessed the demolition of many of the sooty terraced streets that remained. A social experiment which effectively dismantled and scattered whole communities that had coexisted for many generations.
|Albert Dock, Liverpool 1970s|
From my flat in Toxteth I could smell the smoke as buildings burned during the riots of 1981. I listened to a frightened radio reporter interviewing looters outside the Kwik Save supermarket. ‘Is there anything left?’ he asked plaintively. ‘You might get a packet of sausages if you’re quick, lad,’ the looter quipped. The day after they put the fires out, I walked to my local shops in Lodge Lane and wept to see the family bakers burned out, the chandlers, gone, the electrical shop emptied. Shop after shop looted, smashed, burned; the looters using stolen shopping trolleys to cart off their spoils.
I am part of that history, and it is part of me. And being an eyewitness to violent societal upheavals shapes you, leaving a lasting impression on the psyche.
I know – I’ve only confirmed what you already knew – it’s grim up north. But News Flash: it’s fairly grim all over. And at least a northern-based novel will give you grim from a different perspective. As a writer, I love regional variations in language and cadence, and the scouse dialect is particularly and colourful and often lyrical. Added to that, twenty-first century Liverpool is a far cry from the grey backdrop of my 1970s childhood. The changes have come in small, tidal increments over the past fifty years, changing the city, just as tidal scour will change the course of a river. Liverpool’s waterfront, once derelict, dirty and disused, is now a commercial and cultural magnet, teaming with tourists and shoppers – and a desirable location to live. It’s cleaner and shinier than ever; you can even catch starfish and jellyfish in the once-stagnant waters of the Liverpool docks.
|Liverpool 1 from the Albert Dock|
But there is still plenty of what crime writers want most: extremes. Of wealth and poverty, social advantage and disadvantage, academic excellence and failing schools – and that’s superb material for dramatic tension, for character, and story.
Last week, I paused to admire St George’s Hall, a Grade I listed building famous as part of Liverpool’s Global Heritage site and which, infamously, the city council in the 1980s wanted to pull down. As I snapped a shot I heard a voice behind me and turned to find a man that life had not treated kindly. He told me the Irish brickies and labourers had built the hall back to front to spite their miserly employers. ‘They was supposed to front it onto the Mersey so all the big ships’d see it as they come into dock,’ he said. It was all blether – urban myth – but entertaining, as many scousers are, and his pride in the city was heart-warming.
The biggest vessels to anchor at Liverpool now are cruise ships, because the north west, once so important for British trade to the Americas, now faces the wrong continent – which places it as much ‘on the edge’ as any Nordic Noir setting. So maybe it is grim up north, but maybe it’s our turn to be noirishly in fashion. Not grim, but Northern Noir.
All photographs by kind permission.
Truth Will Out, the 3rd in the Fennimore & Simms series, was published 3rd November 2016
Margaret Murphy has published nine internationally acclaimed psychological thrillers under her own name – both stand-alone and police series. She is Writing Fellow and Reading Round Lector for the Royal Literary Fund, a past Chair of the Crime Writers Association (CWA), and founder of Murder Squad. A CWA Short Story Dagger winner, she has been shortlisted for the First Blood critics’ award for crime fiction as well as the CWA Dagger in the Library. Her lifelong passion for science is reflected in her painstaking research for her novels.
In 2013, writing as A.D. Garrett, Margaret began a new forensic series, featuring Professor Nick Fennimore and DCI Kate Simms. Everyone Lies, which Ann Cleeves rated ‘thriller writing at its best’, was a bestseller, and both Everyone Lies and the sequel, Believe No One, garnered starred reviews from Publishers’ Weekly. Jeffery Deaver commented, ‘A.D. Garrett has done for Manchester what The Wire did for Baltimore. And Simms and Fennimore are complex, compelling, and just plain marvellous. Truth Will Out, the third in the series, will be published in November 2016.
Huge thanks to Margaret for sharing her thoughts about the North West and particularly Liverpool.
And now please welcome policing and forensics expert, Helen Pepper.
Helen Pepper is a Senior Lecturer in Policing at Teesside University. She has been an analyst, Forensic Scientist, Scene of Crime Officer, CSI, and Crime Scene Manager. As a Crime Scene Investigator, she examined over 3000 crime scenes, ranging from thefts and fires to rapes and murders. Later, as Crime Scene Manager for Durham Police, she supervised CSIs in over 50 major incidents. She is a member of the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences, and has a wealth of experience in the investigation of all crime types, from simple thefts to murders and terrorism. An author in her own right, Helen has co-authored, as well as contributed to, professional policing texts. Her expertise is in great demand with crime writers: she is a judge for the CWA’s Non-Fiction Dagger award, and is Forensic Consultant on both the Vera and Shetland TV series.
Hi and welcome, Helen. Tell me a little about yourself and your background as a forensic adviser.
I grew up in West Yorkshire, and my teenage years overlapped with the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry - I think this is where my interest in crime came from.
I started working at the Home Office Forensic Science Lab in Wetherby when I was 18 and although I loved it I really wanted to be ‘out and about’ actually at the crime scenes. When West Yorkshire Police offered me a job as a Scenes of Crime Officer I jumped at the chance.
I worked in Bradford and Halifax before moving up to Co. Durham, which is where I met the wonderful Ann Cleeves and was introduced to the world of crime writers.
How does the collaboration work - are you involved in a novel from the start or do writers contact you on an ad hoc basis?
It depends very much on what’s required. I’ve been around on the fringes of crime writing for a long time now, and when I meet writers and they find out what I do they often ask if they can contact me in the future, I think most writers have a contact book of people who might come in handy – and a tame forensic advisor is always going to be useful at some point!
Sometimes they just want help with a specific detail, or they want to know if a plotline is feasible or perhaps how to use forensic evidence to take the story in the direction they want it to go.
Being part of ‘Team Garrett’ is a whole different ball game though, I’m much more involved in the writing process and finding it really interesting. It’s also left me in awe of writers, especially Margaret Murphy (Team Garrett’s senior partner) whose talents are just awesome!
How much of the plot, story do you require before you can give sound advise on a subject?
Again, it depends what the query is. Sometimes the writer will ask a specific question along the lines of ‘what would happen if the murderer did X?’ But the answer is hardly ever a straightforward ‘what would happen is Y’, because there are so many variables in forensic science / investigation work. So quite often I’ll ask them what they would like to happen and see if I can make it work for them. Sometimes I need quite a lot of background info, sometimes very little.
Writers can understandably be quite cagey about sharing their ideas. I sometimes get sent pages with ‘confidential’ marked all over them in red and dire warnings about the legal consequences of divulging the contents – it almost feels like I have to read quickly before the message self-destructs!
Do you have a favourite type of crime novel to work on?
Ones that have quite a bit of forensic detail, especially where it’s a bit niche and I have to do some research and educate myself about that area of science. One of the things that I enjoy about working with writers is that it compels me to find out new things.
What's the most complicated fictional plot you've ever been involved with?
I can’t think of a really complicated plot as such, but a complicated circumstance that I helped with. This was for a TV script rather than a novel. The writer wanted a detective to have done something in an old case that threw the investigation off track. It had to be something wrong, that the detective had covered up at the time, but something that didn’t make them bad or corrupt, as it had to be something they could move on from (and continue to be a main character in the show!).
This was a bit of a tall order, and it took me over a week of mulling it over to come up with something that might fit the bill. When I e-mailed my idea to the writer I got a response that said ‘Bloody brilliant!’ – I kept having a little smile to myself for days afterwards …
Are you ever tempted to write your own forensic packed novel?
Maybe one day. I used to think it would be really easy to just dash off a bestseller or two and then retire to a Caribbean island, but the more I work with writers and see what goes into the writing – not just the ideas, but the technique, the editing, the grammar and the sheer slog of getting the words on paper – the more I think I should leave it to the experts.
Huge thanks to this talented duo for spending time with us today
and for making this Close To Home feature so fascinating.
I hope that you have enjoyed reading today's Close to Home feature.
Coming next Saturday : Historical fiction writer, John R. Mckay