To write a novel on phone hacking was a minefield in terms of whose toes you step on and how many real names of papers, major celebrities and news events you can use.
The first main stumbling block (for Wacko Hacko) was actually naming a newspaper where our protagonist Jamie Parkes works. Could I use any of the real papers? The Sun, The News of the World, The Mirror or Mail? Of course not, because I’d have some of their nice lawyers chasing me all the way to my penniless, bailed-out bank. So I chose not to reveal the name of the paper at all but give it a sort of nickname – The Daisies (like the Screws, Indy or Grauniad) which then gave me the freedom to explore everything within that newsroom without having to look over my shoulder.
Then there was the name of the broadsheet paper that uncovers the phone hacking after years of painstaking investigation, dead-ends and research. In real life, as everyone knows, it was The Guardian wot won it, but I wasn’t interested in doing a straight, up and down version of what is now a well-worn tale; I wanted my own spin. So I called the broadsheet paper The Squires (again not its actual name); a sort of moniker to illustrate its class-apart nature as it looked down at the tabloid rabble.
Once I had these two names, I felt more confident about the filling in the landscape of the novel. It starts on September 11 2001 and ends at London Olympics in the summer 2012. I needed to show the marathon nature of the saga – and that meant highlighting some major news events on the way including the 2004 tsunami, 7/7 and Michael Jackson’s death. A newsroom is only alive when big stories pumped through its jaded veins.
An agent once said to me that Wacko Hacko should have been a TV drama – and that readers don’t want to read about journalists. All that may be accurate, but we read about journalists and their lives every single day of the week (if you absorb news, it is inevitable some of that reporter/columnist’s personality will seep into your brain) so I feel the novel is the best place to explore this tale of power and greed in an era of brazen risk-taking, bravado and misplaced confidence.