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The Copper and the Dragon

New Crime Author's Road to Publication

I’m playing a substitute this week, as I’m attending the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. So, I’m delighted to welcome fellow crime author, Stephen Collier, to talk a little about his road to publication with his latest crime thriller, Crimson Dragon, set in Hong Kong, London, and Northampton. Take it away, Steve!

There comes a time when ‘the need of the one outweighs the needs of the many.’ Any Trekkies out there will know of that idiom. For me, that time came about ten years ago when I realised that despite having retired as a police officer after thirty years of service in 2005, I was still working in my own business. I went off to far-flung places such as Hong Kong and New Zealand, being away from home, living out of a suitcase and not doing what I should have been doing, having a relaxing retirement and generally living life to the full.

But it wasn’t, and I didn’t.

One of my greatest desires was always to write a novel. It always had been, but I never did anything about it until 2012. Several external forces came into play that year – too many to bore you with here, so the decision to write my debut novel began and Blind Murder was independently published in 2014.

The glimmer of an idea for my latest novel, Crimson Dragon, came as I studied for my MA in creative crime fiction writing at the University of East Anglia.

I had spent five years on a contract with Hong Kong Police. I felt my experiences in Hong Kong would make a good setting. The knowledge I gained of how the province worked post-handover was a window on how a police force with a fundamental evolution in English laws and procedures worked with or against the cultural history of a society much older than the United Kingdom and now under Chinese Communist rule.

It turned out that not much had changed. Senior Officers and constables serving before the handover were still British ex-pats, and the Force tended to look West for their information instead of East. I doubt whether it is the same now as they stopped recruiting ex-pats in 1996.

Fortunately, I made many friends instead of just work colleagues during my time there, with which I remain in touch. During the writing phase, if there were any questions I needed to ask, they were all happy to divulge information. For example, I needed to know where the public mortuary was on the Island, and Google can only offer so much information. It’s at Sai Wan if you’re interested, and it’s not a usual place to go when your hosts are giving you a tour!

I am also thankful that one of my Hong Kong friends is an amateur photographer – and an excellent one. (@kevC_photo, on Instagram). I asked him to go and find a good scene for the book and what he came up with was the one you see on the book cover, suitably ‘crimsoned’.

I got invited back in late 2018, so with the book in mind and still not finished, I explored it on my own and with my colleagues in our free time. I’ve never been a great lover of cities, I must say, but Hong Kong is one of those places that usually ends up on many peoples ‘bucket lists’ as it was on mine. But it is one of those places that gets under your skin. It’s noisy. It’s full of the capitalist culture on which it grew up. It’s friendly – in the right places. It’s hot – but not all the time. And the food is superb. Interestingly, I rarely go out and get a Chinese takeaway here at home. It’s just not the same.

When I started writing, I knew nothing of the creative writing industry other than having a good understanding of the English language and reading all sorts of books. In my naivety, the mere fact that one had a shiny new Master of Arts degree and that it would get me the agent and the publisher I needed to get Crimson Dragon onto the shelves with a trad publishing contact was short-sighted – how stupid was I!

We all get rejection letters (or, more accurately, a compliment slip) and emails. It is something that novelists must weather and grow a thick skin – wrong place – wrong time, and all that. So, in the end, I published through Matador.

The story brings Hong Kong together with my hometown of Northampton and Chinatown in London. At the time of writing the story, there were big news stories about cyber-crime and data leaking, so initially, that became the novel’s main thrust. Over time, though, that premise seemed to recede into a simple story thread.

The final product, however, belonged to abduction, murders and less about cyber-crime. And if I’m honest, I think the book is better for it.

Crimson Dragon introduces us to new characters in my fictional world. Hong Kong Detective Inspector of Police, Mandy Lee and UK Police Constable Ed Roberts. Ed is a traffic cop.

As a former traffic cop, I prefer to use that department to escape the general crime fiction trope of uniformed officers being somewhat inferior to the detective. In the real world, traffic officers make more arrests for crime than detectives – but that’s another story for another day, perhaps?

So, what was I to do, forget Crimson Dragon and forge on with another story?

Probably.

It resulted in Crimson Dragon lounging on my desktop for eighteen or so months while I dealt with the death of both my parents within six months of each other. I had no desire to write. I had no desire to do much at all. And there it stayed until I sent it off for a review one day, just because the opportunity came my way. I thought nothing of it until a few weeks later when I got it back with some very positive comments.

It’s funny how the muse works. I came up with a different story arc, integrated into the main body of the story and based on some experiences whilst a police firearms officer.

I set about re-editing, rewriting whole chapters; some got trashed, some got resurrected. I can honestly say it has been a work drenched in blood, sweat and tears.

But it’s out there, ready to be snatched up by Hollywood or become a million best seller. I can dream, can’t I?

Stephen Collier is a retired police officer and business owner. He has written three crime fiction novels and a non-fiction police manual. He has an MA in creative crime fiction writing, and Stephen’s books can be found on his website https://www.stephen-collier.com/real-books. Also available on the Troubador website, Amazon and all other outlets to order. He lives in the idyllic Northamptonshire countryside with his partner Sarah and four cats.

This Week’s Word of the Week is gargoyle, meaning a grotesque carved spout designed to divert water away from the side of a building. It comes from the Old French gargoule, meaning throat. So, if it’s on the side of a building just for decoration, it’s a grotesque rather than a true gargoyle.

Desmond the grotesque having
a stare-out competition with Dido the cat.
(Dido is at the bottom of the picture…)

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