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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

 

‘The Brief’ by Simon Michael

The Brief

‘The Brief’ was published last year by Urbane Publications.  I was very kindly sent a copy of this book to review.

The story is set in 1960s London.  In a city of gangsters, prejudice and terrifying gang wars, Barrister Charles Holborne seems to spend the majority of his time dealing with the worst examples of violent criminality.  Having successfully won a number of high profile cases, Charles is building a reputation amongst Soho’s criminal classes as a man who gets the job done.  This unfortunately doesn’t endear him to his establishment colleagues.

However, Charles isn’t all he seems and is in fact battling personal demons and his past.  When his philandering wife Henrietta is found dead with her throat slashed, Charles suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of the law and in serious trouble.  Arrested for her murder, can he discover the truth and escape the hangman’s noose?

I started reading ‘The Brief’ late last Saturday night and from the very first page I was totally engrossed.  It was literally a case of having to read one more chapter, followed by another one and another one.  After two late nights and many more hours besides I have now finished this wonderful book and want to shout out how great it is.

I thought ‘The Brief’ to be an extremely addictive read.  Split into five parts it is fast-paced, gripping and very exciting.  I love crime fiction and was most interested in learning more about the legal side of things.  Simon Michael has himself had a career at the Bar and has drawn on his experiences to write this book which makes it all the more real.  I really liked that court documents were included in the story.  I read the Transcript of Evidence with great interest and at one point even felt as if I was in the court too.

There were certainly some very dodgy characters in the story and it was hard to know at times who to trust.  I really liked Charles and hoped that he would get off his murder charge.  He was stitched up good and proper and he soon knew what it was like to be on the other side.

‘The Brief’ will keep you up for hours.  It will play on your mind and you’ll be dying to know what happens next.

I am really looking forward to Simon Michael’s new book, ‘An Honest Man’, which is due out next month and I will be eagerly following his future work.  Simon is already a firm favourite of mine.  I hope he writes many more books.

I give this book 5 out of 5.

 

Guest Post by Simon Michael + Competition

Book Cover

Simon Michael’s novel, ‘The Brief’ is out in paperback on the 28th September, published by Urbane Publications Limited.  I am very pleased to be hosting a guest post by Simon Michael on my blog.

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I guess mothers are always proud of their sons. I’m tempted to say Jewish mothers especially so, but I suspect Asian, Italian and African mothers – indeed all mothers – are no different. So the publication of a mother’s son’s first novel was never likely to pass unnoticed. And while it’s easy to deflect the “So, when can I read it?” during the gestation period, it’s more difficult after it’s been accepted for publication; more difficult still once the proofs have arrived; pretty much impossible once proofed, mere weeks before publication. She wants a copy of the book – several copies in fact – one to read, one to show her friends at the bridge club, and one for “best” to lie artfully on her coffee table, my photograph ready to greet her guests. And there’s the difficulty. There are sex scenes. Sex scenes which, if I’ve written them properly, will make the reader’s blood pump slightly faster, their pupils dilate and their breathing catch slightly in their chests. It’s not just sex; it’s sexy.

Of course, I can tell her that the book isn’t autobiographical, and there is much truth in that. But all authors draw on personal experience even if they then twist, expand and embellish. The uncle who might have been the genesis of a character in the book becomes almost unrecognisable by the end. That’s when the writing process is at its best – when characters start breathing, speaking and acting for themselves. When that spark of life you have tried to breathe into them suddenly glows of its own accord and – what do you know? – the character starts acting in ways which you would never have expected. But still…they start life rooted in real experience. Just like those sex scenes. And while I may not have done precisely what the characters are doing, it’s close enough.

My mother’s no prude, and she isn’t shockable. In fact on the extremely rare occasions when she has one sherry too many, she is liable to tell quite a risque joke. [1] And when I was little, and I asked how babies were made, she gave me a precise and extremely detailed explanation, using proper biological terminology and diagrams, until my seven-year-old eyes glazed over and I became so bored that I didn’t ask again for another five years.

But still… I cannot escape from embarrassment as I picture my mother reading in detail what I may, or may not, have been doing with parts of my body she last saw in (or, more accurately, out of) swimming trunks several decades ago. I’m married with children, so we both know I figured out what to do with those parts long ago. But still… demonstrating the detail of my knowledge is something else. And it’s not just the technical aspects of the act… it’s the… peripheral stuff… less procreative, but more fun.

The situation takes me straight back to when I was 14 or 15 and my mother insisted on taking my younger brother and me to the cinema on the last day of half term. I knew all my mates would be there, in the back row, and I resisted going, but to no avail. She was on a mission, and she thought it would be fun. After the lights went up at the end and we filed out, and my mother’s eyes lighted on the canoodling couples in the back row, several boys’ hands indiscreetly inside the clothing of several of the girls. “Oh,” she commented, rather too loudly, as we were forced by the exiting crowds to pause at the end of the row. “Isn’t that disgusting? You wouldn’t do anything like that, would you?” My mates all grinned at me, and I knew I was in for it on the Monday. Of course I would have done something just like that, given the chance. I used to dream of getting that lucky, and if mum hadn’t insisted on taking me to the cinema, I’d have hoped to be in the back row with them.

But I’m no longer 14 or 15. I’m a man of the world, and there really is no need for me to be embarrassed… is there?

I know I can’t avoid it any further. She knows my contract allows me a certain number of copies and she’s placed her order. In any event, there’s always Amazon. So, no amount of equivocation or explication is going to help. She will read it, sex scenes and all… and I will do my best not to blush.

__________________________

[1]  And seeing as you asked, here it is: A young man takes a young lady on a first date to the cinema. After draping his arm nonchalantly around her shoulders for the first half of the film, and receiving no rebuff, he puts his hand on her knee. Then he gradually moved his hand up her thigh. The young lady lets him continue for a few inches, but then slaps away his hand. “Manners!” she hisses. “Tits first!”

‘The Brief’ can be pre-ordered now, but if you don’t want to wait the eBook can be downloaded from Urbane Publications website:-

http://urbanepublications.com/books/the-brief/

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Brief-Simon-Michael/dp/191069200X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1442151944&sr=8-1&keywords=the+brief+simon+Michael

 

About Simon Michael

Author

Simon Michael was called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple in 1978. In his many years of prosecuting and defending criminal cases he has dealt with a wide selection of murderers, armed robbers, con artists and other assorted villainy.

A storyteller all his life, Simon started writing short stories at school. His first novel (co-written) was published by Grafton in 1988 and was followed in 1989 by his first solo novel, The Cut Throat, the first of the Charles Holborne series, based on Simon’s own experiences at the criminal Bar. The Cut Throat was successful in the UK (WH Allen) and in the USA (St Martin’s Press) and the next in the series, The Long Lie, was published in 1992. Between the two, in 1991, Simon’s short story “Split” was shortlisted for the Cosmopolitan/Perrier Short Story Award. He was also commissioned to write two feature screenplays.

Simon then put writing aside to concentrate on his career at the Bar. After a further 25 years’ experience he now has sufficient plots based on real cases for another dozen legal thrillers.

The Brief, a reworking of The Cut Throat, now set in sleazy Soho of the 1960s, will be published in September 2015 and Simon has almost completed the next two books in the series.

Simon still practises law countrywide but now works only part-time. He lives with his wife and youngest child in Bedfordshire. He is a founder member of the Ampthill Literary Festival.

 

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Competition

Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications has kindly offered 5 paperback copies of ‘The Brief’ for a giveaway.  To enter all you have to do is leave a comment telling me why you want to win.

 

Terms and Conditions 

This competition is open worldwide.

The closing date is 11:59 p.m. on the 28th September 2015.

The winners will be randomly picked and notified of their win within 7 days of the closing date.  Their details will be passed on to Matthew Smith of Urbane Publications who will send out the prizes.

Please note that whilst I don’t mind that this competition has been added to a forum, I do expect entrants to be genuinely interested in the guest post above and the book and not just be after a freebie.

 

Good luck! 🙂 Read more…

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