Author Interview: Chris Leicester – 180° Chord, Or All Riot On The Night

December 5, 2021

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By BRUCE DENNILL

In 180° Chord by Chris Leicester, detective-sergeant with fantastic conviction rates suddenly finds himself convicted of murder and imprisoned in a facility he has sent many criminals to. There’s a riot, and he finds himself unexpectedly protected by an apparent stranger.

 

When, and under what circumstances, did the idea for your latest book come to you?

​I’m always fascinated about how fate can suddenly change things – either for the better or worse. I was ruminating over what set of circumstances could change most radically – and have the severest effects for an individual – when the profile of a “public servant” came into my mind. The role of a senior policeman suddenly falling from grace came soon after. Add in an unpleasant and vicious personality to that policeman and DS Gray was born, together with the idea for the book.

 

Did it initially feel like something to commit to, or was that something that took time to develop?

The idea for the book followed soon after its original conception, especially when I created a character, Connor, for DS Gray to spar with. I always form a rough plot plan – beginning, middle and end – when I’m in the early “construction” stages for a new piece. More ideas for story and chapters rushed into my head and soon I knew that my plan had legs and that the building I would be constructing would not only be erected, but would remain stranding.

 

How did you conduct your research or other preparation before writing – was it more experiential or more academic or desk-based?

​Some of the events in the book are based on my own experiences. The UK has been ravaged by several recessions over the years and a fall-out from this has been drastic cuts to public services at the time. I was a senior manager for a local council here in England for a number of years, but sadly, when the hard economic times came, my role got extinguished. This led me on to take a number of horrible jobs. I owned commercial cleaning business for a while, and if you replace Connor with me in some of the scenes in the book where this activity is depicted, then that’s pretty much real life and how things worked for me at that time. I didn’t turn to crime though! I had to do a lot of research on what actually happens in prisons and what life is like in there. There are a number of references to a riot in a prison in England, which was the worst disturbance in UK prison history. This was a real event and happened in Birmingham and so in this regard, there was plenty of documented material to access.

 

If resources (money, time, whatever) were no object, what additional groundwork would you like to have completed?

​I like to think that I covered the research pretty well. I spent a lot of time fleshing out the characters even though they’re fictional. I’m also a playwright and director, and since writing the book, I’ve now adapted it to a play which is touring the UK in 2022. This discipline of making sure characters can stand up literally and metaphorically in front of a theatre audience helps to ensure that the characters in the story are believable and well-grounded. I suppose the best way to have got a real sense of what prison life is really like would have been to have spent some time in one as an inmate. That’s perhaps would have been a step too far, however…

 

When considering influence, do you find yourself wanting to write like someone (in terms of their style, tone or use of language), or aiming for a kind of perspective or storytelling approach you admire or enjoy?

This might sound pompous, but one of my main influences has always been William Shakespeare. At school he was presented as someone you had to be bored by, but when I began my career in writing plays some 20-odd years ago, I had the good fortune to cast actors in my early work who were passionate about the Bard. They were also damn good actors and they brought this once dull bloke totally to life for me. His mix of poetic language, plot, emotion and stage craft always amazes and inspires me and I feel fortunate to now, finally, appreciate it.

 

What’s in your to-read pile – and what upcoming book (other than yours!) are you most looking forward to?

​I’m into psychological thrillers at the moment, those which have a twist of tech about them. The next book I’m going to read is Never by Ken Follett. I like books with action in them, but action which is justified, not contrived – so I’m looking forward to reading this one.

 

Do you have a favourite character that you have created? Or if you’re writing non-fiction, do you have a specific topic that you find endlessly fascinating?

​I wrote a character for a play and a book who was a Sergeant Major in the SAS. This has remained as one of my favourites for a long time. The character was in a work called Hurricane Hill, which was a play, still is a book – and an audiobook. The character arc for this guy was one of the things I liked most about him. Although a fictional character, I loved the way he moved from hard, gritty, no-nonsense killing professional back over to being human again. This process was greatly aided by the stellar cast of the play and by Kevin Brannagan in particular, who played the role with magnificent power and total conviction.

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