Last year while packing my case for the journey to Harrogate to visit the Crime Festival I casually tossed in a copy of Neil White’s ‘Lost Souls’, a book I’d had kicking around for over a year and hadn’t yet got around to reading. On the train down I had the option of starting ‘Lost Souls’ or a biography of 70’s glam rockers Sweet. Nostalgia won the day and I spent the train journey wallowing in tales of glittery satin trousers and grown men with badly permed hair. Did this choice of reading material make any difference to my life? Bloody right it did because next morning practically the very first person I had a conversation with at Harrogate was Neil White and I felt awful admitting I’d yet to read a single word of his writing. I did consider lying but as Neil is also a criminal lawyer he’d have cross-examined me and likely had me banged up for a night in the pokey for literary perjury. Glad to say since then I have read Neil’s books and been more than impressed by his pacey writing style and hard-boiled tales of murder and mayhem.
Strachan and I thought it might be fun to turn the tables on Neil and interview him in the clink without the benefit of any independent legal counsel.
|Strachan McQuade R.I.P.|
McQuade: I'm sitting here in interview room No 3 at Invergallus police station waiting to give criminal lawyer Neil White a taste of his own medicine. You can bring him in now constable and make sure you cuff his hands just in case he manages to scribble something down on a bit a bit of paper and charges us a hefty legal fee for the privilege. I am now pressing the button on this official police tape recorder that I purchased from a man in a pub last night. Here we go. Testing, testing one, two three. For the record the time is, bother, I seem to have forgotten my watch. In fact come to think of it I’ve also forgotten my entire arm. Anyway, present at today’s interview is me, the Reverend Strachan McQuade (deceased). Also present and securely fitted up like a kipper is the accused, author Neil White who as yet hasn't actually been charged with anything as I've still to fabricate some circumstantial evidence.
White: MacMillan and Wife! Wow, I’d forgotten all about that series. I used to watch it but can only vaguely remember the actors. Did the husband have dark hair? (Editor – One of those actors you only vaguely remember was Rock Hudson and he did indeed have dark hair)
The intention wasn’t really to create family-oriented detective programs, although if ITV want something for their gentle 8pm Sunday night slot, call me. My thinking was really that a reporter was a good “in” for a criminal case because they don’t get bogged down with the procedures, and then once I decided to romantically involve him with a detective, there was a good conflict, as he will want to know about her cases, and she won’t want him to know. So it was the conflict that attracted me, not the family-setting.
Any thoughts of Robert Wagner now means that I can no longer write that yachting scene with the dark-haired leading female character.
McQuade: That would be very prudent. Apart from offending the Natalie Wood fan club, I’ll have you know that yachting scenes of any description are no longer in vogue within crime novels ever since Robert Maxwell fell off one.
Your last novel 'Beyond Evil' featured an anarchistic cult presided over by a man with a beard. Why are cults always led by bearded men? Both the Manson Family and Virgin Media are prime examples of this. Anyway, if you grew a beard and ruled over your own personal cult what would you call it? And what would its aims be other than free love, infrequent bathing, drug abuse and heavy drinking?
White: The beard was an intentional nod to Charlie Manson, and in fact the first draft had him called Charlie Mason, but I thought that was a nod too far. I find the Manson Family thing fascinating because of the way people responded to his barmy ideas, but I suppose the sixties were a bit like that.
Didn’t Jesus have a beard and head up a cult? It must be something to do with hair. I wondered where David Bellamy had disappeared to.
If I had my own cult, it would be based around brew your own beer and watching films into the early hours, where I am hand-fed chicken tikka and required to sample my disciples latest brewing efforts. As for a name, it would be the cult with no name, thus fooling the authorities during internet searches. (Editor - blimey, you've really thought this out!)
McQuade: Now then, just to see how knowledgeable about the law you really are, here’s a real brain teaser. There is a tree situated on the burial plot directly adjacent to mine but the branches are overhanging my grave and blocking the view of my favourite electricity pylon. Now bearing in mind this is merely ahem.... a hypothetical question and not in any way a billable query - do I have the right to lop off my dead neighbour's branches? And if he kicks up a fuss can I have him exhumed and cremated? Both plots are east facing if that makes any difference.
White: A lot would depend on ownership. You are entitled to lop off overhanging branches, to the extent of the overhang, provided that you return them to the neighbour’s land. This means that you can lop off the offending branches and then pile them onto the neighbour’s plot, thereby making it more difficult for him to reach his bony raggedy hand through the crumbly topsoil as the clock strikes midnight.
McQuade: Excellent. I’ll have my personal handyman M.R. Hall over with his chainsaw next week to do some trimming back.
Your books are very firmly rooted in the crime genre. Is this because you actually enjoy this sort of sordid subject matter? Or did your agent advise you to go down this commercially exploitable route in order to procure more clients? If that's the case, what sort of books would you rather be writing? If not, then what inspired you to write in this Penny Dreadful style of genre? And please accept my apologies, it's been at least three questions since I shouted, You Slag!!! A clear breach of CID etiquette.
White: My only goal was to write a book I would want to read, and I read commercial crime fiction. My crime writing came before I got an agent, and so there has been no redirection of my writing preference. If I had to write in another genre, I think it would be horror, and there is often a crossover, because horror is often crime fiction but where the villains are the dead ones, not the victims.
McQuade: Objection! Not all dead people are villains and we resent being stereotyped as such. Some of my closest friends are dead and many do good works such as running marathons and sponsored home-baking for charity. Barbara Cartland even lends out her old wigs to a bird sanctuary for nesting purposes.
Sorry, getting on my high-horse there. Where was I? Ah, your novels are generally set in Lancashire but you were born in Yorkshire. If a new War of the Roses broke out tomorrow which side would you fight for?
White: Yorkshire. White rose blood to my boots, and we still owe them for the murder of Richard, the last Yorkist thing, who of course suffered the greatest indignity of all: ending up in Leicester.
The beauty about writing about Lancashire is that I don’t feel any compulsion to be nice about the place. If I set it in Yorkshire, I would go all James Herriot.
On the M62 travelling East, there is a white rose on a stone plinth, and I always salute it when I drive past. You’ll know the location, as it gets suddenly beautiful after it.
Having said all that, I have developed a fondness for Lancashire. It’s a patronising fondness, the way one might give your dog a treat at the dinner table, but there are parts that are very attractive. And I’ve developed an urge to live on a canal barge and roam the waters. On the whole though, I think the pretty parts more as the Yorkshire foothills.
McQuade: Excellent. In that last answer you managed to insult those very few people in Leicester who have internet access and might read this, a whole swathe of James Herriot’s readers, as well as the entire county of Lancashire. My own personal legal man, Mr Baldwin from Burnley, will no doubt be in touch to serve you with a handful of writs. Last question and then we’ll throw you back in your cell for a nifty beating with wet towels. You’ve come up with some pretty shady characters in the course of your writing. When I wrote my best selling book Invergallus I was far too lazy to use my imagination and simply wrote about people I knew and in truth didn’t even bother changing their names. Most of them can’t read and the few that can don’t own a Kindle which ensures I’m perfectly safe from any legal action so don’t even bother offering your services. Are your characters drawn from the sort of low-life scum you deal with in your day to day duties as a criminal lawyer? By low-life scum I am of course referring to your fellow lawyers and rent-boy addicted judges.
White: I have never used an actual case, but I have used snippets of them, or asides that I’ve heard. My publisher was a big fan of the phrase “murder carpet”, because it has been commented on that dead bodies found indoors always seem to be found on faded carpets with brown swirls, so whenever one appears in a crime scene photo, the words “murder carpet” are often used.
I have used some of the lawyers I’ve known as characters, although never favourably. I work on the assumption that because they are so self-absorbed, they won’t recognise the unfavourable traits as their own.
Can I have a drink of water now?
McQuade: Of course you can have a drink of water. Once it’s been wrung from those wet towels we intend beating you with. Anyway, many thanks for taking the time to speak with me and as a parting gift I’d like to present you with an artificial leg. These things can come in very handy especially when getting drunk and impersonating Rolf Harris. Now then Constable, you can take the prisoner away and for goodness sake don’t let him fall down the …… (crash, bang, wallop) ………….stairs. By Jove, how does that always seem to happen in police stations?
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Buy Neil White's latest book 'Beyond Evil'