I first got to know Barry Faulkner during an online Q and A session for the UK Crime Book Group on Facebook. Little did I know what an interesting life he led before publishing his Serial Murder Squad novels. From washing the cars of London gang leaders to contributing material for light entertainment shows, Barry’s experiences have all contributed to the fast-paced, no nonsense crime thrillers he publishes. As someone who likes something a little different from the usual, I can highly recommend the stories, which made me think of The Sweeney.
My grateful thanks to Barry for taking the time to answer my questions. Over to you, Barry.
Please tell me a little about yourself and your writing.
My father, elder brothers, uncles and cousins were all on the wrong side of the tracks and sometimes ran with the notorious Richardson Brothers gang in South London in the 60s -90s. My mother was determined her youngest would not follow that family tradition and made sure I was kept away from it although I mixed with many of the ‘names’ as a kid and cleaned the Richardson’s rollers every Saturday for 10/- at their scrap yard in Camberwell as well as other members cars. The golden rule was never to go inside the cars or open the boots. I wonder why? I started writing at school and was encouraged to do so by a great English teacher called Mr Reid who saw something in my juvenile doodling. I owe him a lot.
When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?
I first realised I wanted to write when I read Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee, I must have read it twenty times by now. The descriptive writing is the best I have ever read and paints a picture in your imagination that no other writer has ever equalled for me.
Describe the first piece you wrote and what it meant to you?
The first significant piece was a fun piece describing a weekend away at the coast with the scouts. It made the local paper and the Scout Magazine. I was hooked thinking that everything I wrote from then on would get published. Sadly not so.
What do you most enjoy about being an author?
The most enjoyable thing about being an author for me is the power to let my imagination run free and see where it takes me. I don’t plan a book other than the basic premise and where it is set. Each one has a different setting. The Last one, Ministry of Death is set in the NHS Drug Procurement Department , the one before that in the take away meals environment, I’ve also done Television, The City of London Financial District, Rock Groups etc..so half the fun of writing is the research into the different settings. I like to get it right.
What do you least enjoy about being an author?
I don’t think there’s anything I don’t enjoy about being an author.
I see from your Amazon biography, you worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency. How did this influence your writing?
Yes, advertising copywriter for Erwin Wasey Ruffrauth and Ryan in Paddington. A top US advertising agency whose boss lived in a suite at the Dorchester! I think some of the characters I came into contact in that industry have stuck with me and surface in the books from time to time. My character Benji, the next door neighbour and nemesis of my DCS Palmer is definitely from that workplace.
You were also a script writer and editor for TV during the 1980s and 90s. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what you think it’s brought to your novel writing?
Whilst at the Advertising Agency I was writing stuff and sending up to the television companies and got lucky.( they won’t even look at unsolicited commissions these days which I think means they are missing out on a lot of new writers and we get the same old tosh all the time) Anyway I was called up and asked to contribute to various light entertainment shows during the 70s -90s and ended up as a script editor/writer on most of the Light Entertainment shows including Bob Monkhouse, Tom O’Connor, Russ Abbot, Not The Nine O’clock News etc. It broadened my outlook and way of writing as I spent a lot of time in the ‘writers room’ with other writers and we bounced ideas off each other as well as having my own work edited and on many occasions binned!
What made you want to move from TV scriptwriting to crime fiction novels?
The television job meant many days and even weeks stuck in hotel rooms at night and that’s when I started to put together various ideas for TV series, mainly of the LE format but all the time in the back of my mind I had this DCS Palmer character pushing to get out. I don’t know where he came from but I get quite a few emails and letters from retired ex Detectives and old South London criminals now in their 80s- 90s telling me they recognise various characters in the books so maybe some of the people I met as a youngster, from both sides of the law, have stuck in the recesses of my brain and emerge as a character in a book, who knows? Anyway, Palmer kept insisting he be written and I really got into him and the Serial Murder Squad in those hotel rooms. He was written as a pilot for a TV series but never made it.
Tell me about the inspiration and motivation to write the Serial Murder Squad series.
I wrote three Palmers for TV and being rejected they went into the drawer with all the other reject slips and then three years ago when I fully retired and time became available I went back, pulled him out and gave reign to all the plots in my head and in various notebooks that I’d kept over the years. So like many writers I sent them out and started collecting the reject slips but with the birth of Amazon there was another route to publishing as an Indie. I realised that floundering away on your own as a new indie would lead to mistakes and probably very little sales so I joined the Alliance of Independent Authors which was the best thing I have ever done in my writing career, I attended, and still attend a local meeting of members of that group in Cheltenham where the fonts of all publishing knowledge, Debbie Young and David Penny guided me through the tricky road of wannabe author to published author with several thousand Palmers sold. There’s about forty of them in various notebooks so many more Palmers to come I hope.
How would you describe your books to someone who has never read one before?
I think you have to have a USP (Unique Selling Point) or your books will get lost in the plethora of the police procedural genre of thousands of books. Many authors use their own area like Scotland or Cornwall to capture readers who recognise the settings. I use London as that’s my place of birth and I know it well, but realising how many are set in London I also have a USP of humour. Coming from a light entertainment background in television my mind is programmed to add (hopefully) witty and humorous remarks between my principle characters and with the addition of Benji, Palmer’s nemesis neighbour, I am able to run a fairly light back story against the main serial killer theme. Readers seem to warm to that and the juxtaposition and banter between the irascible old school DCS Palmer and his young IT and cyber expert Detective Sergeant, Gheeta Singh, chalk and cheese. So the reader will be taken into the darkness of serial murder but now and again will laugh.
Who inspires you and Why?
I’m not inspired much by books and authors these days, I get bored very easily and hate the current trend of every detective having an Achilles heel and family problems and pages and pages of back story not relevant to the plot but insisted on by traditional publishers to increase the book price and KU page read income. Not on. I recently spoke with a well respected traditionally published crime author who told me she had submitted her next book of 80,000 words to be told by her publisher to expand to 140,000!!! She wasn’t happy.
I do get inspiration from television. Television crime drama, especially the streaming channels of Netflix and Amazon are right up to date with their output. Forensics are state of the art and the characters well drawn, my all time favourite is The Sopranos, but currently I like Ray Donovan. I intend to start another series of books about a present day London Organised crime syndicate and having just watched The Irishman film on Netflix that is inspiring me to get going on it. That film is a classic, half true and half fiction but so well put together.
What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your books?
I suppose the best one is one I get quite a lot, ‘these books should be a television series’. I’d love to go back in time with them to the BBC commissioning editor who said ‘no’ and push them into his face and say, ‘see what you missed, I could have been a millionaire Rodney’
Do you have any favourite authors? What is it about them or their work that appeals to you?
My favourite authors? Laurie Lee for his use of descriptive words whilst moving the story along at pace, a complete master. Ed McBain, the all-time number one in the pulp fiction genre that I reside in. Robert Crais and his Cole and Pike novels, I rate them above Jack Reacher. His use of words and sentences is unique. Do try him.
If you could invite four guests (fictional or real, alive or dead) for dinner, who would you choose and why?
Four dinner guests? My great grandfather and my grandfather both of whom I never knew so I could find out the truth about a family business fortune gambled away in the 1800’s. Probably all make believe but it would be an interesting chat anyway as I know nothing about the family before my dad. Fred Karno, the UK’s first impresario who ran concert halls in the late 1800s and 1900s. He took Charlie Chaplin and his understudy, Arthur Jefferson, who later changed his name to Stan Laurel, to America and worked with Hal Roach on silent comedy film shorts for Buster Keaton and the rest of the silent comics. His life went from poverty to millionaire back to poverty ending up running an off licence in Dorset. And my fourth and last guest, Leonard Ernest ‘Nipper’ Read, DCS Read, the detective who nicked the Krays and many more top criminals whilst head of the Murder Squad in the late 60s-70s. He also helped clean out corruption amongst detectives at Scotland Yard with Commissioner Sir Robert Marks when close to 200 were sacked or took early retirement.
Please tell me about your latest project.
My current work load, and I don’t look at it as work as I enjoy it too much, I’m getting paid for having a lot of fun and meeting a lot of interesting people, however my current projects are finishing DCS Palmer book 10 ‘The Body Builder’ (there’s a clue!), getting my London Gang series underway and hassling Literary Festival organisers for a spot (unpaid) in there programme next year for my illustrated talk on ‘the Heists and Geezers of UK Crime from 1930 to Present Day’ or any other ‘crime’ spot they’d like to offer, I just love meeting writers and readers.
Thank you, Barry, for some fascinating insights into your life and writing. Good luck with ‘The Body Builder’. I look forward to reading it.
The Met’s Serial Murder Squad investigate the unusual deaths of three staff working at the Ministry of Health Drug Procurement department. Are all three deaths from natural causes or had the deceased stumbled on something that senior management and the pompous head of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons want to hide away at any cost, even murder?
How does a Romanian drugs company fit into the jigsaw and can Palmer and the team uncover the facts before more deaths occur? DCS Palmer needs hard evidence to convince his boss that there is a serial killing going on so the team start to dig and are surprised at what they find.
For details of my reviews of Barry’s thrillers, please visit my review page.