Where No Shadows Fall, the fourth in Ritchie's Grace Macallan series featured on the blog last week - thoughts here.
Can you give us a quick biography of yourself? I believe you are a former senior police officer who now writes.
I followed my forefathers and started my working life at 15 as a deep sea fisherman. It was a tough life and I had to grow up quickly.
I eventually joined the police service moving through the ranks of CID, Serious Crime Squad, Murder Squad and Regional Crime Squad in Scotland.
I then went on to manage the Organised Crime Unit in the National Criminal Intelligence Service in London where I ran a multi agency team drawn from various branches of the law enforcement and the security services. This was a unique concept at the time and I travelled to many parts of the world in this role.
I was subsequently appointed as the UK Liaison Officer to Europol in The Hague where I spent five great years supporting operations against international organised crime and terrorism.
When I was finished there I returned to Lothian and Borders heading the Major Crime Team before taking on an advisory role for a project in Croatia.
After I retired from the police service I worked on a number of private investigations before spending the next few years as part of the public inquiry team looking into the murder of the Loyalist Volunteer Force leader Billy Wright in the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland. I also worked on a public inquiry into the death of eighteen patients in the Vale of Leven Hospital from a hospital acquired infection. That was a bit of a departure for me but a fascinating nonetheless.
For the last few years I’ve fulfilled my ambition to write. Initially I self published then I signed up with Black and White which has been a tremendous experience.
Over the years I’ve been involved in regular voluntary work with St Columba's Hospice and the homeless. I enjoy painting (when I get the time), writing poetry and the great outdoors, again when I can find the time.
Trying to write a novel length book when I was in the job would have been almost impossible as detective work tends to consume you a lot of the time. However, I’ve always liked drawing, painting and writing poetry so I suppose the creative bug was in place. I did want to do it and think it really helped once I was away from the job which gave me a bit of a change of perspective.
Your latest work is titled Where No Shadows Fall. I believe it’s your fourth published novel and the fourth in your Detective Grace Macallan series. Can you pitch it to potential readers in a short paragraph?
I’m always interested in old cases that have never been properly resolved and must admit I’m a big fan of the TV series Unforgotten. In this book Grace is asked to review a suicide in Barlinnie prison. This should be a fairly routine matter but some long hidden secrets come into the light and Grace faces an old adversary from the past.
Is Grace based on someone you worked with over the years?
I worked with some amazing people in my career but Grace is fictional. There are other characters who crop up in the books again and again so of course people who know me all think they recognise particular individuals and although they all have different views I can’t convince them otherwise. Of course the past and the people I’ve known and worked with influence my thoughts, but as far as possible the characters are completely made up.
How long from conception to completion did WNSF take? What was the spark or germ of imagination that set you on the road with this particular tale?
It took about six months and it came from that interest I have in old cases and miscarriages of justice. I might surprise people that with my background I have been involved in supporting someone who I believe was wrongly convicted.
Was it a smooth process or were there many bumps in the road along the way?
It was smooth and the funny thing is I can’t remember much about the writing. You get so lost in it that when I read through it again I just can’t remember where some of the lines came from.
Did it end up being the book you anticipated at the start of the process?
I’m never sure where the book is going and certainly not at the start. I just let the story move wherever it wants. I try really hard to make the stories authentic and of course when you’re on a difficult case you don’t know where it’s going half the time.
Is there an over-riding story ARC to the series, or can readers dip in and dip out anywhere, without feeling like they are missing out on something?
From what people say the books can stand alone. However, I think to understand Grace you need the first one, which tells the story of her background in Belfast and how she was brought low after an anti terrorist operation goes wrong.
Any scope for more Macallan tales, or are her cases all solved and her race run?
There’s life in Grace yet and book 5 Our little Secrets comes out in June. Book 6 is underway and is about a team of contract killers.
Is there one of your books which you are most proud of? Which would you press into the hands of a new reader first?
I think book 3 Shores of Death because I had been a deep sea fisherman before my police career and wanted to write a story about that life. So when I started Shores I brought trawlers into the plot in a story about trafficked women. For years I sailed and landed in North Shields and Eyemouth so they became part of the story as well.
On your writing in general, do you have a typical writing schedule? Do you write every day?
No schedule and carry an IPad everywhere so anytime of the day when the mood grabs me. I quite often write in the cafe in the gym I go to. But anywhere and anytime.
When you have an idea and you sit down to construct a story – do you know what the end result is going to look like? Are you a plotter, or do you make it up as you go along?
I just sit down and let it happen. I never plan and the story just unfolds like a stage play in my mind. It’s the same when I paint and just see where it goes. Of course all those years as a detective myself does help.
What can we look forward to next? Any hints on the current work in progress?
As I mentioned earlier book 6 is underway and heads more into the world of the dark arts and covert intelligence. In addition another character from the past unexpectedly appears in the story.
Ever tried your hand at short stories? Have any been published?
I’ve written a couple of novellas and still deciding the best course for them. In the past it’s mainly poetry and I recently put together a book of my poems with some of my paintings included. I give them out as gifts and it’s been a great experience putting them all together.
Walking into a bookshop and seeing Cause of Death there for the first time. Was in a Dublin bookshop recently and seeing the books there still lifts me.
Any unpublished gems in your bottom drawer?
Some bits of stories but not sure there’s a gem
Any advice for prospective authors out there?
I always think that finishing a book whether it’s good or otherwise is quite a thing. No one else can write your book so it’s unique. It’s been said before and it’s true for me that the main point is to enjoy it. If you get some form of success or published that’s wonderful but first and foremost love the experience.
What’s the best thing about writing?
I just love the experience of drifting off into this theatre of imagination. Watching the story unfold and see it like a play. The characters walk on and off and I just write it down.
The only problem I have is that when I get to the last third of a manuscript I can’t read a book myself. It’s impossible no matter how I try. Not that much of a problem and have got used to it.
What are the last five books you’ve read?
Laidlaw by William Mcllvanney. Read it over 30 years ago and thought I’d visit it again. Still great.
Becoming by Michelle Obama.
We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen
Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber
A true crime book manuscript written by a friend. It’s finished but still deciding the title.
Who do you read and enjoy? Is there anyone I should be reading who has snuck under my radar?
I read about all sorts of things and depends on the mood and what’s going on around me at the time. I do like humour and have read the Wimbledon series by Nigel Williams, all the Tom Sharpe books and still love all the Adrian Mole series.
Is there any one book you wish you had written?
Catch 22 - genius!
Favourite activity when not working or writing?
As you’d probably expect from someone who was a deep sea fisherman at one time I love the outdoors so I take any chance to walk in the great places we have in this country. I particularly love anywhere I can keep the sea in view.
What’s the last film you watched that rocked you?
I’m a big film fan and just watched A Star is Born. Loved it.
TV addict or not? What’s the must watch show in the Ritchie household?
I’m a total news junkie so anything that has news in the title.
In a couple of years’ time.....
After winning Euro millions I’ll buy Heart of Midlothian and encourage Lionel Messi to sign on.
Many thanks to Peter Ritchie for his time.
His books in series order are as follows....
Detective Grace Macallan
1. Cause of Death (2017)
2. Evidence of Death (2018)
3. Shores of Death (2018)
4. Where No Shadows Fall (2019)
5. Our Little Secrets (2019)
You can catch him at the following haunt.......
Where No Shadows Fall is available on Amazon (and other book sellers of course)
Grace den Herder's life has moved on and while she has found a degree of peace with her family her career move away from the front line is proving more difficult than she thought. Eventually the strain begins to show and she worries for the future of her career and marriage. She's asked to review a suicide in Barlinnie Prison and takes it on as a break from the desk and at first it seems to be no more than a box ticking exercise. She teams up with her old DCI Jimmy McGovern who seems fully recovered from a health problem and grabs the opportunity to work one last job before he retires. The prisoner who committed suicide is Tommy McMartin at one time the heir to one of the most powerful criminal organisations in west Scotland. His life is taken apart when he is convicted for the horrific murder of a gay lover although he remembers nothing about it. His life inside is made impossible without support from his own family who have disowned him. As Grace reviews the case she uncovers some old skeletons, a trail of lies and she get dragged into a case that involves an old adversary Brenda McMartin who has been causing havoc across the Glasgow underworld. Big Brenda plans a robbery in Edinburgh from a rival gang which goes badly wrong and a complex series of events draws the main characters towards each other where the departed are taking their secrets the grave as Grace tries to uncover the truth of what happened to Tommy McMartin. At the same time someone watches her from the shadows and aches for revenge. This is the fourth book about Grace and brings old and new characters together in a story about old secrets and lies that seemed to have been buried and forgotten util a chain of events pulls them back into the light. Grace is faced with the question whether to expose the truth or let the dead lie still.
Black and White Publishing website is here.