A multi-talented West Midlands Police officer has been inspired by his day job to write a book giving an insight into his role on the frontline. But rather than a gritty crime novel or a ‘Whodunit’ mystery, the book is instead a children’s illustration with an endearing crime-fighting character.
PC Ashley Crowley has used his 16 years of experience in the police to create ‘Officer Panda’, a detective who encourages readers to help him follow a trail of clues to solve a mystery. And while the real animal may be native to China, Ashley admits much of the inspiration behind the stories came to him while patrolling the streets of West Midlands.
“A panda was my natural choice for a character as the British light blue and white police cars in the 1960’s were known as ‘panda cars’. The idea grew from there," he revealed.
Ashley is keen to point out the character isn’t based on him. But he admits that a few of his colleagues may have inspired Officer Panda’s mannerisms.
“I’d say he is based on a mixture of the officers I have met throughout my career. In the first book he gets around on a traditional bicycle and I like to think he has the eye of an experienced detective," said Ashley.
In the first book Officer Panda is a fingerprint detective and during patrols he starts to notice giant fingerprints appearing throughout the town. The second novel sees the character take to the skies to follow a mysterious trail of clues, including confetti, balloons and a mysterious package. It is down to the reader to help solve the mysteries, which were inspired by Ashley’s early career.
“My experience in fingerprinting prisoners certainly became part of the inspiration behind the story in the first book. When I first joined the police we would fingerprint our own prisoners using wet fingerprint ink - I was fascinated by this process and wanted it to be a part of the book somehow," he said.
“Initially the fingerprints were just intended as a decorative feature for the end papers of the book, but as I experimented they evolved into the main concept of the story."
An author, illustrator and police officer may seem like a strange CV. But as 40-year-old Ashley revealed each of these skills were introduced to him at an early age.
“As a child I loved drawing. I drew literally everywhere, in the back of old books, on the 1980’s green striped printer paper with the perforated edges and on used envelopes usually with an old biro. Art was also my favourite subject at school."
After finishing school Ashley went on to study a foundation course in Art and Design at Warwickshire College. He then went to Southampton Solent University and achieved a BA in the subject. After graduating he worked at London based magazines as a junior designer.
But alongside the love for art there was another calling for Ashley…the police. His uncle was a police officer, meaning as a youngster when he wasn’t drawing he was attending an open day at the police station or playing with a toy police car.
In 2003 he joined the force, working in the Chelmsley Wood and Solihull areas. He then transferred to Norfolk Police in 2013 for five years before returning to the West Midlands last year and a role as a response officer.
Ashley also became a father in 2010 and it was while reading stories to his son Frankie that he seriously thought about focusing on creating his own books. He enrolled on a masters in Children’s Book Illustration at Cambridge School of Art and his final project was a book called ‘PC Panda.’ After a short exhibition in London he was contacted by an agent in New York, and within two weeks he had a two book deal with publishers Harper Collins.
Ashley has since gone on to illustrate four other books written by fellow authors. And although there isn’t a direct link to the police, he is still adamant his role still inspires him every time he draws.
“One book that I have illustrated deals with the emotions a child experiences when they lose a parent. As a police officer I definitely have to deal with people at times of heightened emotions and when people are sometimes at the lowest point of their lives so I definitely think that experience helps me convey emotion in a story," said Ashley.
The books also help Ashley deal with the high emotion of policing.
“When I am working on a book I will very much be immersed in the process, I can work for hours and sometimes very late listening to music and drawing. Drawing can be a very intense thinking process so I completely lose myself when I’m working and often forget about the stresses of my day job."
For more information on his work visit the ashleycrowley.com website.