I started writing almost by accident.
After working as a designer in industry I moved on to management, then went into financial services. All my jobs had one thing in common. They bored me. I compensated for this by living a separate life - this one inside my head. There, I made up stories. Nothing original - mostly, my stories were variations on the books I read and the movies I saw.
Books were always around the house and I started reading when I was three and going to the cinema from age six. I especially liked the crime books my older brother left lying around and in particular those by James M. Cain, Cornell Woolrich and, top of the list, Raymond Chandler. At the cinema, I liked those dark, moody crime stories that were to become known later as films noir, several of which came from the books of those favourite writers (although I didn't know this at the time).
Many years later, when boredom with my working life reached breaking point, I cast around for an escape and decided, pretty much overnight, to try something a bit . . . well, sparkly. Showbiz maybe. That's a laugh. Can't dance, can't sing. What did that leave?
Forgive the cliché, but that’s when fate stepped in. I learned that a client of mine (this was in my financial services phase) had written a crime novel. I found a copy in the public library and read it. How can I put this politely? It was awful. I grumbled about this for days, probably weeks on end until my partner finally snapped and yelled that if I could do better I should shut up and do it.
So I decided to try. But what should I write? Well, crime fiction was obviously a recurring theme so a crime novel seemed like a good idea. They were easy to read, so they must be easy to write. That was my first mistake, but I struggled on and a few months later it was done. What now? A copy of The Writer's Handbook and a pin found an agent: Carolyn Whitaker of London Independent Books. Off the typescript went, and I began another book. A few weeks later, Carolyn phoned me, told me that my novel was unpublishable, and then spent a couple of hours telling me why. That two-hour telephone call remains high among the most important things that ever happened to me.
I rewrote the second book I was working on and when it was finished Carolyn sold it to a leading London publisher. Suddenly, I was a crime writer.
I had moderate success; one book, The Rose Medallion, was serialized by BBC Television and I wrote a few episodes for a popular television crime series. After nine crime novels had been published, I was talking to a publisher about this and that and mentioned my love of films and was asked if I would like to write a book about some aspect of popular cinema. Would I? I would have done it for nothing, but managed to avoid saying that. The result of this was my first non-fiction book, Hollywood Faction: Reality And Myth In The Movies, which examines how movie makers have distorted American history. Soon, I was writing crime books and film books. Not surprisingly, among the latter was Film Noir: Reflections In A Dark Mirror. Then came a similar conversation with a different publisher that got around to my other abiding love, jazz. The result of this was The Jazz Singers: From Ragtime To The New Wave (written in collaboration with Mike Pinfold). Now there were three strings to my literary bow and more books on popular cinema and jazz followed and an unfortunate result of this was that crime books drifted away. Then I became the senior contributor to The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, a role that resulted in several thousand biographical entries for what was destined to become the world’s largest database on the subject and eventually books of any kind were edged out.
Years passed and I began to weary of this work. It wasn’t boredom; it was because the thing I love most about writing is the act of writing. Research has its place, but I had drifted into a world where research and writing were in a 75:25 ratio and that was the wrong way around. So I decided to go back to writing crime fiction. There is research to be done there of course, but the ratio is happier.
The problem now was that in the years that had elapsed any reputation I might have enjoyed had faded. Getting back into mainstream crime writing meant another approach. I decided to go the once-denigrated self-publishing route - but that’s another story . . .