Like all writers, I get invited to festivals, book clubs and bookshops to talk about the stories I’ve written, stories that have taken me to Hollywood and back.

Daily Mirror tax scandal front page - Researching The Breaking of Liam Glass

It was one such story that unexpectedly helped me write my début novel…

Paper power

Back in 2010, I knew I wanted to write a book about today’s newspapers. The way they shape – and distort – the world we live in, for better or for worse.

Even now, with television news and social media, newspapers set the pace.

It’s a half-kept secret outside broadcasting that television and radio news is largely based on the contents of the day’s newspapers.

The BBC is so loath to run a story that’s not been in the papers, that one of its World Service Russian journalists used to deliberately leak his stories to the Daily Telegraph to make sure his own editors took them seriously!

The truth or not the truth

I was planning a darkly humorous satire, with a thriller edge, about a rogue journalist who came across a story that would make his career – if only he could give a little tweak to the truth. And then another…

I wanted the background details to be accurate and that meant getting into a newsroom to observe the real people at work.

I assumed that – journalists being writers – I’d be greeted sympathetically. They, of all people, would understand the value of research and the desire to base a story on the truth. Even a story about not telling the truth!

The local papers were enormously helpful. The Hampstead and Highgate Express and the Camden New Journal – both excellent productions – were more than happy to assist me as I developed one of my two fictional papers, the (decidedly less excellent) “Camden Herald.”

But to my surprise, my attempts to approach the nationals drew a total blank. Tabloids and broadsheets alike failed to respond, or gave a blunt refusal.

The other side of the Mirror

Then, one day, phoning the PR department at the Daily Mirror, I found myself telling a little story from my childhood that I’d never forgotten.

I can’t have been more than ten or eleven years old, when we were told by our teachers that there’d be no school-work that day. Instead they’d arrange for a surprise visit to the old Daily Mirror offices in Holborn (now long gone).

At that age I had no idea how newspapers were made. As far as I knew, they came through the letterbox every morning, and that was it.

I was struck by the place – quietly intense – and filled with people writing the next day’s news.

I’ve never forgotten the generosity of those journalists who answered our naive questions. The strange machines for receiving photographs from the other side of the world.

The massive presses in the basement that would run through the night, printing the next day’s edition.

This little visit sparked a life-long love of newspapers, that continues to this day.

Inside story

I don’t know what it was about this memory, as I told it to Nick, the Head of PR. Perhaps it was my enthusiasm, perhaps I triggered a memory of his own – but that story finally opened the door and I was in.

The novel that resulted, The Breaking of Liam Glass, hit #1 in Amazon’s hot new releases for satire and has since been nominated for two awards.

All thanks to a little story from my childhood.