Julie Shaw is the author of a Sunday Times bestselling true crime saga that details the past exploits of her own family. She’s also a friend of mine and no kind of phoney so I thought it might be fun to have a natter with her about her books and shit.
Wotcha, Joolz. This is the age of short attention spans – you know, Twatter and such like – so let’s see if you can introduce yourself in 140 characters or less. No need for #TAGS.
I always feel like I’m at an AA meeting when I do this! Julie Shaw age 50 (eek!)Yorkshire lass born and bred, currently living at the seaside and I have quite a mad life.
That was thirty characters over. Which seems typical since, not content with writing one book, you’ve gone and published three?
Well, I don’t do anything by halves.
Duly noted. If these books were your babies, how long have the books been in … um … let’s say, gestation?
The first one – Our Vinnie, just didn’t want to come out. He sat in there for around five years like some two stone foetus that was content to gnaw away at my sanity. After that, well I was kind of slutty, the next two were there in quick succession, and they were both squeezed out within a year.
Your books are based on real people and events — The True Story of Yorkshire’s Notorious Crime Family. How close to the truth are they?
Now here’s where it got complicated. The second book – My Uncle Charlie – covers the 30’s to the late 50’s, so basically, everybody is dead. That meant I could be totally honest and that book is ALL true. The third – My Mam Shirley, is set in the 50’s and 60’s so a lot of the characters are still alive, but because it’s about my parents and their friends, I was able to be totally truthful in that one too. However, the first book (and this is why I struggled for so long about writing it) is set in the 70’s and has some very naughty (and unpaid for) crimes. For that one, I had to alter names, change some circumstances and dates etc. So, it’s close to the truth, but to cover my own arse I had to mix it up a bit.
Did you have to leave anything out?
I did, yes. The real Vinnie still has family living on the estate, and for their safety and peace of mind I left out some of the seedier details.
What has the reaction been from people who were there at the time, or their children?
It seems like the whole of Bradford are discussing the book at the moment and trying to piece together who might be who, and those who know or who I have told, think it’s great.
Any problems or unpleasantness?
Yes. So far just from the one person. I’ve had one or two nasty messages and in fact a warning not to go to print, but it’s all just bollocks and I don’t really give a flying fuck. Anyone who has read the books will know the kind of family I come from, and will realise that this won’t bother me too much.
Can you tell us about the history and family behind the books?
Canterbury Estate in Bradford, has long interested me. As someone with a keen interest in psychology and economic dynamics, that estate was and still is quite a unique place. For example, My Uncle Charlie starts way back in the early years of the depression, yet if you walked through the same streets in any of the other books, My Mam Shirley in the 50’s or Our Vinnie in the 70’s, and even today, you would see the same faces – different generations, but still, the same faces. They still have the same code of conduct too – dog eat dog outside of the estate, yet rise up together for one of their own. My whole family were brought up on there since it was built and without exception you are taught certain things.
- You have to learn how to fight – girls and boys. There’s no question about it and there’s no point in outsiders trying to teach you that fighting isn’t the answer, because we’re also taught that outsiders don’t know about real life.
- Family is absolutely everything, and the oldest in the family must be respected and obeyed whether they are right or wrong.
- Police, Social workers, School teachers etc are of another plane. Learn what you can from them but keep your distance and never trust that they will be on your side. I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture.
These stories are important to you, aren’t they? It’s not just that they’re good stories, there’s some deeper motivation for writing them?
The books are so important to me firstly because my dad is the last living sibling from his large family and I wanted to do this for him before he died. I felt that when he goes, a piece of history goes with him and I wanted to preserve this. Secondly, social history, poverty porn or grit lit (however you see it) should be looked at and learned from. Many people don’t realise that people like this exist in today’s society, and it’s through choice and design. They are hanging on to a past with pride and have no wish to let go. There are some differences of course, people have more money for holidays abroad etc these days, they buy designer clothes, eat better, but at the end of the day when they draw their curtains, you could pick any family scene out of any of my books, and insert it.
The artwork is particularly striking – reminds me, and I’m sure it’s deliberate, of the famous pictures of the Krays. Are you pleased?
You’re right, that was deliberate and I’m pleased now that I’ve got used to it. At first I was a bit distraught as the pictures look nothing like the real people. However, I get why Harper Collins did this and I’m quite pleased with the results now.
Reggie Kray was a good-looking man. Who’s your homicidal gangster dreamboat?
In real life I’m going for Reggie Kray but I’m attracted to quite a few fictional homicidal maniacs.
Where to start…I love Jack Nicholson anyway, so yes, Jack from The Shining. Then of course there’s Patrick Bateman (American Psycho), his inner evil warms my cockles, and then I did love Mr White from Reservoir Dogs. I’m sure there’s more but I’m sure I’m starting to sound slightly depraved, so I’ll stop at that.
Bateman for me. Duct tape. I need it for… taping something.
I’ve seen Our Vinnie in Tesco. How does it feel to be there next to the asparagus spears, Bramleys, and kumquats?
I’m so excited! I don’t even know what Kumquats are but I’ve been going in regularly to hover and stroke them. Strangely quite erotic.
That’s the books, right. Not the kumquats. Though they do look like they might be up for anything.
Has anyone caught you fondling your own books? The in-store security probably have their cameras trained on you. Do you offer to sign them for shoppers?
I did stand in the aisle on release day, holding up a book and saying rather loudly, ‘Oh my god! This is brilliant! Ben, Ben, you have to buy me this!’ Sadly, Ben had vanished to start the car up, leaving me to explain to other shoppers that, no, I hadn’t misplaced my carer, and that I was in fact the author. I’m sure they all meant well, because they smiled nicely and nodded a lot.
Do you have any real book signings planned?
Not yet, but my publishers are planning something I think. Anywhere except for Tesco’s in Bridlington.
You must be very pleased with your publisher though. Do you think they’ll be able to get you into Lidl?
Don’t tell anyone but I’m already in there, and Aldi! I bought a whole batch from Tesco’s and dropped off six copies to each. You can find them on top of the ‘when it’s gone, it’s gone’ onesies.
Shoplifting, you’re doing it wrong. So far you’ve written three books in the same true crime series. What’s next?
Another three books in the same genre. I know quite a lot of criminals.
Talking of crime, I’ve been watching a couple of British TV cop shows, like Happy Valley and Scott & Bailey. Am I getting a misleading impression or are older women getting better roles now?
No, I don’t think you are being misled, I do think that the older birds are having a much better time of it these days. I think the industry is beginning to realise that being over 40 these days doesn’t mean you’re ‘past it’.
And doing the boring old police thing in fresh and more interesting ways?
Definitely yes. For me, the cops that led the way for this had to be Cagney and Lacey. I know I’m going back a bit, but Tyne Daly was brilliant in her role. Before that we had Pepper Anderson as our role model, and for me, she just didn’t cut it. Nowadays, we have the fantastic Mary Shannon – In Plain Sight, Marg Helgenberger of CSI and the quite brilliant (and much older) Helen Mirren – Prime Suspect. Female TV writers and novelists are in part responsible for this shift, and though I’m not a number one fan, I think writers such as Lynda La Plante definitely got the ball rolling in this genre.
It’s a little know fact, but Lesley Sharp who plays Janet Scott used to live in a house that backed onto my Dad’s when they were kids. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve ever backed onto?
Ha! Perhaps that will be in a future book! But talking about houses backing onto other houses, well, we lived in the house that connected back gardens with Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. He will feature in another book.
Interesting. I know a bit about that case myself. Some of the cock-ups the police made. Anyway, in less litigious waters, do you want to tell us how you got your book deal? Or is that too boring for words?
A little boring I suppose. But I guess it’s the way anyone does it apart from the fact that I had it on Authonomy at the same time and I waited until it hit the editor’s desk until I sent the proposal to an agent. The proposal was for a series of books and hinting that there would be at least three more.
I read a piece you wrote detailing your writing process so I don’t need to ask you anything writer-y like that, but I do have a couple of questions in that general ballpark area thing. First, where would you rather spend a week away, Hay-on-Wye or Benidorm?
No contest! Benidorm all the way. It doesn’t matter how busy I am, where in the world I could afford to go, or what is going on in my life. I love to party and stay out all night and there’s nowhere like Benidorm for doing this. Real life scene from our last trip there:
I’m staggering, clinging to Ben, blind drunk. – ‘Look at those mad fuckers, love,’ I slur, pointing across the street, ‘fancy going out with your frigging towel under your arm.’
Ben hitches me up a bit, to stop me from falling, ‘Julie love, it’s 8.00am, we’ve been out all night and they’re setting off to the beach!’
And what are your favourite ways to procrastinate?
I’m the world’s best procrastinator. I have at least five other tabs open all day on my laptop, including Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, E-mail, and I just can not make myself open up word without the internet. It’s terrible and I hate myself for it!
Really, that seems perfectly normal to me. I eat, masturbate, and watch old movies – seldom at the same time. Talking of movies, when they film your books, who would you cast as the leads?
Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy – Game of Thrones) would play Vinnie.
Sean Bean would play Charlie.
Lesley-Jo Hudson would play Shirley.
Lesley-Jo Hudson? A relative?
Did I say, Lesley? Sorry, it’s Lucy. No, but how funny I picked her, I honestly didn’t even think about the same surname, doh! Lucy-Jo is a talented, actress from Leeds who appeared for quite a long time in Coronation Street. She also had a long running, main role in Wild at Heart.
Cool. Might have been weird having a relative play your mother. Or not. I don’t know.
Anyway, which song would you want playing over the end credits?
Our Vinnie – ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ (Vinnie is being driven away in a police car after the murder)
My Uncle Charlie – ‘Chain Gang’ (Sam Cooke) Charlie is sent to prison and family and friends are smoking together outside the court room.
My Mam Shirley – ‘Why’ by Anthony Newley – fits the era and it’s the song that Keith first sang to Shirley before he proposed.
I know that Anthony Newley song. I don’t know why and I didn’t know the proper title or even the singer’s name, but I’ve always liked it. It’s got rowdy singalong potential. You’re a bit of a singer on the sly, aren’t you? What’s your favourite to sing at Karaoke?
Oh, now that’s tough! I love singing! It’s easier to tell you the song I sing most. The one that I get asked to sing both at home and in Benidorm – sometimes four or five times a night depending on how many bars we go in! ‘The Deadwood Stage’ by Doris Day.
And on that bombshell, whip crack-away.