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NWR Issue r36

Graham Miller Interview

Graham Miller is an independent author, who has just released the second book in his Angel and Haines series. He is based in south Wales and specialises in police procedural novels, and also runs several blogs about his life as a parent and creating ancient monuments in Minecraft.

Question 1: You have just published the second instalment in your Angel and Haines series. Tell us a little about your story and the world you have created.

The story started with a simple idea – why is it in police-type novels you never get corrupt officers? So I set up this dynamic between an officer nearing the end of his career who bends the rules for the greater good and a new officer who tries to do the right thing. I’ve set it in the fictional town of Bradwick in Wootenshire. It’s a faded Victorian seaside town. I lived in Herne Bay when I was at university and have always loved the feeling of off-season, slightly down-at-heel holiday resorts.

Question 2: In this book, Angel and Haines team up to catch ‘a killer who leaves no clues.’ How did you go about constructing this murder case? What makes it different from your other crime novels?

I realised that what keeps people coming back to crime fiction is the relationships between the protagonists. You need a careful balance between the cleverness of the crime and the personalities of the people solving it. I wanted the crime in the first book to provide a backdrop to the relationships and to set-up the ending. That hardest thing for me is to make a crime almost perfect so that there’s only one flaw that the detective can find at the end.

Question 3: This series is a police procedural. How did you become so knowledgeable about police and detective work? What research did you have to do?

I had doubts for years about writing a police procedural novel because I’ve never been a police officer and I thought anything I could write would be second class compared to the books written by ex-officers. But then I realised that the relationships are as important as the detail (see question 2). People don’t care about pinpoint accuracy – there are technical flaws in Line of Duty for example and that has been amazingly successful. What they care about is emotional honesty – can you believe in the characters and their relationships? Also, on a more prosaic level, I know serving and ex-police officers and they have been generous in answering my questions and discussing my suggestions.

Question 4: You describe one of the protagonists, Emma Angel, as a ‘strong female lead.’ Why did you decide to create this character? What sets her apart from other protagonists of yours?

She just kind of arrived in my head fully formed. I was thinking around the idea of someone who didn’t intend to be a police officer, but who is anyway even though it goes against their background and upbringing. Without giving away spoilers to the end of The Wrong Victims, Emma’s story is that as a teenager she had a row with her parents and left to do a sponsored degree in police work as the best way of upsetting them. Then she found that she was good at it and stayed! I actually have a writing friend who is a woman in her twenties and she check-reads every novel to make sure that I’ve got the tone right! I think what makes the story different is the tension between the two protagonists – the new recruit and the old hand.

Question 5: The novels have been set in the fictitious county of Wootenshire. In your website, you state: ‘Wootenshire is a fictional county, created as a setting for my stories. More than that it’s a place that has its own reality independent of the books that I write. It’s a place where many writers can come together and collaborate. I hope it won’t be seen as my place but as a co-operative place.’ What inspired you to invent the shared world of Wootenshire and how can other authors engage with this fictional realm?

I am going to show my age now, but this idea has been rattling around my head for over twenty years. There were these shows on TV like The Bill and London’s Burning. They both take place in fictional parts of London and I looked at it and wondered what would happen if they were in the same place with the same cast. The police and fire service often have jobs that overlap and involve each other. From there, I also thought, what if you incorporate a program like Casualty and also EastEnders, then you could have a complete universe. You’d see, for example, a car crash where the police investigate, the fire service rescue the victims, the casualty department would treat them and then you’d see their family lives in the soap opera.

Although I liked the idea, I couldn’t figure out how to make it work. But then a number of things fell into place. I started self-publishing, so I was in control of my own copyright. Different film franchises like Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Trek and Harry Potter set up their idea of what was canon and what wasn’t. I realised as well that soap operas run databases called concordances that keep all the details of the characters together in one place. Finally, technology and the internet caught up – Wikipedia took off and with it the idea of open-source software. Wikipedia is actually based on software called a wiki where a group of users can all edit one database. I spent a couple of years working out a licencing agreement so that many authors could work in the same fictional universe. Unlike open-source work, my agreement allows all the authors to profit from their own work as well to build the world collaboratively.

What makes this so exciting is that readers and viewers want to find the connections themselves. There are whole websites dedicated to trying to link together all the Pixar films even though they span fantasy, talking cars and toys and modern-day stories. So, there is a deep need for this kind of project. Wootenshire is the first implementation but the framework could be used for anything like fantasy or science fiction.

In the first place, authors can email me at info@wootenshire.co.uk and I’ll set them up to be able to edit the wiki and see if they get any inspiration from it. I’d love for authors from other genres, like romance, contemporary or historical to get involved in the project All the authors retain the traditional copyright in their own work.
For those who wish to know more about the world of Wootenshire, head to the official website at www.wootenshire.co.uk

Question 6: Other series of yours, such as the Jonah Greene books, have been set in Wales. As a member of the Crime Cymru group and a Welsh citizen yourself, how do you draw inspiration from the Welsh landscape? Do you believe that it is important to give Wales a place within crime fiction?

When I first moved to Wales, I was a bit nervous about writing fiction set here. I’m from England originally and I think Wales has such a great creative legacy that it was a bit daunting at first to dive in and get involved. But the more I’ve got to know the place, the more confident I’ve been to set stories here.

Yes, I think Wales is a great setting for crime fiction. It has everything from cities, to suburbs and towns, to great sweeps of countryside and coastline. I thought after Hinterland there’d be a big upswing in projects based in Wales, but it hasn’t taken off yet. It’s a shame as Wales has at least as much to offer as places like Scandinavia or Scotland.

You can find a copy of Graham’s new novel here. Graham’s blog.


Issy Rixon is one of this season's Digital Cultural Correspondents in a new partnership with Aberystwyth University's Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

       


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