Diagnosed in infancy by my mother and then raised by her to believe that I was born with a severe and neurotic multiple-personality disorder – a condition which, I suspect, has been seriously aggravated by years of teaching – the voices in my head that I have learned to live with are frequently asking questions on a number of essential issues such as life, the universe, my place in it and why am I so violent. Lately my voices have become much more focussed on my writing. They ask questions like, ‘What’s the point? Why are you bothering? Who do you think will ever read this stuff? Have you ever thought that there might be good reasons that you can’t get a literary agent?’ and then arguing over the answers with each other. Sometimes I can find it hard to sleep. However, the cloud over my life that is my mental illness, I realise, has a silver lining. I can create and furnish my own author FAQ page with the material that my inner voices generate. A FAQ page on my blog will take me one step closer to feeling like a proper author, as I have seen from my research into being a real author that some of them do condescend to having FAQ pages on their professional looking websites. Having a FAQ page on my blog is really going to make me feel important and happy, even if I am asking all the questions myself. As I often had occasion to say to my second ex-wife, ‘Being mentally ill doesn’t have to mean that you must be permanently miserable.’ In fairness to her, she would counter, ‘No, but being married to you isn’t helping.’
(Incidentally, I think that it’s worth pointing out that my mother has/had no medical training or qualifications in mental health assessment, or any branch of medicine for that matter (she did have a framed typing certificate on the wall in the lounge, I remember – that was the first house that we lived in; the one that she burnt down when my father left us to pursue a life as a circus trainer of Shetland ponies. I’m sure that it was a mere oversight, brought on by her grief and intoxication with strong liquor (medicinal and self-prescribed) that she did not wake me and evacuate me from the building before pouring petrol through the letter box and flicking a flaring Swan-Vesta in after it.)
Here are a few of the frequently asked questions that I am frequently asking myself about the Romney and Marsh series, frequently.
Where are the books located and why?
At present the only copy of each title is in a box file at the bottom of the wardrobe in the spare bedroom. This is because my current future ex-wife can’t bear to have them, ‘lying around making the place look untidy and attracting dust’.
What I meant was, where are the books set geographically and why?
Sorry. The setting for the Romney and Marsh books is Dover in Kent. I chose this location for two reasons: I’m familiar with Dover having lived there on and off for a while a few years ago and it’s a great town. Let me rephrase that. It’s a shit town (perfect for lots of crime) but Dover does have some fascinating historical, contemporary man-made and natural places to visit. There are the cliffs, the castle, the secret war-time tunnels, the grand shaft, the Roman painted house and the Grand Redoubt is sometimes open to visitors. Although I haven’t been there yet (because I now live abroad) it’s on my to-do list next time I’m home. There is the ferry port, Samphire Hoe and the beach and a good deal of handsome and interesting period property dotted about. Dover is also still a garrison town, or at least lots of soldiers are always coming and going. And, of course, France is just across the water. In short, lots of scope for interesting locations for crime. The fact that I have not used any of Dover’s geographical resources listed above in the first three books should not be taken as an indication that I am unable to utilise these rich, interesting features in a literary way.
When the idea first occurred to me to set the books in Dover I had a look around the internet but couldn’t find that anyone else had done the same so here we are.
What made you choose to write a police detective series? How are you qualified to write a police procedural novel?
I’ll answer the second question first – what is a police procedural novel? Secondly, I’ll answer the first question second. I didn’t set out to write a police detective series. It just sort of happened. I had an idea for a book and then I wrote it and I liked the characters and thought – a bit like Tony Blair and the people who elected him – that I could use them again and again? I am enjoying watching them develop and grow as people – unlike Tony Blair. Writing a police detective series might be ill-advised seeing as my only brush with the long arm of the law was …well nothing was proved anyway. That’s the main thing. But I do read crime novels.
Oh, do you? Who are your favourite authors?
Can’t we just talk about me and my writing?
Yes, of course, but I want to know who your influences are. Who do you steal your ideas from? That sort of thing.
My favourite authors are – in no particular order – me, myself and I. I also like Michael Dibdin, Elmore Leonard, CJ Sansom, Patrick O’Brian, Robert Harris and many others that I will get around to naming in the fullness of time. But for now I’d rather concentrate on me.
When did you start writing?
I moved to Turkey just over three years ago. In Turkey I realised that I was completely free of responsibility. If I chose to sit down and write for a bit I didn’t feel the least bit guilty about not being out fixing the leaky roof, or painting walls, or any one of a hundred house-maintenance jobs that were always beckoning on the home that I lost in the last divorce. And if it wasn’t the house maintenance it was the household chores: cleaning, ironing, washing clothes etc. And then there was work, of course, to interfere with my authorial aspirations and children and family. No, really, stealing a lot of money from my last employer, moving to Asia minor, changing my name, renting a small flat, leaving no forwarding address and employing a local peasant woman to look after my household needs has freed me up to write properly. I’m finally happyish.
How long does it take you to typically write one of your books?
I can manage two books a year. I alternate between the Romney and Marsh books and the Patrick Sansoms. However, if you care to look back on my blog you will see that I have interrupted my writing in order to do all the things that are necessary for me to self-publish. This might take another couple of months after which I will start on the next Patrick Sansom.
What is your writing process? What are your writing routines?
I find that the only way that I can write is with a computer. Although I do have to say that it can become rather awkward and tiresome to keep picking it up to dip in the ink-well. I read somewhere that one particular author who shall remain nameless (I don’t want to give him any free publicity on my blog) – but he’s a household name and a notorious perverter of the course of justice, a jail-bird and ex-MP – handwrites up to seven drafts of his books. What a truly well-formed wanking arm that man must have. I have trouble writing a shopping list without stopping to rest my arm.
I have no set times that I write. No set routines. I do try to write something every day when I’m engaged on a project and to be honest I can get a bit crotchety if life gets in the way and stops me.
On a good day I can manage five thousand words. On a bad day (for English literature) I can sometimes produce six thousand. As an example I have just written two thousand two hundred and fifty six words on this load of rubbish.
I don’t need peace and quiet to write. With my personality disorder I have become used to blocking out unwelcome voices. I prefer to write in the mornings. I can’t get up at five o’clock to write like some and I can’t stay awake past nine o’clock in the evening.
When I realised that I had the time and opportunity to write I bought my first laptop. This was in Turkey, which, for those who don’t know, is a foreign country with a foreign language. This was also a mistake. Until I got used to the foreign language keyboard I could barely manage a comprehensible hundred words a day. Turkish computers don’t have qwerty keyboards. They have zktgspob keyboards. Hence, the sentence, ‘Inspector Romney ejaculated in the direction of Sergeant Marsh,’ reads something like, ‘ Ipsloeot rlmolusn klsohd alk djiot dosue cojkks rojsjsm,’ on my Turkish laptop screen. It made initial proof reading of my work very difficult.
I print out drafts of my books at work when everyone has gone home and smuggle them past security in my Sponge-Bob lunch bag. No one has ever thought to wonder what I could be secreting in that; the thousands of pounds I could be costing the foundation in paper and printing ink. It’s an aspect of working for them that I really enjoy. One of the few. Bastards.
Thankfully, for my writing output’s sake the very wise and puritanical Turkish authorities have seen fit to make the finding of pornography on the internet virtually impossible as they have gradually and methodically shut-down every web-link that even suggests it might contain a whiff of something of a sexual nature. In consequence, I’m not wasting hours a day trawling the www for sexually explicit material to further push back my boundaries of incredulity at what people will do for money and personal amusement.
Where do you find the time to write?
I ignore my family and call in sick to work about three times a week. I told them that I have AIDs and that I need regular treatment. They are cool with that. I haven’t told them it’s incurable. I have company health insurance.
Where did the names for the main characters come from?
Detective Inspector Romney was originally Detective Inspector Moses. Detective Sergeant Marsh was originally Detective Sergeant Stone. I’ve just remembered something. When I started to think that I might have a go at a series, I had the idea that I’d write a themed series the novels of which were to be based on the Ten Commandments. Each book would have at its centre a crime that was a reflection of one of the Ten Commandments – just to make that clear. And so I thought it would be ‘clever’ to call the characters Moses, as in Moses, and Stone, as in set in. And then one day I watching the news and saw something about Mitt Romney and his progress as a hopeful American presidential candidate. I thought that Romney sounded like a good strong name – probably why that particular Romney was doing so well. I can’t see much else to recommend him to the voters. Now, I was born and bred on Romney Marsh – just down the road from Dover – and whenever I hear the word Romney I can’t help making the association of Marsh. And so it was that when I thought of the name of Romney for a character I instantly thought of Marsh for another. And then, I thought why not change the names of the two coppers and give myself a little in-joke in my writing. I have never regretted my decision. As for their Christian names I like the sound of Tom Romney and I can’t say why I chose the name Joy for Marsh. I might get sued.
Detective Constable Grimes, the most significant and regular of my other characters, had his name chosen because, for me, the word Grimes conjures up images that reflect elements of his character like no other reasonable word can. I could hardly call him Detective Constable Dirty-Fucker.
Other characters that play bit parts in the books usually have their names made up from Christian names and surnames of people that I have known/know. I don’t have a problem with that. If any of them do they can sue me and then I might just resurrect them in a future book as a child molester.
How do you honestly rate your writing?
Honestly. I’m not the worst writer that I have ever read. And I have read some books that have been published by mainstream publishers that I have no doubt my writing is better than in every regard.
Name some authors who you think that you write better than.
Do you have any regrets about what you’ve written so far?
Yes. I regret that I haven’t made any money out it.
Thank you for my time.