Interview with Malcolm Hollingdrake for "Treble Clef"

Treble Clef - DCI Bennett book 8

Harrogate attracts hundreds of players to the annual Games Convention and for one player it is the perfect opportunity to kill by the mechanics of his own sinister game.

Each victim will die in the same way.

Each will be classed as the loser and their time will have run out.

The escape room and the game table will draw more, each believing they are invincible. However, in every game there is always a traitor waiting in the wings.

It is my great pleasure to share an interview I did with Malcolm Hollingdrake, author of the bestselling Harrogate Crime Series. The latest in the series, "Treble Clef" is out this week and I caught up with Malcolm to grill him about things!

Malcolm Hollingdrake
picture credit: Tony Bithell
Hi Malcolm, thanks for coming on the blog!
Hello, thank you for inviting me to tell you a little about myself.

When did you first start writing? And what made you start?
Having worked in a classroom for thirty-two years I suppose I have always written, from assembly stories to end of day tales. Although I would often start off reading the story, the book would be put down and, having written it, I could tell it adding action and emphasis; a sure way to capture the imagination of the children.

What was the first full-length novel you ever wrote? (I realise this may not be the same as the first book you have had published!) 
As I was approaching the end of my teaching career, I was influenced by the Gulf War and the resulting medical troubles; Gulf War Syndrome seemed to hit the news but there also seemed a reluctance by the Government to accept, not only its existence but to accept any degree of responsibility. It was this that proved to be the catalyst to pick up my pen. I had lived in Northern Cyprus and knew at that time there was no extradition procedure for criminals from Europe and this proved perfect. So, I simply linked the two and “Engulfed’ was born. I have now re-written the book and shortly it will be published as “Bridging the Gulf”

Your new book, “Treble Clef” is due out this week. This is the eighth book in your Harrogate Crime Series. Tell me about the series? Who are the main characters? Why did you choose Harrogate for your setting?
The series is set in the beautiful spa town of Harrogate but also links with many of the places of outstanding natural beauty. I found Harrogate’s interesting and curious history fascinating, using it as the warp for the story to be weft within its very fabric.
DCI Cyril Bennett and DS David Owen are the main characters whose professional and personal relationship has developed over the period of eight books. Cyril is not your usual detective, reliant on booze and bad relationships, quite the contrary. A man with impeccable dress sense, somewhat old-fashioned one might say. An eye for the ladies in the earlier books but now... Let’s just say he is settled in a relationship. Cyril is also an avid collector of Northern Art. He enjoys the auction houses of the county. Owen, on the other hand is a giant of a man whose personal hygiene leaves much to be desired and is the antithesis of his boss. However, they make a formidable team.
Being brought up in Bradford, I had often visited Harrogate and I heard that it was the happiest place in the UK to live and so introducing a little crime would not go amiss. The streets, The Stray, the buildings all lend themselves to the genre. Agatha Christie took refuge in the town for ten days causing great national concern and of course, Harrogate is famous for its Crime writing Festival held every year. Importantly too, Harrogate is a main convention centre attracting thousands of visitors annually; now if we take the law of averages, not all will be well behaved.

Tell me more about “Treble Clef”? What does your DCI face this time?
The inspiration for this book came from a chance conversation with the owner of a B&B. It is a crime of revenge and is built around the theme of board games. Harrogate holds a Gaming Convention bringing players from across the globe. This linked with the new craze of escape rooms makes for an interesting way of tormenting and killing. It is up to Bennett and his team to discover who is behind the murders and to prevent the next. Strangely, whilst I was writing this book, I received a review suggesting that my books were like the clues used within escape room games… prophetic words.

What prompted you to write it?
The brief conversation with the landlady, the B&B owner as the murders are committed in Harrogate B&Bs.

What are you working on at the moment? Are there already plans for the next book after “Treble Clef”? Little birds tell me there might be a new crime series in the offing. Can you spill any secrets?
As you may know I recently completed my seven book contract with Bloodhound Books and I have decided to take the rights to the series and become an independent author. So, since parting company at the end of February I have been climbing the mountain of uncertainty, learning new skills and formatting and publishing the first seven books in the series in both Kindle and paperback. I also wanted to change the cover designs and through pure chance discovered the smoke images. The titles remain the same as I wanted the reviews to be transferred.
Whilst with the publisher, they very generously commissioned a new three book series with a stipulation that it must have a female lead character. However, although this is started and the first one well on its way, it has taken a back seat until book eight of The Harrogate Crime Series is released.
I was also working on a series of documentaries called ‘Places in Pages’ where I would interview authors and then travel to the real places set within the pages of their books. I have filmed the trailer for this and hopefully, with the right photographer and editor, I shall begin those towards the end of the year. Oh! A secret. The new series may well be set in north Merseyside. Southport here I come!

You worked in education for a while, including a spell teaching in Cairo. What were the highs and lows with that career?
I did. I was the Senior Teacher in a thousand pupil English medium school situated out by the pyramids. I adored Cairo. It’s sheer size and energy, its smell, and familiarity was enchanting. Our home was a mud house within the estate of a famous architect and within that estate there was the famous weaving school of Wissa Wassif.
From there we moved to Northern Cyprus, a country that was still isolated from the rest of the world, a country where time had literally stopped. There was no major development, the coastline was unspoiled and magnificent, as were the crusader castles positioned along the bony spine of the country. It was a jewel.
I loved my life in teaching, working with all ages within the Primary sector. From teaching Reception to Year 6. As a head and deputy to being seconded to support an EBD special school through Ofsted, the life experiences were both rich and varied.

What made you switch to writing? And do you have any regrets over choosing writing as a career?
A major heart problem brought an early end to my teaching career. Writing was something I could do irrespective of mobility. I have always tried to overcome the limitations and I have been determined not to let the condition rule the way I live. Medication helps but exercise and less stress are the main cure although the last two months have been punishing. Still we all need mountains to climb to make life worth living.

Do you have an ideal writing space? If so, what and where?
I’d love to say a wonderful study but it’s the dining table. South facing looking at the garden. Just perfect.

You’ve had success with both short stories and with novels. Do you prefer one format over the other? Or are you happy writing either?
I love writing short stories, probably because that is how it all started within school. It’s a wonderful discipline too, writing to a limited word count… you have to savour every word as if making a mosaic with limited pieces… it has to be perfect. I would not choose one form, but one style can be a warm-up for the other.
I’m immensely proud of a short story used on a number of radio stations on the centenary of the conclusion of WW1. “The Penultimate Man”. It was made into an audiobook read by Nicholas Camm. We then performed it on 10/11/2018 at the library in Harrogate.

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given? (not necessarily writing advice)
“Don’t give up.” Angie Marsons. I was despondent after writing to a number of publishers and was ready for throwing in the towel. I sent an email to Angie who simply told me to try a few more. Within a couple of weeks, I had a publishing deal!
“If not now, when?” Something I have tried to live by.
I remember the saying by Gene Kranz “Failure is not an option”. When I took over schools this was the first thing I tacked to my noticeboard. Ironically, I failed to heed it when trying for a publishing deal!
Lastly, from Zig Ziglar – “If you can dream it, then you can achieve it.”

And now for some more random questions!

What’s your radio tuned to most often?
Radio Two for Drive Time but on a Sunday we listen to Radio Royal, Bradford hospital radio to catch ‘The Truelove Show’ (5 – 7pm). Great chat and wonderful music. Find it on the internet.

You’re stranded on an island. You can only choose one of the following three things. Which do you choose and why?
1. Limitless supply of paper and pens.
2. A computer which will never run out of battery and which can access the internet, but you can’t post anything/get help via it, only read what others have put up or write to yourself.
3. An endless supply of loo roll.
A limitless supply of pens and paper, please. I could draw and write and using certain plants found nearby, maybe I could make the paper waterproof before making them into small paper boats. I could launch them sending them to drift on the tides for others to find. “If you can dream it, then you can achieve it.”

You can only wear one of the following colours for the rest of your life. Which colour do you choose?
Yellow. Orange. Green. White. Pink.
Yellow. I’d never get knocked over but possibly arrested whilst in Paris!

Jason Bourne or James Bond?
Mr Bond

Cats or dogs?

City or country?

Real book or e-book?

Fountain pen or biro?
Fountain pen

Thanks very much for letting me bombard you with questions!
Thank you very much for having me.

You can catch up with Malcolm on Twitter at:
Or on Facebook at:
On Instagram:
His website is at:

The Harrogate Crime Series:
Only The Dead
Hell's Gate
Flesh Evidence
Game Point
Dying Art
Crossed Out
The Third Breath
Treble Clef

Also by Malcolm:
Shadows From The Past


  1. Great interview questions and equally rewarding answers from the author. I've read all of his work but the last one -- and will do that once it's available.


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