R.J. Mitchell discusses writing the second installment of the DS Thoroughgood series in this Q&A. Read about how the author researched Thoroughgood’s interactions with MI5, keeping the story grounded amid plenty of chaos and how the author’s beloved city of Glasgow acts as a character in itself.
R.J. Mitchell is the prolific author behind the acclaimed DS Thoroughgood series of crime thrillers. His second novel, The Hurting (out now!) takes the Glasgow cop into new territory — working alongside MI5 during a terrorist attack on his beloved city. In this Q&A, the author talks about the research that went into The Hurting, keeping the story grounded, and using Glasgow as a character in itself.
What’s it like trying to write a follow up to a story that people really like? Was there more pressure writing The Hurting than there was with Parallel Lines?
Not really and this was for two reasons: The ending of Parallel Lines was such that the follow-on was going to be a really strong part of the plot for The Hurting and I knew exactly where I wanted to go with that.
Secondly, I had wanted to take Thoroughgood into a different world and really fancied writing a novel that centered around a major terrorist attack on Glasgow. The planning and homework I had already done on that part of The Hurting had already meant, again, that I had a strong plot line. So, I think both of these factors meant that ‘second novel’ syndrome wasn’t really a problem!
The Hurting puts Thoroughgood at pretty much rock bottom. Between his injury in this book and you being laid up writing Parallel Lines, how much of yourself did you put into the character here?
Thoroughgood is indeed at rock bottom both mentally and physically. His angst was something that was completely down to trying to put myself in his shoes rather than using any of my own experiences, none of which were remotely comparable to what Gus had been through at the end of Parallel Lines!
What I will say is that my favourite detective was the incomparable Inspector Morse and Thoroughgood’s love life is based on his, in essence his heart in three states, heartbroken, recovering from heartbreak or about to be heartbroken!
In The Hurting, Thoroughgood works alongside MI5 and is dealing with, what could be, a global situation. How did you ensure that you got the portrayal The Security Service was as accurate as possible?
I had some very good reference reading and would recommend Inside British Intelligence by Gordon Thomas, as ideal for research and insight into this subject matter. I also compiled a treasure trove of newspaper cuttings from virtually any terrorist incident that occurred in the run up to the first release of The Hurting back in 2012, this proved invaluable.
Finally, as a former cop I also still had a lot of contacts who were very helpful in keeping me right in this regard and hopefully that shows.
The stakes here are much higher for Thoroughgood than in the first book, but it still feels very grounded. What was your process in writing some of the more high-octane sequences?
I tend to scout locations, looking for possibilities when it comes to pursuit sequences, mayhem or violent confrontation and in general the more spectacular they are or the greater the history behind them, I find that can fuel my imagination. So, in essence, I will walk a street, or examine a location and, if it is right for Thoroughgood, then I tend to find it actually prompts the flights of fancy that lead to the sequence.
All of the books are grounded in reality, but there’s a certain ‘action movie’ style to some of the chapters of The Hurting. Are these hard to balance?
The Hurting has more than one major terrorist incident in it and while I want these action scenes to really move, they must be believable and that is why every one of these instances has its origin in something that actually happened. As a prompt, there is nothing better than real life and hopefully, that also helps with providing balance to the plot!
There are also some very familiar locations in The Hurting, as there is in all your books, do you have any specific memories about why certain places were chosen?
Glasgow is a unique city with unique people living there and as a Glasgow cop, for over 12 years, I was lucky enough to have a fairly unique knowledge of buildings and locations that were ‘useful’ in writing a novel like The Hurting.
The fact that Glasgow had a forgotten underground railway with subterranean derelict and ancient stations was just too good a chance to miss in terms of providing essential locations dripping with atmosphere.
As a sports nut I had always wanted to use one of Scotland’s most iconic sporting events as a crucial part of a plot line and The Hurting was the perfect novel to make that happen!
As the middle part of the initial Thoroughgood ‘trilogy’, what should new readers look forward to in The Longest Shadow?
As with the two novels that went before it the basic plot for The Longest Shadow takes us onto different ground.
For a start, we have two parallel investigations and the main one is set on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond and revolves around a whisky dynasty, the Roxburghs. The idea for the main plot line came from the 1942 murder of a lady called Gertrude Canning, which provided me with a fantastic piece of inspiration!