Author Darryl Donaghue is a former British police detective. This means he is uniquely positioned to write British police procedural novels, which are among my very favorite type of mystery novel. (One day I might even work up the guts to write one of my own.)
One of the writing challenges Darryl put to himself for his Sarah Gladstone series is to examine what life is like for a police detective and explore how that career affects someone who is also a wife and mother. Will Sarah be able to continue with her chosen career and how will she handle the pressures from both police work and in her role in her family?
Darryl himself was faced with the choice between his passion for writing, and his detective career. He chose writing, much to readers’ delight. As with so many of the authors on this podcast, Darryl offers his first book for free on all platforms, so that readers can try it at no risk. He also has a Sarah Gladstone short story available for free on his website.
You can also click here to watch the interview on YouTube.
Transcription of Interview with Darryl Donaghue
Alexandra: Hello, mystery readers. I am Alexandra Amor. This is It’s a Mystery podcast, and I’m here today with Darryl Donaghue. Hi, Darryl.
Darryl: Hi. How are you doing?
Alexandra: Very well. How are you?
Darryl: Good, good.
Alexandra: Good, good. I’m very excited to have you on the show today. So let me give our listeners a bit of an introduction to you.
Darryl is a former British detective who now writes crime fiction novels. He quit the police two years ago to concentrate on writing and now, independently publishes the Sarah Gladstone thriller series via Amazon and all the other e-book retailers. The series offers a realistic modern view of policing from the unique perspective of a young police officer starting her career. He is currently working on the third book in the series which will be out soon. So we’ll look forward to that, and we should point out as well, right off the top, why don’t we, that there’s a short story, a Sarah Gladstone short story available on your website.
Alexandra: So people can check that out if they want to, and the first book in the series is free…
Darryl: That’s right.
Alexandra: …so people can really get a feel for what Sarah is like.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about her. So she’s a mother and a wife and a young PC, as you say in the U.K., when she starts out.
Darryl: She is 33 years old, and she’s got twin girls, sort of a happy family situation. She’s just started in the police. So in “A Journal of Sin,” the first book, she’s about two years into service of that one, so she’s not a detective yet. And the short story, it gets you inside into her first day out as a uniformed officer. The idea of the series is we’re going to watch her career grow. As each book goes on, she’s going to become more experienced.
And in the second book, she starts her detective training. So really, it’s about a different perspective, a perspective we’re not used to from crime fiction genre because a lot of crime fiction the detective comes from that position of the old bitter broken family, broken home, directionless, that kind of thing.
And you know, the reason we see so many of those characters is to read a compelling story. Whereas why I want to take it back a little bit and show how the job can affect people. A lot of people come with the best intentions, and you ask a lot of new officers, it’s very much, “I want to make a difference,” and it’s very optimistic and that’s the side I want to really see you reflect it much in fiction.
I want to take it from there. The big question of the series is, can you survive when you’re dealing with that kind of stuff? Can you survive? Can you make it out with your family? And what’s important with the big calls? What’s important, what do you put first? And that’s become the idea behind it and it’s off to a good start.
I’m working with the third book. I’ve got the first of seven chapters already down.
Darryl: It’s a case of getting out there, and the readers are responding well so far.
Alexandra: Yeah, that’s great.
In your head then, do you know whether Sarah makes it through without becoming bitter or ruining her family?
Darryl: I kind of know the road she’s on, but I have the feeling she’s going to tell me how she’s wants to drive it.
Alexandra: Okay, yeah.
Darryl: You know, you start off with the best intentions. The more time you spend with your characters, the more they inform the story. I’ve got an idea of the challenges she’s going to face, how she tackles them. She’ll tell me along the way.
Alexandra: How much of your experience as a detective is going into the book? So I imagine quite a bit but…
Darryl: Yeah, quite a bit. I was a detective for nine years so I’ve been on the path Sarah’s on. And as accurate as it can be without bogging down the story, anyone who’s worked in the police will tell you there’s a lot of delays, there’s a lot of things that if you actually have a genuinely accurate story with full police procedure, I think it could be about a thousand pages long. We started joking in the office. If you wanted to have a TV show that had accurate police procedure, the DVD would have to have deleted scenes of 30 hours of people just typing and waiting for the results and all of that.
It’s a little bit of exaggeration of course, but it’s accurate, and it’s set contemporary. It’s set in the last few years so it’s accurate to the procedure. And of course, as that goes on, I’ve still got friends in the force that will keep me up to date, will tell me when I’ve gone wrong.
There’s also the political climate as well. Anyone in U.K. knows the police service is taking a lot of cops over the years, with our conservative government, so it’s all how those things have affected the service and the victims.
So it’s telling a story for our times as well, about the differences between now and what some would consider the golden era, back in the day. So it’s, yeah, that’s the story in a lot of modern themes, and it seems the people will recognize, for as the series goes on, from the news, from the big events, and things like that. So it’s definitely very much grounded in reality with enough thrills to make it an exciting page turn.
Alexandra: Oh, nice. I noticed one of the things you mentioned in the description of the second book is that Sarah has been fast-tracked into a detective training and that the training was originally, I think, two years long and they’ve crammed it down into three months.
Alexandra: And I imagined that kind of bureaucratic decision that looks good on paper but isn’t all that great in reality, happens all the time.
Darryl: There’s a lot of that. Sadly, a lot of policing show all over the world is very much statistic based. They want the numbers. They want the arrests. They want the big announcements, “We’ve got this video that’s doing this.” And again, it raises questions, “Is it a job that can be run like a business? Is it the kind of service that you can call us on? And how far is too far?” It’s gonna be a level of…it comes to the point where it’s just not providing the service fit for what it should fit for.
So it tackles all those things and gives an idea of the different mentalities within the job because policing is not always represented fairly. You sometimes get the very, very negative side of it. You sometimes get the very, very gung-ho cowboy side of it. People fall along a sliding scale in the middle so I want to capture those niche that maybe haven’t been represented before, and represent the people I worked with, people of all ages, all backgrounds, all genders, all everything, including a range of skills to get the job done as best as they can despite internal and external forces trying to stop them.
Alexandra: Yes, yes, exactly. And I read in the bio on your website that writing seems to have been your first love, and then you were kind of pulled away from that. You got a degree in psychology…
Darryl: Criminal Psychology.
Alexandra: Criminal psychology, yeah.
I love the description you made on your website of one of your teachers when you handed in a short story, accused you of plagiarism, which I have to say was a fantastic sort of…
Darryl: Not very bitter but I still mention it at 34 years old.
Alexandra: Yeah, exactly. :-) What a compliment, really, as you say.
Darryl: I think so. It’s one of these things that I think, like a lot of stuff when you grow up, you just lose track of time. Other parties kick in.
I used to read a lot as a kid, and that’s kind of English A-level, teachers in school, and gave me a chance to writing. Yeah, yeah, you do, those moments where you think kind of turning points, someone could have said something really, really positive, and kind of “Come yeah, I’m gonna do this forever,” or not. But then you get on with life. As you get older, you just look at it, twist it all around and you’d say, “Well, actually, that’s a pretty good compliment.” May not seem that way at the time.
Alexandra: No, of course.
Darryl: And that’s it. You just come around to the fact that it’s something I did like to do. I still wrote short stories even when I was in the police, but I just couldn’t get the momentum up for a full novel. Long hours of course, night shifts, those kind of things.
When you’re writing novels, you really have to put in that almost daily practice to get the momentum off and get that project moving. If you can’t do that because you’re half asleep during the day or you’ve been at work the last 26 hours, you’re never gonna get that book done. It was something I needed to devote a lot of time to get done.
Alexandra: Yes, exactly.
Did you feel that during your career in the police that your optimism waned or changed at all?
Darryl: Regarding my attitude to the job?
Alexandra: Yeah, your attitude to the job.
Darryl: Yeah, I think everything becomes run of the mill at some point. No matter how exciting something starts off or how dedicated you are to it, it will become run of the mill, and then it goes from every day being excited going in, getting things done, because every day is different.
So, yeah, every so often, a really important job will come along that picks your interest, or it’s a particularly nasty job or you get to help someone out in a horrible situation. Those are the ones that keep you going. But, yeah, like everything, it does become run of the mill at a time, a lot of paper work, a lot of pressure. But you hold on to those important jobs where the big cases, the big trials, helping all victims because that’s really why you do it.
Alexandra: I have to say, being a writer and being a police officer, I almost can’t think of two more disparate careers; writers sitting alone, lots in your head, beavering away, and then a police officer being out with the public, exposed to danger, all that kind of stuff.
Darryl: Yeah, that’s true. And the job changes dramatically between uniform work and detective work. So for your first two years at least in the U.K., you have to be on the beat, they call on the beat. You’re in uniform, you turn the blue light, run to the emergency stuff.
But then when you take a detective exam, became a detective, it becomes more project focused. Each case is a project in itself. You’re still public facing, but you’re not in uniform anymore. You’re very much doing one on one type things like interviews or witness statements. And all of that requires a lot of concentration and sitting down. So with suspect interviews, it will be you and the suspects in that sinister…and it’s a very much, a very grounded experience compared to the running around on the Saturday nights with the drunkards.
Darryl: It’s a very more grounded, more cerebral experience. You’ve got more time to reflect on your case so you can spend the day building your evidence and things like that, liaising with forensic teams, and then you just try and find that precious time to sit down and assess everything. So in the same as writing a novel, it’s a big long project that you have to constantly re-assess, constantly look at, get advice on, specialist advice. It used to be forensic teams or ballistics teams, now it’s editors and copywriters.
Darryl: They’re equally frustrated with me as as well.
There are things that lend each other, lend itself to both things. And of course, there’s the dealing with human behavior all the time. You know, you see some really heroic things in the police, and you see people at very, very low points and people who are very, very angry, a range of emotional experience which you can draw on and then use them.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah, that was the thing that struck me when I saw that you had a degree in Criminal Psychology. I thought, oh, you know, writing and policing both are about people at their hearts. That’s really what they’re about.
Were there any specific, not that you have to tell us, but were there any specific things like unique events that happened in your policing career that you’ve woven into your books?
Darryl: Not at the moment. There’s a story coming later in the series that would have a very close to the bone type of storyline. But mostly, I think the key thing for me is the culture, the policing culture, and just the days they love that I can bring to the story of how effects them, and the victims, too. Some people that report things to police, in a lot of ways, the suspects we deal with and the criminals we deal with are victims in their own right.
Again, we used to think, given the stories about serial killers come and get us in the night and all these kind of stuff and yeah, that is obviously exciting to read and watch on the big screen. But most criminals you see are people that have made terrible choices. So often, more of them have made terrible decisions in their lives, and from that environment and situation comes these awful choices that send them down and down and down. And at some point, they feel there’s a point of no return. Of course, along that process, sadly, police and other people come along and label them a criminal, which doesn’t help anything either. The book is trying to look at that angle as well.
Yeah, there’s scary people. They are dangerous. The books have compelling villains, but I want it to be a series that explores villainy in a way that makes it maybe terrifying because it’s what and how our society creates them rather than blind rage-filled people. There’s always a reason. One of Sarah’s big selling points and what a lot of readers like about her is that she looks for those reasons and she tries to understand those reasons.
The short story that you get free if you sign up to the mailing list is pretty much about how it turned on my first day out and it’s…she’s with an older uniformed officer who has one way of viewing criminals and criminality, and she sees it in a different way. That story sets off one of the key themes to the series.
Alexandra: I thought the premise for the first book was really interesting in that she’s kind of cut of from everybody else. She’s by herself in a village, is that right?
Alexandra: There’s been a storm and so she has to figure things out on her own, and I just…as a writer myself, I just thought myself that was such a great premise, an inciting incident, as Shawn Coyne would say, to get the story rolling, and for her prove herself.
Because you’ve mentioned in one of the descriptions all her bosses try to undermine her at every turn and don’t believe her, is that right?
Darryl: Yeah, she is sort of cut off in a storm. It’s set slightly in Northern England, which sadly has lots of storms and flooding, and a priest murdered, and she’s there on her own. And initially, rather than being the hero running to the rescue, she just wants to leave and didn’t deal with this another way, “I need to get home,” like she’s got kids. She’s very new in the job. But of course, she’s thrust into the limelight unwilling and has to deal with an entire murder investigation as best as she can without advice or anything like that.
So when we…in the first novel, we’re seeing her very much struggling. So we get to know her straight away. She’s not some superwoman or some superhero cop character, and she’s someone very human, someone that makes mistakes and gets through.
It sets her character quite well for the rest of the books where we see that very human side of her. And although the emails I get from readers, that’s generally what they like the most. It’s the character that they can relate to, that she’s stuck into a situation and she’s not tackling it as best as she can. It’s where we felt a bit like an impostor and she brings that out in the first book.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah, exactly. And so she’s in North of England, a fictional town called Mavenwood, correct?
Darryl: Yeah, the second book is set in Mavenwood. That’s sort of her posting as a detective so in the second book, she’s working out with the police station. She’s very much has all the tools at her disposal. Mavenwood’s a fictional town. It’s a small town based on small English country towns, but it’s very much fictional.
Alexandra: I’m intrigued that she has two children because I almost can’t think of a more difficult job to do for a woman when you have kids. In terms of time, the time that she must have to spend away from them because it’s not just nine to five, and then also in terms of the mental toll that the job must take.
Darryl: Absolutely, absolutely. And I wanted to do that to show that side of it really, what it’s like to work alongside a lot of police officers with kids, female police officers with kids, very successful career woman that do it all, and I wanted it to have that because it adds another element to her consideration about how she deals with the job and what she does.
Because every day, you have a decision to stay on and do a little bit extra for the victims. Do you stay on and try to arrest that suspect, or do you go home to your family? With the pressure and all of that, and generally, the pressure that comes from inside to do the right thing, they’re all very, very tough decisions. So you have the elements of children there, and the husband, and all of those things. You’re going to be looking at the pressure from different angles and that’s why as much as I like her, I want her to be challenged.
Darryl: Go through these things and show these people what the life is like.
Alexandra: Yes, and that makes it interesting stories, right?
Darryl: Yeah, absolutely. And again, it’s getting into the lifestyle and the culture of some of the modern policing. Again, there’s plenty of heroes out there in novels and movies that will swing in, save the day, and everything’s shiny and golden. But it’s just not gonna be like that in this series. It’s going to be challenging and that’s important because it’s real.
Alexandra: Yes, yup, exactly.
One final question, what drew Sarah into policing?
Darryl: Originally, she had her children and she wanted something more out of life really. You’ll see in the second book maybe her husband is not of the same mind, but she wants to give an example to her kids about being a career woman and being something, being someone that makes a difference to the world.
I think there’s a line in the first book, she didn’t want to be one of those parents that relaxes, has children, and then relaxes into just motherhood. She’s kind of thinks motherhood for her is awful. You’ll be a living example for the kids…and then to show them that you can have a full life, you can have all of those things. So she wanted something different. She’d worked in kind of all jobs, in banks, and things before, and she wanted to try something different pretty much, her angle. And then we’ll see how else she changes.
Alexandra: Yes, yes. It sounds like she’s up for a challenge. She enjoys the challenge. All right, why don’t you tell everyone where they can find your books.
Darryl: Okay, you can find my books from Amazon, the first one is free, “A Journal of Sin,” and also on iTunes, and in NOOK, and Kobo, and Smashwords, pretty much wherever you are. If you don’t have any of those, send me an e-mail at email@example.com and I’ll find a way to get you a copy whatever device you read on. Soon in paperback, as well.
Darryl: So that’s free, and then if you don’t sign up to the mailing list which you can do in a link in that book, you can get free short story as well. And the second book is out for $2.99, I think, in the States, and £2.15 in U.K. So you can keep reading. And you have a third one soon, hopefully.
Alexandra: Do you have a projected date for that one?
Darryl: Next couple of months, I think.
Darryl: …which, obviously, very exciting.
Alexandra: Yes, yeah. Oh, that’s great. And so we’re recording this April 2016, so probably, summer 2016, the third book will be out, I imagine.
Darryl: Actually, yeah.
Alexandra: Yeah, all right. Well, thank you so much, Darryl. It’s been great talking to you.
Darryl: Thank you. Lovely.
Alexandra: Take care. Bye.
Darryl: See you. Bye.