“Once a cop always a cop.” A common phrase that does have some merit, although I know a few retired police officers who avoid being an ex-cop like the plague. For me? More later.
“Write what you know.” Another common phrase, but one that I believe has considerably less merit. Did Stan Lee know about climbing buildings and slinging webs after being bitten by a spider? Did George Lucas have experience of a galaxy far, far away? I think the advice should be, “Write what you enjoy. But know about what you write.” Knowing about what you write might come down to research, afriend on the inside, or just being a convincing liar. Whichever you choose, this is the place where the two phrases come together.
The perceived wisdom is that serving on the front line in the war on crime gives you a unique insight into the workings of the police force. Perceived wisdom might be correct, but that doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting story. The truth is that 90% of police work is dull, boring, routine. Filling in forms, searching databases, knocking on doors. Like taking a dump, the job isn’t finished until the paperwork is done. And taking shit is the other part of police work that doesn’t make for interesting reading. A cop sometimes has to make split second decisions that lawyers spend months taking apart. Hindsight is 20/20. Everyone is looking over your shoulder. Not fun at all. So, knowing the procedures and accurately recounting them might produce an authentic police procedural but authentic isn’t always entertaining. And fiction writers are in the entertainment business. Which brings me back to, me.
“Once a cop always a cop?” Well, yes. My agent keeps saying that I walk into a room and immediately know where all the exits are and who is the biggest threat. No, I don’t. But I do scan the room out of habit. Maybe I’m just nosy. Maybe I can’t stop thinking like a cop. I look people in the eye when I talk to them. I can sense a change in the mood and feel tension in the atmosphere. I know how to communicate, both with words and body language. I know what it feels like to be in a tight spot and what is the best way to calm a situation down. Smile. Make a joke. People rarely hit you when you’re smiling at them. So, knowing the procedures is one thing. Knowing the rest is far more important. And here’s how I used that in the books we’re here to talk about.
NORTHERN EX, features ex vice squad cop, Vince McNulty. It is set among real locations with a few name changes but the flavor is pretty much what the places are like. There used to be massage parlours like the ones in the book. There were certainly detectives like the cops I describe. Procedures? I might have stretched a bit there. McNulty? His thoughts are my thoughts, right down to his love of the movies.
BEACON HILL, continues the Resurrection Man series and brings Jim Grant back to Boston. Grant is a Yorkshire cop who stayed in America after the incidents in, Jamaica Plain. Police procedures are different here, and Grant doesn’t know them any more than I do, but the police mentality is the same. Grant could be a spiritual cousin to McNulty. They both sprang from the same mind. “Write what you know?”Okay, I’ll concede it does help. “Once a cop always a cop?” That helps even more. But the big one should be, “Once a reader always a reader.” Because the step from reader to writer is a small step. And I’m a reader first and foremost.