Five years ago I decided that television had given up on me – or at least on the me who wanted to push the boundaries of 30 minute drama – when a Commissioning Editor who had never heard of Dasheill Hammett began telling me how to shoot the series I was pitching to him.
So I turned crime novelist. Wrote my first thriller. Which was turned down by everybody I sent it too. And they were right, of course. I was still writing in screenplay ‘moments’. There was more in my head than on the page. I was cutting too fast and the dialogue was leaner than Elmore Leonard.
I found a wonderful agent, who read the book and said something I’d missed completely. “Write in sentences and let them work for you.” And that was it. I found the joy in writing sentences again.
So then all I needed was something to say, a way to say it, characters who would leap off the page, a story arc that would mature over 85,000 words, a diamond hard plot and a surprise ending.
I managed to corral all those things in “CLOSING THE DISTANCE”, published in spring 2014 – the first book to feature Bristol private eye Jack Shepherd.
I’ve lived in Bristol for 35 years. And as Edinburgh is to Rebus, Shetland to Jimmy Perez and the Northumberland Coast to DI Vera Stanhope, so Bristol is to Jack Shepherd.
Shepherd has paid a high price to become the man he is. His personal life is out of joint and his professional life is as fraught as might be expected for a man whose day job draws him into contact with people from every walk of life. But even when confronting the worst of the city’s underbelly, he is able to temper his own hard edges with compassion and a laconic wit.
That was the debut novel accomplished. The author hailed as a West Country Walter Moseley, the book as Bristol noir at its best, comparisons made with Chandler. And I was in trouble. You know what they say about the second book…
The new Jack Shepherd thriller, “CHANGING THE ODDS”, was seriously hard work. My agent dealt out truckloads of ‘tough love’. She took the narrative to pieces at points where my story telling was foundering, but gave me the best of encouragement when it was working.
“Changing the Odds” pulls no punches. After accepting an old friend’s commission to find her husband, Shepherd is pitched into a world of ruthless exploitation, unbending violence and a heart stopping confrontation with old enemies – the city’s criminal royalty, the Settle family.
Currently, I’m 21,000 thousand words into JS Book 3. I read the pages again, before I penned this. The style is better, the narrative more fluent, the ‘voice’ is good. You know what? Maybe, just maybe, I’m getting the hang of this….
The Jack Shepherd thrillers are published by Oak Tree Press.
Jeff Dowson Feb 2016.