A Q&A With Retired Police Officer and Author Gina Kirkham
Last month, you may remember my book review (here) of the politically incorrect, hilarious rollercoaster ride of a read, Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong by fellow Urbane published author Gina Kirkham. Loosely based on her own experience in the police force, I thought I’d take the opportunity to have a chat with the lovely lady herself.
Gina, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself? I understand you are a retired officer of the Merseyside Police Force?
Oh gosh, how I would love to tell you about myself in an exciting and mysterious light but in reality I’m just Mr & Mrs Dawson’s eldest, Emma’s mum, the current Mrs Kirkham (as my hubby calls me!) and ‘prinkly’ Nan to Olivia and Annie and a baby grandson due any day. They are the best titles in the world to hold though.
I was a mature recruit to Merseyside Police, joining when I was in my early 30’s as a then single mum with a little girl, after my first marriage ended in divorce. I joined at an exciting time for women, there were no barriers to achieve any role or rank. I chose to remain a front line uniform response Constable throughout my career as I was very much a ‘street’ cop but took on the role of Crime Manager in my final 12 months prior to retirement after being diagnosed with a bone condition and arthritis. I think age just caught up with me, I found I could chase the naughty boys and climb walls after them, but I couldn’t get down again on the other side. Nothing ruins your street cred more than to be left dangling from a concrete pillar!
How long have you been writing? Did you always want to be a writer?
I always feel a little guilty about my writing as I didn’t have the dream, desire and author angst to be a writer, initially, so I think I’m a bit of a fraud. I loved penning stories as a child and books were my escape to other worlds, but I had never carried a serious hankering to write. I would joke at work that I would one day write a book based on my experiences as a police officer, but never dreamt that it would actually happen. I had been retired a little over six months and my idea of chilling in my garden drinking gin wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be, so I began to imagine an alter ego who could recount my stories. I put pen to paper to scribble, then fingers to my laptop and 18 months later I had an 86,000 word manuscript. I think I surprised myself…. I know I definitely surprised my family.
Your bio states that Mavis Upton, “Constable 1261… Ace police driver and apprehender of naughty people” is actually your alter ego, but how much of her character is actually based on you?
In truth, quite a lot. I suppose Mavis is me as I write through her eyes. The personal side to her life in the books mirror very closely my own life and I try to use the experiences and emotions I had to bring her alive. A lot of the police stories are based on true events and legendary stories passed down over the years, with some artistic licence thrown in but if you were to think ‘oh that couldn’t really happen’ – then they are the incidents that actually did!
In Handcuffs, Truncheon I deal with the loss of my own mum through Mavis. I wept buckets when I had finished that chapter, but as sad as it was, it was also very cathartic for me. Writing can truly be a release and a healer.
What is the most difficult/frustrating part of being a police officer and how does that compare to the most difficult/frustrating part of being a writer?
Gosh, there are so many ways that being a police Officer can be difficult and frustrating. I found death, particularly in the young, heartbreaking. Even more so if that death was as a result of crime, suicide or road traffic incidents.
The most frustrating for me personally, were not guilty court results when I knew the offenders were guilty, and poor sentencing that didn’t reflect the seriousness of the crime or give the victims a sense of justice and protection. The mountains of paperwork is a huge frustration too. No police officer wants to be sitting in a police station or custody suite with their nose buried in it when they are needed out on the streets.
The frustrations I experience as a writer are, by contrast, very minor….although I still swear like a trooper when they rear their ugly heads – which is often. The most difficult is writing humour when you don’t feel ‘funny’. 2018 wasn’t my best year. I have cared for my Dad who has Alzheimer’s for the last five years, and sadly he had to go into a residential home, I felt I had failed him. A few months later I had to undergo spinal surgery, which had a lengthy recovery time. I desperately wanted to write, but I’d temporarily lost my ‘funny’… until I had one of my ‘Mavis’ disasters with Amazon one-click ordering and a humongous stick-on bra, which happily gave me back my mojo.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong and, as I work my way through my ever increasing TBR list, I look forward to reading Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: The Further Adventures of Constable Mavis Upton.
However, I understand you have a third book out later this year? Can you tell us the title and what readers can expect? Are there plans to write more books about Mavis?
Book 3 in the series is called BLUES, TWOS & BABY SHOES The Further, Further Adventures of Constable Mavis Upton. This follows Mavis through the third stage of her career, as she juggles the demands of the job, a new, late in life baby and her relationship with Joe her hubby. There’s a little bit of fun with the ‘Stupendous Cora May Spunge’ a genteel 72 year old widow who decides to throw caution to the wind and find excitement by becoming a blackmailer of the other elderly folk in the village to fund her dream of a cottage with a cat sanctuary.
As with all Mavis’s stories, I type THE END and then add….
….. ‘or is it?’
And finally, what advice would you offer anyone thinking of becoming a police officer or a writer?
Oh, as a writer definitely prepare for rejections and 1* reviews that tell you how awful your book is – don’t cry, it stings, but it’s not as bad as it first seems, take it as valuable critique and go and drink gin… lots of it! And best of all, welcome the lovely fellow writers and book bloggers you will meet, either in person or on social media, they are so supportive and friendly.
As a police officer, I would say to police with integrity, passion and pride. There are no limits and there are no boundaries to what you can achieve, always be kind and respectful on the way up, as you could so easily meet those you have treated favourably or less favourably on the way down, it’s a hard, stressful and dangerous job, you need allies not enemies… and take the time to care. You might not be able to change the world by becoming a police officer, but if you care, then you will make a difference to someone.