A Double Take started life as a film script which was entered for a competition and was my attempt to try and bring the Ealing Comedies of the 1950s up to date. It didn’t win anything and never got optioned so I did a ‘novelisation’ which the Do Not Press published alongside the script. The script took me three days to write. Perhaps I should have taken longer…
A I’ve actually lived in East Anglia (never in London) for over 40 years and becoming a Field Archaeologist at the age of 46 was, I suppose, my mid-life crisis. I read history at university and have been a crime writer and reviewer of crime fiction, so I suppose you could say I’ve always been paid to speak ill of the dead! It was rather cool being the only crime writer who really did find bodies on a regular basis; though they were usually 1,500 years old. My experiences on dig sites led to both Angel Underground and then my first historical novel: Boudica and the Lost Roman.
A I followed Boudica (Roman Britain) with The Legend of Hereward (East Anglia at the time of the Norman Conquest) because I saw them as two parts of a trilogy looking at ‘Great British Losers’. Both were heroic figures but neither won their particular corner. The third in the series was always planned to be ‘King’ Arthur who probably existed as 5th century Christian warlord fighting a series of civil wars, but eventually losing out to the pagan ‘Anglo-Saxons’. As I started to do the research, I moved the story back to incorporate the arrival of the Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Friesians so that you had the invading ‘English’ fighting with the Romano-Britons as to who would rule Britannia in the power vacuum left by the retreat of the Roman Empire. The result was a bloodthirsty saga spanning the years 450 – 520 AD called First Kings which, hopefully, will find a publisher this year. The ‘Angel’ series came to a full stop (or at least a semi-colon) with Angels Unaware, the fifteenth in the series, which was published in 2008, twenty years to the day after the first one appeared. I think I tied up all the loose ends, but I didn’t kill him off, so Fitzroy Maclean Angel may yet appear again: older but probably not much wiser.
Q In 2003 you suffered a stroke and out of this experience came Surviving a Stroke, an account of your recovery. I understand this helped you regained the use of your left hand, as you used a mechanical typewriter. Which came first, the desire to tell the story of your experience or the physical need to become active? Was one a by-product of the other?
A Initially, my brilliant idea to use a manual typewriter to get my left hand and arm working again was so that I could go back on the computer and finish the book (Boudica) I had been working on when I had my stroke. Once that was done, I set about recounting my stroke experience really with a view to helping the partners, carers and families of stroke survivors, which I have done as a volunteer with the charities the Stroke Association and the Blood Pressure Association.
A Not any more. Of course, for over 20 years I was a commuter to a day-job in an office in London and in fact wrote the first Angel book on the train. For many years I would write only on Sundays, though naturally I’d be thinking up plotlines and noting down bits of dialogue (and jokes) constantly. These days, the working day is governed by what comes in by email or by mail – I get sent around 300 crime novels a year to review and edit and publish between 12 and 16 titles – but I try and do some ‘personal’ writing every day, even if it’s only something scurrilous for my Getting Away With Murder column, to which I contribute about 60,000 words a year.
Q I am very interested in the reprinting of some of the wonderful books now out of print . Pleased to hear that you are the series editor at Ostara Publishing, which specialises in reprinting classic mysteries and thrillers. How did that come about?
A I was very excited when I was asked by Ostara to create their Top Notch Thrillers imprint in 2009. The idea was to rescue some of the unjustly forgotten Great British thrillers of the Sixties and Seventies; thrillers I grew up with but which have been out of print for far too long. We’ve republished 28 titles so far, with four more coming in 2013 and I am really proud of the fact that we have got authors such as Geoffrey Household, Francis Clifford, Alan Williams and Berkely Mather back in print and in front of a new readership. Last year the owner of Ostara, Andrew Cocks (a near neighbour whom I first met 35 years ago when we both worked at Essex University) asked me if I could establish another imprint, Ostara Crime, which revived more recent British crime fiction from the 1980s and 90s. Whereas the majority of Top Notch Thriller authors have all been male, our first four Ostara Crime authors are all female. In our first six months, we’ve reissued three titles each from Christine Green, Denise Danks and Janet Neel (Baroness Cohen) with three from, Lesley Grant-Adamson coming out in the next couple of months. The Ostara philosophy is simple: we don’t do complete backlists, we select authors and specific titles which show all the different styles of crime fiction and we produce (we think) a high quality trade paperback as well as an eBook version.