I began writing novels around 1985. The first one was called Lord and Master and was utter rubbish. Of course I didn't know that at the time; if you have an ugly baby, it’s still beautiful to you. And I only know it now simply because I've read so much more since then, have written much more too, and have come to appreciate the fine lines of a Stephen King novel or the coarse chiselling of a Bernard Cornwell story - leaving Lord and Master as a pathetic stick man drawn in wet sand. It’s so bad that I'm not showing it here because it’s offensive to the eye - even mine, and I’m its father. I wrote Lord and Master long hand and then stole my sister’s Olivetti to make it look like a real pro job - Fail.
Flushed with the success of Lord and Master (okay, it never was published - actually it never saw life beyond my four walls, but I measure success with having accomplished something that thousands set out to do and only a small percentage ever complete: write a book), I formed the next story around the small village in which I lived and in particular a stone gatehouse at the entrance to a Victorian Hall that is no longer there (the gatehouse and the Hall are totally fictitious). I was, and still am, heavily into Stephen King and James Herbert, so maybe they're to blame for my sick mind.
Charlotte’s Lodge was about an evil old woman who takes a distinct dislike to her grandson and his poor mother. Nothing strange there, but this old woman wielded powers over the mind that made David Blaine look like a kids’ party clown. I loved writing this novel, absolutely loved it, and it turned out pretty good because it was horror, because I thought I did a reasonable job of getting inside the protagonist’s mind and seeing it warp like balsa wood in a hot shower. I also played with time too, watching the Lodge as each generation of the family inhabited it and gradually went loopy.
I wrote Charlotte’s Lodge around 1987 on an old Imperial 66 typewriter that my father got for me. I seem to recall it had a missing letter - though if truth be told, that could have been something I made up one day and now believe to be true - who knows. Wish I knew where it was now. Anyway, this book similarly never saw the light of day... I'd heard some dreadful stories about the publishing world and decided that I got quite enough satisfaction from just writing the books thank you very much. However, The Daily Mail newspaper offered to print readers’ manuscripts in exchange for some tokens. I got three copies of Charlotte’s Lodge.
Next, in about 1990 or 1991, I wrote Knavesmire, which dipped into medieval England. I wrote this long hand, getting about 700 words on one side of an A4 page (I'm one of those people who hate turning over!). By now I'd saved up and bought (drum roll if you please), a word processor. It was a Brother and had something like a 2kB memory - wow! It had a small LCD screen that could hold one line of text... you had to scroll along to read the damned thing. And it held about three pages of text. So, I'd type in the story from the longhand notes, then print the three pages and delete them so I could type in some more. I remember being not at all happy to later find typos on the page.
This was a long book, and took an age to write. But once finished I could see that it would have absolutely no market value whatsoever. This story was set in the present day again in a small village like any small village you'd find in Yorkshire. And again, it was horror. The reason this book was a failure before the ink had even dried was because it was split into three parts: the first part featured a group of adolescents being slowly tormented by visions and events that no one could explain but were serious enough to cause some rather perverse deaths in town; the second part propelled the reader back to medieval Yorkshire where we find out the reason for the epidemic-like madness spreading through the village. The third part comes back to the here and now to conclude the story.
There was nothing on the shelves that featured anything even remotely similar. You were either in modern times or ancient times and never the twain... Never mind, I thoroughly enjoyed writing about Rossy, the knights, and the other kids. I did send this one off to several agents, most of whom threatened legal action if I ever wrote to them again.
I'd intended Knavesmire to be the first of three books based on the same theme - so what that the publishing world wasn't ready for this groundbreaking idea - and began formulating the second novel when something weird happened to me...
I was offered a job by West Yorkshire Police working as a Scenes of Crime Officer. And so crime drama in my mind was the only way to go.
I worked as a Scenes of Crime Officer, and naturally I wrote about a SOCO. His name was Roger Conniston.
A Long Time Dead was to be the first in a series of three novels featuring the tribulations of our hero. Stealing Elgar swiftly followed and then the final episode, No More Tears.
I enjoyed writing them, and recall how Tears practically wrote itself. And suddenly I found myself without a story. How dreadful it was not to be writing. I'd been speaking to a colleague in the office, marvelling how a burglar who had hundreds of convictions against him was still at large. We both agreed that people like that were of no use to society and should be put down. After all, it’s not as though we're short of people is it?
This conversation gave birth to The Third Rule. This was my most ambitious project to date, but it needed a new vehicle, a new hero, someone who was more aggressive than Roger Conniston ever was. His name was Eddie Collins. I should explain that for the most part, the characters I write are loosely based on myself, and by now I'd been working for the police for about ten years and I'd developed a rather cutting cynicism which I flavoured with a hearty dose of sarcasm. Eddie Collins was me, except stronger, more a caricature who expressed his cynicism and his anger much more fiercely than I ever dare.
I began writing The Third Rule sometime around 2003. It was set in 2015, where a new government had come to power advocating a return to the death penalty for those people who could not stop breaking the law. They were given two chances, the third time they broke the law, they were killed. Justice was dealt out in a production-line fashion, offenders were castrated, there was a new lottery game (the Death Lottery) where the death row guys had a number... you can guess the rest. It was also a radical novel because I invented the Justice Ministry, something which actually later happened. I wasn't always right in my predictions though, since I forecast London wouldn't get the Olympic games and the Queen would be dead in 2009.
On the whole I think the main theme works wonderfully; the premise of such an awful fate appears to me so real, so vivid in this story that, again to me, it's wholly plausible.
A year or so after I began this book (I got to somewhere approaching 250 thousand words), Graeme Bottomley came to work out of my office. We hit it off immediately - we shared the same taste in music, had the same sarcastic tone and the same level of cynicism (both now fully matured, I'm pleased to say) and both shared a love of crime literature/drama.
Graeme had a great idea for a script, entitled Flesh and Blood. I put The Third Rule on hold while we worked on it, and on another eleven hours of television drama featuring a SOCO called Roger Conniston (sound familiar?). Late in 2011, I managed to find the time to get back on with The Third Rule, and am delighted to say that it’s finished.