Fresh Blood

Name: Helen Cadbury

Title of Book: To Catch a Rabbit

'...definitely a new series that will hook you up and reel you in! '

Two young boys stumble upon a dead prostitute. She's on Sean Denton's patch. As Doncaster's youngest community support officer, he's already way out of his depth, but soon he's uncovering more than he's supposed to know.

Meanwhile Karen Friedman, a hard-working mother of two, learns that her brother has disappeared. She desperately needs to know that he is safe, but once she starts searching for him, she discovers unexpected things about her own life, her needs and desires.

Played out against a gritty landscape on the edge of a Northern town, Karen and Sean risk losing all they hold precious in the search for the truth.

A new voice in crime fiction always needs a new angle to make themselves noticed. Helen Cadbury's exciting debut is shouting loud and clear. All fans of the police procedural should add this book to their reading lists.

Our protagonist is at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to police hierarchy; Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) Sean Denton. He's not ambitious, not career driven, and doesn't have a chaotic personal life getting in the way of his duties. He's just an everyman doing his job.

Looking at the world of crime fighting from the bottom up instead of through the eyes of the leader of the case is very original, and Cadbury has created a sensitive and interesting main character who isn't an isolated maverick but a dedicated team player. This is a refreshing take on the genre.

The plot has many twists and turns and as the action progresses the story becomes darker until reaching its chilling finale.

The supporting players are wonderfully crafted. I love the parallels between Sean Denton and Crime Scene Manager, Lizzie Morrison. They're at opposite ends of the social spectrum and in their jobs, but they work well together. I'm looking forward to seeing how this relationship develops over subsequent novels.

Cadbury has a winning formula on her hands. Her writing style is smooth yet intriguing. The second novel, ‘Bones in the Nest’ is out in July. This is definitely a new series that will hook you in!

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) ‘To Catch a Rabbit’ is a very memorable title that stands out. Catching a rabbit is mentioned briefly; can you explain the reason behind the choice of title?
The title comes from a line in the first chapter. The young lad with the dog tells PCSO Sean Denton: ‘you have to cross the ring road if you want to catch a rabbit.’ The implication is that they have gone somewhere they shouldn’t have gone, going beyond the ring road is a kind of transgression, and they have found something they shouldn’t have seen. Sean mirrors this by going alone to check out their discovery. He steps beyond his job role and this is the trigger for his actions in the rest of the story. The second rabbit comes in Phil’s story, when his young daughter asks for a pet rabbit, when he offers to bring her something back from his day at work. Of course that day at work turns out to be no ordinary one and I will leave it for those who haven’t read the book yet to decide what that domestic rabbit signifies. Rabbits are hugely prevalent in British culture, literally in our landscape, but also figuratively in folklore and language. Hares tend to get all the poetry and art made about them, but the humble bunny is at the heart of both our rural and urban lives. My husband, who is from the North-East, has a saying he uses a lot: ‘let the dog see the rabbit’. It may have subconsciously inspired this title.
2) You've turned the crime story on its head, focussing on the bottom of the chain of command rather than the top. What was the reason behind this?
I was interested in how the auxiliary roles in various institutions - police, schools, prisons or hospitals - are often the least powerful but the most engaged, the people who notice and know what is going on at all levels. In recent years, as police officers have become less and less likely to be found patrolling our streets and PCSOs took over many of the beat and community engagement roles, it seemed to me that they would be the ones who would see what was happening. The downside of a PCSO being a central character is that he is limited in what he is allowed to do and a certain amount of rule bending is required, but he gets away with it.
3) The plot is very multi-stranded; prostitution, human trafficking - was it difficult to research and were you worried about tackling such sensitive subjects for your debut novel?
These are issues that are happening around us. Human trafficking and prostitution are linked because they stem from a cynical human impulse to make money at all costs by exploiting the vulnerability of others. I don’t think anyone writing a crime novel today can be too sensitive; if they were they would go and write a good romance instead. In terms of research, I tend to have the story idea first. What if a man did this or a woman did that? Then I use the internet or talk to people who have experience in that line of work to see if my idea holds up. I thought I’d invented the Human Trafficking Service, so I was amazed to discover by chance (reading a newspaper that had been left behind in a café,) that not only did it exist but that it was based in Sheffield.
4) I enjoyed the storyline involving Karen and Charlie; will we be seeing those characters again?
Karen makes a cameo appearance in my second book and Charlie might come back later in the series.
5) ‘To Catch a Rabbit’ was winner of the Inaugural Moth Northern Crime Competition. How did it feel to win and did it have an impact on you as a writer?
It felt amazing. I couldn’t really believe it at first. At the time I was teaching in a Young Offenders Institution and my reaction to winning was to hand in my notice. I joked about it being my ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card. Although this wasn’t a brilliant idea financially, it did give me more headspace to write, and I now balance writing with freelance training work and delivering writing workshops. The support for the winning writers from New Writing North also lead to me to find my agent, Laura Longrigg at MBA Agents, who in turn introduced me to my new publishers.
6) Your debut was first published in 2013 and has now been re-issued by Allison and Busby recently. Did you change any of the story before this new print run or have you kept it in its original form?
There aren’t any changes to the story itself, but it is a cleaner manuscript in terms of the proof-reading and it had the benefit of a copy-editor who made suggestions about very tiny changes to individual words and in one place to the slight re-ordering of a chapter.
7) You are a playwright, poet and work in the Youth Arts. Did any of these disciplines help you when writing your debut?
Yes. Having another job which uses a different part of my brain is very important. I work freelance for a national organisation called Artswork and it involves me travelling around the country, which is great for seeing places with fresh eyes (and overhearing conversations on trains). Many of the trainees on our courses are delivering Youth Arts projects to young people at risk of exclusion, so that is a useful reminder of ‘real life’. Having taught in the YOI, and in a women’s prison for five years, means I have been in touch with a lot of issues that are happening in the lives of my characters. Come to think of it, PCSOs often get a mention as great community partners in Youth Arts projects, so perhaps this is another inspiration for Sean Denton.

The other forms of writing influence me in different ways. I enjoy writing dialogue and sometimes have to remind myself that it isn’t a script and I really need to fill in the bits in between. Poetry was my first love and grounds me in the value of the individual words and word sounds. I think being a poet also helped me to self-edit. I try to read out loud as much as possible to see if things sound right.
8) As a newly published author what advice would you give to anyone looking for their first deal?
Sharing your work in a writing group, as you are developing it, will get you used to hearing a range of opinions. Use a literacy consultancy service to get unbiased, professional feedback. Make absolutely sure your work is as ready as it can be before you send it out to agents. Meanwhile, entering competitions, getting short stories published in magazines or online, anything that involves an external validation of your work will help your case when you are trying to convince an agent that you are worth taking on. Developing the craft of writing is a long, slow, time-consuming process, especially if you decide you’re going to write a full-length book. Even if you decide to self-publish, make it as good as it can be, before you let it out into the wild.
9) What are you working on at the moment?
I am working on the third book in the Sean Denton series. I have about 25,000 words already written and a plan of the rest, which is currently evolving. At the moment the plan is scrawled along a roll of fax paper, spread across the top of a blanket chest in my front room. There are post-its stuck all the way along it. I dream of finding the perfect planning system, but this will have to do for now. I will follow this plan until a moment of discovery takes me in a new direction and it will be back to the drawing board (or the fax roll).
10) Are you a lifelong fan of crime fiction? What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
I get a bit nervous about this question because there are readers out there who have read far more than I have, but I can trace my crime reading habits back to discovering Agatha Christie when I was eleven or twelve, moving on to Ngaio Marsh and Dorothy L Sayers, reading hard-boiled American noir that was re-issued around the time I went to university, and then being switched on to contemporary crime in my twenties when I was given ‘King Suckerman’ by George Pelecanos by a work colleague. That would still be one of my top three. The next would be ‘Sleepyhead’ by Mark Billingham (whom I knew in another life as an actor, before I went into teaching). Mark wrote about the part of London I had lived in, and it made me realise that crime novels didn’t have to be set in some exotic location; the streets of Kentish Town and Archway could be just as noir as downtown LA. My third is Karin Fossum’s ‘Broken’. Fossum also started out as a poet and has a background in social work. ‘Broken’ is a really unusual book because it is quite experimental, the crime fiction equivalent of the stage play, ‘Six Characters in Search of an Author’. Every time I am struggling with a character, I think about this story, where a man appears in the author’s bedroom demanding to be written into a book.