(A slightly different version of this article first appeared in Red Herrings, the confidential newsletter for members of the Crime Writers' Association.)
Like all Star Trek fans around the world, I was saddened in February by the news that Leonard Nimoy, forever immortalised as Mr Spock, the half-human, half-Vulcan science officer of the USS Enterprise, had passed away at the age of eighty-three.
Not only was he influential in me becoming a scientist (and later a science teacher), he is also indirectly responsible for me becoming a crime fiction writer. How did this come about?
In 1990, BBC2 started airing an exciting new series called Star Trek: The Next Generation. At the age of thirteen, I was hooked immediately. I was aware, of course, that the show had been preceded by a 1960s show and was familiar with Captain Kirk, Mr Spock, Dr McCoy and Mr Scott, but I’d never really seen it and had only watched a couple of the films. At the time, I was a voracious reader of science fiction and ‘mystery stories’, but because Coventry’s Tile Hill Library had such a well-stocked children and teenager section I had managed to quite happily fill the six spaces on my borrower’s card each week from that corner of the building alone, never venturing further. Then one day, as I walked past the ‘Grown up’ Science Fiction Section, I made a staggering discovery: they wrote novels about Star Trek!
The cover that caught my eye was that of Yesterday’s Son by A.C. Crispin, with its beautifully drawn portrait of Spock, ‘eyebrow set to stun’. With mounting excitement, I sought out my father. Now at the time I was quite a goody-two-shoes. My parents had a very strict policy regarding age-appropriate entertainment, refusing to let me watch either Robocop (certificate 18) or Batman (then a 15), even though ‘everybody else’s Mum and Dad let them’. So it was with some trepidation that I approached my father about reading books from the grown-up’s section.
“Yes of course, help yourself,” was his unexpected response (to highlight my naivety, I asked him to borrow them on his ticket, just in case). My next revelation was even bigger: Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov also wrote books for grown-ups!
There was no going back. Although I still did a quick circuit of the children’s section to see if there were any new Hardy Boys, Nancy Drews or Enid Blytons that I hadn’t read (nobody told me she was dead!), I now tore my way through the adult SciFi section. Fast forward another couple of years and I found myself perusing the other sections. Remembering how much I had enjoyed mystery stories, I started with crime and thrillers. By this point I was getting interested in martial arts and I came across Eric Van Lustbader’s Ninja series (there were other things in those books that fascinated a teenage boy beyond the epic fight scenes, but we’ll brush over those). Then there came other crime and thriller series, planting the seeds of the books that I would one day write myself.
And so to the writers of Star Trek in all its incarnations, and particularly the authors of those wonderful novels¸ I thank you. For taking me out of the children’s corner and into the rest of the library, eventually leading me to the genre that I love so much and I am now proud to write for.
And to Leonard Nimoy. Thank you for the memories and the inspiration. LLAP.
As to how a Sci Fi–loving, secondary school science teacher came to write British Police Procedurals… well that’s a story for another day.