Harry Colfer: Writing crime on the frontline

Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing Harry Colfer, saving lives on the frontline and writing hard-hitting dark humoured crime mysteries in his downtime. And, Harry has generously offered a paperback copy of his first novel Dead Regular for giveaway worldwide.

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Author Bio: Harry Colfer is the pseudonym of an experienced critical care paramedic who lives and works in Brisbane, Australia. Although his stories are totally fictional, his writing style is very realistic and he maintains a healthy level of paranoia with respect to his anonymity. He would love to tell you more about himself, and some day will, but at the moment he considers that revealing his true identity could be a career-limiting move.

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Harry Colfer on Writing Crime on the Frontline

A very warm welcome to Booklover Book Reviews Harry! Firstly, tell us a little about what readers can expect from your novels Dead Regular and Beneath Contempt.

Hi, Jo, and thanks for letting me field a few of your questions. So, what can readers expect? Although the two books are part of a series, and have the same central character, they are quite different. Dead Regular is a cracking good murder-mystery, with often confronting scenes, and some real laugh-out-loud moments. Beneath Contempt, on the other hand, is a much more straightforward thriller, though still has the underpinning dark humour.

I assume your own experiences as a paramedic provided all the background required to develop your lead character Jono, but did you undertake any research for the criminal elements in your plots?

I do a lot of research for my stories, usually on the fly as I write, and can often disappear down the Google rabbit hole. But I did spend about six months as an Assistant Scenes of Crime Officer before becoming a paramedic. Therefore, the autopsies described in Dead Regular were from first-hand experience, and during that time I gleaned a lot of information about police procedures. I am also friends with a local author and serving police officer, Jack Roney, who kindly reviewed a late draft of Beneath Contempt, to make sure I wasn’t taking too many liberties with my police character, Detective Frank Giallo. As to actual criminal activities, I have to say, for Dead Regular, it was an interesting cerebral exercise coming up with different ways to kill people that wouldn’t raise any suspicions. Perhaps I missed my calling! 

Have you always been a writer, or was your path to fiction borne from the need for a creative outlet to balance the stresses and process the frustrations of your profession?

Absolutely, on both counts, we all need ways to relieve stress! Writing has always been a part of my working life, as a scientific researcher, marine biologist, and of course as a paramedic. About ten years ago, when I was getting frustrated with being stuck on a truck, my wife said something like, “Stop whinging and write a book about it.” But I think I took Mark Twain’s advice of ‘write what you know’ far too literally, with my work dissatisfactions seeping into what became the protagonist of Jono. Mind you, it’s certainly a pressure reliever having writing as an outlet. When someone or something annoys me during a shift, I’m able to come home and weave them into a fictional character or setting, but only I know the connection. 😉 

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Personally, I’m a big fan of dark humour. But, it does not sit well with everyone. What do you say to those that struggle to understand the value we derive from it?

Mmm… that’s a good question. I guess different types of humour appeal to different people. I’ve spent years trying to get my wife to understand Monty Python, but she still stares blankly at the TV while I roll about laughing. For paramedics and other frontline workers, the appeal of dark humour stems from the need to distance our minds and sensibilities from the reality of what we see and have to deal with. Making fun of something makes it less confronting, weakens its influence, and lightens the inevitable mental load. But that said, I have to ask, are people who don’t like dark humour going to appreciate my writing? Maybe, maybe not, but if you ever find out how to keep everyone happy, please tell me!

In addition to your crime mystery novels, I understand you are writing a short story series ‘Ambo Tales from the Frontline’ – one story for each of the major AMPDS codes, the system used worldwide to categorise emergency calls. And, that one of these tales recently earned you the 2021 SD Harvey Short Crime Story Award. Congratulations. Can you tell us a little more about this project and the prize-winning story?

Sure! An early draft of Dead Regular received some harsh but fair feedback, which meant several scenes had to be cut. Although writers are supposed to be able to ‘kill their darlings’, I just saw all the deleted prose as snapshots in time that still needed telling. So I came up with the idea of rewriting the out-takes into short stories and publishing them as eBooks, partially to see how my employer reacted. I then had the crazy idea of giving them some structure via the AMPDS codes, crazy because I really didn’t think about how much work thirty-two five-thousand word stories represented! I’ve now published twenty-four, which act as prequels to the novel series, and hope to get the remaining eight done this year, perhaps releasing a printed version in two volumes due to the size.

Stabbing by Harry Colfer - Ambo Tales from the Frontline

As to the award winner, Number 27: Stabbing, I stumbled onto the ‘SD Harvey award’ with only two weeks to the deadline. As none of my back catalogue fitted the ‘crime’ bill, I dashed out a story and submitted it, not really having any expectation it would win. The only tarnish on the award was that due to COVID restrictions I couldn’t attend the glitzy ceremony down in Sydney, but hey, that’s nothing compared to what others have had to go through.

The elephant in the room, of course, is how do you juggle the variable shift work involved in your profession and your fiction writing, all the while maintaining your anonymity?

The short answer to that is I don’t. Most frontline paramedics in Brisbane’s Metro North know who Harry Colfer is, but I don’t think that’s the case for many of the managers, which is how I like it! When I couldn’t make the award ceremony last November, I had to supply a photograph, and that was the first time a face had been given to Harry. Initially, I was very careful about my real identity, but now, after five years of self-publishing, I’m less worried. I think the horse (or elephant) has bolted, and if the powers that be wanted to kerb my creativity, they should have done something about it a while ago.

And when do I find time to write? Usually at night when the house is dark and quiet. I try to set myself a minimal goal of around two hundred words a day, something that’s easily achievable even after working a shift, but sitting down and typing often leads to a higher word count. 

Most authors are also avid readers. What was the last book you read that you loved?

Ooo… loved is such a strong word! I’ve always been a keen reader, someone who can disappear into a book and get surprised when looking at the clock, “Just one more chapter!”. But after I started writing, I would always feel guilty about not using my free time to write. Last year I came up with a compromise: I can read what I want, but must write a review (for my eyes only) before reading another. It’s a way of working out what I did and didn’t like about the story and hopefully improve my own writing.

Out of the twenty-four books I’ve read this way to date, only one has scored a 9 out of 10, Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter. I’m yet to read a 10, which I guess would be required for the ‘loved’ label.

I do remember loving Blood Work by Michael Connelly, it was the first of his books I read and he’s since become one of my favourite authors. I try to emulate his use of Los Angeles with my descriptions of Brisbane locations.

When can readers who enjoy Dead Regular and Beneath Contempt expect the next title in the series to be released? Or are Jono’s fictional adventures likely to be put on hold while you and your colleagues respond to the challenges of the latest COVID wave?

There’s an old paramedic adage: you can only deal with one patient at a time. Although the workload may increase substantially, most ambulances only have one stretcher, so it’ll still be one patient at a time. And as to COVID, I’ve just gone through two weeks of quarantine after testing positive. My symptoms have been relatively mild (being triple vaxed), and I thought I’d have lots of time to write, but I wasn’t expecting the fatigue. I kept trying to get things done and would either break out in a sweat, or get hit by an incredible wave of apathy.

Now on the road to full recovery, this year I’m focusing on entering writing competitions to raise my profile, and as mentioned, hope to complete the ‘Ambo Tales from the Frontline’ series. I am halfway through the third of the Jono novels, High Acuity, which is slated for a 2023 release, with the final book, Show Cause, hopefully landing in 2024. 

Thanks so much for joining us today Harry. Am sure all book lovers join me in wishing you and all your colleagues on the frontline line continued strength, well-being and support during this particularly challenging time.

Many thanks, Jo, it’s been lovely talking to you. You stay safe too.

Get your copy of Dead Regular and Beneath Contempt (Book 1 and 2 of Harry Colfer’s Jono Series) from: 

Amazon or check out his ebook series Ambo Tales from the Frontline.

If you’d like to find out more about Harry Colfer and his work, visit his website harrycolfer.com or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Goodreads.

Paperback Giveaway

Book Giveaway - Dead Regular by Harry Colfer

Here is your chance to win a paperback copy of Dead Regular by Harry Colfer. Entries open worldwide, close midnight 13 February 2022.

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