Interviewer: My guest today is the crime writer Barry Pagham. Barry, you’ve written a number of best-selling crime novels, but you wrote other things before that, didn’t you?
Barry: Yes, my first published novel was a spy thriller. I really wanted to write, and crime would’ve been my first choice, but it wasn’t such a respected genre back then. I read a newspaper article that said there was a shortage of classy spy thrillers and thought I could write one. To my great amazement, it was published but, of course, it flopped completely; so I wrote a second one, which also made little or no impact. The upside was that I’d established that I was able to write , which would stand me in good stead later. I’ve now bought back the rights, though, so that I can keep those titles out of print, they’re really not up to much.
Interviewer: So, your first big break came with the rather spooky novel Transgression?
Barry: Yeah. That one veered on crime in that someone actually committed one. But it wasn’t a crime novel as such; more a horror story really. I wrote it as a kind of one-off book , but then my publishers said to me: ‘You know, we can build your name up if we pigeonhole you as horror’ and at that time horror was in the ascendant. I was grateful to have a publisher who was enthusiastic and went along with the idea. It was a false trail though, because five books later, the genre had gone into decline and crime was starting to become fashionable again, and I was in the wrong pigeonhole!
Interviewer: So what did you do?
Barry: I asked my publishers to reposition me as a crime-thriller writer, but they were resistant to the idea. Although they said they wanted crime, they actually kept marketing my ‘horror’ tag. I got very fed up with them. I was half-way through a two-year publishing contract, so I was tied. It was my agent who eventually talked me into biting the bullet and just writing a crime novel. It was a chancy thing to do , and very, very traumatic because I could easily have ended up without a publisher. Luckily they liked the novel once they’d seen it, and the rest is history. With the benefit of hindsight, it was my best decision ever. But it was touch and go at the time.
Interviewer: And your crime novels are now very successful. And you seem to know quite a lot about police work. How’s that?
Barry: When I’m researching one, I spend two days a month with the local city police: on patrol, at crime scenes, or in their offices; and I’ve had some hairy experiences, been in the line of fire . Like, recently, there was a guy ‘five times wanted’ for armed robbery who was holed up in a local flat. When I arrived, there was a whole bunch of police; plain clothes, dog handlers, guys with armoured vests. I knew one of them and he said: ‘Stay clear of the door in case he shoots’. That really brought it home to me that this was the real thing. Incredibly, they rang the doorbell and said ‘Mr X are you in?’ Silence – so they smashed the door off its hinges, and there he was behind it. They threw him to the ground and handcuffed him.
Interviewer: Do you use those experiences in your writing, because the novels are set in the city, aren’t they?
Barry: Yes, very much so, a big part of what I’m doing in my books is building a reality, and every book pulls in the background of the city and the world of the police there. The sense of place in a crime novel is as crucial as the characters themselves . I’m published in twenty-eight languages, and each country seems to love the setting. It’s kind of bizarre. I get letters from all over the world from readers wanting to come and see the city. And I guess I can see why. I think it’s because although the city has a veneer of elegance and sophistication, you don’t have to scratch very hard to discover its seamy side below the surface.
Interviewer: So would you make a good detective, Barry?
Barry: I do think perhaps, if I was twenty-eight years old again, then maybe. Whereas at the time I’d never even considered the police, I’d have more of an open mind now . Perhaps with training, I’d have found the courage to jump out of a car and apprehend a mean looking suspect, or go off chasing someone on my own at night. I think one thing that would drive me nuts is the bureaucracy: If you arrest somebody you end up signing your name thirty-seven times. But I guess I’d get used to it. What I do admire about the police in this city, and I’ve got friendly with them at all levels, is that they’re incredibly good and committed people.
With all my travelling experience I’ve got packing down to a fine art now, and it’s hardly that big a deal anyway. If you forget something you just buy it at your destination. But on one recent trip I was running really late and actually found myself on the coach to the airport still trying to fit various clothes and papers into my luggage . But the one real kick for me about going to new places, and the thing I’d really recommend, is trying all the stuff that’s grown in the region, all the specialities . I’ve kept a record of them all, and I’m thinking of writing a recipe book!
This will probably sound obvious, but if you’re like me and leave everything to the last minute, then rolling up your clothes to put them in your bag can be your saving grace . Space is always limited when you’re travelling, but this way you can just cram everything in! Even so, this technique didn’t help me much on one occasion when I saw this locally-made rug I just knew would look fabulous at home. Sadly, no one pointed out that it wouldn’t be easily transportable so I ended up paying loads of money to bring it back . I probably could’ve got just the same thing at home.
Nowadays, I travel as much as I can because it’s dead easy to tell yourself you’re too busy to fit it in. I remember not joining a two-day trek with friends in South America  for that reason. Then afterwards, I heard how great it’d been, especially the hotel and kicked myself. Apart from anything, I could’ve really done with brushing up my Spanish. Anyway, wherever you go, I reckon it’s key to remember that, despite advances in technology making it theoretically easy to get great bargain-priced tickets, you can often actually get much better deals elsewhere, for example just by picking up the phone and talking to a real human being !
When you’ve arrived at the airport just as the final call’s being made for your flight, there’s nothing worse than being weighed down by tons of unwanted bits of luggage. My general rule is to take half the stuff I think I’ll need, and twice the money ! It’s done me proud so far! And it certainly stood me in good stead when I once got confused over flight booking times and ended up at the airport thinking I was leaving at midnight. When I finally bothered to look, I found my ticket was actually for the previous day . That cost me an extra 500 dollars to sort out – an important lesson.
I remember planning what I thought was a quiet beach vacation, and spending ages negotiating the booking with our travel agent. Then, having arrived and given the hotel address to the taxi driver, we found ourselves heading downtown into the city. I hadn’t bothered researching the lie of the land  so I guess it served me right. But it actually turned out well. We were right near the clubs where various bands played, and we really got into the local music; even performed at one place, despite not speaking the language. So I’d recommend doing something like that . It’s by far the best way of getting a true flavour of a place