When I first joined the police, I worked with a young rascal of a cadet called Jim Sharpe. Despite Jim being a few years younger than me, sporting ginger to my mousy hair and hailing from the Peak District rather than the Sussex Coast, our team mates were convinced we had been separated at birth.
Much as I liked Jim, I found this a mild afront. It was him, not me who had taken one of the station pedal bikes into town then snapped on the padlock without checking he had the key. Him, not me, who turned up for work one morning wearing the same tide-marked shirt as the day before. And him, not me, whose life was saved by our sergeant who, in the nick of time, stopped him biting into a chicken breast he’d left out for days, thinking a good dose of salt would get rid of the rancid taste.
No, the real reason was that we both had the same atrocious (and we are talking totally illegible) handwriting which our sergeants struggled to differentiate. Now, while Jim is now far less calamitous, we are both still proud to have a unique form of hieroglyphics to call our own.
Back in those days, if I had so much as whispered the idea that one day I’d become a professional author, I’d have been laughed out of the nick and forced to buy doughnuts (the universal police punishment) for evermore.
Therefore, I merely stumbled into becoming a writer, mainly due to the invention on the word processor and my life-changing friendship with Peter James. The modern insistence of agents and publishers that submissions be type-written seemed entirely for my benefit, as there is no way they’d struggle through the cover letter let alone the first three chapters.
Meeting Peter, while I was still in the police. was a Godsend. Having helped him with his research, Peter came up with the idea that we write a non-fiction book telling the stories that influenced his Roy Grace novels. Death Comes Knocking – Policing Roy Grace’s Brighton, became not only my apprenticeship under such an accomplished master, but a Sunday Times Best Seller too. We followed that with the more serious Babes in the Wood, another non-fiction, which came out just before the world entered lockdown.
Throughout all this, I had a story burning inside me that I just needed to tell. I had been the Chief Superintendent of Brighton and Hove Police and, like all those in similar roles, was battling the early days of the public sector cuts. I was expected to deliver more, better quality and accountable policing with eighty percent of my previous budget. I spent my life apologising. To the public for letting them down, to my officers for making them toil longer and harder and to my bosses for plummeting performance (whatever that was.)
I remember exactly where I was (Underhill Lane, Clayton, if you’re interested) when the idea for Bad for Good sparked inside me. It was two years after I had retired and, the day before, my successor had been telling me how he’d have bitten my hand off for the staff and resources I was moaning about when I left. Things had become even more dire, and he had no idea how he’d keep the city safe. So, while walking my terrier Murphy, I wondered what would happen if police cuts became so severe that vigilantism took over as the crime control method of choice. And with the burgeoning privatisation, what if that was state sponsored? What would happen to all the ne’er do wells who the vigilantes targeted and what about if the very person who’s battling it all lost a beloved son to a brutal knife attack?
I pulled out my phone and, like a gatling-gun, fired into it dozens of voice notes as the ideas bombarded me. I honestly thought that writing this novel would be liberating child’s-play In my defence (always get that in early) I was still writing the non-fictions, was incredibly naïve and thought that abandoning the rigorous research that came with my first two books would be a release. How wrong could I have been?
From that flash of inspiration to this month, when Bad for Good is finally published, seven long years, countless restarts and even more drafts have elapsed. At times I yearned for my previous genre where, despite all the fact-checking, the stories, the worlds and the characters were all there, fully formed for me to use. How had I not appreciated that everything, yes everything, in Bad for Good, had to come from within?
However, I was so fixated that I didn’t, for one moment, give up or even waiver in my determination to bring my story to at least one or two readers. I got there in the end and the blurb says it all:
The murder of a promising footballer who is crucially the son of the Brighton’s highest-ranking police officer, 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.
Whilst a complete work of fiction, I’m delighted at having been able to draw on my thirty years of seeing policing and politics collide to introduce my gritty, feisty and flawed protagonist, Jo Howe and a world few know. Immersing her in the extremes of when good people go bad, with the colossal human cost of that, was an immense privilege. It did bring slight pangs of guilt too, but only by putting her through the wringer could I show what an exceptional new cop on the block she is.
(c) Graham Bartlett
Bad for Good by Graham Bartlett is published by Allison & Busby in hardback at £16.99 and also available as an eBook.
About Bad for Good:
How far would you go?
The murder of a promising footballer, son of Brighton’s highest-ranking police officer, 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.
‘Gripping’ PETER JAMES
‘Thoroughly absorbing’ ELLY GRIFFITHS
‘Cracking’ MARK BILLINGHAM
Order your copy online here.