1. How did you get started writing?
I’ve pretty much always done it. When I was at junior school the teacher asked us all what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I said “bookmaker.” It was a long time before I understood why she laughed at that. I’m dyslexic, though, so for a long time I thought I’d need to show my work in other ways, like comic books, or comedy. Eventually I wrote a novel by accident, and here I am.
2. What drew you to write a crime novel?
This always sounds a bit pretentious, but it’s true; I like social fiction. In all forms; films, songs, books, comics. I like stories about people, and about issues and things that affect us. And also, because of my dyslexia I think, I like lean and simple prose. I like it when a writer knows not to put too many words on a page. For both my reading and writing, this leads towards crime fiction. That’s where the social fiction is, the stories of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots,’ and it’s also where there’s a lot of lean prose.
3. Which writers past or present have influenced your style of writing?
Most of my influences are from other media. Alan Moore, Paul Westerberg, Mark Thomas, George Carlin. I got really into the plays of Sean O’Casey when I was a teenager, and there’s still something in his work that I aspire to.
For crime fiction, I drew a lot from Lawrence Block, and George Pelecanos is someone I look to as a guide for where I can go.
4. When you first started writing did you find it hard to get publisher interest?
I tend to leave that side of things to my agent. I think the last thing she needs is a backseat writer. There were challenges along the way, though. My first book features an ethnic minority criminal as the protagonist, and it’s set in an unfashionable part of England, with no explosions or car chases. Once we did find a publisher, though, the readers really got it.
5. There are many interesting characters in your Novel, do you have a particular favourite one?
In the Miller trilogy I liked Laura Miller the best. She’s a very complex and interesting character, but it takes a while for the reader to start to see those layers because she keeps them hidden. I’d like to write a book from her point of view someday. I also liked a character called Rachel. She was fun. There is a trope in fiction of men trying to ‘save’ Women, or ‘fix’ them, but Rachel knew exactly who she was, and she was trying to ‘fix’ the male protagonist.
6. What kind of research have you had to undertake for your Novels?
It’s just about talking to people. Get their stories, and see how they phrase things. I’ve seen a couple reviews that complain about the use of the word “gotten,” for instance, but the truth is that people in the Black Country say that, and it’s a good little quirk to throw in. Some of the more criminal aspects of the books are a hybrid. There are things I saw growing up, and things I’ve read about in newspapers and true crime books. The real fun part is that people want to talk to you once they find out you’re a writer. They want to gossip and show off. If a journalist or a cop asks someone a question, they get an edited version of events. If a crime writer asks, they get the whole story.
7. Are the characters in your books based on any real life?
There were a lot early on. Characters like the Mann Brothers, and some of the supporting cast, were all inspired to various degrees by real people. These days I don’t do it so much.
8. What do you think makes your novels stand out from all the other Crime Fiction Novels out there?
The first answer would be the same for all writers; ourselves. I am the thing that makes my books different. My voice, my world view. Each writer has something that nobody else can be; themselves.
Beyond that, though, I think there’s more politics and social debate going on in my books than I’m seeing in many other crime books right now. Not that there isn’t any out there. Eva Dolan and Luca Veste are both doing interesting things with police procedurals that mange to slip in political and social issues. Nick Quantrill down in Hull has been doing good work. And Ray Banks just had a book come out set in Gateshead, in the 80’s, which doesn’t shy away from the impact of Thatcherism.
But I think we’re very much in a minority right now, as a lot of crime writers all seem to be chasing the same things and looking to sell to the same people. To tie it to what I said before, I think a lot of writers are scared to be themselves, and that’s a shame.
9. Do you see any of your characters personality in yourself and vice versa?
Not very much. It’s always there, beneath the surface. They all come from my head so each of them will have a piece of me, but on the whole I try and keep them separate. Eoin Miller shares some of my taste in music, for example, but his tastes are more limited than mine and, to be honest, he’s a bit of a grumpy manipulative sod, so I’m glad we’re not all that alike
10. If you can, would you give us a sneaky peak into any future novels you have planned?
Next up is Ways To Die In Glasgow , which will be out in May or June through Thomas & Mercer. It’s more of a dark comedy than the Miller books, like the Coen Brothers with a Glaswegian accent. There’s a female P.I. and a heart-broken killer. Next, hopefully, will be a book I wrote last year, called Criminals, which is a sort of modern Robin Hood story. This year’s project is a book set during the Handsworth riot of 1985. That one’s going to be a challenge.
11.What was your favourite scene to write in your Novel and why?
The last scene of the Miller Trilogy, because that moment was something I’d had in my head ever since I started writing the series as a trilogy, and I was happy to stick the landing, right down to the last line of dialogue.
12. As an up and coming crime writer do you have words of advice you can share?
Write about something that matters to you and finish it. People always say it’s all about sitting your ass in the chair and writing -and it is- but that’s pointless if you never finish anything. It’s better to pitch somebody with something you’ve written, rather than an idea of something you might one day write. And also, be somebody worth hanging out with. Publishing is quite a small community, and you want to be known as somebody that gets on with others.
Faithless Street (2012)
Old Gold (2012)
Runaway Town (2013)
Lost City (2014)
Ways to Die in Glasgow (2015)
Terminal Damage (2010) (with Joelle Charbonneau, John McFetridge, Russel D McLean, Scott Parker, Bryon Quertermous, Steve Weddle and Dave White)
Collateral Damage (2011) (with Joelle Charbonneau, John McFetridge, Russel D McLean, Scott Parker, Sandra Ruttan, Steve Weddle and Dave White)
The Goldfish Heist And Other Stories (2012)
Amazon Author Page