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Archive for the tag “barrister”

Interview with Simon Michael

It’s time now for another interview, this time with Simon Michael.  ‘The Lighterman’, the third book in the Charles Holborne series is being published in June of this year.

 

As you know I loved ‘The Brief’. For the benefit of my readers can you tell me a bit about ‘The Brief’ and the series as a whole?

I confess that as I have got further into the series (the third book is about to be published and the fourth is underway) I have understood both Charles Holborne, the conflicted antihero barrister, and what the books are about much better. The seeds were there, but apparently buried in my subconscious. I have realised that the series of thrillers is about a man who tries to stay true to his integrity and honour despite being surrounded by corruption. So, the Kray twins, the Richardson brothers and the Messina brothers are engaged in a war in which they fire-bomb, razor and intimidate for control of their criminal territories; the Metropolitan Police are institutionally corrupt, taking bribes, assisting the criminals, and beating confessions from innocent people; and the judiciary are institutionally biased. Charles Holborne is torn between, on the one hand, his East End, ex-boxer and ex-criminal roots, where he still has friends and family and, on the other, his love for the law, the institutions of justice and his own personal code of honour. In The Brief Charles is framed for the murder of his wife and has to decide: “Will I rely on the dysfunctional machinery of justice to prove my innocence, or will I break the law to avoid the hangman?” I often have in my mind’s eye when writing Michael Corleone from The Godfather: a war hero and an honest man, a man whose Mafia family desperately want to keep “clean”, being dragged back into crime for the love of his father.

 

Where did you get your ideas from for this series?

Several threads combined to produce the series. Firstly I am a Londoner, and only the first generation in 500 years not to live in the East End. Secondly, boxing features in my family history. From the 1920s onwards several of my forebears used the same East End gym as the Kray twins and one became a successful professional boxer. Thirdly, when I became a barrister in 1978, although things had begun to improve, there was still an enormous amount of corruption in the English criminal justice system. There was also huge anti-Semitism and class prejudice. I was the first barrister to join my Chambers who had not been to a public school, and I can guarantee I was the only one who worked as a council labourer every vacation to raise money to continue my education! It was quite a shock to find that the venerable institution of the Bar was so riven by prejudice. So I joined these threads together, and emphasised them by simply moving the events back in time to the 1960s. But the legal cases on which the plots are based, and the court documents included within the text of the books, are based on cases I actually worked on as a barrister.

 

How long did it take you to write ‘The Brief’ and ‘An Honest Man’?

This may surprise you, but the first draft of The Brief took less than three weeks. I had been thinking about the story for so long that it just burst out of me and I just had to get out of the way. An Honest Man took a little longer, but only a few months. Once I have the idea, I write very quickly. On a “bad day” I might write only 1500 words but on an averagely good day I will write 5000 words.

 

Being a barrister would have helped you a lot with these books obviously. Did you have to do any specific research and if so what did it entail?

I had to buy some old legal textbooks to check the legal procedure in the 1960s, but after 37 years at the Bar I had a pretty strong grounding and just had to make sure I wasn’t accidentally including 1970s material in a 1960s book. I have been pulled up by a couple of ex-coppers who pointed out that there were no Crown Courts until 1972 – and they are absolutely right! I am always very grateful to people who point out mistakes. One of the policemen has agreed to act as a beta reader in future, which is extremely kind of him. I’m still learning, and that’s the only way to improve. So far as the 1960s are concerned, I do a lot of research on the Internet but even then mistakes do creep in. Somebody pointed out that the Mary Quant hairstyle I refer to did not exist for another two years, and one fan said that the engine of the Rover P5, used in The Brief as the getaway car, was in fact a 3 L not a 3.5 L at that time!

 

Can you relate to any of your characters?

As you can see from my earlier answers, although these books are not autobiographical, Charles Holborne is based on me or, more accurately, on who I would have been had I been born a generation earlier. I think it is very difficult to be true to your ideals when you are surrounded, by friends and family – by your entire culture – at the bottom of the socio-economic pile and prepared to do anything to climb out.

 

Have you got any other writing projects on the go?

Believe it or not I wasn’t going to write this series at all and I didn’t consider myself a crime writer. I had an idea for a much “bigger” book but I thought The Brief and perhaps a sequel would just get me started as an author. Dip my toe in the water, so to speak. I didn’t realise there was an entire series here, and I really hadn’t expected the degree of success I’ve enjoyed. So now I seem to be pigeonholed as a crime writer and my agent says that if I do get round to writing the “big” book I will need to use a pseudonym.

 

Will you be doing any book signings when ‘The Lighterman’ is published?

Yes, as many as I can. It’s very difficult to achieve prominence in such a crowded market, and I am not good at social media. I like face-to-face interactions with people so book signings and talks are perfect.

 

I know there’s going to be a blog tour. What do you hope is achieved from it?

I hope people will start to notice the series. It’s an enormously crowded market, and there are hundreds of authors writing police procedurals and psychological thrillers. What I am writing is different, but so far as the publishers are concerned they fall within the same genre. To some extent that’s true – they are crime thrillers with a legal twist – but they are more than that. I am trying to write about real people with real homes, real lives, and I’m following one man’s personal journey. I don’t know anyone else who is writing 1960s thrillers involving an East End Jewish ex-boxer ex-criminal barrister on a moral journey.

 

How has social media helped you?

I’m not the right person to ask about this. I seem to have a relatively small band of devoted fans, many of whom have been reached initially by social media, but like I said I’m not good at it. I hate the self-promotion involved. It wasn’t the way I was brought up, and to shout about one’s achievements was frowned upon. Your achievements should speak for you. It’s a very English attitude, but in a market dominated by so-called “Amazon Bestsellers!!” if you don’t shout about yourself you won’t get noticed at all.

 

Can you tell me a bit about your career as a barrister please?

I was “called to the Bar” by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple in 1978 and started doing what they call mixed common law cases. That is crime, matrimonial, landlord and tenant, contract, personal injury – everything. That’s not what happens nowadays where young entrants tend to specialise very early, which I think is a mistake. I was best at the crime because I identified with the underdog and loved working with juries. I suspect I should have been an actor like my children. Gradually my practice focused on crime and personal injury. I had to make a decision whether to continue doing the crime in the face of severe legal aid cuts when I had a young family and decided to move gradually into clinical negligence work. I developed a practice where I represented people who had suffered catastrophic injuries as a result of medical negligence and who needed very significant support and care. So, I prosecuted and defended in the Crown Courts, including the Old Bailey, for about 15 years before gradually giving it up for financial reasons. I still miss the buzz of the jury work, the camaraderie of the Bar Messes, prison visits and walking into the Old Bailey.

 

What made you decide to write?

I love telling stories. I always have, since I was a child. My ex-wife says that I “live inside my own head”, and there is some truth in that. When the writing is going well the world I’ve created in my head seems more real than the “real world”.

 

Who are your favourite authors?

In the field that I’m now working, Raymond Chandler, followed by Dashiell Hammett and John Mortimer. All three deal with crime and a hero who does his best to remain true to his principles, i.e. Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade and Horace Rumpole.

Otherwise, Charles Dickens and Shakespeare. Both see into the hearts and souls of their characters and recognise that all of us are a mixture of good and bad.

 

Links

‘The Brief’ is available to buy from:-

Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/the-brief/

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Brief-gripping-crime-drama-swinging-Charles-Holborne/191069200X/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1489444677&sr=1-1&keywords=the+brief+by+simon+michael

‘An Honest Man’ is available to buy from:-

Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/an-honest-man/

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Honest-Man-Book-Charles-Holborne/dp/1911129392/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

‘The Lighterman’ can be pre-ordered from:-

Urbane Publications – http://urbanepublications.com/books/the-lighterman/

Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lighterman-Book-Charles-Holborne/dp/191158300X/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

Website – www.simonmichael.uk

Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/simonmichael.uk/

Twitter – https://twitter.com/simonmichaeluk

 

Guest Post by Simon Michael

Simon Michael

Simon Michael’s new book, ‘An Honest Man’ is out on the 7th July 2016.  I recently read and reviewed ‘The Brief’ which I absolutely loved.  To coincide with his new book being published, Simon has written a guest post for my blog.

 

TRIAL BY JURY

Photo A (wig)

The life of a criminal barrister is one of high stress, sweat-inducing responsibility, poor pay, unbeatable camaraderie and extremely funny stories.  I have often thought that the “life-and-death” issues in which barristers deal – like police officers, surgeons and firemen – make humour an essential coping tool.

I was a pupil barrister in the Chambers of Robert Flach QC, in the Middle Temple, of whom hilarious stories are legion – but this guest blog is not about him.  It is about two very green barristers, your writer and a man who was to become a close friend, whom I shall call Derek.  We were both about 23 years of age and pupils to an up-and-coming criminal barrister, hereinafter referred to as “Mr Smith”, who was at that time being led by an eminent QC in a high-profile criminal trial at the Old Bailey.

Mr Smith had left us to do some paperwork while he was in court that day and we were, as always, floundering around a mountainous pile of papers involving arcane and unfamiliar concepts, nattering away and finding every available excuse not to deepen our knowledge of the Law.

Then the telephone rang.  It was our senior clerk.  Mr Smith had left behind some important documents, and one of us needed to run the papers down to Court 2 at the Old Bailey immediately.  Enormous excitement – this would be the first time that we had actually been in the legendary Central Criminal Court.  Did we need to be robed?  Mr Smith didn’t say, replied the clerk, but better safe than sorry.

So we changed our Windsor collars for brand-new wing collars, pushing the brass and mother-of-pearl collar studs through the buttonholes closed with dried starch, tied our bands (those white things worn also by vicars) pulled on our gowns, and grabbed our wigs.  Then we looked for the papers on Mr Smith’s desk and found what amounted only to two short Statements, no more than ten pages.  So, only one of us was needed to make the delivery.

‘Toss for it,’ I offered.

‘Fair enough,’ agreed Derek.  I won.

‘Best-of-three?’ suggested Derek.  Like an idiot, I agreed.  He won the next two.

‘Best-of-five?’ I suggested.

‘No time,’ he said, looking at his watch, and off he scuttled, wig in one hand, statements in the other and black gown billowing behind him.  I followed; having changed into my fancy dress, there was no way I was going to miss the adventure.

It took us little more than five minutes to jog down Fleet Street, over Ludgate Circus and left into Old Bailey.  We paused outside the heavy swing doors of Court No 2 and Derek placed his wig on his red Irish hair.  Inside we could see the tall wooden dock in which sat our pupil master’s clients, the raked banks of jurors, the massed ranks of reporters and the packed gallery.  The back of the prosecution QC could be seen as he addressed the Recorder of London, who sat robed in black and purple, higher than everyone else in the court, under an enormous pediment bearing the crest and the words “Dieu et mon droit”.

‘How do I look?’ whispered Derek.

‘Fine,’ I replied.

‘Okay.  Here we go.’  He took a deep breath and reached for the door.

‘Don’t forget to bow,’ I reminded him.

He turned back to me, his face slightly pale.  ‘Right, thanks,’ and he pushed open the door.

The door made a loud squeak just as, unfortunately, there was complete silence in court.  The jurors turned at the noise, followed by the members of the press.  Derek’s progress down the centre aisle towards the barristers’ benches at the front of the court was followed by forty pairs of eyes.  The prosecution barrister began speaking again but realised that the attention of everyone in the court was on something going on behind him.  He turned, and every other barrister on the benches followed suit.  Within a few seconds Derek was the centre of attention of everyone in the court.

Blushing as red as the hair emerging from under his wig, Derek located Mr Smith in the second row amongst all the other identically-dressed barristers.  He walked along the front of the row and handed our pupil master the Additional Statements.  He then turned and, apparently remembering my last comment, bowed to the judge.  He bowed to the ranks of barristers.  He bowed towards the dock, causing the jurors to giggle.  Hearing the noise he then made a quarter turn, and bowed to the jury, causing the giggle to become a ripple of laughter.

He then backed back up the aisle – bowing once more to a surprised court usher holding a water jug – felt behind him for a door, opened it, and stepped backwards – into the exhibit cupboard, closing the door behind him.

Everyone in the court knew that poor Derek was now standing in complete darkness surrounded by boxes of exhibits, and they waited to see if he would emerge again.  Like the rumbling of distant thunder, the laughter grew until it became a crescendo of hilarity ringing around the court.  After about thirty seconds of what must have been complete torture to Derek, but during which he was utterly immobilised by embarrassment, the Recorder of London took pity on him.

‘For heaven’s sake, usher, let the poor fellow out,’ he directed.

The usher put the jug on a bench and walked up the aisle.  She opened the door to be greeted by a mortified pupil barrister standing in the dark.  Derek stepped into the court to an eruption of wild applause.  He cast about himself, saw me furiously beckoning from outside, and ran to the safety of the corridor.

I’m delighted to tell you that despite this setback, Derek enjoyed an extremely successful career at the Bar, but perhaps unsurprisingly he forsook practice at the Old Bailey, opting instead for the quieter life of a civil practitioner, toiling through mountains of papers, but safe from the ridicule of any jury.

_________________________________________________________________________________

[Simon Michael’s The Brief was reviewed by me here https://aloverofbooks.wordpress.com/2016/06/06/the-brief-by-simon-michael/ and the sequel, An Honest Man, is to be published by Urbane Publications on 7 July 2016 but available for pre-order now.]

 

Honest Man cover

Amazon link: http://amzn.to/29ko0Iz

Criminal barrister Charles Holborne may have just escaped the hangman by proving he was framed for murder, but his life is now in ruins.  His wife is dead, his high-flying career has morphed into criminal notoriety, and bankruptcy threatens.  When the biggest brief of Charles’s career land unexpectedly on his desk, it looks as if he’s been thrown a lifeline.  But far from keeping him afloat, it drags him ever deeper into the shadowy underworld of 1960s London.  Now, not only is his practice at stake, but his very life.  Caught in the crossfire between corrupt police officers and warring gangs, can Charles protect himself without once again turning to crime?

Based on real Old Bailey cases and genuine court documents, An Honest Man is the second in the Charles Holborne series, set on the sleazy London streets of the 1960s.

 

About Simon Michael

Simon practised as a barrister for over 35 years, many of them spent prosecuting and defending murderers, armed robbers, con artists and other assorted villainy. He had several books published in the UK and the USA in the 1990s and his short story Split was shortlisted for the Cosmopolitan/Perrier Short Story Award.

In 2016 he retired from legal practice to devote himself to full- time writing. The Brief (September 2015) and An Honest Man (July 2016) are the first two books in the Charles Holborne series, set on the gangland streets of 1960s London, based upon his experiences. Simon is a founder member and co-chair of the Ampthill Literary Festival. He lives with his wife, youngest daughter and many unfulfilled ambitions in Bedfordshire.

 

Links

Website and blogs: www.simonmichael.uk

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/simonmichael.uk

Twitter: https://twitter.com/simonmichaeluk

Email: author@simonmichael.uk

Amazon author page: http://amzn.to/28ZFrwQ

 

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