Changing Lanes - writing in a different genre

In conversation with serial spy author, Derek Thompson, whose debut crime mystery, Long Shadows, comes out 1st June 2020. 

You’ve previously written five Thomas Bladen spy novels, so why write a different book now. Did you simply run out of ideas?

No, but that’s pretty funny. I have ideas for two more Bladen books but my publisher, Joffe Books, suggested my writing style would suit the crime / murder mystery genre and invited me to write and submit something. Crime is their mainstay and my spy novels have always been a bit of an outlier. Plus, I wanted to see if I could do it.

Was your creative process different for Long Shadows?

Definitely, and in ways I hadn’t anticipated. It’s quite a wrench after five books to set aside characters you have written about and thought about for years. Also, for Long Shadows, the plotting is much tighter and less organic this time, and of course there was a whole new cast of characters to meet. As we’re only one book in, that’s still ongoing.

So you see Long Shadows developing as a series?

Hopefully, yes, I find DS Craig Wild and PC Marnie Olsen, and their working relationship, intriguing. I want to know more about them so I hope readers will too. 

What was the inspiration behind LS?

Aside from the challenge? A friend of mine told me a story, which she insisted was true, about a mysterious death in the countryside. That was the seed for the opening scene and then I did what I usually do, asked myself Kipling’s six questions and wrote wherever they took me.

Describe your protagonist and his circumstances.

Craig Wild was a Metropolitan Police sergeant who over-reached himself in an operation and ended up first in hospital and then on extended leave. His transfer is very much his last chance saloon. He’s approaching middle-age, starting to lose his hair, and his career has plateaued. Meanwhile, his ex-wife is a high-flyer at New Scotland Yard. They only speak through solicitors. He has a passion for darts and for getting the job done. Not so good with people though.

What’s your connection to Wiltshire, where the book is set?

It’s tenuous, apart from fond memories of visiting Stonehenge, Avebury and Warminster. I did have a couple of old friends who lived in Wiltshire, but I’ve long since lost touch with them. I knew the story had to be set in the West Country – Dorset already had Broadchurch, my mate and fellow author Stewart Giles has bagged Cornwall, and Ann Cleeves has claimed Devon!I had a sense of the terrain I was after for Long Shadows and after some research Wiltshire fitted the bill (a little in-joke there, if you can be bothered).

How did you research the police procedural side?

I read up on PACE (I’m saying that now in case it’s not apparent to expert readers!) and I checked out a police online forum for serving and retired officers. Most helpful of all was a visit to a police station. (You have to formally request it – you can’t just turn up!) They were a very generous host and I spent about an hour receiving a grand tour behind the scenes and asking questions – particularly from an IT perspective, as that’s key to the book.

Is it true you were a victim of gun crime?

Yes and no. Yes, I was caught up in an armed robbery but it wasn’t just me; there were several of us, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Three people stormed the place bearing shotguns and the fourth blagger stuck a pistol in my back. It happened a long time ago and the only harm I came to was psychological.   

How did you decide on your characters?

From the very beginning of the project I thought about the importance of the outsider – someone who sees things differently, perhaps more clearly in some respects, yet who may still be deceived. I like the motif of an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances so I wanted a protagonist whose main feature was his ordinariness. It was only in the writing Craig Wild that I learned more about his flaws and that helped steer some of the story. Hint: he’s not a ‘forgive and forget’ sort of bloke. Marnie Olsen is younger, ambitious and more of an introvert. She is educated and self-sufficient, and looking for a chance to shine. Their boss, DI Marsh, is partly inspired by a manager I worked under in Glasgow – someone insightful who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, although she doesn’t always get it right.

What’s next for DS Wild and PC Olsen?

I’ve started work on a follow-up novel that will hopefully share more of the spotlight with Marnie. It begins with a body in a car at a public event, where several people had reason to want him dead.

Would you consider a crossover with Thomas Bladen and Craig Wild as they’ve both spent time in London?

London is a big place! The last Thomas Bladen novel, Flashpoint, was set in 2005, while Long Shadows is set more recently. Setting aside the different genres and time frames, I’d consider a walk-on part for Craig in a Bladen novel.

Where can we buy Long Shadows?

UK -

US -

Or the Amazon page for the country where you reside.

My other books can be found here:

One last thing, you’ve previously said that your Thomas Bladen novels are pulp spy novels – what did you mean by that, and do you view Long Shadows the same way? 

Ah, that old chestnut. My take on my pulp novels (I can’t speak for any other author’s books) is that they are written and read for pleasure. A reviewer suggested one of my books made a good holiday read and that pleased me. I’ve said elsewhere that my love for film noir influenced the Bladens – especially some of the dialogue – and while I have included the odd cryptic reference the books aren’t a test! Long Shadows is a self-contained story but unlike the Thomas Bladen novels there is no overarching subplot. That aside, yes, I see Long Shadows as a pulp read. 

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