WRITING the JACK CALLUM MYSTERIES (part one October 2016)
Jack Callum came into my life towards the end of 2015. In truth he’d been hovering in the background for about six or seven years, from when our agent at the time suggested that we might want to write a police procedural series set in the 1950’s. At that time Mick Sims and I were trying to sell our Department 18 series of supernatural thrillers and were not really interested in writing crime fiction, but gradually as the series progressed I found myself adding more elements of the police procedural to the Department 18 stories and getting quite a taste for it, so something in the agent’s advice must have struck a chord with me.
During a break from writing, Jack introduced himself to me in the middle of the night, like so many of my characters had done in the past. He popped into my insomniac thoughts, fully formed and eager to have his story told.
He was a copper, an ordinary policeman, with a wife and family. A chief inspector working for the North Hertfordshire constabulary, a solid type of chap in his mid to late forties, relocated to the area from North London, Tottenham in fact, so inevitably a fan of Tottenham Hotspur football club, his beloved Spurs. He was a keen gardener who liked nothing better during his off duty times, when not digging and planting, potting and pruning, than to listen to music, reading books and spending time with his wife, Annie, and his family.
So what was his kink? the writer inside me asked. What was his THING because all policemen in the modern crime novels I’d read had a THING – a drink or drug problem, a gambling addiction, a propensity for violence, an overactive libido that was way out of control. There had to be something different about him, something that would keep the readers coming back for more.
Jack didn’t have a thing THING.
He was a good man with a solid moral compass and an innate sense of right and wrong.
How dull, I thought.
How refreshing, my sub-conscious countered.
Well it would certainly make a change to write about a thoroughly decent chap and make the book interesting.
It would be a challenge.
In fact the more I lived with Jack Callum and learned about his past, the more interesting he became.
When I discovered he was a captain in the army during WWII, I realised I was going to be writing about his life as a police officer in the 1950’s.
I was starting to warm to the subject.
I had recently written a novella, Convalesence, set in the early 1960’s, and knew a lot about the era in question, having been born in 1953 and grown up in an all female household, my father dying when I was five. I had a sister and female cousin, both five years older that me, and another cousin, a girl three years my senior, all living under the one roof,so I was being constantly bombarded by the music and fashions of the time, and they had woven a rich cultural tapestry on which to draw.
The more I plundered my memories the more excited I became.
Suddenly I could see the potential.
I could write about the police, solving crimes without the benefits of DNA testing and modern forensic techniques, without computers and the Internet, the convenience of mobile phone when, if you were out on the street and wanted to contact somebody, you’d have to find a telephone box to dial 999, or were lucky enough to have a police box close by.
I was going to be writing about an almost totally alien environment.
"The past is a foreign country. They do thing differently there," LP Hartley said. How right he was.
Not only would I be writing crime fiction, but historical fiction as well. Added to those two, you had the story of Jack and his family, and their lives would be a continuing arc, so a family saga too.
What a challenge. Was I up to it?
Well, there was only one way to find out...
Len Maynard, Letchworth, Oct 2016