It is my great pleasure to feature crime writer, journalist and creative writing tutor John Dean to my blog this week.
I read and enjoyed his novel, Dead Hill, the first in a series featuring DCI Jack Harris and when I read an interview with John about how he came upon the idea for the book (which is the start of a series) I knew I had to feature him in my Ideas Store column in Writers’ Forum.
Welcome to my blog, John. So, first, for my Idea Store column, I’ve got to ask the question that all writers are said to be pretty fed up with answering (but I keep asking anyway – and in the 12 years I’ve been doing so, no one has said no – yet!)
Where did you get the idea for your novel, Dead Hill, from?
Let me take you back to a hillside in the North Pennines in an attempt to show you what I mean. I was on a family holiday and we were staying in a village on the Durham/Cumbrian border. There was a play area in the middle of the village and every evening my two children would go for a swing and I would wander out to keep an eye on them – they had gone past the ‘Dad, give me a push’ stage but had not quite reached the stage where they could be left alone.
In such circumstances a person has a lot of time to think and as they swung, so I found myself staring at the hillside opposite. And as with all writers, ideas started to swirl around in my mind.
Something about the hill’s slopes and its late evening shadows, the way the buzzards hunted across the ridge, the sound of the sheep bleating and the distant barking of a farm dog, worked their magic on me and by the end of the week, an idea was born, eventually turning into Dead Hill (The Book Folks), the first in the DCI Jack Harris series.
My experience as a journalist meant that I knew a lot about wildlife crime and the more I looked at the buzzards on the hillside, the more the place and the idea came together as a good theme for the book. But place came first.
Character arrived third when striding into my mind came Detective Chief Inspector Jack Harris, a disillusioned officer working in the rural area in which he grew up, dragged back by the pull of the hills despite his attempts to stay away.
Mix in a bit of gangland intrigue, a few friends with secrets to protect, the DCI’s re-awakening as a detective and the ever-changing northern landscape and Dead Hill assumed a life of its own.
I really enjoyed the evocative pictures of the hills. It gave the book a great atmosphere. So, tell me a little about your books. Your genre is crime fiction, obviously. Do you write a series or standalone?
I write a couple of series, the DCI John Blizzard and DCI Jack Harris series, both published by The Book Folks
And what about your writing in general. What inspires you most?
As a writer, I am always inspired by a sense of place. Whether it be a gloomy city or a stunning hillside, a glass-strewn council estate or a majestic waterfall, something about my surroundings repeatedly triggers ideas.
I always contend that, despite the many elements of fiction, it comes down to a triangle, three things that come together to make the story work right from the off – plot, people and place. Get them right and pace, economy of words, themes, emotions, the lot, fall into line.
Different writers would put a different thing at the top of the triangle, identifying it as most important. I know writers who would say it all starts with the story, a strong idea which drives the narrative and everything else follows. They get the idea then search round for somewhere to set it.
Others would put characters at the top. I have worked with many writers who contend that their stories begin with a person, a character from whom everything flows, whose experiences and views shape the narrative.
Me? I start with the place, always the place.
Tell us a little about your writing journey so far.
I have wanted to be a writer ever since I was a small child. It was my big dream. Little did I know that it would take forty years to come to fruition and have my first novel published! As for my first published piece, it was a piece of journalism written as a fourteen year old and appeared in my local evening newspaper and told the story of spooky goings on at a local railway museum.
And your future plans?
To keep writing as long as I have stories to tell!
Great answer! I can relate to that. So, how about three things that we might not know about you?
- I am the Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) Libraries Champion in Scotland. I am one of three CWA Champions appointed in 2018, the others being Cilla Masters based in England, and Jan Newton in Wales. Key elements of the role include linking libraries who want crime writers as speakers or to feature in events with authors in their area and encouraging libraries and their users to become part of the Crime Readers’ Association (https://thecra.co.uk/) Another key part of the role is to speak up (in a non-political way) in support of libraries threatened with cutbacks and closure, something I do on a regular basis.
- I run creative writing courses from my home between Castle Douglas and Kirkudbright in Dumfries and Galloway. In 2020, I will run courses based around sense of place and the mechanics of storytelling, from the 19th Century house set in rolling countryside on the weekends of July 4/5 and August 22/23, 2020. The workshop will be suitable for writers of all prose genres and will be ideal for either individuals, including those planning to holiday in the area, or writing groups. The cost is £95 per person, including catering, and you can find out more by emailing Inscribe Media Limited, of which I am a director, on email@example.com The course is non-residential but advice can be offered on local B and Bs/hotels.
- I was a newspaper crime reporter for many years and am a veteran of many major crime and murder investigations
Social media links
The all important buy link.
You can purchase my books on Amazon in Kindle paperback and audiobook formats. The latest one is Flicker in the Night at
John Dean is a journalist who worked on regional newspapers for 17 years before going freelance in 1997. He has written for regional and national newspapers and for many magazines on subjects as diverse as crime, wildlife and business. He also runs creative writing courses. John lives in South West Scotland.