A fresh approach to crime fiction

Speechless

I’m not often lost for words, but …

At Crouch Corner on Tuesday morning something unexpected and wonderful took my breath away. It began with a pause, a moment of reflection that lifted my hands from the keyboard and reaching for a notepad and pen.

I needed a code. I don’t know why, but I knew it was important, critical even. It had to be numbers – numbers that spelt out a word. No, several words – words that had to be interpreted to find the key to a murder. Maybe several murders.

What happened next left me staring, open-mouthed, at the monitor.

Three weeks ago, when I started writing the third Kent Fisher novel, No Remorse, I had some opening paragraphs, a skeleton background for the murder victim, and a setting. I had no real idea why the victim, 85 year old Anthony Trimble, was killed, who would do the deed or why.

I wrote Chapter One with only a vague idea of what would happen. I took Kent and his Westie, Columbo, through Nightingales Residential Home, where he encounters Trimble. I added characters, gave them names, and posed questions for Kent to answer.

Chapter Two painted in some of the backstory and fallout from the second novel, No Bodies. Chapter Three, which I completed last week, ended with Trimble’s death from natural causes.

When I wrote No Accident and No Bodies, I had a skeleton plot, the victims, and the suspects. I knew from the start who the murderer would be and why. But both books were originally written some years ago. They were extensively edited, revised and rewritten in the past two years.

As much as I enjoy polishing, rewriting doesn’t have the excitement you get with a first draft, where you’re getting to know characters, generating ideas, creating settings and raising questions, problems and conflict for the lead character.

This week I started Chapter Four not sure how Kent would deal with the death of Trimble.

You might wonder why an environmental health officer would be involved, but when someone dies without family or friends to bury them, the local council takes over. Environmental health usually have the task, which involves checking through personal effects for details of any possible relatives or friends, and the financial status of the deceased before arranging the funeral.

With Trimble’s effects on a table at Nightingales, I paused and lifted my hands from the keyboard. There had to be a code somewhere to tempt Kent to question the death and dig deeper.

And that’s when it happened.

It took seconds, maybe ten at the most, for the whole novel to cascade out of my mind. In those ten seconds, I realised who Trimble was, what he’d done, why and who he’d wronged. I knew what the code meant, where it led to and what Kent would uncover there. Best of all, I knew nothing would be as it seemed, leading to a final twist that … well, I was lost for words.

It’s only a skeleton. I still need to create the trail and the characters. I need to make sure there’s plenty of drama and conflict in the story. Then there’s the backstory, which always hampers Kent’s progress, threatening to derail him or put his family at risk.

When I started No Remorse, I didn’t know whether I could write another Kent Fisher mystery. Self-doubt gnawed away. No Remorse was no more than a vague idea.

Yet deep down, I knew I could work it out.

And thanks to my subconscious, I’m no longer lost for words.

Or was it inspiration? Tell me what you think.

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