Talking Crows

Talking Crows

Robservations logoOne of the more humiliating experiences of my childhood was reading aloud in class.

I’ve nothing against Shakespeare or Henry IV Part One, but at 15 I didn’t understand it. It was difficult enough, getting my head, let alone my tongue, around his rich prose, without the teacher bursting into fits of laughter.

‘Didn’t you get the joke, Crouch?’ He stared at me as if I was an imbecile. ‘Falstaff is the comic relief, the joker, and you’ve ruined most of his punchlines.’

I don’t remember any jokes. But then I didn’t get Shakespeare at the time, but that’s another story.

Since those long lost days of school, I haven’t read a story aloud in front of an audience.

Swearing an oath photoI’m not including my appearances in the witness box at the Magistrates Court when I had to swear that my evidence would be the truth etc. I should add before you wonder what offences I might have committed, that this was in connection with my enforcement work as an environmental health officer.

And I should also discount the Christmas cracker jokes I read out each year as I don’t class them as prose.

So, when I was asked to read at Eastbourne Book Festival last Saturday, memories of Henry IV Part 1 flashed through my mind.

No Accident coverFortunately, I was allowed to read from one of my novels. As I’m writing a murder mystery series, I chose to read the opening from Chapter One of my first novel, No Accident.  I wanted to show my audience how an environmental health officer could investigate murder.

Like most things in life, preparation is the key. So, a couple of days before, armed with a cup of tea, and my reading glasses, I settle into my chair and began to read. Within seconds, I stopped, realising I could have written a better first sentence. A few seconds later, I’d rewritten the first paragraph in my head.

Aware that I might end up rewriting large parts of the chapter, I ignored the revisions in my head and focused on the original script. With a steady pace and clear voice, I read aloud, warming to the task with each page turned.

It wasn’t long before I stumbled over my words.

When I wrote the ‘coarse cries of crows’, I thought it was a neat piece of alliteration. Not once did I realise what a tongue twister it could be.

I also found the occasional line that would improve the rhythm and flow if removed.  But they were nothing compared to the two long sentences that would have tested the stamina of a marathon runner.

harvey sleepingAt one point, Harvey, my West Highland White Terrier, came to listen. I don’t know whether he thought I might reward his interest with a treat, but within minutes he returned to his favourite position on the sofa and went back to sleep.

Not that he can complain.

I rarely read my work aloud, though I’m beginning to think it has some merit. On occasions, I will read dialogue aloud to make sure it sounds realistic. And I’m sure some writers like to shout that reading aloud is the best way to edit. They may well be right, of course.

After Harvey turned his back, I stopped reading and Googled breathing apparatus in case I needed help with the long sentences.

On the day, I took my copy of No Accident, my reading glasses, and headed for the reading room, hoping someone would want to listen to me. To my relief – sorry, delight – several people were already waiting.

I didn’t stumble over any words or crows. I managed to finish the long sentences without going purple and fainting. And no one interrupted me by laughing. Pity, because there were some funny one-liners in that opening.

Flushed with success, I’m now tempted to audition for voiceovers or programme announcement, citing Shakespeare in my CV. I could audition for audio book readings, cutting my teeth on my own novels. Trouble is, I’d probably have to revise some of those sentences.

No Bodies coverSo, I’ll settle for the occasional reading at a talk or event, as long as they don’t involve crows or marathons.

Reading aloud can bring your story to life and hopefully interest people in your writing. Maybe next time I’ll read from the second novel, No Bodies, which from memory doesn’t reference any crows.

There could be a ponderous procession of platitudes though.

But that’s another story …

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Being different is always the same.

Being different is always the same.

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When you go your own way there’s always a danger that no one will follow.

Fortunately, the Blog Tour for No Bodies, which finished last week, showed a lot of support and desire for something new and fresh. The positive feedback and reviews convinced me the risk was worth taking.

Yet when I started out, I had no idea of the challenges that come with doing something different. I focused on an idea, trying to refine the excitement and enthusiasm into something tangible. But it kept growing and evolving, developing a life of its own.

And that’s when I hit the first of many brick walls.

Crime fiction is packed to the rafters with police procedurals, serial killer thrillers, private detectives and psychological suspense stories. Is there any room for more of the same? Would something new be worth trying?

Miss Marple photoBased on my love of Inspector Morse, Miss Marple, Columbo and Kinsey Millhone, I was looking at a traditional whodunit with a densely plotted, complex story that would keep readers guessing to the last page.

It would need a flawed central character that battled demons as well as the establishment and the baddies, and an intriguing backstory to add colour, depth and additional conflicts and challenges.

Most of all, it had to stand out from the other crime fiction out there.

But what did I know about the way the police worked or the procedures they followed? Could I describe an incident room, create realistic dialogue, incorporating the jargon they used? How did a patrol car handle? What about the hierarchies, the forms and paperwork?

As an environmental health officer (EHO), I’ve used the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE), interviewed suspects under caution, taken witness statements and put together prosecutions. But these involved workplace accidents, food hygiene breaches and pollution complaints. Not murder.

It was clear I couldn’t write a police procedural to save my life.

But could an EHO investigate and solve a murder?

The idea took root. Two main challenges occupied my thoughts like squatters –

  1. How could I get an EHO to solve a murder that would be investigated by the police?
  2. What sort of character would the EHO have to be to solve a murder?

The answer to the first question was simple – don’t have a murder.

Okay, it flew in the face of most crime fiction, but I was looking for something new and fresh, unique maybe. If there’s no murder, there’s no police investigation. Another brick wall negotiated.

The second question vexed me for years. The character had to mix it with the bad guys, so I made him ex-army, even though I knew less about soldiers than police officer. He had to be a maverick, because that’s what readers like. He also had to be flawed, which proved to be an almost impossible challenge.

The world was full of crime fighters with lousy or broken marriages, problems with alcohol, and vices like gambling, drinking and smoking. Crime fighters were often bad tempered, demanding and difficult to work with, forever fighting personal battles. They ate badly, worked long and difficult hours, and inevitably bent the rules to solve the case.

My early attempts produced gung-ho characters, who took no nonsense from people or managers in pursuit of their principles.

Rambo would never walk into a restaurant kitchen, pull on a white coat and ask to see the temperature records for the fridges.

That introduced the third challenge – credibility. I couldn’t have an EHO breaking the rules, antagonising managers, colleagues and the public without some recourse. When would he find the time in his busy schedule to track down and interview witnesses or suspects? How would he record these activities on his time sheets? What would he tell his boss when she asked why he spent the whole of last Friday in a quarry?

But when I returned to the concept of having no murder, the answer was clear. What if my EHO investigated a fatal workplace accident, only to discover it’s a murder?

No AccidentNo Accident cover became the first Kent Fisher mystery, published in 2016 after many revisions and rewrites.

Along the way, Kent gained a friend who was an ex Scenes of Crime Officer, based on someone I get to know quite well. As Kent would bend rules and take liberties, I had to protect him from disciplinary action. Giving him a father, who was the local MP and a Cabinet Minister, meant managers and councillors were too scared of his father to take action against Kent.

WNo Bodies coverith nothing to stop him, Kent Fisher solved his first murder. His heroics meant he was available to solve more. This time an old friend of the family wants Kent to find his missing wife. Though the police believe she ran off with a dodgy caterer, Kent takes on the case in No Bodies.

No murder again. And caterers are bread and butter to EHOs, making it easy for Kent to investigate and follow the trail.

But it was far from an easy journey. Being different is always the same. People are cautious and reluctant to take you on. It’s difficult to assess demand and impact. But neither of these challenges is as difficult as finding a publisher that’s willing to consider something different.

But that’s another story.

If you’d like to find out more about the the Kent Fisher novels, please check out my Amazon Author page

A busy, busy writer

A busy, busy writer

I’m deligBaskervilleshted to interview Colin Garrow on my blog. Thanks to his irreverent sense of humour and great writing, he’s become one of my favourite authors.

This weekend, he’s releasing the excellent Curse of the Baskervilles, the third book in the Watson Letters series. You’ll find it on Amazon, along with my 5 star review.


Please tell me a little about yourself and your writing.

Colin pic for web 300I started writing when I left school, but for a long time found it difficult to write well. In fact, it wasn’t until I embarked on a degree in Drama as a mature student that I began to understand why some things worked and others didn’t. At uni I wrote plays (some of which were eventually performed), but it wasn’t until the summer of 2013 that I settled down to write my first novel.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?I didn’t really want to be an author to begin with, though it’s always been at the back of my mind. When I was 16, I wanted to play in a heavy metal band and go on tour. My guitar skills were pretty good, but I was very shy, so that particular career path never really got off the ground. Nowadays I’m more into folky-type music and am quite relaxed about singing and playing, but I think that’s more to do with the fact that I’m past the stage of caring what people think.

Describe the first piece you wrote and what it meant to you?

The first thing I remember writing (after deciding I wanted to be ‘a writer’), was a radio play called ‘Down Where the Moon is Lonely’. It was meant to be a sort of spoof of ‘Under Milk Wood’ by Dylan Thomas. I convinced myself it was a fantastically clever play and fiddled around with it for a few years , tyring to get it right. Eventually I sent it to the BBC, who recognised it for what it was – a pile of crap – but I’d had problems with endings for quite a while, so I was glad to have written something I’d actually been able to finish, even if no-one wanted to read it.

What do you most enjoy about being an author?

I love creating stories and characters, but mostly I enjoy entertaining people and, with any luck, making them laugh.

What do you least enjoy about being an author?

The length of time it takes to become rich and famous 🙂

I see from your Amazon biography, you’ve had quite a variety of interesting jobs. Any particular favourites you’d like to tell me about?

I studied Drama at university and subsequently did a lot of freelance work, including storytelling, mask making, and running writing and drama workshops. I loved the variety, though there was never enough work to keep me busy full time, so I’d have to take on less enchanting jobs (like working in a fish-processing factory, or handing out leaflets), to make ends meet.

How much did your work inspire your writing and the subjects you write about?

Hardly at all, though a few years ago I co-wrote a stage play called ‘No Phones on Planet Pluto’, a piece about mental illness. The play consisted of a series of monologues, including one I wrote based on my own experiences of depression. I also performed in the play and found the whole thing quite cathartic.

You also publish a variety of books from children’s to humour to detective mystery. Perhaps you could tell me about this.

DirtyMainly, I write about murders, mysteries and adventures, starting with children’s novels (because the ideas I had at the time seemed suited to that age group). It was only after I’d begun writing short stories aimed at literary magazines and an older readership that I got interested in writing for adults. (Although the stage plays I’d written previously where mostly for adult audiences.) My first novel for adults, ‘Death on a Dirty Afternoon‘, was inspired by a short story I’d written called ‘How Green Was My Lovely Big Sleep’ – a spoof Raymond Chandler tale.

DevilgateI’ve now written six novels for children, including my first venture into the horror genre. I had the idea of writing a series that would rival RL Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ series (yeah, right!), setting it in one town and featuring many of the same characters. The first one in the series is called, ‘The Demon of Devilgate Drive‘ and was inspired by the Suzi Quatro song of (almost) the same name. I even called one of the characters Suzi Q as a sort of homage to the leatherclad rocker.

Tell me about the inspiration and motivation to write ‘The Watson Letters’. Were you worried you might upset fans of Sherlock Holmes?

The Watson Letters started between myself and a friend as a series of emails taking the Mickey out of literary characters, the main focus being Holmes and Watson. Then I built a website about the Conan Doyle books and the Watson Letters Blog became part of that. Eventually my friend didn’t want to do it any more and that’s when I started to think about developing the stories, instead of the disorganized mess they’d become.

WickerThe first book (The Watson Letters Volume 1: Something Wicker This Way Comes), was an experiment to see if I could take the essence of the Blog and make it into a readable book. Book 2 was more structured, though the stories were (and still are), published on the Blog first, then edited into book form.

I don’t really worry about offending Sherlock Holmes fans, since there are already loads of people on the Conan Doyle bandwagon. And there’s plenty of variety to choose from if my innuendo/fart gag scenarios don’t appeal – my particular favourites on the more serious side are ‘House of Silk’ and ‘Moriarty’ by Anthony Horowitz.

Which type of book do you most like to write and why?

My favourite type of books are the ones I can finish. At the moment, I have one unfinished novel which has been doing my head in for quite some time. It may be that my method of not planning my books is partly to blame, but I could never write a novel where I already knew the ending – the reason for writing is to find out what happens and quite often it’s a surprise to me as much as  anyone else.

Who inspires you? Why?

I’m inspired by good writing, so I strive to be as good as the writers I admire: Stephen King, Peter Carey, Margaret Atwood, Sharon Bolton, Tim Winton, Mo Hayder, Raymond Chandler, George Orwell, Christopher Brookmyre, Louise Welsh  and of course Ian Banks.

If you could invite four guests (fictional or real, alive or dead) for dinner, who would you choose and why?

Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, because they’re all absolutely fabulous, and the lovely Victoria Wood, because she was the funniest comedy writer ever.

Please tell me about your latest project.

I keep telling myself to stick to one book at a time, but at the moment, I’m working on the next Terry Bell Mystery, ‘A Long Cool Glass of Murder’, the second of my middle grade horror books, ‘The Curse of Calico Jack’, and the third Christie McKinnon adventure, currently titled ‘The Phantom of Fiddler’s Lane’. And of course, I’m also posting on The Watson Letters Blog which will eventually become book four in that series.

Thank you for your candid insights, Colin, and for taking a break from your busy schedule to answer a few questions. Good luck with The Curse of the Baskervilles and I look forward to the next Terry Bell mystery.

If you want to find out more about Colin and his books, please visit his website at or his Amazon Author Page.