Thursday, 10 June 2021

Trevor Woods on Fathers and Daughters

My first two crime novels, The Man on the Street and One Way Street – coming to a bookshop near you on June 10th – are both heart-rending tales of the complex relationships between fathers and daughters. 

Wait. Rewind, I hear you say. I thought they were gritty thrillers set in Newcastle’s homeless community, featuring Jimmy Mullen, a PTSD-suffering, veteran living on the streets, who gets dragged into solving crimes the police aren’t interested in. Full disclosure: they’re a bit of both.

When I first started writing the book that eventually became The Man on the Street (no one but me liked my working title When a Fire Starts to Burn) I had no idea that Jimmy even had a daughter. Kate just popped up, almost fully-formed in Chapter 8, screaming for more page time. My characters have a habit of doing that, sneaky little bastards they are. My gut feeling is that Kate was jealous of another fictional young woman, Carrie, whose own relationship with Jimmy begins when she posts an appeal in the local paper to find a missing person. Yes, you’ve guessed it – her father. Jimmy thinks he saw the absent dad having a violent argument by the River Tyne that ended badly and contacts the young woman to tell her what he believes happened. 

You’d think that would be enough fathers and daughters for one book but pretty soon another pair make an appearance, then another. It’s like a down-and-dirty version of Modern Family. Even when Jimmy follows a man he thinks might be a murderer to the park, the suspect’s daughter has to make an appearance.

The young girl ran over to her dad and whispered in his ear.

‘You can ask him yourself, you know,’ he said.

The girl thought about it then shook her head. 

‘Sometimes she takes ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ a little too far,’ the dad said. ‘She wants to know what your dog’s called.’

‘Dog,’ Jimmy said. Seeing the girl’s puzzled face, he reiterated: ‘That’s his name, his name is Dog.’

Never work with children and animals. They say ‘write what you know’ but this was getting out of hand. (The amateur psychologists amongst you will be guessing that I’ve got a daughter and it’s a fair cop - just like DS Burns in the books. Boom boom.) For the record we did have a great relationship but now she’s insufferable, swanning around claiming that she’s my muse and demanding a place in the acknowledgements.

It was a relief to move away from the unexpected family dynamics of The Man on the Street and start working on the sequel, One Way Street, where Jimmy gets involved in tracking down a rogue batch of Spice that has caused the deaths of several runaway teenagers. I mean, I knew that Kate would probably elbow her way back in again and find a way to make herself useful – by starting a job in an Anti-Social Behaviour Unit for instance, but that was ok, your characters’ relationships should move on, shouldn’t they? And if it’s good enough for Harry Bosch…

At least I had the suspiciously helpful vicar Reverend Cooper and the unscrupulous and probably corrupt councillor Bob Pearson to drag things back into the dark underworld of inner-city crime. But who are those young girls living with those two potential villains, insisting they’re now vegans, dressing inappropriately and complaining about suggested curfews? Actually, those issues aren’t in the book, just in my house. It’s easy to get mixed up.

Things took a turn towards the surreal when my real life daughter, Becca, started to do things that the fictional daughter in the books had already done – starting relationships that were strangely similar to Kate’s, adopting attitudes that mirrored her fictional counterpart. Life imitating art, so to speak. Either I was developing Nostradamus-style prescience, which, judging by my disastrous Fantasy Football predictions, definitely wasn’t the case or I was being played. I strongly suspect the latter but was sorely tempted to make Kate the first female leader of the Labour Party in book 3 just in case I really had inadvertently discovered my superpower like some elderly Misfit.

The good news is that the Jimmy Mullen books have always been intended as a trilogy so this family saga has an end point. I really couldn’t see how I could credibly have a homeless protagonist tripping over bodies every year as if he lived in Midsomer - and plans for a new standalone novel are already underway. The pitch – a fifteen-year-old girl is forced to go on the run when she witnesses her father commit a shocking act of violence. Here we go again…

*For the record I’ve been asked to point out that Becca Wood is much better looking and more intelligent than Kate Mullen (She also swears more, particularly if she’s not front and centre in the aforementioned acknowledgements.)

One Way Street by Trevor Wood (Quercus Publishing) Out Now

The word on the street is that a rogue batch of Spice - the zombie drug sweeping the inner cities - is to blame, but when one of Jimmy's few close friends is caught up in the carnage, loyalty compels him to find out what's really going on. One Way Street sees the welcome return of Jimmy Mullen, the homeless, PTSD-suffering, veteran as he attempts to rebuild his life following the events in The Man on the Street. As his probation officer constantly reminds him: all he needs to do is keep out of trouble. Sadly for him, trouble seems to have a habit of tracking Jimmy down.

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