Simon Michael is the author of the best-selling Charles Holborne series. Set in 1960s London, they feature his antihero barrister as he navigates his way through the criminal underworld. Inspired by his own 37-year career as a barrister, when he defended and prosecuted a wide selection of murderers, armed robbers, con artists and other assorted villainy, Simon was published here and in America in the 1980s. He returned to writing when he retired from the law in 2016. The sixth book in the Charles Holborne series: Force of Evil will released by Sapere Books on 3 November 2020.
AW: You were a barrister and use your years of experience in the law as inspiration for your series featuring, Charles Holborne. How do you decide which cases to use? You must have a huge amount to draw on.
SM: That’s a really interesting question, one which no one has asked before. Some cases are so extraordinary, they’ll stay with me forever, like the one that formed the story of The Waxwork Corpse. It’s pretty unusual for a quiet respected professional man to kill his wife and dump her body in Wastwater, a lake in Wasdale and the deepest body of water in the Lake District National Park. He was not charged at the time, then over a decade later, while the lake was being searched during an entirely different case, the body was found in a perfectly preserved condition.
Similarly, I’ll never forget the case behind An Honest Man because much of the background material actually happened to me. So, some cases just jump out and demand to be the subject of a story. Others are not based on a single case but are compilations of several. Even the most interesting cases, like murder, are boring in parts. In the new Charles Holborne adventure, Force of Evil, there was a line of cross-examination which was so astonishingly successful in reality, I still remember it (as do other barristers who heard it). It’s a case of keeping the excitement up, and cutting out all the boring, procedural or legalistic parts of the case. I try not to take liberties with how the courts actually work, but simply cut from one good bit to the next!
It’s also helpful that I’m following the story of the Krays throughout the 1960s, which was a very eventful time in British history. Everyone has heard of the Profumo affair, but no one has heard of the event, which I think is much worse, retold in Corrupted. That was a much worse cover-up, also involving politicians and sex, because as a result at least two people died. It was a political and legal story crying out to be told, into which I wove the murder plot.
AW: Sounds fascinating. Is this what drew you to setting your books are set in London, during the 1960s?
SM: I wanted to tell the story of what it felt like to be an outsider at the Bar at the time when I started in practice. There was rampant class, race and religious prejudice, both at the Bar and indeed on the Bench. I came from a working-class Jewish family, no money, state educated. I paid my way through university and pupillage by working as a labourer. You can imagine how well I fitted into the establishment, very traditional, Bar. I also wanted to tell the story of the corruption at the time, particularly in the Met. The year I was called, 1978, was the beginning of Operation Countryman in which the Home Office drafted in honest coppers from the provincial forces to try and weed out the corruption in the Metropolitan Police. The government has never published the report into Operation Countryman, but it was still imprisoning senior police officers until the mid-80s.
The two decades before then were like the Wild West of British justice, with gangs like the Krays and the Richardsons fighting to control the profits from illegal enterprises including protection, prostitution, gambling and pornography, and large swathes of Met officers were completely corrupt. The corruption went beyond taking a cut of the profits like many in the Sweeney did, or being paid for information and influence by major criminals. It also included tampering with evidence, fitting up innocent people and using strong-arm techniques.
The 60s was also a time of enormous societal change. People forget that London at the beginning of the decade was not flower power, the Beatles and Carnaby Street. Until the mid-60s it was grey and drab, with rationing and bomb sites. The post-War deference broke down slowly with the tide of sex, drugs and rock and roll coming over the Atlantic until London found itself the centre of the universe for music, fashion and the arts. I still find it a fascinating time in British history.
AW: What inspired you to start writing? And what advice would you give to other aspiring writers?
SM: I’ve always loved telling stories, and I’ve been writing since I was at school. I suspect that most writers feel impelled — to a greater or lesser degree — to write. Although I wrote some books which did quite well in the 1980s I didn’t really have time to focus on it until I retired, and although I loved my career at the Bar and it brought obvious rewards, I sometimes wish I’d had the courage of my convictions to start writing in earnest sooner. Now, I find myself at the start of a writing career in my mid-60s. I want it to be more than a hobby, and I don’t have much time left. On the other hand my parents both lasted until the 90s, so if I retain my marbles I could have another quarter of a century.
The only advice I would give to other aspiring writers is: Get on with it! A “writer” is someone who writes. As I’m sure you know, you can’t wait for the muse to arrive. It’s a matter of hard work and discipline. I knew Brian Clemens, the writer of many of the Avengers and Professionals scripts (he also wrote some very good short stories by the way) and he used to say: “Bum on seat, fingers on keyboard.” I don’t think you can put it better.
Thanks Simon, it’s been great talking to you.
The new Charles Holborne thriller, Force of Evil, will be published on 3 November 2020 by Sapere Books.
For more information about Simon Michael and his Charles Holborne thrillers, visit:
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