Helen Pepper interview with David Alan Binder

posted Feb 14, 2017, 5:17 PM by David Alan Binder

Helen Pepper interview with David Alan Binder


My Dear Readers and for those who are my Dear Writers:


This is a bit of a different interview and Helen is not an author.  Read on to see her credentials and see how she is involved with authors.


Bio from A. D. Garrett (Margaret Murphy) site:  Helen Pepper is a Senior Lecturer in Policing at Teesside University. She has been an analyst, Forensic Scientist, Scene of Crime Officer, CSI, and Crime Scene Manager.

Helen Pepper

As a Crime Scene Investigator, she examined over 3000 crime scenes, ranging from thefts and fires to rapes and murders. Later, as Crime Scene Manager for Durham Police, she supervised CSIs in over 50 major incidents. An author in her own right, Helen has co-authored, as well as contributed to, professional policing texts. Her expertise is in great demand with crime writers: she has been a judge for the CWA’s Non-Fiction Dagger award since 2010, and is Forensic Consultant on both the Vera and Shetland TV series.


1.     Where are you currently living?

I live in County Durham, which is a beautiful area in the North East of England


2.     What is the most important thing that you have learned in your forensics, policing experience, so far?

That you can never ‘know it all’ you have to keep learning


3.     What would you say is your most interesting quirk?

My quirks are many and various, but I’m not sure any of them are interesting!


4.     Tell us your insights on seeking information from individuals such as yourself about policing and forensics?

Most people who work in policing and forensics are passionate about what they do, and more than happy to share what they know. I started working with authors because someone rang the police station where I worked and asked me to go and speak to a writing group. But probably the best way to make contact with professionals who are willing to help is to go to a crime writing festival, you’ll meet lots of interesting people – writers, scientists, CSIs lawyers and have a really good time too!


5.     How did you happen to be contacted by Margaret Murphy (A.D. Garrett)?

I’d been doing events with an author called Ann Cleeves for about fifteen years. Ann is a member of a group of writers from the North of England called the Murder Squad, which was founded by Margaret, so we’d come across each other here and there over the years. When Margaret was looking for a forensic collaborator to work with her on the A.D. Garrett books she asked Ann if I might be interested. Margaret is a fantastic writer so I jumped at the chance to work with her. 


6.     How many authors have you worked with?

I’ve worked with quite a few authors over the years who’ve contacted me with specific one-off questions, and as I said previously I’ve worked with Ann Cleeves quite a lot, but the work with Margaret on the A.D. Garrett books is my only ‘official’ collaboration. When Ann Cleeves books were picked up for TV (the ‘Vera’ & ‘Shetland’ series) I was invited to become a consultant for the TV series, which has brought in a whole new dimension, because I now get to work with scriptwriters as well as novelists – which I find fascinating


7.     How did you or would you suggest acquiring a researcher, policing or forensics expert? 

Go to crime writing festivals, or pick up the phone to your local law enforcement agency / forensic lab and see if you can score a visit – you might be surprised at how willing people are to help!


a.     Do you recommend having one for every crime writer or just in special cases?

It depends what sort of writer you are. If you write procedurals you need to get your facts right, but even then you might need to play a little fast and loose with the detail to make your story interesting. I think you’ve got to aim for no clangers, more or less accurate and a brilliantly interesting story. If you can develop a relationship with an expert it can really help your writing, because it speeds up the whole process of getting your research done.


8.     What was one of the most surprising things you learned your creative process?

Watching writers work I was amazed to find out what a hard slog it is! I thought that professional authors would just ‘write a story’ and that would be it – a bit like you used to do at school but on a larger scale; I had no idea how much editing and rewriting and research and fact-checking goes into it. Also, with the scriptwriters – coming up with the idea, telling the story through dialogue and breaking the plot up into coherent sections that fit between the ad breaks – it’s amazingly skillful!

9.     Do you have any suggestions for providing twists in a good story? Sometimes I come up with plot twists, but I’m more about the writer coming up with the plot twist and me working out how to make it scientifically feasible and believable.


10.    What is the one thing you would do differently now (concerning any part of your expertise) and why?

I don’t know – I’m quite happy with the way things have gone. I might have started working with writers earlier, because it’s so much fun.


11.   What saying or mantra do you live by?

One that I heard recently that I think is a good sentiment that I’d like to live by is: blowing out someone else’s candle won’t make yours shine any brighter.

But the one that probably sums me up is the one that’s often said in policing circles, usually when it’s 3am, freezing cold and raining sideways and the forensic tent you’ve just spent twenty minutes trying to put over the murder victim gets caught by a gust of wind and disappears into the middle distance: if you can’t take a joke you shouldn’t have joined!

12.   Anything else you would like to say?

Thanks very much for inviting me to be interviewed.