MOMENTS FROM AUTHOR JAIME RAVEN’S JOURNALISTIC CAREER
Jamie Raven, author of The Alibi, shares some memorable moments from a colourful career in journalism – moments that inspired parts of the book.
The main character in The Alibi is Beth Chambers, a crime reporter on a London evening newspaper. She’s from a working class family in Peckham, a notorious part of London, and rises to the top of her profession despite the odds being stacked firmly against her.
I based Beth loosely on my own life. I spent most of my childhood in Peckham, where my family were street traders.
I then worked as a journalist, reporting for a local newspaper and a London-based news agency. I was also a regular freelance writer for several national newspapers, including The Sun and The Mail. Most of the stories I wrote involved a crime, partly because I often worked the night shift.
So let me share a few of the most memorable moments with you, starting with:
THE ARMED SEIGE
This was not one of my finest hours. I was working at The Sun at the time and the news desk received a tip that terrorists had stormed an embassy in London. I was dispatched, but when I got there I couldn’t find anything untoward going on. So I phoned the desk and told them it was a non-story.
‘Funny that,’ said the news editor. ‘There’s an armed siege going on and we’re watching it unfold live on television.’
Turned out I’d gone to the wrong embassy! Oops!
THE BOMB THREAT
One night The Sun sent me to the Courts of Justice in The Strand, just a short walk from their offices off Fleet Street. I was simply told to go there, stand outside and await further instructions. After 20 minutes I called the news desk to find out what was supposed to be happening.
‘Well we’ve had a tip that a bomb has been planted close to the building,’ said the duty news editor. ‘The police are on their way apparently so stay put and let us know what happens.’
Needless to say I didn’t hang around on the off chance that I might be blown up. As it happens there was a bomb, but it was safely deactivated and I’d been standing about fifty yards away from it!
THE DEAD BODY
One of my most upsetting experiences occurred in North London. A news agency photographer and I were on what we called ‘the night crawl.’ It meant we drove around London listening to the police radio and responding when a good story broke. That night we heard about a stabbing in a chip shop. So we drove straight there. A lone uniformed officer was standing outside the door, but the detectives hadn’t yet arrived. When I asked the officer what had happened his response was: ‘I’ll show you.’
At which point he threw open the door and allowed us to look inside. There was a man lying on his back with a huge knife sticking out of his chest and blood everywhere. It made me physically sick because I’d never seen a dead body before and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks.
There’s a scene in The Alibi where Beth goes to a snooker hall to confront some villains and gets attacked. Well it was inspired by a real event. I had to go to a snooker hall in Stratford, east London while researching a story about a notorious villain who was on the run. I knew he was a frequent visitor there. However, when I started asking questions two men picked me up by the arms and carried me outside, where one of them slapped my face and warned me never to return. So I didn’t.
People often ask me why I only write crime novels like The Alibi and The Madam. Well it’s partly because of all the experiences I had as a reporter working in London. Every day was different, and invariably something would happen that would make me think about how it could be worked into a plot for a book.