SIMON Beckett may be the biggest-selling British author in Europe but he still has difficulty coming up with titles for his books.
The Sheffield-based author, who has just published the fourth in a series of tales centred on forensic anthropologist David Hunter, admits: “I’m rubbish at titles.
“I struggle for ages and I just can’t come up with anything. I always have a working title for the book and then other people read it and nobody ever likes that and gradually other suggestions are made.”
Simon, who with 6.5 million sales of books across the world remains the country’s biggest best-seller, said he came up with The Chemistry Of Death as a title for his first in the hugely popular series, but borrowed a line from the text while his wife Hilary gave him Written In The Bone for the follow-up.
Somebody at the publishers thought of Whispers Of The Dead and the title of the new one, The Calling Of The Grave.
Either way, the Ranmoor-based writer is now translated into 28 languages and his new book will even appear in China, in two different scripts.
Having been signed up for another three books, The Calling Of The Grave is the first of a new deal and with it surely comes an increased sense of expectation.
“There’s always been that expectation, that pressure. Each time you feel you’ve got to do something that’s better than the last, whether or not that’s always possible remains to be seen.
“You want to make the best job of it you can, but you also want to try and make it a little bit different. I don’t want to just keep writing the same book and changing things around or it will become tired after a while.”
The new book is set on Dartmoor but sees Simon delve further into Hunter’s tragic past, partly at the request of his fans.
“I’ve had a lot of readers inquiring about it, asking if they’ll find out more about him so this fourth book was the time to draw back the curtain a little.
“For this one I wanted to show what he was like beforehand and a little bit about that side of him to show how he became the person you have read about.”
With the likes of CSI and Silent Witness pushing the world of post mortems and coroners into mainstream television there’s a greater understanding of such crime detection, but Simon has avoided upping the body count in his books, instead doing extensive research with experts so he backs up his stories with science and facts.
“I don’t want any of it to be gratuitous and I’ve resisted calls in the past to up the gore. I could play that side of things up a bit more, but this one is probably the least grisly of the books so far.
“After Whispers I was doing a book fair abroad and somebody had actually gone through and counted how many times a corpse appeared and said ‘do you intend to increase the number next?’. That’s not what the books are about. It’s the story that drives me, there’s the science and forensics and you get some grisly details of what goes on and what Hunter’s work involves, but it’s part of the story, not the driving force.”
While Simon is selling well in the UK, in Germany he is a superstar and has experienced phenomenal sales, but he is happy to go comparatively unrecognised in his home town.
“Germany is a bizarre one. I’ve got posters with my photograph going up over there now,” he says.
“I think I’d feel more odd about that if it was happening over here. Knowing it’s going off over there is great but nobody starts writing to be famous. You write because you want to write. When I played in a band I was a percussionist, the one at the back nobody ever noticed. And that’s fine by me.
“I’m lucky to be able to do this for a living. It’s what I always wanted, but I don’t always find it easy. When it’s going well it’s fantastic and when it’s going badly you’re miserable and you think ‘am I ever going to finish the book and if I do is it going to be any good?’. That’s the same with anybody. There are ups and downs in any job.
“You’re always only as good as your last book and potentially as good as the next one so there’s always that thing where you’ve got to write the next book. You don’t get into writing to get rich and famous. If you end up getting published that’s a plus and if you end up being able to make a living that’s even more of one.”
So, are Sheffield landmarks likely to figure in a future Hunter adventure?
“Probably not, to be honest,” he says. “He might come to this neck of the woods at some point, but you’re better writing about places you’re strangers to so you’re seeing them with fresh eyes. I was born and grew up in Sheffield and it’s hard talking about it without it sounding like a cliché.
“A lot of the books are set in the country and a lot of the villages are fictitious. I feel more comfortable that I live in Sheffield - David Hunter can be somewhere else.”