Interviews with Writers

Thriller | The Waxwork Corpse | Simon Michael

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I’m delighted to be welcoming Simon Michael to my hot seat today chatting about his new legal thriller, The Waxwork Corpse.

Find out Simon’s inspiration, what he thinks about movie adaptations and much more. Plus I have a giveaway – don’t miss it!

Book cover for The Waxwork Corpse by Simon Michael

The Waxwork Corpse by Simon Michael is published by Sapere Books and is available to purchase in digital and paperback formats.

A deadly crime has been dragged to the surface…

London, 1965

Charles Holborne, maverick barrister, will never fit in at the Bar; he is too working-class, too Jewish and too dangerous.

But that makes him the perfect outsider to prosecute a shocking murder case which has already made its way to the press.

By chance, a body was found, dumped in a lake. It had clearly been there for some time, but the conditions in the water have meant that it was nearly perfectly preserved.

The police have managed to match this ‘waxwork corpse’ to a missing woman and if her husband — a senior judge — was the one who killed her, the scandal threatens to rock the British justice to its foundations.

The waxwork corpse is not the only thing to be raised from the past. The investigation also dredges up a violent mistake made by Charles in his youth which, if revealed, could put his own life at stake…

THE WAXWORK CORPSE, based on a real Old Bailey case, is the fifth crime novel in an exciting historical series, the Charles Holborne Legal Thrillers — gritty, hard-boiled mysteries set in 1960s London.


Hi Simon, welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.

What was the idea/inspiration for your novel?

I was sitting in a barristers’ robing room with other barristers, all waiting for juries in our cases to return with verdicts and, as barristers do, there was discussion about the trials we were on. One had been in the news for months, and when Simeon Maskrey QC told the story, you could have heard a pin drop. Some of your readers may remember it: the airline pilot who killed his wife and drove her from one end of the country to the other; rowed out at the dead of night onto the middle of Wastwater, the deepest lake in Britain, and tipped her overboard, only for the body to be discovered, perfectly preserved, nearly a decade later. As soon as I heard the story I knew I had to incorporate it into one of the Charles Holborne thrillers. After the defendant was released from prison I went to see him, armed with all his case papers, and The Waxwork Corpse is the result.

How do your characters come into existence Simon?  Do they have a bio?

All of Charles Holborne’s adventures are based upon cases I dealt with during my career as a criminal barrister and the important stories from that era, including the Krays and the corrupt Metropolitan Police. These are real people. There is also a significant amount of autobiography in that the difficulties faced by Charles, and much of his family dynamic, are based on mine.

If you could have given your characters one piece of advice before the opening pages of the book, what would it be …

I would tell Charles Holborne to grow up. He is tough, sexy and intelligent but his private life is a complete train wreck. One of the hazards of having an overbearing, critical Jewish mother.

Who would you cast in the role of your characters if your book were optioned for a movie?

My previous publishers did an online competition with pictures of several likely actors, and asked the public to vote for the person they thought would best embody Charles Holborne. The Robert Pattinson fan club got hold of it and voted en masse, so he won technically, but I think that was cheating! The actor who came second, and who I would vote for, is Ben Chaplin, from the TV series “Apple Tree Yard”, although in an ideal world it would be someone like a young Ray Winstone.

Does your book tackle a social barrier?

In 1978 when I started in my profession there was rampant class prejudice and racism at the Bar and the Bench. Coming from a working-class family and not having been to public school or Oxbridge I suffered with some of that, and it’s all portrayed in the books. I think it’s still very relevant.

Your book is part of a series, what is in the future Simon?

All of the books are stand-alone novels, each with a new adventure/case, but they follow Charles’s life from 1960 onwards. He has a complex relationship with the Kray twins with whom he grew up and so I expect to continue the story at least until the Krays are sent to prison in 1968. I might kill Charles off at that stage; I haven’t decided.

Panster or plotter?

Plotter, definitely. I’m weaving together true events, scraps of cases on which I’ve worked, and real life criminals, barristers and judges with a fictional character and a fictional crime. You need a clear idea of where everything’s going or it’s going to be a mess!

Which authors have influenced your writing?

Charles Dickens has been the greatest influence on my writing. He describes the most venal human behaviour, criminality, cruelty and meanness, but in all of his books there are characters who refuse to act like that. They are often the weakest members of society who show care and love for others, even strangers. It is they who make life worth living.

Do you think movie adaptations do books justice Simon?  Do you have a favourite?

I know something of this, having written a couple of film screenplays. In my opinion a movie can never do a book justice in the sense that it could contain the same sophisticated understanding of a human being from inside a person’s head and heart. An author can spend hours finding exactly the right words for a particular emotion or event, and then will revise, revise and revise again. He or she will have complete artistic and editorial control. You can’t cram 400 pages of that into a two-hour movie, which is an artistic endeavour by hundreds of people. When you make a film, its creation by committee. On the other hand, can a film tell the same story as well, but in a different way? Certainly. A good example might be “The Children Act” by Ian McEwan. I thought both the book and the film were wonderful, but the film simply couldn’t reveal the internal workings of the characters in the same way.

Can you share with us what you are working on now?

In the last two novels I addressed the rampant corruption in the Met police and the Establishment of the day (think Profumo and Christine Keeler) but one of the things that most people no longer remember is the use of “supergrasses” by the police at that time. These were hardened criminals who were often allowed to walk free from offences as serious as murder in return for giving evidence against other criminals. It was an absolute scandal, and the sixth book in the series, provisionally entitled “Squealer” is about that.

Finally, are there any tips you could share with new writers that have worked well for you?

A former agent of mine used to say “A writer is someone who writes.” Similarly, Brian Clemens, who wrote TV scripts (“The Avengers”, “The Professionals” and others) as well as books used to say “Bum on seat, fingers on keyboard”. I meet people all the time who say “Oh, I thought of writing a book one day” and I always respond: “Well, do it then!”. It’s not possible to wait for the muse to strike or for exactly the right time in your life. If you want to be a writer you’ve got to be disciplined and sit at your desk (or in Costa or wherever) and start writing. There are days when I look at what I’ve done the day before and delete almost all of it, but it’s essential to get “Bum on seat, fingers on keyboard.” Every day. Come what may.

Thank you for being my guest today. Wishing you success with all your writing projects.

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Sapere Books is offering a digital copy in a giveaway. To enter the giveaway via Rafflecopter click here.

Simon studied Law at Kings College, London University, before being called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple in 1978. Until the late 1990s he worked almost exclusively in the field of criminal law, prosecuting and defending enough murderers, armed robbers, con artists and other assorted villainy to provide him with a lifetime of true crime plots. Thereafter he specialised in clinical negligence and was listed in the Legal 500 as a Tier 1 specialist in his field. He retired early from the Bar to resume his literary career which started in the 1980s with books published in the UK and the USA. He is the father of three children of whom he is inordinately proud, none of whom read his books. Twitter @simonmichaeluk Facebook simonmichaeluk

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I've been blogging about my interests at Jera's Jamboree for 8+ years. My love of reading, crocheting, being out in nature and positive psychology are all things that help me unwind from my role as an Inclusion Lead in a primary school.


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