Like most novelists, I write because I love to read. But when I first tried to set pen to paper, this posed me something of a problem. What was I going to write? After all, I loved to read everything: literature, fantasy, reportage, crime, horror, history. Hell, I’d even tried to read some scientific text books on one occasion. And yet, four years later, here I am, a fledgling crime writer with two published books under his belt, and a third on its way. So, how did I get from there to here?
The first novel I ever wrote had nothing to do with crime. This was an attempt to follow the write-what-you-know maxim, and so I created a humorous book about a failed rock musician. Ironically, the book itself turned out to be the failure, but it did get me the attention of a literary agent who gave me some good advice. I was a journalist, living and working in Spain, he said. Why didn’t I try my hand at crime?
This was one of those Doh! moments we all get in life when the blatantly obvious suddenly shifts into focus. My shelves were stacked with crime books, and I spent a considerable portion of each week in contact with the Spanish police and Guardia Civil. But, upon reflection, these weren’t the only reasons I decided to try to make a life of crime pay.
Raymond Chandler’s books played a big part. I remember the first time I opened a copy of The Big Sleep and read that glorious opening paragraph. In five sentences, Chandler made me a convert. It also opened my eyes to the fact that genre fiction can be literature. I don’t care what literary snobs might say, the prose styles employed by top crime writers are right up there with the Hemingways and Joyces of the world.
Thankfully, this perception seems to be shared by the general public. When people ask me precisely what it is that I write, I’m glad I can say crime fiction as there is (normally) a genuine interest in their eyes that I suspect would only be feigned were I to answer “swords and sorcery fantasy” or “teen fiction”.
Ian Rankin was another reason I chose to write crime. The Rebus books showed me how effectively crime fiction can conjure up a sense of time and place. I’ve never actually ventured further north than Sunderland, but I will always feel an affinity with the city of Edinburgh, having walked so many of its streets in my imagination.
Four years of writing crime fiction has also put me in contact with some truly fascinating people while researching my books: forensic scientists, psychiatrists, ex-CID officers, historians, doctors, research chemists, nuclear physicists. All have been extremely generous with their time and advice, and have opened my eyes to just how many recondite – and yet truly fascinating – branches of human knowledge there are.
Finally, there is the popularity of crime fiction with the reading public. After all, I figured, if you’re going to put yourself through the hell of writing a book, you might as well maximise your chances of getting the damned thing read by someone afterwards . . .