Michael and his wife Andry are both authors and friends of mine. Here I take a look at how Michael first became a writer.
When did you write your first book and how did it come about?
In 2013 I responded to an email from Robert Endeacott who was interested in cases of undercover policing operations relating to football hooligans in the 80s. He is an ardent Leeds fan with no policing background but was a previously published author. We collaborated on a film script for an Operation called ‘RED CARD’ which was completed but remains ‘in waiting’. It is a fictional suspense/thriller film in the mould of hooligan films for that period although in my humble opinion better!
In the Autumn of 2013 Robert, who I have only physically met on about three occasions, suggested we write a book on the operation. ‘Hunting the Hooligans’ describes how a covert police team brought down one of Britain’s most violent gangs. The true story of ‘Operation Red Card’ undertaken in 1987 to tackle Birmingham City’s football hooligan element – the ‘Zulu Warriors’ was published by MILO.
My first, and ultimately most successful book thus far in terms of sales – was taken on by the first traditional publisher that we approached.
How do you find the process of writing? (difficult, invigorating?)
I find writing cathartic and challenging. At my age – nearly 69 years of age, its good to keep the brain cells active. Steve Burrows and I have strongly promoted Birmingham in many of our books as we were both born and worked in the City. We have found this hugely satisfying.
How true to life are your books and characters?The factual books speak for themselves in terms of accuracy.
The series of four historical crime fiction books ‘Made in Birmingham’ – written with a former police colleague and friend Stephen Burrows contain characters and incidents that have elements of truth in them based on our policing history – over seventy years collectively.
Do you always write in the same genre or do you mix it up?
The next four books after ‘Hunting the Hooligans’ were written with different co-authors or on my own and related to police history and published by Amberley. The extensive writing partnership with Stephen Burrows that later followed has resulted in books being published – in the main by way of self-publishing on police history, slang and humour, crime fiction and military history. I have also written a book with my wife Andry Christou-Layton about her life in Cyprus – ‘The Night the Owl Cried – A Taste of Cyprus’.
When you write, do you start with an idea and sit down and let it evolve, or do you make notes and collect ideas on paper beforehand?
Every book involves a large element of research (Particularly ‘Top Secret Worcestershire I & II’ with Steve Burrows) but in the main I rely on creating a framework of potential chapters and then working to fill them in no particular order. When working with Steve Burrows on the fictional books in particular we relied on some very complex documents relating to the development of fictional storylines and historical facts which were blended together.
Do you have a favourite character and if so/or not, then why?
Rob Docker – the corrupt police officer in ‘Black Over Bill’s Mothers’ – the character reminds me that the Police Service in the UK is renowned for its professionalism and the fact that corruption is rare. The character also reminds me that ‘one bad apple’ can do a lot of damage. His character also explores ‘Noble Cause Corruption’ in the police service.
For Steve Burrows I believe it would be Patrick Quinn – a character based on his experiences in his youth of being a biker.
Which of your books gave you the most pleasure to write?
‘Black Over Bill’s Mothers – a storm is coming’ – a historical crime fiction book (One of the series) 1943 to 2004. Set in Birmingham and elsewhere the book weaves together factual incidents, including the Birmingham Pub Bombings, as well as music and culture – the story involves serious crime, terrorism, and corruption.
How would you describe yourself?
A sensitive autocrat who becomes ‘thoughtful’ at times.
What's next for you?
‘The Patriot’ – co-written with my wife – the story of her father’s life during a period of conflict and turbulent history in Cyprus.
And another slang book which I would like to somehow link in with people ‘living with dementia’.
Where can readers purchase your books?
All current twenty-two titles can be found on ‘Bostin Books’ Facebook Page or ‘Bostin Books’ website. They are all available on Amazon and via traditional publishers.
‘Birmingham’s Front Line’
Michael Layton QPM
(Synopsis re murder of David Harris)
On Monday 26 March 1984 David Harris, aged 36 years, the licensee of the ‘Woodman’ Licensed House in Hockley was stabbed to death in Wells Street by a man described as a West Indian male.
Michael Layton recalls:
“I was at Bridge Street West Police Station at the time, trying to sort out a search warrant, and went straight to the scene to liaise with the detective chief inspector and the detective inspector.
We co-ordinated an immediate search of the area and later that evening I took a statement from a witness who had rendered first aid at the scene. I hated violence and the futility of it all. Murders meant dropping everything else and putting a total focus into what you were doing as the first twenty-four hours were vital – the so-called ‘golden hours’.
A murder incident room was set up at Steelhouse Lane Police Station and this was to become home again for a while.
Next day I was committed to ‘house to house’ enquiries in the area. This was a detailed process that had to be meticulously planned and scrutinised and I worked with a uniform sergeant who I trusted totally to organise it with me. We then started doing the rounds of local pubs looking for any small lead. Leave days were cancelled and we went onto twelve-hour shifts. This was the norm.
Malcolm Halliday was one of the officers involved in completing ‘house to house’ enquiries and recalls a couple of incidents, “Myself and a DC nicknamed ‘Knuckles’ ,due to his arthritis in his hands, visited one particular flat in Newtown and spoke to a black family. One of the occupants was a Rastafarian guy and something just didn’t seem quite right. Whilst we were chatting a little girl aged about two years handed me a pouch. When I looked inside it was full of cannabis. I told her to “give it back to daddy.” We were looking for a murderer not for drugs, so we let it go but we did mark the form up to the effect that we thought that the occupants were not telling the entire truth. At a later stage of the enquiry it transpired that the guy had been repairing his car outside the block of flats on the day of the murder when the person responsible came running up covered in blood, after the attack, and demanded to be taken out of the area.
Not long after the murder a woman was attacked by a black youth in the same area. He was intent on robbing her, but she fought back and a load of CID officers who were making enquiries in one of the nearby pubs all ran out and captured him. He had picked the wrong person and the wrong place.”
After the murder a substantial reward was offered for information leading to the arrest of the offender. We also had a photofit picture of the suspect and with each passing day the potential lines of enquiry were increasing. We spent a lot of time getting around the pubs in the area pushing the issue and looking for that small scrap of information that would lead us to the killer.
On Sunday 1 April 1984 a call was made to the incident room by an individual claiming to know who was responsible for the murder. I met this person later that day with another officer and the suspect was identified as someone called ‘Jakey’ with a possible full name.
I saw the informant several times over the next few days and the information given was reiterated both to me, and a senior officer, as well as other background information being provided on the suspect.
There was no contact by the informant then for some time and despite extensive enquiries being made all these enquiries met with a negative result based on the details given.
On Wednesday 18 April a knife was found in the public toilets at Smethwick magistrates court in the area adjacent to where security officers screened visitors. The knife was subsequently disposed of in accordance with normal procedures. It was later to form part of the evidence chain in the murder of David Harris, although we were not to know it at the time.
On Tuesday 24 April 1984 acting on a lead in respect of the murder I was despatched in the evening with another officer to Canning Circus Police Station in Nottingham to interview a potential informant. We eventually brought the informant back to Birmingham and identified an address in Handsworth where a potential suspect lived. Shortly after 2am the following morning we hit the address and arrested a twenty-three-year-old on suspicion of involvement. By the time we had searched the address and got back to the station I had done a sixteen-hour shift and it was time to leave it with other officers.
I had about five hours sleep and was back in the office in the afternoon ready to go again. This was still very much a live enquiry and lots of officers on ‘outside enquiry’ teams were following up different leads. The criminal fraternity never liked these situations because it meant that they would receive additional attention from the police and their activities would be disrupted.
On Thursday 26 April 1984 a twenty-three-year-old man (Derrick Gordon) was arrested in connection with the murder of Mr Harris. He appeared at Birmingham Magistrates Court the following morning. I was not involved in the arrest but went around to the court with the DI to observe the remand. He was a well-built guy who remained composed and listened intently to the proceedings. He was remanded to police cells for three days and subsequently charged with the murder.