FACT OR FICTION: RESEARCHING LONDON FALLING
London Falling was a research-heavy novel. Not only did I want the detail of London lore to be right, but also the police background, and everything else that could be checked against reality. There's something about getting all the real details right that makes the impossible stuff feel more powerful, I think. I talked to experts in various fields, including Claire Ridgway, who maintains theanneboleynfiles.com and Patricia MacEwen, a physical anthropologist who worked for a California police department, and could tell me about bones in cooking pots.
But of course the most important research sources were police officers and intelligence analysts. (The latter, civilian specialists like the novel's Lisa Ross, are, I think, under-represented in fiction.) I thought I'd let a few of my sources speak for themselves, starting with an analyst who, like many of the people I talked to, prefers to remain anonymous:
'I saw my job as an "unpaid scientific advisor" to Paul to increase the verisimilitude of the novel, making it a better read but ignoring any desire to give stylistic or "writing" advice. I am pleased that Paul has an analyst as such a central character. Even after all the cuts, a third of the MPS workforce is police staff rather than officers, and I don’t think I've seen this reflected in fiction before now. However, I've only been out of the office twice in two years, so Lisa seems to be having a whale of a time in Quill's special unit! One of my personal bug-bears about police fiction is authors take one bit of advice and then over use it; for example, in The Bill, all the officers called prostitutes "Toms" to the exclusion of any other word. I think Paul has got around this by getting advice from many people. Also, most of us are still in the job so we won't be talking about archaic practices. I tried to only give advice where it was something I directly knew about. So while I don’t know if SCD10 (now called SCO10, by the way, because nothing stays the same name for long!) has a blind copy-typist, at least one Murder Investigation Team (MIT) does as I met the office manager who was terrified of her guide dog!'
And here's other analyst, who goes by the initials SJG:
'I've worked as a criminal intelligence analyst for well over ten years. I also love reading and watching crime fiction, usually chuckling when they get things wrong. Which is far more often than not. I've known Paul for many years and he's one of a few mates who I know I can trust with knowing broadly about what I do for a living. He knows I won't give up any secrets, but that I will point him in the direction of useful websites, books and articles. He sent me the first draft of his book back when it was called Cops and Monsters. I loved the story and characters immediately, but Lisa Ross wasn't quite right. Her job then - a police officer - didn't quite ring true in terms of who she is and what she is doing. Making her a police staff intelligence analyst would, I thought, rectify that. I told Paul that, and why, and he asked how he could make it happen. I pointed him in the direction of the Met's recruitment pages and described the process about how someone becomes an intelligence analyst. I also helped with little tips and tricks based on my experiences over the years on some pretty interesting jobs. I've read just about every draft of what is now London Falling, helping with some fine tuning to do with cop speak. I've loved it every time. I'm stoked to have helped just that tiny bit in getting Lisa Ross's job right, not least because she - like the others - is such a fabulous character.'
And finally, and I blush at how generous he is with his applause, here's a Chief Inspector of my acquaintance:
'When (comedian and mutual friend) Toby Hadoke put Paul Cornell in touch with me and he asked if I'd provide advice on the policing content of London Falling, I was glad to help. I was particularly pleased and surprised to discover that one of the lead characters was an intelligence analyst. Analysts play a vital role in today's policing effort, but they rarely turn up in police dramas in any format. You'll like Lisa Ross. I recognise her.
I'm sure I've worked with her (possibly at Gipsy Hill, a station I've worked from and which is our heroes' base in the story), and that's a testament to the preparation I know Paul must have undertaken before I came to perform my small role in the project. I provided comments in a number of areas: sometimes about police culture; sometimes about procedures; sometimes busting myths. Always with the caveat that I of course understood that strict compliance with how things are in the real world doesn't always make for the best story-telling. But Paul clearly wanted this fiction to have a basis in real policing. It was a pleasure to be among the first people to become acquainted with Quill, Ross, Costain and Sefton, and in particular to savour a moment in the story that had me writing an immediate email to Paul. It wasn't a long email. It said something like: "I just got to the bit where ... [redacted]. Wow." You'll know it when you read it.'
I should offer my thanks to those three and all the others, not only for their kind words here, but for their contribution to the book. I now know, for example, what 'ghostbusters' do in the real life Met, and where in an area car you'd find the Kojack. I also got a feel for Met culture from these amazing people: how annoying the civilian point of view can be; how carefully anti-glamourous an undercover police officer is; how the shapes of Organised Crime Networks play out on Ops Boards. All these shapes bend, but don't break, during a horrifying encounter with the supernatural, and that's where, I hope, the book gets its flavour.
It should also be noted that I didn't have to go very far to find my police and analysts. They're almost all recruited from within fandom. So I hope London Falling ends up on the bookshelves in quite a few London police stations.