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Pathologist-turned-crime-writer Is Tutor At Upcoming Irish Retreat

Author of novels, short stories, screenplays, as well as a poet and avid Sherlock Holmes fan.

Meet Bradley Harper, US-based pathologist-turned-crime writer and one of the exciting writing tutors at our upcoming retreat in June in Donegal - one we are proud to say is completely booked out.

Don’t worry, a second summer retreat is being organised in Ireland for June 27-July3. This is where you can book.

With two novels under his belt - ‘A Knife In The Fog’ and its sequel, ‘Queen’s Gambit’ and working on a third, an intriguing tale of theft and romance set on the ill-fated Titanic, Bradley has been guest at many international writing conferences and is completing a Masters degree in creative writing at Napier University in Edinburgh. He is a member of The Royal Scottish Society of Arts and served on its executive council.

During a colorful career in medicine spanning more than three decades during which he was involved in more than 200 autopsies, some attended by detectives, Bradley has been a target of kidnappers and treated gang members who were shot and stabbed. A former Commanding Officer in several different countries including Italy and Bosnia, Brad turned to full time writing after his retirement.

We met with Bradley recently and asked him a few questions about his life and writing.

ireland writing retreat, Bradley Harper author
Bradley together with his wife, Chere (center) and Columbia Hillen, Co-ordinator of Ireland Writing Retreat

Q: When and why did you begin a deep interest in creative writing? What stimulated such an interest after more than 30 years as a medical doctor?

A: I've always been an avid reader and wrote a lot of poetry throughout my life but didn't really get interested in prose until after I retired from the army and was looking for something to keep me busy that didn't involve going to an office or working for a boss.

Writing seemed the logical answer, plus I had an idea for a story. It didn't really take off, however, until I wrote a fan letter to a well-known author of non-fiction, Mary Roach, and she wrote back. I wound up helping her research a book about human research in the US Department of Defense. I watched how she took notes and the overall process, then read the book that resulted and decided I could possibly do something similar.

How hard could it be? (Cue laughter here). I said the worst thing that could happen would be my grammar would improve. It did!

Q: Does one particular genre of writing attract you and if so, why?

A: I enjoy crime writing or anything where there is a puzzle to be solved. I began in medicine in internal medicine, where it's all about the diagnosis, then went into pathology. I enjoyed taking a clinical history and use that in conjunction with my physical findings to deduce the disease process.

Q: How did the idea for your novels originate?

A: Book one, ‘A Knife In The Fog,’ was inspired by pure happenstance.

I was reading a short bio of Arthur Conan Doyle and learned he'd gotten such a pitiful payment for the first Sherlock Holmes story he went four years before writing another. I also noticed the Ripper murders happened in the middle of that gap. I decided on a story that told why the Ripper stopped without being caught, and why Doyle returning to Holmes would be a story I'd like to read. So I wrote it.

My second novel, ‘Queen’s Gambit,’ was inspired by the brilliant thriller, The Day of the Jackal. I made the target Queen Victoria and my heroine from my first book, Margaret Harkness, as the person who is trying to prevent the crime.

Q: Your work has won writing awards. Tell us about them.

A: My first novel, A Knife in the Fog, was a finalist for the 2019 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. It won the ‘Killer Nashville's Silver Falchion Award as Best Mystery and the audiobook won Audiofile Magazine's Earphone Award’ as Best Mystery. It is a Recommended Read by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate and has been published in Japanese. It is currently being pitched in Hollywood for possible TV adaptation.

Queen's Gambit won the 2020 Silver Falchion twice, both as Best Suspense and as Book of the Year.

A short story I wrote, ‘The Red Herring League,’ won an Honorable Mention at an international short story contest hosted by Writer's Digest with over 1,000 entries.

Bradley and Chere visiting Donegal earlier this year.

Q: In what ways have your life experiences influenced your writing?

A: I've worked in inner city emergency rooms and treated gang members who were shot and stabbed, and assisted in autopsies attended by detectives (and once a Texas Ranger).

I've been inside courtrooms to give testimony and jails to witness depositions. I've examined bodies of those who died violently and discussed the police procedures that lead to the apprehension of those responsible. I also have contacts I can turn to when I need expert advice.

I've been the target of kidnappers and have been in harms way in the service of my country. I've birthed babies (including my own), and had people die beneath my hands (I closed my father's eyes.) I've been a part of the worst day in some peoples' lives. I take all that joy, fear, and pain, and pour it out into my stories.

Q: What do you find both the easiest and the most challenging aspects of creative writing, and why? In other words, your strengths and weaknesses.

A: I think I'm good at description. In my first novel some reviewers said I made the Whitechapel area a distinct character within the larger story. I'm not so good at writing romance. I had romance in my second novel and struggled with it, as I am in my current work in progress.

Q: Is starting to write novels later in life, an advantage or a disadvantage?

A: I think starting as a writer in later life is an advantage. We are full of life experiences. We've all been knocked down and had to get ourselves back up. Of such events are great stories made.

Q: Describe your body of writing work so far in 50 words or less.

A: I put characters into terrible situations, then force them to confront their weaknesses and succeed.

Q: Aside from being a tutor at 'Ireland Writing Retreat' in June, what future writing and guest speaking activities have you planned for this year?

A: I have a busy summer ahead. In July, I am a featured speaker for the Chesapeake Bay Writers annual meeting. In August, I’ll be the keynote speaker for the Virginia Writer's Guild, as well as a solo speaker at Killer Nashville where I will give a talk on forensics and how the character of Sherlock Holmes inspired the world's first crime lab.

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