Crime Fiction Writer
A short interview about the Will Ashcroft and Samira Byrne series
Tell us about The Trauma Pool. Where did you get your inspiration?
It’s partly inspired by the place in West Yorkshire where I was brought up. The Calder Valley is a beautiful place full of great people, but I’ve always thought it’s a brutal, wounded beauty and there’s a wonderful windswept hardness to folk there that I’ve found nowhere else. I wanted to try and capture that in a series of crime fiction books with a noirish edge.
What about the trauma theme?
PTSD has been around forever, really. Documented cases in Ancient Rome, shellshock in the first world war, WW2, Viet Nam, it’s all the same thing – a very ordinary human reaction to horrible circumstances that no one should have to endure. But it goes far beyond the military and even now, people don't always realize that. It can happen to anyone. So, I thought, why not have a character who’s suffering but put him in a setting and time where nobody around him really knows what it is or even cares. A policeman who’s seen too much of the worst of what humanity has to offer. Now obviously, this is hardly the first example of a series of detective fiction books where there's a tortured protagonist, but I know of less than a handful where Trauma is such a central theme.
Was it a conscious choice to set the series in the 1980s?
The 1980s was perfect because in many ways we were right on the edge of awareness then. People were beginning to talk about things like mental illness and equality but issues like that weren’t quite taken seriously… not that they are now, not fully. But things have certainly moved in the right direction since then.
And that’s where Samira Byrne comes in, right?
Ah, Samira. Yeah, she’s amazing. A great female protagonist. She just won’t quit. I mean, neither does Will, but he’s a bit more jaded than she is and anyway he’s not at his best in this novel, not at all. I’ve got more heroic things planned for him later but in some ways Samira’s the star here. I love the way she just keeps kicking, no matter what I throw at her.
Some of the police scenes are very evocative. And maybe provocative too?
I was aiming to write the best police books in terms of fiction that I could. Getting the background right involved lots of research, as any novel does. But I wanted to catch the feel of a 1980s police setting and at the same time hopefully point out where attitudes to racism and gender have changed since then, and maybe where they haven’t changed as much as we’d hope. I had to do this within the constraints of what is basically a genre thriller, but yeah… I hope I’ve caught something of the kind of institutional nastiness that can happen when powerful people are given a license to push others to the edge. It makes the novel dark, with marginalized characters put right at the centre of the mystery. But these themes hopefully make for some contemporary resonance despite its being set in the 1980s.
More to come from Ashcroft and Byrne?
Yeah. You bet. One in the works and another in my head.
Can you give us any hints what they’re going to get up to next?
All I can say is - the end of the 1980s in the UK was a time for hedonism and madness.
So, let’s throw a would-be serial killer into the mix and see what happens!