Author Neil Lancaster tells us about his introduction to crime writing as we celebrate the release of his latest gripping police procedural, The Blood Tide.
Can you tell us more about your time with the Met?
I left the Metropolitan Police in the summer of 2015 after twenty-five years at the coalface of policing. Most of my career was as a Detective where I served across London, the UK and on occasions, overseas, leading and conducting investigations into some of the most serious criminals across the UK and beyond. I acted as a surveillance and covert policing specialist, using all types of techniques to arrest and prosecute drug dealers, human traffickers, fraudsters, and murderers. During my career, I successfully prosecuted several wealthy and corrupt members of the legal profession who were involved in organised immigration crime. These prosecutions led to jail sentences, multi-million-pound asset confiscations and disbarments.
Why did you decide to move to Scotland?
Once I’d retired, the decision was made that we wanted to leave the south of England and seek the good life. As a family we had been visiting the Highlands of Scotland for a number of years and had fallen in love with the place. I was really lucky as I was due to receive a police pension which would mean there was no rush to find gainful employment. I just wanted to see what happened and how life turned out. So we moved 550 miles north to a wonderful house in rural Scotland with wonderful views, clean air, mountains and beaches all within a few minutes from my front door. Well, if that doesn’t inspire creativity, what does?
What books did you read as a child?
I had been a voracious reader all my life ever since my Mum forced me to read My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell. I moaned about it at the time but after a couple of chapters I was transfixed. Durrell took me from my suburban world in Kent straight to pre-war Corfu. I was blown away with how his use of the written word could evoke genuine emotions and transport me to another time and place. From then on, I was hooked.
Durrell led to James Herriot which then led to Desmond Bagley and Dick Francis. I just couldn’t get enough. I would read these adventures by torchlight under the covers long after my parents had told me to get to sleep. I was hooked, a bookworm was born.
How did you go from Met detective to bestselling author?
Back to Scotland in 2015. Finding myself not terribly busy I decided to eschew the advice of the late, great, Christopher Hitchens who famously said, ‘Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.’ So I started writing. I had no clear idea about what, or how or any particular direction of travel. I just started typing words on a screen with a vague idea about an undercover officer who finds himself in a sticky situation caused by people traffickers and corrupt colleagues. 100,000 words, many months, many coffees and much window staring I had a book. Well, I had a first draft, anyway, so what next? Publication.
Going Dark was published by the terrific dudes at Burning Chair Publishing, and (brag alert) it went really well, and sold way beyond expectations. It really stormed the Amazon charts in e-book and audio and ended up hitting number 1 in the Audible chart at one point, and number 8 in the eBook charts So, Going Rogue, and Going Back followed Going Dark, and both did really well, and seemed to be loved by readers. They all have a big hatful of reviews, and all are very close to 5 star averages, so of course I’ve been Mr Delighted of Delightedsville (not a real place, but I wish it was.)
But…I wasn’t content. I knew I had other stories to tell… I just needed inspiration. Now I’ve blogged about this before, but on boxing day 2020, inspiration arrived, as it often does, out of the blue. A lovely old gent called John Fisher told me a story about a search for an ancestor, that led him to a strange, and spooky graveyard in the wilds of Scotland. After much hunting he found a remote graveyard in the wilds of Caithness where he was shocked to find a grave that simply bore the message “This Grave Never to be Opened.” Well, wow… what a way to start a book, I thought. So, in the middle of lock-down, and with nothing much on, I decided to write a book, and as many of you know, this resulted in Dead Man’s Grave, the first edition of the DS Max Craigie series of novels.
I decided to dip my toe in the choppy waters of finding a new publisher, and was lucky enough to be signed on a three book deal with HQ Stories, an imprint of HarperCollins. Well, what can I say?
So much has happened since then. Dead Man’s Grave was published in July 2021, and I was absolutely over the moon as to how it has been received. It was long-listed for Scottish Book of the year, in the McIlvanney Prize at Bloody Scotland, it has sold well beyond expectations, and was recently Waterstones Scottish Book of the Month, which was just brilliant.
The book has amassed close to 2000 reviews, with a close to 5 star average… just amazing. It’s been reviewed in the Daily Express, Daily Mail, Sunday Post, The Sun, Scottish Sun, and many, many more. I still can’t believe it!
Of course, whilst this has all been happening, I was busily writing book 2, which was released last week, The Blood Tide. This is another twisty, fast-paced tale, featuring DS Craigie, DC Calder, the foul-mouthed DI Fraser and a couple of new characters, who I’m really happy with…. (of course, Nutmeg’s there, as well)
It’s a story of corruption, violence and high-level drug smuggling set on the west coast of Scotland. I love this book so much and I’m so delighted you’re all getting the opportunity to read it now.
And finally… Hot off the press… Craigie will be back… In September, the next chapter in the chronicles of Max Craigie will be released.
Look out for The Night Watch.
Neil Lancaster’s latest novel The Blood Tide is out now – get your copy here!