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- Written between 1997 and 1998, released June 2011.
- Length: About 90k words, 380 pages.
- Highest Amazon rank: #1 Police Procedurals, #1 Murder, #1 Crime, #1 Mysteries.
- Music listened to while writing: Mostly Ozzy Osbourne.
The crime genre is like no other. I came to this from writing horror, where pretty much anything goes. If you have an awkward story-line when writing horror, you can get around it by inventing some new rule (every ten years the earth goes dark; vampires melt in sunlight…), but when you’re writing crime, the rules you have to follow are solid.
So, when I began writing Dead in ’97, I was faced with two challenges. Keep it real (it’s fiction, I know, and so you have a certain amount of latitude with characters and situations), and abide by the rules of the genre. And I was new to the world of forensic science, having only been in the job a year or so.
I was learning the ‘craft’ when I wrote the first draft of Dead. I included all manner of things that aren’t there today. For example, I remember receiving a handwritten death threat from a guy locked up in prison. Let me tell you, that is scary – he knows your name and he knows where you work (see The Note). And he wants to kill you for doing your job. Anyway, I included the death threat as a subplot, something sent from Beaver, who is in jail when we first meet him. But it was one of those ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ moments, and it had to go.
Also, Roger Conniston used to be called Jon Benedict in the original versions. It was only in 2011 that I ditched ‘Jon’ in favour of ‘Roger’. You may find it strange to learn that changing the name to Roger injected a little more dynamism into his character when I began a serious edit. Jon was okay, but he was a little boring, a little wimpish; when I changed it to Roger, he became a much wilder creature, much more fun to write.
Incidentally, I took ‘Roger’ from Roger Taylor of Queen (one of my favourite groups), and Conniston from one of the most wonderful lakes in England (yes, I put an extra ‘n’ in there).
Early days of ‘writing’. I was actually editing – up to Version 16. Never again!
I estimate there have been over twenty-five serious revisions made to this book. That is a horrible thing to admit to; it was either utter rubbish when it was first created or it is the best novel ever written right now. Neither statement is true. There are things in it that I don’t like; it reads a little clunky in parts, if I’m honest. But overall, it’s a good read, the characters are strong and the storyline is vibrant with a healthy assortment of subplots all coalescing at the right moment. So it’s good, but it’s not as good as the later books; and that’s how it should be. The longer you do something for, the better you’ll become.
This is where people speak of finding their ‘voice’ or their style. And I always thought that was a load of rubbish until it happened to me.
A Long Time Dead – current cover
And here’s the blurb…
How much trust can you put in forensic evidence?
They discovered her naked body with a puncture wound to her neck and blood everywhere. And brutal though her death was, this was the second such case West Yorkshire Police had running. Both unsolved. Until they found that one elusive piece of evidence.
Scenes of Crime Officer Roger Conniston has worries aplenty as he tries to catch a fellow officer dealing arms. The last thing he needs right now is arresting for a girl’s murder.
Of course he didn’t do it, but even he has to admit the evidence against him is compelling. All he has to do is prove his innocence and find the true murderer. Not easy when no one believes him, and when the officer holding him in the cell is the one he’s been spying on.