Tuesday, 28 August 2012


It's shortly after midnight. Gary Burton's warm vibraphone and Pat Metheny's lush guitar, playing "Hullo, Bolinas", are streaming through the laptop's tinny, built-in speakers. I've just finished off the remains of a bottle of Shiraz and emailed myself the latest saved copy of my second draft of Steps In The Shadows, which has -- and I'm determined this will be the case -- just one more day to go.  One more day before it's finished and I can pass it to four people to proofread and (in the case of one) check for procedural errors.

Whilst going through, editing the odd sentence here and writing the odd chapter there, I have been thinking about what influenced me to write a detective novel. Rather surprisingly, it's not other detective fiction, although I have read some Chandler and Hammett, Pelecanos and Ellroy, and Ian Rankin. In the crime fiction realm, David Peace was the writer who made me think, I wish I'd written that. His crime fiction is rooted in true crime and, from the first few words of Nineteen Seventy Four, I was riveted. I have read the Red Riding Quartet so many times, I've lost count. What it it about Peace's fiction -- dealing with the Yorkshire Ripper, the Stefan Kiszko case, and the Stalker Affair -- that had such an impact? 

Peace deals with cases that resonate with me. I am also an avid reader of true crime -- Gordon Burn and Joseph Wambaugh are two of my favourite writers -- and it is Peace's treatment of his subject matter that excites and inspires me. 

I was born shortly before the Yorkshire Ripper was caught and, although I'm not from Yorkshire myself, both my parents are -- in fact, they're from the city where Peter Sutcliffe lived when he was arrested -- and when I was a kid during the 1980s, the Yorkshire Ripper was often mentioned in passing. (Interestingly, Peace's work is, for me, even closer to home than that: his first post-Red Riding work, GB84, deals with the Miners' Strike; I am from a former mining town and I am just old enough to remember clearly what was happening at the time.) 

When I was at university, I read a lot of material on the Stalker Affair and, shortly after that, I picked up Peace's Nineteen Eighty, which seamlessly fused the Ripper investigation with elements of the former Greater Manchester Police Deputy Chief Constable's aborted investigation into several killings in Northern Ireland during the Troubles.

David Peace is probably my biggest influence as a writer, but I don't write in his style. Lately, I've been reading a lot of Peter Robinson, after a brief phase of Henning Mankell with Ian Rankin getting a look-in; this was followed by Michael Frayn (not detective fiction at all!). In addition to the writers mentioned above, if I look back several years, I've read several Ann Rule books, including her famous The Stranger Beside Me. I've also read a detailed book about the investigation into the Fred and Rosemary West case, by the Senior Investigating Officer, Detective Superintendent John Bennett. And I don't think any true crime reader's bookshelf would be complete without a copy of Bent Coppers, by Graeme McLagan -- I've read it four times. 

My book is a work of fiction but I think I'm perhaps a frustrated true crime writer. I've been influenced by all the writers above, and more. The book is set in Manchester -- it is in and of Manchester, and couldn't be anywhere else. When I'm writing, I walk through the scenes in my mind -- it's like watching a movie being filmed on the city streets, co-directed by Alexander Payne and Martin Scorsese. 

So there you have it: a range of influences, filtered through my own experience and converted by my mind into something coherent (I hope) and, if not already formed in my own "voice", at least starting the process by which I find my own voice. 

STEPS IN THE SHADOWS is out on Amazon Kindle in September 

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