The story behind the author R.C. Bridgestock
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 May 2018
Joan Russell Photography
Bob and Carol Bridgestock left their careers with the police hoping for a more sedate life but that hasn’t quite worked out.
In his early days as a butcher’s apprentice Bob Bridgestock saw plenty of blood. Sadly he saw far more in his subsequent 30 years with West Yorkshire Police, where he ended his career as detective superintendent, and one of the force’s most commended officers. ‘In the last three years there, I took charge of 26 murder cases and 50 suspicious death investigations, and another 24 major incidents including drive-by shootings and numerous sex attacks and so on. On one day in my last year I gave evidence in three separate murder cases at Leeds Crown court. Days off work and Christmas meant nothing.’
It became almost unbearable; 16-hour and 19-hour working days, and beyond the volume of the work, the fear of letting his team and the victims down. ‘My private nightmare was that I’d go to a house and get the name of the deceased wrong, not by not knowing, but because of how many major incidents I was running simultaneously. I loved the job, you never knew what would come up, but in the end I was counting the days down to finishing.’
Carol had 17 years as a police support worker, a job that brought her into contact with Bob. ‘I made him coffee,’ she says, ‘that was it; coffee and home-made biscuits. People said it wouldn’t last, but we’ve been together for 25 years.’
They work still more closely these days as author R.C. (Robert and Carol) Bridgestock, not a role either expected when in 2003 they retired to the Isle of Wight, only returning to Calderdale last year because of pressure of work. ‘We’d holidayed there and loved it, and it was far enough away that we knew in the supermarket nobody would come up to me saying “hello boss”, or “have you locked up the husband yet?”’ explains Bob. Involvement with a local hospice charity persuaded him to give a talk on his career. ‘It was meant to be an hour, but they kept me four,’ he recalls, ‘and afterwards the woman in charge asked why I didn’t write a book.’
Carol kept scrapbooks of press cuttings and other material on his biggest cases, with a view to Bob writing something like a memoir, partly to let their children see why he missed so many birthdays and Christmas dinners. She saw a writing course advertised, booked them on, and six two-hour Monday evening sessions later Bob had the rough draft that eventually became Deadly Focus, their first novel.
Their way of working is intriguing. ‘Every book is from his detective viewpoint,’ says Carol. ‘Bob writes the whole first draft like a crime file, very impersonal and structured – he even included the forms in Deadly Focus! I saw he wasn’t telling a story but relating facts without feelings because it was upsetting to say how he felt, so I unmask the detective. Every book is triggered by something in his career that upset Bob – a child’s death in the first, a colleague who went bad in the second… but we change things so nobody would ever know the starting point.’
‘Carol adds the human side,’ says Bob, ‘we didn’t want him to be an idiosyncratic TV cliché, he’s a normal family man who sometimes leaves for work at 3am and maybe doesn’t return for a day or more.’ Their latest Jack Dylan, When a Killer Strikes, cleverly interweaves two murder investigations with Dylan and his wife Jen moving house, illustrating those pressures.
Carol reads the draft through from start to finish without making any changes, looking at it as a reader would, then begins to question him. ‘I’ve never been to a mortuary, for example, and don’t know what it smells like, how the people behave, if anything humorous happens, so I ask him,’ says Carol. ‘She puts the flesh on the bones,’ Bob adds.
The accuracy of the police procedural side of their novels has given them a big police following, and opened the door to another new career strand. They consulted on the first series of Happy Valley, actually giving it that title thanks to their local knowledge, and one of the Scott and Bailey series, and now are juggling similar roles on three other projects, the volume of work necessitating their recent return to the Calder Valley.
The busiest people always seem to have space to do more, and that’s certainly the case with Bob and Carol. Shortly they will be launching the first book of a new series, with a strong female character as the lead this time. And they support numerous charities, including Bethany’s Smile, The Yorkshire Down Syndrome Group, and Huddersfield’s Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice. They have brought the two strands together, auctioning off the rights to name characters in the books to raise thousands for charity.
It was not the life they expected to be leading, but they love it. And though their second career is inevitably tied to their first, for Bob in particular it has helped break certain emotional shackles. ‘With the pressure off now I wonder how I did cope. Picking up a babe in arms who died in suspicious circumstances then coming home to pick up your own daughter from her cot. People asked me if writing this stuff was cathartic, and initially I denied it. But it clearly is.’