Malcolm Hollingdrake talks about his crime series and his process of writing them.
16s: Malcolm Hollingdrake, a prolific author with many of his books being set here in Harrogate. Best known for his DCI Cyril Bennett series. In one of his books, “The Third Breath”, two people were murdered outside my office on Victoria Avenue!
50s: How did these people die outside my office? In strange circumstances. A friend of mine decided he knew the perfect way to commit murder, so I got the call. When I came home, I researched it and the scientifics, and it worked. So, I murdered two people using this process. I can’t tell you it because it would spoil it but it leaves no mark on the body at all and makes it look like it’s natural causes.
2mins 41s: Tell us about this series. I started writing them 3 years ago, first one being “Only The Dead”. This is about a gentleman who collected sulphur mustard from the shells of WW1 ammunition to punish people. I found the research for this one fascinating.
4mins 28s: Why Harrogate? It was known as the happiest place to live and I was looking for a place to set my novels. I thought introducing some crime there wouldn’t go amiss. Now it is the 4th happiest place to live in the UK so I’m winning, I think. The Stray is fantastic, you can link it, it has a bit of mystery at night, it’s wonderful to describe in all of the seasons. The buildings are beautiful, and you get people coming to visit places I’ve written about.
6mins 17s: Tell us about the Brunswick tunnel. Hell’s Gate was the title; the working title for that book was Just Above Hades. I’d heard there was a tunnel beneath Harrogate Stray built at the end of the 19th century. It was designed to help prevent pollution from the steam trains. It was sealed and children knew it as the Darky. We had Eastern European people traffickers and if someone tried to leave, they had to do the chase which involved them running the length of it and climb the wall. If they were successful, they were given a second chance, if not, the dogs would tear them to pieces.
8ins 59s: Let’s talk about your early days. I was born in a library – Undercliffe Road in Bradford. It used to be a penny library and you could borrow a brand-new book for four pence and when they took them back, they’d get three pence. I went to Wellington Road School, Carlton Grammar School and Ripon College where I did a teacher training course. I met a girl called Susan Deborah Clarke and we danced to The Rich Queen of New Orleans. I got a job in Bingley, but I wanted to be in Richmond, and I asked my tutors if I could go there in the hopes I’d get a job offer there.
12mins 48s: You’ve also spent some time in Lancashire? I have been on missionary work since 1976 and we had a 4-year plan. It took longer than that though and I’ve spent more time there than in Yorkshire.
13mins 24s: You’ve taught abroad as well? My wife taught in Corfu and we felt at home there. There was a private school there and we asked if there were any jobs there. I decided to stay in Wigan as a deputy head teacher and fulfil my contract whilst she went to Corfu and I would spend the holidays in Corfu. There was a new school being built in Cairo and I was invited to apply for a job of senior teacher and I applied for a 2 year leave of absence.
16mins 25s: Why hasn’t Egypt featured in your books? It’s too far away. One of my characters was going to go to Northern Cyprus, a beautiful country.
17mins 37s: What is your routine for writing a book? There are two different types of writers: pantsers and planners. I just sit down and write; I don’t plan it. Someone could call me and say they have a perfect idea for a murder, I could read something in the paper, or someone could say something. I try to write 1000 words a day. I’d finished one book and went to sit down and the idea for the next book came into my head, so I went back and wrote another 500 words.
22mins 53s: Do you need to walk around the place for your next book? I enjoy watching for people and I’ll develop how they dress and walk. I saw one person who had the same routine every day, every detail was the same and he knows he’s in my books.
24mins 15s: How do you get a publisher? I self-published Engulfed. I’d had some rejection letters so I went and self-published it. There is an author called Angie Marsons and I wrote to her saying I was thinking of giving up. On Amazon, there was a lady called Liz Mistry who published a book based on Bradford published by Bloodhound books. I sent them the third book and within a fortnight I had a deal. They realised I had two other books and wanted to make it into a 3 book deal. They released them in November and December 2016. When I came back, they said would I like to sign for another 4 books and of course I said yes. They said they wanted to commission me for a new series but I had written 8 books and thought it was a good time to separate. They asked me if I wanted the rights to my books and I became an independent author. I had to learn how to self-publish. I wanted to change the covers but keep the titles.
31mins 42s: You can sell 200 books in one day? Yes, a lot of them are in America as well as other places.
32mins 8s: Surely people would want you to promote Harrogate? I have a serendipity story: my great uncle was killed at the age of 30 on 26th September 1918. Last year I went to visit his grave to lay a wreath. I spoke to a lady in the tourist office and I explained to her I was putting on a production at the library to commemorate the centenary of the ending of WW1 and would she promote it. She said her great uncle died in the first world war and he had died the day after mine had died. I said to her that I would lay a wreath on that grave too and she did the same for me at a later date. We’ve been friends ever since.
34mins 43s: Which other Harrogate characters feature in your books? There are a lot of businesses in my books which I name and get permission for. There is the Coach and Horses, Mykonos in my last book, The Swan, The Studley.
36mins 50s: How do you deal with the bad reviews? When I first started writing, it was like a dagger to the heart to receive a bad review, but all reviews are good. In Hell’s Gate it was important to have dog fighting and one of the dogs got injured. I got a review saying they couldn’t read anymore because of an animal being injured so now I would never harm an animal in a book. It’s not easy to write about. If I’ve written a particularly poignant chapter, it takes it out of me, emotionally. On the fourth book, I thought it was the end of the contract and I was going to kill someone, a police officer. He was left at St Mary the Virgin church in Ramsgill. There are some beautiful gravestones there, one says “remember me as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now, you so will be, prepare yourself to follow me”.
40mins 27s: Which is your most reviewed book? 152 reviews for Only The Dead, which has been out the longest. The trouble with Amazon is that they take reviews away. A 3 star review is considered a bad review. Sometimes people put a 1 star review thinking it’s the best star.
42mins 35s: Which book are you best known for? The Harrogate Crime series. A lot of the reviews say the series gets better and better.
44mins 9s: Your books are now available on Audible, how does that process work? I was very lucky when I heard a company had bought my first 4 books for Audible and I no say in who was going to read them. It was an actor in Coronation Street and Emmerdale – Nicholas Cam. He is absolutely perfect!
45mins 44s: How many more books do you think you’ll write? I’d like to do a new series with 3 books and I’d like to do 12 books in the Harrogate Crime series. I’ve written a book in 7 weeks but I’ve also written a book in a year so I don’t know how long it will take.
47mins 13s: You are instrumental in the Harrogate Noir events, tell my listeners about these. I’ve organised a couple at the Harrogate library and I bring fellow authors along. They are interviewed on a panel and will read from their book. The audience chooses when they read from their book. On the 14th September, we will be having a Noir at the library here. We have a duo called the Hewers – a Hewer is someone who used to stand on the coast and look out to sea, when he saw the fish break the surface, he would call the fishermen to launch their boats to go and catch.
49mins 9s: There is the Harrogate Crimewriting festival every year and there is always a chalk mark of where someone may have died at the train station. During the festival, I recognised a man and I went back to ask him who he was. It was Lee Child.
52 mins 7s: How do you find the names for your characters? I find it difficult. You tend to go for names you’re familiar with and you might end up with a few with the same Christian names and they need to be different for the reader. There is a competition that usually women enter to be part of a novel and you can ask them if they want to be good or bad. 9 out of 10 times, they’ll say make me as evil as you can.
54mins 39s: How do people find out more about you? Googling the name Malcolm Hollingdrake or www.MalcolmHollingdrakeAuthor.co.uk I’m on Twitter, Facebook. If you do read a book, send me a review and let me know, good or bad.