I have always read crime stories, starting with wildly inappropriate true crime books about John George Haigh, the Acid Bath murderer, and John Christie, the serial killer from 10 Rillington Place, when I was a child, graduating to In Cold Blood by Truman Capote as a teenager. This grew into an adult habit of devouring crime fiction, and binge-watching TV crime dramas.
As a student, my favourite reading was an Irish Times column called ‘In the Eyes of the Law’, by Nell McCafferty, in which she portrayed the daily dramas in the Bridewell Courts, Dublin, where a defendant could be jailed for stealing a pint of milk. I worked at a legal publishers, in an advice centre and as a solicitor’s clerk, all skirting round crime. I was always aware of the law’s class bias, and interested in what pushed people to the limit, often lashing out at those closest.
Yet I published a novel, poetry collections and short stories – none crime-related.
A relative working in a bail hostel told me stories about residents, and I stored this up. When I saw the Northern Crime Novel competition, the bail hostel setting popped back up. I had the image of a male resident, charming but dangerous. He was guilty, but of what? And I could hear a worn-out female worker, who had started off sympathetic to the residents but who had gradually shed her illusions. I began Hard Wired, deciding to set the novel in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1996, a few months before the General Election, as I had Newcastle relatives and visited often.
Michael is the charming but dangerous resident, Charlie the worn-out hostel worker. When Darren, the son of an annoying former friend, Di, is murdered, Charlie is drawn to help, and becomes tugged in so many directions she is oblivious to her own daughter’s concerns. And once Charlie, who has drifted through jobs for years, starts investigating, she realises she is good at detecting, and can’t be stopped until she finds out the truth.