I'm delighted to interview the fabulous Gina Kirkham, author of
Handcuffs, Truncheons and a Polyester Thong, her debut novel published earlier this year.
Thank you Gina for your time in being interviewed. This has been an amazing year for you, have you come down to earth yet?
I've been incredibly lucky, everything I have wished for, apart from being a size 10 again which would have taken wishes 3 through to 9 to achieve, has come true. I can't stop pinching myself wondering what I've done to deserve it! I think I'm still on cloud nine as every day brings something new and exciting in the book world. My hubby is feeling a little neglected as each night before bed I lovingly stroke the cover of my first copy, marvelling that the name on the front is actually mine, whilst he thumps his pillow and harrumphs into his kindle.
For this who do not know you, tell us a little about yourself.
Oh gosh, now that's the boring bit really. I'd love to say I'm the three E's......Exciting, Exotic and Enchanting, but in reality I'm just a 60-year-old wife, mum and nanny living on the Wirral with one used, but in excellent condition hubby, and two wayward Westie doggies called Brodie and Bailey (aka Prozac and ADHD due to their differing personalities). I was fortunate to have had an amazing career with Merseyside Police as a uniform response officer, retiring in 2012 when I found that although I could chase the naughty boys and climb walls, I was starting to have trouble getting down on the other side. So, 'Arthuritis' and myself decided it was time to hang up my combat pants and SWAT boots and swop chasing baddies for play-days with my grand-daughters, Olivia and Annie. I can be found most days with my arthritic knees squished against my own ears, in a tiny playhouse drinking pretend tea and eating plastic biscuits!
I have a wicked sense of humour, but I'm terribly sensitive and feel everyone's pain. I cry inconsolably at animal cruelty. I always try and see the optimistic or funny side of all the mini-disasters that regularly befall me....and I cheat unashamedly at Trivial Pursuit!
I absolutely loved Handcuffs, it was a joy to read. A laugh-out-loud story although it does have some sad moments as well. Where did your inspiration come from and how autobiographical is the book?
As Police Officers, we do tend to develop a dark and sometimes childish sense of humour, it is what helps us cope with some of the things we see and deal with. We would often return to the station to regale each other with tales from the darker side of life as a way of resting our demons. For some strange reason, probably because of my quirky personality, I seemed to attract more than my fair share of the very strange and most odd incidents and people. My colleagues used to say that I should write a book, so upon retirement it inspired me to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write down all my memories and experiences.
I decided to weave my own life story into the pages too, a way of honouring my lovely mum, who was also my best friend. I very much wanted readers to know that even with so much sadness in my life, there is always sunshine after the rain, and life does go on. I also wanted mum to 'live forever' through the pages.
What was your favourite incident in your book and / or favourite character?
Oooh there were so many but I think it must be the incident on the local Estate with Uncle Fester. It still makes me laugh and shudder at the same time. Sergeant Beryl Scully in the book is based on my own Sergeant and friend, Audrey Scally and this was very much a true story. Sadly, Audrey passed away in 2004, she was an incredible police officer and a very loyal and kind friend. I constantly re-read that chapter and suddenly she is still with me, her wonderful laugh resonating in my head as Fester slid over the roof of the police car, painfully potting the little blue lamp with his wedding tackle.
Which other books influenced Handcuffs, Truncheons and a Polyester Thong?
Now that really is a difficult question. I don't think another book has influenced Handcuffs, other than the way I wanted to format my book. I tend to write from the heart, Mavis's voice, I hope, is just like having a friend chat to you, so you feel part of her world.
I do have a confession to make though. Although I write humour, I don't tend to read humorous books. I'm a real Police Procedural / crime / supernatural / ghost fan, with a full collection of Peter James, James Oswald, Peter Robinson and Luca Veste. They're kept in very able company by Stephen King, James Herbert and Dean Koontz.
Family plays a significant role throughout your book. Did they know they would have a part to play in your book?
My poor suffering hubby, John, did. He was always desperate to know that I was going to portray him in a good, masculine light as each chapter progressed. Joe is based on John, and I can't really say loosely as all the traits, good and bad are his. My daughter, Emma cringed quite considerably when I told her she was going to become famous as Ella, but she soon saw the funny side and is now excitedly waiting to see what she gets up to in book two.
From a young age I knew I wanted to be a writer, but my senior school (despite encouragement from my English teacher), had other ideas and I was pointed firmly in the direction of nursing ~ I have to say, did turn into a great career. Life however did get in the way, and although I secretly 'dabbled' in writing throughout the years it has only been recently that I took the leap to write full-time. What has been your journey towards becoming a writer?
I think this is where I feel a little guilty. I had hoped to be able to fall against the comfy cushions on our sofa, slopping Gin over the cat, with my hand on my forehead wailing in artistic despair at my undiscovered talent as an author. Bemoaning those that had overlooked and rejected me. In truth, I sort of ambled along with only a burning wish to be published so that I could sniff the pages of a book that had my name on the cover, and make people laugh and feel happy. I didn't really think too far ahead. I know a lot of authors who have truly embarked on that journey and have got the scars to prove it. I was probably very simplistic. I write, drank gin, ate far too many biscuits, queried Agents and Publishers, had some rejections, redrafted on their advice and tried again. Finally being incredibly lucky to be taken up by Urbane Publications. I loved their collaborative approach, which was what encouraged me to query them with the manuscript for Handcuffs. I owe them a great debt for having faith in me. I still don't have confidence enough to call myself a writer or author, it seems presumptuous after only one book, as though I haven't earned my stripes. I'm still terribly in awe of other authors and would probably put 'occasional typist' as my occupation on documents!
Did you have someone, a teacher perhaps, or family member that influenced you to write?
Ah now, this is where I'm allowed to brag a little isn't it? My nephew encouraged me to write and helped me tremendously in the early days, suffering emails full of questions and the occasional draft to see if I was on the right track. I remember giving him my first 4,000 words to read, almost a book as far as I was concerned. I'll never forget his reply....
"That's great Auntie Gina, you've really got something there, you just need to double the word count....and times it by ten, to have the makings of a great novel."
Once I stopped choking on the lemon in my Gin that I'd inadvertently inhaled in shock, I booked on a short writers course run by my neighbour, which was an absolute godsend for me and Handcuffs grew from there.
So here comes the bragging. My lovely nephew, who I'm so incredibly proud of is none other than Luca Veste (Murphy & Ross crime series) and my neighbour is David Jackson (Cry Baby / Callum Doyle series). So you can see, I'm just a little blessed.
What are your writing rituals or habits, and where do you like to write?
I used to sit on the sofa with my laptop, but once again my mate Arthuritis put paid to that, but it was a fabulous excuse to commandeer the bottom end of our conservatory for my 'office.' I bought an all in one PC, a desk and a chair, and now when I have my blank moments, I happily stare out at the trees, flowers and my waterfall waiting for inspiration. The only downside of this location is it has ceramic tiles on the floor. I start with a comfy typing position and after about ten minutes my chair takes on a life of its own as the wheels start sliding backwards on the tiles and I end up with my keyboard three feet away from my fingertips. I'm currently using a dog blanket underneath it to give me an anchor, much to the consternation of Brodie who keep tugging at the corners to get it back. This then starts the wheels in motion again and propels the chair and me sideways into the patio doors! I do have a morning ritual ~ it's tea, cornflakes, doggie cuddles, emails, more doggie cuddles and then I'm ready to sit down and write.....then I get distracted by Twitter and Facebook and lose an hour. Social media is a godsend but oh dear, how I wish it wasn't so addictive.
Do you have any tips or advice for other writers?
Never give up. Rejections sting, but they are also a tool to help you grow and develop your craft. Always be kind, humble and appreciative of others who help you on your journey. They don't have to do it. I was so surprised to discover the Blogging / Reviewing family. Being a complete and utter novice, I had no idea they existed at the beginning, but without them I would not be where I am now. Their help, support and encouragement, and their laughter in the not so good times, has been a wonderful experience for me. They are friends I have never met, but who have become a very important part of my life. Remember too, that without the wonderful world of book readers, bloggers and reviewers your carefully crafted words would remain unread and unloved and would have no meaning.
Your favourite book(s)
Gosh, there are so many but I have to say the one that had the biggest impact on me as a blossoming teenager was, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. For childhood and beyond (I still read then now and ask for box sets at Christmas), it is Enid Blyton. Her Famous Five books still fill me with unadulterated glee and happiness. I have aways wanted to have an afternoon with 'lashings of ginger beer' but sadly I can't bear the taste of it and tend to lean (lean being the operative word after one or two glasses) towards Alnwick Gin and Fever Tree Tonic these days!
What next for you Gina?
Handcuffs, Truncheons and a Polyester Thong was planned as a trilogy, so I'm currently working on book 2 , The Next Decade. Police service is normally thirty years, so I thought it would be fun to break down Mavis's career into 3 books, each one covering ten years, which would have short chapters to add to the book being a light, easy read. I set out from the beginning to utilise short chapters hoping it would attract readers who would like a less taxing read in between their choice of more intense books.
I was once told that chapters should be like a mini-skirt;
"long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to be interesting......"
......mind you, whoever wrote that has clearly never seen my wobbly-wobbly, uninteresting thighs!
Thank you so much Gina for your time and offering a wonderful insight into being a writer. I look forward to reading the next instalment of Mavis's mad life in the police!
If you would like more of Gina you can find her on her website:
Published by Urban Publications.