Can you tell us a little about your self IE your education Family life etc?
I’m married and live in London’s East End. I have all the usual educational certificates and a science degree in Psychology.
Can you remember what got you interested in writing?
Reading. So many books gripped and delighted me in so many ways, from the use of language to the behaviour of characters to the ingenious plots. I thought that being a writer must be a fine way to spend a life.
What inspired you to write your first book?
I started out as a freelance crime journalist and worked on a number of wild stories about police corruption, serial killers and sex attackers, mass murderers, drug dealers, art thieves, etc. One day I started working on what I thought was a crime feature story but it quickly grew into a book: Diamond Geezers.
Do you remember the first book you wrote and what it was about?
Diamond Geezers: The Inside Story of the Crime of the Millennium, published in 2004 by Michael O’Mara
Back in 2000, a gang of hapless criminals from South London planned the heist of the millennium by stealing the priceless collection of De Beers diamonds from the Millennium Dome in South London.
Their audacious attempt was foiled by police officers from the Flying Squad at New Scotland Yard, who caught them on the day of the robbery in a plan that was just as daring as the robbers.
It had everything: comedy, tragedy, pride, love, greed and a fabulous setting – and the story of how the diamonds were found and brought to London was worth a book in itself.
What books have most influenced your life?
Fiction: Crime and Punishment, Infinite Jest, The Pale King, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the Master and Margarita, Under the Volcano, The Book of Flights, The Book of Disquiet. And many, many more.
Non-Fiction: Anything by E.B. White, George Orwell, David Foster Wallace, Bill Bryson and Hunter S Thompson. And many, many more.
Are the experiences in your stories based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Always. Although I plan to write fiction and have written some plays for the BBC, my books are all non-fiction.
What made you co-write with Harry Keeble?
Harry approached Andrew Lownie (andrewlownie.co.uk), my agent, and Andrew put us in touch. Harry told me the story of how his little drugs squad had closed 100 crack houses in one year and I knew then I had write the book (which became Crack House).
How did you find working on his books, easy or hard?
Writing books is fun but hard – in the sense that Harry and I deal with contentious and sensitive topics, including child abuse, so we have to put the people we’re writing about first and consider how every sentence might affect them. The feedback so far is that we’ve got it just right and that is a huge reward in itself. We also receive many emails from people asking for help in relation to some of the issues our books cover. To have inspired someone to do something about a certain situation is, as a writer, humbling and satisfying. Harry and I feel as if we have a very strong connection to most of our readers and this keeps us motivated when discussing and writing the books.
Have you co-written with other authors?
Yes, lots. I’m a ghost-writer and have written memoirs for a world-famous human rights activist, a record breaking sports person, a very senior police officer, a world famous movie star, a Special Forces soldier, an undercover detective and a top surveillance officer.
What are your current projects?
I’m working on a book called the Crime Factory (coming out in April 2012), which is a detective’s account of his incredible career in the Criminal Investigation Department. I’m also about to start a book on the history of crime in London (Criminal London, also coming out in 2012) – how crime has shaped and will continue to shape the city and its inhabitants. Harry’s next book, Hurting Too Much, has just gone off to the printers and will be out in February 2012.
How much of the book is realistic?
Everything – except Harry and I have to change some names and small details to protect crime victims, criminals, informants, witnesses and undercover police officers.
If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Pressing ‘send’ for the last time is quite difficult – I always feel like I should read the manuscript one more time, but there comes a time where you have to let the book go.
What was the hardest part of writing your books?
For Harry and I, probably dealing with some of the more deeply emotional stories. On a more practical level, dealing with the various legal aspects of non-fiction writing can be very tricky indeed.
Did you learn anything from writing your books and what was it?
I learn a great deal from all of my co-authors. They have all been through dangerous and traumatic experiences for the benefit of others and that is always very humbling. Also, I’ve learned that publishing a book is a privilege, one that I take very seriously indeed, and so I always give every single story my best shot.
Which do you enjoy writing fiction or non-fiction and why?
I haven’t written fiction yet, so that’s a question for the future.
Is there any book you wish you never wrote?
No. There are books I wish other people hadn’t written, however.
When did you first consider yourself an author?
When I held a physical copy of my first book in my hands. And shortly afterwards when I had to fill out the ‘profession’ section on my car insurance form.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
If you have the urge to write and the urge never lessens, then you are a writer and you should keep writing – no matter what. Read as much as you can and study other authors’ techniques, style and use of language.
If you want to get published, then approach agents and take their advice, they know what they’re talking about. Andrew Lownie’s website – andrewlownie.co.uk – has some great advice for submitting proposals and some very funny real-life examples of how not to approach an agent.
Be clear and concise. To this end, read Politics and the English Language by George Orwell. It applies to both fiction and non-fiction (and it’s short too). Any publisher would be delighted to read a book proposal that follows Mr. Orwell’s sound advice.
Writing takes a lot of self-belief and a great deal of hard work but it is worth it and if you keep at it, you will get there in the end. For example, when Harry and I wrote a book proposal for Baby X, the publisher wasn’t sure about taking it on. Baby X told the story of how Harry came to join Hackney’s Child Protection Unit and the heartbreaking and sometimes dangerous work they undertook, rescuing hundreds of children from all kinds of abuse, covering everything from witchcraft to incest and travelling all over the globe in the hunt for child abusers.
The publisher was worried that it might be too tough a read for them to sell, but Harry and I believed in the book passionately and persuaded them to offer us a modest advance. When Baby X was published it stayed in the non-fiction top-ten for three months and we received countless emails from people touched by issues raised in the book.
If you were not a writer what else would you like to have done?
If I hadn’t started writing I would have continued my psychology studies to become a Cognitive Neuropsychologist, which is a posh way of saying ‘finding out what part of the brain does what’.
Is there any thing you would like to tell our readers?
Come and join us on Facebook!
Our campaign page: http://www.facebook.com/groups/275608530935/
Harry’s page: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1407916673