Join me in Conversation with author John Kennedy
Please give a warm Coffee Pot welcome to John Kennedy.
Mary Anne: A huge congratulations on your debut novel, The Trauma Pool. Could you tell us a little about your book and how you came to write it?
John Kennedy: Yes, thank you very much. It’s nice
to be able to talk about it to people other than myself!
It’s basically a crime fiction novel with elements of police procedural, the first in a series set in 1980s West Yorkshire. Detective Will Ashcroft, traumatised after working on a disturbing case in London, returns to the north where he meets a young, black policewoman suffering prejudice in and outside the force. They are both marginalised, but when the unexplained death of a teacher and the disappearance of a 12-year old are linked, the two detectives become the missing boy’s best hope of survival.
I came to write it because I wanted to explore the idea of people forced to the margins, by organisations, by backward thinking, and I suppose by our inability to truly bury the past. And, of course, I wanted to tell a gripping story at the same time.
Mary Anne: The Trauma Pool is a gripping murder mystery, what drew you to write in this genre?
John Kennedy: The genre chose itself really. I mean, I’ve written in other genres, I have some sci-fi stories published and I wrote a contemporary fiction novel which never saw the light of day and probably never will. But then someone gave me a valuable piece of advice – choose a genre and aim yourself at it like a cruise missile. I’d always loved Crime – I think it’s a genre with everything; death, love, sacrifice, ambition, betrayal, greed, tragedy… all the Shakespearian themes are present. I’m not saying the Bard would be writing crime were he around today, but…
Mary Anne: How did you come up with your setting, and your characters?
John Kennedy: The setting was really important. The 1980s is an era that hasn’t been explored too excessively, in Crime Fiction anyway, and I just loved the idea of utilising that decade because in many ways it’s right on the edge of modern sensibility and understanding. People were starting to recognise mental illness to some extent, they were starting to talk about equality, race and gender but it was all tentative at best. Not that we’ve got everything right thirty-odd years later; we haven’t, clearly. But we’ve certainly come a long way in the right direction.
In terms of place, it was a no-brainer for me really. I was brought up in West Yorkshire and there’s a lovely rugged hardness to the moors and crags and to the people. For a story about marginalisation, of being pushed to the edges, I can think of nowhere better, nowhere that epitomises isolation and disconnection quite so vividly. But with a gritty seam of humour running just under the surface.
To some extent, characters appear to me after the theme and the general story has percolated a little bit. Once you know the subtext and the story you want to tell, the characters form almost by themselves, I think. The bones of them, anyway. The hard work is in adding the flesh, asking yourself a thousand questions about their likes, dislikes, dreams, memories and motivations. After a while, the answers start appearing by themselves… and that’s when the characters start speaking to you, if you’re lucky. And then, suddenly, you don’t have to ask yourself how they’d act or what they’d say in a given situation because it just trips from your fingertips.
Mary Anne: What do you think is the most challenging aspect of writing quality fiction?
John Kennedy: Hmm. That’s the question isn’t it? Quality being the key word there. if you’re working within the constraints of a genre, then there are certain rules you just have to obey. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stretch the fabric a little. For me, I really want this series to be believable, with characters suffering real-world problems, but at the same time it is crime fiction and it has to find and entertain an audience. The real challenge is in producing something that avoids the clichés, something original enough to be yours, but at the same time recognisable enough to sit alongside whomever on that shelf…
But there’s plenty scope. Plenty that hasn’t been done. Or at least hasn’t been done in quite the way that you, and only you, can do it. I fervently believe that.
Mary Anne: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
John Kennedy: Other than the cruise missile thing… I think the most valuable piece of advice I could pass on is an acceptance that writing truly is rewriting. It’s the thing that people often don’t get until they’ve been through it. Unless you’re an absolute genius, and maybe even then, finishing a first draft of something means you’re maybe a third or half of the way there. You’ll have to leave it alone for a few months. Come back to it and read it with fresh eyes. Move things around, throw bits out, maybe even start all over again. And I don’t just mean tweaking. There will likely be restructuring, whole sections that don’t belong and need replacing. And so it goes. Probably at least as long as you’ve spent on the first draft will be spent doing all this. Then, you can start tweaking and editing.
And I’m sure there will be people reading this who’ll think, ‘Yeah, but that doesn’t apply to me because my writing is special…’ It may well be, but that doesn’t change anything. It’s just the way it is.
But it shouldn’t put you off. Once you realise that it’s all part of the process, you can relax and enjoy it. Because the rewriting and eventual fine tuning is just as much fun as the initial drafting, maybe more so. To paraphrase Hemingway, the first draft of everything is a mess.
Transforming that mess into something truthful (your truth, the truth you were initially trying to say) and beautiful (beautiful because it’s yours) is immensely enjoyable.
So, embrace it, love it, but most of all… go and get on with it!
Mary Anne: It has been so lovely chatting with your today!
If you would like to learn more about John's fabulous book then you know what to do SCROLL DOWN!
The Trauma Pool
By John Kennedy
DI Will Ashcroft saved a boy from drowning in the London Docklands. But the incident still haunts him.
Now Ashcroft is back in the Pennines, where he started out.
There has been a murder – and a twelve-year-old boy is missing.
The deeper Ashcroft delves into the crimes, the clearer it becomes that he cannot solve the cases on his own.
Samira Byrne is a black police officer, battling against prejudice both in and outside the force. Yet she is smart and tenacious – and becomes an ally.
Faced with incompetent superior officers, witnesses who are withholding information, and the suspicious behaviour of the missing boy’s parents, Ashcroft and Byrne must risk everything to unravel secrets the valley has been keeping for over ten years.
Can Ashcroft outrun his past long enough to solve the cases?
The crags were blotted with rain and the line of towns they protected were black holes. Nothing much escaped; light, youth and kindness spending itself on these wet valley walls daily. But blame was wasted because he knew it wasn’t the place. Not really. It was him and what he carried that blocked the light.
DI Will Ashcroft swung down into the valley and parked by the portacabin at the edge of the factory grounds.
Too many cars, he thought. Junior officers would spill brandy-laced tea from flasks and grind cigarette butts all over the scene. Later there’d be visits from at least one Superintendent and other seniors who’d do much the same. By the end of tonight, the chances of finding anything useful would be slim as a famished moor-rat.
He adjusted the mirror and put a hand through his unruly hair, trying to loosen his shoulders. He shut the car door, hauling his combat jacket over his wiry frame. The rain had stopped but it was cold for May. His eyes flickered upwards at the misshapen tower sticking out from the distant trees; a local folly, fashioned by a madman with too much time, too much love, too much something.
A sergeant and constable waved him through the gate and two reporters, one greying and bearded, another with a copper-coloured mullet, turned to check him out. Only a few hours since the body was found, so they were sharp for small-towners. Mullet raised his camera and clicked. ‘Can you tell us anything?’
Will shook his head. ‘I’m not the SIO.’
The rugged path wound round the cabin through the trees. He hunched, droplets catching his neck. The leaves gave way to a fence, graffiti covered; a muted yawp of the topical, Keegan Rules! Save the miners, and the less topical, from at least five years ago, Up yours Argies! Falklands ours!
Local kids had always hung out here, he remembered, shinning over to drink cheap cider or get stoned. But tonight, they’d stumbled across more than wilted condoms and discarded porn. Even off their heads, they’d been scared enough to report it to the night-watchman. They’d be in the portacabin now, finishing their statements.
The coal-mound nosed up in front of him. Halfway up, two constables and an overweight, middle-aged, uniformed sergeant were trying to erect a frame, laughing, capering. Will watched a few seconds before clearing his throat. The sergeant stepped over the barrier, stumbled and slid down the mound, bloodshot eyes on Will, broken veins at his cheeks spreading along with a smile with no pretence at warmth. ‘Thought you’d moved down London years ago, Sergeant.’
‘I’m a DI now.’ Will watched one constable prodding the other with a tent-pole. ‘Grundy, don’t you think we’d be better off just laying a tarp over the body. No point setting up a tent on top of that.’
Grundy scratched his reddening ear like a pantomime policeman. He flashed yellowed teeth at Will and walked away, shaking his head, muttering, waving them down the coal mound.
Will did a full circuit of the stack, waiting for them to pick up all their rods and get out of his way. They took their time and he felt their glances, sharp as granite. Their talk was fast, clipped by choked-back laughs, Grundy filling them in, no doubt. Who Will was. What he’d done. He heard a ‘That was him?’ and one of the PCs stared now; a cold mix of awe and derision.
Finally they shuffled down and he climbed, hands outward for balance. He glanced at the sky, the fading light of a spring evening; not the best.
The body was face-up, arms spread wide; middle-aged, maybe late forties, a face that might have once been striking. Unshaven, maybe four days’ growth. A beefy frame gone to flab. Medium length jacket over brown suit-trousers, torn in two places and a once white shirt, grimed almost to grey.
Like he’d been put through his paces.
The arms were interesting. It would have taken some extra effort to place them like that; spread wide to the skies. Will glanced back beyond the trees. It was good the Press hadn’t been let in. All kinds of meanings could be attached to the positioning, but ‘take me with you’ would really stir up the crazies.
He leant in closer to the trouser legs. There were purple specks caught in the weave. Heather? He glanced up past the dark valley walls towards the moor.
He leant back on his haunches. The SOCO had looked already, of course, heart attack as apparent cause of death, the word misadventure already filtering through the radio to Will as he’d driven over from Leeds. Still. It was all in the detail. He grimaced, bent forward, manoeuvring himself so that he could lift the head with both hands. Too early for Rigor so no resistance, but something slippery spread on his fingers. Jelly? On the underside, untouched by rain. He squinted down the collar, easing the head up. The neck was raw and pink and scalp was showing, a fair portion of the hair having fallen from blistered skin in two-inch circular patches. Coal dust coated the pink flesh, and he tasted sudden bile and sucked in some air.
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John Kennedy lectures English at a college in the North of England. He has a Masters’ in Creative Writing. He’s been shortlisted for the Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger and the Exeter prize and longlisted for the Bath Novel prize. The Trauma Pool is his first novel.
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