This post is not what you think. This isn’t a tale of writer’s block and the desperate struggle to fill empty pages. Through the years, I’ve written fairly steadily; comedy, children’s, fantasy, factual drama, but never stories that involve the police, police stations and crime. Until now.
I trace it back to a traumatising experience on the writing nursery slopes when I was being considered for The Bill, a UK TV programme, now sadly axed, that developed many new and terrific writers.
Before you got a commission to write for The Bill you had to do research. This research included going to your local police station, being shown around and going out in a squad car. It was in the squad car that my crime novel writing chakra got blocked.
So there I am, in the front, riding shotgun, with another policeman on the back seat. Thinking character development, I say to the policeman driving, ‘Do you guys ever get really stressed?’
‘Oh yes…from time to time, there’s the red mist –‘
The radio springs to life, ‘Delta Tango 3, Delta Tango 3.’ The police driver rams his foot on the accelerator, sirens blare, cars ahead part like the Red Sea, my heart hammers against my ribs. And I’m thinking, ‘Guns, domestic dispute, me in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Oh dear God.’
The police car slams onto the kerb and stops. ‘You wanna come?’ the policeman says over his shoulder. He’s already out of the car, no doubt expecting me to follow. The other one’s already vanished.
‘I’ll er…I’ll er wait down here…’ he disappears.
Five minutes later, the two police are back. It was a false alarm. They get back in the car and off we go again.
The afternoon continues in the same way, meandering drive through the traffic, call on the radio, scary drive, and false alarm. Finally, finally, finally, some action. We’re in Ealing High Street, the police car stops, the police jump out and bring someone to the car. This ‘someone’ is a completely drunk man who they shove in the car. The smell in the car is overpowering. ‘What now?’ I say moving as far away as I can from the new passenger.
‘You’re all fucking cunts,’ he says.
‘Mind your language,’ says the policeman on the back seat. ‘We’re taking him back,’ the police driver says to me, ‘ Back to the station.’
‘You fucking cunts, I’m gonna be fucking sick if you don’t stop the fucking car, you fucking cunts, I fucking hate you, I’m gonna be fucking sick.’
And so it goes on, all the long, way back to the police station. Once there, I wait in the car while the police check in the poor guy. By the time they come out I’ve decided that I’ve done my research and no surprises, no matter how many times I rewrite my Bill script, I never get the right tone for the show, so no commission.
This is why it’s taken me all this time to go back to my very real interest in writing crime and considering why certain people do certain things under certain circumstances. In other words, writing psychological crime. But sadly, I’m not able to write from the police point of view because I miserably failed the squad car test!