A fresh approach to crime fiction

An Eye (and Ear) for Details

It’s often the small details that make the biggest difference.

Both Lieutenant Columbo (possibly my all-time favourite detective) and DI Humphrey Goodman in Death in Paradise (one of my current favourites) share a fascination for the smallest details.

This is especially true where the detail relates to a change in behaviour or routine by the victim. It’s those changes that indicate something is awry and neither detective will rest until he’s worked out the significance, even when and colleagues dismiss the details.

I gave Kent Fisher a similar interest in small details in No Accident, my first murder mystery novel. When Kent arrives at the scene of the workplace accident, he’s puzzled by several small details. Why was the victim working so early? Why was he wearing a tie? Why is there an unsmoked cigarette that’s different from all the stubs discarded on the ground?

Even though no one else places any significance on these details, they contribute to the investigation and solving the crime.

Ironically, I’m no lover of detail. For me, it’s always the idea and big picture that grab my interest. In my work as an environmental health officer and manager, I came up with ideas to improve the way we worked or to help businesses, but I left the details to those who were much better at turning the ideas into workable solutions.

Maybe that’s where I went wrong with my writing, coming up with ideas, but not spending enough time on the details that would bring everything to life. And don’t mention editing and revising – moving on to a new idea was far more interesting, until Penmore Press took an interest in my work.

When I edited and revised No Accident, reducing the first draft from a lumbering 145,000 words to a slicker 90,000, I realised how much I could improve my writing and story. I saw repetitions, overused words and phrases, flaws, descriptions that read like shopping lists and all manner of small details I’d never noticed before.

I realised that editing was not only essential, but fun too.

Now I never thought I’d say that.

And the fun isn’t limited to the written word.

On Tuesday, I was interviewed by Allison Ferns on Radio Sussex about my transition from environmental health officer to crime writer. On the train to Brighton, I thought about the questions I might be asked and worked through some possible answers, including the important details I wanted to talk about to maximise my ten minutes of airtime.

In the past, I would have played it by ear, answering off the cuff to make my answers more natural and spontaneous. But did I make the killer points or present them in the best way? Not always, but I’m getting better, I hope.

Judge for yourself by listening to the interview.

I’ll talk more about the Radio Sussex experience, including a rather spooky occurrence, in my next email newsletter at the start of February, so don’t miss out.

If you’d like to receive the newsletter, which offers insights into the characters and writing, along with news and offers, simply complete the form below. You’ll also receive a FREE copy of my Case Files, filled with humorous incidents from my career in environmental health.

Please let me know what you think