Today we have a real treat - a reader's chance to see the background (and peer inside the mind) of a crime writer. I recently reviewed A Limited Justice. You can read it here: A Limited Justice Review
Hi, I’m Catriona King, author of the new Belfast-based D.C.I. Craig detective series. My background is as a doctor living and working in London. I did the forensic medical examiner (F.M.E.) training and worked with the Metropolitan Police on many occasions. I returned to live and work in Belfast six years ago.
I suppose that I first got the idea for the series about four years ago, when I was taking some time out from work for family reasons. I had always read and watched crime series, and I especially loved Ian Rankin’s series of Rebus novels, set in Edinburgh. Not only were they great stories, but I felt as if I grew to know Edinburgh through them. So, when I eventually visited it, I knew exactly which places I wanted to explore, real and fictional.
Then it occurred to me, why isn’t there something similar based in modern day Belfast? The answer probably seems obvious to someone looking in from outside…’The Troubles’. Except that everybody who lives in Northern Ireland can see at first hand that the Troubles have been over for years, and that Belfast has become a vibrant and modern European city, attracting visitors and business from all over the world.
That was when I decided to do my bit for the peace process and write a modern thriller series which had absolutely nothing to do with the Troubles of the past. I wanted to display a different side to Northern Ireland and show its lively cities, beautiful countryside and amazingly large and creative arts scene. Four years later, I’ve written four novels centred around a modern hero, D.C.I. Marc Craig, and his team and plan to write more!
I think that the rest of the world is now seeing on television how much Northern Ireland has changed, so the time seemed right this year to (hopefully) get the series published. I was fortunate enough to get a publishing deal with the innovative Crooked Cat Publishing based, as it happens, in Edinburgh!
The first novel in the series is called ‘A Limited Justice’ and it was released in August 2012, with the second in the series, ‘The Grass Tattoo’, being released on the 11th December 2012.
I thought long and hard about what sort of core detective team I wanted to create, and inevitably I’ve incorporated some of my own interests in everybody’s back stories. Obviously I wanted the lead character to be charismatic, and I suppose that I’ve tried to make him that classic thing; a man that women would find attractive, and that men wouldn’t mind being.
But more than that I wanted him to somehow reflect the fact that there are many other nationalities living in Northern Ireland nowadays; Chinese, Polish, African, eastern European, Asian, Italian. Of all of those nations I know Italy best, so I made Craig’s mother Italian, born in Rome and married to a Northern Irish man. I also made her classical pianist because my father was a classically trained opera singer and I played the piano (very badly!). His father is a retired physics lecturer which reflects all of my brothers’ interest and professions in physics.
I also didn’t want religion to be a focus (as if has been too often in Northern Ireland’s past) so we will never find out what religion Marc Craig follows, if any. He went to an integrated school, because I firmly believe that integrated education is the way for future generations here to stop dividing themselves on sectarian grounds.
I was also very clear that I didn’t want him to be a stereotypical ‘sad’ male detective with nothing in his life but work. Yes, he has sadness in his life, but he has a loving family in the background and he is in his early forties, with lots of potential for romance and perhaps even a family in the future. He’s a very attractive, intelligent man who has a kind of wisdom, and that reflects many of the police officers that I’ve met, both in Northern Ireland and England. Beyond that, well he has his interests, quirks and flaws, like all of us.
His central team are a mixture of people and backgrounds. His right hand man, Liam Cullen, is a happily married father and long-time officer, with all the faults of joining up in a time when the police service wasn’t perhaps as politically correct as it is now! He has frustrations while coming to terms with that, creating the basis for humour and ‘banter’.
His sergeant, Annette McElroy, was a nurse before she joined the police and she brings that knowledge and approach to things. She’s also a wife and mother and a bit too prissy for her own good at times.
Nicky Morrison, Craig’s P.A. is a typical working class Belfast woman with her tan, false nails and interest in fashion. She’s as sharp as a whip with a quick sense of humour, and her relationship with Liam Cullen is one to watch. She’s also married with a young son.
Last but not least in the central team is Davy Walsh. A twenty-five-year-old Emo, with the fashion and humour to go with it. He is young, shy and has a mild stutter. He’s a highly intelligent I.T. specialist and attractive and Annette and Nicky mother him mercilessly.
Craig’s burden is his D.C.S. Terry ‘Teflon’ Harrison. He’s a fifty-something womaniser who is snobbish and political. He sees Craig variously as a threat and an asset.
Craig’s team and Harrison are based in the twelve storey Docklands’ Coordinated Crime Unit, based in the real and historic area of Pilot Street in Belfast’s Sailortown. I chose the area as a tribute to my mother’s family who had a business there, about which I heard a great deal as a child growing up.
The Director of Forensic Pathology, Dr John Winter, is Craig’s best friend from school and he is strange, nerdy and brilliant. With John Winter and Annette McElroy I got to use my medical background, as with the forensics at the crime scenes. Winter works with Dr Des Marsham, lead forensic scientist, in the Saintfield Laboratories. They make a quirky pair, working with Craig’s team to solve murders arising in the Belfast area.
So that’s the background to the series and the main players, but each book will bring in new people and sometimes say goodbye to old ones. As the author, even I don’t know where I’m going to send the characters next!
Here’s a little snippet from ‘The Grass Tattoo’, release date 11th December 2012.
‘She watched and waited, her face expressionless, ready to morph into a facsimile of love as soon as he awoke. She knew what love was supposed to look like, God knows she’d been force-fed enough romantic movies by men over the years. Dragging her along to see them, as if it was hard-wired into the female psyche to like dreary stories of love and loss. All they did was make her yawn and long for a Wesley Snipes DVD.’
Catriona King was raised in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She moved to central London to live and work as a medical doctor where she trained as a police Forensic Medical examiner. She worked in General Practice, Paediatrics and Health Management, working with the Metropolitan Police on many occasions, and encountering many fascinating people and situations, in both Belfast and London.
In recent years, she has returned to live and work in Belfast, basing her D.C.I. Craig crime novels in the modern streets of Belfast and across Northern Ireland in 2012, and locating the fictitious crime headquarters of Docklands Coordinated Crime Unit in one of Belfast's most colourful and oldest districts, Sailortown. She has family links with the area, her mother’s family having had a business there.
Catriona has written since childhood, fiction, fact and reporting. 'A Limited Justice' is her first novel. It follows Detective Chief Inspector Marc Craig and his team, in the hunt for the killer of three people. A second novel in the D.C.I. Craig series ‘The Grass Tattoo’ is due for release on December 11th 2012. Her publisher is an Edinburgh based company called Crooked Cat Publishing.
Catriona is the founder/ director of a new amateur theatre company and is very active in Belfast's dynamic arts scene.