Now, you may have heard me mention Graham Bartlett before, and yes, that’s because Graham is is the former DCI turned crime-fiction advisor, who is is the fountain of knowledge for all things police procedure – my go-to for all my authors who’ve got procedure problems! However, although he spends his days advising authors, he’s not a stranger to putting pen to paper himself, having a couple of non-fiction titles under his belt, but I can’t believe that it’s only recently that Graham thought he’d give fiction a try.
I am utterly honoured to have received an advanced copy of Bad for Good, Graham’s debut crime fiction novel. Set in Graham’s own old haunt of Brighton and Hove Police, we meet DI Jo Howe as she tackles a city poised on the edge of a vigilante takeover and corruption disaster. Hooked already, aren’t you?
Well, Graham was kind enough to take some time out of his busy publication preparation to chat to me about the move to fiction and how his knowledge as a former police officer himself helped him. Scroll down to read an exclusive interview with the author, and I’m also giving away an advance proof copy of the book over on my Instagram, so if you want to get your hands on a copy BEFORE pub day, be sure to check it out!
Bad for Good by Graham Bartlett
How far would you go?
The murder of a promising footballer and, crucially, the son of the Brighton’s Chief Superintendent, means Detective Superintendent Jo Howe has a complicated and sensitive case on her hands. The situation becomes yet more desperate following devastating blackmail threats.
Howe can trust no one as she tracks the brutal killer in a city balanced on a knife edge of vigilante action and a police force riven with corruption.
Read on for an exclusive interview with the author, and be in for change to win an advance copy!
Hi Graham, it’s so lovely to have you on the blog again to talk about your new book. Last time, we talked about the non-fiction side of writing crime fiction, but I’m so excited that you’ve taken the plunge into fiction but what caused you to move in to fiction?
I loved writing my two non-fictions, Death Comes Knocking and Babes in the Wood. Both contained critical stories to tell and, given I was so privileged to write them alongside the wonderful Peter James, served as a fabulous apprenticeship. However, Bad for Good just burned inside me and I knew I had to tell it. I wanted to write about policing, in a fictional sense, from a completely new angle so couldn’t wait to get started. Now I’m hooked and have so many stories similarly flaring up inside me I can’t imagine going back. Never say never though!
How have you found the switch? Do you have to put a different ‘hat’ on, or has your writing routine changed since you’ve switch genre?
Naively, I thought it would be easier to make stuff up. After all, no fact checking, no triangulating sources, no risk of libel! How wrong I was. What I forgot was in non-fiction, despite all those responsibilities, the story, characters and ending are all there, fully formed. So, I soon realised I’d have to learn how to structure, what story and character arcs were, how to write settings and compelling, differentiated characters and how avoid a Swiss cheese of a manuscript. Consequently, I needed to become much more disciplined and use my non-writing time to contemplate the story and characters. I’m not a detailed planner but eventually the penny dropped that I needed at least the outline of a map if I was going to get anywhere near my destination.
What came first? The plot or the characters?
The broad plot popped into my head during a dog walk and I started to build my cast around that. Then it became a little ‘chicken and egg’. I knew where I wanted to go, but the characters I first conjured up couldn’t take me there. Then, when the characters formed more clearly, they took the lead, so some of the plot points fell by the wayside. It was a terribly inefficient way to write but in some ways it taught me that the overall plot is important but the characters are what most people buy into, so they have to take the lead.
Which part of the book as most fun/trickiest to write?
The most fun was the dialogue scenes between the officers. I loved writing the one-liners, the quips and bitching that was my world for so long. Many reviewers have said they really enjoy those extra layers of authenticity. I’m glad, as I had a ball creating those moments.
The trickiest was the climax. As I make a business of advising others how to write crime and policing, this had to be as close to reality as possible, without the dull bits. It’s incredibly fast-moving and the tactical detail was something that I spent many a lunch asking former colleagues to guide me on.
As you used to be part of the Brighton and Hove police yourself, would you say there are any autobiographical elements to the various events in the novel? What was it like revisiting your policing days t via the novel?
There are certainly no biographical elements. In fact, I chose a female protagonist to stop me straying that way. That said, I did Jo Howe’s job for a number of years, so all her experiences are ones I could have expected as the divisional commander. It was quite cathartic creating some of the story lines and characters. None of the events are rooted in fact but, for example, the scene where a body is found, told through Jo’s point of view, was straight from the heart. The line ‘Someone shut those bloody birds up,’ was something I muttered at many a murder scene.
For example, all the characters are, well, quite some characters! Are any inspired by anyone from your time in the force?
Mmmm!!! Let’s just say some have the blended characteristics of a few people. In an early draft, I wrote one character so closely to the person I had in mind that I was shocked when a reader fed back that ‘no one will believe someone like that is in the police.’ Trust me, they were, but I watered them down in any case!
Of course, you used to be a police officer yourself. There is a lot of detail in the novel. How did you find it balancing the fact with the fiction?
One of my early lessons was not to be too accurate with the policing. That sounds odd coming from an advisor, but I wrote probably twice the number of police characters, as that’s how many people investigate a murder. It was pointed out that, whilst that was undoubtably true, readers can’t hold huge casts in their heads especially, if most have minor roles. So I slashed and burned fifty per cent of them, cut out all but the dramatic procedures and hopefully made for a much tighter, exciting novel.
Speaking of which, the stretched funds of the police and the sense of potential political corruption is a theme that runs through the story. What made you want to write about that?
That really was the trigger for the whole book. The public sector cuts have been brutal and the police have been as much victim as any other service. It was tough while I was serving but since then it’s become almost unsustainable. So, it got me thinking, what if it became so bad that vigilantism took over as the crime control of choice? Then I took it further and wondered, what if that vigilantism was sponsored by corrupt officials? And so the story bloomed. I’ve never seen corruption to the level I’ve written it in the novel but it does happen, if not so much in the UK, then elsewhere in the world.
Phil Cooke, Chief Superintendent, later PCC Commissioner, is put in the most harrowing of positions throughout the novel. Was it hard to write from that point of view?
Yes, very hard. I’ll avoid spoilers but he really goes through the ringer, sometimes of his own making, and I wanted the reader to like him but be exasperated at the same time. I hope it worked!
You worked with Peter James on his Roy Grace series, which has now been made into a successful TV series. If your book were to be made into TV or film, who would you want to play the characters?
Many books are optioned – this isn’t yet – but aren’t made for TV. I know first-hand how long it was until the wonderful Grace novels landed on our screens, so I’m realistic. In terms of characters though, Keeley Hawes for Jo Howe and Sean Bean for Phil Cooke. (subject to successful auditions, of course!)
What did you learn anything while writing this book?
I learned the importance of ‘just keep writing’. Dorothy Koomson, quite rightly, gave me a hard time because I spent weeks editing a half-finished novel instead of finding out for myself what happens in the end. She also advised not to worry about the word count in the first draft (I blasted through my target early on) and to crack on and enjoy it.
The other point, which remains so important as I write more books, is that everyone who feeds back wants the same as you; for it to be the best book it can be. Listen to all the advice but pick what suits you, as it’s your book with your name on the cover.
One of the best things about writing fiction is getting to know your characters. Who do you think Jo Howe’s would invite to a dinner party?
Jo has a wicked sense of humour, massive imposter syndrome and is a bit of a control freak. She also loves Greek food, so whoever comes better like that! A few years back, I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days filming with Sir Trevor MacDonald, and he’s such an interesting yet humble man, so he’s on the list. Alison Hammond is definitely coming as her wonderfully infectious personality and laugh will keep it grounded yet light. Were she alive, Princess Diana as, like Jo, she was an utter powerhouse, yet never quite believed it. Finally the Dalai Lama, as Jo of all people needs serenity and wisdom with all the stuff I put through her, so he’d be perfect.
BAD FOR GOOD is a fantastic debut crime novel, and I can’t wait to review it later on. But the question on everyone’s lips is, will we see more of Jo Howe soon?
Yes, indeed. Book two will be out next year (still struggling for a title but it is finished – subject edits!) I’m halfway through book three too, so I hope Jo will become a close but infuriating friend to all!
Advanced Copy Giveaway! – NOW CLOSED.
Bad for Good will be published on 23 June 2022! But if you can’t wait that long, I have one copy of an advanced proof to give away! I’ll be running the competition on Instagram, so click the image below for your chance to read the book before it’s out!
About the Author
GRAHAM BARTLETT was a police officer for thirty years and is now a bestselling writer. He rose to become chief superintendent of the Brighton and Hove force as well as its police commander. He entered the Sunday Times Top Ten with his first non-fiction book, Death Comes Knocking – Policing Roy Grace’s Brighton in 2016. He followed that up in 2020 with another non-fiction book, Babes in the Wood, the harrowing 32-year fight to bring a double child killer to justice. Both these books he co-wrote with international best seller, Peter James.
As well as writing, Bartlett is a police procedural and crime advisor helping scores of authors and TV writers (including Peter James, Mark Billingham, Elly Griffiths, Anthony Horowitz, Ruth Ware, Claire McGowan and Dorothy Koomson) achieve authenticity in their drama.