Today I’m delighted to welcome Paul Gadsby to the CTG blog to talk about his new book – Chasing the Game.
So, let’s get to it …
Chasing the Game is out now, and gathering rave reviews. Can you tell us a bit about it?
It’s a crime thriller depicting one of the most fascinating real-life crimes in British history – the theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1966. Three months before the football World Cup tournament was due to begin, the trophy, on display in Westminster Central Hall, was stolen in an audacious daylight raid with the back doors of the building forced open. No one actually saw the trophy being taken but a ransom demand was made a few days later to the Football Association (FA), who were desperate to save face and reclaim the trophy, and a rendezvous organised where the trophy would be exchanged for cash. But the exchange never happened, one man was arrested for demanding the ransom but was never connected to the actual theft, so the identity of the thieves remains a mystery. Bizarrely, the trophy was discovered under a bush in a suburban street in Norwood a week after the theft by a dog named Pickles, who subsequently became a national hero.
I wanted Chasing the Game to be very much a fictional novel before anything else (not a documentary-style review of the crime etc), so the make-up of the gang of thieves and their particular characters and motivations were all driven by my imagination and I had a blank canvas to work on there. I used elements of the real-life tale (the ransom demand, the exchange set-up) and created extra conflict by having my FA chairman as a steely character who is determined to recover from the global humiliation the theft caused him and his organisation, and hell-bent on making the criminals pay. I had a theory early on about how I believed the trophy ended up under that bush, and basically worked back from there to create a gripping story.
In Chasing the Game, a real-life event – the theft of the Jules Rimet Trophy (the football World Cup) in London in March 1966 – is integral to the story. What was it about this event that sparked your idea for the novel?
I was drawn in by the fact that the crime has so many unanswered questions to it. The actual theft appears to have been carried out with a fair degree of good planning and professional expertise, so it seems a group of people did it rather than someone alone snatching an opportunity. But then the trophy – their only asset in getting something out of their efforts – ends up under a hedge a week later. Something must have gone dramatically wrong between that group of people during those seven days, as the pressure mounted with the case attracting international publicity.
I’ve always been fascinated by the internal structure of organised criminal set-ups and the personality clashes that rise to the surface. I’d been toying with a theme for a crime novel about leadership – about how some people have the natural skillset to be an effective operations man in a number two role but not necessarily the abilities to handle the wider scale responsibilities that come with being number one – and thought it would be good fun to drop this theme into the midst of a dramatic story such as the 1966 theft.
How did you go about researching the time period and the real life events?
I’ve always been into 1960s-set gangster stuff such as the Krays and the Great Train Robbery, so I read a lot of books surrounding those characters and looked into the pressures they faced in their lives at that time; what kind of lifestyles they were living and what they were aspiring to. I also watched a number of television documentaries about everyday life in Britain in the 1960s (thank you BBC4 et al) because I was determined to make that period a character of its own in the book. I love the music of that era but have always felt the way the 1960s is often portrayed to people like me who were born after then (Swinging Sixties, everyone flocking to a vibrant Carnaby Street to spend a fortune on the latest fashions etc) is a little skewed from reality. I wanted people consumed with the grind of their jobs, their money problems, their marital problems, their parenting problems and so on – characters burdened by the harsh challenges that life always throws into people’s laps.
That’s where the ransom demand in Chasing the Game proved really handy as a motivation driver within the narrative. I deliberately placed my ‘firm’ of criminals in west London, a few miles away from the central Soho scene they ultimately want to get to and grab a stake in – and the ransom cash is their leg-up to this world, their ticket to a brighter future. The trophy theft is also a chance for my ageing, old-school FA chairman to hit back against the thieves he sees as a stark representation of an increasingly insurgent society, and leaves him questioning his place in the world.
Could you tell us a little about your writing process, do you dive right in, or plan the story out first?
Chasing the Game is my first novel to be published but I’d written a few before that and with each one the process was slightly different. With this one I had the end of the story in place first, and worked back from there, carefully mapping out the characters and the various conflicts they would face, then drawing up a detailed chapter breakdown before getting into the actual writing. With other books I delved into the writing a lot quicker – happy with the overall concept and where things would finish, I went for it, adopting the ‘car headlights in the dark’ approach (writing away knowing what is immediately in front of you as well as the end destination, but never seeing what is a little further down the road). This approach allows the detail of each chapter to develop more organically and is an enjoyable way to write, but is probably more suited to character-driven work rather than plot-driven material. Either method (and many more besides) is fine and can be successful as far as I’m concerned, as long as the writer has a burning passion to explore the themes they want to unravel, and has created mesmerising characters who have plenty at stake within a tension-riddled story.
Who are your favourite crime writers – which books and authors have inspired you?
I have tended to prefer standalone books rather than mass-volume serials; I love it where the writer has the freedom to take his main character down any dark alley and the reader really doesn’t know how bad things will get. With the serials, we always know the main character is going to be fine and any injuries sustained will not be too serious because they’ll be back in another adventure next summer. That said, although I’m no great fan of those formats, there have been some tremendous writers who have gone down that path and deserve every credit – Ian Fleming for one, while Ian Rankin and Mark Billingham are delightful writers and I’ve enjoyed many of their books. Ray Banks’ mini-series following PI Cal Innes was fantastic and wrapped up with great humility, while David Peace’s Red Riding Quartet inspired me to explore mixing fact with fiction.
I love noir classics as well as slick contemporary thrillers. Elmore Leonard’s ear for dialogue is, in my opinion, unmatched. James Crumley is a big hero of mine as are the likes of Ken Bruen, James Sallis, Patricia Highsmith, Jake Arnott, Graham Greene, Jim Thompson, Adrian McKinty and James Ellroy. Eddie Bunker’s No Beast So Fierce is a glorious standalone book and one of my all-time favourites, as is The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips.
And lastly, what does the rest of 2014 have in store for you?
I have written the first draft of another novel, a tale about a recently-retired boxer who is forced into a life of crime by his former manager, and look forward to editing and polishing that soon. But in the meantime I’m enjoying promoting Chasing the Game – reviews from crime fiction sites have been fantastic so far, while I’ve been asked to speak about the book at this summer’s Festival of Football Ideas in Bristol, a literary-music-art-themed event, which I’m really looking forward to.
A huge thank you to Paul for allowing us to grill him!
If you’d like to find out more about Paul Gadsby and Chasing the Game pop on over to his website at http://www.paulgadsbyauthor.co.uk/