Nigel C Williams speaks of his extraordinary journey from the Metropolitan Police to a degree in art and co-writing crime thrillers with fellow former police officer Arthur Cole.
I had spent fifteen weeks in 1981 training to become a constable in the Metropolitan Police. It had been a decision I had not been entirely sure of but one that I had been determined to make work. I had loved my time at Hendon – one of sixty or so new recruits that were being enrolled for training each week at that time. I had enjoyed the discipline, the new friends, and had found I could cope easily with the academic elements of the course. I got into a habit of learning the set texts ‘parrot fashion’ each afternoon, after lunch, to ensure I was in the local pub early for the socialising that erased any feelings of longing for home I feared would disrupt my determination to make a go of it in ‘the smoke’.
At the end of the course, we were all allocated a divisional letter to add to the new numbers that would adorn out tunic shoulders for the foreseeable future. My letter was ‘L’. That meant I would be going out on a bus to the Lambeth area of London. ‘L’ Division included the areas of Brixton, Kennington, Clapham and Streatham. Brixton had been burning less than a year earlier and I knew it was still a political hotspot. It was a baptism by fire – sometimes quite literally – but it was a great place to work. In 1984, the ever-present feelings of hiraeth that I had manage to subdue for so long had once again grasped my heart and drawn me back to the land of my birth.
Police officers throughout the country are the same, probably the same around the world, it’s only the places that are different. The crime is the same, but each area has its own particular problems. Where Brixton had fifty constables on paper for each shift, in Swansea we were pretty much on our own, without the almost instant backup we had in the Met.
I spent three happy years on the beat in Cockett until my shift Inspector recommended a move to Swansea Central, after I hid the snooker balls one nightshift to annoy a particularly lazy shift Sergeant who thought it was alright to spend eight hours improving his break score.
A year at Swansea Central was followed by several more as a traffic officer in the Western Division as an advanced driver. I took a firearms course and became a Special Escort and VIP driver, providing armed escorts for visiting dignitaries.
In July 1994, a stolen van raced along the M4 – the wrong way – and crashed head-on into my patrol car. I didn’t realise at that time that the collision had fractured my spine. Indeed, I chased the driver of the van and arrested him before the pain kicked in and I realised things were not right. The thief got a six month suspended sentence and I lost my career.
During recovery, I applied to Swansea Institute to study art. Art had always been a passion and I’d been good at it in school, one of the only things I had been good at. I had never worked for the O-levels, leaving school with seven, after the disappointment of just passing three the first time around. The course ignited a passion for learning that I had never had before. I managed to get a first-class honours degree, passed a teaching qualification at Cardiff University (only because the Welsh Assembly was offering a bursary of six-grand at the time) and then a master’s degree in fine art.
On reflection, I know I’ve been lucky. Certain things have happened at times when my life could have taken a very different direction. As Curriculum Leader for Fine Art at Gower College, I have loved teaching my passion for art to young men and women over the last eighteen years. But I had always hidden a desire to write a novel.
Nearly ten years ago, as I approached my fiftieth birthday, I determined I would give the writing malarkey a go. Several novels quickly followed, with one garnering interest from a major publisher but no contract was ever offered. It wasn’t until I posted a message in a police Facebook page that things began to change at a rapid pace.
Arthur Cole, a retired Detective Sergeant with the South Wales Police Special Branch, messaged me to say he had a story he wanted to write, a story about police corruption. I told him to write a thousand words and that I’d take a look at it. Arthur had begun writing poems and told me he had no experience of writing other than the reports he filed for the police. Within hours of the message he had sent me the first chapter. What I received was, as you’d expect, lacking some polish but had something else that I found compelling. I made some edits and added some ‘colour’ and asked Arthur to send more. Within ten days “Unethical Conduct” was written and the Terry McGuire series of crime thrillers was born. We self-published, initially, and raised around £2000 for local charities from the sales. Then, thanks to Arthur’s poetry publishing deal with Wordcatcher, we were offered a contract to publish all eight books in the series and a new novel, “Raven.”
We work well as a team, writing chapters over internet connections and emails and Arthur’s wealth of experience ensures there is an abundance of material to inspire us. I look forward to receiving Arthur’s chapters, almost on a daily basis, and he has the typical sense of humour common throughout the police family that we sometimes have to rein in for our readers. We both write quickly and we both have a vision for the world of Terry McGuire that never ends in disagreement.
It’s odd how things work out in life and how one thing leads to another. Call it luck, chance or fate, all I know is that writing with Arthur has helped forge a new chapter in my life. I guess I’m trying to cram as much in as possible. I fear regret. My long-suffering wife has stood by me as I followed my dream to learn to fly, she supported me through a fairly successful diversion into the world of painting and drawing and home brewing and rarely complains when I disappear into my cluttered garage to build my latest electric guitar. I suppose I’m selfish but my overriding motivation for all my ‘hobbies’ has been to secure a better future for my family (okay, perhaps not the flying and the home brewing). Whether the latest journey into McGuire’s world will be successful or not is anyone’s guess but all I know is that I’m certainly going to enjoy the ride.
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