Angel on the InsideBy: Mike Ripley
This one is for a lot of people: Stephen Habgood of HM Prison Service; the Governor and staff of HMP Belmarsh; John Hopes of Essex Police; Margaret and Joe Maron, my spies on the London Eye; Michael at Gerry’s Club; Tim Coles (again) whose book A Beginner’s Guide to Model Steam Locomotives was an eye-opener; Frankie Fyfield for dubious legal advice; George Rivers of the Association of British Investigators; Sian Best-Harding for vital research beyond the frontier; and especially Amanda ‘Quisling’ Stebbings for cultural advice above and beyond the call of duty. Oh, and for Jessamy for use of the tattoo. Sorry about that.
Angel on the Inside began life in a maximum security prison and almost died less than a year later in a hospital stroke unit.
In 2002, I had published the eleventh Angel tale – Angel Underground – and a non-series comic thriller entitled Double Take, which had started life as a film script – my attempt at an Ealing comedy for 21st Century multi-cultural London. Two earlier Angel titles, both out of print for over five years, were being reissued in paperback, and after a long and frustrating wait, I had finally reclaimed the film and TV rights to my books. I had taken on the monthly Crime File review column on the Birmingham Post following the death of F E (Bill) Pardoe, agreed to serve for three years as a judge for the Crime Writers’ Association’s Gold and Silver Dagger awards and, as a day job, I was working for the Essex Field Archaeology Unit on a large Romano-British site in Witham, less than a mile from the house where Dorothy L Sayers had lived and worked up to her death in 1957.
Angel Underground had left my main characters with some back issues to be resolved, especially Angel’s soul mate Amy, who had revealed the existence of a previous husband recently released from prison. A vague idea for the next book crystallised into a plotline on the day I was sent to prison with Lindsey Davis!
To be honest, Lindsey (author of the outstanding ‘Falco’ series of Roman private eye mysteries) and I, along with Ruth Dudley Edwards and Paul Charles, were in HMP Belmarsh to give a talk about crime fiction and writing in general. It was a fascinating and rewarding event – for me, if not for the poor inmates who had to sit through it. Sadly, we missed (by a week) meeting one of Belmarsh’s most high-profile guests, Jeffrey Archer, who had just been transferred to another of Her Majesty’s Prisons (or ‘Windsor Hotels’ as one prison officer called them).
I knew Angel had a fan-base in British prisons, and not just among the lads on D Wing in HMP Chelmsford (keep reading, guys), but also among senior HMP staff even at Governor level, where I knew that my books were exchanged and discussed. I had even helped one ex-Governor with his MA thesis on the portrayal of prison and rehabilitation in crime fiction, agreeing to be interviewed and arranging meetings with fellow crime writers.
As a quid pro quo for my help, he arranged an appointment with the Governor of Belmarsh, and the deluxe guided tour I was taken on (the ‘deluxe’ bit being that they let you out at the end of the day) provided me with a shed-load of ideas.
Around the same time, I was contacted by a fan from South Wales who had written to the Daily Telegraph wanting to know where my crime review column had gone. I wrote back to him and told him that the Daily Telegraph had dispensed with my services as a critic, but the Birmingham Post had taken them up. That led to a long correspondence with Len Taylor of Port Talbot and my decision to include warring Welsh gangsters in the plot, with Len as a family ‘boss’.
On a visit to London and to an educational charity where I was doing some mentoring in creative writing, I watched the London Eye directly across the river and thought that had to feature too, if only in homage to the famous scene on the Viennese Ferris wheel with Orson Welles in The Third Man.
I had long wanted to write a scene set in the legendary Gerry’s Club on Dean Street, of which I am still proud to be a member, if only a ‘country member’ these days, so that went into the mix (see Chapters 8 and 9). And the final scenes in Wales, despite all the Welsh jokes, were based on numerous happy trips there in an earlier life to Brain’s breweries (Old and New) in Cardiff and on family holidays in Tregaron in a cottage loaned to us by that shy and retiring, but incredibly generous, book dealer, George Harding.