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Amazon on-line interview April 2002 (questions by David Thwaites)

What inspired you to write the crime diaries?

I've always been interested in crime. I used to be interested in committing it, but now I limit myself to just writing about it. The idea with the crime diaries was to write about life from a criminal's point of view, and not just crime, but life in general: what they like to eat, what they like on the telly, what they think of their neighbours, that sort of thing. Because if most of society aren't prepared to do the things criminals do, it stands to reason then that they obviously must have a different slant on things than the rest of us. And I don't mean some Armani-suited and booted Tarantino-esque super smooth diamond-heister who looks good on some student's bedroom wall, these fictional thieves don't really interest me because they don't exist outside the realms of Hollywood and women's wet dreams. I've always been more interested in the small-time dodgy geezer who'd have no scruples about selling his gran's angina medicine to his mate for £50, stealing it back, then selling it again.

Are there any major influences relating to your themes and characters?

I grew up on Porridge and Steptoe & Son , Minder and The Sweeney (and repeats of Hancock with my No.1 all-time favourite, Sid James) and Auf Weidersein Pet and the Carry-on movies and these had a big influence on my sense of humour. Talbot Rothwell ( Carry-on ) Galton & Simpson ( Hancock and Steptoe & Son ) and Clement & La Frenais ( Porridge and Auf Weidersein Pet ) all had such a great command of working-class slang that they had a knack of making even the straight lines funny.

How did you go about getting published?

I started writing stories and stuff and sending them off to publishers when I was still in my teens and never got anywhere with them. I wrote my first novel (a serious crime thriller, which I still think is alright) when I was about 25 and spent several years flogging it round every publisher and literary agent in The Artists and Writers Yearbook and didn't get anywhere with it. So, I shelved that and wrote a movie next which met with even less success. Ah-ha, I thought, what this country needs is a film about football, and then fell flat on my arse with that one too. Finally, after years of getting nowhere I came up with The Burglar Diaries . I'd been meaning to write something about a lowly housing estate burglar and mix in some of my experiences for ages but had never known quite what to make it (sit-com/play/flick book) until I hit upon the idea of writing it as a series of interlinking anecdotes. I love stories that blokes tell each other down the pub, with the language and mannerisms and everything else so I decided to write them this way. When I got a few chapters down, I couldn't believe how well it sat on the page. They'll be biting your hand off for this one, I thought, but nope, no one gave a monkey's about that one either. I've got an enormous fat folder full of nothing but rejection slips and “sorry but fuck off letters” and that's just from the publishers that bothered to respond. Most didn't. One publisher, Serpent's Tail, ummed and arhhed for about a year before finally kicking me into touch too. I phoned their reader, John Williams, up and asked him for a bit of advice and he said that although Serpent's Tail liked the book, they couldn't see how I was going to follow it up. To be honest, I'd been wondering about that too but I'd always wanted to write something about banks robbers so I bullshitted him that I was writing The Bank Robber Diaries (which at the time, consisted of that title and nothing else) and suddenly they were interested again. When I told Serpent's Tail that The Hitman Diaries would follow and that it would be a whole series they offered me a publishing contract and I walked around with a grin for four days and stopped plotting bloody revenge on all the publishers that had originally turned me down.

Did you ever think of giving up?

No, I'd get stroppy and drunk and murderous but I love writing (as you can tell from the length of my answers). It's what I always wanted to do so I will always do it to some extent or other because I like the thought that people will still read (or at least Pound Shops will still stock) my books after I kick the bucket.

How were you persuaded into journalism and later into writing novels?

I was a hod carrier for about 7 years and all the time writing and sending my stuff off with no luck. I reckoned I'd have a better chance of getting books published as a journalist than as a hod carrier, so I saved up my wages, enrolled at an adult education course, got the qualifications I forgot to leave school with and started applying to journalism colleges. I was lucky to be accepted at The London College of Printing and put it down to the fact that I'd done a week's work experience off my own back the year before (horrible it was, like all placements, but when you're used to working with a load of hard-nut builders, being patronised like the YTS tea boy by an office full of snotty graduates is especially hard to swallow).

How well do you think your books have been received? What recognition have they had?

I don't know. My mates generally like them though they don't talk to me about them much and make a big show of yawning if anyone else dares to ask me about them. It's always difficult to know how your books go down because for the vast majority of the time you never meet the people who read them or write them. That's why it's good to look on Amazon and check out the readers' reviews... though it should be known that David Prior from Reading is otherwise known to me as Uncle David and I've taken on-board what you've said about my bad language but I just can't fucking help it.

Will you be taking any inspiration from your current job in future writing projects?

I'm writing The Pornographer Diaries (as I'm at present working as the editor of Mayfair ) but and you always end up drawing a little from experience, but this isn't an exposé of the industry or anything, it'll be mostly a collection of arse jokes. To be honest, the reality behind the porn isn't very interesting, stick with the fantasy, that's much better.

How has your job helped/hindered your writing career?

Oh, it's probably hindered it in that I don't have any time to write. I get home in the evenings and I'm too knackered, drunk and sore to do any writing, and at the weekends I'm too busy playing my Nintendo or making myself knackered, drunk and sore to be bothered. Ideally, I'd like to find myself in a position where I could one day write full-time so that I could just concentrate on my books, but I can't see that happening for a few years. Not until that big Hollywood deal turns up anyway.

How far can you take your Crime series?

You give me a horse and I'll ride the legs off of it and then some.

What can we expect from you next?

The third installment is The Hitman Diaries and it'll be coming to a reduced to clear bin near you soon. It's a bit longer than the other books and there's more of a running story through it. It's darker even than The Bank Robber Diaries but I'm pretty pleased with it. It's probably quite different from most hitman books or films that have been done before because I wanted to remove any trace of cool or glamour from it. My bloke doesn't use a James Bond rifle to kill the corrupt politician or kiddie-fiddling drug dealer from 1,000 yards away, he kills doctors, old ladies, lap dancers and anyone else he's told to get rid of and he does it close-up and nasty. He's basically a murderer for hirer and a pretty psychotic one at that. Sounds like a lot of laughs, doesn't it? Hopefully people will still find this one funny, because it's meant to be, but I've really tried to push the boundaries of black comedy with this one, so if you like The Hitman Diaries , you're probably as sick as me.

Your books readily lend themselves to the big screen. Are there any offers in the pipeline?

Well, funny you should ask that. The film option on The Burglar Diaries has been sold to Loud Mouse Productions and they're currently in the process of raising the cash to start filming, so if you want in on the ground floor, give them a call and send them a big fat cheque. Also, I think Hattie Jacques should play me.