Once Upon a True Crime: Meet the Authors - Mark Billingham

Mark Billingham leaning on a door frame

Mark Billingham’s crime-writing career has been packed with success, from Sleepyhead to his TV and radio contributions. Not limiting himself to purely just the fictional, Billingham’s works have also been inspired by his connections to true crime, including the notorious Moors Murderer Ian Brady. While Billingham’s stories do not closely mirror or feature anyone from the real world, you can feel and read the influences of his experiences within his novels.

Early Life and Career

Mark Billingham was born in Solihull in July 1961 and has lived mainly in the West Midlands area for most of his life. He studied at the University of Birmingham achieving a degree in Drama and was a founding member of the Bread & Circuses Theatre Company.

In the 1980s he moved to London to increase his chances of forging an acting career and appeared in minor roles across several TV shows, including The Bill and Dempsey and Makepeace. He also pursued a career in comedy and eventually secured a main role in the children’s comedy TV series Maid Marian and her Merry Men, which ran until 1994.

It wasn’t until 2001 that he wrote his first crime novel, the very successful Sleepyhead. This was the first in his renowned series featuring fictional London detective Tom Thorne. This series is still ongoing, with 17 novels written to date.

Billingham has also written other crime novels and regularly contributes to TV and radio shows. He is a member of the ‘Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers’ group which has performed at Glastonbury Festival. The Tom Thorne novels have also been adapted for television more than once, with series commissioned by both the BBC and Sky One.

Their Little Secret and The Moors Murderers

Their Little Secret is the 16th Tom Thorne novel. It has close links to true crime due to Billingham’s inspiration and insight during the writing process. He worked with an ex-murder detective as he put it together and gained inspiration from personal written correspondence he had with Ian Brady.

Billingham worked on a documentary on the crimes of Brady and Myra Hindley and wrote directly to the former during this time. This allowed him unique insight into the working of the criminal's mind and it’s no wonder this became the inspiration for future work.

Their Little Secret sees Detective Inspector Thorne attending a routine call-out with the Homicide Assessment Team. They are attending a suicide on the tube line. As it was ruled not to be a homicide, Thorne should have moved on, but he doesn’t. Something about the death just doesn’t feel right and the truth ends up being much more complex. He eventually becomes embroiled in the dark workings of a conman preying on innocent and vulnerable women.

Mark Billingham has forged a hugely successful career in fictional crime writing backed up by real-life experiences and first-hand communications with some of the world’s most renowned criminals.