Black Isle based crime writer Mike Walters’ new series takes him back to the Peak District
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AS Black Isle-based crime writer Mike Walters – who writes as Alex Walters – has written 13 previous novels, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that another is about to come out in paperback on September 24.
What might be a surprise is that as Mike has four different series already – set from the Black Isle to Mongolia – the latest is the first in a new series set in the Peak District where Mike grew up and worked providing consultancy for the criminal justice sector for many years.
The book is his first for publisher Canelo and their new Canelo Crime paperback imprint. The Peak District books focus on Detective Inspector Annie Delamere who – in opening book Small Mercies – finds her own long-term partner, Labour MP Sheena Pearson, targeted by a gunman alongside a series of brutal murders.
Returning to locations so familiar from Mike’s past seemed an obvious step when he heard what kind of book Canelo might be looking for.
“They wanted something that was police procedure-y and I was thinking about what I could do that was different from the other series’ I’ve got.
“I’ve lived most of my life on the edge of the Peak District – my parents still live one side of it and that is where I was born and brought up – I was actually brought up in Eastwood, the DH Lawrence birthplace which is on one edge of the Peak District.
“And before we moved up here, the last 20 years before that, I was living on the other side just in Greater Manchester. So it is an area I know really well.
“It’s a bit like writing up here in a sense, you could have these very picturesque, almost chocolate box-type village."
"But then alongside that down there you have all the ex-mining towns and areas that are quite deprived and rundown and places that have just become dormitory towns for Derby, Nottingham and Sheffield. With the partner of the lead investigator a Labour MP, that gives me a nice opportunity to write about things like those areas of deprivation and there is quite a lot of far right politics in those areas as well. So it just felt that there was a lot to write about there potentially. I suppose this is a slightly more political series than the others I’ve done.”
His books usually give a reader plenty to think about as plot and subplots are there to be unravelled.
“I’m not a great plot-in-advance planner. With the books I don’t sit down and work out every last detail. I do have a loose idea of where it’s going to go but one of the things I quite like doing is setting up a situation at the start of the book where you have two or three things going on and the reader has to work out what brings these strands together.
“In Small Mercies, you have a guy who is into conspiracy theory stuff, there’s the shooting of Annie Delamere’s partner – and with a number of different threads, for me that is where the interest comes from.”
Starting a book comes to Mike usually in an opening scene.
One of his Black Isle-set McKay books began when a comedian coming offstage suddenly popped into his head out of nowhere.
Second Sight-troubled cop DCI Kenny Murrain – whose ancestors came from the Black Isle in the story – has hunches and images that come to him, sometimes just misleading him or giving him hints that are as bamboozling and confusing as they are helpful to his work.
The idea for that came to Mike in a hotel room – first book Late Checkout begins with a murder in a hotel in Southport.
“From the opening scene in the first Kenny Murrain book Late Checkout,where in a hotel Kenny hears some screaming – that actually happened to me.
“Not in a supernatural kind of way, but I was in a hotel somewhere on a visit and I heard this noise coming from the central heating – it wasn’t screaming but it was shouting and I eventually realised that it was somewhere being transmitted through the heating system.
“But it was a kind of spooky moment, and that is where the original idea came from for that moment.
“With the Delamere book, the MP Jo Cox’s killing – though I tried not to link in too closely with that to be insensitive about it – was part of the idea that triggered the idea of the shooting in my book. So sometimes it’s a real thing in the headlines and at other times it’s something that just pops into my head from nowhere. But after one thing starts me off, everything builds from there.
“It’s one of those weird processes I don’t want to think about too much, just in case it stops working!
“What always intrigues me is that some of the best plot twists in the books come three-quarters of the way through writing it. And then it always feels as if I’ve been deliberately planning to lead up to that point.
“There are moments when you think ‘If that happens, this could happen’ but then you think you will have to go back and change things because obviously I wasn’t leading up to that originally. Then you go back and find that subconsciously you were leading up to it all along because everything more or less fits, barring a few little details. It is very strange how that happens.”
With his wife, Mike also runs Solus Or writing retreats, which have gone virtual in lockdown.
“We did our last ones in February and could see the way the winds were blowing, so we stopped taking bookings for the retreats and closed it just before the official lockdown.
“We thought about reopening once lockdown started, but when people come here they want a certain sort of hospitality, to sit and chat over dinner and those sort of things – and you would have to do that in a way that was socially distanced and all the rest of it. You could do bed and breakfast and give meals to people in their rooms but that would just not be the experience that people want.
“But what we have been doing which is quite fun is to do some virtual retreats over weekends.
“So we have sort of done the same kind of set ups that we would do for retreat weekends, starting on Fridays and going through to Sunday afternoon.
“We have done it through Facebook, and to those who sign up, we send out some handouts by email and then we just run the thing through virtual sessions online, Facebook discussion groups and we chat to each other in that sort of way as we go through the day.
“People take away exercises to work on for two or three hours in the morning and then we come together before lunch and have a chat about what they have been doing and raise questions and things.
“Then at the end, if people want to send us an example of what they have been writing, we’ll then do a critique of that. We say if you want to send an excerpt of 2,500 words then we will give you a critique at the end of the workshop.
“That has been really popular we just did those to keep the profile up while things are locked down.
"At the start of lockdown when everyone wasn’t sure what was going to happen, it was something to do and a bit of fun
“But it has been really popular, so we have another one this month on novel writing.
“Even when we are back running properly, I think we will still do some of the virtual ones because they do seem to be really popular.”
A workshop from Mike is planned for Dingwall’s virtual Word On The Street in November.
A new Kenny Murrain book will be out in the next couple of months, and Mike is now writing a new McKay book – and the second Annie Delamere book will be out in November.
Mike would also love the chance to finish the next book in his series set in Mongolia.
“I have a fourth one of those books half-written which I’ve got on the back burner, written several years ago now and never really invigorated.
“Of all the different series, that is the one that every now and again I get interest from TV companies – I think because of the setting in Mongolia. It’s something very different. Every now and again my agent will contact me and say ‘I’ve had this interest from …’ – but it’s never gone anywhere so far.
“Maybe one day someone will just go for it!
“But the one that is half-written I would dearly love to finish at some stage and go back to because those are characters I really enjoyed writing about.”
Small Mercies will be out in paperback on September 24 from Canelo Crime.
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