What everyday situation drives you mad?
I am somebody who gets irritated by little things on a fairly regular basis. I hate things that don’t work as they should, like pretty much everything invented by Apple. I think the Cloud was created to make me angry. I hate wifi to my bones. And I hate the fact that we need all of these things. Poor customer service makes me seethe. People sitting in the middle lane on motorways. People who don’t listen. People who can’t spell, or who think that maths is important. The cost of decent razor blades. This is becoming a bit of a rant ….
Your favourite music and the best live concert you’ve ever been to?
I like music written on guitars instead of computers. My best gig? I saw the Foo Fighters about four years ago the night I first met the guy who would become my agent, so that has good memories for me, and it was also a rather amazing gig.
Colours you’d never wear?
I’ve not got a lot of pink in my wardrobe but I haven’t got many fashion rules. I just wear what I feel like, though that tends to be a collarless shirt, a waistcoat and flat cap. Sometimes trousers too.
Name three contents currently in your fridge!
Milk. So much cheese. A bottle of champagne for emergencies.
Three books that you read that made you want to become an author?
The Legend of Odysseus by Tony Robinson. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie.
It’s movie night – which films do you choose to watch with your friends?
The Three Amigos, Hot Fuzz, Taken … things that I known the script to, so when they start to talk or text or pop out for a cigarette, I don’t get too disturbed.
Your idea of a perfect holiday?
Somewhere pretty, with lots of chances to go for long walks, drink good wine and look at old things.
Favourite literary or movie villain?
I do love bad guys. Dr Gretchen Lowell in Chelsea Cain’s books is my peculiar crush. In movies I usually want the baddies to win. Keyser Soze is one of the greatest creations in cinema and I can’t understand why he hasn’t been in another film. Ben Kingsley’s character in Sexy Beast was extraordinary.
Your favourite Hitchcock movie?
Erm… Maybe Rope, just to be different. But I adore Hitchcock’s whole catalogue. I think we would have got on, though I would have looked better in swimming trunks.
Aector has a a bit of a sixth sense for crime…have you ever met coppers like that during your time as a crime journalist?
It’s a kind of empathy, I suppose. It comes from meeting people at their most extreme and some individuals operate with a sense of heightened compassion and in those moments, their instincts almost become supernatural. And yes, I have met police officers who are revered by their colleagues for their ability to look into somebody’s eyes and see the truth of them.
Your character Trish Pharaoh is the epitome of the modern woman, handling a tough job and a disabled husband at home and she always kind of ‘lovingly’ sexually harasses Aector. I just love those scenes when Aector doesn’t know how to react but actually if Pharaoh were a man doing that to a female DS all hell would break loose. Have you ever gotten heat from any feminists about that?
Everybody seems to love Pharaoh, so they overlook those little quirks because they realise they come from a good place. It’s just her way. Most men would be delighted to have a boss who tries to make them blush, and I can make that kind of sweeping generalisation because I’m a man and we only have one personality spread out across the entire gender. You’re right about it being different if the situation were reversed, but I think that’s with good reason. Women have every right to think that men can be obsessive and dangerous and bitter and violent, because men have spent centuries living up to that despicable model. It would be nice to put a stop to it.
Aector is a great policeman but at home he is a bit like a little sheep, who can’t tell his wife not to spend money on stuff even if money is very tight. Do you think he acts like that because most men do and that a copper isn’t any different to that?
Yes indeed. Men are largely baffled by the women in their lives but one thing we have learned is that there are lots more smiles and cuddles when they are in possession of something pretty and shiny. It’s the same in reverse. Men are easier to live with when they have a full belly and clean socks. It’s the accommodation people come to in their domestic lives, though obviously a good relationship allows people to change. I love Roisin, but oddly, she seems more popular with male readers. I have had people ask me why Roisin is ‘just a wife and mother’, which is just insane to me, as being a parent and pleasing people whom we love, is the most important thing on earth. I am delighted to be thought of as a dad and partner. ‘Writer’ is third on the list.
Has your work as a crime reporter and the heartbreaking cases you’ve learned about during that time made you humble to lead such a nice life with a cool loving family?
I certainly try and count my blessings, though that doesn’t come easily. I am living a life that would have seemed like pure fantasy a few years ago but I doubt I will ever wake up with a huge grin on my face and not get annoyed about the little things, just because I am more fortunate than most. Human beings aren’t wired like that. If anything, I simply have a larger mental library of potential horrors that could befall my loved ones to choose from, having met so many people at times of extreme grief. It certainly allows me to understand my characters better.
You let Aector live a (mostly) happy life with an adoring wife and children without the drama lots of coppers experience in books whose lives are ridden with personal tragedy or who are alcoholics or single and miserable – or all of the above.
Coppers come in all shapes and sizes. When I was a reporter I knew some great detectives who seemed to really do their damnedest to make the world that little bit better, but I met plenty others who always struck me as the sort of person who was a bully at school and would be lucky if they could finish the Daily Star crossword. It’s like all jobs – some decent people, some utter morons. I think I chose to write about a family man because the broken, dejected loner has been done so many times and so very well by others. I wanted to write something that was full of darkness, but with an island of light at its heart.
What was the worst case you ever had to write about as a crime reporter? Are there cases that have stuck with you until this day?
So many! The one that I could never shake was the murder of a young woman one New Year’s Day in Hull a few years ago. As a reporter you sometimes have to explain deaths in a rather callous way, and you end up thinking that it was only some drug dealer, or that the bloke who died in a bar fight was asking for trouble. It’s just a coping technique. With the girl in question, she was the closest thing you could find to an innocent. She was just a good, sweet, caring girl, who crossed the path of this fat, depraved creature. She was missing for days and I got to know her family well. They behaved with such dignity but it was honestly like watching something evil seep insidiously into their lives. They had no way of reconciling what had happened and nor did any of the press pack. I’ve covered some truly horrible cases but that one, well, by the time of the trial I truly felt as though the girl who had died was somebody I had known. There were cheers in the press gallery when he got sent down. I would honestly have kicked that bloke to death if I had been able. That’s a feeling I channel in the books – that desperate need to do bloody violence in a bid to make oneself feel less useless.
Of course I have to bring up the subject of the city of Hull, where most of your novels are set. Aector can’t seem to make up your mind to either deem the city terrible or tolerable. Is that a thing you two have in common?
He worries about that dichotomy more than I do. I accept it for what it is – an interesting, strangely beautiful place that has seen better days. I like the people and I think it’s a city I understand, but that doesn’t mean I can write about areas like the Thornton estate in a way that makes it pretty, because it isn’t. That’s not my fault. Blame out of town retail parks, the EU common Fisheries Policy and the Conservatives for that.
You are not exactly coy to bring up subjects like swinger clubs, dogging and people browsing the internet for their pleasures. Do you think there has been an increasing demand for unusual sexual tastes lately? Is it just our modern times or do you think the internet just enabled people to explore their tastes better than before?
People have always been attracted to the unknown. When I was a kid there was nothing more exciting than finding a porn mag stuck in a hedge. Nowadays, you can find footage of a dwarf having sex with a moose if you spend enough time Googling. I don’t know what that means for society but it gives writers a chance to explore the seedier aspects of humanity, which is where the best stories are often found.
This is a bit of older news but rights have been picked up for television regarding your books. How far has that project advanced and what can you tell your readers about that so far? Would it be a mini series or maybe an ongoing show?
Well, that particular production company has chosen not to renew the option because they couldn’t persuade the major channels to go for it, but there are lots of irons in the fire and plenty of interest. I still got paid for it, which is a nice consolation.
You once said you could imagine Rory McCann playing Aector, is he still your first choice to play the part?
Definitely. Him or Ronnie Corbett.
You are doing lots of research for your books. Is that something you enjoy in particular or does it annoy you, as you have to gather all the details first instead of just being able to write away?
I come up with stories based on my existing knowledge but as I go along I find huge gaps in my understanding and have to delve deeper. I enjoy most of it, but hate the feeling of ignorance.
Can you give your readers some information regarding the historical novel that will be set in Hull? Does it have a title yet?
It will be called The Zealot’s Bone and introduce a new character called Meshach Stone – a disgraced diplomat and assassin who now makes a living as bodyguard and guide for a Canadian archaeologist. Their hunt for the bones of an apostle bring them to Hull during the cholera epidemic of 1850, where they find themselves caught up in the hunt for a serial killer.
Sorrow Bound ended with a massive cliffhanger…is there a chance you could already give away a bit about what will be in store for Aector in Taking Pity?
I would love to but I would get in trouble. Trust me, it’s the darkest one yet and will take Trish and Aector to the absolute extremes, facing a creature who has spent half a century perfecting the art of death, and protecting a secret for which many people have gone to their graves.