Insider trading, embezzlement, and a mysterious disappearance; those are just some of the themes at the heart of a gripping new crime series – Firewatchingpenned by Russ Thomas, a graduate of the creative writing MA at Sheffield Hallam University.

Russ was elated when he discovered his debut novel had not only brokered a two-book deal with Simon & Schuster UK, but the Commonwealth rights were also purchased by the publisher.

Fans claim the darkly unpredictable tale is reminiscent of James Oswald’s gritty crime scenes, with some likening its psychological thrills to those in the hit TV series ‘Broadchurch.’ Others consider the novels to be Britain’s next unmissable crime series, on track to captivate national and international audiences alike when it hits the shelves in spring 2020.

What’s more, the series is sure to strike a chord with residents of Sheffield. Not only do the main characters work for South Yorkshire Police, but the lion’s share of the plot unfolds in the heart of the city and the Peak District.

Russ believes it was the mentors he had at the University and their guidance that truly shaped his craft and talent as a writer.

“I learned an awful a lot during my time at Sheffield Hallam,” he says. “Mostly, what I got out of it was a chance to realise that I was a writer, and that I could be a writer. My professors were fundamental in drawing this out.”

He explained how the programme allowed him to build up his confidence and find his voice. “I felt incredibly unsure of myself as a writer, and if I’m honest as a person. Sharing your work is always difficult… but people on the course were really encouraging and the feedback was fundamental to developing my skills.”

“I can remember submitting my first 10,000 words of the work that would later become Firewatching to my professor, Lesley Glaister. She said she enjoyed it and that I knew how to write, but she pressed me further by asking: ‘But what’s the story you’re trying to tell? And where is the plot?'”

She told him to go away and think about what could happen in the lives of the characters, and why it would be crucial to shape the narrative.

“I had read a lot of Agatha Christie’s novels in my youth. So, when I left my meeting with Lesley I thought, I know, I’ll just add in a body and see where things go. From there it just took off. And I found myself becoming not only a writer, but a crime writer.”

When he first began writing Firewatching it was for his MA thesis. The novel begins with the search for Gerald Cartwright, who has been missing for six years, after disappearing from his home in a village on the edge of the Peak District. When Gerald’s body turns up, cold case expert, Detective Sargent Adam Tyler is assigned to solve the crime. He discovers, however, the main suspect is not only Gerald’s son, but also the man he had slept with the night before. Russ says the novels’ conclusion will leave readers satisfied, yet equally craving more.

With the publication date set for Spring 2020, Russ plans to continue his day job as an events manager and bookseller at Waterstones and teaching creative writing courses at the weekend.