‘I was furious writing this book’


51eMhWvs7HL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Best-selling crime fiction author Mark Billingham’s latest novel, Love Like Blood, deals with the controversial subject of honour killings.

It was a difficult book to write, he tells me, but has more twists and turns than any of his other thrillers…

Q & A

Your new book, Love Like Blood, is the fourteenth novel in the Tom Thorne series. It shares its title with a song by Killing Joke…

Mark Billingham: Yes – it does. I was sitting on a train with Martyn Waites [crime writer] and told him that I didn’t have a title for my book and that it was driving me crazy. We threw some titles back and forth – he knew what the book was about – and then he said, ‘what about the Killing Joke song, Love Like Blood?’ So, in the acknowledgements, I thank Killing Joke and Martyn Waites. It’s actually the first time I’ve named one of my books after a song title.

Your last book, Die of Shame, was a stand-alone novel. What was it like going back to Thorne and writing about him again, for the fourteenth time? Does he still excite you?

MB: Yes – he does. One of the reasons I write stand-alone books is that having taken a break from the series, I can come back to Thorne re-energised and keen to write about him again – that’s the theory. I was very excited to write about him again – especially putting him into this story, as it was one I was very fired-up to write about.

Mark Billingham

This seems like an appropriate time to talk about the story in Love Like Blood. I’m not going to give anything away, so I’ll just refer to the promotional blurb that accompanies the novel…

‘As DI Nicola Tanner investigates what appears to be a series of organised killings, her partner Susan is brutally murdered.

‘Taken off the case, Tanner enlists the help of DI Tom Thorne to pursue a pair of ruthless killers and the broker who is handing out the deadly contracts.

‘As the killers target their latest victim, Thorne takes the biggest risk of his career and is drawn into a horrifying and disturbing world in which families will do anything to protect their honour…’

The central theme of the book is honour killings and it’s loosely based on a real-life crime – the killing of Banaz Mahmod – a 20-year-old Iraqi Kurdish woman, living in south-west London, who was raped, tortured and murdered by members of her family in 2006.

Banaz’s father and uncle were eventually sentenced to life in prison for ordering the killing, along with the three men who had been paid to carry out the act. Several other members of her family were also jailed for their involvement in the crime.

Banaz had been forced into an arranged marriage with a man who physically and sexually abused her, but she left him and fell in love with another man – Rahmat Sulemani. Her family killed her for doing so…

MB: They conspired to murder her and had already tried to kill her once before. She’d been to the police five times, but wasn’t taken seriously. There’s a heart-breaking clip, which you can watch on YouTube, of her being interviewed at the police station, describing her abusive marriage and how she was repeatedly raped, beaten and treated like a slave.

She tried to get away, because she’d met Rahmat Sulemani and fallen in love with him, but she was spotted kissing him outside Morden tube station. That was her death warrant.

She was lured to her grandmother’s house, where she was brutally raped, tortured, and murdered.

‘It’s the most brutal murder I’ve ever read about. I think it’s the only honour killing case in this country where people have been paid to carry it out’

There’s a brilliant documentary about the case, which is called Banaz: A Love Story. I remembered reading about the case and then I saw the documentary and started looking further into it it. It’s probably the most brutal murder I’ve ever read about. I think it’s the only honour killing case in this country where people have been paid to carry it out.

I then had this idea of writing a story about men who were paid to carry out such killings  – not just in the UK, but also overseas.

As Love Like Blood deals with such a controversial and sensitive subject matter, was it a difficult novel to write?

MB: Yes – it was. It was difficult in two ways. I was furious writing this book – very angry. It wasn’t just like making up a serial killer and trying to get inside their head – these are real and horrendous crimes. I also knew that it was something that needed to be treated with a degree of sensitivity. I was writing about cultures and religions that weren’t mine. I firmly believe that I have the right to do that – I’m writing about a multi-ethnic city [London] and not every book I write is about white, middle-aged men.

I was careful at every stage. The book was seen very early by a Muslim reader, a Sikh reader and a Hindu reader. I very much wanted to do that, because I didn’t want to make stupid mistakes and I also didn’t want to write anything that anyone might find offensive. At no point in this book am I attacking any religions or cultures. I’ve got nothing but respect for those religions, but I have no respect at all for people who murder in their names. It’s got nothing to do with religion – it’s just murder.

‘It wasn’t just like making up a serial killer and trying to get inside their head – these are real, horrendous crimes’

This isn’t the first time you’ve written about real-life, social issues in your books, is it?

MB: No – over the course of 17 books, I’ve occasionally written about things that are actually happening.

I’ve never done tub-thumping stuff, but Lifeless was about homelessness, Die of Shame dealt with addiction and In The Dark was about the pressure of joining gangs. It does feel different when I’m writing books like that, rather than the ones about serial killers or gangland slayings. I’m not saying I want to do it with every book – sometimes the story just doesn’t work like that. Don’t get me wrong – the story has to come first. Love Like Blood is still a thriller that has more twists and turns than anything I’ve ever written. I think it has two stonking twists in it, but I’m not going to give them away.

I hope it still works as a thriller, but obviously I want to draw attention to these atrocities, and the scale of them. There is a minimum of a dozen honour killings in the UK every year, but it is a massively under-reported crime.

Sadly, there was yet even more tragedy to come from Banaz Mahmod’s story. Her partner, Rahmat Sulemani, killed himself in May last year…

MB: Yeah, that happened while I was halfway through writing the book and fired me up even more. It’s odd – when you’re halfway through a book, you usually go into the doldrums and you worry about what you’re writing, whether it’s any good and if you’re doing the right thing.

Then Rahmat Sulemani hanged himself – 10 years after Banaz died – and I thought, ‘yeah – I really want to finish this book’. So I raced through the second half of it. It’s probably the quickest book I’ve ever written.


Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine
Mark Billingham and My Darling Clementine performing The Other Half

You’re a multi-talented man who always has plenty of projects on the go – including some music-related ones. In 2015, you collaborated with country duo My Darling Clementine on an album and live show called The Other Half. Any more musical collaborations in the offing?

MB: Well…I’m in a band called The Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers. It’s made up of a bunch of other crime writers – Doug Johnstone, Stuart Neville, Luca Veste and Val McDermid, with guest appearances from the likes of Christopher Brookmyre. We’re playing cover versions with a crime theme and we’ll be making our live debut in August.

I’m the only one in the band who isn’t a proper musician! I’ll be living out my rock star fantasies, playing guitar very badly and murdering Watching The Detectives.

On The Other Half album, you co-wrote a song with My Darling Clementine called As Precious As The Flame. A new version of it has also appeared on the latest My Darling Clementine album, Still Testifying. Would you like to do more songwriting?

MB: I’ve actually been doing a lot of songwriting. I’ve always enjoyed writing songs and playing guitar – however badly I sing and play. I’m keeping up with all my guitar lessons – as the Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers’  expands, I have a new song to learn every week. Like any band though, we’re probably more interested in getting our photo done…

I’m also writing some songs with a musician and composer called Paul Joyce – he’s an old friend of mine.

I write the lyrics, with a few musical ideas, and then I work with Paul on them – he hammers a demo into shape and then we bring in session musicians. We’ve been working on six songs for about six months – we have half an album’s worth and now we’re going to put them out there and hopefully find someone who fancies recording them. I think we’ve written some good songs…

‘I’ll be living out my rock star fantasies, playing guitar very badly and murdering Watching The Detectives’

Would you like to work with My Darling Clementine again?

MB: We’re actually talking about taking The Other Half Back on the road – we’ve had some interest in doing some other dates at the end of this year and the beginning of 2018. Right now, we’re trying to work out when we can all be in the same place at the same time.

Like your fictional character, Thorne, you’re a huge country music fan and you’re currently working on a Radio 4 programme about Hank Williams. What can you tell me about that?

MB: It’s for a show called My Muse, in which people talk about someone that’s inspired them in one way or another. I picked Hank and I’m interviewing various people for it and talking about what his music means to me. I think it will be going out in August. Hank Williams was a mega-star in his time, with massive hits, but, at the same time, he was also putting out this weird, uncommercial gospel stuff under an alias – Luke The Drifter – that was completely different from Your Cheatin’ Heart or Jambalaya. For a long time, people didn’t even know Luke The Drifter was Hank Williams. Every so often, he just felt that he had to do these Luke The Drifter recordings. Maybe he felt guilty about the godless life he was living…

So when you write stand-alone novels, is that your Luke The Drifter period?

MB: Maybe (laughs) – no, that would be the equivalent of me telling my publisher I’m going to write a huge, erotic saga, or a romance novel. Even when Hank was writing hit songs like Cold, Cold Heart, they were really dark. How do you walk that line between being commercial and being very, very dark and edgy? That’s why I’ve always thought crime and country music go so well together.

Time of Death

The BBC has adapted two of your novels, In The Dark and Time of Death, for TV. When will the series – a four-part drama –  be shown?

MB: It’s all done – it was filmed in and around Manchester last year and I think it’s going to be on in the next couple of months.

You’re already working on the next Thorne book, aren’t you?

MB: Yes – I’m about three quarters of the way through it. One strand of the book deals with Spice abuse and the network behind smuggling drugs into prison. The other part of the story is based on a real-life, ongoing police investigation, which I can’t really talk about. So I’m writing about drugs and murder, and as usual there will be some country music thrown in. I’m not doing a Luke The Drifter change of direction just yet.

‘My next book will be about drugs and murder, with some country music thrown in’

Finally, will you be appearing on any more celebrity TV quiz shows? You’ve been seen on Mastermind, Pointless and Eggheads…

MB: I’m actually doing The Chase in a couple of weeks. I think I will have pretty much done all of them by then – unless there’s Celebrity Tipping Point. God, I am such a tart…


Love Like Blood – the new book by Mark Billingham – is out on June 1, published by Little, Brown. For more information, visit: https://uk.markbillingham.com/love-like-blood



‘I knew the album had to be funky and soulful, but with elements of folk music’


A chance encounter at a party led to Blow Monkeys frontman Dr Robert collaborating with ’60s soul legend PP Arnold on the 2007 album Five In The Afternoon, which has just been released on vinyl for Record Store Day.

It’s a great record – a ‘lost’ classic – from the rootsy opener, Nothing But Love, to the laid-back, jazzy-blues groove of the title track, the classy soul ballad Stay Now, the pop-funk-flavoured I Saw Something and What Am I To Do?  and the album closer – the groovy, ’60s folk-psych-gospel song Satellite.

I spoke to Robert, who lives in the mountains, in Andalusia, Spain, to find out the story behind the making of the album.

How did you meet – and come to work with – PP Arnold?

Dr Robert: I met her at a party up here in the mountains, which was thrown by a mutual friend. There were some musicians there, including a drummer called The Baron, who played on some of Donovan’s stuff that I loved, like Wear Your Love Like Heaven. That’s what drew me to the party – normally I’m not much of a party person.

PP Arnold was there and I was singing some Curtis Mayfield songs and some Hendrix – The Wind Cries Mary, I believe. Suddenly she’s on stage and we’re singing The First Cut Is The Deepest. So I talked to her and found out that she lived nearby and it just seemed the natural thing to do – to write an album for us to do together.

Dr Robert

So did you write the songs with her in mind, or were any of them ones you had kicking around?

DR: I wrote the songs quickly, in a 10-day period. I tend to do that. I like deadlines. Once we had decided to do an album, the pressure was on me to come up with the songs. It’s a pressure I enjoy.

What did you want the album to sound like?

DR: I knew it had to be funky and soulful, but I also wanted to bring in elements of folk music – nothing too rocky, but just a platform to try and enhance the voices. I found the sax player, Jose Luis, busking in Granada.

Where did you record the songs?

DR: There was a great little studio [Gizmo 7] in the seaside port of Motril, in Spain. It was run by a guy from Cologne [Paul Grau], who had some amazing analogue gear. He was also an experienced engineer, so it was a real find. I had the songs and then contacted some old friends – Marco Nelson from The Young Disciples, who played bass, and Crispin Taylor from Galliano on drums.

‘I wrote the songs quickly, in a 10-day period. I tend to do that. I enjoy the pressure of deadlines’

How was PP to work with?

DR: She was an education. I had to remix the whole album because she thought the vocals were too low. She was right. The way she heard things was that the song supports the singer. It was a valuable lesson. She is an incredible singer – a proper soul singer – and we sang most of the stuff together. It was an honour.

DR and PP

Listening to the album now, how do you feel about it? Do you have any favourite songs? 

DR: I’m still happy with it, which I can’t say of everything I’ve done. It sounds fresh because we didn’t try any gimmicks, or attempt to make anything particularly contemporary. We just tried to keep it sparse and natural. My favourite song is probably Shape It For Me.

Why did you decide to put the album out on vinyl, for Record Store Day 2017?

DR: The original label it was on, Curb Records, went bust shortly after the original release in 2007 and the album had largely been unavailable since then. Richard Clarke at Monks Road Records came along and wanted to put it out there again – Record Store Day was a perfect way to get the ball rolling. It will come out on CD and download too

You’ve just come off a UK tour, playing solo acoustic shows with Matt Deighton and Chris Difford. How was that? I saw the London show and thought it was superb…

DR: It was the first time I’d met Matt. He’s a lovely guy – very gentle and one hell of a guitar player. I love his song Villager.

Playing solo is a challenge, after doing so much with the band over the last five years or so. But I love the freedom of just being able to take it where I want, to try and feel the audience vibe and respond to it. I love improvising basically and being solo allows me the freedom.

‘The new Blow Monkeys album is the best thing we’ve ever done. I know I always say that, but this one is!’

You’re currently working on a new Blow Monkeys album. What’s it sound like and when can we expect to hear it? 

DR: It’s called The Wild River and it is the best thing we’ve ever done. I know I always say that, but this one is! It’s luck and fortune, but sometimes things just fall into place. I hope everyone feels the same way when they hear it.

Five In The Afternoon by Dr Robert and PP Arnold is available now on Monks Road Records.  For more information, go to http://monksroad.com/

‘I didn’t want this album to be an easy listen…’


Manchester singer-songwriter Nev Cottee’s new album, Broken Flowers, is his best yet. His darkest record to date, it was written in the aftermath of a failed relationship. 

Nev’s rich, baritone voice – think Lee Hazlewood and Scott Walker – is backed by lush, cinematic strings and the album moves from twilight country music to bluesy psych-rock and spacey, hypnotic grooves. 

I spoke to him about writing songs in India, ’70s drum sounds and descending into madness, and asked him if this album is his Blood On The Tracks

How the hell are you?

Nev Cottee: I’m good and I’m excited to get this album out, as the process seems to have taken a while. The record was finished in November last year and has been delayed due to record label stuff, artwork and admin. It was frustrating not to get it out earlier, but now it’s out, I’m completely happy. I’d rather do an album every year, because I seem to be able to write that many songs. Back in the day, bands would do it – The Beatles and The Stones and The Beachboys – put out an album every year and a few singles that weren’t on the album.


I think Broken Flowers is your best album yet. Do you agree?

NC: Yes – I do. It’s a more consistent record. The album was intended to be a unified whole. It’s not a concept album, but it’s got themes. I wanted to take the listener on a journey. Where that journey begins and ends, I have no idea…

When you released your last album, Strange News From The Sun, two years ago, I said that the first single, If I Could Tell You, sounded like Lee Hazlewood on a space walk. This time around, I’m saying that your new single, Open Eyes, sounds like Lee Hazlewood hanging out in Cafè del Mar. This joke’s going to run and run, isn’t it?

NC: Lee Hazlewood hanging out in Cafè del Mar? I’m always going to have the same voice – that can never change – so I’m always going to be coming at it from a Lee Hazlewood kind of angle. The sound of it does have a bit of modernity – that Cafè del Mar thing. Incidentally, I was on a Cafè del Mar compilation album, so I’m just awaiting my private jet to be sent over, so I can do a six-month residency in Cafè del Mar. I’m still waiting on that email…

Open Eyes is very chilled-out. It’s one of the lighter songs on the album and has a country feel…

NC: Open Eyes has got the wonderful Chris Hillman playing pedal steel on it – he’s a fantastic musician and a great lad. I was very lucky to have him play on one of my albums again. I’ve played with a lot of musicians and Chris is the best. He’s so intuitive and a born natural.

Initially, the song was influenced by Neil Young’s Harvest Moon. I was listening to some of the amazing songwriting on that album, which is very simple – some of the songs have two chords. Neil Young is fantastic at creating a mood with very little. Two chords, an acoustic guitar, a pedal steel, a light drum sound and his voice. He creates a whole world out of some very basic elements.

I wanted to keep it simple, but to evoke something – you don’t need a lot to make it sound special.

Open Eyes sets the tone for the album, without going too dark early on. It’s a twilight moment that lets you know that you’re going somewhere – the sun’s setting and you’re going to be in for a dark ride. There’s still an element of sanity that you can hold on to before you plunge into the next track, which is quite dark and foreboding and has a deeper meaning.

‘I wasn’t interested in writing verse, chorus pop songs. I wanted to delve into the songs a bit more, indulge myself and see where they went’

Let’s talk about the sound of the album. It’s a very dark record in places…

NC: I didn’t want it to be an easy listen – that was a conscious decision. I wanted to make the listener have to work – I wasn’t interested in writing verse, chorus pop songs. I wanted to delve into the songs a bit more, indulge myself and see where they went.

Me and Mason Neely, who produces my albums, made a very conscious decision for this album not to sound like a ’60s record, which my second album did – it was aping Lee Hazlewood, Scott Walker and a few other choice references.

For this album, we got a very, tight and clean ’70s drum sound. I’m not a big Fleetwood Mac fan, but it was that kind of drum sound – you hear it on modern recordings by Beck, who uses it quite a bit. It’s a cool sound and it was Mason who brought it to the table. We instantly felt that it would change the whole sound of the album. Saying that, there aren’t a lot of drums on the album, but the sound infused the feel of it.

I wanted to make a modern record.Yeah – it has elements of the ’60s and the ’70s, but there are also a lot of synthesiser sounds and strings. It’s not completely modern or completely retro – I wanted to leave it open. It’s sat in a weird place and I’ll let the listener decide where that place is.

What was the writing process for the record? How did the songs come about?

NC: I was out in India for four months. I set aside time to write and demo the songs. Looking back, it was an amazing time. I was able to get so much work done there. It was a beautiful place to be – there were no distractions. I was leading a nice life and the weather was good. It gave me the distance to reflect on things and some of the stuff that I wanted to write. I was coming out of a relationship with the person I thought I was going to be with for the rest of my life – the rug got pulled from under me. Everyone’s been there and it’s a bit of a clichè to write about it, but I felt I had to do something to get it off my chest. I wanted to explore what that meant. It was more lyrically-based than I’ve previously looked at things. I was spending a lot of time thinking about the lyrics.

When I came back from India, I went to Mason’s studio in Cardiff – I used a lot of the musicians I’ve used before, but they were supplemented with a lot of string work by friends of Mason’s. There were some amazing viola players and cellists. We made a decision to use real strings. You can get away with a lot on the computer, but these songs were too good to not use the real thing.

What were your musical influences for this album?

NC: I was listening to a lot of Tom Waits while I was away – I went through his entire back catalogue very slowly, which was an amazing journey. He’s a genius – all those different phases of his career, of which I think the latter period – like Dylan – stands up against – and even betters – some of his earlier work. The Waits album Brawlers, Bawlers and Bastards, which is a triple album, was a major influence – and also Blue Valentine.

He writes confessional songs with a great lyrical turn of phrase. I can only dream of getting near what he achieved.

Leonard Cohen’s last album was a revelation and I was also listening to Mark Lanegan’s covers album Imitations, which is brilliant.

NEWSM_NCBF_backcover_large copy copy

You mentioned Dylan earlier. Is Broken Flowers your Blood On The Tracks? Most of – if not all – the songs on the album are about the end of a relationship…

NC: I guess it is. Looking back, it was a long time ago and things move on, but I had to document it. it. You’ve got to write about what’s happened in your life and in the world and explore those themes, otherwise you’re just writing about nothing. I wanted to go deep and explore what it meant. Without sounding too pretentious, I was reading Baudelaire and I’ve quoted some of his poems on the back of the album cover – it’s about looking at the darker side of the human condition and what that means. When you’re truly alone and what you can do with what you have. Do you descend into madness? On some of the tracks, I’ve tried to mirror that anguish and inner turmoil that you go through. I hope that’s reflected in the songs that appear later on the album – it’s a descent into abstract madness, when everything’s turned upside down.

The track I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is stunning – a big, melancholy song, with sweeping, dramatic strings. Richard Ashcroft would kill to have written it.What’s the story behind it? It seems to deal with the death of a relationship and also finds you and the song’s other protagonist listening to Prince… 

NC: I wanted to write a song with a disjointed story – not a narrative – that was completely non-linear and confused. When you do split up with someone, you question everything and you lose your grip and all your bearings. Your take on reality seems to go out of the window, yet you still have moments of clarity when you remember conversations and situations.

Be On Your Way is another moody, orchestrally-aided song. It reminds me of Richard Hawley’s last few records. The big, bluesy electric guitar solo is awesome! Is that you playing it?

NC: It’s not me playing guitar – I wish I could play like that. It’s a guy called Alex Foote, who’s a friend of Mason’s.

What were you channelling with that song?

NC: It’s a straightforward melody – Hawley is a good reference and he will always be an inspiration, but I was looking more to Serge Gainsbourg and trying to tap into that Histoire de Melody Nelson vibe. We got into a groove where we wanted to take it musically into a bit of madness – so you can drift away. It builds and builds into a beautiful, confusing mess.

new SM_DSC0911

Tired of Love is an epic – almost nine minutes. The wonderful, haunting arrangement reminds me of John Barry or Ennio Morricone – it has a cinematic feel. What can you tell me about that song? 

NC: For me, that was the big one for the album.The whole album was moving towards it – it’s the culmination of the journey. I said to Mason, ‘it’s a simple song, but we’ve got to make it go from nothing to everything’. It’s tapping into a hypnotic vibe that you get with some dance music – you lose where you are in the song. It’s a repetitive psych vibe – I wanted it to confuse people. You start hearing weird noises – maybe the noises are there, or maybe they’re just in your head. We spent a lot of time making that track – I’m really proud of it. Mason’s string arrangement is absolutely phenomenal.

You’ve also been moonlighting as a DJ on Soho Radio, with your own monthly show. I’m really enjoying it – you play some great, eclectic tunes, there are seasonal themes, gardening tips and also advice on birdwatching and flora and fauna. Is it fun to do?

NC: I love doing the radio show and the interaction – there’s nothing better than turning someone on to a record. It brings me a lot of joy. Soho Radio is a great station – they let me just get on with it and do what I want to do. I’ve got mates who do shows on it. Everyone should check it out.

Any live shows coming up?

NC: I’m playing in Liverpool on May 27 and then I’m DJing at Spiritland in London on May 28 – that’s an album playback. On June 9, I’ll be playing at The Deaf Institute in Manchester – that’s the album launch – and Lee Southall, who used to be in The Coral, will be supporting me. There will also be Aficionado DJs – it will be a great night. All are welcome.

Finally, what’s on your hi-fi at the moment?

NC: The new Mac DeMarco album – This Old Dog –  is superb – well worth checking out – and Mark Lanegan’s new album, Gargoyle, is great. I’m spinning that.

Nev Cottee’s Broken Flowers is released on May 26 on Wonderful Sound.

For more information visit : https://wonderfulsound.bandcamp.com/album/nev-cottee-broken-flowers