I was clearing out my computer files and came across an email interview I did with someone called Emma... not sure who Emma was or who she worked for but the Q&A was interesting so I thought I might as well put it on my blog! I think it's from a couple of years ago...
1) Whereabouts in Manchester are you from? did you enjoy your childhood here? any striking memories?
I was born in Swinton and moved to Sale when I was six or seven. When I was sixteen I moved to Chorlton-cum-Hardy. I went to Manchester Grammar School, which was great fun. I worked for the school newspaper so I guess even back then I enjoyed writing but I had no thoughts then about being a writer or a journalist.
Most of my memories seem to revolve around my school or work. I had a job delivering milk when I was ten years old, helping the local milkman before school and at weekends and during school holidays. Then I lied about my age when I was eleven and got two paper rounds. I worked stacking shelves in a local shop, then in a Macfisheries supermarket, then served petrol in a filling station in Sale, picked potatoes on a farm near Knutsford, then worked in a bakery in Altrincham. All before I was seventeen! Then I worked for the Inland Revenue in Stretford before going to University.
One striking memory would be spending the night in the police cells at Altrincham Police Station after being arrested for being drunk and disorderly on my eighteenth birthday. As it was my local pub and I’d been drinking there for two years, I was pretty indignant, I can tell you! I was fined £5 and the money came from my student grant, so the State paid.
2) Tell me a bit about your journalism career - highs, lows, why you started writing fiction while a journalist.
Yeah, I loved being a journalist and still miss it. I was trained on the Daily Mirror Graduate Training Scheme and had staff jobs on The Glasgow Herald, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail, the South China Morning Post and The Times. At one time or another I freelanced for pretty much every tabloid and broadsheet newspaper in Fleet Street.
I worked as a sub-editor, as a general reporter, on the news desk, and as a financial reporter and business editor.
High points? I guess meeting Robert Maxwell, Rupert Murdoch and Tiny Rowland were definite high points. I worked for all three. Robert Maxwell personally interviewed me for my job on the Daily Mirror and spent half an hour with me.
High point journalism-wise was being in Hong Kong when the Chinese Army stormed into Tiananmen Square to break up the pro-democracy demonstrations. I covered the story for four UK national newspapers. And I lost a small fortune because the flat I owned in Hong Kong slumped in value!
3) Do you think you chose journalist because it was the closest thing to writing that was a 'proper job'? or was it because you've been attracted to the pressure/danger/topics - and then found these inspiring for fiction?
Nah, I really wanted to be a journalist. I studied biochemistry at Bath University and didn’t really enjoy it. During a six month work placement as a research scientist I was so bored that I got an evening job in a pub. One night we had a drunken journalist who wouldn’t leave so we locked up and sat drinking with him. He made his job sound so much fun that I decided there and then that I wanted to be a journalist. I started writing for the student newspaper and eighteen months later I was on the Daily Mirror Journalist Training Scheme.
I always wanted to write fiction, but as a teenager I never imagined that I could make a living as a writer. Strange, because my uncle, who lived in Knutsford, was a well-known TV writer. He wrote for shows like the Avengers, Danger Man, The Champions, Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased). I wrote my first book while I was working for the Daily Mirror, much of it in the Mirror’s City Office. I wrote my second and third while I was Business Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, and then I wrote my break-out book, The Chinaman, while working or the Times in London. The Chinaman sold for six figures and meant I could write full time. But I loved being a journalist, the only reason I left the Times was that I would have paid more in tax than I was earning as a journalist!
4) What made you start writing for TV? do you feel this is in any way inferior to your fiction; do you have a different process when writing it, or do you treat it exactly the same? do you feel you have more freedom with TV? More pressure? more fear?
I love writing for TV because you get to work with other people. Book-writing is a lonely business because it’s just you and the keyboard. When you’re working on a TV show you get to share the experience with producers, directors, actors, editors, lots of people. There is less freedom, though, because everyone wants their input. I can be a nightmare at time. I wrote for The Knock, London’s Burning and the BBC’s Murder In Mind, and all were fairly difficult experiences. I had more fun doing The Stretch and The Bombmaker for Sky because there I was dealing with my stories and I had more control. The people at Sky were more supportive than the people at ITV and the BBC, though. I did buy my first ever TV licence after working for the BBC, though. I figured it was the least I could do! No fear, either in books or TV, though the deadlines are tighter for TV. Everyone wants their rewrite done yesterday whereas with books I have just to deliver once a year!
5) Tell me about the time you spent in Belmarsh Prison - it sounds like an extreme bit of research!
Yeah, I spent a day there to research Hard Landing. I wrote to the governor on spec and he showed me around. I wanted to set a book in a modern high-security prison and the research I did was invaluable. It was an eye-opener and not at all what you’d expect. More like my student halls of residence than a prison!
6) Do you like Johnny Cash?
Sure. Why? Because he did prison visits or because I like wearing black?
7) Do you have strong feelings about the prison service?
I think the guys in the prison service do the best they can with the resources they have. The problems that exist are caused by our government. We send too many people to prison, and the ones who should be behind bars are often released early. I have nothing but contempt for a system that puts pensioners behind bars for not paying their council tax and yet allows paedophiles out on parole to abuse more children.
There’s no point in sending people with drugs problems to prison. They need help, not punishment. We should be a lot more selective about who we send to prison, and a lot more creative about punishing people. Confiscating assets, house arrest, fines, loss of passport and driving licence, there are all sorts of alternatives to prison for minor offences, but prison is the easy option. I’d hate to go to prison, but having toured most of the prisons in the UK I can tell you, they are not that bad. The main punishment is the loss of freedom and not being able to be with your family and friends. The physical confinement is no big deal. I could probably get more writing done as there are fewer distractions! I do have nightmares about being locked up, though.
8) Do you see yourself as a political writer?
Not at all. I don’t have any political leanings at all. I am now fifty years old and I have never voted and probably never will. There is no political party that I agree with, and I pretty much hold all politicians in contempt. Any political views in my thrillers are always the views of my characters and not any authorial voice, but it is fair to say that most of my characters are critical of the government. But then, most of the police officers I know are also contemptuous of politicians, too. My writing reflects the real world, so my characters do reflect real opinions.
9) Do you think you'll ever write a happy ending?
Ha ha! I do try, honest, it’s just that my books are very rooted in reality and in the real world there aren’t too many happy endings. It’s only in fairy stories that you get to write ‘..and they lived happily ever after.’
I did go through a phase of having my heroes die, but I’ve stopped that. And if my hero is alive at the end then that’s got to be a happy ending, right? The problem is, I guess, that even my heroes have to do things that they don’t like, which means that while they usually come out on top, they do so at considerable cost to themselves. Which is what it’s like in the real world, right? Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd, the undercover cop who is the hero of my last four books, does shoot people, and while he does it to save lives, it still takes its toll on him, mentally and physically. But he does always live to fight another day!