I’m happy to welcome Neil Lancaster to everywhere and nowhere with a guest post on how his debut crime novel morphed from procedural to thriller.
Tom Novak is a troubled soul with a dark and bloody past.
A former refugee, Royal Marine, and member of the elite Special Reconnaissance Regiment, he now finds himself struggling with the deadening routine of day-to-day policing.
When he is deployed undercover to infiltrate a gang of people-traffickers, things go badly wrong. Faced with an impossible choice, his cover is blown and he finds himself on the run from the Serbian mafia and even his fellow police colleagues.
With no-one to trust, and his enemies using all the resources of the state against him, Tom has only one option: to Go Dark.
Who are the police traitors feeding the Serbian mafia his every move? Is there anyone he can trust? Can Tom prove his innocence before it’s too late?
I intended to write a police procedural, so how did I end up with an adventure thriller?
Well there I am in 2015, I’ve retired and stopped being a police officer. I had spent a total of 32 years in law enforcement in one guise or another. I did 6 years in the Military Police where I had been a dog handler, I then spent over 25 years in the Metropolitan Police where I worked, mostly as a Detective Sergeant. I investigated all types of crimes from the most minor, thefts, assaults and public disorder through to the most serious of crime including, murder, major drugs importations and human trafficking. I was a proactive policing specialist with a background in surveillance and covert policing that I had used against some of the most terrible criminals.
We had moved to a very rural part of The Scottish Highlands partly to escape the South East of England and all the stresses that come with that. There was little work for me to get back into and, to be frank I had no desire to leap back in a world of stress once more.
However, I had a lifetime of experiences to draw upon and suddenly found myself with a desire to write. I didn’t fancy writing an auto-biography, I mean, who would want to read it? Also, as much of what I had done was of a covert nature I couldn’t really talk about it anyway.
So that left fiction and I began writing, intending to produce a wholly fictional police procedural inspired by real events. I had some cracking ideas about characters and a plot around a Serbian trafficking gang. Next, I wondered how to plan a novel, so I read up on some websites who advise on planning methods. I understood them all and had every intention to make a thorough chapter by chapter plan along with character cards and a plot arc.
My planning extended to opening my laptop and starting to type. I found that the words flowed quickly and also, strangely found myself getting excited by the process. I became so wrapped up in the story about my protagonist, DS Tom Novak, an undercover officer with a dark past and some seriously “special skills,” that any pretence at planning went down the tubes.
Most of my formative reading had been adventure novels and thrillers, starting as a child with Hammond Innes, Alistair Maclean and the oft ignored, Desmond Bagley. More recently I’d enjoyed Stephen Leather, James Deegan, Tom Wood, Simon Kernick and Gregg Hurwitz.
So, as it developed, whilst still being about a police officer and involving corrupt police officers, there was very little police procedure in it. It was morphing before my eyes into a no-holds-barred thriller and I was loving writing it.
My police experiences were of huge value but really it was intelligence resources and techniques, surveillance and other covert experience I drew upon. There was not so much “detecting” as often sits centrally in the successful ‘whodunits.’
I found I’d written a police/crime thriller and I was delighted. In my eyes, I’d written a book that I would want to read, not one that I thought I should write.
After a million redrafts, structural edits, copy-edits and proof reads, it is now ready. My publishers are really excited and so am I. Early indications are that advance reviewers and beta readers are enjoying it and I am so keen for it to be out there for the general public.
I truly hope you enjoy it, I didn’t mean to write it. I am left wondering if it is a story that my early reading as a child subconsciously forced me to write. It’s almost as if it wrote itself. I’m still not that sure how I got here, but I’m so pleased that I am.
Neil Lancaster served over thirty years in law enforcement in both the military and Metropolitan Police, working in a number of detective roles investigating serious and organised crime. During his career he chased murderers, human traffickers, fraudsters and drug dealers.
Neil now lives in the Scottish Highlands where he spends his time writing crime fiction, influenced by his experiences.