The origins of Bad to the Bone come from its unpublished predecessor, Burnout. I had wanted to write something featuring locations and crimes based where I now live, in Peterborough, UK. For some reason I had one scene in my head that refused to budge, so I jumped into my car with a pad and pen and drove to the weir at Orton Mere, about five minutes from my home. There I breathed in the atmosphere and made pages of notes. Afterwards I drove to the city police HQ at Thorpe Wood, sat outside and again made copious notes (the architecture really is as uninspiring as I describe).
I had the germ of an idea which merged a missing boy case, local politics, and a race war in which victims were burned to death. What I needed was a central character, and so DI James Bliss was born. I read a lot of crime novels, and I see a lot of cop names that spark an image of toughness. I wanted something different, and somehow Bliss was the name I came up with. Then I teamed him up with a bright and enthusiastic foil in DC Penny Chandler.
Burnout was not an awful book. It was written reasonably well, and upon reflection I think the premise was and still is a good one. Ultimately, however, I failed to inject any pace or thrills into it; more a serious of incidents leading to a conclusion. However, out of the ashes rose Bliss and Chandler. They had both taken up residence inside my head, and I liked them enough to take them with me into my next story, which was Bad to the Bone.
I am fascinated by old cases that become new ones, and for me the obvious starting point was the unearthing of skeletal remains. I like to think I’m pretty good at sketching out back story, which was what I did in order to frame the victim in my head. Once I had decided who and what she was, other characters emerged naturally, and along with them came strands woven into the storyline. For me, that’s where the tale becomes real – it’s not the story that creates the characters, it’s the characters that create the story behind the story. And even though we never get to meet the victim, to me she is every bit as real as any of those who live and breathe in Bad to the Bone. I hope and trust my readers will feel the same as the story unfolds.
My characters are human, with human weaknesses, foibles and worries. They live life as we do, they experience it how we do. It takes chunks out of them as chunks are taken from us. I know that some writers believe that when writing the story must be so pre-structured that characters should never lead the author. If that’s right, then I’m wrong, because I hope I allow my characters room to grow, to breathe, and to take me places I had never envisaged. If they do that for me, then I am happy to be surprised by them.
Bad to the Bone is ultimately a story about redemption and justice. The past has a way of haunting us all.