1. As an accomplished crime novelist, screenwriter, film producer, and director, you wear multiple creative hats. How do you balance your roles in the film industry and your passion for writing crime novels? How do these different outlets complement each other in your creative process?
The brutal truth is that these days, I don’t try and balance them at all because film making has pretty much taken over what I do full-time.
Don’t get me wrong, I love writing for publication and actually have a new thriller two thirds finished but at the moment, I have so much on the go with my company, Red Bus Movies, that it would be impossible to find the time to commit to finishing it without facing endless distractions.
It’s actually not a bad position to be in!
2. Your hit movie "Green Street" starring Elijah Wood and Charlie Hunnam garnered widespread acclaim. Can you share some insights into your experience as a film producer and director? How has your background as a crime novelist influenced your approach to storytelling in the film medium?
Well, I always thought directing would be relatively easy until I did it for myself but even making the two short movies I did gave me a serious appreciation for what they do. I certainly have no intention of ever doing it again!
Similarly, I don’t think I truly understood what being a producer entailed until I actually started doing it because it’s pretty crazy. Honestly, if you think it’s all glamour, expense funded lunches and premieres, you could not be more wrong. It’s stress, pure and simple. However, it’s also great fun and when things come together, it’s an awesome buzz.
Ironically, my experience of writing for publication has proven to be invaluable when it comes to screenwriting because it equipped me with experience of both story construction and pacing. After all, as the person who has to go out and effectively sell the project to investors, I have to know that what I’m pitching both works and is marketable. Indeed, the big difference between writing for publication and for the screen is that film making is a collaborative process. That’s actually a difficult thing for some writers to grasp when they make the switch but it’s vital to understand that the finished film will be the director’s version of your script, not yours.
3. The Crew series, including "The Crew", "Top Dog," and “In The Know” has been a huge success, with a massive fan following. How do you tap into the world of hooliganism and the gritty subculture to create such authentic and compelling narratives? What inspired you to explore this unconventional theme in your novels?
That’s very kind of you to say. I loved writing that trilogy and indeed, having already filmed Top Dog, I’m seriously considering getting In The Know onto the screen in the very near future.
In essence, I write about this world because it was a natural progression from all the non-fiction books I’d written prior to coming up with the idea for The Crew. Yes, I know I’ve written more non-fiction since but they covered specific issues such as hooliganism in Europe, racism and the like.
Fiction of course, is a very different thing and I realised very quickly that hooliganism as a subject isn’t strong enough to carry a novel by itself, you need a proper story with great characters. That’s why I think the trilogy has been so successful because it has those and uses hooliganism simply as a plot device to drive the story along.
But equally, I had the advantage of knowing who I was writing them for. It wasn’t the type of person who wanders through Waterstones looking for something to read, it was working class blokes like me. I like books that are fast paced, full of action and easy to read so that’s how I constructed them. It’s an approach I’d employed in pretty much every book I’d written up to that point, so it made sense to keep it.
If there is a tweak which makes my books different, it’s that I never overdo the flowery descriptive bullsh*t, I simply hit the basics which leaves the reader room to paint pictures in their heads. That’s really important when you’re talking about something like football which the vast majority of my readers have direct experience of because by inviting them to fill in the blanks, they actually become invested in the storytelling process. Equally, it means I don’t make stupid mistakes with the minutiae of the culture. Something which some people get really anal about.
4. Your novels, like "In the Know," often delve into themes of revenge and power within the backdrop of political events. How do you research and intertwine real-world events into your fictional stories to create a gripping and believable narrative? How important is it for you to maintain a connection to reality in your crime novels?
That’s a fascinating question but in truth, it has a really easy answer. I simply watch and listen to what’s going on around me. Honestly, it’s amazing the things you can pick up simply sitting in Costa Coffee for a couple of hours with your eyes and ears open!
The key of course, be it book or movie, is the ending. That’s why always write my endings first. Indeed, all of my novels and movies are inspired by ideas for endings which is why they always have a twist in the last few pages or final few minutes. Not only because they sell the next one, but because as a writer, if you know exactly where you have to end up, you can do whatever you like on the journey to get there.
With both Top Dog and In The Know, I obviously had a path to continue along because I had my central character firmly established but both books still needed bloody good stories to drive them. In the case of In The Know for example, I wrote it as The Brexit Party were in the ascendancy and so the book simply explored how someone like Billy could exploit that kind of political idealism to further his own ambition. Indeed, I think as a story, In The Know is the best of all three books because it explores issues that are still being talked about today. Possibly even more so than when I wrote it.
5. As a seasoned writer in both film and literature, which aspect of storytelling do you find more challenging and rewarding? How does your writing process differ when crafting a screenplay versus a crime novel?
The process is essentially the same as it involves me sitting at a laptop for hours on end. However, both are very different disciplines so present very different challenges.
As I said earlier, writing a screenplay is a collaborative process and you have to understand that from page one. That means that pretty much every word is up for debate so you’re constantly developing both your story and your characters using input from other people. Depending on who you’re working with, that process can be either great fun or incredibly challenging which is why I’m always very careful when choosing who I collaborate with. I’m far too long in the tooth to work with ar*eholes.
With a novel, it’s pretty much all down to me which obviously gives me the freedom to create whatever I like in terms of characters and storylines. That’s a huge responsibility but it’s also incredibly liberating.
The big difference of course, is that working in film can provide far more rewards both in terms of finance and simple experience. There’s not much can beat the thrill of stepping off a tube and seeing your name on a movie poster.
6. Your novel "Wings of a Sparrow" takes a different tone, introducing readers to a light-hearted football comedy. Can you tell us about the transition from writing intense crime thrillers to a more humorous narrative? What motivated you to explore this lighter side of storytelling?
Wings actually started out as an idea for a TV series (long before Ted Lasso!) And was again inspired by an idea for an ending. Sadly, nothing ever happened with the script but it was a natural progression to turn it into a book purely because it was such a fun project and I’d been wanting to write some more comedy anyway. After all, my previous forays into humour with both The Geezers Guide to Football and of course, Billy’s Log had done pretty well.
In truth, comedy was something of an easy transition as my dad was a professional comedian and trust me, growing up in a household with him and four brothers followed by18 years in the military gives you a pretty good grounding in comedy styles be it dark, ironic or plain childish.