Paul Charles, the Northern Ireland man who looks after Tom Waits and writes detective novels

Paul Charles left Northern Ireland and became a music agent in London before starting out as an author
Paul Charles left Northern Ireland and became a music agent in London before starting out as an author

Paul Charles is proof that you can take the boy out of Northern Ireland, but you can’t take Northern Ireland out of the boy.

He moved from Magherafelt to London as a 17-year-old and studied to be a civil engineer, though he was more interested in writing about the London music scene for Irish music papers than surveying, planning and drawing.

Paul Charles will be in Belfast later this month to launch his new book ' A Day In The Life Of Louis Bloom

Paul Charles will be in Belfast later this month to launch his new book ' A Day In The Life Of Louis Bloom

His real education began when he took on the multiple role of manager, lyricist, roadie, sound-engineer and agent for the Belfast band Fruupp.

Although Fruupp split up after four albums, by that point Paul had met Paul Fenn and they became firm friends and partners in the Asgard Agency where – over the last 30 years – Paul has been agent for a wide range of music acts including Crosby, Stills & Nash, Ray Davies, Lonnie Donegan, Christy Moore, Don McLean, Elvis Costello, John Lee Hooker, Rory Gallagher, Robert Plant, Tom Waits, Van Morrison, The Waterboys and The Undertones.

He has also programmed the acoustic stage at Glastonbury Festival for the last 25 years.

So how on earth did this same man become a writer of crime fiction?

He said: “I’ve loved crime stories and mysteries since I was a kid. It was my second love after music.

“In 1996, inspired by Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse books, I attempted my first detective mystery.”

I Love The Sound of Breaking Glass was published the following year.

Nine further critically acclaimed DI Christy Kennedy titles followed including 2012’s A Pleasure To Do Death with You.

He said: “You try to come up with a perfect crime and then work back two or three steps and throw some flaws into it so that a detective and his team can solve it.

“There’s the famous instance where Arthur Conan Doyle – one of the great detective writers – was asked by the London Met to solve a real life murder and he was totally out of his depth.

“When it’s real life and real victims, you don’t control the vertical and horizontal. Life controls all that.”

Now 69, Paul has been living away from Northern Ireland for 42 years but he says he has never really left: “I get home quite a bit. My dad still lives in Magherafelt.

“Our extended family live in the village and the villages nearby.

“I don’t think we ever leave, do we?

“There’s a lot of stuff I grew up with that I have sorted into stories, sometimes subconsciously.

“People I knew in Northern Ireland give my ideas for characters.

“My life in London also features in a lot of the books, especially the Christy Kennedy books – that detective is like myself, from Northern Ireland and like myself, based in Camden Town.”

He added: “I remember when I first came over to London in 1967 it took a day to come over here with the ferry and trains and hanging around.

“Now you can go door-to-door from Camden Town to Magherafelt in something like three-and-a- half hours. It’s so easy now.”

His latest book – A Day In The Life Of Louis Bloom – is the second in the series of McCusker Mysteries set in modern-day Belfast.

The book takes retired police office Brendy McCusker to locations including Botanic Gardens, Friar’s Bush Graveyard and the halls of learning at Queen’s University where he and DI Lily O’Carroll encounter enough scandal and deceit to rival even the most venal of governments.

The first of the books in the McCusker mysteries crime series is a nod to one of Paul’s clients, Van Morrison. It is called Down On Cyprus Avenue, a street made famous on the singer’s 1968 album Astral Weeks.

Author and agent Paul, who has been married to Catherine for 20 years, continued: “My dream is to have one of my books turned into a television drama.

“That’s how I got into Inspector Morse.

“I was on tour and watched a few videos of Morse and then discovered the books that way.

“It’s an important way for an author to be discovered, through TV.”

Of his life as an agent, he said: “All the people I’ve worked with have been good as gold, and I really enjoyed working with them and it was nothing but fun.

“It’s just great to be allowed to work so close with these talented people who have made this great music.”

Asked if he considered the likes of Steve Earle and Tom Waits as friends, he said: “I’ve worked with Tom since the late 70s, early 80s.

“You get to know the artists really well, you talk to them about business, and about other stuff as well.

“Are they friends? You’d like to say so but you’re maybe being a bit presumptuous.”

Paul has also written several non-fiction books drawing on his experience in the music business including Playing Live, How to Succeed in The Music Business and The Best Beatles Book Ever.

He will be back home in Northern Ireland later this month to host a book launch event for A Day In The Life Of Louis Bloom at No Alibis Book shop in Botanic Avenue in Belfast on October 26 at 6.30pm.