Real life has always heavily influenced my writing. For me, stories come out of experience. For me, it’s what makes them feel real…

John Dean tells the story behind his new novel The Secrets Man, published by Hale

My new novel is a good example because The Secrets Man can trace its beginnings to one of the most difficult experiences of my life, the serious illness experienced by my father.

As the illness, and the dementia that accompanied it, took control of his mind, he disappeared into another world, one where nothing was as it seemed.

As I sat at his bedside day after day, I started to look around the hospital ward; Dad slept a lot during the illness which gave me the time to examine my surroundings.

What I saw was five other beds, five other patients, each of them in a world of their own and as I watched, the idea for a novel started to roll out.

My idea was this, and this is where fiction departs from fact. What if one of the patients in a fictional hospital was an elderly villain who had been, in his heyday, the henchman of one of the city’s gang leaders, who was still active in the criminal underworld? What if the elderly villain was known as The Secrets Man because he was the only one entrusted with the confidences of the gang leader? What if, as illness unhinged his mind, his tongue was loosened and he started revealing those secrets? And what if everyone dismissed his ramblings as just that, except for the retired detective in the next bed who knew exactly what was he hearing?

As I started to write, of course, real life was left far behind and fiction took over. None of the events in the novel took place. Characters were created, scenarios invented, incidents dreamed up but every time I stalled in the writing process, all I had to do was cast my mind back to the three months my Dad was in hospital and the inspiration flowed.

This was not an easy thing to do. Dad’s illness was a traumatic time in the lives of those who love him and basing a novel on it was the furthest thing from my mind. But, as any writer will tell you, ideas have a life all of their own and when they come knocking you can’t really turn them away.

John Dean is published by Robert Hale

* John Dean will be talking about the writing of The Secrets Man at Cockerton Library, Darlington, at 7pm on Thursday October 20 as part of the Crime Writers’ Association’s campaign to support libraries during a time of public sector cutbacks.

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