The subject of my third interview is Leicestershire’s master of rhyme and crime, Phil Simpkin, author of The Borough Boys series.
Take it away, Phil.
Can you tell us about yourself in 100 words – no more and no less?
Late fifties; over-worked and under-paid aspiring, self-published author. Married; Two daughters; five grandkids at last count. Retired cop and emergency planning specialist. Likes – Guitar music – both playing and listening. Rock and Blues. In fact, there is little music I don’t like (except country and western – which I hate).Rugby Union. Golf. Fly and Carp Fishing. Drinking wine and whiskey , real ale, and anything else vaguely alcoholic on occasions. Currently part way through major lifestyle change for health benefits – a long and painful process. Also currently seeking employment – my royalties will not keep me to the style my wife is accustomed!
Why did you decide to become a writer?
As a young cop, I was fortunate to work part of the older, historic parts of Leicester. On dark, cold, winter nights, I often used to wonder what it would have been like to have been a cop in the days when cobbles, coaches and gas-lamps were the order of the day, and being a cop was still something of a novelty. I decided that not only would I find out – which lead to years of reading and research, but I swore I would write a novel about it when I retired. I retired in 2006 and finished the first novel in 2012. That’s why I became a writer.
Tell us about your books.
My books are a series of two novels featuring the Leicester Borough Police circa 1850. Samson Shepherd, a rookie cop, is taken under the wing of John Beddows, a hardnosed and street wise veteran. Together they set out to fight crime in what was a time of extreme poverty for most, and extreme luxury for a limited, fortunate few. Life was hard and unfair for many, and crime was actually a realistic option to life in the workhouse, or likely death from poverty. At a time when crime fighting was about wits, instinct, courage and tenacity, the series looks to expose the society and it’s problems, and create realistic, likeable characters that will grow through following novels.
Who would you like to see play the lead characters in a screen version of your books?
Sam Shepherd would have to be someone young and a little naive, but sharp and quick, so perhaps Daniel Radcliffe. John Beddows is a darker, harder yet honourable man, somewhat older – so Daniel Craig. The two Dan’s!
What are you working on at present?
I am part way through my third novel in the series, which will add a vast amount of detail to the personalities of my main characters, and introduce one or two new favourites. I am also looking for an illustrator for a children’s’ book I have written, a tale of an over-sized creature who becomes a folk legend. I also have a more contemporary novel underway, which will be much more humorous in format to The Borough Boys. My experiences in lifestyle change which I am running as a daily blog, will also become a diet / lifestyle change book after the end of the year I have given for the process – warts and all look at the pains and highs and lows of major weight loss and lifestyle change.
What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?
I started writing as a bit of fun, and to fulfil a promise to myself. I never, originally, saw it as a career or saw myself as ‘an author’. Not long after releasing my first novel, ‘Jack Ketch’s Puppets’, it went up to number thirteen in all crime thrillers on Amazon and Kindle book charts, amongst the best. I was sandwiched between Val McDermid and Lee Childs – albeit for just a few hours. That was surreal, and several people contacted me to tell me. When people talk about me as an author and I receive fan mail, I get really embarrassed, as I can’t see myself in the same light as the writers I enjoy. A few weeks after my second novel was released, I had both in the top 35 of all Amazon and Kindle crime thrillers – that blew me away. It looks impressive in charts, but sadly it doesn’t pay as many of you will identify!
Describe your typical writing day.
On a good day, I will get up and be at the keyboard for about 8 or 9am and my day will start with checking emails, social media posts and blogs. I then write my daily blog. Then I will concentrate on my next novel, and when it flows, I can get through 5 or 10k words. However, if I create something and realise that I am unsure of facts, I will distract and spend some time checking and double-checking facts, using Google, genealogy and historical directories, etc. I will work until four or five and then give time to family and friends. On a bad day I stare at the screen or just go off and play golf! I would sooner not write if I don’t have the heart to write positively.
If you could find out the answer to one of life’s great mysteries, which one would you choose?
Is there life after death? If so, I could perhaps stop worrying about dying and leaving people behind. Then again, would I have to have the same mother-in-law?
What would you pick for your final supper on death row?
It would have to be a full on Indian blowout. Papadoms and pickles; a good chicken or prawn madras; daal; parathas and a gallon of cold Indian beer.
Tell us about the most terrifying situation you have ever been in.
As a young cop, one night, one of my colleagues went missing. He had been doing observations from an old factory that was going to be demolished, and I was sent to search the building for him. I started to climb up a fire escape, and on about the fourth level, I had got two or three steps up, when it fell from the wall and crashed to the floor. I jumped off as I realised it was moving and landed on a landing. It turned out that they had started dismantling top down, but had not had time to remove the actual flight. That was my first experience of what we called ‘brown adrenaline’! My colleague was later found alive and well, asleep at the station.
Describe your perfect day.
To wake up somewhere in Mediterranean sunshine – preferably Menorca or Crete. A swim before breakfast. A leisurely breakfast whilst people watching, getting characters for my books. A few hours writing, perhaps. A round of golf. A stroll to a local taverna or bar, and an early evening meal and drinks. Some live music. The company of an attractive woman. When are you free?
And the cliché question. Four guests at your dinner party (living or dead), who would you invite?
There would have to be a great comedian – so Spike Milligan – just for the unpredictable and whacky! Someone fascinating – Pythagoras – so we could lie up looking at the stars and he could tell us about ancient Greece and all his theories. Someone interesting and at the same time, attractive – Joanna Lumley – or if she couldn’t make it, Elle McPherson (I can dream). Finally someone who has made a big difference to the world I live in – and as a cop – Sir Robert Mark – who stood out and stood up against bad cops, and made it a more honourable profession.