The Hotline: The Story Behind the Story

EncostoEvery story, long or short, is a series of fictional beads threaded onto a fictional necklace to make up the finished article. As readers, we’re all interested where an author gets the ideas for their beads from and the more we like a work of fiction, the more interested we are.

In the case of “The Hotline” the beads were readily available: many years ago I worked with a Muslim colleague who was progressively eased out of her job solely on the grounds that her face just didn’t fit. I’ve seen plenty of promotions and demotions in workplaces that had rather more to do with personal motivations than professional ones. We’ve all read in the newspapers about malicious hoax calls to the police that are made for one reason or another. My dad, who came from Grenada, was a cricket fanatic and there was no point in talking to him while a cricket match was on the TV. In 1990s London, my partner was once forced to leave his home in the middle of the night while the police staged a massive raid on a group of terrorist suspects in a nearby house. The backdrop to the story is the assumptions we make about people and who they are. And as a black woman, I’ve become very familiar over the years about the assumptions people make about others based on the grounds of ethnicity, class, gender and religion.

So these made up the beads of the story and these are what I worked with. But of course then you have to ‘thread them on’ and (although some readers find this difficult to believe) you have to make things up. In the case of the story based on ‘vengeance’ this is actually a very attractive proposition. The desire for revenge is deeply rooted in human nature but every shrink and therapist will say how negative that desire is for us and that we should ‘let things go’. Then there are the practical constraints on the lust for a zinger – practical, ethical and of course legal. But what if all those limitations are removed? What would we do then?

And that’s the wonderful thing about the literature of revenge – those constraints don’t matter all…

Check out “The Hotline” in Mystery Writers of America Presents Vengeance, now available in bookstores everywhere.

Dreda Say Mitchell is a novelist, broadcaster, journalist, and freelance education consultant who describes herself as a “complete busybody.” She is the author of five novels. Her debut novel, Running Hot, was awarded Britain’s 2005 CWA John Creasey Dagger for best frist crime novel. She has appeared on BBC television’s Newsnight and The Review Show and has presented BBC Radio 4’s Open Book. She was the 2011 shair of the Harrogate Crime Fiction Festival. Her commitment and passion for raising the life chances of working-class children through education has been called inspirational and life-changing. Visit her website at