Before Bad to the Bone I wrote a book called Burnout, which featured DI Bliss and DC Chandler from the Peterborough area. While I was writing it I thought I was doing a pretty good job, but when re-reading the manuscript I realised that whilst it contained a lot of pretty effective scenes, it wasn’t really
cohesive, and it had no pace to it. I could have carried out a major re-edit, but by then the idea for Bad to the Bone had come to me, and I made the decision to plough on with that instead. One of my better ideas, I think.
For my lead character I wanted to create a real person. I didn’t want him to make intuitive leaps of faith, nor did I want him to be some ageing lothario, drunk, or gambler. But I did want him to have a history. The background I settled on was to have Bliss as an ex-Met detective, who left under a cloud resulting from the murder of his wife. Having him be the owner of two dogs was something that popped into my head as I was writing. Somewhere along the way I decided Bliss ought to have Meniere’s Disease. I’d not long been diagnosed with the condition myself, and I thought it would be both an interesting development character-wise, and perhaps also a little cathartic.
I settled on Bliss having a female partner right away, and in Penny Chandler I wanted a local woman, whose own life had taken a downward turn when her daughter was abducted by the girl’s father. Making the father Turkish was a simple matter of wanting the issue to be mainly background, and I thought the best way to achieve that was to make the father foreign and to have him snatch the child and take her to his homeland.
You need conflict, hence Det Supt Sykes and Sergeant Grealish, who both give Bliss a hard time in their own ways. You also need a team of detectives to form a close-knit unit, and whilst Bliss and Chandler needed to be strong leads, I did want a cast of others to take up the slack. Once you have them you can either develop their roles or not, and anyone who has read the book will know that one develops in a way few seem to have suspected. Including me, because my confession is that I didn’t know whodunnit until I was two thirds of the way through. Now, that sort of seat of the pants writing does mean a lot of backfilling along the story arc, but I actually welcome the opportunity to do that sort of thing.
The setting took care of itself. I could have stuck to London, my place of birth and where I spent the first 29 years of my life, but decided to go with where I lived (and still live) at the time. The advantage is obviously local knowledge, and being able to drive around and actually see the place you’re writing about.
As for the story? There are plenty of skeletal bodies being found, but I liked the idea of it being dug up for a second time, and the mystery behind not just who had killed the poor young woman, but who had dug her up and then reinterred her and why. I wanted a skeletal body because I’d had the notion of a character called the Bone Woman, and this seemed like the appropriate time to deploy her. I put them all into a pot, gave it a good stir, and then examined the mix. I thought it had possibilities, and that was enough to spur me on to completing the novel.
Bad to the Bone was my first published novel.