Saturday, 12 January 2013

Dead Man Talking # 14 - Stephen Booth

 Strachan McQuade (deceased) Interviews Stephen Booth

One writer whose books always feature highly on my Must-Have list is the hugely impressive Stephen Booth. His crime novels set in Derbyshire featuring Ben Cooper and Diane Fry are strangely addictive given that much of the action takes place on the rugged moorlands of the Peak District and surrounding locale. Who on earth would commit cold-blooded murder in sight of so such breathtaking landscape? You’d be surprised. These stylish thrillers have a habit of luring the unwary through bleak and wind-blasted terrain where without the guiding voice of Booth, it’s conceivable you might never make it back. Unlike other more sensationalist police procedurals, these aren’t novels for those who like to wallow in blood-spattered crime scenes. There’s always likely to be more Gore-Tex than gore in Booth’s writing – but its his writing strength and the depth of the characters that capture the reader’s imagination – not reliance on shock tactics. His latest Cooper and Fry novel ‘Dead and Buried’ once again takes us to high, lonely places where rock formations loom out the mist like evil gargoyles. Before reading it I suggest you prepare a sensible packed lunch, wear sturdy footwear and make sure your map reading skills are up to scratch - as in a Stephen Booth novel there’s no predicting what sort of twisted path the tale might lead. As usual, Strachan McQuade fancied himself as the man for the job talking to Stephen – with any luck he’s still stuck up a hill somewhere. Erm…. McQuade that is, not Booth. 

Stephen Booth
Strachan McQuade R.I.P

McQuade: Welcome to another Dead Man Talking. Today I've gone rambling through the dales in the Peak District National Park and trudging along wearily beside me is distinguished crime writer, Stephen Booth, best known for his Police Procedurals featuring those diametric opposites, Diane Fry and Ben Cooper. Oh do try and keep up, Booth. I'm not one for Sunday strolls you know. Anyway, about these characters of yours. Ben Cooper is a plodder. Steady and methodical. A safe pair of hands. Diane Fry however is a woman with a fractured sense of self esteem. She seems to be Cooper's darkly skewed reflection. A get-up-and-sock-it-to-them over-achiever. Did you deliberately set out to create such conflicting characters or did they simply evolve? Maybe best if we stopped to let you catch your breath first.

Booth: At least I've got breath to catch, McQuade. Actually, I was up here not long ago with a group of readers, giving them a tour round some of the locations used in the most recent Cooper & Fry novel 'Dead and Buried' (there's a hint in that title for you, by the way). And I can tell you none of those readers could keep up with me on these hills. Not bad for a man of 105! As for Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, their personalities developed very quickly once they'd appeared on the page. When I set out to write the first book in the series 'Black Dog' I only knew three things about my central characters. I wanted them to be young and junior, since there already seemed to be enough middle-aged alcoholic inspectors in crime fiction (naming no names here). I wanted one of them to be the local lad who grew up in the area, and the other to be an outsider from the city, which gave me to two contrasting pairs of eyes to explore the Peak District setting. And I chose a male/female duo, but decided to do a bit of gender reversal to make them a bit more interesting to write about. So Ben became the sensitive, caring one, and Diane more hard-edged and aggressive. There are reasons from her past to explain why she's turned out that way, of course. You have to read the books to discover those reasons. But I'll tell you one thing - you'd never get Diane Fry up here for a walk. She has a serious aversion to cow pats. I see you don't mind them yourself, since that's the third one you've trodden in.

Strangely Shaped Rock
McQuade: Glad you noticed my deliberate cow pat treading strategy. I’m breaking in these new walking boots for Mark Billingham. Thought it would add a certain authenticity to them. Now, you've named some of your books after rock formations found on the surrounding landscape. On the moorland near the village where I was raised there was a series of peculiarly shaped rocks known as the Spongy Fish, the Devil's Laundry, the Weeping Anus, and the Caramelised Onion. Are there any rock formations around here you definitely wouldn't include in a book title?

Booth: No, they're all reserved as titles for the appropriate book. The Caramelised Onion sounds like a companion volume to The Half Chewed Gristle, which is my forthcoming cookery book. I love the names of these rock formations, because they're often very sinister. It gives you an idea of what dark imaginations our superstitious ancestors had. It's a gift for a crime writer like me who's trying to explore the darkness lurking below the surface. These rural areas often have very murky histories.

: Hand me those binoculars, Booth. I think I've spotted a very rare Whistling Fulvous Duck. I wrote a book about them, you know. I did intend to be meticulous in my research but when I discovered it was taking up far too much of my valuable time studying their breeding habits I blasted a couple of the blighters with a shotgun and then glued one in a sexual pose behind the other. Looked very authentic in the photographs. Then I simply made the rest up. I imagine most non-fiction books are written that way. Here, take the binoculars back and if I find there's boot-polish circles around my eyes when I get home you'll be in hot water with your publisher. Have I asked you a question yet? No? Hang on while I think of something. Right, what's all this about you once being mistaken for Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper? You didn't at any time seek employment as a lorry driver did you? Or, heavens above, consort with and murder prostitutes?

Stephen Booth
Booth: Mmm. If I admitted to one out of three, would it sound bad? Actually, they never let me drive the lorry, only unload things off the back. The Yorkshire Ripper thing was just a coincidence of time, place and facial hair, plus the fact that I used to drive around West Yorkshire and Great Manchester at night, not getting home until half past three in the morning. I can’t have been up to anything disreputable, because I was working for the Daily Express at the time. In any case, I wasn't suspected by the police of being the Yorkshire Ripper, but by my wife. So that was perfectly all right. Since writers like to use everything life throws at them, the experience got me interested in the psychology behind murder. I soon discovered that the vast majority of murders aren’t committed by serial killers, but by someone in the victim's family, which I thought was even more scary, and much more interesting. So that's what I'm writing about in the Cooper & Fry series - why ordinary people find themselves in circumstances where they might commit a murder. Their reasons are endlessly fascinating. Do you know you've got boot polish round your eyes, by the way?

McQuade: Blast! I knew it! You can never trust a crime writer. Don't you ever feel tempted to write a standalone novel? Or do you feel your readership would rise up and send you hate mail, an example of which would probably read, ‘Dear Stephen, we hate you. Yours faithfully. All your loyal fans.’

Booth: What makes you think I don’t get hate mail already? I've managed to upset quite a few sections of the population over the course of 12 books. Mountain bikers, morris dancers, Mancunians, Stoke city fans… I was once accused by a reader of "a gratuitous use of geocaching", which is probably a unique crime (and no, there's nothing sexual about it, McQuade). Readers really are very loyal. So as long as they want to keep reading about Cooper & Fry and I've still got new ideas for stories, I'll probably keep writing about them. That's not to say there aren't any standalones waiting to appear. Keep your eye out for those in the future!

: I would keep them open if I hadn’t rubbed at that boot polish. My eyes are fair stinging. Ah, it’s no use. Have to take them out when I get home. Well, that’s enough walking for today. I’ve just called for my helicopter to come pick me up. Wish I could offer you a lift back but the spare seats are taken up with my well-stocked picnic hamper. Sorry about that. While we wait I may as well ask you one last question. If you were to find yourself hopelessly lost on these moors and only had one book to read while waiting to be rescued, which one would it be? Please don’t cheat and name one of your own as that would lower this conversation to the level of blatant advertising.

Booth: I couldn’t lower the conversation any more than you have already. But my book would have to be Douglas Adams' 'The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy', which always makes me laugh. Also, I like the fact that Adams got the idea for it while lying drunk on his back in a field, looking at the stars  Oh, and I've got news for you, McQuade. The pilot isn't going to let you into the helicopter with all that cow muck on your shoes. You’re going to be travelling home hanging from a rope underneath. Enjoy the hamper.

McQuade: I’m bungee jumping all the way home? Good Lord. Every day brings a new experience. Tell you what, for making the effort and walking all the way out here to this desolate God-forsaken moorland I’d like to leave you with a little gift. It’s a novelty compass without a needle and on the back it says Get Lost, Booth. Hilarious, eh? If you’re not home by next weekend I’ll send a letter to the Park Rangers. Second class of course. Right, here comes the helicopter. Mind you don’t stand too close to those lethal rotor blades……….. Oh dear. Guess you won’t be needing a haircut any time soon. Join me next week when I’ll likely be interviewing someone far less famous. Up, up and awaaaaay!

Buy 'Dead and Buried' on Amazon

Visit Stephen's Web Site

No comments:

Post a Comment