ELECTION time is almost upon us and the criminals better watch out, as usual. Even ex-cons are in for strife, according to some manifestos. Both Labour and the Tories agree that former criminals shouldn't profit by writing books about their past lives. Both parties can't be wrong. Can they?
We're all against making money from crime, but is that the same as making money from books? Are the authors the only ones to benefit from true crime literature?
True crime sections of big bookshops are crammed with books, many penned by former players. It's easy to believe every gangster writes a book or two. Not true.
Our prison population and crime rates are at record highs yet only a score of books are published any year by former criminals. Compare this with the thousands of new crime fiction books and you get the perspective. Trouble is too many people believe the fiction books are fact.
True crime serves as a much-needed antidote to the 'hooked on Hollywood' syndrome. True crime is about keeping it real. Telling it as it is. Isn't that useful?
As a crime writer - without a criminal record, by the way - take it from me that getting a publishing contract is even more difficult than finding an NHS dentist.
It's not good enough for some old-time con to declare he wants to come clean.
Even high-profile criminals have to convince responsible publishers that they can produce a well-crafted book.
Certain publishers, of course, are only concerned with horror stories. Who can blame them? The boss in the book-selling game is the buying public, which laps up these books in huge numbers.
The Guvnor, the autobiography of now dead London hardman and bare-knuckle boxer Lenny McLean, has sold more than a million copies. McLean's book has no point other than exposing his brutal life. Yet still the public want to read a book that wouldn't have been written if Labour and the Tories' new policy had been introduced. Other former players have had bestsellers: Jimmy Boyle, Hugh Collins, Paul Ferris and let's not forget wee Jeffrey Archer. He may still be Lord Archer but he's also a convicted perjurer and made loads of dosh from his prison diaries.
Archer has something in common with ex-cop cop killer Howard Wilson, who earned notoriety in Glasgow in the Sixties. When in prison Wilson wrote a crime novel that was a bestseller.
The book was a good read; why else would so many people buy it? But Wilson used his criminal background to weave the plot. So did he profit from a book based on his own crimes even if writing fiction?
Archer continues to churn out his twee novels that sell large. What if one plot includes perjury or prison? Should those profits be taken from him?
The Nazis burned books and the Stalinists murdered radical authors. We know where they ended up.
Much as I hate Archer's politics and his books, I defend his right to use any experience to freely write books.
But what of films? Quentin Tarantino works closely with Edward Bunker, a long-term gangster turned writer. Should we dock some of the massive profits of Reservoir Dogs or Pulp Fiction?
Most true crime books are written by men who have turned their back on crime. Surely it's better that these guys are scribbling books rather than pulling triggers. Refuse to pay them and their old ways may seem a little bit more enticing.
How can we hope to end crime if we fail to understand crime? That's where true crime books can help - books that won't get written if the authors are penalised before they start.