Interview: Trevor Wood | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Playwright and former journalist turned crime writer Trevor Wood has been named winner of the Crime Writers’ Association’s John Creasey New Blood Dagger – one of the biggest prizes in the crime-writing world.  His book, The Man on the Street (released in March this year) is a crime thriller set in Newcastle and tells the story of a homeless veteran grappling with PTSD, who witnesses a murder but no-one believes him. 

And if that isn’t enough good news for you, prior to publication The Man on the Street was optioned for TV by World Productions, the makers of Line of Duty and Bodyguard.

We catch up with Trevor to find out more…

Who did you grow up reading and how did you get into writing?
I’ve long considered Enid Blyton to be the gateway drug to an addiction to crime fiction. I devoured everything she wrote when I was a kid, from the Secret Seven to the Famous Five and, my favourites, the ‘Adventure’ series, which was like the Famous Five but with a parrot instead of a dog.  After that I graduated to Agatha Christie. I was a teenager stuck on a very dull barge holiday on the Norfolk Broads, too young to go to the pubs and it rained all the time. Fortunately the barge had a small bookcase full of Christie’s books and I devoured them that week and was hooked for life.

Where did you work as a journalist? How did you make the switch from journalism to writing crime fiction?
I wanted to be a journalist when I was at school but I didn’t get the qualifications so I joined the Royal Navy instead, by pure coincidence as a Writer – it’s like the clerical branch of the service. When I left, some 16 years later, I’d gathered the qualifications together, and the life experience so tried again and got a place on the NCTJ course in Darlington. My first job was on the Star Series, a group of free newspapers based in Washington. From there I went to the Shields Gazette and then on to the sports desk on the Evening Chronicle where I worked with the legendary John Gibson.  

Throughout that period one of my friends from the journalism course, Ed Waugh, had been nagging me to try writing something creative with him and eventually I cracked. Our second play, Dirty Dusting, was a huge hit and we ended up writing around a dozen plays together that toured all over the world. 

About five years ago Ed had some ideas that he wanted to develop – plays about local North East heroes like the rower Harry Clasper and the old music hall star Joe Wilson that I wasn’t convinced would work so we decided to go solo for a bit to see how that worked. Annoyingly his plays have been very successful!  I decided to change tack completely and try and write a crime novel, the kind of thing I loved reading. I managed to get a place on the very first Crime Writing Ma at the University of East Anglia and I developed my novel, The Man on the Street on that course.

What is it about crime fiction that appeals to people?
I think there are two things, mainly. The first is the puzzle-solving aspect. I think most people have an ‘inner detective.’ They like to think they can work out what’s going on in the world and reading a crime novel is the perfect way to prove that they’re right. And it’s a win-win situation. If they do guess what’s going on they’re happy and if they don’t then they mostly think it’s a very clever twist so like the book anyway.  The second thing is that it’s a safe place to vicariously experience the horrors that hopefully will never visit them in their lives. It’s a form of escapism, you can live in a dark world for however long it takes you to read the book and survive unharmed.

Can you give us a brief synopsis of the book? What inspired it’s creation?
The Man on the Street is about Jimmy, a homeless veteran suffering from PTSD who thinks he sees a murder but no one believes him. When he sees an appeal from a young woman looking for her missing father he thinks the man is the same one he saw being attacked and thrown into the River Tyne. He contacts the woman and together they try to work out what’s happened to her father.  When I first started thinking about writing a book set in the city’s homeless community I discovered a statistic that around 10% of the homeless are ex-servicemen and that fascinated me. I thought it would be interesting to explore how someone who was once so disciplined and organised could end up in that position. I knew about the ex-serviceman side of things so I started volunteering at the People’s Kitchen in Newcastle to find out more about that community. I still work there every Tuesday afternoon helping prepare around 150 meals for anyone who needs feeding.

How did you get nominated for the Crime Writers’ Association’s John Creasey New Blood Dagger and how did it feel winning it? 
The award is decided by a panel of judges, including other writers, newspaper critics and editors who read a huge number of debut crime novels. They announced a longlist several months ago which I was thrilled to be on and things got really exciting in August when that was reduced to a five-book shortlist. The ceremony was a live Zoom event and it was as close to the Oscars as I’m ever going to get. When the compere opened the envelope and announced my name I was stunned, especially as they immediately switched my camera on and I was on screen having to make a thank-you speech to the 500-strong audience. To be honest, I’m still buzzing and probably will be for ages – there are so many good debut crime books out there that to have yours selected as the best of them is awesome. 

World Productions, the makers of Line of Duty and Bodyguard, have optioned The Man On The Street for TV. How did that come about and when will we see it in our living rooms?
The Head of Drama at World Productions, Jake Lushington, was given a very early copy of the book, before it had even been published and loved it. You can imagine how I felt when my agent contacted me and said that World Productions wanted to talk to us about optioning the book. I’m a huge fan of Line of Duty so there couldn’t be a better company to be involved with. However, it’s a long game and many books get optioned without ever making the screen so I don’t want to jinx anything by making predictions. And, of course, the current situation has made filming anything very difficult so things are taking even longer to get off the ground than normal. Of course, that gives me even more time to dream of seeing it out there one day with a cast of my favourite Geordie actors.

Do you have anything else in the pipeline?
The Man on the Street was originally meant to be a standalone novel but my publishers convinced me that it had series potential so it is now going to be a three-book series. The sequel, One Way Street, is out in ebook and audiobook on October 29th and then in hardback in March 2021. I’m currently working on a third book, provisionally entitled Dead End Street. You’ll notice a certain theme!

…And finally, what advice would you give any budding writers out there?
First of all, don’t just think about it, sit down and write. Make whatever you’ve written is as good as you can make it, by editing it, and then editing it again and again. Then show it to someone – preferably not your mum or your partner as they’ll be too kind. Find a local writers group and let them see it. My work is improved immeasurably by the input of other writers – lots of them – and at some point, if you want to be published traditionally, you’re going to have to show your work to lots of other people so it’s good to get used to that kind of feedback. 

 

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