Monday, 31 December 2012

Review of first episode of BBC's Ripper Street

Well, the first episode has come and gone...

Great set selection, I thought the location chosen really hit the mark.

Interesting mix of characters, including bringing in Chief Inspector Abeline as the desperate and frustrated Ripper man...and his pet Hack!

Good storyline, a vaguely copycat murder, with some Ripper trademarks, but the crime photographer was a bit too easy a giveaway. Sorry BBC but he came out too early!

Expected the early reference to the Toff and his carriage to raise questions regarding Royal connections as still would be a talking point in 1889- missed opportunity.

I generally enjoyed the whole episode, and felt the line between good cop and bad cop was very well written, and hadn't changed much to when I was in the CID in the seventies and eighties.

Matthew Macfadyen as Inspector Edmund, a diligent but risk-taking leader; Jerome Flynn as the hardman and the 'go to' for advanced interrogation needs - Detective Sergeant Bennett Drake, and Adam Rothenberg as the intriguing Captain Homer Jackson, ex-Pinkerton man. Liked Jackson's yearning to improve his scientific skills. Seemed to want to spend a bit more time enhancing his knowledge of female anatomy, at close quarters...and in his own time. Devotion to duty or what?

The programme clearly demonstrated the close line between keeping the law and breaking the law, and as the saying can't win a war without fighting dirtier and harder than your opponent - which sadly our society seems to have forgotten at times!

Only thing that got me a bit concerned was the language, which at times seemed to lean towards Shakespearean rather than Dickensian, and with not a lot of Cockney anywhere to be heard - came across as almost American "Britishness" with a distant lack of awareness of vocal reality?

Very dramatic finish, if only reasonable force was as easily accepted today. However, it does ensure that episodes do not get bogged down with one nemesis!

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Reading and writing for pleasure

Before I forget, I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year.

I have had a fruitful couple of days, and these have been matched by some positive feedback from some of my friends out there who have now read the preview to 'The Borough Boys' on the links to this blog.

I have also had some constructive criticism from creative writers, and this has given me food for thought about some modifications.

Reading some of the new best selling crime novels, and also reading reviews of them has also rung one or two alarm bells.

I know what books I like, and I know when I like a book, because I pick it up and normally don't want to put it down unless I have to.

It would seem that some of the authors of these books are not very good writers...

Who says?

I suspect, people who picked up the stories and didn't like them. or who thought that they were not technically and intellectually "correct"

But I loved them!

I also like teams that don't always win, and food that isn't 4 star, and wine that is less than £10 a bottle, and clothes that don't make me look like "man at C & A" (showing my age now!) and cars that don't have designer badges and designer price tags...

I want to write books that people want to read, for them to pick them up and not want to put them down!

So, they may not be grammatically correct, and they may not stand up to the "intellect police" out there...but I will judge how good they are by the response I get when readers choose.

Am I wrong?

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Ripper Streets inspiration

Well, Christmas is over and New Year is looming, and I am trying desperately to get more words completed for my second book.

It is amazing how much vintage TV can help you with period novels. 

There have been several versions of Christmas Carol, a couple of very vague old Black & white Victorian am-drams, and each has given me descriptive or fresh ideas.

I am most looking forward to the new series of Ripper Streets commencing BBC on Sunday 30th December, as although it is set late in the 19th Century compared to my initial and second novels, it's previews look to be a further good source of detail for clothing, street scenes, habits and peculiarities of the period that can be applied as a benchmark to work backwards from.

I was a little anxious when I saw that there was a pugilist storyline in one of the episodes, as my main character Samson Shepherd is a skilled pugilist himself, but then you take account of the fact that pugilism and "The Fancy" were more important as sports and past-times for the period as Soccer and Rugby become later...

How anxious do fellow writers get when they find aspects of their characters appearing in other new works?

Where else do you get your inspiration for period novels?

Let me know, I would love to hear...

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Conan Doyle; Ruth Rendell; Steig Larson; Iain Rankin; Joel Goldman

What do these people have in common?

They are people to whom I most aspire when writing, and reflect probably the best crime writers I would like to be compared to in the longer term.

People love heroes...whether they are Footballers, Rugby stars, Musicians,  Film stars, and we grow up wishing to be them or like them.

I am presently trying to read as much as I can about why they wrote and why they still write, and where they gain their inspiration.

Joel Goldman makes an astute point on his website about using his awareness of modern life and what goes on around him, to identify new ideas.

This is great for modern novels.

Conan Doyle (and Charles Dickens for that matter) provide a great backdrop for converting new to old, and include some great villains and details the lives they would have lead.

My primary inspiration was literally walking through the old streets of Leicester, and exploring the alleyways and passages, and visualising what it would have looked like in the mid to late 19th century.

This was a great and valuable way of passing the quiet small hours of a night shift!

Laws and powers were so primitive, that they allow for historical novels to develop characters who would be learning "on the hoof" and who would be most influential in how I would police Leicester during the period 1976 to 2006 when I retired.

My writing has involved a mix of personal observation and experience, wanderings, and catalysts in old and new "crime writers"...


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

What makes a best selling crime writer?

This might seem like a silly question for a budding crime writer like Phil Simpkin to ask. 

However, apart from a gripping and imaginative story-line, I would be intrigued to know what other readers look for in such a novel.

I am a selective reader, and Ian Rankin probably rates as a benchmark for what to aim for.

I also admire some of Ben Elton's work, particularly "The First Casualty"  and I also have enjoyed James McGee's series based on Matthew Hawkwood's character...

There are some great story- lines, and I feel that my first novel meets that requirement.

My dialogue is realistic, and is based on my own experiences interviewing suspects and witnesses in real life criminal investigations...and develops what the reader will want to know about each character - good or bad!

But I feel there is something else....I read Rankin and his novels not only have a storyline, and imaginative twists, but the detail he goes to in almost a walk-through..opening doors, walking up stairs, moving a chair, opening a drawer, moving a bottle....and personally I feel that it gets in the way and almost overloads the main story...

Am I alone in this thought?

Do you want that level of detail, and if so how much or how often?

I would love to know more!

Friday, 7 December 2012

Shepherd and Beddows are the Victorian versions of Regan & Carter

A nice comment from one of my first readers...

"Samson Shepherd and John Beddows are like a Victorian version of Regan and Carter (The Sweeney)"...

As much as it was a throw away comment, little things like that can make such an impact on how you feel about your characters.

I wanted them to be seen as good guys and assertive, but not law-breakers along the way...

I hope the comment suggests I have hit the mark!

They are certainly developing nicely in the next book in the series

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Deconstructive research in period crime novels

I was a Policeman for 30 years and I would feel incredibly confident writing about anything to do with Police or Policing over that period, and probably still to date.

However, I have chosen out of interest, the genre of early Victorian Crime and with a view to building my characters and taking them through the later Victorian period, within reasonable limits.

What has struck me is that everything I learned as a Policeman developed from something, and that particular something started from something else, and so on, and to find what there was when there was nothing, is a bit like predicting how the world really began.

Where can you find "what was there before Judges rules?" or "why and when did Police include cautions at arrest and interview?" because what you will more probably find is something that occurred after these decisions were made, and not what brought them about.

There are some very useful blogs, such as "Looking at History" ( to whom I am indebted!

As much as it is fun to make it up, I really struggle with "getting it wrong" and I am having to deconstruct what references there are that have been made available, and work backwards much more than I had predicted.

I have realised that Policing in 1836 et seq was very primitive, more so than I had assumed,and until you read Stones Justices Manual and see guidelines that were set from court rules and rulings, that have influenced the middle to latter part of the 19th century and into the twentieth century, it appears to have been a very subjective period in Policing and judicial process.

Has anyone in this genre found any better "pre" Victorian legal sources for "rules of engagement" by Police Forces, pre Lord Bampton's report of 1882?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Preview of "The Borough Boys"

I have now attached the first two chapters of my first novel on my preview page.

These should give you an insight into what Leicester was like in 1850 and of the characters that I will develop throughout the novel, and into subsequent stories.

I hope you enjoy, and if you have any comments, please add at the bottom of the page

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Literary Agent hunt...

Finally got off several e-mails to potential agents...

Scary moments or what? The proof of the pudding time...

Anyone out there got a particularly good agent / agents for Crime / Murder novels that might be worth approaching, or that you have found particularly approachable?

Any advice or information gratefully received...

Thank you...

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Another day dawns bright, if not a tad too cold for me!

A good excuse to spend another couple of hours researching my next novel...and update today's blog.

For my friends and family abroad, I have added a "Translate" option, which you will find at the bottom of my Blog "Home" page, and appears to translate very quickly and efficiently!

I am finding that every idea I have now developed for both my first and second novels, leads to far more questions that I need to ask, and to far more research that I need to conduct, to ensure that the work is as near accurate as possible.

We take so much for granted...for example Christmas. I am just writing a section which will relate to Christmas 1854, and trying to establish what people did or did not do, compared to today, is both fascinating but also time consuming...

I read a blog recently which suggested that as a work of fiction, not to get hung up about detail...I find that quite a disappointing suggestion... and also it takes away your personal capacity to learn and to educate, which I personally love in a good book.

Google awaits!

Friday, 30 November 2012

Now I shall begin...

Once upon a time there was a young Policeman, who walked the streets of Leicester during the mid 1970s.

He wandered around, taking in the old and the new, but it was the old that fascinated him the most, particularly the Victorian bits!

So, he started to imagine what it would have been like to have been a young Policeman in Leicester in the 1840s...

As he got older, he worked out that he could develop some of those thoughts and ideas and turn them into novels...

The novels would also paint a picture of just what a different place 19th Century Leicester really was...with an emerging Industrial modern town...full of poverty, lacking in social basics such as clean water, sanitation, and good medical facilities...and full of people trying to go about their lives, either legally and morally, or by whatever means could earn them a crust...

And that is where my first novel starts...Leicester of 1851...and it is a heady mix of murder, corruption and depravity.

Watch this space for more information as it becomes available.

Those voices in my head...

The voices inside my head have finally started, once again. I have been struggling with how to adapt the work I have already under...