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Today, we’re delighted to welcome writer Gina Kirkham to The Literary Lounge.

Creator of Constable Mavis Upton, Gina publishes Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot, the second outing for her hapless, humorous heroine, with Urbane Publications, in July 2018.

First of all, welcome, Gina – thanks so much for joining us.

 

LS: Most people have one successful career if they’re lucky, yet you’ve had several, most recently writing: what was the first thing you ever wrote?
GK: Gosh, that’s going back more years than I care to remember (the downside or getting old!). I wrote a short story about a fairy that had washed her wings and shrunk them when I was about eight years old. I received a star sticker from my teacher which I proudly stuck onto everything I wore for the following three weeks – that was until I cuddled next door’s cat, transferring my treasured sticker to its left ear and before I could retrieve it, Bob the cat had it away over the fence, never to be seen again. Strangely enough, writing never really figured in my early dreams, I think it was more a later life ambition. I had two early goals, to be a ballet dancer and to join the police. I think I’ve been very blessed to have achieved all three of my dreams.

 

LS: You joined the police in the late 1980s, following a ‘lifelong ambition’. What did you do beforehand?
GK: I had a selection of careers ranging from dancer, cartoonist, secretary/PA to one of the best ‘jobs’ in the world, being a Mum. My first marriage very sadly came to an end when my daughter Emma, was five years old. I was just about to hit my thirtieth birthday and with no job or income, money was extremely tight. I had managed to secure a small seaside terraced cottage for us both to start again and had a part-time job addressing envelopes in the evening when Emma was in bed, but it paid buttons. Merseyside Police had just started an active recruitment campaign, which included the need for mature female applicants. I excitedly jumped at the chance and within two months I was fitted with a uniform and on my way to the Police Training Centre via the M56.

 

LS: Were you a good policewoman?
GK: Oh dear, that’s a hard one to answer without seeming to blow my own trumpet! … I was always fair but firm and incredibly passionate about my job and most of all, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I knew that by becoming a police officer I was never going to be able to change the world, but felt that if I took the time to care, then maybe I could make a difference. I received several commendations for bravery and compassion and my biggest thrill was being awarded Police Officer of the Year in 2000 (yes, the tale of Mavis in 10 Downing Street really is a true story, lol).

I’d definitely do it all over again, I used to marvel each day that I was doing a job I loved AND getting paid for it. Sadly, once I hit my early fifties, I found that although I could still chase naughty people and climb walls after them … I couldn’t get down on the other side. Nothing worse than having an offender wave goodbye to you while your legs are dangling over Mrs Smith’s sage green trellis!

I don’t think anything beats giving a victim a ‘good’ result though, whether it be the arrest of an offender, or better still, a decent custodial sentence in court. Another is seeing youngsters … turn[ing] themselves around and [going] on to make a crime free life for themselves. It does happen! … The worst … that will always be dealing with loss of life, either by accident or crime. It’s seeing the impact and heartbreak it brings to those left behind, it never goes away. Every single one I have attended still holds a sadness in my heart, from the teenage overdose who had a family to mourn him to the elderly lady who passed peacefully away on Christmas Day who had no one. One fatal road crash occurred over twenty years ago on New Year’s Eve, I was the officer that ripped the lives of a lovely family apart by standing on their doorstep waiting to deliver the worst news ever. Every single New Year’s Eve since, which is also my birthday, I always take a few moments to remember that family.

 

LS: Has humour got you through the most challenging times?
GK: Absolutely, I think all the emergency services have a dark sense of humour. We’d go under if we didn’t resort to it. On a regular basis we see the very worst there is in human behaviour. We can feel anger, despair, frustration, sadness and disgust, but professionally, we try not to show it publicly, so it’s pushed down until we can find another release, which often manifests itself as irreverent humour. We can be very infantile in the jokes we play on each other or in what we perceive to be funny. Retorts are sharp, quick-witted and never meant offensively. I found out very quickly in my career that it was better to laugh rather than cry.

 

LS: What’s your inspiration for Mavis Upton? Is she at all like you?
GK: *whispers* … Mavis is me! Yes, she is just a whole lot like me, I tried very hard in the beginning to create her differently, but it didn’t work. I think because the stories in the main are based on my life and career and the police myths and legends handed down over the decades, my own voice kept shouting louder than any voice I could dream up for Mavis. I’m a very happy, optimistic, easy going sort of person, if anything can happen, it happens to me – not that I really mind because most of the time it worth it because it provides a giggle when I share my ‘mishaps’ on Twitter or Facebook. Life can be hard enough at times and often there is so much negativity on social media it’s good to have something daft to lighten the load.

 

 

 

LS: How much of what happens to Mavis is based on your own experiences?
GK: Quite a lot. I sometimes read back my ramblings and think how on earth can this really happen to just one person, but it did and still does. The loss of my wonderful mum is covered in the first in the Mavis Upton series, Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong. I found the whole process of writing about my mum’s passing through the eyes of Mavis quite cathartic, plus it’s my way of honouring her and keeping her alive in the pages. There are some chapters and incidents that are purely artistic licence. If you think ‘oh that’s far too ridiculous to happen’… then the odds are that is one of the times when it really did!

 

LS: Was it easier to write this book than Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong (Mavis Upton#1)?
GK: Yes, I think Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot was a little easier to write. With Handcuffs I had no idea how readers would react to the humour or the storyline. I desperately wanted them to like Mavis, so it was quite a scary time when she eventually went ‘out there’ waiting to see everyone’s reaction to her and my style of writing. Because I had the groundwork and characters, I knew where I wanted to go with the sequel. I think I felt a little more confident in exploring a more emotional side to Mavis and to be able to add a balance between humour and pathos. I structured this manuscript a little more and even excitedly purchased myself a £3.99 bargain whiteboard from the cheap shop to plot out my story just like real authors do. I did discover weeks later the reason why it was only £3.99 … the black pen doesn’t wipe off so I now have my plot for all eternity and beyond! To be honest, and this is where I really would like to say thank you and blow a huge trumpet to the wonderful world of Book Bloggers, they have had a great impact on my writing. Their support, encouragement and advice has been an absolute godsend to me in my first year, I’m still learning my craft and I’ll always happily take on board anything they kindly offer … I mean, who better to point the way than those who adore books and are passionate about reading!

 

LS: If you were to sum up Mavis as a woman in five words, what would they be?
GK: Compassionate, determined, emotional, maternal, quirky.

 

LS: … And as a policewoman?
GK: Compassionate, moral, emotional, driven, courageous.

 

LS: What are Mavis’s main joys/demons?
GK: Her main joy is her family and of course her career. Her demons are her inability to ‘switch off’, to compartmentalise emotions, making them easier to deal with. She wears her heart on her sleeve which can, at times, make her vulnerable. The loss of her mum is her biggest demon, one which I know she will never fully accept – hence her graveyard conversations with her trying to keep her wit, motherly advice and malapropisms alive.

 

LS: What’s Mavis’s end of day, feeling rubbish, go-to music?
GK: I adore Bette Midler, so either ‘The Rose’ or ‘Wind Beneath my Wings’ (I’m sure Mavis would approve). Opening soundtrack for the film would have to be ‘With A Little Help from My Friends’ by Wet, Wet, Wet as that always makes me think of the special camaraderie we have in the police … and it’s very 1980s.

 

LS: In your ‘Field of Dreams’ film adaptation, who would play Mavis?
GK: Sheridan Smith definitely for Mavis, she is such an amazingly talented actor. I think I’ve watched her in Cilla about 500 times!

 

LS: … And her family?
GK: The fabulous Sherrie Hewson would be the perfect older Mavis. I love Sherrie and her wonderful comedic timing. Julie Walters is another actor I fan girl over terribly, she would be sublime for Mavis’s Mum, Josie Upton. Really going for it would be Ryan Gosling as Joe and Emma Watson would be a fab Ella.

 

LS: What do you read?
GK: I’m a huge crime fiction and supernatural fan – and embarrassingly enough coming from a writer of funny stuff, I never read humour books apart from my writing hero, Jonathan Harvey. I love James Patterson, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, James Herbert, Shani Struthers, Peter James, Mark Billingham, David Jackson, James Oswald … and of course the amazing Luca Veste (I have to say that – I’m his auntie!).

… I love all books and I’m a terrible ‘book sniffer’. I can be frequently found furtively lurking around the bookshelves in Waterstones. A few to mention are Veteran Avenue, Mark Pepper– all of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books (I still read them under the pretence of educating my granddaughters); The Birthing House, Christopher Ransom; The Green Mile, Stephen King; The Angel Experiment, James Patterson (all the Maximum Ride YA series).

 

LS: How long does it typically take you to write a book?
GK: I’m quite laid back when I write, so I don’t tend to have a very strict regime. I have the attention span of a gnat since my retirement from the police, I start with all good intentions and get very easily distracted by my gorgeously funny granddaughters wanting to go to the zoo/park/nature reserve/cinema etc., so the next think you know, writing is forgotten and I’m squished into a tiny plastic play tent drinking some awful tasting liquid that’s supposed to be tea while enjoying a slice of wooden cake! Up until six months ago, I had been caring for my dad who has Alzheimer’s, so my writing was a bit sporadic for a while as I found it very difficult to write humour while he was so poorly. Handcuffs took about eighteen months, Whiskey, Tango just over twelve months.

 

LS: Now Whiskey is published, what’s next?
GK: I’m currently working on Book 3 in the Mavis series. I’m not too sure where I may take Mavis after that: she’s still haunting my dreams giving me ideas for the future, but I also have a bit of a longing to write a series of 1950s’ lighthearted crime novels or maybe go completely to the ‘other side’ and write something very dark and emotional …

 

Well, Gina, we can’t wait. It’s been a huge pleasure spending time with you. We wish you every success with the book. We loved it.
GK: Thank you so much for inviting me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot | Gina Kirkham | Urbane Publications | 19 July | paperback | £8.99

See review ‘Everyone needs a Mavis … or a Gina Kirkham

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Gina Kirkham for giving up her time. Many thanks also to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group who organised the book tour of which this Q&A forms a part. The images were supplied by the author and are her copyright (top: the author with her brother at a Waterstones’ event; in uniform; on stage, bubbly at hand, at a live author event); ‘Whiskey in a tea cup, not’ (left) © The Literary Shed 2018.

Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong (Mavis Upton #1; 2017) is also published by Urbane Publications.

 

Also of interest: ‘The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;Some like it hot – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning novelist‘; ‘Meet Mary Jo Putney: The Literary Lounge Q&A‘; ‘Gunnar Staalesen: The Literary Lounge Q&A’; ‘Ian Ridley: The Literary Shed Q&A;John Fairfax: The Literary Lounge Q&A‘; ‘David Stuart Davies: The Literary Lounge Q&A’;‘Our Top 10 opening lines’

 

This Q&A is © 2018 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.