I’ll be publishing a new Mac Maguire mystery in October called Two Dogs. In the book Mac tells his new colleague Kate Grimsson how he got his nickname ‘Mac’ (his real first name is Dennis). I’ll not tell you here as that would be a spoiler so you’ll need to read the book to find out. Over the series of books I’ll be letting readers know a little more about his past, however, this isn’t something I’ve had to think up as I already knew his back story long before I wrote the first book in the series The Body in the Boot.
I started writing crime fiction some years ago although I think that you could now blackmail me with my poor attempts at the genre from that time. As for anything in life you have to practice to get better and that’s more true for writing than for most things. Mac was originally a character in a book set in Birmingham in the eighties. He wasn’t even the main character but a friend of the protagonist Blue McParland (who I’ve mentioned in some of the Mac books as he’s married to Mac’s sister Roisin). Blue is a taxi driver and part-time detective who lives and works in the shadowy demi-monde of the big city. Blue’s two life-long friends are Liam, a gangster in the making, and Mac who is known to all as Detective Constable Denny Maguire.
The aim was to produce a gritty, dark vision of a time that I actually remember as being quite gritty and dark in real life being a montage in my mind of strikes, corruption, politics and, of course, bombings. In these early books Blue rubs shoulders with gangsters and petty criminals, the police, prostitutes, terrorists and low-lifes of all forms. It’s certainly a different backdrop to leafy Hertfordshire where Mac finally ends up. However, at the time I just couldn’t make it work, although it should be noted that I didn’t have the pain problems then that I developed later in life. However I haven’t totally given up on the idea and I may go back to it one day.
So in looking to write something else I pictured young Denny Maguire in those books and began to wonder what might have happened to him later in life and so Mac was born. I honestly think that one of reasons that Mac works as character is that he does have this rich and detailed back story. I know where he lived, where he went to school, who his best friends were, when and where he started as a Police Constable and why he so wanted to become a detective. He then ends up working in London as part of a murder team and there is a complete story behind that too, a story full of skullduggery that doesn’t end all that well for Mac, for a time at least.
So when Mac faces a situation in a particular story line I don’t have to think too hard about his reaction as I feel that I’ve got to know him quite well. I’m not saying that before you start writing about a character that you need to know his whole life story but, in my opinion, it certainly helps.
Is Mac me?
No absolutely not. Me and Mac are not all that alike when it comes to lots of things but he definitely lived in the same part of Birmingham as me and he also supports Aston Villa FC. I’ve supported them since 1957 and, for the most part, it has been a thankless task, especially recently as you might have gathered from some of the books. Luckily for Mac his best friend Tim is also a fan and the fact that the team is so rubbish gives them lots to talk about in the pub.
I often hear writers say that their characters are an amalgam of different people and, while I sometimes thought that this might be a sort of disclaimer at times, it is definitely true of Mac. Mac is analytical and likes puzzles (me) but is also level headed, reads people well and is slow to anger (definitely not me). I also suspect that I might have a slight ego whereas Mac doesn’t, the work is always the thing and he never chases the credit for a case.
So where did Mac really come from? I know so much about him in one sense but, in another, he still surprises me sometimes so I’m not sure. Hopefully, like the books, Mac’s character will keep evolving and he’ll gradually reveal more of his back story as the books get written. One of the strange things I’ve found since seriously taking up writing is that once I start a story I need to finish it so I can see how it all ends. While I do have an idea of the plot in my head as the story and the characters progress unexpected things happen. So, in a way, I’m just the same as any reader who is hopefully dying to know how it all turns out. Until the very last page is written strange things can and do happen.