Apart from typing ‘The End’, I have a second favourite bit to writing a book.

Research.

You’ve been quietly minding your own business – staring out a train window, waiting for the traffic lights to change – and…wham! The magic idea blossoms in your mind. That’s pretty exciting in a firework kind of way.

You mull over it and conclude it could work. So you sketch the essence out. A crude skeleton, nothing more. You suspend it from a mental peg and inspect it from every angle. Yup – it definitely hangs together quite nicely.

Now comes the good bit. Now comes the time to find some flesh. The internet has made that absurdly simple. You can pick any spot on the planet and zoom in for a closer look. You can move silently along streets and peer down driveways. You can select the most obscure topic on earth and discover sites that devote themselves to it in obsessive detail. If you want the actual thoughts of people – their hopes and fears and raw opinions – you can lurk in chat rooms to read the comments that are posted. It’s almost too easy.

And yet…it still doesn’t quite do the trick. There comes a point when the only answer is to actually speak with someone. Asking questions of a person and letting them chat. Often they’ll touch on something that sets your plot spinning in a totally new direction.

I’m very lucky in that a lifetime of being involved with rugby has put me in contact with lots of coppers. Dog handlers. Detectives in what was the Serious and Organised Crime Agency. Armed Response officers. Traffic police…the list goes on.

My latest novel is Death Games. In it, the series protagonist, Jon Spicer, is on unfamiliar ground. And being six foot four and fifteen stone, he’s not very good at tip-toeing. Booted out of his old unit and busted back to a Detective Constable, he’s now on a probationary period in Greater Manchester Police’s Counter Terrorism Unit. And he’s been trained as a Specialist Firearms Officer.

Extensive chats with my contact in a local boozer threw up lots of details about things like Method of Entry, preferred firearms and First Aid training. Did you know ambulance drivers slow down if the incident they’re heading to involves Specialist Firearms Officers? After shooting someone, SFOs have been fully trained to save their lives.

Talking face-to-face, you get an idea of the banter that flies about. The informal sayings that slip out when you take a break from the ‘proper’ interview. Those big cylinder things they swing at a front door to smash it off its hinges? Affectionately known as The Key. The ear-roaring, eyes-on-stalk feeling if you’re first into the property once The Key has done its business… All that stuff features in Death Games as DC Spicer chases an individual who has arrived in Britain to assassinate a major public figure.

But of all the research I did, one little saying made me smile the most. It was the nick-name members of the SAS have for the SFOs they train. Pepsis. Similar to Coke, but not the real thing. That’s gold dust, that is.

Death Games, 8th novel in the DI Spicer series, is available on Kindle from 1 February. (Richmond Publishing)

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