As a long time fan of Chris Simms, Michael Wood, author of the DCI Matilda Darke novels, and CrimeSquad reviewer puts his questions to Chris for today’s stop on the Death Games blog tour…..
MW: It’s been a while since the last DI Spicer novel, Sleeping Dogs, what have you been doing?
CS: I’ve been busy, scribbling away in my shed – but not on detective novels. I’ve always enjoyed writing dark psychological thrillers (my first two novels fell firmly into that category), so I decided to take some time away from Spicer to write two more that had been festering in my head. Sing Me To Sleep is about a lady called Laura Wilkinson who moves to an isolated cottage and immediately starts hearing faint echoes of a bird singing. She fears tinnitus. But Laura’s also suffered psychological problems in the past and can’t be sure if the noise isn’t a manifestation of mental illness or something more sinister… It’s just been optioned for a film.Dead Gorgeous follows a beautiful and fame-hungry young woman, Mandy Cost. To attract the attention of the paparazzi, she has a salon fit her with the longest, palest hair extensions they can find. Mandy appreciates the best extensions are made with human hair – but doesn’t question where hers came from. It’s something she comes to regret. Bitterly.
MW: Where did DI Spicer originate?
CS: As is often the case with characters, Spicer is a blend of various traits I’ve seen in different people. He’s one of those men who, though powerfully built, exude a strength that’s more than just muscular. He’s fiercely loyal, highly tenacious and not good at etiquette. A lot of people – characters in my books and readers of them – find him quite infuriating. Not that he’d be bothered.
MW: You’re known for writing your stories by hand, explain your process.
CS: The truth is, I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of an artist. So my initial planning is on A3 sheets; I’ll sketch the principal characters and add little comments and observations, all in pencil. Then comes mind-maps of the plot. It seemed natural to extend this approach to the actual writing – so I use a lined A4 pad and only write on one side. (With a Blackwing pencil.) That leaves the facing page free for later amends, additions or general thoughts. I love doing it this way – until I have to type up 90,000 words of spider-like scrawl.
MW: Manchester is key in your novels. Do you create the setting around the plot or the other way round?
CS: Both. Hell’s Fire came about because my train into Manchester passed what looked like a massive, derelict, charred church. Who would wreck such a majestic building, I began to wonder. In Savage Moon, I wanted to explore the scenario of someone being killed by what, at first, appears to be an Alien Big Cat (like the Beast of Bodmin). For a setting, you don’t get much more bleak and creepy than Saddleworth Moor that overlooks the city.
MW: Death Games is a change of direction for DI Spicer. What made you decide to move him on?
CS: His own pig-headedness forced me into it! Essentially, he ran out of bosses in the Major Incident Team willing to have him as their responsibility. Kicked out and demoted to Detective Constable, it was a case of ‘any port in a storm’ when the Counter Terrorism Unit made contact.
MW: For your new novel you’ve brought together your two series characters – DI Spicer and DC Kahn – why?
CS: DC Khan was already in the CTU – and struggling with its macho, testosterone-fuelled culture. I thought: what a great pairing. Her: measured, intuitive and diminutive in size. Him: a great big bull in a china shop. Plus, the CTU allows me to deal with plots on a grander scale than before.
MW: You write many short stories, very different to the crime novels, which do you prefer to write?
CS: I love short stories for their brief, self-contained nature. Before the actual writing, you can hold them in the palm of your hand and look at them from every angle. If you want to experiment with something, you can. Novels, in contrast, are vast, sprawling things. George Orwell said writing them was like a long bout of painful illness. But when it’s finished? The scene of achievement is mighty.
MW: What are you working on next?
CS: The screenplay of Sing Me To Sleep is almost done. I got a short story in the bag over Christmas. So next…it’s novel time. I have a nice Manchester-based idea, but can’t decide whether to toss it Spicer’s way or hand it to a brand new character.
Manchester: an injured survivor from a motorway pile-up flees the scene, leaving behind evidence that a terror attack is being planned…
Jon Spicer, newly trained as a Specialist Firearms Officer, has joined Manchester police’s Counter Terrorism Unit. Thrown out of his previous department and demoted to Detective Constable, he is being kept in the force only because he’ll take on the most dangerous of jobs.
Iona Khan is struggling to find respect and recognition in the male-dominated Counter Terrorism Unit. Her mind might be sharp, but many of her colleagues value physical strength above anything else.
As the investigation quickly snowballs, Spicer and Khan are thrown together. The two officers must learn to trust each other – and fast. Because in this chase, any wrong move could be your last.