Professional Builder spoke to Matthew Ross, author of new crime novel Death Of A Painter, about his inspiration for the book and his experiences in the building industry.
Can you tell us about your background in the building industry?
My father was a builder, and so with little surprise, I left school at sixteen to follow his footsteps. I’ve spent the rest of my life working on projects from the smallest domestic repair to £Billion+ infrastructure, and probably everything in between.
And can you tell us about Death Of A Painter – is it your first book?
Writing has always been my hobby. In the past I’d written for a stand-up comedians’ nationwide tours and tv/radio appearances, and I’d also been commissioned to write for a number of BBC Radio 4 comedy series. However the itch to write a novel never went away. I applied for a place on the respected Faber Academy course, and was accepted. It changed my life as from it came my debut novel Death Of A Painter.
The Sun newspaper chose Death Of A Painter as one of its picks of the week, and described it as ‘a chaotic comic caper that’s as funny as it is brutal’ because it draws upon the gallows humour and irreverence we all know from site. I chose the building industry as my setting because partly that’s my own background, but also I’ve always enjoyed stories where the lead isn’t a detective but an ordinary person thrown into an extra-ordinary situation. In this book, our hero, Mark Poynter, is an electrician who discovers his workmate murdered on site.
Did you take inspiration from real tradespeople that you know?
I’ve been in and around the building industry since my early teens, that’s almost 30 years now, and I’ve met all sorts of characters, chancers, scoundrels and oddballs – both site and office based, both trade and client. They’ve all left an impression on me, good and bad. One of the joys of building is that every day and every location is different with new characters coming and going all the time. It’s such a rich, diverse community.
What is the worst thing you’ve ever discovered on site? (presumably not a body!)
Funny you should say that … because, yes! Early on in my career, working on the banks of the River Medway we found human remains, believed to have been convicts from the prison ships moored out on the river in the mid 18th Century. More recently, I’ve been involved with Crossrail and early on long-forgotten medieval burial sites were unearthed, but thankfully I wasn’t around to make those finds myself.
Are there any other books you would recommend set in or around the construction industry?
To be honest I’ve always found the characters of building trades in fiction to be unrealistic and, in some cases, downright patronising. One of my hopes in Death Of A Painter was to give a truer depiction of life for a working man, and the feedback I’ve had suggests I’ve succeeded.
Why do you think readers will identify will Mark Poynter?
Mark’s trying to keep his business afloat, he has family concerns, he’s still grieving the death of his father and he’s in the early days of a new romance – all normal things affecting each and every one of us. Then he discovers his friend murdered on their site – Mark worries he was the actual intended victim but the police suspect he’s the killer – he needs to find the truth, and quickly. Feedback suggests readers like Mark, which is encouraging because book two in the series is anticipated for release in early 2021.
Death Of A Painter is published by Red Dog Press and available now in eBook, paperback and hardback from all usual outlets.
It is the first in a new series with book 2 scheduled for publication in early 2021