J. M. Hewitt writes, one year on…

JM Hewitt Exclusion Zone

One year ago, just after being accepted as a member of the CWA, I sat in an alfresco bar in Cal d’Or and wrote a piece for National Crime Reading Month, outlining my plans for the future.

I had recently completed a Holocaust-inspired novel entitled The Intelligence of Ravens, and at the end of the National Crime Reading Month blog post I made the following statement; ‘and now it is finished, waiting to fly out into the world. Originally marketed as historical fiction but now as a crime fiction novel, for surely if the Holocaust was to be recorded as anything, it would be as one of the greatest crimes in history.’

Wrong!

The following month, The Intelligence of Ravens won first prize in a pitch competition during BritCrime’s online summer festival. Evaluation of the manuscript followed, which contained feedback that would prove to be priceless. Ravens wasn’t a cut and dried crime fiction novel. It wasn’t a ‘whodunit’ or a mystery or a thriller. No matter what spin I put on it, Ravens was always going to be a sweeping epic of historical fiction.

It was time to stop messing around. It was time to sit down and write an actual crime fiction novel. I knew the rules and I had the tools, and I also had an idea that had been brewing for a while about a Chernobyl-based thriller. I even had my pitch; ‘what if terrible crimes were happening in a place where no law enforcement would go?’

While researching, I realised that the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster was only nine months away. Was it possible to write and release a book in nine months? You know what – anything is possible if you want it bad enough.

There were pitfalls and stumbling blocks. For one, I didn’t even have a publisher. So as summer rolled into autumn I began sending out the half-written manuscript along with a promise that I could complete it by the end of 2015. On 16 November, Endeavour Press signed me up, giving me six weeks and a deadline of New Year’s Eve to write another 40,000 words.

So six months after my original National Crime Reading Month post I had a new, completed novel, a publishing contract and, as it turned out, a whole lot of support.

Hanging around the fringes of the crime fiction world had done me a favour and I found the generosity from established authors so heart-warming and encouraging. I formulated plans and called upon these people for help. I asked a few of my favourite crime writers if they would consider reading Exclusion Zone and provide cover quotes, and they all heartily said ‘yes’!

I asked the fabulous creator of www.crimebookjunkie.co.uk if she would like to do a cover reveal. My crime junkie friend went even further, cleverly revealing the cover over a week period to build excitement and momentum.

I was in Red Herrings (the CWA magazine), two local magazines, a newspaper, many blogs and I was a guest curator on BritCrime. To top it all off, one of my own quotes is being used on the back cover of a fantastic debut author’s book, (Epiphany Jones by Michael Grothaus, via the amazing publisher that is Orenda Books.) That’s how far my journey has taken me in such a short while, from seeking cover quotes to providing them!

Now, a year later, I’m writing this blog post for National Crime Reading Month again and I’m reflecting over the whirlwind that has been the last twelve months.

Last year, I spoke about my hopes and dreams. They have been met, in full, beyond my wildest expectations but despite this, my longing to remain in this world of crime continues to grow. My ambition has not been sated or dulled by Exclusion Zone’s success.

And I hope it never will be.

Exclusion Zone:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Exclusion-Zone-J-M-Hewitt-ebook/dp/B01BSOQHTE

 

AJ Waines

AJ Waines

Considering the popularity of crime fiction, true crime and TV detective dramas – we certainly seem obsessed with “the criminal mind”! But is there such a thing? And if so, how many individuals in our own neighbourhood harbour murderous intentions?

Carl Jung suggested that we all have a ‘dark’ side and most of us spend our lives promoting the ‘good’ and downplaying the ‘evil’ tendencies in our personalities. Few of us would claim to be capable of murder, but is this truly the case?

The British public loves a good murder mystery – why is that? Research suggest it’s because we’re curious about what lurks beneath the surface. We want to replicate the drama of fear and jeopardy from the safety of our own sofas – the chemical reaction itself from tension to resolution, is addictive. On the one hand, it reinforces our sense of wellbeing when the good guy wins. On the other, it allows us to inhabit our darker side for a while; to see the world through the eyes of a killer and gain vicarious gratification for our hidden impulses and fantasies.

According to experts, psychopaths are all around us, in the office and on the Tube; because they are competent and manipulative, they blend in. ‘After 40 years…’ says Robert Simon, a forensic psychiatrist, ‘I am absolutely convinced there is no great gulf between the mental life of the common criminal and that of the everyday, upright citizen.’ More chilling than this, he believes anyone has the potential to kill, but most of us choose to pummel the car horn, slam doors or find private ways to let off steam.

As a psychotherapist, I have worked with ex-offenders from high-security institutions, including Broadmoor and Rampton hospitals. The main conclusion I’ve come to is that there are numerous factors that contribute to an individual committing murder; biological, genetic, psychological, social, and that all forms of human behaviour exist on a continuum.

Dr Michael Stone, professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, USA, interviews convicts on death row and claims that more than ninety per cent of serial killers are psychopaths and most are sadists. These are the calculating murderers (Hannibal Lecter is probably the most famous psychopath in fiction); cunning and callous without remorse. But what makes them this way?

The nurture argument explains a great deal. A dog, for example, neglected and badly treated is likely to develop an aggressive streak. A dysfunctional upbringing can have the same result in a human. Stone believes that revenge is one of the strongest motives for murder. He has spoken with Tommy Lynn Sells, a killer of around seventy victims, mostly women, about his feelings for his mother. Tommy was appallingly abused by her as a child, but he has always remained disproportionately protective of her. Stone believes Tommy acted out his anger towards his mother symbolically by killing others, repeatedly paying his mother back for what she did to him in a disassociated manner.

Professor Adrian Raine, a neurocriminologist at the University of Pennsylvania, believes biology plays a more important role than we think. In 1994, he took a sample of murderers and found the prefrontal cortex of the brain was significantly underdeveloped in comparison to non-offenders. ‘Psychopaths…lack conscience, remorse, and guilt. They just don’t feel feelings the way we do,’ he says. ‘It’s as if they don’t have the feeling for what is right and wrong.’ According to Raine, dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex can bring about less control over emotions such as anger, rage and risk-taking, and leads to poor self-control and problem-solving skills, all traits that could predispose a person to violence.

Head injuries can also cause changes in personality – often swift and dramatic. A disturbingly high proportion of serial killers have sustained head injuries at some stage in their lives. Fred West is a case in point. He suffered two serious head injuries; one, through a motorcycle accident, the other when falling from a fire escape, both of which left him unconscious. His subsequent behaviour is well documented!

My own experiences of the criminal mind have been sad, rather than disturbing. I largely met individuals from dysfunctional backgrounds who were struggling to cope in dire circumstances. Caught up in domestic violence, drug abuse or poverty, they felt they had no other course of action open to them, other than to lash out. Some made a fatal decision – seeing it as the only way out of debt or a damaging relationship. Others claimed they were protecting their children. Many chose a passive-aggressive approach, resorting to arson or poisoning, rather than physical attacks. Setting a fire meant they could walk away and let fate decide what happened. These individuals didn’t know how to communicate or contain their feelings and found themselves so deeply entrenched in unmanageable situations that they felt they had no escape.

I also came across people for whom crime was part of everyday life. These men or women had grown up with stabbings, shootings and muggings; they had mental health problems, a fragile personality-type, were easily led and got involved with criminal activity through the influence of others. They were anti-establishment; seeking leadership, gang-culture, excitement, risk-taking -often simply looking for a sense of ‘family’ and belonging. They knew no other kind of life.

As an author of psychological thrillers, I enjoy writing about fully-functioning individuals who make terrible mistakes under duress. They could be you or me. They make matters worse by covering up their wrongdoing with another blunder – and they could get caught at any moment. It can start with a small secret or lie – we’ve all been there – but, as panic sets in, the situation escalates into a serious crime…

The criminal mind, therefore, comes in many forms with complex biological, psychological and emotional triggers. One question remains: faced with overwhelming jealousy, hurt, rage, resentment or threats to loved ones – what would you do?

AJ Waines writes psychological thrillers. Both her debut novels, The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train have been Number One bestsellers in ‘Murder’ and ‘Psychological Thrillers’ in the UK Kindle Charts. Girl on a Train has also been a Number One Bestseller in the entire Kindle store in Australia (2015).

A psychotherapist for fifteen years, AJ formerly worked with ex-offenders from high-security institutions, giving her a rare insight into abnormal psychology. She is fascinated by secrets and lies, crimes of passion, devious motives and anything hidden under floorboards. Her first two standalone novels feature strong intrepid women compelled to solve sinister mysteries – with twists and turns that drag them into serious jeopardy.

AJ Waines has traditional publishing deals in France and Germany (Random House) and lives in Southampton, UK, with her husband.

Find out more at AJ Waines profile

Cara Cooper

Cara Cooper

One of the key challenges in writing a historical crime novel is immersing yourself in the period. Difficult when in our modern world, surrounded by technology and mobile phones to think yourself way, way back into the 1600s. But that is what I’m doing at present with my lady investigator solving crimes in seventeenth century London. So how do I transport myself into a world where England has just come out of a civil war, your health was deemed to be governed by four mysterious humours, and the Plague regularly killed young and old?

Firstly, I read around my subject. There are standard reference works and I have a whole bookshelf full. Occasionally, with the wonders of the world wide web, you can also come across gems such as Mike Rendell’s ‘Georgian Gentleman’ blog. This is a little later than the century I am researching, nevertheless it provides valuable insights. Mike Rendell is lucky enough to have inherited a pile of papers, superb first person accounts from his ancestor Richard Hall, which he is kind enough to share with the world. Topics cover everything from phonetic pronunciation where we see Richard Hall’s original beautiful handwritten notes usefully advising us that ‘bosom’ was pronounced ‘boozum’ to depictions in art showing how the pastime of constructing a house of cards from playing cards is nothing new. These little snippets of days gone past are what can colour a novel and make it real.

Another thing I find essential is to visit the settings of my novels. They say the past is another country and you can still, today visit the past, particularly somewhere as ancient as London. In the City, you can go to St Olave’s, the church where the bust of Samuel Pepys’s beloved wife Elizabeth is on display. You can also walk down steps into the church and wonder why they would sink the building two feet or more into the ground. Research will tell you that on the contrary, the church wasn’t built into a dip. Instead the ground around was raised by default because the Plague resulted in so many bodies requiring burial that the constant heaping of bones and earth around the churchyard has caused it to raise up. Just thinking of those thousands of poor people perishing and the plight of those remaining who saw whole families and streets of neighbours disappear daily is something to transport one quickly back to a different age. The closeness of death for our forebears is something very different from our own lives today and something to be aware of when creating the atmosphere in a historical novel. Only recently, deep digging to lay the foundations for crossrail has resulted in the unearthing of bones from the Bethlem burial ground and an informative website has been set up to record the finds

Another way to get in touch with the past and to smell the atmosphere of open fires and meat roasting on the air is to visit the site of a civil war battle whilst people are preparing for the fight. Each Easter, Basing House in Hampshire is the site of a re-enactment by the Sealed Knot of one of the significant battles overseen by none other than Oliver Cromwell himself. The original house was destroyed even though at one time, with 360 rooms it was one of the largest private houses in England. Each Easter people dress in their authentic gear and are happy to talk for hours to anyone who will listen about the 1600s. These enthusiasts are invaluable and they really know their stuff. It is not just the battle I was interested in although I spoke for ages to a Master Gunner who revealed the secrets of how to measure the trajectory of your mortar to blow up exactly the piece of land you’re aiming at. In addition, there are many camp followers and I was rewarded for my visit by a fascinating discussion with a lady who was spinning flax to make linen and enlightened me on the underwear such a lady would wear. We were also let into the intricacies of the game Nine Men’s Morris. All fascinating stuff. More eerie was the trip I took to Knole house in Kent where they recently made an extraordinary discovery. In preparation for a visit by King James who wrote one of the seminal works on identifying and punishing witches, witch marks were etched into the beams near his bed. It was thought these would protect him. The theory was that witches flying down the chimney and in through the fireplace would become confused and tangled up in the strange circular patterns thus protecting the king.

But the thing I have found most evocative of the past is to own a portion of it. There is nothing like twirling in your fingers an object crafted by someone who lived over four hundred years ago, closing your eyes and imagining them holding that same object. The two things I own are firstly a roof tile which I picked up from the Thames foreshore opposite the tower of London. This was on a guided mudlarking session run by a river archaeologist. The tile has a neat hole in it and the archaeologist told us that any where the hole is blackened (the tiles were secured with wooden pegs) would almost certainly have come from the time of the Great Fire. The other treasure I have is a piece of lead shot. These are regularly dug up in Hampshire villages around Basing House and I obtained mine in a junk shop for the princely sum of £1. I fancy sometimes that I can see in the soft lead, the fingerprint of the soldier who made it, reputedly from the lead roof of the chapel at Basing House. Now that really is treasure for an author to own.

Cara Cooper has recently gone over to the dark side. She started by writing romance for My Weekly and People’s Friend magazines and has had serials, short stories and pocket novels published by them. It was after she wrote short stories for two anthologies, ‘Shiver’ and ‘A Case of Crime’ for Accent Press that she really developed a taste for crime writing. Cara lives and works in London and gets lots of her inspiration from that great city. At present she is writing a historical set in the capital in the 1600s which gives her an excuse to eat pies and drink gallons of coffee around Covent Garden, all in the name of research. She is often to be found haunting the Museum of London, and the Wellcome Institute in search of inspiration. Lately, mudlarking on the Thames has fired her imagination. A career which has spanned the civil service including a long stint spent in a Government Minister’s office and following that, in human resources for a charity has given her some useful insights into human nature. Cara can be reached on Facebook and at @CaraCooper1 on Twitter. She also blogs intermittently at caracoopersblogspot.co.uk.

 

Isabelle Grey

Isabelle Grey

Why is crime fiction addictive?

All sorts of ‘rules’ can be bent or broken when writing genre fiction except one: that the story must confront the genre’s greatest fear. In romantic fiction, for example, it is that love cannot prevail. In crime fiction, it is that the riddle may go unsolved.

All sorts of novels can encompass murder, or be about unlocking the past, confronting secrets, pursuing justice, righting a wrong, revenge, investigating current social and moral concerns, but a crime novel must also solve a puzzle. ‘Perhaps,’ wrote Kate Summerscale in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, ‘this is the purpose of detective investigations … to transform sensation, horror and grief into a puzzle, and then to solve the puzzle, to make it go away.’

Certainly two other great crime writers would agree. Raymond Chandler described the detective story as a tragedy with a happy ending, while P.D. James spoke of the detective taming the outrageous breach of nature that is crime and restoring society to order and stability by unraveling complexity and containing irrationality. Sometimes the pattern is reversed, and we identify with the perpetrator and wait to see whether we will get away with it. Either way, in choosing crime as a favourite genre, we seek the frisson of risk that the breach will not be resolved, that evil will escape unpunished and we will not be safe.
Our anxiety is pleasurably channeled into how we as readers collude in arriving at the solution to the puzzle. It’s vital that we actively experience that heady mix of transgression, anxiety and satisfaction that makes crime so popular, whether in books, film or television: the question ‘How will all this turn out?’ has to be made to matter to us. The settings, characters, social issues and means of detection will always change, but what must remain is the addictive gratification of teasing out the riddle in tandem with the teller of the story.

It’s clear from the long and distinguished tradition of series protagonists – Holmes, Marlowe, Marple, Warshawski, Rebus, Salander – that readers desire the satisfaction of repetition. Freud thought that we enjoy the compulsion, conscious or unconscious, to re-live events that were traumatic because, in doing so, we can gain mastery over them. As readers, we have the reassurance of knowing that a familiar central character will crack the riddle while simultaneously we can believe that we’re working it out for ourselves – and maintain the illusion that we might fail.

The crime writer’s ability to never quite let us in on the secret, to create suspense, anxiety or dread by crafting hooks, twists and unexpected reversals or by scattering false leads and withholding information, and in the end to allow us to feel as if we have uncovered the truth for ourselves, is not a matter of superficial puzzle-solving cleverness but of truly understanding the primal pleasure of reading crime fiction.

For, after all, the riddle to be solved is not only ‘outside’: it is also within ourselves. Our greatest fear – glimpsed through the flaws of the greatest detective protagonists – is that we ourselves might not be either safe or good. As in the classic whodunit, we’re all guilty until the killer is unmasked.

Isabelle Grey’s crime fiction debut is Good Girls Don’t Die, the first in a series featuring Grace Fisher, a murder detective with the Major Investigation Team in Colchester, Essex. Some Girls Do, published by Quercus, is the next in the series.

Isabelle Grey has also written two novels of psychological suspense, Out of Sight and The Bad Mother, and is a television screenwriter. In addition to commissions for original drama, she has contributed episodes to crime series including The Bill, Wycliffe, Rosemary & Thyme, Midsomer Murders and Jimmy McGovern’s BAFTA-winning Accused. She was previously a freelance journalist, contributing to national newspapers and magazines, and also writes for film and radio.

She grew up in Manchester and now lives and works in north London.

You can follow her on Twitter @IsabelleGrey and on her blog www.isabellegrey.com

Find out more at Isabelle Grey’s profile

Linda Stratmann

Linda Stratmann

The single question that writers are asked most often is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’, so much so that it has become a cliché . Not so long ago someone started asking me this question, realised in mid-sentence it was a cliché and quickly re-worded it, but I wasn’t fooled – it was the same question!

Some writers tackle this by making up answers. I have been told there is one writer who jokes that he buys them from a shop. I have two answers, and they are both true. Ideas are actually all around us for the taking – but often it is not the writers who get the ideas but the ideas that get the writers, demand to be written and won’t go away until they are. The problem is that for many of us developing and writing plots is such a subconscious procedure that it is very hard indeed to describe what is happening.

But it is clearly an important question and one I want to address. So here is a story.

Three people go out for a walk. A chef, a photographer and a writer. They all pass by a tree, and the chef thinks about the wonderful fruit on the tree and the dish that can be made with it. The photographer notices the interesting pattern of the branches and realises what a great picture it will make. The writer spots a cleft in the tree and imagines a story about someone hiding stolen jewels there. All three have seen the same tree and in each it has sparked off an idea, but a different idea. All three of these people are working in a creative environment and when someone is immersed in that kind of activity the mind becomes attuned to spotting little cues that will lead on to a project.

Not that the idea springs into the mind full-blown. Far from it. I compare it to one of those crystal experiments I used to do at school with copper sulphate. If you suspend a tiny crystal in a saturated solution the crystal will grow. That is how ideas grow. It starts small, and as it develops in the mind it attracts other thoughts to it. So the little crystal could be a real event, one you read about in a book or a newspaper, or you have witnessed, or an interesting fact, or even just a comment someone makes, but the story it inspires will be different from the way it developed in real life. This is because writers are always asking themselves ‘what would happen if’ and a story will go on from the starting point, one event flowing organically from the one before, or two events combining to lead to another.

Sometimes it is possible to trace the start of a project to something very specific. When I read about a conference in 1880 that decided to ban the teaching and use of sign language in schools for deaf children, a well-meaning idea that actually set back the education of deaf children for about a hundred years, I knew I wanted to write a book in which this was an important issue. That led to Frances Doughty book 5, The Children of Silence, which begins with another real event, which I discovered in a newspaper, the draining of the Paddington canal basin during which fragmentary human remains were found.

I was once given as a secret Santa present a book called Buried Alive by Jan Bondeson about the fear of premature burial and I decided to write a novel involving a fictional mortuary — this was A Case of Doubtful Death. The events in my novel have nothing to do with the events in Buried Alive, but it was that book that provided the initial stimulus, that tiny crystal of an idea.

But I also read so widely on Victorian society and history that sometimes I don’t know where the idea came from at all. The idea for Mr Scarletti’s Ghost, which comes out in September, came to me as I was walking along the street and I just couldn’t say how or why it appeared. It was probably an amalgamation of lots of things I have read about, but as soon as it popped into my head I knew I wanted to write it.

Sometimes a reader will approach a writer and say ‘I’ve just had this wonderful idea and you are the person to write it!’ That’s a difficult one. I only really want to write ideas that energise and fascinate me, and maybe the suggestion will and maybe it won’t. Recently my editor suggested two thoughts to me one of which I knew at once was not something I wanted to do. The other one I wasn’t sure about. I considered ways I could make it work to my satisfaction and couldn’t come up with anything. Then, months later I was thinking about something else and suddenly the two things combined in my head, and locked together into something that really excited me.

Places like Crimefest where writers and readers mingle and talk about books are like a rich nourishing soup all bubbling away. It is an amazingly stimulating environment. Last year an idea that had been idling at the back of my mind as little more than a title, suddenly formed itself into a coherent project while I was at Crimefest. I think the inside of a writer’s mind is also like a kind of soup, heaving away with lots of little bits bobbing about, just waiting for stuff to clump together. I must have been born with it, because the first thing I ever wrote was a poem stimulated by a TV programme, when I was six.

But even if an aspiring writer didn’t start to scribble that early the writer’s mind can be developed. It’s simple really. Read lots. Write lots. Flood yourself with words and information. A man once told me he would like to write a book and when I asked him what about he said he didn’t know. Maybe he thought if he could get the right idea he could write the book. That’s the wrong way round. You write because there is something inside you that needs to be expressed. Be a writer, and the ideas will come to you.

Linda has a virtually life-long interest in true crime, and a large collection of books on the subject. She is a qualified chemist’s dispenser, having trained in a very old branch of Boots, just before the shop and the course were modernised. After taking a BSc in Psychology she was an Inspector of Taxes for 27 years, before leaving to pursue her writing. She is a black belt in both aikido and Japanese sword.

She has a passionate though not uncritical love of the Victorian period, and probably spends more time in the 19th century than the 21st. She will dress up in the appropriate costume at every possible opportunity. Linda’s research skills are self-taught but over the years she has become a competent amateur genealogist, and archive user.

Linda has given many public talks on true crimes. She was a guest panellist at Crimefest Bristol in 2011, 2012 and 2013, has been a guest on radio shows and appeared in two television documentaries on the history of anaesthesia and two editions of the Fred Dinenage Murder Casebook.

Find out more on Linda Stratmann’s Profile

Don’t shed a tear, we will be back!

So today marks the end of National Crime Reading Month 2015 and we have had an absolute blast!

Thank you to all of the Crime Writer’s Association members who took part in the events, giveaways and blog posts by my calculation we had almost 200 members involved in one way or another.

Thanks also to our Crime Readers’ Association subscribers who have helped promote our events, read the posts and entered the giveaways.

We hope you have all enjoyed this month and we look forward to next year.

But one last thing to do and that this the CWA Dagger Awards Dinner. Tonight we will be announcing the winners of the CWA International, Short Story, Historical Non-Fiction, Debut and Dagger in the Library. Plus the shortlists for the CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger, John Creasey (New Blood) and the Ian Fleming Steel Daggers. PLUS we are presenting the CWA Diamond Dagger to Catherine Aird.

Keep an eye out on social media for the results and a sneak peak behind the scenes.

 

Isabelle Grey -Why is crime fiction addictive?

Isabelle Grey -Why is crime fiction addictive?

All sorts of ‘rules’ can be bent or broken when writing genre fiction except one: that the story must confront the genre’s greatest fear. In romantic fiction, for example, it is that love cannot prevail. In crime fiction, it is that the riddle may go unsolved.

All sorts of novels can encompass murder, or be about unlocking the past, confronting secrets, pursuing justice, righting a wrong, revenge, investigating current social and moral concerns, but a crime novel must also solve a puzzle. ‘Perhaps,’ wrote Kate Summerscale in The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, ‘this is the purpose of detective investigations … to transform sensation, horror and grief into a puzzle, and then to solve the puzzle, to make it go away.’

Certainly two other great crime writers would agree. Raymond Chandler described the detective story as a tragedy with a happy ending, while P.D. James spoke of the detective taming the outrageous breach of nature that is crime and restoring society to order and stability by unraveling complexity and containing irrationality. Sometimes the pattern is reversed, and we identify with the perpetrator and wait to see whether we will get away with it. Either way, in choosing crime as a favourite genre, we seek the frisson of risk that the breach will not be resolved, that evil will escape unpunished and we will not be safe.

Our anxiety is pleasurably channeled into how we as readers collude in arriving at the solution to the puzzle. It’s vital that we actively experience that heady mix of transgression, anxiety and satisfaction that makes crime so popular, whether in books, film or television: the question ‘How will all this turn out?’ has to be made to matter to us. The settings, characters, social issues and means of detection will always change, but what must remain is the addictive gratification of teasing out the riddle in tandem with the teller of the story.

It’s clear from the long and distinguished tradition of series protagonists – Holmes, Marlowe, Marple, Warshawski, Rebus, Salander – that readers desire the satisfaction of repetition. Freud thought that we enjoy the compulsion, conscious or unconscious, to re-live events that were traumatic because, in doing so, we can gain mastery over them. As readers, we have the reassurance of knowing that a familiar central character will crack the riddle while simultaneously we can believe that we’re working it out for ourselves – and maintain the illusion that we might fail.

The crime writer’s ability to never quite let us in on the secret, to create suspense, anxiety or dread by crafting hooks, twists and unexpected reversals or by scattering false leads and withholding information, and in the end to allow us to feel as if we have uncovered the truth for ourselves, is not a matter of superficial puzzle-solving cleverness but of truly understanding the primal pleasure of reading crime fiction.

For, after all, the riddle to be solved is not only ‘outside’: it is also within ourselves. Our greatest fear – glimpsed through the flaws of the greatest detective protagonists – is that we ourselves might not be either safe or good. As in the classic whodunit, we’re all guilty until the killer is unmasked.

 

Isabelle Grey’s crime fiction debut is Good Girls Don’t Die, the first in a series featuring Grace Fisher, a murder detective with the Major Investigation Team in Colchester, Essex. Shot Through the Heart will be published early next year by Quercus.

Isabelle Grey has also written two novels of psychological suspense, Out of Sight and The Bad Mother, and is a television screenwriter. In addition to commissions for original drama, she has contributed episodes to crime series including The BillWycliffeRosemary & ThymeMidsomer Murders and Jimmy McGovern’s BAFTA-winning Accused. She was previously a freelance journalist, contributing to national newspapers and magazines, and also writes for film and radio.

She grew up in Manchester and now lives and works in north London.

You can follow her on Twitter @IsabelleGrey and on her blogwww.isabellegrey.com

 

 

Heroes and Villains – David Beckler

Heroes and Villains – David Beckler

Heroes and villains

As with most genres, the most important character in crime fiction is the hero. This is usually a detective – amateur or professional – who solves the crimes.  Writers intending to write a series must create a character readers will want to follow through various adventures. A writer will therefore spend a lot time and energy ensuring the hero has the depth and complexity that will grab you and hold your attention over many novels.

Some succeed so well they have detectives solving crimes well into retirement age. Although when these geriatric characters are running about kicking ass it can strain credulity. Once you have such a character, you can pit them against a succession of baddies.

The problem is that you need a succession of bad guys. These must be worthy of your hero, able to test them almost to destruction. They must also be distinctive; nobody wants to read about your hero vanquishing someone who even reminds them of a bad guy they’ve already defeated, let alone the same person. Despite this, many writers use a recurring villain. This shouldn’t be a surprise as we hate to discard a good character.

The most successful “series” villains are those who aren’t fully realised. One of the earliest is Professor Moriarty. Despite his status as a great criminal, most people are surprised to learn that he’s mostly a shadowy presence in a few Holmes stories. By keeping him in the background and not fleshing him out, Doyle lets each reader create their own vision.

Other writers create a nuanced baddie and let the villain and hero each win battles while continuing a war. A great example is Rebus and Morris ‘Big Ger’ Cafferty.  These battles aren’t central to every novel Cafferty appears in and sometimes, the two help each other to vanquish a greater threat. The danger of this approach is that not only does the role of the villain become ambiguous, but as the reader gets to know the bad guy, he loses his power. Once I get to know a character, they appear less threatening.

Some authors try to overcome this by making the villain so nasty that you can’t warm to them. The problem is that they then take on a cartoonish quality and are still ineffective, for example the Hannibal Lecter that appeared in the later books.

One way to avoid this problem is to introduce a villain on the same side as the detective so can continue to thwart his work whilst supposedly working with him.  Irving Irvin in the Harry Bosch novels is a great example.

Do you believe that a writer with a fully fleshed out villain can keep using that character as the antagonist? Can you think of any instances where this has been done successfully?

Matthew Pritchard – Translation Troubles

Matthew Pritchard – Translation Troubles

For those of you who have read my debut novel, Scarecrow, you’ll know that the title is central to the plot. However, when the novel was translated into German, the title was changed to Die Stunde des Puppenspielers (The Hour of the Puppeteer). I wasn’t too miffed about the change, as the substitute title is relevant to the story (although I don’t think it sounds quite as mysterious and menacing as the original) but the experience set me thinking about the titles of books and films, and the way they are translated.

It seems that the reading and cinema-going public in the UK, Ireland and the USA, are happy with figurative titles that evoke the book’s essence. But elsewhere, it seems publishers prefer titles that give a more literal interpretation of a book’s contents, which can lead to results that are confusing, inaccurate or downright hilarious. (Spanish is the only foreign language I speak so, unless otherwise indicated, all of the examples given will be from that language. To avoid confusion, translated titles will be underlined like this.)

First up are the translated titles which ignore the original and substitute some vague reference to a plot point. For example, Patricia Cornwell’s From Potter’s Field is known as A Nameless Death and Black Notice becomes Identity Unknown. Peter Benchley’s blockbuster, Jaws is simply called Shark. (Curiously, a later film about giant crocodiles, Lake Placid, is called Mandíbulas in Spanish which translates as Jaws. Go figure.)

Next are the titles that are difficult or impossible to translate. Ian Rankin’s Knots and Crosses is accurately translated as Nudos y Cruces in Spanish, but the translation loses the subtle play on words contained in the original. Agatha Christie fares quite badly in this field. Her book One, Two, Buckle My Shoe is snappily titled Death Visits the Dentist, while the Poirot novel, The Hollow, becomes Blood in the Swimming Pool. Some of Elmore Leonard’s books suffer a similar fate: Get Shorty becomes How to Conquer Hollywood, while Up In Honey’s Room becomes The Day of Hitler.

Of course, this process flows both ways. Stieg Larsson’s first book in the Millenium trilogy was actually titled Men Who Hate Women in Swedish, which was of course changed to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo for the English-language version, although the second book was translated accurately, and for the third, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, I think they actually improved on the original: Luftslottet som sprängdes, which is literally, The Air Castle that was Blown Up.

Then there are the translations that represent pointless tinkering. One of my favourites in this category is the film, Alien. You’d think this one was a no brainer, as Alien is the same word in Spanish: same spelling, same meaning. But the translator just couldn’t resist adding a little something extra, modifying the title to Alien: el octavo pasajero (Alien: the eighth passenger).

But a special mention must go to those title translations that manage to reveal some vital plot point. John Le Carré’s masterpiece, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, is translated into Spanish as The Mole. Now, in the English version, you have to do a fair bit of reading before the mere existence of a mole is even mentioned, whereas you get told it on the cover in Spanish. But my all time favourite has to be Robert Harris’s Archangel, which in Spanish (***SPOILER ALERT HERE***) is called El Hijo de Stalin (Stalin’s Son). I think you’ll all agree, it takes a special kind of talent to translate a title so that it actually gives away the book’s ending.

Anyway, does anyone else have any title translations they’d like to share with us here?

I look forward to seeing your comments.

Matthew Pritchard worked as a journalist in Spain for ten years, and based his first novel, Scarecrow, on his experiences there. His second novel, Werewolf, is a historical thriller set in Germany in the immediate aftermath of WWII. His books are known for the punchy, precise nature of their prose and for the meticulous research that underpins them. His third book, Broken Arrow, sees a return to southern Spain and is due out in October 2015. His favourite crime authors are Ian Rankin, Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler. He is blogging about the creation of his fourth novel, Stolen Lives, at www.matthewpritchard.net   

Cathy Ace – Of inspiration and invention – a sense of place

Cathy Ace – Of inspiration and invention – a sense of place

I don’t think it’s unusual that I was a reader of crime fiction from a very early age. Reveling in the adventures of The Famous Five and Secret Seven or following Nancy Drew up a Hidden Staircase were my happy pastimes from the first day I found the mystery section in Brynhyfryd Library, just along the road from my junior school. Maybe it’s more unusual that I took that passion and have indulged it by creating my own works of criminal fiction.

As a reader, my appreciation of the sometimes subtle differences between reality and fiction developed as the years, and the books, passed. I was happy to suspend my disbelief for the sake of a good story, well told. Now I work hard to ensure my readers are content to do the same: I’ll blithely invent characters, backstories and even the odd cocktail or two (I once invented an entire cult, complete with a preposterous life-philosophy and an irritating mantra) but I am a stickler for facts when it comes to how selected poisons might work, whether an autopsy would be performed under certain circumstances, or how a person might react to an overdose of…oh no, no spoilers! I accept my readers might not all be experts in such matters, but I owe it to them to have thoroughly researched these issues, and more, before I allow them to be woven into my plots. So – how do we authors sometimes smudge the line between fact and fiction to allow for a more satisfying tale to be told? It’s a complex process, and might involve any part of the anatomy of a book, but I’ll focus on one aspect – place.

I’m inspired by places: I enjoy the way culture is expressed with so many, varied facets – art, architecture, local foods and drinks, music, dance, languages, traditions and myths, the rich historical profile of the place in all its glory – so I carry out my research and allow my creative juices to flow over the data using it as a basis, but massaging it to fit the story.

So far my Welsh Canadian criminal psychologist sleuth Cait Morgan has followed in my footsteps to many real places – but I also invent specific locales to allow these closed-circle mysteries to work. In Nice on the Cote d’Azur, I changed the name of the real belle epoque building that was Gestapo HQ during World War II and gave it a fictitious web-like underground wine cellar; in Kelowna, the heart of British Columbia’s wine country, I took readers into “disguised” real homes and restaurants by describing a “Moveable Feast” where characters celebrated around a small town with a secret; Puerto Vallarta is a well-known Mexican holiday destination, but the little municipality of Punta de las Rocas, with its enclave of ex-pats running a tequila producing hacienda, is less renowned, largely because I made it up; Vegas is already unbelievable so I invented a Tsarist-themed casino with a massive Faberge egg-style building at the top of which I perched a private restaurant that could only be reached by a single lift…then I locked down the lift and killed the casino owner on page one! Playing with place is great fun. My biggest challenge so far came when I sent Cait Morgan to a setting close to my original home city of Swansea, where I “built” a Victorian industrialist’s fanciful castle on top of a medieval clifftop stronghold, beside a Roman temple built beneath a prehistoric stone circle. In each instance, the specifics of the setting, as well as the general histories of the wider locales, played a significant role in each book. Indeed, the plots wouldn’t have worked anywhere but those locations, and I tried my best to ensure that a sense of place seeped into every chapter.

My new series, featuring the WISE Enquiries Agency, adopts a different approach; my four strong, female detectives will not sleuth around the world tripping over dead bodies as they go, but will tackle a series of puzzling challenges close to their base, as befitting a group of professional investigators. Their first case brings them to Chellingworth Hall, the ducal seat of the slightly eccentric Twyst family, with the village of Anwen-by-Wye an invigorating walk away. Inventing the entire Chellingworth Estate allows for insights into life in a modern stately home as well as within a small village, which is, of course, hiding some dark secrets. With the eighteenth duke facing financial problems, and net curtains twitching around the village green, everything might seem fictionally familiar and comfortable, but by placing the estate in Powys, Wales, I am able to illuminate real Welsh lifestyles, cultural touchstones and traditions, while showcasing the talents of four women from very different backgrounds, at various life-stages and with their own identities. They bring their Welsh, Irish, Scottish and English heritages into play in subtle ways, and each has differing experiences of the Twyst family, and the Chellingworth Estate. It’s an opportunity for the impact of the specific and general setting to develop with each book, something I am already enjoying.

On one hand I write traditional, puzzle-plot, closed-circle mysteries where a roving sleuth discovers corpses in different parts of the world. On the other, I write more character-driven plots where data is gathered, facts are checked, invoices and contracts drawn up, and the process of investigating is a business. Both rely heavily upon their setting, each in a different way. Peter Sellars said he couldn’t properly portray a character until he got the shoes right – for me, being inspired by a real setting, then inventing the specific locale, allows that sort of insight…then the right characters, plots, puzzles, red herrings and twists fall into place more easily.
Born and raised in Swansea, South Wales, Cathy Ace migrated to Canada in 2000. Having traveled for many years as a marketing trainer and consultant, she now lives in Beautiful British Columbia, where her ever-supportive husband, and two chocolate Labradors, make sure she’s able to work full-time as an author, and enjoy her other passion – gardening. Cathy’s work has appeared on Bestseller Lists, and she won the 2015 Bony Blithe Award for Best Canadian Light Mystery (for the Cait Morgan Mystery The Corpse with the Platinum Hair). For more information about Cathy and her work visit her website: www.cathyace.com

Facebook: Cathy Ace – Author https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cathy-Ace-Author/318388861616661?ref=hl

Twitter: @AceCathy

Leigh Russell – In Transit

Leigh Russell – In Transit

Isn’t life strange? Nothing less than National Crime Reading Month could have prompted me to respond to a request for “500 words on any topic of interest” while waiting at one forty a.m. for a seven hour connecting flight to London, having just completed a four hour flight to Abu Dhabi. Yes, writing fiction has taken me into some unexpected places to research my books.

A lot of my research has involved talking to CID officers as my psychological crime novels also fall into the category of police procedurals, since my protagonists Geraldine Steel and Ian Peterson are detective inspectors. I’ve spent hours chatting to staff in mortuaries, visiting Metropolitan Police Serious Crime Command, sitting alone in a prison cell (voluntarily!) and passing an exciting afternoon with a Fire Investigation Team (yes, an entire afternoon, just me and a team of firemen!)

All authors follow their own processes but, for me, research follows the plot. I tell a story, aware that certain areas need research. Having completed the manuscript in draft, only when the story is in place do I fill in externally verifiable information. For me, the danger of conducting research before seeing the narrative through is the risk of being distracted. It is all too easy to inadvertently shoehorn material extraneous to the story into a book, just because the writer finds it interesting.

Herman Melville did exactly that, including pages of detailed information about whales in his famous novel, Moby Dick. These information dumps would have a place in Wikipedia. For any reader following the dramatic conflict between Ahab, demented captain of a whaling ship, and his nemesis, the great white whale that took his leg, the factual chapters are tedious.

My research involves meeting people from all walks of life, in all sorts of places: market traders, forensic anthropologists, race course managers, psychiatrists, prisoners in a closed prison, the Spanish equivalent of our CID in Barcelona, the British High Commission in the Seychelles – there is no place on earth where a crime writer might not find herself.

Not all my research has been fun. Watching a sheep’s eye being dissected was hardly enjoyable, although it was interesting. My worst research experience so far involved live maggots. I haven’t put that in a book yet. It was so gross I prefer not to dwell on it, even in my imagination.

Recently a new series has led me to overseas locations. I’m writing this on my way home from two weeks’ research on a tropical island in the Indian Ocean. Along with the beaches and the cocktails at sunset, I spent time at a local police station and the police headquarters in the capital – again voluntarily! – as well as checking out different settings in the book. After a few weeks at home, working on edits, I’m off again to Paris in July, Greece in August, and Rome in September…

Just time to send this off before I have to switch to airplane mode. It’s two a.m. in Abu Dhabi, and the flight to Heathrow is boarding…

 

Leigh Russell writes the internationally bestselling Geraldine Steel series, gripping “page turners” which explore the motives that drive characters, from detective to killer.

The first three books are set in Kent. In the fourth, Geraldine Steel relocates to North London. Published by No Exit Press in the UK, and Harper Collins in the US, the series is so far translated into French, Italian, Turkish, and German. Following the success of the Geraldine Steel series, Leigh is writing a spin off series for DS Ian Peterson which is set in York.

Leigh studied at the University of Kent, where she gained a Masters degree in English. For many years a secondary school English teacher, she now guest lectures in creative writing for the Society of Authors and universities and colleges around the UK, and teaches for the prestigious Writers Lab in Greece. Leigh is married, has two daughters, and lives in North West London.

Jean Briggs – Writing Murder

Jean Briggs – Writing Murder

The following external characters of the body are laid down as indicative of hanging … lividity and swelling of the face, especially of the lips, which appear distorted; the eyelids are swollen and of a bluish colour, the eyes red, projecting forwards and sometimes partially forced out of the orbital cavity; the tongue enlarged, livid…

For a moment I look up from the pages of Professor Alfred Swaine Taylor’s Medical Jurisprudence, the book referred to by Dorothy L. Sayers as ‘the backdoors to death’. That’s us, the murder writers sneaking through those backdoors to rifle through the cases to find our strangler, or poisoner, or gun-toting bandit, or the hand with the subtle dagger. We want the evidence. What are the symptoms of arsenic poisoning? At what range was the gun fired? When did rigor set in? Professor Taylor has all the answers.

The sky is perfectly blue and cloudless – an innocent sky – and I wonder when I became the sort of person who could read these grisly details with perfect equanimity. When? When I turned to crime, I suppose. Always on my mind, murder.

I look back at the book. Oh, here’s something I might find very useful – the case in 1829 of a boy hanged after his death – murder most foul. The villain sought to disguise his handiwork as suicide. Apt word, handiwork – our murderer had strangled the lad first. Cunning, but not as clever as he thought for the impressions of fingermarks were found on the neck. Whether the murderer was caught, Professor Taylor does not say. It is not his purpose to unmask murderers. Mine is. Justice will be done.

For justice must be done. It is what the crime reader wants. However beastly the crime, however cunning, cold-blooded or sadistic the murderer , however terrifying the narrative , the reader must close the last page in the certain knowledge that the murderer has been caught. Justice done means the restoration of order in a disorderly world. The detective may be a flawed human being; he or she may drink too much, may be hopeless in personal relationships, even in professional ones, but, comfortingly, he or she is, in the end, a force for good. ‘So shines a good deed in a naughty world.’

Back to Professor Taylor: I make notes, quite dispassionately, taking in the unfamiliar, analytical vocabulary of death: ecchymosis, effused coagula, cadaveric lividity, extravasation of blood…

And I think of a younger self, the girl who was promptly sick when the biology mistress came into the lab, casually swinging her clear plastic bag of bulls’ eyes – real ones, intended for dissection. Yes, this is the person who felt faint at the sight of blood, trembled at hospital doors and avoided the doctor’s surgery as if it were plague-stricken.  A girl brought up with the utmost care as Lady Bracknell observes. Jane Austen was always my favourite writer.  Case hardened, I am.

I wonder if my fellow crime writers shudder at all at the blood, the open wounds, the livid marks on the neck, the contorted cadaver of the poison victim. I suspect that they, as I am, are more interested in the placing of the comma or the semi-colon, the length of the sentence, the exact word to describe the colour of the blood – dried or fresh.

Ruby, carmine, scarlet, crimson, vermilion – which to choose for the fresh sanguineous effusion? Well let’s not overdo it! But, if we don’t shudder, we do want our readers to shudder, to recoil, perhaps avert their horrified eyes from the body in the library, in the traveller’s trunk, in the car boot, or dirty ditch, from the severed hand, foot or head – with twenty trenched gashes. Twenty? Why twenty, Mr Shakespeare? Dramatic effect, dear reader. Well, if he can …

But, we want them to pity, too, the poor mangled corpse, to see it through the compassionate eyes of our detectives. So, I’ll take the Taylor’s cool prose describing the boy done to death and I’ll fill in the details of his short, unhappy life. I’ll emphasise his innocence and the terror of that moment when he felt the murderer’s hands on his neck and fought for his breath. Not a dry eye in the library.

Two things made me shudder in the writing of my first two novels. I recorded the slashed throat of my first victim without a tremor, but the description of the rats which haunted Dickens in the blacking factory at Hungerford Stairs and the scores of dog-fighting rats in the famous King’s Head in London’s Compton Street produced a distinct queasiness. And I had to turn away from Dickens’s description of the serpents at Regent’s Park Zoo. Even in the proofreading, I had to skip those.

Not wholly hardened then. A.A. Milne in a dedication to his father in his only detective novel, The Red House Mystery, wrote: ‘Like all really nice people, you have a weakness for detective stories, and feel that there are not enough of them.’ And the writers are all really nice people, I’m certain, despite their fascination for the grim details of murder. My friends and family trust me – they eat at my table, spoon sugar into their tea, scoff cakes with white icing, quaff wine and regret the bitter taste – it’s probably corked, they observe sympathetically. Maybe.

And, as for Jane Austen – well, death came to Pemberley.

Jean Briggs taught English for many years in schools in Cheshire, Hong Kong and Lancashire. She now lives in a cottage in Cumbria with her husband who is an artist.  The Murder of Patience Brooke is her first novel featuring Charles Dickens as a detective.

The idea of Dickens as a detective came about when she read Dickens’s articles about the London police in his periodical Household Words. Dickens was fascinated by police investigation and by murder, in particular – there are plenty of murderers in his writing, and Dickens is credited with the creation of the first literary detective in Inspector Bucket who solves the murder of Mr Tulkinghorn in Bleak House. The second in the series is Death at Hungerford Stairs to be published by The History Press in August 2015.

 

Too True To Be Good? – Why ‘True Crime’ Needs A New Name – Piu Eatwell

Too True To Be Good? – Why ‘True Crime’ Needs A New Name – Piu Eatwell

I confess it. I’m a sucker for crime books of all kinds – mysteries, thrillers, serial killers. The darker the deeds, the more likely it is that I’ll be huddled under my duvet long into the night, riffling through the white pages of my Kindle, in total oblivion of the clock ominously ticking its way towards the morning school run. But – and this is a big BUT – the crime stories I really love are not just ‘stories’ – by which I mean, concoctions formed from the dark imaginations of their authors. The stories that have me reading into the night are made of darker material – the stuff not of dreams, but of reality. The stories I love are true.

The first crime book that really had me in its grip, in my early twenties, was Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. Something about the orgy of murders in a lonely, windswept Kansas farmhouse of the 1950s haunted me long after I put down the book. That started me on a trail of real-life American Gothic: next on my reading list was Deviant, Harold Schechter’s masterful re-telling of the story of Ed Gein, the ‘harmless’ and jolly ‘village idiot’ who, throughout the 1950s, silently plundered graves and stripped the skin of his trophy-victims in a grey, non-descript Wisconsin town. The most paradoxical aspect of the Ed Gein story is that, whilst it inspired the whole American ‘slasher’ genre of twentieth-century film and writing – from Hitchcock’s Psycho to Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs – the story is more incredible and grotesque in fact, than any of the fictional versions it inspired. Indeed, the very part of The Silence of the Lambs that was most criticized for being unreal and exaggerated – the Buffalo Bill sub-plot – is directly taken from the Ed Gein story. Truth, in so many ways, is stranger than fiction.

Schechter’s book on Gein is more than the mere re-counting of a true-life tale of horror that unfolded in a sleepy Wisconsin town. Like Capote before him, Schechter – a professor in literature and popular culture at the City University of New York – sets the tale in its full Gothic context, translating it into what it actually became: a blueprint for the modern American horror story. In fact, interpreting the social ripples created by great crimes is no more than what all the best writers of so-called ‘true crime’ writing do. From the origins of the genre in the early twentieth-century chronicles of the Scots lawyer William Roughead, to Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer-Prize winning The Executioner’s Song, the joy of the best true-crime stories is that we come away with a sense of having shed some light – not just into the minds of murderers and psychopaths – but into the psychology of an age, illuminating the darker side of the human story.

And yet, the label ‘true crime’ has always carried vaguely pejorative connotations. ‘True crime’, for many, is synonymous with schlock: lurid, opportunistic accounts of grotesque crimes churned out by hack journalists to make a quick buck out of a current media shocker. And of course, many such books exist – as a look at any of the bestseller lists will show. However, the vaguely derogatory connotations of the ‘true crime’ label do not do justice to the many truly great books that are produced in the genre, continuing the tradition of cultural commentary and novelistic approach started by In Cold Blood: Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, Harold Schechter’s The Mad Sculptor, William J Mann’s Tinseltown, or British writer Sean O’Connor’s chilling post-war tale of the serial killer Neville Heath, Handsome Brute. Books such as these are becoming more and more prominent in the genre, especially in America – as the 2015 Edgar Award fact-crime nominees list shows (http://www.theedgars.com/nominees.html)
Perhaps, then, the answer is to come up with a new name to replace the old, worn-out and outmoded label, ‘true crime’: a chance to re-invent the wheel, like the 2013 coinage of the term ‘domestic noir’ captured the spirit of a whole new genre of books dealing with the toxic marriage. Today, ‘true crime’ is as powerful as any literary fiction. Even better, it’s actually true…..

And so, the new generic name? – Suggestions on a postcard, please…..

Piu Eatwell trained as a lawyer and later worked as a documentary producer for the BBC. She now divides her time between London and Paris and writes full-time on French-themed books and historical true crime. Her latest book, The Dead Duke, his Secret Wife, and the Missing Corpse – a true-life Edwardian mystery – is published by Head of Zeus in the UK and WW Norton in the USA.
@PiuEatwell and www.piueatwell.com

 

Linda Stratmann – Where I Get my Ideas From

Linda Stratmann – Where I Get my Ideas From

The single question that writers are asked most often is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’, so much so that it has become a cliché . Not so long ago someone started asking me this question, realised in mid-sentence it was a cliché and quickly re-worded it, but I wasn’t fooled – it was the same question!

Some writers tackle this by making up answers. I have been told there is one writer who jokes that he buys them from a shop. I have two answers, and they are both true. Ideas are actually all around us for the taking – but often it is not the writers who get the ideas but the ideas that get the writers, demand to be written and won’t go away until they are. The problem is that for many of us developing and writing plots is such a subconscious procedure that it is very hard indeed to describe what is happening.

But it is clearly an important question and one I want to address. So here is a story.

Three people go out for a walk. A chef, a photographer and a writer. They all pass by a tree, and the chef thinks about the wonderful fruit on the tree and the dish that can be made with it. The photographer notices the interesting pattern of the branches and realises what a great picture it will make. The writer spots a cleft in the tree and imagines a story about someone hiding stolen jewels there. All three have seen the same tree and in each it has sparked off an idea, but a different idea. All three of these people are working in a creative environment and when someone is immersed in that kind of activity the mind becomes attuned to spotting little cues that will lead on to a project.

Not that the idea springs into the mind full-blown. Far from it. I compare it to one of those crystal experiments I used to do at school with copper sulphate. If you suspend a tiny crystal in a saturated solution the crystal will grow. That is how ideas grow. It starts small, and as it develops in the mind it attracts other thoughts to it. So the little crystal could be a real event, one you read about in a book or a newspaper, or you have witnessed, or an interesting fact, or even just a comment someone makes, but the story it inspires will be different from the way it developed in real life. This is because writers are always asking themselves ‘what would happen if’ and a story will go on from the starting point, one event flowing organically from the one before, or two events combining to lead to another.

Sometimes it is possible to trace the start of a project to something very specific. When I read about a conference in 1880 that decided to ban the teaching and use of sign language in schools for deaf children, a well-meaning idea that actually set back the education of deaf children for about a hundred years, I knew I wanted to write a book in which this was an important issue. That led to Frances Doughty book 5, The Children of Silence, which begins with another real event, which I discovered in a newspaper, the draining of the Paddington canal basin during which fragmentary human remains were found.

I was once given as a secret Santa present a book called Buried Alive by Jan Bondeson about the fear of premature burial and I decided to write a novel involving a fictional mortuary — this was A Case of Doubtful Death. The events in my novel have nothing to do with the events in Buried Alive, but it was that book that provided the initial stimulus, that tiny crystal of an idea.

But I also read so widely on Victorian society and history that sometimes I don’t know where the idea came from at all. The idea for Mr Scarletti’s Ghost, which comes out in September, came to me as I was walking along the street and I just couldn’t say how or why it appeared. It was probably an amalgamation of lots of things I have read about, but as soon as it popped into my head I knew I wanted to write it.

Sometimes a reader will approach a writer and say ‘I’ve just had this wonderful idea and you are the person to write it!’ That’s a difficult one. I only really want to write ideas that energise and fascinate me, and maybe the suggestion will and maybe it won’t. Recently my editor suggested two thoughts to me one of which I knew at once was not something I wanted to do. The other one I wasn’t sure about. I considered ways I could make it work to my satisfaction and couldn’t come up with anything. Then, months later I was thinking about something else and suddenly the two things combined in my head, and locked together into something that really excited me.

Places like Crimefest where writers and readers mingle and talk about books are like a rich nourishing soup all bubbling away. It is an amazingly stimulating environment. Last year an idea that had been idling at the back of my mind as little more than a title, suddenly formed itself into a coherent project while I was at Crimefest. I think the inside of a writer’s mind is also like a kind of soup, heaving away with lots of little bits bobbing about, just waiting for stuff to clump together. I must have been born with it, because the first thing I ever wrote was a poem stimulated by a TV programme, when I was six.

But even if an aspiring writer didn’t start to scribble that early the writer’s mind can be developed. It’s simple really. Read lots. Write lots. Flood yourself with words and information. A man once told me he would like to write a book and when I asked him what about he said he didn’t know. Maybe he thought if he could get the right idea he could write the book. That’s the wrong way round. You write because there is something inside you that needs to be expressed. Be a writer, and the ideas will come to you.

 

Linda was born in Leicester in 1948 and first started scribbling stories and poems at the age of six. She became interested in true crime when watching Edgar Lustgarten on TV in the 1950s. Linda attended Wyggeston Girls Grammar School, trained to be a chemists dispenser, and later studied at Newcastle University where she obtained a first in Psychology. She then spent 27 years in the civil service before leaving to devote her time to writing. Linda loves spending time in libraries and archives and really enjoys giving talks on her subject. Visit linda at her website www.lindastratmann.com

A J Waines – Do You Have a Criminal Mind?

A J Waines – Do You Have a Criminal Mind?

Considering the popularity of crime fiction, true crime and TV detective dramas – we certainly seem obsessed with “the criminal mind”! But is there such a thing? And if so, how many individuals in our own neighbourhood harbour murderous intentions?

Carl Jung suggested that we all have a ‘dark’ side and most of us spend our lives promoting the ‘good’ and downplaying the ‘evil’ tendencies in our personalities. Few of us would claim to be capable of murder, but is this truly the case?

The British public loves a good murder mystery – why is that? Research suggest it’s because we’re curious about what lurks beneath the surface. We want to replicate the drama of fear and jeopardy from the safety of our own sofas – the chemical reaction itself from tension to resolution, is addictive. On the one hand, it reinforces our sense of wellbeing when the good guy wins. On the other, it allows us to inhabit our darker side for a while; to see the world through the eyes of a killer and gain vicarious gratification for our hidden impulses and fantasies.

According to experts, psychopaths are all around us, in the office and on the Tube; because they are competent and manipulative, they blend in. ‘After 40 years…’ says Robert Simon, a forensic psychiatrist, ‘I am absolutely convinced there is no great gulf between the mental life of the common criminal and that of the everyday, upright citizen.’ More chilling than this, he believes anyone has the potential to kill, but most of us choose to pummel the car horn, slam doors or find private ways to let off steam.

As a Psychotherapist, I have worked with ex-offenders from high-security institutions, including Broadmoor and Rampton hospitals. The main conclusion I’ve come to is that there are numerous factors that contribute to an individual committing murder; biological, genetic, psychological, social, and that all forms of human behaviour exist on a continuum.

Dr Michael Stone, professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, USA, interviews convicts on death row and claims that more than ninety per cent of serial killers are psychopaths and most are sadists. These are the calculating murderers (Hannibal Lecter is probably the most famous psychopath in fiction); cunning and callous without remorse. But what makes them this way?

The nurture argument explains a great deal. A dog, for example, neglected and badly treated is likely to develop an aggressive streak. A dysfunctional upbringing can have the same result in a human. Stone believes that revenge is one of the strongest motives for murder. He has spoken with Tommy Lynn Sells, a killer of around seventy victims, mostly women, about his feelings for his mother. Tommy was appallingly abused by her as a child, but he has always remained disproportionately protective of her. Stone believes Tommy acted out his anger towards his mother symbolically by killing others, repeatedly paying his mother back for what she did to him in a disassociated manner.

Professor Adrian Raine, a neurocriminologist at the University of Pennsylvania, believes biology plays a more important role than we think. In 1994, he took a sample of murderers and found the prefrontal cortex of the brain was significantly underdeveloped in comparison to non-offenders. ‘Psychopaths…lack conscience, remorse, and guilt. They just don’t feel feelings the way we do,’ he says. ‘It’s as if they don’t have the feeling for what is right and wrong.’ According to Raine, dysfunction in the prefrontal cortex can bring about less control over emotions such as anger, rage and risk-taking, and leads to poor self-control and problem-solving skills, all traits that could predispose a person to violence.

Head injuries can also cause changes in personality – often swift and dramatic. A disturbingly high proportion of serial killers have sustained head injuries at some stage in their lives. Fred West is a case in point. He suffered two serious head injuries; one, through a motorcycle accident, the other when falling from a fire escape, both of which left him unconscious. His subsequent behaviour is well documented!

My own experiences of the criminal mind have been sad, rather than disturbing. I largely met individuals from dysfunctional backgrounds who were struggling to cope in dire circumstances. Caught up in domestic violence, drug abuse or poverty, they felt they had no other course of action open to them, other than to lash out. Some made a fatal decision – seeing it as the only way out of debt or a damaging relationship. Others claimed they were protecting their children. Many chose a passive-aggressive approach, resorting to arson or poisoning, rather than physical attacks. Setting a fire meant they could walk away and let fate decide what happened. These individuals didn’t know how to communicate or contain their feelings and found themselves so deeply entrenched in unmanageable situations that they felt they had no escape.

I also came across people for whom crime was part of everyday life. These men or women had grown up with stabbings, shootings and muggings; they had mental health problems, a fragile personality-type, were easily led and got involved with criminal activity through the influence of others. They were anti-establishment; seeking leadership, gang-culture, excitement, risk-taking -often simply looking for a sense of ‘family’ and belonging. They knew no other kind of life.

As an author of Psychological Thrillers, I enjoy writing about fully-functioning individuals who make terrible mistakes under duress. They could be you or me. They make matters worse by covering up their wrongdoing with another blunder – and they could get caught at any moment. It can start with a small secret or lie – we’ve all been there – but, as panic sets in, the situation escalates into a serious crime…

The criminal mind, therefore, comes in many forms with complex biological, psychological and emotional triggers. One question remains: faced with overwhelming jealousy, hurt, rage, resentment or threats to loved ones – what would you do?

 

AJ Waines was a Psychotherapist for fifteen years, during which time she worked with ex-offenders from high-security institutions, giving her a rare insight into abnormal psychology. She is now a full-time novelist with an Agent and has publishing deals in France and Germany (Random House). Both her debut books, The Evil Beneath and Girl on a Train have been Number One in ‘Murder’ and ‘Psychological Thrillers’ in the UK Kindle Charts. Girl on a Train has also been a Number One Bestseller in the entire Kindle Chart in Australia. She lives in Southampton, UK, with her husband.

Her next book, Dark Place to Hide, is due to be released in July 2015.

Her website is (www.ajwaines.co.uk). You can follow her Blog – and she’s on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and you can also sign up for her Newsletter.

 

Nearing the end

So we are into our final week or so of National Crime Reading Month and what a time we have had.

The end of NCRM is marked with a celebration of the best in crime writing with the CWA Dagger Awards Dinner 2015.

The winners of the CWA International, Non-Fiction, Short Story, Endeavour Historical, Debut and Dagger in the Library will be presented with their specially commissioned Daggers. Plus we will announce the shortlists for the CWA Goldsboro Gold, John Creasey (New Blood) and Ian Fleming Steel Daggers and Catherine Aird will be presented with the Diamond Dagger.

Tickets are still available via Eventbrite

Cara Cooper – Writing Historical Crime

Cara Cooper – Writing Historical Crime

One of the key challenges in writing a historical crime novel is immersing yourself in the period. Difficult when in our modern world, surrounded by technology and mobile phones to think yourself way, way back into the 1600s. But that is what I’m doing at present with my lady investigator solving crimes in seventeenth century London. So how do I transport myself into a world where England has just come out of a civil war, your health was deemed to be governed by four mysterious humours, and the Plague regularly killed young and old?

Firstly, I read around my subject. There are standard reference works and I have a whole bookshelf full. Occasionally, with the wonders of the world wide web, you can also come across gems such as Mike Rendell’s ‘Georgian Gentleman’ blog – http://mikerendell.com/blog/. This is a little later than the century I am researching, nevertheless it provides valuable insights. Mike Rendell is lucky enough to have inherited a pile of papers, superb first person accounts from his ancestor Richard Hall, which he is kind enough to share with the world. Topics cover everything from phonetic pronunciation where we see Richard Hall’s original beautiful handwritten notes usefully advising us that ‘bosom’ was pronounced ‘boozum’ to depictions in art showing how the pastime of constructing a house of cards from playing cards is nothing new. These little snippets of days gone past are what can colour a novel and make it real.

Another thing I find essential is to visit the settings of my novels. They say the past is another country and you can still, today visit the past, particularly somewhere as ancient as London. In the City, you can go to St Olave’s, the church where the bust of Samuel Pepys’s beloved wife Elizabeth is on display. You can also walk down steps into the church and wonder why they would sink the building two feet or more into the ground. Research will tell you that on the contrary, the church wasn’t built into a dip. Instead the ground around was raised by default because the Plague resulted in so many bodies requiring burial that the constant heaping of bones and earth around the churchyard has caused it to raise up. Just thinking of those thousands of poor people perishing and the plight of those remaining who saw whole families and streets of neighbours disappear daily is something to transport one quickly back to a different age. The closeness of death for our forebears is something very different from our own lives today and something to be aware of when creating the atmosphere in a historical novel. Only recently, deep digging to lay the foundations for crossrail has resulted in the unearthing of bones from the Bethlem burial ground and an informative website has been set up to record the finds http://www.crossrail.co.uk/sustainability/archaeology/archaeology-exhibition-portals-to-the-past-february-2014/the-bethlem-burial-ground

Another way to get in touch with the past and to smell the atmosphere of open fires and meat roasting on the air is to visit the site of a civil war battle whilst people are preparing for the fight. Each Easter, Basing House in Hampshire is the site of a re-enactment by the Sealed Knot of one of the significant battles overseen by none other than Oliver Cromwell himself. The original house was destroyed even though at one time, with 360 rooms it was one of the largest private houses in England. Each Easter people dress in their authentic gear and are happy to talk for hours to anyone who will listen about the 1600s. These enthusiasts are invaluable and they really know their stuff. It is not just the battle I was interested in although I spoke for ages to a Master Gunner who revealed the secrets of how to measure the trajectory of your mortar to blow up exactly the piece of land you’re aiming at. In addition, there are many camp followers and I was rewarded for my visit by a fascinating discussion with a lady who was spinning flax to make linen and enlightened me on the underwear such a lady would wear. We were also let into the intricacies of the game Nine Men’s Morris. All fascinating stuff. More eerie was the trip I took to Knole house in Kent where they recently made an extraordinary discovery. In preparation for a visit by King James who wrote one of the seminal works on identifying and punishing witches, witch marks were etched into the beams near his bed. It was thought these would protect him. The theory was that witches flying down the chimney and in through the fireplace would become confused and tangled up in the strange circular patterns thus protecting the king.

But the thing I have found most evocative of the past is to own a portion of it. There is nothing like twirling in your fingers an object crafted by someone who lived over four hundred years ago, closing your eyes and imagining them holding that same object. The two things I own are firstly a roof tile which I picked up from the Thames foreshore opposite the tower of London. This was on a guided mudlarking session run by a river archaeologist. The tile has a neat hole in it and the archaeologist told us that any where the hole is blackened (the tiles were secured with wooden pegs) would almost certainly have come from the time of the Great Fire. The other treasure I have is a piece of lead shot. These are regularly dug up in Hampshire villages around Basing House and I obtained mine in a junk shop for the princely sum of £1. I fancy sometimes that I can see in the soft lead, the fingerprint of the soldier who made it, reputedly from the lead roof of the chapel at Basing House. Now that really is treasure for an author to own.

 

Cara Cooper has recently gone over to the dark side. She started by writing romance for My Weekly and People’s Friend magazines and has had serials, short stories and pocket novels published by them. It was after she wrote short stories for two anthologies, ‘Shiver’ and ‘A Case of Crime’ for Accent Press that she really developed a taste for crime writing.  Cara lives and works in London and gets lots of her inspiration from that great city. At present she is writing a historical set in the capital in the 1600s which gives her an excuse to eat pies and drink gallons of coffee around Covent Garden, all in the name of research. She is often to be found haunting the Museum of London, and the Wellcome Institute in search of inspiration. Lately, mudlarking on the Thames has fired her imagination. A career which has spanned the civil service including a long stint spent in a Government Minister’s office and following that, in human resources for a charity has given her some useful insights into human nature. Cara can be reached on Facebook and at @CaraCooper1 on Twitter. She also blogs intermittently at caracoopersblogspot.co.uk.

J.M Hewitt- An Unanswerable Question…?

J.M Hewitt- An Unanswerable Question…?

The arrival of National Crime Reading Month has coincided with the completion of four years of work writing my latest crime suspense novel. Originally, it was based on the fictional memoirs of Dorota Hirsch, her time in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp and her subsequent quest to find her brother, David, whom she was separated from during the invasion of their Polish ghetto. The book, entitled The Intelligence of Ravens, centred on Dorota’s search for David, but editorial advice suggested that David’s own story might be just as intriguing. At the time, it seemed an insurmountable job to write another fifty percent, but I set to the task and the strangest thing happened; David’s story practically wrote itself.

An awful lot of research went into Dorota’s tale. Haunting statistics; did you know that the targeted groups by Hitler were Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma Gypsies, homosexuals, prostitutes, mentally and physically handicapped and beggars, as well as the Jews?

When Ravensbruck was formed in 1939 it houses 867 prisoners. By the end of the war, 132,000 were incarcerated there. An estimated 92,000 people were killed in the camp. The figures are too much to contemplate, so I’ll put it in these terms; Wembley Stadium holds 90,000 people. That is the volume of dead bodies. Plus 2000 more.

I wanted David’s story to be very different to Dorota’s, but just as harrowing. After his initial escape from the ghetto he hooks up with Marta, a worldly-wise street child, who promises him safety and sanctuary, just across the border in Germany. He is despatched to a barn in private land, deep in the forest. The barn is full of boys just like him; orphaned and alone. The boys are numbered, and every so often Marta selects one to take to ‘The Big House’, where the mysterious Leon awaits them. Leon is a loner, he is a master of the arts and houses an impressive literary collection. Leon has no friends to speak of and aside from an interfering sister who comes to the house now and then to berate him, he has no family. Leon shuns the company of others, preferring to spend his time and his wealth on young boys. I wanted desperately to write this part of the tale without too many graphic scenes, the more that is left to the reader’s imagination the better. I also wanted to ask the question; can a child love a man who has clearly done some terrible things, totally and utterly? Can the child grow into a man and still hold a torch for the person that was a suggested molester? I wanted to delve into Stockholm Syndrome, where a person identifies, sympathises and defends his captor.

David’s own adulthood goes on much in the way his childhood began. He ends up in Soho, London, finding that the freaks and transients are the only people he can really identify with. Homosexuality was punishable by prison in those days and the timeline on the decriminalisation of homosexuality is truly astounding. Great men like Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing were prosecuted, the irony of imprisoning gay men in all-male institutions apparently went unnoticed. The one point of research I did use; Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis by Matt Houlbrook.

And now it is finished, waiting to fly out into the world. Originally planned to be marketed as Historical fiction, but now as a crime suspense novel, for surely if The Holocaust could be recorded as anything, it would be as one of the greatest crimes of recent History?

And my final question, one that I’m not ready to answer myself; who endured the greater crime? The boys from the barn? Or the women from Ravensbruck? Or just as equally abhorrent?

J.M Hewitt writes in the crime suspense genre and likes to combine 20th century Historical events in her novels. She has had two novels published, Freedom First Peace Later in 2010 and Worlds Apart in 2013. She has completed a third novel, The Intelligence of Ravens, and is currently working on her fourth. @jmhewitt

We’re watching you – Nikki Owen

We’re watching you – Nikki Owen

Ok, so, I have a new book out, and, one of the lines used to promote it is, ‘We’re watching you.’ It’s a line that, as a crime writer, people have asked about, so huddle up and I’ll let you into a secret: when my husband and I drive past GCHQ in Cheltenham, we mutter, ‘Spy, spy, spy,’ over and over, because the urban myth is that GCHQ can pick up every word uttered within a 5-mile radius. Okay, okay, I know how childish that sounds now I say it out loud, but, messing about aside, there is a darker reality: we are being watched.

Think about it. Right now, you are, unless you’ve printed it off, reading this piece online, on that there world wide web. And it’s a great invention, the Internet – it’s utterly mind bending. But here’s the thing: online, everything we do can be tracked. Our computers leave a search engine history. Everywhere we digitally visit, we drop, like a line of crumbs in a forest, a trail behind us that signals where we’ve been. Heck, flip onto Facebook and before you’ve even typed in your latest status, a sidebar ad pops up and tells you about something you were pondering on only the other day. Spooky.

But this isn’t paranoia, this isn’t some (ironically) piece of make-believe fiction – this is real. When I started to sketch out the first ideas for my debut novel, The Spider in the Corner of the Room, an unprecedented scandal was exploding: whistle-blower Edward Snowdon leaked classified NSA files. The NSA – the National Security Agency of the USA – were shown, through Snowden’s files to be, along with other international spy agencies, carrying out warrantless mass surveillance of global citizens, bugging buildings for political and industrial espionage, and all the while without the knowledge or authorization of the USA government and its partner countries – never mind the public.

And seeing this all unfold, hearing the gritty reality, that’s when the line, ‘They’re watching you,’ began to grow in my mind – and I began to merge reality with fiction. I had already sketched out this uber-intelligent, troubled main character – Dr Maria Martinez. And, crucially, she had Asperger’s. Now, people with Asperger’s say what they think, tell it how it is, while neurotypical people (i.e. you and me – society) don’t always say what they mean, tell white lies and often hide their true thoughts. So I thought: what if I used Maria and her Asperger’s to highlight society’s flaws, highlight the out-of-control, deceitful NSA-type snooping, the lies? The two juxtaposed positions – Asperger’s and neurotypical society – then provided me with an intriguing platform to explore the wider themes of injustice, deceit, corruption, power and lies – all the threads we can link to the NSA scandal.

So there you have it, that’s where the phrase ‘They’re watching you,’ stemmed from. It’s something to remember, that phrase, every time we go online, that and muttering, ‘Spy, spy, spy,’ whenever you’re near GCQQ. It’s your call!

Nikki Owen is an award-winning writer and columnist. Previously, Nikki was a marketing consultant and University teaching fellow before turning to writing full time. As part of her degree, she studied at the acclaimed University of Salamanca – the same city where her protagonist of The Spider in the Corner of the Room, Dr Maria Martinez, hails from. @nikkiwriter

My Writing Process – A J McCreanor

My Writing Process  – A J McCreanor

Completing the first draft of my debut novel Riven was exhilarating – from imagining the characters to constructing the plot and creating the locations. I wrote the first draft quickly, then the hard work really began. I am in awe of writers who say that they never redraft, that whatever is the first draft becomes the book. For me the first draft was a way to unscramble the thoughts and images that had lived for months in my imagination. It was a way of creating order and developing the snatches of conversation I heard my characters say, a way of constructing solid characters from glimpsed faces and blurred shapes. I worked on the locations, some imaginary and some, like the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, very real. I stitched the story together as one would a quilt, piece by piece, observing the pattern and overall design. And I listened for the internal rhythm.

‘Write about what you know/love’ is advice often offered to authors. I knew and loved Glasgow so I set Riven in the city. I was born and grew up in the east end, not far from the police station in Riven. Later, I taught English Literature in schools across the city until eventually retraining as a psychotherapist. I hope that I have captured some of the spirit of the city.

Creating the characters always excited me. I wanted there to be a depth to them, I wanted them to be neither entirely good nor wholly bad. When the reader gets to know DIs Wheeler and Ross, they see their flaws. With Andy Doyle I wanted to create a mostly flawed character, but not in merely a good v’s bad scenario. I wanted those opposites to coexist or at least juxtapose.

Occasionally I dreamt about my characters as I developed them. Sometimes they developed themselves. It was my original intention that Stella (Doyle’s girlfriend) was to have just a single line of dialogue but she fought and kicked her way into the book and stole a much larger part. So much for the writer being in charge. Stella again appears in the second book Silenced and I wonder if she’ll make it into the third.

I have often been asked about my writing routine and the truth is I write whenever and wherever I can, including my office, on buses, in cafes and occasionally in the local pub. Like most authors I carry a pen and a notebook and jot down ideas and scenes as they occur to me.

Riven is the first in the series featuring DIs Wheeler and Ross, the second Silenced is out on September 3rd and I am working hard on the third book.

Some of the feedback has been amazing and it’s always good to connect. If you would like to get in touch, I’m on Twitter @AJMcCreanor and email at AJMcCreanor@aol.com. It would be great to hear from you!

 

 

 

 

Crime Readers’ Reading Habits – Helen Cadbury

Crime Readers’ Reading Habits – Helen Cadbury

I am in awe of readers and crime readers in particular, for the sheer speed and determination of their reading. When reviewing they will often say ‘read in one sitting’ or ‘read on my commute to work in three days flat. When is the next one coming out?’ No pressure! If I could write as fast as readers read, I’d either be very wealthy by now, or possibly writing rubbish, in which case they wouldn’t be asking for the next one at all.

My first book took five years: from the first scene being committed to the computer, to it being accepted for publication; but I had never written a book before, so this was a necessary apprenticeship in writing, re-writing, cutting and burning, before the final manuscript emerged. The second book hasn’t been quite as slow, and changing publishers meant To Catch a Rabbit got a second outing with Allison and Busby and a beautiful new cover design; so readers who discovered it this year will have only waited seven months for its sequel.

Discovering an author with a long backlist is a joy for the keen crime reader, ready to immerse themselves in a series and connect with a continuing central character. A friend told me that she’d discovered Leigh Russell this year and ‘read everything she’s ever written’. We all experience ‘book mourning’ when we’ve got to the end a story we’ve loved, but to get to the end of a writer’s entire output is quite traumatic. Fortunately I was able to tell her that Leigh is working on something new and she won’t have long to wait.

I’m ashamed of my own reading speed. The guilt is exacerbated by Amazon politely requesting I review something I bought for my Kindle ten days ago, of which I’ve only read two chapters. I make it worse for myself by reading two things at once, usually a book by my bed and an e-book for travelling. This is a very bad habit, and can lead to confusion. I’m loving both books I’ve got on the go at the moment, and I’m desperate to get to the point when I can review them, but I need to put some serious time management in place first.

To get to the bottom of what drives crime readers’ reading habits, (and to see if I could acquire some of them), I turned to two avid crime readers, Jane Fenn and Alyson Shipley.

How many crime books do you read a month?

Jane: One to two books per month, depending on how much free time I have, or if I have long car journeys, I can lose myself in an audio book.

Alyson: One to two a week, but if I get something really great I can polish it off in a day. To Catch a Rabbit took me a day and The Girl on the Train took me two. Last week, I had four brilliant ones in quick succession, so I got through six. Others can be harder and I can take a week or more.

Why do you read crime?

Alyson: When I ‘graduated’ from kids books to adult in the 80’s there was very little YA fiction out there. I read my first crime book when I picked up an Ian Rankin from the library, purely because I didn’t fancy anything else. Rebus blew me away and Ian Rankin is solely to thank for my love affair with the crime novel. Rebus will always be my first love and my favourite copper.

Jane: I enjoy exploring the ‘moral compass’ in all of us, and how a situation can change the boundaries between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, from the safety of an armchair.

Do you have another genre that you alternate with?

Jane: I frequently read other genres associated with crime fiction, like spy/thrillers/suspense, and also the occasional autobiography. Sometimes I’ll read a documentary/factual book where it has interesting social context or comment.

Alyson: I don’t alternate as such but operate the ‘what’s recommended, what’s trending on Twitter, what are Richard and Judy up to, what’s happening with the book awards’ approach. I’m a charity shop addict and have found new (to me) authors there, like Linwood Barclay and Kathy Reichs. Others pop up in discount bookshops. My current TBR pile stands at sixty-five!

Do you have any pet hates or likes?

Jane: Doesn’t everyone love the maverick that bends the rules to breaking point, but for all the best and most noble of reasons?  I hate books with really long chapters, or really short chapters – I like my chapters just that perfect length.  And I find it too hard work to cope with timelines that loop back on themselves every few chapters.

Alyson: I have no pet hates. For me, anyone who has the balls, the talent and the imagination to write deserves to be read. I couldn’t do it, so I’m in no place to criticise. I love finding new authors. My shelves have all sorts lurking on them, including: Graham Hurley, Jo Nesbo, Steig Larsson, Tess Gerritsen, Tim Weaver, Mark Sennen, Nick Quantrill, Elly Griffiths, Luca Veste, Erin Kelly (Sick Rose is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read), Ian Rankin, Peter James, David Mark, Tom Bale, Patricia Cornwell, Chris Carter, Kathy Reichs, Stuart MacBride, Boyd Morrison. Plus a lot of random recommends: Book of You, A Trick of the Mind, A Song for Issy Bradley, I Let You Go, Stef Penney’s The Invisible Ones and the divine Daphne du Maurier.

 

A huge thank you to Alyson and Jane for taking the time to respond. Alyson’s comment about her TBR pile prompts this question: what is the largest TBR pile among CRA members? And how do you propose to tackle it? I’ve already taken to referring to those trips – formally known as holidays – as ‘reading weeks,’ where I find myself praying for rain and a good armchair, so I hope this summer brings you, if not sunshine, then some happy reading. HC

 

Helen Cadbury is the author of To Catch a Rabbit and Bones in the Nest (July 2015, Allison and Busby) – books one and two in the Sean Denton series, set in Doncaster. She had a former life as an actor and teacher and spent several years teaching in prisons.

www.helencadbury.com @helencadbury on Twitter www.facebook.com/helencadbury/author

 

CWA Dagger Longlists

The Crime Writers’ Association are delighted to reveal the long listed authors for the CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger, the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger and the CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger.
The results were revealed mid-way through National Crime Reading Month and the shortlists will be unveiled at the Dagger Awards dinner on 30th June 2015.

“Our judges have had a wonderful time reading all these brilliant books,” says CWA chair Len Tyler. “What a year for crime fiction. These long lists are a great demonstration of how diverse and fascinating the genre is right now. No wonder it’s the most popular type of fiction with UK readers.”

The CWA Goldsboro Gold, CWA John Creasy (New Blood) and CWA Ian Fleming Steel Daggers will be presented to the winners at a ceremony in the autumn. Full details will be announced in due course.

The longlists

CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger

CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger

CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger

Kate Ellis – June

Kate Ellis – June

June is always a busy month for me.  During Crime Fiction Month I always try to get out and about visiting libraries and book shops.  And this year the CWA’s celebration of the wonderful world of crime fiction also happens to coincide nicely with the paperback publication of my latest Wesley Peterson novel, The Death Season.

I’ve loved crime novels from an early age and, like many other crime fans, it was Dame Agatha Christie who got me hooked.  I was intrigued by her elaborate plots and when I was reading I could hardly wait for that moment when the Great Detective gathered all the suspects in the library (or drawing room) and explained the whole thing.  I confess there were times when I was tempted to sneak a quick look at the final pages but I usually resisted.  After all, it spoils the fun.

Perhaps it was my early love for Dame Agatha’s work that influenced me to set my Wesley Peterson mysteries in South Devon.  She set a number of her books in the area which is hardly surprising as she was born in Torquay and had a lovely home overlooking the River Dart (her house, Greenway is now owned by the National Trust and is well worth a visit).  I certainly wasn’t aware of making the connection when I first started writing my Wesley series, but it could be that some subconscious memory of how much I loved Agatha Christie’s books influenced my decision.  Who knows?

The dramatic landscape of Devon features strongly in The Death Season.  My story was inspired by dramatic events that occurred there in 1917, at the time of the First World War.  I first visited the dramatic ruins of the coastal fishing village of Hallsands some years ago and became fascinated by its story.  As a result of dredging the beach beneath the houses, the village tumbled into the sea and the hundred and fifty people who lived there lost their homes.  The Death Season begins when an unidentified man is found dead in a hotel room and soon the police discover that he has been murdered.  Once the police find the victim’s true identity, dark secrets begin to emerge and Wesley has to untangle a complex web of deception that goes back to the destruction of a village during a storm at the start of the twentieth century.  As in all my books, a historical mystery is thrown up by an archaeological dig and in The Death Season the two mysteries, past and present, converge with dramatic results.

This June I’ll be returning to Devon as I do every year.  And I’ll probably be undertaking my usual pilgrimage to Greenway as well, crossing the River Dart on the little ferry and imagining all sorts of deadly scenarios that might feature in future books.  I know writers often say this and it sounds like a bit of a cliché, but I really think the beautiful South Devon landscape is a character in my books.  But, as Sherlock Holmes once said, the smiling and beautiful countryside hides plenty of undetected sins…well, it certainly does in my books anyway!

Kate Ellis was born and brought up in Liverpool and studied drama in Manchester. 

Her books reflect her keen interest in history and archaeology and, as well as many short stories, she has published five Joe Plantagenet crime novels set in York.  However, she is best known for her crime series combining past and present crimes and featuring black archaeology graduate DI Wesley Peterson, the latest of which is The Death Season.

For more information please visit  www.kateellis.co.uk

Doug Stewart – Of Backlists and Rebranding

Doug Stewart – Of Backlists and Rebranding

I am most grateful to CWA for this opportunity to mention my two new books but also to raise a topic of more general interest – rebranding. Since I signed up with American publishers MP Publishing, my eyes have been opened. They have refreshing views on selling books and I saw a new world out there – one that perhaps other authors with solid backlists will find of interest.

I explain this in more detail below but firstly, my publishers are releasing my new mystery thriller Hard Place in mid-summer 2015. It concerns Det. Inspector Todd “Ratso” Holtom’s obsession with bringing down a London-based drug baron. Over 90% of the world’s heroin supply comes from Helmand Province in Afghanistan. Back in 2001, when the USA and UK got involved in fighting the Taleban in Afghanistan, Prime Minister Tony Blair promised destruction of the poppy crop as part of the rationale for the War on Terror. According to SIGAR (Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction), destroying the Helmand crop (by fire or spraying) might have prevented an estimated one million deaths from heroin abuse.

But once embroiled in the Afghan war, the military in Whitehall and the Pentagon realised that destroying the local economy was not going to help win the war against the Taleban. Instead, and understandably so, the priority was protecting the lives of soldiers. Government policy, however reluctantly, had to change. Expediency meant that local warlords, drug-dealers and key political figures had to be humoured and even embraced to secure cooperation. Thus the poppy crop increased and now, with the British troops gone, Afghan heroin production is approaching 40% more than 14 years ago!

Instead of a 90% reduction in the heroin problem, Ratso and real-life crime-busters now face a worse situation. Ratso’s fight to prevent a mega-import of Afghan heroin takes him to Florida, the Bahamas and Spain as he suffers realpolitik in bringing down an entire network.

Terror at Sea

Also in mid-summer 2015, my publishers are launching Terror at Sea. This is an updated but rebranded version of my successful true crime book, The Brutal Seas (originally written for and published by Marebuch in Germany as Piraten). The book covered some of the most audacious, savage and cunning crimes at sea over the past twenty years or so. Piracy, human trafficking, scuttling or stealing ships were all covered but Terror at Sea now has more material on terrorism and kidnap such as has been prevalent around Somalia and elsewhere.

Re-Branding

The publishers believe the new name and material will be important in their marketing strategy. But their rebranding does not end there!  Some of my backlist of mystery thrillers have been re-released unchanged but as eBooks. This has given them a whiff of oxygen – but others are being rebranded.  Late Bet was my international thriller first published about eight years ago in the USA involving casino fraud, money-laundering, Formula 1 racing and a Premier League soccer-star.

Tables Turned

On request from a Canadian movie producer, I adapted the book into a screenplay cutting out side plots and Formula 1 to keep the script focussed on his target of the US movie scene. Sadly, in the recession, the producer did not raise sufficient funding but since then, I have turned my script into a re-written and much changed and simplified thriller. My publishers liked it and although Late Bet is still out there and selling, the new version Tables Turned is being released in December 2015.

Cellars’ Market

Another mystery thriller was Cellars’ Market about fraud and a war in the wine trade. It was first published by Collins Crime Club. Now, MP Publishing want it  re-written in the present day – a fascinating project with so many changes since then – no-smoking in public places, different wine vintages, clothing fashions, smartphones, internet, email, social media and so much more that did not then exist. I am really enjoying the re-write, particularly because the publishers want a longer book than the typical Crime Club format. It too will be rebranded.

Health Warnings

Rebranding raises questions of what health warnings need to be put on revamped/ rebranded books to prevent some buyers feeling let down by buying a similar book. Legendary fiction writer John Fowles (author of the French Lieutenant’s Woman) wrote and re-published his magnus opus The Magus with differing endings – to considerable acclaim. At the cinema, popular movies get remade with a new cast and modern twists and movie-goers do not feel cheated. Ernest Hemingway wrote 47 different endings for A Farewell to Arms and classics like Great Expectations and Wuthering Heights have been rewritten with a contemporary twist.

Conclusion

Of course, for any author writing the first words of a new book provides special excitement but the fast-changing publishing scene has added new value to backlists. Getting these into the market whether rebranded or not – boosts market profile and therefore sales of new works. This surely, is an opportunity to be seized.

About Me

I have written eight mystery thrillers and four works of non-fiction. Having started life in the UK as a solicitor in the West of England and then London, I moved to Las Vegas and then Cyprus but am now back living on British shores. If you want to get in touch or to know more about me or my writing, my contacts are doug@douglasstewartbooks.com and www.DouglasStewartBooks.com or I am Facebook at DouglasStewartBooks and on Twitter as  @DougSBooks.You can keep in touch by registering as a Contact on my website.

Clare Mackintosh – Does authenticity matter in crime fiction?

Clare Mackintosh – Does authenticity matter in crime fiction?

I was a police officer for more than a decade, and although I didn’t try my hand at crime writing until after I’d left the service, I have always been an avid reader of crime. I’ve read everything from Peter James and Val McDermid, to Patricia Cornwell and John Grisham; books where the research is meticulous and the crimes chillingly real. I’ve also read a fair number of books I’ve wanted to hurl across a room, when once again fiction has parted company with reality to such an extent that credibility isn’t just stretched, it’s snapped beyond repair.

But how important is accuracy when writing crime? If the point of fiction is the escapism of a good story, does it matter if the police procedure is slightly askew? After all, the readers won’t know… will they?

The plethora of crime series on television, and the continued surge of affection for crime fiction (long may that last!) means that everyone is an armchair detective. We know what ANPR is (automatic number plate recognition – but I don’t need to tell you that, do I?) and we know fingerprints are more likely to be found on a smooth surface than a rough one. We’ve seen enough ITV dramas about missing children to set up our own detective agency, and we can recite the police caution verbatim, even though The Bill slammed its cell doors almost five years ago. The point is: readers DO care. Readers know enough about contemporary police procedure that if their favourite detective secures a DNA identification simply by holding a cigarette butt up to the light, he’ll find himself thrown across the room faster than you can say ‘you have the right to remain silent.’

Once you’ve lost your reader, with even the smallest inaccuracy, it’s hard to get them back. Like a court case lost on a technicality, the judge-and-juror reader becomes suspicious, wondering what else in the book might be wrong. If he can’t trust the author to get the procedure right, he thinks, how can he trust him to write characters he believes in; to come in with with a killer twist he doesn’t see coming? The reader might finish the book, but they will never be truly signed up to it.

I take the same approach to accuracy in crime novels as I do to grammar. You have to learn the rules before you decide which ones you’re happy to break. When I start a sentence with ‘and’, or ‘but’ it’s not because I’m ill informed; it’s because I want to achieve a particular effect. Similarly when I allow my detective to get a forensic result in 24 hours that I know full well would take weeks to come through, it’s because the story demands a much faster turnaround. As a former cop myself, I know the rules well enough to break them.

And break them we must. Believe me, a crime novel that stuck slavishly to the truth would be a dull read indeed. Who wants to hear about Detective Inspectors stuck behind desks all day? About the shift officer who couldn’t take a witness statement for two days because there weren’t enough pool cars available? Who wants a book so hide-bound by accuracy that the story becomes lost in procedure and bureaucracy?

I don’t. And I’ll bet you don’t, either.

Biography: Clare Mackintosh is an author, feature writer and columnist. She has written for the Guardian, the Daily Mail, Sainsbury’s Magazine, Good Housekeeping, The Green Parent, WI Life and many other national publications, and is a columnist for Cotswold Life and Writing Magazine. She is the founder of Chipping Norton Literary Festival and lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and their three children. Clare spent twelve years in the police force, working on CID, in custody and as a public order commander, and has drawn on her experiences for her psychological thriller I Let You Go. She is currently writing her second novel.

Find out more on Clare Mackintosh’s CRA Profile.

Pauline Rowson – Are crime writers psychopaths?

Pauline Rowson – Are crime writers psychopaths?

The relationship between writers and their characters takes many forms. Some of my characters irritate me, others entertain, some make me feel cuddly and comfortable, while others I positively loath. And some I love warts and all, even my alpha male, Detective Superintendent Steve Uckfield, head of the Major Crime Team with all his disgusting habits who appears in the DI Andy Horton series. As to Horton himself, my flawed and rugged hero, well let’s say my husband has a rival, is that possible grounds for a divorce or perhaps it makes me a candidate for the funny farm? But whatever the relationship between the creator and characters it should never be dull.

It’s easy to become a little bit obsessed with your characters. Oh, alright very obsessed and more so when writing a series because the main cast of characters are with me all the time, they are as much part of my life as real people, they occupy my thoughts throughout the day, but strangely enough I never dream of them. Perhaps there is hope for me yet and I’m not about to be carted off to the insane asylum.

I think about my characters a great deal. Where are they? What will they do next? How will they react to this or that situation? What is happening in their private lives as well as in the job? What is their relationship with their colleagues? This is all good stuff because their actions, feelings and motivations drive the plot, which can be annoying especially if I think I’ve got the plotline all nicely worked out. They have the habit of throwing me right off course even to the extent that often when I thought I knew who ‘done it’, I discover the killer is someone completely different. Do I hear the distant siren of an ambulance approaching?

Thinking about your characters is not the same as thinking about your ‘real’ friends or the people you know because with your characters you are in control, you create their lives. Although, as I said, they can develop a habit of doing something that surprises you. Many writers are familiar with the old adage plot is character and character is plot, which makes it almost impossible to answer the question readers often ask me, what comes first plot or character? The two are inevitably and intrinsically intertwined.

So before you call for the men in white coats I assure you I am quite sane, well as sane as any writer (and especially a crime writer can be – after all we kill people for a living). Creating characters and their lives is a fascinating game, as many children know, and perhaps that’s what a lot of us writers are – kids at heart. It’s either that or we’re closet villains or psychopaths. I know which I’d prefer.

Pauline Rowson is the author of the DI Andy Horton crime novels (11) set in the Solent area on the South Coast of England and of the crime series featuring former marine commando, Art Marvik introduced in Silent Running. Her crime novels have received critical acclaim in both the UK and the USA and have been optioned by top UK production company, Lime Pictures, who are seeking to bring the enigmatic DI Horton to TV screens.

For further information visit Pauline Rowson’s Website www.rowmark.co.uk

You can also follow Pauline Rowson on Twitter http://twitter.com/PaulineRowson

 

 

Caroline Dunford – Keeping it in the Family

Caroline Dunford – Keeping it in the Family

It only occurred to me to start writing crime fiction after I had tried writing in a variety of genres and with varying degrees of success. A passing comment that perhaps I should write what I enjoyed reading led to me embracing the world of ‘cozy crime’. The Euphemia Martin’s Mysteries, published by Accent Press, is already a series of seven books with two more contracted for later this year and early next.

The biggest hurdle to jump when switching to this genre was not choosing the time period. I knew I wanted to write about a world before forensics was a proper science and when my detective would have to rely on instinct and the raw beginnings of the study of the human condition. I wanted to write stories that my readers could, like my heroine, put together piece by piece and unfold the mystery by understanding the characters and their motives. I didn’t want anyone to ever be making a sudden appearance, clutching a piece of paper that showed blood or DNA results providing the vital breakthrough needed to solve the case (which is an inherently lazy plot device that happens all too frequently in contemporary televised drama series).

I’ve always been fascinated by what was happening in the world in the run-up to the First World War. Particularly, how in Britain, class systems were beginning to face challenges, but that it still remained the last hoorah of the Big Houses with their armies of servants. I never had an intention of romanticising this – although Euphemia does have a troublesome habit of attracting suitors. I wanted my readers to be clear that life below stairs was hard and that it was exceptionally rare for there to be any bond between those above and those below stairs that was worth more than a farthing!

But this left me the problem of who I would cast for my detective. Not a policeman – and certainly not a policewoman, as there simply weren’t any at the time. In general the police were not well regarded by the owners of the Big Houses, the aristocracy of the day. They were far too used to sorting out their own little issues, even if one of those turned out to be murder. The police in general, at this time, were drawn from the lower classes and had a hearty respect for their betters – especially as their so-called betters actually tended to be the local justices of the peace, or happy ensconced in the upper echelons of the legal systems of the court.

And after the superb Lord Peter Whimsy it takes a very brave writer indeed to conjure up a peer with a hobby in criminology.

But, when you are in a tight corner, who better to rely on than family?

My Great-Grandmother came from a very rich family. After her mother died and her father remarried, she came to hate her stepmother. Shockingly, her father gave her the choice of accepting her new mother or leaving. She chose to leave.

At this time, a genteelly educated young woman was fit for nothing but marriage or, in extreme circumstances, reducing herself to menial domestic duties as a maid or becoming a prostitute. There were no other options. My Great-Grandmother chose to go into service. There she found the work extremely hard, and before long had become very ill. Fortunately for me at this point a young tobacconist enters the scene. He sweeps my Great-Grandmother off her feet, they marry and have thirteen children. All of whom survive to adulthood. It may sound like a fairy tale, but this part is true.

I created my detective, Euphemia Martins, inspired by my Great-Grandmother. Euphemia is also prepared to step out of her class and to descend to the level of a servant, in her fictional case to help support her widowed mother and little brother. Euphemia also has the caché of being the estranged Granddaughter of an Earl, which my Great-Grandmother certainly did not. However, the strength of character it must have taken my Great-Grandmother to walk away from her life of luxury on a point of principle is what I have bestowed upon Euphemia. They also share the unique perspective of seeing and knowing life both above and below stairs.

I hope my Great-Grandmother found happiness with her tobacconist. Her family never again acknowledged her. My heroine, Euphemia, is just beginning to realise that she cannot stand on both sides of the great class divide and part of her story is about what side she will ultimately chose.

My family history has led me to look at the lives of those of the Great Houses of Britain in the early 1900s without rose-tinted spectacles. My heroine faces her challenges bravely, using her quick wits, humour, and the best weapon of all virtuous young women, her scream. But like my Great-Grandmother she cannot exist in isolation, and has created a group around her, a mixture of those from upstairs and downstairs, who have nothing in common except her. Much, as I suspect, I would have nothing in common with my Great-Grandmother’s relatives except her.

 

 Caroline Dunford has indulged in a variety of careers from journalist to psychotherapist. She is the mother of two rambunctious sons and lives in a cottage by the sea, on which the building work seems unending. She writes plays, YA, Crime and Romance, and the occasional short story. Writing is her way to stay sane in a world she finds confusing and chaotic, and infusing her writing with hope and humour reflects her hopes that in stories we can all find not only entertainment, but an echo of our own humanity.

The Euphemia Martins Mysteries are available in both ebook and paperback.

Read more about Caroline on her CRA profile

 

 

 

 

Sarah Hawkswood -‘Quis, cur, ubi’- the answers not the questions

Sarah Hawkswood -‘Quis, cur, ubi’- the answers not the questions

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‘Who, why and where?’ These, along with ‘when and how?’ are the boxes the investigator, be they amateur or professional, contemporary or historic, has to tick as solved to be able to reach a successful outcome to a case. Yet the ‘who, why and where’ are also important answers to the question ‘Why are crime novels so popular?’ The crime writer generally creates a detective or detectives, though I use the term to mean ‘the person who detects’ and not necessarily a police officer. They give the clues for the reader to follow, and build the world in which both the former exist. When the reader picks up the book they are given access to characters with whom they can form a bond, a puzzle to solve, and a world that is recognisable. At the same time it is one step removed from the everyday, mundane reality of life. This transcends the compartmentalising of crime fiction into police procedural, historic, whodunnit/whydunnit, even the legal crime novel.

Those who are hooked on the ‘who’ benefit from the fact that as writers, those of us who write crime like to work with those we know. Having formed our detective, hopefully more sculpted like Canova’s Three Graces than cobbled together like Frankenstein’s monster, we set them off on a first investigation and begin to discover more about them in the process. This is psychologically interesting, since they are technically the inventions of our own minds. Are we therefore subconsciously as well as consciously creating things to discover? The one dimensional detective would be as useless as the clichéd chalk outline of the corpse on the floor. Fortunately, the writer is even more involved in their characters than the reader, and strives to peel back the onion layers of their detective’s personality. The detective thus achieves a reality, even though they remain without physical substance, which has the drawback that it is exceptionally hard to wave them goodbye, or bury them. On the positive side, the incentive to write another tale with them is enormous. I certainly miss Bradecote and Catchpoll if I leave them for too many months, and after over a decade with them, I know how they will react and interact without conscious thought. Assuming the quality of the writing is sound, the reader meets the character, who becomes an acquaintance, and then a friend. How often have readers bought the next book to see how that friend is getting along in life? I think the answer is ‘frequently’.

Sayers was accused of being ‘in love’ with Lord Peter Wimsey. If she was, then so also have been very many of her readers. The writer/detective relationship is naturally close, and I doubt one could keep writing someone whom one disliked or despised, though the closeness can pall, especially when the creation is considered much more important and interesting than the originator! If we want the reader to empathise with the detective we have to like them, or the core of them at the very least, even if we have given them flaws and foibles along the way.

Of course there are the ‘crossword clue’ readers, whose aim is to solve the case before the detective. It is a cerebral exercise, given spice by having someone else upon the scent, and wishing to get there first. For them the ‘why’ is key, but how much more satisfying it is to beat a clever detective than to simply work out how fast one reached the right conclusions as an abstract exercise. The convolutions must not defy logic, and the ‘rules’ of classic crime fiction must not be breached.

Finally there are those who read for the ‘ubi’, the ‘where’. For them the crime novel is another world in space or time to which they can transported without an old police box and an odd chap with a sonic screwdriver. The world may be in part geographical, but is more about sinking into the little details to the point where they can hear Peter Wimsey playing Bach, smell Brother Cadfael’s preparation simmering over his hearth, feel they know the contents of Miss Marple’s handbag, run a finger along the tops of the LPs in Morse’s record collection. For these readers the unfamiliar becomes familiar, though the world outside their windows might be Durban, Delhi, Dundee or Denver. Immersion is the key here. The reader is more than an observer, advances with the detective rather than hoping to outrun them, and takes pleasure from the environment, be it Poirot’s art deco glamour, mediaeval shires, or claustrophobic interview rooms.

Thus the crime novel appeals to a range of readers with different needs and objectives, though of course the reader who sits in the overlap of all three subsets of this Venn diagram, who can empathise, analyse and visualise, is in the perfect position to gain most from what the crime novelist has to offer.

 

Sarah Hawkswood is a military historian turned crime writer. She is the author of the Bradecote and Catchpoll series of 12th century murder
investigations, of which the first, The Lord Bishop’s Clerk, was publishedby The Mystery Press in November 2014. She describes herself as a
wordsmith who is only really happy when she has a work in progress, and surprisingly squeamish in real life for one who has long dealt with war
and murder. She lives in Worcestershire, and is married with two grown up children.

Read more about Sarah on her CRA profile

Colin Campbell – BOSCH, BOND and REACHER – avoiding copycat syndrome

Colin Campbell – BOSCH, BOND and REACHER – avoiding copycat syndrome

Here’s the thing. How do you move into a crowded marketplace and not step on the toes of those who’ve gone before you? How do you avoid being influenced by those great writers and their characters? I mean, let’s face it, we’re all readers first. You can’t write a novel unless you enjoy reading novels, and if you enjoy reading novels you’re bound to have favourites. Favourites colour our worldview. It’s what makes men choose blondes over brunettes. Elmer Bernstein over Jerry Goldsmith. James Bond over Jack Reacher. The trick is to create a character that’s your own and not be beholden to any of the above.

As a kid growing up I loved reading something like, James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami airport and thought about life and death. I loved any passage that mentioned Bond by name and couldn’t wait to read the next 007 adventure. Because of that I enjoy writing scenes that begin with Jim Grant doing something. Just using the name invokes Bond to me, even though Grant isn’t a secret agent. So, am I copying Ian Fleming? Damn right, but hopefully with my own voice and inflections.

Another problem I had creating rogue cop Jim Grant was twofold. Or two names. Harry Bosch and Jack Reacher. You can’t write about a strong hard man without getting condemned as being Reacher-lite. You can’t create a cop who hates bureaucracy and flouts the rules without being accused of doing a Bosch. Reacher is a rootless drifter. Bosch works the LA crime beat. Neither Lee Child nor Michael Connolly created those archetypes but they’ve made them their own. Westerns are full of lone gunmen coming to town and taking on the bad guys before riding off into the sunset. Cop movies almost never starred a detective who did what he was told and made sure his paperwork was in on time. But in the world of crime fiction, those two authors make it very hard to come up with something new.

There is a third influence. Elmore Leonard was renowned for writing colourful characters and whip smart dialogue. With Raylan Givens he also created his own rogue cop (okay, Deputy US Marshall) with a nice line in cool put downs and shoot from the hip assertiveness. I liked Raylan’s dry sense of humour, something that is reminiscent of good old Yorkshire gallows humour. A cop’s release valve to cope with the shit they deal with on a daily basis.

So how do you avoid copycat syndrome?

The answer? Embrace it. Be inspired by the writers you love then create something you’d like to read. Don’t be a slave to their strengths but rather infuse your fiction with the little things that make it different. Instead of being a rootless ex-cop drifter Grant works for the BPD and lives in Boston. Instead of working a single city he moves him around America on assignment or private business. Instead of being American, he’s a Yorkshireman transferred to the United States. How different do you want him to be? I’m certainly not going to have him wear women’s clothing or play the flute. There’s only so much I’m prepared to do to avoid being called a copycat. Sticks and stones springs to mind.

 

Ex Army, retired cop and former Scenes Of Crime Officer.  Colin Campbell is the author of British crime novels, Blue Knight White Cross, and Northern Ex, and the US thriller Jamaica Plain.

Campbell spent 3 years in the British Army and served 30 years in the West Yorkshire Police.  He began writing while he was still a police officer, initially concentrating on horror fiction, which he loved.  He soon realized however that his knowledge of police life gave him the perfect tools to enter the crime genre.

Campbell’s early crime novels were set in England, focusing on uniform police working the front line and the low level crime that blights everyday life.  His Resurrection Man thrillers bring a rogue Yorkshire cop to America where culture clash and violence ensue. Jamaica Plain is the first in a series of novels featuring Jim Grant.

Read more on Colin’s CRA profile

Thomas Mogford – My slow decline

Thomas Mogford – My slow decline

 

As further evidence of my slow decline into middle age, my wife and I have recently been listening to a lot of podcasts from the archive of Desert Island Discs. We sit on the sofa in front of the fire, staring into space, and it feels almost as it might have done for our grandparents tuning into the wireless. Last week we heard Sue Lawley talking to PD James, a fascinating interview in which the writer’s strength and zest for life positively reverberated from the iPhone’s tiny speakers. One particular thing she spoke about struck a chord, namely the paradox that tales of violence and murder can give a strange comfort to readers in difficult periods of their lives.

Suddenly I was sent back in time. My wife and I were sitting on the same sofa, though in very different circumstances. We’d just had our first child, Jack, a wonderful event, but one for which we were both utterly ill-prepared. After various complications and returns to hospital, we were finally left alone with our infant son. It soon became clear that neither of us had the first idea how to care for a bawling, angry sleep-refusenik. We found ourselves circling our one-bedroom basement flat in a baffled, zombie state, wondering what on earth had happened to our lives and if they would ever return to normal. Day and night blended into one during those early weeks (we have since named it ‘the baby hole’), but in the brief moments when our son did sleep, we dug around in the bottom drawer of the TV cabinet and got stuck into crime box sets.

First came Morse, then Foyle, then Tinker Tailor Solider Spy and Smiley’s People. Often we would nod off before the end of an episode, and the disc would return to the main menu, the music seeping into our ears on an endless loop, running rings around our fuddled brains. Hearing just a single bar of the theme tunes today can send me back to that strange, unreal time with Pavlovian efficiency.

But what comfort those stories gave. Amid the murder and mayhem, Detective Chief Inspector Morse, DCS Foyle and George Smiley remained beacons of decency. Flawed, cantankerous, but always on the side of the angels. PD James spoke of the structure of crime stories and the defeat of evil as the principal sources of comfort, but for me – in the depths of the baby hole – it went further. The detectives became idealized father figures: they would always know what was best and how to put things right. Somewhere out there existed a real grown up, an individual you could rely on.

In the end, my wife and I just about worked out how to handle a newborn, and life became a little easier – at least until Molly turned up fourteen months after her brother. The box sets returned to the drawer and we started to read books again and watch normal TV. But I still feel a debt of gratitude to those shows, and in my own fictional crime hero – Gibraltarian lawyer Spike Sanguinetti – I’ve tried to create a character whose own sense of compassion and justice might give a little comfort – as well as entertainment – to readers.

© Thomas Mogford, March 2015

Thomas Mogford has worked as a journalist for ‘Time Out’ and as a translator for the European Parliament and UEFA Champions League. While studying to be a lawyer, he looked into practising abroad. Instead, he decided to write a series of thrillers set around the Mediterranean. “Shadow of the Rock” introduces Spike Sanguinetti, a lawyer from Gibraltar who is willing to risk everything to protect his client. It was shortlisted for the 2013 New Blood Dagger Award for best new crime writer. The sequel, “Sign of the Cross”, was shortlisted for the 2014 CrimeFest eDunnit Award. The third novel in the series, “Hollow Mountain” – described by ‘The Sunday Times’ as ‘a classic detective story’ – was one of the ‘Guardian”s ‘Summer Books’ of 2014. The fourth ‘Spike Sanguinetti’ book, “Sleeping Dogs”, was published by Bloomsbury in April 2015. Thomas Mogford lives with his family in London.

Find out more on Thomas Mogford’s CRA Profile.


	

The CWA Diamond Dagger

The CWA Diamond Dagger

In early February the CWA made much anticipated announcement of the winner of the 2015 Diamond Dagger.

We caught up with Catherine Aird to find out what winning the Diamond Dagger meant to her.

How do you feel about being awarded this year’s Diamond Dagger?

I’m delighted and it feels very nice, I can assure you. I got a phone call to let me know a few weeks ago and I’ve had to keep it to myself until it’s announced. But I’m truly delighted. I think I’ve enjoyed writing my books probably more than my readers have enjoyed reading them.

Who will be the first person you will tell?

Oh, I haven’t thought about it, actually, because I have been busy trying to keep it secret. I try to keep my local life and my writing life quite separate. I’ve lived in my village for 60 years and although people know I write, it doesn’t really feature in my day-to-day life here! I want to go on living here, so I don’t put anyone local in my books and try not to feature as a writer in local life.

How does it feel to be in such illustrious company as the previous recipients?

It’s very nice because I am a big fan of their work. I have read everything that PD James wrote and Margaret Yorke as well, she was a good friend of mine. I would imagine I’ve probably read something by everyone who won the award because, over the years you do read so much. I’m so glad to be part of such a happy group as the C.W.A and we do all tend to read each other’s work as time goes by. I try to keep up!

What’s the most recent crime novel that you’ve enjoyed reading?

I have been given a whole set of M.C Beeton’s books so I’ve been re-reading those. I read Martin Edwards’ book The Frozen Shroud, it only came out a couple of weeks ago. Did I enjoy it? Yes indeed, very much.

Which of your characters have you had the most fun with?

I’ve enjoyed them all actually. But I do have a very daft police constable, Detective Crosby, to whom I can put all in all the silly things, so to speak and I am very attached to him. But also to my series detective, Detective Chief Inspector C.D. Sloan, who is a rather naive police constable who is always doing the wrong thing but somehow seems to get there. I find him most endearing.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on a book called the learning curve. I can’t tell you anything about it because if I did, it would immediately transpire as to who it is who did it. I had a book of short stories out in the summer last year too and a novel before that but if you asked me to think back further, I’d need to look it up! The great thing in writing, you have to put your last book out of your mind while you are writing the present one. You can’t keep thinking about what you wrote in 1965.

 

The Diamond Dagger will be presented to Catherine at the CWA Dagger Awards Ceremony on the 30th June in London. Tickets are on sale now via the CWA website. The CWA International, Endeavour Historical, Short Story, Non-Fiction and Debut Daggers will also be presented on the same evening.

This post first appeared on the Crime Readers’ Association website in February 2015.

Keith McCarthy -Another year, another novel written. Written, but not born, note.

Keith McCarthy -Another year, another novel written.  Written, but not born, note.

The birth of a novel is a long and tortuous process, completely out of the hands of the poor sap who did all the hard work.  The first stage is approval by one’s agent (a time of tension).  The second is acceptance by an editor at a publisher (a time of joy).  The third is the rewrites (a time of anguish).  The fourth is publication day (a time of delight).  The fifth is the realisation that the latest opus isn’t going to be a best-seller (a time of coming to one’s senses).

After all which comes the urge to start again, an urge every bit as strong as the desire – the one programmed by billions of years of evolution – to reproduce the species.  One starts again, knowing that this next one will be brilliant, just as one knows that one’s children will be happy, intelligent, kind and successful.

Anyway, once again I’ve got through stage one of the labour that is publishing a novel.  My agent liked it (although I wasn’t told until I asked), and she has passed it on to an editor at a publisher who (she tells me) expressed an interest in it.  I’ve been too many years in this business to expect anything from this; only a few weeks ago, there was an expression of interest in the film/TV rights to something I wrote five years ago and, as usual, I heard nothing more.

So, it’s back to the day job, which could be worse, I suppose.

The Trust is way behind with planned surgical admissions because of the amount of emergency work that’s been passing through the hospital.  Additional weekend and evening lists mean that the histology department is hit hard with specimens, especially on a Monday morning when there might have been 3 or 4 operating lists on the Saturday and Sunday.

That’s what normal pathologists do, you see.  Oh, yes, we do the autopsies to discover why people die, but by far the most important part of what a pathologist does concerns making diagnoses from the biopsies and excisions of living people.  If you’ve had cancer, it will have been a pathologist who determined the details of that cancer; and that’s important because it’s those details that determine precisely what further treatment the patient requires.

Anyway, we came in on Monday morning to discover a mountain of white plastic pots containing mastectomies, breast lump excisions, colectomies and that odd kidney.  Add to those, the gallbladders and skin excisions, and endoscopic biopsies, and you have a lot of specimens.

But, there are still the post mortems to do, and thus kin to comfort.

A rash of railway deaths – three in a month – all with their stories.  One went walking along the train line to show that he needed their diazepam prescription; the other two clearly wanted just to die, and to do so in the most expressive way they could.  One even lay down on the tracks, as if he were a player in a silent movie.  Head and feet sliced cleanly off…

There are always the natural deaths that no one expected.  The blood clots on the lung, the ruptured aneurysms, the bowels that die because of lack of blood, the head injuries (some, in the elderly, so slight that they don’t even remember them), the unsuspected cancers, and those who just fade because they are old, and frail, and want to die.

Modern western society seems to have forgotten that death is not always unwelcome.

Still waiting on the publisher, but the secret is not to expect anything in this business.  Just write because you want to write.  Never forget that.  That’s the only rule.

Write!

Keith McCarthy is a more than full time consultant cellular pathologist in the NHS.  He diagnoses the diseases of approximately  3000 living patients per year as well as performing 200 autopsies for the Coroner of those who have died suddenly and without an obvious natural disease.  He has published 9 forensic crime thrillers featuring John Eisenmenger (Constable and Robinson, and Severn House), 3 ‘cosies’ starring general practitioner Lance Elliot (Black Star Crime and Severn and House) and one stand alone novel, ‘Memento Mori’ (GWP publishers).  There have been several short stories, too; the highlight was having one published in Woman’s Weekly, a pinnacle that seems a long way in the past now.

Find out more on Keith McCarthy’s CRA Profile.

Peter Tickler – Violence and unlawful deaths

Peter Tickler – Violence and unlawful deaths

How violent do you like your unlawful deaths to be? That is the question which crime fiction authors and readers have to ask themselves.

Or perhaps I should pose the question differently: ‘how graphic do you like your unlawful deaths to be?’ A woman being poisoned is not obviously violent, but if the writer takes you inside the victim’s head as the agony of the poison strikes home, then the intrinsic violence of that death becomes more unavoidable for the reader.

The wild success of Scandinavian noir is just one clear example that the body found dead in the library or a person clubbed to death by a blunt object are somewhat passé as far as many readers and writers are concerned. I have just been reading one where graphic descriptions of splitting people’s heads open and the pouring of acid into the eyes of a pinioned man set a very unsettling tone. Another (British) writer of huge commercial success has centred one of her books around extremely nasty sexual tortures. (I don’t care to go into the details here – sorry!)

I guess the moral of those two writers (both of whose books have been made into TV films) is that many readers round the world love to read about very nasty modes of death and they like them to be graphically described.

That sort of crime fiction is not something I feel comfortable writing. I do not particularly want to live inside the head of a serial killer. Does that mean I am in the wrong business (or in my case it’s more of a hobby)? Possibly.

I accept, however, that murder is an act of violence and as a writer I should not skirt round that truth. I do, however, feel it is easy to fall into the trap of glorying in the violence, where the bizarre manner of the death distracts the reader from the fact that a person has lost his or her life, with all sorts of consequences for others.

I was particularly struck by a recent TV film, Code of a Killer, which told the story of the deaths of two Leicestershire teenagers and how their killer was brought to justice by the new technique of DNA profiling. It was crime fiction based closely on fact and that affected the way the story was told (i.e. with restraint and respect). What was most striking to me was the way in which the second murder was documented. We see a teenager going off in the daylight and we know instinctively that she is going to her death. She is reported missing. After two days her body is found. She has been raped and strangled. We are led to the dead girl through the eyes of DCI David Baker. We see him arrive at the gate which leads onto the murder site (a field). He moves in slow motion across the grass. In front police colleagues move silently out of his way, barely able to meet their boss’s eyes. Their expressions and body language tell us all we need to know – and more. In the end all we see of the girl is a glimpse of her body which is largely obscured by the DCI’s legs. There are no graphic close-ups. And yet I was profoundly moved by this whole scene. It was a masterpiece of visual story-telling. We feel Baker’s terrible emotional pain. The next scene is again a brilliantly understated performance as the DCI and colleagues tell the parents the grim news. Again, we feel their pain intensely.

I came away from the programme feeling both challenged and humbled. How do I as a writer achieve that sort of affect without dwelling on the physical detail of violent death? How do I depict brutality without exploiting it? If I were to achieve that, it would be something to be proud of, but I have no high hopes of doing so.
Peter’s public writing career got off to a flying start with an article for a military modelling magazine for the grand sum of £20. Further articles were gladly received and published by the magazine, but no further cheques arrived in the post. It was his first harsh lesson in the economic vagaries of publishing!
In the 1980s, Peter wrote The Modern Mercenary, which was a major book club selection both sides of the Atlantic.
It was only in the new millennium that he turned to fiction. He has so far written three crime novels in his Blood in Oxford series. He has been praised for the authenticity of his Oxford (‘He has a wonderful gift of creating geographically factual settings for his fictional characters’ – Oxford Times) as well as the pace of his stories (‘deliciously thrilling and wildly unpredictable’ – Oxford Today). He writes a regular column for Mystery People and regularly gives talks at festivals, libraries, U3As and even one of Her Majesty’s Prisons.
He has recently turned his hand to screen writing, and two of his scripts have been turned into short films in the last year.

Find out more at Peter’s website

Adding Mayhem to Mysteries – Sheila Lowe

Adding Mayhem to Mysteries – Sheila Lowe

Once upon a time, I was asked to write an article about how I add mayhem to my mysteries. I assumed I knew what ‘mayhem’ meant, but decided I’d better start by looking it up. I must confess to being a bit surprised when I saw the dictionary definition: the willful and unlawful crippling or mutilation of another person.

Good heavens! That sounded pretty awful. But as a mystery writer isn’t that exactly what I am required to do? Still, crippling? mutilation? I hadn’t thought of it quite that way. Then I looked back at some of the villainous acts my bad guys have perpetrated. They’ve killed by drowning, strangulation, anaphylactic shock, skiing into a tree. I’ve written shootings, a taser attack, hand-to-hand violence. In What She Saw, a massive thug of 6’4 and weighing in at more than 17 stone roughs up a young woman half his size. And in Inkslingers Ball, someone is firebombed in a tattoo shop. That all sounds pretty mayhemmy to me.

I will confess, as a fairly non-violent person myself (just don’t try to wrest my favourite book away, or that cream scone), these are not the easiest scenes for me to write. True life murder has come far too close to me. In 2000, my twenty-seven-year-old daughter was shot to death by her boyfriend, a special agent of the U.S. federal government, who killed himself, too. So I now write from a unique perspective that I would never wish on anyone. For a long time after this personal horror, hearing gunshots in my mind, or visualizing looking down the barrel of a gun—things one must do in order to write a realistic scene—were difficult, to say the least. Yet, while it may not be true that time heals all wounds, it does blunt them.

Even before my daughter’s death I was interested in the psychology of violence, from both the victim’s and the perpetrator’s points of view. When writing a violent scene, I put myself in the shoes of each party to the action and try to comprehend how it might feel to be that killer, or come face-to-face with one. I ask myself what is each actor’s motivation?

Every villain, whether in the real world or in the one created on the page, is an individual with his or her own specific set of motivations and needs: the need for love and belonging, the need for safety and security, the need for power and respect. Many factors go into the choice to kill, but usually one or more of these underlying needs was neglected early in life and becomes a prime motivating factor in the crime.

In my books, the killer is usually an ordinary person who, because of a situation he’s created or has landed in, finds himself under extraordinary stress. Pushed to the point of no return, he may go to extreme lengths to resolve the issue. It might be the desperate need of a jilted lover grasping for control, fighting to hang on to the last wisps of the relationship, refusing to let the other person go. It might be a serial killer who, horribly abused as a young child, felt utterly powerless over his own life, and a need to dominate and control drives him to murder. It’s like a drug—the look of terror in the eyes of his victims gives him a rush of adrenalin that he feels compelled to recreate, over and over. Or perhaps the killer is a charismatic leader whose religious zeal leads his followers down a dangerous path. Or maybe it’s someone bent on revenge for a real or imagined slight. The possibilities are truly endless.

In order to create memorable characters, whether villains or heroes, what’s most important is that there is some motivation behind the mayhem they create and that, whether it’s revealed in the story or not, the author knows what that it is. What could be more fun? Mystery writers have the enviable task of creating whatever kind of mayhem appeals to our imagination and then untangling it in a way that pleases us. That’s so much better than the real-life version.

Shelia Lowe lived in Southern California for 50 years, but Sheila Lowe still considers herself a Brit. Like her fictional character Claudia Rose in the award-winning Forensic Handwriting Mysteries series, Sheila is a real-life forensic handwriting expert and the author of the acclaimed The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis, Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, and Handwriting Analyzer software. She is currently president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes education in the area of handwriting. Sheila holds a Master of Science in psychology and lectures around the country and in Canada and the UK. Her analyses of celebrity handwritings can be seen in various media. Last year she was featured in the Daily Express and several other major UK publications.

Find out more on Shelis Lowe’s CRA Profile.

Nina Milton – Change or Status quo?

Nina Milton – Change or Status quo?

 

In Unraveled Visions, the 2nd of my Shaman Mystery Series, a character says, “Ninety-nine percent of murders only have one of two true motives. Change, or status quo.” Is that so? The detective in the Shaman Mysteries things so; I’m still unsure; I never pretend to hold the same views as my characters.

Detective Reynard Buckley meets Sabbie Dare – my 29 year-old heroine – at the start of Book One of the series, In the Moors. Rey is investigating a child abduction and murder when he knocks on her door. Rey is the archetypal humourless, maverick policeman who quickly brands shamanic therapist Sabbie as a crank. He considers her profession ‘mumbo jumbo’, finding its lack of objective evidence perplexing. But Sabbie can’t help finding him…interesting. This makes for a relationship a bit like an upmarket cocktail – bitter, and full of ice, but with a sparkler fizzing at the edge.

Sabbie walks in the spirit world to find answers to people’s problems, and comes back with images and symbols which manifest her client’s underlying issues. Meanwhile, Rey Buckley clears up crime through old-fashioned police work and hard facts. But as they get to know each other, they understand that they have something in common. They both solve things using what Sabbie would call intuition – Rey would more likely call it ‘a hunch’.

When Rey tells Sabbie that he thinks all murders are due to one of two motives, ‘change’, or ‘status quo’, she challenges this immediately. What about money? Crimes of passion? Suicide bombers? What about madness? But Rey’s answer is unequivocal. He believes all killers crave one of two things. Either they want change – the big win, a new political situation. Or they are desperate that things should not change – they kill their lover’s spouse, or kill to stop a crime being discovered. Sane or mad, Rey concludes that the motivation which drives people to kill is not complicated at all.

Well, he would, wouldn’t he. Reynard Buckley worked his way up from the ranks and has trouble, nowadays, fitting into the ethos of the modern UK police force. Whereas Sabbie has survived an extreme childhood; she never knew her father, and when she lost her mother at six years old, she was brought up in children’s homes. She believes she’s the stronger for this background, but the truth is she learnt almost all her values from two elderly couples; her foster parents Gloria and Philip, 1st generation immigrants, and Rhiannon and Bren, two cunning folk she lodged with while she was taking her degree.

Sabbie thinks deeply. By walking into the otherworld – the spirit realm that shaman enter in a trance state – she has encountered profound philosophies of life. It has made her understand how we carry two sides to our nature. There is always a shadow side to our psyches; inside us is the possibility of hate, greed, envy – the things that lead to wrong doing, hurting others…murder.

As the Trilogy of the Shaman Mysteries progress, Sabbie begins to realize that it is not entirely coincidence that she constantly encounters these shadow sides. In each novel, one of Sabbie’s clients brings her close to murder – whether from change or status quo. It’s her business, as someone who walks on both planes of existence, to help where she can, even when her own safety is threatened.

This is one of the things I love about writing crime fiction. Crime is so close to the hub of humanity. I like to examine, and describe, the affect that crime has on the people it touches; the victims, the bystanders and the perpetrators themselves. It’s easy to forget the after-effects of something as traumatic as a murder, how those left behind continue to grieve, not just for their loss, but in the not knowing how that person suffered. This is something I try to address – when I’m not terrifying my reader to pieces!

I also love to work out the mystery aspect, to puzzle the reader and spring surprises, keeping them on the edge of their seat. My readers say they stay up all night, turning the pages of the Shaman Mysteries; I stay awake at night to sort out the permutations of each murder. How did they do it? Where did they do it? What happened after they did it? And most importantly why did they do it – what brought them to that moment they kill another human being? Was it change, I ask myself? Or status quo?

Beneath the Tor In the Moors Unraveled Visions

Nina Milton is most well known for her crime fiction series The Shaman Mysteries Series, published by Midnight Ink Books (Llewellyn Worldwide). In the Moors and Unravelled Visions were published in 2013 and 2014 and the third in the series, Beneath the Tor is now in production. The Shaman Mysteries feature Sabbie Dare, a young British shaman of mixed race, living in Somerset. Milton, a Druid, and says of the series, Sabbbie Dare came into my head, fully formed. She said;  “Every day, people on the edge walk into my therapy room with their problems. Honestly, I could write a book about some of them…” Milton has been publishing books since 1995, for children, especially 9+ readers, as well as adults. Her short stories have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University and works for the Open College of the Arts. She was born, educated and raised her two children in the City of Bristol but now lives in west Wales with my husband James, where she grows our own veg and keep chickens. Join her on her vibrant blogbsite, KitchenTableWriters.

Find out more on Nina Milton’s CRA Profile.

 

Sarah Hilary – Crazy, Happy, Cosy, Creepy & Sly — How Crime Fiction Defies Description

Sarah Hilary – Crazy, Happy, Cosy, Creepy & Sly — How Crime Fiction Defies Description

 

Whenever someone makes a sweeping statement about crime fiction I know they haven’t read very much of it. Even if you’ve only read half a dozen crime novels the chances are you’ve had a taste of the variety on offer in this genre, everything from cosy to crazy and back via barouche or Buick — hell, maybe even in the TARDIS.

The latest sweeping statement made the daft claim that the victim is too often overlooked, a generalisation so broad it managed to discount almost every book written by female crime writers in the last century, along with vast numbers written by men. One of the things I love about my chosen genre is that you can’t pin it down. You just can’t. Its authors are writing about issues as wide-ranging as loss, morality, greed, slavery, alopecia, perfume, revenge, gardening, politic radicalism, gun-slinging, time-travelling, and frontier dentistry.

It’s hard to think of another genre that welcomes cross-pollination to the extent that crime fiction does. We like our barriers pulled down, not put up. I think a lot of us are anarchists at heart. I know we’re interested in what urban explorers call edgework: finding the edges of society and pushing there, to see what gives. We’re also inquisitive, dissatisfied with easy answers, fascinated by the things that don’t quite fit, that threaten the status quo. We love difference.

Crime fiction defies generalisation because it embraces diversity. Anyone who’s ever attended a crime writing festival will attest to this — with programmes that offer discussions on the morality of murder, on mental health, cyber crime, the clergy, stately homes and psychopaths. It’s a genre with awards that celebrate humour, longevity, newcomers, groundbreakers. And which encourages wide-ranging and often heated debates. Crime writers love a good ding-dong. We don’t speak with one voice, or adhere to one set of principles. Most of us love nothing better than arguing the respective virtues of, for example, the whodunnit and the whydunnit. I suspect crime readers are the same. They’re after variety, and they like to be surprised; they have firm favourites, but they relish discovering new authors. No one’s in this for the sameness, or the safeness. Our genre’s great because it’s always unexpected.

Here’s just a handful of crime novels that demonstrate what I’m banging on about:

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes has a time-travelling serial killer, but the standout characters are the shining girls themselves — victims who are the heart and soul of the story.

The Collector by John Fowles serves up an outstandingly creepy villain in the guise of a pettifogging bureaucrat (years before TV’s Being Human gave us Herrick) and it shares the story in equal parts between killer and victim.

The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood makes us question the entire concept of ‘victim’ and the morality (or not) of how we judge those who break society’s laws.

Plugged by Eoin Colfer is very simply very funny, fast-paced, laugh-out-loud villainy across the pond starring a hero who’s losing his hair.

The Glass Cell by Patricia Highsmith turns the notion of plot on its head by serving up the guilt ahead of any crime, making us question what we thought we knew about how crime novels work and what, if anything, they’re trying to teach us.

The Anatomy of Ghosts by Andrew Taylor is a beautifully-told story poised in time as delicately as one of The Collector’s pierced moths.

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas is gleefully unruly, delving into French history, urban legend and parenthood.

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton is funny, wise, shocking and anarchic.

Unputdownable is a word often used to describe crime novels. Unpindownable should be another. Happy reading.

 

Sarah Hilary has worked as a bookseller, and with the Royal Navy. Her debut novel, Someone Else’s Skin, was the Observer’s Book of the Month (“superbly disturbing”), a Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller, and has been published worldwide. No Other Darkness, the second in the Marnie Rome series, was published in April 2015. The series is being developed for television by the BBC.

Find out more on Sarah Hilary’s CRA profile.

Almost, almost, almost

Crime Reading Month starts tomorrow, 1st June, with a great post from Sarah Hilary. Over the next 30 days we have posts from some amazing crime writers – all members of the Crime Writers Association – including:

Cara Cooper – Jean Briggs – Linda Stratmann – A J Waines – Alex Howard, Caroline Dunford – Clare Mackintosh – Nina Milton – Thomas Mogford – Sheila Lowe – Leigh Russell

We also have 30 giveaways to celebrate each and every day of Crime Reading Month.

Not to mention all of the brilliant events up and down the country that have been planned for this unique reading festival.

We couldn’t do Crime Reading Month without the support of the members of the CWA and we are delighted to bring the passion and joy of this genre to the widest audience possible.

Happy Reading!

Almost there

NCRM starts on June 1st and will see hundreds of events up and down the country.

On this site we will also have daily blog posts and giveaways from CWA members to look forward to. CRA subscribers will get a weekly special edition newsletter so do make sure you sign up now.

National Crime Reading Month

On June 1st the Crime Writers Association launched National Crime Reading Month 2014.

The whole of June see CWA members visiting venues all across the UK for a series of special talks, book signings and workshops.

Alison Joseph, Chair of the CWA said:

“The CWA exists to support the genre and those who write within it. But without our readers, we are nothing.  Which is why Crime Reading Month is such a very very good invention.

It is a truth universally acknowledged, if I may quote from someone outside my genre, that everyone loves to read a page-turning story.  From time to time, theories are put forward about why readers are drawn to crime fiction, with much pondering about why people are drawn to evil and violence and perversity. But the fact is, there is nothing perverse in wanting to read a darned good tale. We all know the enjoyment of picking up a new crime novel, knowing that within its pages we will encounter both the worst and the best of human behaviour: the potential for great evil, the opportunity for huge courage; and all told in such a way that we simply can’t put it down.

In the end, it’s simple. We read crime stories because we know that within the pages of a crime novel we will find a story that interests us, entertains us, and possibly gives us something to think about. And we who write them, write them to find that story too. In Crime Fiction, writer and reader are utterly interconnected; and Crime Reading Month is a celebration of that relationship.”

 

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