The beat cop who became a crime writer

By Magnus Bennett
BBC Scotland News

image captionDenzil spent five years as a police officer in the 1980s

Denzil Meyrick spent almost five years on the beat as a young constable in Glasgow. Thirty years on, he is about to release his seventh crime book.

Denzil Meyrick knows more than most about crime.

In the 1980s, he was pounding the streets of Glasgow as a beat cop.

It was to prove invaluable when he launched his career as a crime writer six years ago.

His books have focused on DCI Daley, a Glasgow detective who is parachuted (metaphorically) into the fictitious rural community of Kinloch to solve a series of gruesome murders.

The 52-year-old reckons he has already sold more than a million books - between paperbacks, ebooks and audio books.

image captionDenzil has now written seven books about DCI Daley

His seventh work - The Relentless Tide - is due to be released on 6 September.

Denzil says he owes much of his success to his early years as a police officer.

He says: "It was a very interesting part of my life and, although I didn't know it at the time, it certainly helped me in terms of the books.

"You had the full gamut of experience as a Glasgow cop and you did see the rather nastier side of human nature in all its forms.

"During our training, you were exposed to photographs of murder cases and so on but there was no substitute for actually being on the job and seeing things first hand - however unpleasant that could be.

"I remember as a very young constable attending a sudden death of a man who had died of a heart attack.

"He had been lying for some time and his body had been eaten away by flies and grubs and all sorts of things - it was a pretty dreadful scene.

"I couldn't get rid of the smell of that - I showered and bathed and washed my clothes and had my uniform dry-cleaned - but still that smell haunted me for weeks on end.

"I can still conjure it up in my olfactory memory now - it was an odour that never left me."

image copyrightGetty Images

How much do authors earn?

A recent survey of more than 5,500 writers by the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) suggests it is getting harder than ever to make a living in the sector.

It found that the median annual income of a professional writer - defined as someone who dedicates more than half of their working hours to writing - stands at less than £10,500.

That is 42% less in real terms than it was in 2005 and 15% less than in 2013.

At £3,000 a year, the typical median earnings of "all writers" - which includes occasional and part-time writers - have fallen in real terms by 49% since 2005.

Female professional authors on average earn only about 75% of the amount earned by their male counterparts.

'Make it authentic'

image captionDenzil wrote his first book in 2012

Having left the police following a back injury, Denzil went on to develop a business career, working as a distillery manager and running a pub among other things.

But it seems that writing was in his blood.

In 2012, his first novel - Whisky from Small Glasses - was published, launching the career of DCI Daley as a cop forced to move from his Glasgow patch to Kinloch, a fictitious location inspired by Denzil's home town of Campbeltown in the Kintyre peninsula.

He says: "When I first thought of writing a book, I thought about a historical novel, and I realised that I would have to make it authentic.

"So, having never written a book before, I decided to return to the old legend of write what you know, and I knew about the police and I clearly knew about the Kintyre area so I combined these two things, I conflated them and wrote about Daley."

image copyrightMary and Angus Hogg/Geograph
image captionDenzil says his books were in part inspired by his home town of Campbeltown

Denzil says that one of the hardest elements of writing a detective novel is condensing the reality of life as a cop.

He says: "If a member of the public were to sit in on a real murder inquiry, they would be bored to tears because a lot of it involves going through phone and bank records or looking through hedgerows.

"The majority of a murder inquiry is incredibly tedious, so as an author you have to dramatise that, and you touch on the parts that are of interest which are the chase and the eventual capture - or not - of the perpetrator.

"This is fiction, after all - not reportage. So you do have to create that entertainment.

"Most murders are incredibly complex - especially today when you include the amount of forensic and DNA evidence that is considered.

"So it is up to the writer - however he or she goes about it - to create a believable world that surrounds that crime and make it entertaining at the same time."

image captionDenzil's seventh book is due to be published next month

Denzil also feels that his experience as a cop gives authenticity to his characters.

"I'm glad to say many police officers have said to me that they love my books because of the way the characters speak to each other," he says.

"I think this is where some writers go wrong. Even in some television series, there are these very earnest characters who are always speaking in acronyms and looking at each other with furrowed brows.

"That's not the way the police, or any other of the emergency services handle their day.

"There has to be an element of black humour in the police as there is in the ambulance and fire services, just to help people who are human beings - and all the frailties that entails - get through their day."

* Denzil Meyrick will be appearing on stage with fellow writer Quintin Jardine at international crime writing festival Bloody Scotland in Stirling on 23 September.