Authors Julie Shaw and Jaime Raven tell Killer Reads how their own edgy backgrounds have contributed to their gritty and gripping writing today. With close links to the cultures of crime and gang communities, you cannot doubt the authenticity of their books – The Madam and Bad Blood.
In The Madam by Jaime Raven, Southampton based ex-prisoner and prostitute Lizzie is finally out and free to seek her vengeance on the people who framed her. This is hard-hitting fiction which packs a real punch, drawing on Jaime’s own background, as you’re about to find out…
Bad Blood by Julie Shaw tells the true story of Christine, a young woman struggling to bring her baby up on the notorious Canterbury estate in Bradford, a place rife with crime, alcohol and drugs. Where family is everything, and nothing.
Jaime Raven, author of The Madam
All writers are influenced to some degree by their own personal experiences. I for one didn’t wake up one morning and suddenly decide that I was going to be a crime novelist. I was being steered in that direction long before I embarked on the path to publication.
It began with my late mother’s passion for books by Agatha Christie and Mickey Spillane, two of the world’s greatest crime writers. Mum encouraged me to read them and I became hooked during my mid-teens.
At the same time I was being exposed on a regular basis to real-life crime. This was because I lived in Peckham, South London – a part of the capital synonymous with crime and street violence. My family were working class stallholders and we lived on a council estate that was home to a couple of nasty gangs. At school I witnessed a stabbing in the playground and anti-social behaviour on a grand scale. I also met a number of notorious villains who were family friends and acquaintances. These experiences had a profound effect on me and would later have a bearing on the kind of books I would decide to write.
My career as a newspaper and television journalist was another determining factor. While reporting for newspapers such as The Sun and The Mail I covered a great many crime stories. In fact they were always the most interesting and challenging. Murders, robberies, major trials at the Old Bailey. I was in my element writing about the awful things that people do to each other.
So when I eventually decided that I wanted to become a novelist I knew instinctively that based on my personal experiences the obvious genre to focus on was crime. I drew on those experiences whilst writing The Madam, which is about Lizzie Wells, a young prostitute who is convicted of a crime she didn’t commit and ends up in prison. On her release she sets out to get revenge on the people who framed her.
The Madam is set in Southampton, where I’ve lived for some years and which has always had a thriving prostitution industry. For my next book, The Alibi, which is due out in January 2017, I return to my roots in South London.
Writing The Alibi was like a trip down memory lane. The main character is a feisty young crime reporter named Beth Chambers. She lives in Peckham and gets involved with gangsters and crooked cops. Her mum was once a stallholder and has links to some of the area’s biggest crime bosses. It might sound like an autobiography but it’s actually a gritty thriller!
The fact is neither book would have been written if not for all those personal experiences. They made it possible for me to create characters like Lizzie Wells and Beth Chambers, and to develop realistic plots against the kind of working class background that I’m familiar with. They also enabled me to merge elements of fact with fiction, which I believe greatly enhances the entertainment value of any story.
Julie Shaw, author of Bad Blood
I’m often asked where my inspiration to write comes from, and when I think about it, I guess whether I am writing true crime stories or fiction, there is always a little nugget of my past hidden in there somewhere. I often reflect on my upbringing in order to set a scene, and even if I am writing about something that has never happened to me personally, chances are that I knew or heard of someone that experienced it.
Growing up I lived on a rough council estate and my friends, neighbours and some family lived by the rules of the street – not the law as we know it. Police, social workers, teachers etc were all seen as the enemy and best to be avoided, and if your next door neighbour was a burglar, a thief or a drug dealer, you just accepted it and kept your mouth shut. In fact the only time anyone got involved with anyone else’s criminal activities, was if it had anything to do with harming a child. Then, all hell broke loose. ‘Vigilante violence’ – that was often the headline in our local paper.
I also lived on the same street as our modern day Jack the ripper – Peter Sutcliffe, and as a young teenager living in a town centre pub in Bradford, my parents knew quite a lot of the girls who were murdered by him. Our pub, The Metro Inn, was known as a bit of a safe haven for ‘working girls’ or prostitutes, so I grew up surrounded by lots of ‘aunties’ who had to sell their bodies for a living, but who were very protective towards me and my family.
Albert Pierrepoint, the world famous hangman who executed over 400 people in his lifetime also hailed from the same place as me. My grandparents and great grandma used to tell me stories about some of the people he hung, so even as a small child my imagination was riotous. In fact I thought it a great day out when a cousin or a friend sent me a visiting order from prison. I would take buses and trains up and down the country to be mesmerised by tales that the inmates had to tell.
All of this has enabled me to write authentically, I believe, and is why ‘realism’ is my very favourite genre to either read or write.