How my crime writing helped build Slush Piles. And why I self-published five crime novels, Ten-Ten, Camden Lock, The Three-Towered Castle, A History of Murder, and The Butcher of Cairo.
In 2009 I began work on a novel. It had a protagonist, plus a beginning, a middle and an end.
I wrote 75,000 words and I asked someone to read it. She was a leading literary agent, a friend of an acquaintance. She was terribly sweet and kind, and she told me, in the tenderest possible way, that my novel was rubbish.
But hell, you can’t keep a bad man down, and so I gave my black heart a transfusion of poison and set about writing another novel, which was also rubbish. Then I wrote a third novel, which was good enough to stagger away from a slush pile stinking out another leading agency. Unfortunately the agent said, “Close, John. But no cigar.”
I took heart, and after a week of weeping I set about writing more novels. Seven years later, the count had reached a Fellini-esque 8½. All bar 1½ were met with either a deafening silence or a standard rejection slip. But despite this I continued to write.
I have no desire to pen the great ‘literary’ novel, preferring instead to work in the genre of short and snappy crime fiction.
There were other reasons for persisting, even if I was unlikely to gate-crash the mainstream publishing party. I certainly had little expectation of emulating the best of what I have read — by that I mean Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith, James Ellroy, Denis Lehane, George Pelicanos and James Lee Burke. But I do think I can write as well as some who have found a publisher — no names, but they are mostly British.
There is also something else that continues to gnaw at my insides, which stems from, and there is no getting around it, a family background that was comfortably familiar with the criminal class.
I made use of this in A History of Murder.
During childhood, I learned that the truth is often a different beast to the one presented for public consumption by those in authority. Consequently if there is one recurrent theme running throughout my work it is corruption, as well as betrayal, and of course murder.
I took the decision to self-publish because what is point of writing a book if no one reads it?
Publish and be Damned
I currently have five books available as Kindle downloads.
Available from Kindle Direct Publishing, this is a police procedural set in 2007.
After finding the body of a murdered boy in a London park, Leo Wilkes sees an opportunity to rescue his flagging career as a police detective. However the investigation soon runs into trouble. when the body of a young woman is dragged from a canal. Wilkes follows the trail overseas where he learns that a man will take poison if he’s first shown death.
This follow up to Ten-Ten is available from Kindle Direct Publishing.
Leo Wilkes is a private investigator with a bad case of curiosity and a desperate need for reassurance. Money’s tight and trust is thin on the ground. Leo suspects his partners, Dave Sangster and Phil Liakos, are lying to him. Consequently Leo has questions to ask, only he doesn’t care much for the answers, particularly when they involve murder, blackmail and his parents.
The Three-Towered Castle
My third novel, and one which took seven years to complete, is available from Kindle Direct Publishing.
Derry, 1970, Bill Hamilton is a part-time cop with a full-time grudge against the IRA. Following a violent confrontation with Jimmy Connolly, a teenager from a diehard republican family, Bill is forced to reassess his past as both are propelled towards a final reckoning with a bloody history.
I have written more about this book here.
A History of Murder
This was written with the help of a former CID officer. It is available from Kindle Direct Publishing.
In 1970, London’s West End is in the grip of violent gangsters and corrupt cops. A police detective, Max Chandler, meets and falls for a jazz singer, Elaine Graham, only to learn of her relationship with a casino owner, Tony Carlisle. When Carlisle vanishes without trace, she asks Max for help. Police launch an investigation. They suspect foul play, implicating her in Carlisle’s disappearance. Max defies orders and he sets out to prove her innocence. But he soon finds himself trapped in a web of deceit which threatens to destroy both him and Elaine Graham.
The Butcher of Cairo
Now also available from Kindle Direct Publishing, I began writing this in 2010. A labour of love and hate, it is based on research into my maternal grandfather’s WW1 service in the Australian Imperial Force.
March, 1915. Sergeant James Fraser investigates the deaths of Australian soldiers in the Egyptian desert. Meanwhile a serial killer stalks the streets of Cairo. Then tragedy strikes before Fraser finds himself on the killing fields of Gallipoli as he pursues the truth to its bitter and brutal conclusion.
I have written more about this book here.
My Amazon author page can be found here.
So, will any of these pay dividends?
The answer to that question is highly unlikely. Like most writers I live in hope rather than expectation.