Forensic Science is in its infancy in the Bow Street Society universe. Yet, regular readers of my blog and the Gaslight Gazette will know I enjoy watching documentaries about true crime, specifically forensics, and criminology etc. Therefore, I’m absolutely delighted to be welcoming a “real-life” CSI to this month’s blog. Andrew Barrett is also a fellow crime fiction author, good friend, and all round nice  person.

I started by asking him to tell us a bit about himself.
My name is Andrew Barrett, but I much prefer Andy – unless you’re telling me off for something. I’m 142 years old, and it feels as though I’ve been working for 140 of those years – surely I must be due a lie in and some free time for a change?
I live and work in Leeds, West Yorkshire. I live here with my wife, two beautiful daughters, a pair of stupid dogs (Boomer, a white German shepherd, and Basil, a truly thick Fox Terrier), a wobbly cat called Eli, and two goldfish – one is black and the other is silver, ahem.
I began my writing journey in the mid-80s, and it bounced me around potholed roads and cobbled streets for more than a decade. The stories I wrote were poor quality, but I enjoyed creating them, and they gave me a great sense of achievement.
In 1996, West Yorkshire Police offered me a job as a Scenes of Crime Officer (SOCO back then, CSI now), and it didn’t take long for me to switch genres! I knocked out the first book, A Long Time Dead a year later, and followed it with two more to round off the Roger Conniston trilogy: Stealing Elgar, and No More Tears

I’ve been examining crime scenes ever since, and I’ve been writing crime thrillers ever since, too. It’s an awesome combination.

You started your writing journey within the horror genre. In your opinion, how similar are the horror and crime fiction genres, if at all?
Horror and crime fiction share the same bed – they are dirty lovers who thrive on each other’s lusts.
Both genres share similar tropes, and they feature devices authors of both genres use frequently. Their life blood is surprise – sometimes called shock, or even horror. Delivering that shock takes skill in order for it to appear realistic and not some cartoon caricature dreamed up by a gore-fan high on Dracula movies. I find the more matter-of-fact one’s delivery is, the more shocking it appears. Gore should be drip-fed, not shovelled out gratuitously.
Perhaps one of the most satisfying devices shared by both genres is anticipation. When a protagonist is heading towards a sticky end, and the reader can see it developing, can see where it’s going, she can feel the tension mounting, and it’s this tension that’s interchangeable between both genres.
Perhaps the most noticeable difference between the two is the fact-based structure of the crime story, whereas horror can go completely wild, and indeed generate a lot of sub-genres ranging from zombies to spirits and anything else you can think of.

Your “day job” is spent working as a Senior CSI. Which is the most unusual forensic technique /  method you’ve used in a case and why?
There’s no doubt that forensic science has a lot of magic at its core – well, that’s what people on the outside think. It’s what I used to think before I skipped to the inside. I think the real magic happens in the labs where they can turn a swab taken from a drinking vessel into the name of a potential suspect.
Of course, I have to know what I’m doing at a crime scene in order to get that swab: I have to know some details about the job and what I need to prove; I need to know how to sample things within some very strict guidelines; and I have to know what to do next in order to further the process.
I deal with all crimes ranging from firearms recovery or discharge, rape, burglary, arson, and a whole gamut of others. I use chemicals to check if that red stain is blood, and more chemicals to determine if that blood is human. I have other chemicals to test for other bodily fluids, too.
Perhaps the best bit of kit I have is a very high-powered torch. It’s called a CrimeLite and to use it I need to wear special goggles to prevent the light from damaging my eyes. It’s so powerful that I can see stains that would otherwise be invisible – they might be stains in a sexual offences case, or they might be historic stains painted over to hide a bloody beating.

You creation is CSI Eddie Collins. If you could have dinner with Eddie and one other author and their creation, who would you dine with and why?
I can’t begin to tell you how tough this question is. There are obviously lots of authors I could choose, but if I were to have dinner with them and their creation, I’d want it to be with someone who absolutely knocks my socks off. And to be fair, there are a lot of authors who do that, and I’m not just saying that in case any of my author friends are reading this.
Nor am I angling towards someone like Stephen King because although I admire him and his work, it rarely ‘absolutely knocks my socks off’. I wanted to choose Jimmy McGoven and his creation, Cracker (Remember Eddie Fitzgerald?) and then no, I wanted to choose Ian Kennedy Martin and his creations Regan and Carter from The Sweeney. But both of those are cheating because they’re TV crime dramas, and I think the question demands a book author, not a screenwriter.
Before I reluctantly chose this author, I went through my bookcase for that one book I’d forgotten about, that one book that sizzled in my hands each time I picked it up. And, you know, I couldn’t in all honesty think of anyone else. And no, it’s not a crime thriller – it’s sci-fi. 

I would love to have dinner with Andy Weir and either botanist Mark Watney from The Martian, or schoolteacher/astronaut Ryland Grace from Project Hail Mary. I love reading the crime genre, don’t get me wrong, but I adored reading these two books and they did literally sizzle in my hands as I was reading them.
So yes, I’d like to sit down with Andy, get the grub out of the way, and start on the whisky, nattering with with him and either of his creations mentioned above. I loved two things about both of those books: the stories. They buzzed with realism, and they had a jovial charm about them, and they stroked one of my side interests, too – science. But as always for me, the best bits were the characters. They were real people, and they were humble, and they were scared, and they had to work hard to survive, and they had to make difficult choices. And every time one of those scenes came up, I’d be wondering if I’d be strong enough in that situation to make the right decision. And really, that’s what good stories and good  characters should do – they should absolutely knock your socks off.
Please don’t be disappointed in me that I didn’t choose Rankin/Rebus or Billingham/Thorne or Kirk/Logan – I love them all, but Weir took me out of this world.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking of writing their first crime fiction novel?
Much depends on what kind of crime writing you want to write. Is it strictly from the criminal’s point of view? If you want a police involvement, then there are fundamentals that you need to learn if you want to write convincingly. You need a basic understanding of your local police service, its rank structure, who does what and when. You might need to know what happens at crime scenes and who gets involved with them: CSI, CID, plan-drawers, etc..
All the above is very important, but it’s nowhere near as important as this: enjoy your writing. Let go of the fear that guides your pen. I suffered with crippling fear for the first two serious crime books I wrote (I’d written several horror stories prior to these), wondering if my word choice was okay, panicking about ‘show, don’t tell’, ripping out adverbs, choosing better word combinations that flowed.
Don’t panic.
See the first few stories you write as a kind of apprenticeship where you’re allowed to make as many mistakes as you need to get to the point where your own voice breaks out and flourishes, and where the panic drops away and all you’re left with is a deep desire, a passion, a passion to explore the story and the character.
Only write short sentences. Don’t use frags. I’m joking. Understand the basics of grammar, and why there are rules, and then follow them until you need to break them. Do what you like, do what makes you feel comfortable.
Don’t try to please everyone otherwise you’ll end up pleasing no one.
But, if you don’t enjoy writing, will your readers? I’m not saying you have to love every word, and I’m not saying you’ll never throw your pen across the room in anger or put your fist through the odd keyboard or two, or you’ll hate the character you’ve spent two months creating, or the story you thought was wonderful turns out to be a bucket of vomit. But always aim to get better, and always aim to love what you do overall.


I’d like to thank Andy Barrett for taking the time to talk to me today. He’s a fascinating individual who I could talk to for hours. I’m sure you found his answers to my questions as interesting as I did. You can find out more about Andy and his books by visiting his website (see linked button below). You can also follow him on social media.


                                                                                                                                                 ~ T.G. Campbell, July 2024

CHEMICALS AND A BUCKETFUL OF VOMIT:

An Interview with Andrew Barrett

© Andrew Barrett 2024

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Copyright 2017 Tahnee Campbell. All rights reserved.

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