I’ve just got back from another terrific weekend at the annual Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at the famous The Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate. (Yes, the very hotel where Agatha Christie was ‘discovered’ after her disappearance in 1926.) This year’s chair – the acclaimed best-selling novelist and inspiration for TV series Vera and Shetland, Ann Cleeves – had assembled a really superb and diverse guest list that discussed all kinds of facets of crime fiction (from morality and forensics, to how location influences stories and the ins and outs of writing historical crime fiction), and there were lots of interesting tidbits of news and views that bubbled up from the weekend. One of the guests, Paul Abbott, is particularly relevant to this site and during his interview with BBC Breakfast’s Steph McGovern, he revealed himself to be an extraordinary man and some thrilling news for all crime drama fans.
Paul Abbott is a man who fizzes with nervous energy. Constantly fidgeting in his chair (it was, to be fair, extremely hot in the main auditorium), he told us about his incredible work ethic, the way he writes his characters and what he’s got coming up. He’s got a lot coming up.
His recent Channel 4 series No Offence saw him return to the crime genre (he’s worked on Cracker in the past, as well being the man behind the outstanding State Of Play in the early 2000s) and it was a huge success. As he and Steph got into the rhythm of their chat, he told us that there were 10 drafts written for the first episode of No Offence before he felt he and his writing team had cracked it, and that it’s just plain rude to write something perfect in the first draft process. You often hear writers at these kinds of events tell the assembled audiences that writing, writing, writing is the key and not fearing failure is also a big thing. If things aren’t working in the first draft, that’s ok. Abbott reaffirmed this. In terms of the casting for No Offence he originally had Pam Ferris in mind when he was writing the character of the uncompromising DI Vivienne Deering, but a last-minute audition, via an iPad Skype session, by Jo Scanlon – make-up free, no less – sealed the deal.
Subsequently he was asked about his ability to write female characters brilliantly – something he’s known for – and his answer was just the best: “If you can’t write women, men or kids equally you shouldn’t be allowed near a keyboard.”
Another little tidbit? Jimmy McGovern originally wanted Robert Lindsay for the lead role in Cracker because he saw Fitz as “stick thin”. He then went with Robbie Coltrane, who wasn’t so stick thin.
Abbott also spoke candidly about his troubled upbringing – a chaotic home life, a family full of criminals, a breakdown and suicide attempt at 15 and subsequent years of therapy – and that writing is something he just cannot live without. His constantly twitching mind produces phrases like “the Scotch broth of it” referring to the essence of something and his trademark naughty sense of humour often shined through, too, using the word filthy to pretty much describe everything.
His key quote? “I was brought up in chaos. I like chaos.”
And doesn’t he just. He revealed he’s now working on SEVEN projects at the moment, which drew gasps from the crowd. His next is a musical set in the Old Bailey (!), two executive producing jobs in the US, the second series of No Offence (where Deering and the three people who know her secret will not tell anyone, and carry it with them as they tackle a new case), which was recommissioned, a Western ‘Cracker-like” series set before forensics were a reality and a second series of State Of Play.
Yes, arguably the best crime drama of the 2000s will be coming back. There was no news whether it will feature the original cast, but it is coming back.
So Paul Abbott, then. An extraordinary, infectious and extremely generous and passionate man.