You know that moment when you read a book and think “This one’s a winner”? It’s always exciting but even more so when the book you’re reading is a debut novel. It sends a tingle up your spine, doesn’t it?
Well, I had one such spine tingling moment recently when I picked up Trevor Wood’s “The Man on the Street” – yet another great recommendation from my favourite Facebook group, UK Crime Book Club.
This is a well written, fast paced book with some wonderfully drawn characters and a most unusual “detective”, Jimmy Mullen, an ex-serviceman who suffers from PTSD and has ended up living on the streets.
So, as always, I asked Trevor where he got the idea for the books (and yes, I’m happy to say it’s a series of three) and whether he would agree to be interviewed for my blog. And he said yes.
Welcome, Trevor and thank you for the hours of reading pleasure you have given me and, I’m sure, many, many others. I’ve read the first two books in the series and am now eagerly awaiting number three which I understand is due out early next year.
So, the question all writers are said to dread! Where did the idea for “The Man In The Street” come from?
The idea for The Man on the Street came out of sheer necessity. I was on the inaugural Crime Writing MA at the University of East Anglia. I signed up for the course for two reasons. The first was that although I had previously been a relatively successful playwright I felt that the two writing disciplines were almost entirely different and needed help to make the switch. The second was that the deliverable at the end of the course wasn’t a theoretical essay or thesis it was a 90,000 word crime novel.
It was only when I got to the first residential that I realized everyone had already developed an idea for their book except me. So the moment I got home I sat down with my wife and brainstormed ideas. One of the many things I love about modern-day crime fiction is the way you can explore almost any social issue within the guise of a crime novel and I was keen to write something outside the standard police procedural format. As soon my wife said ‘what if a homeless man sees a murder’ I knew that was an idea worth exploring, the only problem was that I wasn’t sure that I was the right writer to explore it.
Fortunately, as soon as I started to do some research one of the first things I came across was a statistic that suggested that around ten per cent of the homeless are ex-servicemen. That gave me a way in – before I started writing I was in the Royal Navy for 16 years. I was fascinated to explore how someone who had once, at the very least, been organized, disciplined and capable of working under intense pressure, could end up living on the streets. The answer in many cases was PTSD. I was in the RN during the Falkland War and though I was never sent down to the South Atlantic I had many friends who were and knew how deeply it had affected them. My protagonist, Jimmy Mullen, was starting to take shape.
My next breakthrough was to read about a new book in the Big Issue. The Veteran’s Survival Guide was written by an ex-soldier called Jimmy Johnson, who had served two tours in Belfast and ended up with PTSD. His condition was so bad that he killed a man whilst suffering an extreme flashback and is now in prison for life. The book is his way of trying to prevent anyone else going through a similar experience, primarily urging ex-servicemen to seek the help they need.
The last piece of the jigsaw that I needed was to learn more about homelessness so I started volunteering at the People’s Kitchen in my home city, Newcastle. It’s a charity that feeds around 200 people every day, amongst other services, entirely run and manned by volunteers. Working there, as a cook, every Tuesday afternoon has been eye-opening and helped me understand the difficulties and experiences that Jimmy experiences in The Man on the Street.
That is fascinating and your painstaking research certainly paid off as the world you have created is very believable as are the characters. So, how would you desc ride your genre?
I looked back to when I was pitching the book to agents and back then I was calling the book a ‘character-driven crime thriller which combines social realism with great pace.’ That’s obviously a bit of a mouthful so let’s go with gritty crime thrillers.
Interestingly The Man on the Street was originally written as a standalone for the obvious reason that it has a homeless protagonist, rather than the standard cop or detective. However, every publisher who showed an interest insisted it should be a series as readers would want to read more about the main characters. I didn’t want to move away from reality too much, with a homeless man tripping over bodies as if he lived in Midsomer, so we eventually compromised on a trilogy. The second in the series, One Way Street is already out in e-book and audio with the hardback arriving on June 10. The third in the series, Dead End Street, will be published in early 2022.
Well, you have certainly succeeded in writing something that combines social realism with great pace. What inspires you most?
I had never been to Newcastle before I met and married a Geordie in my early thirties but fell in love with the place immediately and really wanted to capture the passion and energy of the place in the books so that’s one big inspiration.
I also like crime writers who managed to say something about the state of the nation in their books, Eva Dolan, Denise Mina and Doug Johnstone spring to mind so that’s another.
You’re in great company! Tell us a little about your writing journey.
When I left the Royal Navy I retrained as a journalist and met Ed Waugh on my journalism course. We became firm friends almost instantly – we car-shared to the course and both were keen music fans and had the same taste in comedy shows.
A few years later we decided that we should try and write something together. Amazingly our first play, Good to Firm was on stage within six months of starting out. Our second play Dirty Dusting was a massive success, touring all over the world and is still touring now (when the theatres are open anyway). We went on to write around a dozen plays together, all of which had productions in the North East before moving to other parts of the country. You can check out our plays at www.edwaughandtrevorwood.co.uk
And future plans?
The third book in the Jimmy Mullen series is just being edited at the moment. I have a deal for one further book with my publishers and I’m currently working on a standalone thriller set in the wilds of Northumberland, which has given me a great excuse to go on some fantastic walks around the country recently!
And finally, how about telling us three things about you that we might not know?
1. At my advanced age of 61 I played for the triumphant England Crime Writers football team against our Scottish counterparts at Bloody Scotland the last time it was on in 2019. We won 3-0.
2 I’m the all-time leading run scorer for Mallards CC – the self-acclaimed friendliest cricket club in the North East. That’s not as impressive as it sounds – I’ve played a lot more games than anyone else and we’re not very good. Our website is a lot of fun though, especially the match reports and player profiles. You can see mine here: http://mallardscc.org.uk/player-profiles/trevor-wood
3 When I was 16 I appeared with my mum on the TV quiz show Three Little Words. Your partner was given a word and had to give you a one-word clue so you could guess what it was. The first word my mum was given was ‘illegitimate.’ She didn’t shy away from going for the obvious.
Brilliant! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.
Trevor Wood has lived in Newcastle for 25 years and considers himself an adopted Geordie, though he still can’t speak the language. He’s a successful novelist and playwright who has also worked as a journalist and spin-doctor for the City Council. Prior to that he served in the Royal Navy for 16 years. Trevor holds an MA in Creative Writing (Crime Fiction) from UEA.
His first novel The Man on the Street, which is set in his home city and features a homeless protagonist, was published in March 2020. Lee Child described it as ‘an instant classic.’ It won the Crime Writers’ Association’s John Creasey New Blood Dagger for best debut and has recently been longlisted for the Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year. It’s also shortlisted for the Crimefest Specsavers Debut Novel of the Year. The sequel, One Way Street, was released on e-book and audio in October and was published in hardback in June 2021.
Trevor is one of the founder members of the Northern Crime Syndicate and is a volunteer at the People’s Kitchen in Newcastle, a charity that provides hot meals for more than a hundred people every day.
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