Also today, over on Meet the Author I’m chatting to Des Burkinshaw about inspiration, living a blessed life, hanging out with celebrities, falling love at first sight, his new book Miniskirts are Murder and more…..
Tell us a bit about yourself:
Des is a former Times journalist and BBC/TV producer, composer and filmmaker. He is currently working on the third book in his Porter and The Gliss series.
What inspired you to start writing and where do you get your ideas?
I’ve been writing since I was a child. I still have my first “novel” – Death to the President – a 50 page version of the JFK assassination. I was 12. However, I made an error of judgement in deciding to become a journalist to help me with my fiction writing. It took me a few years to realise they were completely different forms. I’ve written millions and millions of words professionally, but I didn’t come back to fiction properly until my 50th birthday.
As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I was 13 and saw All the Presidents Men with Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford. I told my dad I was going to be a journalist and bring down the government. And 10 years later I was at The Times, a position I got because one of my biggest stories played a part in bringing down John Major’s government in the UK. Which let Tony Blair in. There didn’t seem much point hanging around after that and moved into TV in the mid-90s and I’ve been doing that ever since. I’m glad that worked out. I wanted to be a record producer first and wrote to George Martin for advice. I still have his letter – get a degree in music, do 10 years of tea boying etc. It was true for those times but was soul crushingly impossible for someone growing up on my estate.
Other than writing, what else do you enjoy doing?
I’m a composer and songwriter. I have albums out as theghostorchestra and The Black Flames. I’m just about to release a trilogy of 60s style film/TV music under the name of Romano Chorizo. I couldn’t resist it and wrote a mini book to go with the the latter – Who Killed Romano Chorizo? It’s a sort of murder mystery as well as completely fictictious guide to the tracks on the album. It’s very funny. I also have a one-hour interview slot on Soho Radio – The Museum of Soho radio hour, which goes out monthly on their NYC + Culture channel.
What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?
I have led a blessed life – I’ve met many of my heroes, played with some of them, I’ve made programmes for the BBC and ITV that were watched by millions every week, music shows and documentaries mostly. Because of those jobs I’ve travelled a lot too. I have so many strange and magic moments that whatever I pick will be a random choice. Ok, so I went to the original Live Aid concert in 1985. I was a huge Bowie fan and, as I was 17, this was the first time I’d seen him. In 2000, the BBC decided to use the follow-up concert, Net Aid, as the chance to do their first ever live internet streaming show. I produced it. Bowie was playing that gig too. During the soundchecks, I stood at the front of the stage where Bowie should have been, my back to the empty Wembley Stadium, watching his band soundcheck without him. Then he came out and decided to soundcheck after all. He came over to me and I said, “Shall I move?”
He said, “No, you’re alright, mate.” And so I stood, shoulder to shoulder with Bowie while he sang Life on Mars. I could almost feel my 17-year-old self in the audience at Live Aid staring at my back. The whole thing made my legs wobble.
If you could give your younger writing self any advice what would it be?
There’s no substitute for actually writing, so do as much as you can. However, writing is a craft and I think very little of it is intuitive. It took me years to learn how to write properly as a journalist (a very specific language). When I started writing fiction seriously, I quickly realised I needed to go on a crash course of learning the rules of fiction too. It took me 20 books and 2 years, but I honestly feel the time spent was worth it. So my advice would have been: write but learn how to write at the same time and don’t just rely on instinct.
Name one book you think everyone should read and tell us why?
I always say the same thing. The most underrated (though beloved) series of crime books I’ve read are the Bryant and May mysteries by Christopher Fowler. Start with The Water Room and thank me later.
What is the best thing you’ve done in your life so far?
Outside of marriage and becoming a father, the greatest day of my life was the day I spent with Paul McCartney in his studio, listening to him play, interviewing him, having him make my lunch, and then jamming for an hour. I’m the world’s biggest Beatles fan. Imagine leaning on a piano while Paul says, “Any requests?” Hearing him sing You Never Give Me Your Money just for me is pretty much unbeatable. Or should I say, unbeatle-able?
Do you believe in love at first sight?
I did fall in love at first sight! It didn’t last forever but we had 10 good years together before we broke up amicably. It’s all still a mystery to me. I met my last girlfriend and the woman who became my wife in the same week. I only went out with the girlfriend for a short time but she changed my life. As I was recovering from that mess, my now-wife looked after me and we slowly fell in love. I’ve been with her for 22 years and though it wasn’t love at first sight, it was the most important love of my life. So yes, it exists, but is it the most important? I guess exploring that is why we all become writers.
Do you feel it’s more important to have a) strong characters b) a mind-blowing plot or c) amazing settings?
All 3, for sure. I come up with a one-line plot, dream up a cast of characters who might inhabit it, and then start plotting based on their character and location. I’ve had some lovely comments from readers about how my books have felt authentic to them. I’m so pleased, because I’ve made trips to every location in my books – from LA and Bristol, Berlin to London – in a bid to make them seem real when I write about them.
What is the funniest typo you have ever written?
Not a typo as such, but early autocorrect in Word, turned a line of my CV (I triple-swear this is true) where I listed some of the people I had interviewed from “Michael Caine, Michael Palin and Kylie Minogue” into “Michael Canine, Michael Plain, and Kylie Minge.”
How has writing changed your life?
I come from a rough background but have had an amazing career. It took some courage to put the career on the backburner so that I would finally have the time to write fiction. My books are well reviewed and selling ok but more importantly, the readers have included a few people in the arts world who have commissioned me to do other writing projects because of those books. To my utter amazement, in 2021 I find myself writing the script (or book as its known in theatre) for a West End musical. A script of mine has also been optioned by a production company and they are starting on the pilot soon. This all seems incredible to me – and you’re talking to someone who jammed Lady Madonna with Paul McCartney! But you gotta push them buttons! I’m a terrible networker though. Despite my high profile jobs, now I’m older I have a dread of going to events where I don’t know anyone.
And finally, tell us about your most recent book and where we can find it?
Book 2 of the Porter and the Gliss series is called Miniskirts are Murder, and is the the follow-up to Dead & Talking.
The series is named after the hero, Porter, and his spirit guide (think Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life) as they try to solve historical crimes, with the aid of a psychic power – Porter can hear the last words of people who died unhappily. But they are ensemble books really, as the duo pick up a gang of misfits to help them. In Miniskirts, the gang have to find out what happened to a young actress who went missing in Soho, London, in the Swinging Sixties (in the first book they have to clear the name of a soldier executed for spying in World War 1).
I think people who enjoyed The 100 year-old Man will probably like my books too. The books are dark and funny – a deliberate mix of genres – but most readers have not had a problem with that. Only publishers have a problem with that!
Thanks so much Des for chatting with me!
I hope you all found this as interesting as me!
Have a lovely evening and I’ll be back tomorrow.