Morgues, murder and mother figures with Mark Roberts


Morgues, murder and mother figures with Mark Roberts

The latest DCI Eve Clark novel, Day of the Dead is out this week so we caught up with Mark Roberts to pick his brain on everything crime. 

Why crime?
It is my favourite form of fiction as a reader and so when I stopped writing children's books and plays for the theatre, it seemed like a logical place to go as a writer. I enjoy exploring human nature under extreme circumstances.

This is your third Eve Clay novel. Who is she and what motivates her?
The child is the mother of the woman. She is an abandoned baby from a Satanic cult who was rescued by a Roman Catholic nun, Sister Philomena, who died when she was six. Eve then grew up in the Catholic care system in 1980s and 90s Liverpool. Her motivation as a police woman investigating murders stems from childhood experiences. She wants to put wrong things right and establish justice for the victims. She is happily married and has a son who she adores and doesn't see enough of because of the demands of her job. This conflicts her. In every case she tackles she learns more about herself and clues from the shadows of her childhood emerge.

What makes Liverpool a great backdrop for a crime novel?
It is a city full of wonders and amazing places. I've lived there for the best part of fifty-five years and am still learning about its hidden treasures. We have two cathedrals, the network of Williamson's Tunnels, Otterspool Promenade, extremely powerful architecture both commercial and domestic, parks galore, two football stadiums, a redeveloped dock front, the river, the ferry, the docks ... Which is all great. But the diversity of the people, their humour and spirit make Liverpool not only a great place to set a crime novel but also to live.

What is the craziest thing you have done in the name of research?
I recently spent a morning in the Royal Liverpool University Hospital mortuary which was a great experience. Barbara Peters and her team are wonderful, dedicated and compassionate people. I went thirteen metres below ground into one of the Williamson Tunnels which was very spooky but eye-opening. Just before Blood Mist went to print, I woke up one Sunday morning and had the strangest sense of foreboding. At the beginning of the book a family is murdered in their home in a road called The Serpentine. In the novel, I gave the house a specific name. I was suddenly unsure if there was a real house with the same name. I looked up and down, no sign of. I asked one of the residents 'Is there a house called such and such. She pointed across the road. There it was on the gate. There were sixteen houses in the Serpentine. I relocated the unfortunate family to number 32.

Did you get inspiration from any real places, events and individuals for your book? Are there any interesting stories or unusual experiences connected with your writing?
I read a true life story about a girl who had been abandoned at birth and, in my imagination, I tried to make the circumstances of the abandonment as dark as possible. I then went on to think about chance. Life is a constant combination of good and bad luck. If she was so unlucky in one respect, what was going to be the counterbalance? I drew a life arc for the baby, wondered what she'd do for a living, who she'd marry, what her child or children would be like, what she'd be like. Eve Clay. The city of Liverpool and the people are a constant inspiration. Sister Philomena, Eve Clay's childhood protector, is based on a real nun called Sister Philomena who is now dead. Back in the 1970s, Sister Philomena used to help single mothers who were frowned on and mothers with lots of children who were struggling with depression. She was Irish and was physically as frail as a small bird but her heart was massive and her energy enormous. She defended stigmatised and isolated females. She had to be Eve Clay's formative saviour and surrogate mother. The rest of the characters in Blood Mist, Dead Silent and Day of the Dead are fully fledged tax-paying citizens of a little known island called The Land of Mark's Imagination. In my other life as a full time teacher of teenagers with severe learning difficulties, I was once approached by one of our more able girls who said to me, 'My mum's just finished reading your book Blood Mist? Do you want me to take you to the school nurse?' I asked, 'Why do I need to go to the school nurse?' She thought about it for a few seconds and replied, 'Well ... my mum says you're sick.' Mark Roberts: South Liverpool Teacher Turns To Crime.

Day of the Dead is out now in hardback and ebook