I’m delighted to welcome Peter Bartram, author of Headline Murder, to the blog today. You can read my review for his marvellous book here.
But for now we’re in for a treat, as Journalist Peter Bartram and has kindly written this incredibly interesting guest post for us…
TRICK AND TREAT
I suspect not many readers of Little Bookness Lane will be familiar with Benji the Binman. No, he’s not the guy who drives the truck which picks up your trash.
In fact, you would be unlikely to have crossed swords with Benji at a professional level unless you were a minor celeb with a drug habit, a rock star with a rocky marriage, or a crooked MP on the take.
Benji wasn’t a journalist himself but he fed scores of stories to tabloid newspapers. He found the stories by searching the dustbins of the rich and famous. Or, more normally, the dustbins of their professional advisers, such as managers or lawyers.
For example, when Benji found Elton John’s bank statements in a bin, he went straight down to Fleet Street and sold them to the Daily Mirror. His real name is Benjamin Pell and, to the best of my knowledge, he has long retired as a bin bandit.
I mention this because when I was creating the character of Colin Crampton for my crime mystery Headline Murder, one of the real-life people I had at the back of my mind was Benji. Like many journalists, Colin has an evangelist’s passion for uncovering the truth – and doesn’t care how he does it.
He knows that truth – as Winston Churchill once put it – is often accompanied by a bodyguard of lies. And people with dirty secrets to hide, don’t make it easy for journalists to discover them.
So Colin, crime reporter on the Brighton Evening Chronicle has to pull plenty of scams and tricks if he’s to track down the killers and crooks he pursues in my Crampton of the Chronicle series. And, yes, in one scene he does search a dustbin. But it would be a “spoiler” if I revealed what he finds there.
I’ve spent a good many years in journalism myself and done most things from pursuing news stories to writing weighty editorials. I know from personal experience that if you want to uncover the best stories, you sometimes have to bring craft and guile to your side. I’ll admit to playing a trick or two in my time – although, perhaps, we better draw a veil over some of the details.
But Colin knows every page in the playbook of newspaper scams and he’s not afraid to use them. He justifies doing so because he’s exposing corruption and murder. He reckons that if he can crack a story so that the killer stands in the dock, justice is served. And it does no harm if he also earns a “splash” – a front page headline – at the same time.
So Colin is part avenging angel and part gutter newspaperman.
Of course, the scams reporters play have changed a lot since the 1960s – the Swinging Sixties, when the Crampton stories are set. In recent years, it’s been hacking into mobile phones and computers as the Leveson Inquiry documented in detail.
In Colin’s day, there were no mobile phones and reporters had to find a phone box to call in their stories. Needless to say, Colin knows the scam we used to play to make sure a busy phone box would be free when we wanted to use it. And he knows a lot more, too – how to fake a phone call, get into a building where you’re not wanted, use local taxi drivers as informants.
When I was creating Colin, I knew he was going to be a bit of a rogue, but I tried to make sure he wasn’t unpleasant. He’s got a cheeky sense of humour and dry line in wisecracks. I’ve been interested in how some early readers have described Colin in their reviews.
“I became very fond of our reporter as he got up to all kinds of mischief,” said one. “Colin is very likeable and plausible,” said another. “Colin is crafty, likeable and clever,” added a third. So it looks as though the lad may have a fan club, after all.
Which is just as well. Because he’ll have more tricks to play in the follow up to Headline Murder, due out next year.
Good news for Kindle readers. Headline Murder (Roundfire Books) is on special offer during October – just 99p plus local taxes (saving £4 on the usual price). The book is also available in paperback, price £9.99, from your local bookshop. There are FREE Colin Crampton short stories at www.colincrampton.com.
Peter Bartram brings years of experience as a journalist to his Crampton of the Chronicle crime series – which features crime reporter Colin Crampton in 1960s Brighton. Peter has done most things in journalism from door-stepping for quotes to writing serious editorials. He’s interviewed cabinet ministers and crooks – at least the crooks usually answer the questions, he says. He’s pursued stories in locations as diverse as 700 feet down a coal mine and a courtier’s chambers at Buckingham Palace. (The former is easier to get into but at least you don’t have to wear a hat with a lamp on it in the latter.)
Peter wrote 21 non-fiction books, including five ghost-written, in areas such as biography, current affairs and how-to titles, before turning to crime – and penning Headline Murder, the first novel in the Crampton series. As an appetiser for the main course, there is a selection of Crampton of the Chronicle short stories at http://www.colincrampton.com. Peter is a member of the Society of Authors and the Crime Writers’ Association.
What an interesting post – thank you for joining us, Peter.
I’m so glad to learn we’ve not heard the last of Colin Crampton!