Clare Carson: Cops and Daughters, Fact and Fiction

Written by Clare Carson

Orkney Twilight is about a teenager, Sam, who falls into the shadowy world of her father, Jim, an undercover cop. My dad was a policeman of various sorts – uniformed, a detective, and an undercover cop. One of the catalysts for the novel was re-viewing the cop programmes I used to watch with him when I was younger. Seeing these series the second time around, I found myself wondering about the facts and fictions.

The seventies was the decade of my childhood. My dad loved The Sweeney. Everybody did. Although he said it wasn’t very realistic. On the other hand, he claimed he had met John Thaw in a bar and given him some tips on how to play Inspector Regan. So now you know. Regan - that’s my dad.

The series he really rated was The Sandbaggers. This ran from 1978 to 1980 and was about a unit of secret agents. I thought it was totally boring when I first watched it. The main character is Neil D. Burnside, who keeps one eyebrow permanently arched while trolling around Whitehall negotiating mission objectives and budgets. Game playing with ministers and bureaucrats. I remember my dad pointing at Burnside. ‘That’s me,’ he said. ‘That’s my job. That’s what it is really like.’

He was running a unit of undercover cops at the time.

Regan and Burnside are both divorced. My dad wasn’t. Regan’s daughter appears in an early episode only to be kidnapped. The cop’s daughter as victim, I began to notice with some frustration, is a regular trope of crime fiction. A shorthand route to the vulnerable centre of the hardboiled cop. I couldn’t relate to it. I wanted to subvert the cliché.

 In Orkney Twilight the cop’s daughter is the main protagonist.  She is a wilful teenager, probably because she has grown up with an obdurate cop of a father. The truths in Orkney Twilight are the human ones. I don’t have any secrets to reveal about the operational realities of undercover policing. Apart from my dad’s observation that his job was like that of Burnside in The Sandbaggers. And that was just another of his stories anyway. I assume.

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