This month sees our third blog entry from the incredible Paul Finch. The Former The Bill scriptwriter turned author is back this week with a sneak peek into his life as a journalist, a period in which Paul feels had a huge impact in becoming the author he is today…
People often ask me how it happened that I went from being a policeman to writing police stories. Well, the cross-over is not as straightforward as some may think.
While I was in the police, I wrote almost no fiction at all. I had a yearning to write – I’d always written fiction as a youngster, and my father had been a professional author, but whenever the temptation came over me, I used to tell myself that I was too tired, too stressed and too busy obsessing about dreadful incidents in the real world – and for the most part that was probably true. But it’s also the case that I was being sucked into a radically different discipline. I was buried in a world of procedure and legalities, which came to completely dominate my daily thinking. It was near enough impossible to go home at night and put the job, or whatever case you’d been working on, out of your mind. These were serious affairs after all, and people’s lives and liberties might be at stake.
This is something I’ve tried to bring into the Mark Heckenburg books in fact; the way police life can consume you. Even your recreation time tends to be spent with other police officers, or at least it often was for me, and usually such R&R consisted of drinking hard and yet again discussing the job. Anything else seemed frivolous.
My route into writing about the police actually came through my next occupation, which was as a journalist.
Though I became a trainee reporter in London, it was on my home turf where I really learned the trade, working on several newspaper titles in the busy and heavily industrialised northwest of England, including the Wigan Observer, the St Helens Reporter and the Manchester Evening News. I covered a wide range of subject matter, everything from finance to sport to crime to entertainment. This was the period of my professional life when I acquired the tools and techniques of modern writing. I had some real taskmasters for editors, but I owe them more than I could ever say.
Working on busy urban newspapers also enabled me to keep close tabs on the darker side of the human experience. Wherever you are in the world, if you’re employed as a professional journalist, your office will be notified of a daily stream of criminal offences, and all must be assessed, reported and if necessary, investigated in more depth. And I don’t just mean the simple everyday stuff that comes in through the morning Police Calls. For instance, not long after I’d started work in Wigan, two prostitutes were abducted from Liverpool in as many months and their butchered remains dumped in remote areas of the borough. It was a tragic case, but also a horrifying one. Strong links were made with the original Jack the Ripper murders, as the poor women were gruesomely mutilated and the first murder had occurred on the exactly the same night when a new movie about the Ripper had aired on television.
I forget the exact date – this would have been sometime around 1990/91 – and the picture shown here was taken while a younger version of me was busy looking back through several nineteenth century newspaper files, attempting to compare and contrast the details of the crimes. At a later date, while working in Manchester, I was one of several journalists who covered a story which started at a relatively low-key level, but would eventually become one of the biggest serial killer enquiries in British history. Nobody had heard about Dr Harold Shipman when that story first broke, but he was later convicted of 15 murders, though suspected of committing at least 250.
Of course, it wasn’t always so serious or grim a matter, On one occasion, the Bomb Squad were called to a quiet housing estate that was only a stone’s throw from our office. As such I was the first reporter on the scene. It transpired that a package left on the doorstep of a house had begun to shake and make a strange ‘whirring’ sound. This was before the Good Friday Agreement, and the IRA were still in active service, so the postman fled for his life. The police then arrived and cleared everyone out of the street – but all for nothing, as it turned out. When the package was finally opened, it contained a vibrating item of – shall we say, a personal nature. Not particularly dangerous, though it might have proved explosive for somebody. Good stories come in all shapes and sizes, as they say.
In the end, reporting and editing the news wasn’t really enough for me. Though I enjoyed journalism, I had a yearning to go that one step further. I was still fascinated by crime and police investigations. Looking back on it now, it had only ever been a matter of time before I put pen to paper and started to invent my own.
Released: 14th of February 2013
To pre-order your copy from Amazon follow this link
To find out more about Paul visit his website – http://www.paulfinch-writer.blogspot.co.uk/