Interview with Charlie Pearson – July 2017
- Where are you based?
Leeds, West Yorkshire.
- What genre do you write?
I predominantly write crime thrillers. I’ve written a little horror in my time, but I gravitated towards crime twenty years ago and haven’t been able to climb free of it since.
- Where are your books set? And why is it important to you to set your books in the North?
All of my books are set in West Yorkshire, and usually feature details of Leeds and sometimes Wakefield. I always said that if I won the lottery I would move. And I would, but not far. I love Yorkshire dearly; its cities and its towns, but especially its countryside have been making my jaw drop since I was old enough to appreciate spectacular beauty.
It’s important to me to have my stories set in and around Leeds because I’ve lived here all my life, I know the place very well, and I know the people. I can usually find a setting to suit any particular scene I have in mind, and the location makes it appear real to me. And if it’s real to me, I hope that realism is transmitted though the page to the reader.
- Where do you get your inspiration from?
I use the same three sources that every other writer uses. I use people; there is nothing quite so fascinating as tangling with a turbulent person, and guessing why they’re turbulent, and what kind of world they walk through. I use places extensively. Often I encounter an evocative place that will stir something inside me enough to remember it explicitly, and if I do – such as the village of Ledston Luck – then you can bet it will appear in a story. And lastly, I use real-life stories as an inspiration to write some facsimile based upon them. The cash machine robbery in Black by Rose comes to mind here, but so too does the Russian mafia story line in Stealing Elgar.
- Who is your favourite author?
I don’t have a favourite. I enjoy stories by King, James Carroll, some of Lee Child’s earlier stories, and some of James Herbert’s earlier stories too. I also love getting inside the pages of a Bernard Cornwell novel – bliss. I don’t care who I read so long as I can live alongside enjoyable characters while the story unfolds around them. I also have a soft spot for many indie authors too – far too many to mention here.
- What has the North got that the South hasn’t?
Having never experienced life as a Southerner, it’s difficult to draw comparisons. All I can say is that the North, and especially Yorkshire, has everything in it that I need. It’ll take you from specular coastlines to the darkest woodland, from the highest peak to the lowest mines and caves. It’ll take you from the smog of mills to the clarity of The Dales. You can experience medieval architecture and cutting edge design all without leaving the White Rose County.
- Which publishing company are you with?
I have the privilege of being with an exclusive press called The Ink Foundry. They are so exclusive that only I am on their books.
- Where do you do your research for your books?
Right here, sitting in this very chair next to my computer, is the short answer. The more in-depth answer is that I get all the research I need as I carry out my work here in Yorkshire. Truth be told, I do very little research indeed. I may need to brush up on some weapons facts once in a while, but mostly I get by without.
- Do you have a day job?
Yes. I’ve had the same day job for the last twenty-one years. It’s also a night job too depending what shift I’m working. I work as a Senior CSI (Crime Scene Investigator), and since most of my books revolve around crime, you can probably understand why I do so little research. I’m very lucky, I know! Like many other jobs, mine can be very wearisome; just the subject matter can weigh heavily on my mind, but it’s extremely important not to let it take over – you absolutely must treat it as nothing more than a job because if you don’t, it can play havoc with your mental health.
Mostly, the job is interesting, but occasionally it’s boring as hell – nope, it’s not like they show on the TV. You can guarantee to encounter a full range of personality types, and I don’t just mean those with whom I work, but those for whom I work: those are the burglary victims and the victims of assaults; they include murderers and rapists, arsonists and junkies. They include toffs and scum, rich and poor, old and young, dead and not so dead.
- If you had to write another genre what would you choose and why?
You can probably understand why I love to write in the crime genre. As I said above, I’m very lucky to live amongst it – it’s under my nails, and it’s in my nostrils! It’s easy for me to write this genre because it’s all I’ve known for so very long. But if I were forced to write something else, then I think I’d maybe switch to horror. I think it’s the closest relative to the crime thriller genre. It’s only one step down, really, I suppose; take away the actual crime and you’re left with the devastation that both genres are good at portraying. I do, however, think you need something a bit special in your arsenal in order to make horror work well – it’s not an easy genre to wrestle with.
- If one of your books was made into a Tv series or film, who would you cast as your main characters?
This is one of those fantasy questions that I’ve often struggled with. My current series is the CSI Eddie Collins series, and I’ve portrayed Eddie as an abrasive man who’s probably somewhere in his late-thirties to mid-forties. He’s gruff and unwelcoming, but he really does have a softer side, a caring side. He’s a man who will go to any length to see the victim of a crime is helped as much as possible, and also that the perpetrator is served his portion of justice – that could be natural justice, English Law justice, or good old fashioned Eddie justice. He also cannot abide management for management’s sake.
Anyway, it’s something I’ve struggled with, so I asked that very question of my Advance Reader’s Team, and they came up with several possibles: Eddie Redmayne, Joe Dempsie, Sam Rockwell, Sean Bean, and Steve Buscemi. Take your pick.
- Have you always wanted to be an author?
No. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved reading stories ever since I began with the Ladybird books (yes, there’s still a very vague memory in there somewhere, and I can still remember the feeling of moving along in the series, of getting better at reading – amazing for someone with a memory as atrocious as… what were we talking about?).
I was into my late teens before I had that certain urge to write. I thought it would be easy, I mean how hard could it be? It didn’t take me long to get shot down in flames. I’ve been writing for at least twenty-five years (with short breaks every now and then, thanks to life for getting in the damned way!), and I think I might have improved slightly over those years.
Not sure if I’d want to be a full-time author. Of course on the face of it I would, but a few years ago I found myself all alone (no violins, please), and for the first time in my life I wrote properly. I would still go to work, but outside of work, all I did was write and grab the odd few hours of sleep and maybe some food if I had to. It almost killed me! I just don’t know when to stop; as it turned out, when I finished Black by Rose in less than six months from concept to publication, that’s when I stopped. It was exhausting.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to try it now. My life is much more stable, and if I didn’t have the day job munching away at my time I could probably make a very good go of it; as things stand, it’s difficult balancing being a CSI with family life and with writing. But the good news is that I don’t think I could stop even if I wanted to.
- Do people ever recognise you in public?
The short answer is no. The long answer is no, not really.
I’ve been pointed at in the police station, and then comes the, “Are you that writer?” I’ve had a few compliments from coppers, and I’m always surprised to learn of someone from work reading my books. But out in the world, no one knows who I am. In the book world, a few people know me, and we always get along really well at author or book club events.
- Have you ever been nominated or won any awards for your writing?
A couple of my books have won awards. I don’t usually put them forward though. I do like the idea of people enjoying what I write, but once a book is written and out of the way, I prefer to concentrate on the next rather than dwell too much on the past.
- What’s the most surreal experience you have had as a result of being an author?
I suppose the most surreal experience has to be appearing in the local press earlier this year, and then twice on BBC radio. Having a photographer show up at my house was quite dizzying, and then interviewed in the radio station too was most peculiar. I can’t quite grasp why people take an interest in me. I’m just me; I’m nothing special – in fact I’m less than ordinary since I spend all my free time prodding a keyboard.
- If you could say one thing to your childhood self, what would you say?
This is such a tough question! Probably, “Have a care, young Merlin.” No I wouldn’t, and you have no idea what I mean by that anyway (Google it). So, to answer the question, I would say that the only truth in life is found in being yourself. But life is so complicated that one can only get through it by creating facades. The only way I know to be myself is when I’m alone studying the insides of my brain. In other words, nothing brings yourself into sharper focus than making up scenarios for the people you create to escape from. Nothing sharpens your own mind more than writing fiction.
I’d also say, “Don’t marry ***, she’s a killer.” But that’s a story for another time when I’ve had a few beers. For now, stick with the profound answer above.
- Do you people-watch for inspiration?
Of course. People fascinate me. I’m not overly impressed by a lot of them, and I’ll do my best to stay away from them most of the time. But I do enjoy studying them.
- Where do you write?
If I have an idea while I’m out and about, I make notes on Evernote on my phone. If I’m away from home I use my tablet. But the majority of the time I write here at home in the office/spare bedroom that I call the Writing Pad.
I have two screens. Not because I’m greedy. I have two because I write on one and use the other for reference and for keeping notes on the master files I have open.
I need complete silence in order to write, and find that I write better in the evening, but I tend to flag around 2am. I love the early hours, how quiet the world is. And if the world is not quiet, I go to the other extreme and blast away the noises of the day with some music. Loud music. I used to listen to Ozzy Osbourne or Pink Floyd, or maybe some Muse to drive away the annoying sounds coming from downstairs or from outside. Right now I’m listening to Sia. But in truth I don’t listen to music at all; it’s there to stop my mind catching hold of noises which stops me from writing. When the music’s on, I can concentrate. Sometimes I’ll use music to help me with mood. If I need to write a sad scene and I don’t feel sad, I’ll play something melancholy, and I’m right there ready to smash the keys.
- What’s already out there?
I have a trilogy that I began writing 20 years ago called The Dead Trilogy. It features a SOCO (Scenes of Crime Officer), Roger Conniston, as he battles the Russian mafia, the local gang lord, and some hefty personal problems. I’m very lucky in that it remains a very popular trilogy even now, and people often ask if I’m going to write any more Roger books. The books are:
A Long Time Dead
No More Tears
In 2012 I finished and released the first in the ‘new’ series of books that feature a more abrasive protagonist than Conniston was. His name is Eddie Collins, and he’s a CSI. You don’t mess with Eddie – well, not twice anyway. He gets the job done and he doesn’t care how he gets it done, and he believes strongly in justice – Eddie-style! Unlike The Dead Trilogy that follows Roger through a complete story over the course of the three books, Eddie’s series is a new story in each book. They can be read as stand-alones but you get more from them if you read them in order; you get to see how Eddie and the other characters develop. The books are:
The Third Rule
Black by Rose
Sword of Damocles
And I’ve written two CSI Eddie Collins short stories in first person:
- What’s next?
Difficult to say what’s coming next. But in the fire are several irons. One of which is a new CSI Eddie Collins book provisionally entitled The Death of Jessica Ripley. There might be another non-Eddie thriller in pipeline too, but I can’t say too much about that right now.
I still intend writing an Eddie Collins short story each year and hopefully will compile them into one book when I have enough of them.
Social Media Links.
Here’s a one page extract from Ledston Luck, Eddie’s latest novel, released in January 2017. He and his colleagues were injured at a booby-trapped crime scene, and Eddie wakes up in hospital. I chose this page because it highlights Eddie’s character when faced with uncertain and unforeseen events. I had a hard time choosing a single page because Eddie is very ‘forthcoming’, especially when it comes to figures of authority, so there are lots of events I could have chosen instead.
There is nothing more scary than losing your sight, but to wake up with a stranger’s hands on your chest and a machine bleeping in your ear as well is liable to send you headfirst into a heart attack.
“Don’t worry,” the stranger said. “Everything’s alright.”
“So what the fuck am I supposed to do?” Eddie gasped, pulling at the hands, clawing at his own face in a panic – a blind panic. He kicked out, and tried to roll away from those hands. But they gripped tighter. “Where am I?”
“It’s okay.” The voice wasn’t so pleasant this time, not so soothing; it was raised. “Calm down, Eddie. You’re in Jimmy’s.”
Jimmy’s? He was blind and he was in St James’s hospital being restrained.
* * *
The bleeping crept back, and Eddie stopped struggling, consumed by the infinite blackness behind those bandages, which he worked out wasn’t black at all, but a subtle mass of swirling colours. Try to focus on them and they disappeared, floating quickly out of his field of vision. Frustrating.
A female voice said, “You’re going to be fine.”
Eddie could smell alcohol hand gel. “Of course I am,” he whispered. “All criminals are leaving evidence at crime scenes in Braille these days. It’s the in-thing.” He took a deep breath and pulled his bottom lip tight to stop his chin trembling. He would not allow weakness to show itself. Not here, not in front of strangers; embarrassment prevented it.
Well that was it, then. The Life and Times of Eddie Collins ended with medical retirement, a handshake from the Chief and two weeks’ rehabilitation in some fucking clinic somewhere; his dad popping in with Robinson’s Barley Water and a packet of Werther’s every two days. Just waiting to die.
It had been a shotgun. Or at least a cartridge. He remembered taking a face full of shot or splintered wood, and how mesmerizingly hot the pain had been. And the accompanying bang, though muffled, was huge; how it made his ears ring, suppressing everything that followed and subduing it as though he was listening through a pillow. And then there was a fall, a metallic odour, a scream…
“How is he?” Eddie asked.
There was a silence in which Eddie thought he heard a groan. He expected one, and as an apprentice blind person he was surprised at how quickly he’d worked out when a person felt uneasy about a situation. As this one had become.
“The bandages are a precaution.”
“I asked how my colleague was.”
A pause and then, “Stay there. I’ll get someone.”
Stay there, Eddie thought. Stay there?