Disgraced spooks and Dead Lions - an evening with Mick Herron

It’s the sort of story everyone loves to hear – an author who suddenly hits the big time and wins a major prize just at the point he thinks his writing career is in trouble.

Crime writer Mick Herron, who won the 2013 'CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger' for the Best Crime Novel of the Year, was at Mostly Books on May 21 to talk about two books set in the murky world of disgraced spies.

Dead Lions’, his prize-winning novel, is a wryly humorous tale of disgraced MI5 spies, who have been sent to Slough House as they can’t be sacked. Consigned to dull desk work, they are desperate to find a way back to the field work where they think they belong.

When a Cold War spook is thought to be active again, they suddenly have a chance of glory. But after years of being out of the game and all despising each other, there is as much comedy as action as we watch them all creak back into life and try to form a team that has even half a chance of getting results.

Mick Herron explained how, as his UK publisher wasn’t interested in the book, he thought his writing career was over. But then his US publisher stepped in, said they would take it on – and submitted it to the Crime Writers’ Association annual awards.

He beat a hugely impressive shortlist, including the much-lauded ‘The Shining Girls’ by Lauren Beukes, and Belinda Bauer’s ‘Rubberneckers’, among others, to take the dagger. In doing so he joins illustrious names such as Ian Ranking, Val McDermid and Reginald Hill as previous winners of the award.

At an evening at Mostly Books, Mick explained how the inspiration for his two very clever and funny crime novels was all sparked by a decrepit building he passed daily on his way to work that got his imagination going.

It may have been a building that sparked the initial idea, but Mick said he always starts with characters and a situation with his writing and finds his best plotting ideas develop as he goes along. And Slough House is peopled with some great characters – with tales of just how exactly they were disgraced leaking out throughout the books.

His journey towards his gold-dagger award-winning success has not been smooth. It took two years for this first novel to find a publisher in 2003 and he still only writes in the evenings after coming home from a full-time job.

It takes him about 18 months to write a novel - a slow process that involves more editing than writing and a great many semi-colons. But he has always written and always looks forward to that moment every day when he can get down to some writing.

‘Writing is an addiction you have to nurture. Most addictions you try to wean yourself off, but with writing you have to take that urge and encourage it and do it every day. I can’t wait for the part of the day when I switch my laptop on,’ he said.

With books involving such intriguing plots and such a large cast of characters, all of whom have a life of their own, he took plenty of questions about his writing style. He plots the first chapters scene by scene and only researches if he gets to a point in the plot where he feels he needs to.

The next step is that not only will he see all his previous novels back in print after his Dagger success – there will be a new standalone noir thriller, before he turns back to the folk at Slough House after that.

With a television series in the pipeline, we really hope far from a publishing career being over, that Mick is actually only at the start of a very successful career indeed.

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