5 things I learned from writing a series

My thanks to Eva at Novel Deelights for posting this to support the release of No Mercy, Kent Fisher Mysteries #5.

Click here to read the post.

Click here to learn more about the books in the series.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie

20-01-2020.   4 stars.

It’s hard to believe this classic whodunit was first published one hundred years ago. The story is narrated in a fresh and direct style that feels more modern than the language and idioms of the time.

The whole story is full of life and energy as Hercule Poirot beavers away to uncover who poisoned old Mrs Inglethorpe in her bedroom and how. With a large cast of suspects, many of whom had good motives to want her out of the way, the story is filled with twists, red herrings and lies as Poirot and Hastings struggles to make sense of what they learn.

When Poirot gathers everyone together at the end to reveal the identity of the killer and how the poisoning was carried out, the level of detail and deduction is so immense, it takes two chapters to fully explain. Much of this is down to Poirot revealing little to Hastings, which of course keeps the reader guessing.

While I fully understood who killed Mrs Inglethorpe and how, there was so much detail involved, I struggled to fully connect and understand it all. It didn’t stop me marvelling at the author’s mastery of the murder mystery and complex plotting. She seemed to have covered every angle with great skill and confidence.

The main characters were believable and well-drawn, particularly Hercule Poirot. I wasn’t always sure who the female characters were, as there were quite a few of them. The story was well-paced and filled with intrigue, suspense and tension, lightened with humour and social commentary. The swipes at the press for descending on the family in search of a scandal show some things never change.

I’m looking forward to reading many more of Agatha Christie’s novels and mysteries.

 Description

Agatha Christie’s first ever murder mystery.

With impeccable timing Hercule Poirot, the renowned Belgian detective, makes his dramatic entrance on to the English crime stage.

Recently, there had been some strange goings on at Styles St Mary. Evelyn, constant companion to old Mrs Inglethorp, had stormed out of the house muttering something about ‘a lot of sharks’. And with her, something indefinable had gone from the atmosphere. Her presence had spelt security; now the air seemed rife with suspicion and impending evil.

A shattered coffee cup, a splash of candle grease, a bed of begonias… all Poirot required to display his now legendary powers of detection.

Five things I learned from writing No Remorse

No Remorse is the third Kent Fisher mystery and unique in many ways.

The first two books in the series, No Accident and No Bodies were originally conceived, planned in detail and written between 2000 and 2003. They were extensively revised and rewritten for publication in 2016 and 2017 respectively, but the story and characters didn’t change.

No RemorseNo Remorse was the first new Kent Fisher mystery I’d written in thirteen years. It was a chance to write a new novel from scratch, utilising everything I’d learned in between. It was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time.

So, what did I learn?

  1. I could write without a detailed synopsis or plan

I started No Remorse with a desire to show what the bad side of residential care homes might look like, and an opening line of dialogue – ‘They’re going to kill me, Mr Fisher, but they’ll never learn my secret.’

That’s it. I had no idea how the story would develop or if it would work. I had the character of Anthony Trimble, who had a secret I knew nothing about, and a luxury care home with unscrupulous owners.

To keep things fresh, Kent Fisher wasn’t at work when he visited the home. He was there with Columbo, his West Highland white terrier, as part of a Pets as Therapy scheme. When Mr Trimble dies without relatives, environmental health arranges a funeral. This brings Kent back to the words Mr Trimble uttered at the start of the novel. From here, Kent starts to follow Trimble’s life back into the past to unearth a terrible secret and expose his killer.

With no synopsis, the story was written chapter by chapter, each one prompting the events and actions of the next. As a result I kept the chapters short, which really improved the pace of the novel.

It turned out to be the most exhilarating journey of my writing career.

  1. How private investigators track down people

After Trimble’s death I had the problem of looking into his past, what he did and so on. Tracking someone down is a basic private detective function, but I didn’t know where to start.

Private investigatorGoogle came to the rescue and the answer really was quite obvious. If you know where someone lives, talk to the neighbours. If you know what someone did for a living, talk to colleagues.

People may not realise how well-connected environmental health officers are. They visit many businesses and have information on them all. Once Trimble was located in the department’s database, Kent was on his way, opening up one can of worms after another. He traced former homes and businesses, spoke to the local rector and asked around in the pub – like a good detective.

  1. The value of the right editor

I changed editor for No Remorse, based on the recommendation of a fellow crime author. Through only the medium of emails, we hit it off right away. I felt confident she would provide good service and value, which she did.

Her insights and understanding allowed me to make small, but significant changes to improve the story. As all my novels have a strong backstory with familiar characters, the main murder plot can be pushed into the background from time to time. My editor suggested Kent could still be thinking about the murders while doing other things to make sure the murder investigation remained at the forefront.

  1. How to surprise readers (and my editor)

I wish I could reveal the surprise that stunned many readers, but that would spoil the story for those who want to read it. My editor didn’t see it coming, as she put it, and loved the surprise. Many readers told me how they were surprised, shocked and stunned, but they loved the moment and thought it was one the best parts of the story.

Writing the story a chapter at a time, I knew little about the surprise until just before it happened. I had to go back and do some rewriting as a result, but it was worth it.

  1. How to write the novel I always wanted to write

No Remorse is the murder mystery novel I always wanted to write. It has elements of Agatha Christie with its cryptic codes and messages, and Kinsey Millhone, my favourite fictional private eye.

All these elements came to me as I wrote. I thought I’d be sitting there, wondering what to write next. Far from it. The ideas kept coming and at the end of every chapter, I lobbed in a complication, determined to make Kent Fisher’s investigation as difficult as it could be, and then some.

This is the way I now write the Kent Fisher novels, starting with minimal information and ideas. I discover what happens pretty much at the same time as Kent (or while I’m shaving) and go with it. Sometimes I have to backtrack a little and revise, but mainly it’s spontaneous until I start to solve the mystery.

No AccidentClick here to find out what I learned from writing No AccidentNo Bodies

Click here to find out what I learned from writing No Bodies

 

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Stranger in Town by Cheryl Bradshaw

12th January 2020.  5 stars

I’m a fan of this series featuring Sloane Monroe, a feisty, no-nonsense private eye with a heart of gold and a sly sense of humour. With each novel I learn more about her, her past and what drives her.

This is the joy of a series. Pretty much like in real life, you get to know the characters a bit better the more time you spend with them. So it goes without saying that it’s worth starting with the first in the series, Black Diamond Death. (You can check out my review here).

In this fourth outing, Sloane’s hired by the parent of a missing girl, abducted a couple of years earlier. There are links to second missing girl, but no clues to where they are, what’s happened or if they’re alive. Determined to get to the truth, Sloane sets out to investigate. Almost immediately, she clashes with the law, particularly Cade McCoy, who resents her intrusion into police work.

But Sloane’s not easily put off and starts to dig, uncovering small leads. The pace picks up. She and McCoy race to find the girls before the FBI takes over the investigation.

The direct, no nonsense style makes for a brisk pace with just the right amount of detail, backstory and humour. All the characters are well-drawn and engaging, the investigations realistic with plenty of challenges to test Sloane. Her personal life is also shifting and changing, posing more issues to resolve, leaving plenty to look forward to in the next story.

I would recommend this novel and series to anyone who wants entertaining crime fiction at the cosier end of the scale, particularly if you’re a fan of Sue Grafton or Sara Patesky.

Description

A frantic mother runs up and down the aisles of Maybelle’s Market, desperately searching for her missing daughter.

But she’s far too late. Six-year-old Olivia is already gone, already in the arms of a stranger. Will private investigator Sloane Monroe find her before it’s too late?

Stranger in Town

Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech

11th January 2020.    4 stars.

I find many psychological suspense stories formulaic, relying on dark family secrets being slowly peeled away. Star Girl was quite different, being focused on the death of a pregnant woman, Vicky Valbon.

The story is told by Stella and her mother, Elizabeth, who abandoned her daughter at a young age. It jumps back and forth in time, which helps to build tension and suspense as more details are revealed. At times it felt like there were too many background details, slowing the pace and drawing out the story to delay revelations and key developments.

The characters are intense and driven by passion, often selfishly, often darkly, but the author portrays them sympathetically and deeply so you understand them and the way they think and behave. The intensity of the characters drives events and the consequences that lead towards a shocking climax. Several further twists then follow. Though they are clever and reveal what really happened to Vicky Valbon, I thought the twists drew out the ending, just taking the edge off the emotional impact.

Dark, occasionally disturbing, but always intriguing, Call Me Star Girl is a complex, consuming story that will take you on an emotional roller coaster. It will leave you drained but glad you took the ride.

Description

Stirring up secrets can be deadly … especially if they’re yours…

Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught.

Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers.

Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after fourteen years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father …

What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof.

Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…

Call Me Star Girl

No doubting the doubt

When it comes to 2019, there’s only one thing I’m sure about – uncertainty.

The year began with doubts over No More Lies, the fourth Kent Fisher mystery. Despite numerous revisions and edits, the first half of the book never felt right. Whether I was pushing the characters too far, or whether I simply lacked belief in my writing, I don’t know.

Weary of looking back and analysing, I decided to complete the second half of the novel by the end of January.

While I’m not sure what prompted this, the prospect excited me. Then I paused. What would happen if I didn’t achieve my target?

I ignored the doubts and set a publication date in May. At the end of January, I would book a blog tour for the launch of the novel, as bloggers prefer at least three months’ notice. My editor was available in April, which gave me February and March for my own editing and revising.

At the end of January, I finished the first draft of the novel. It took six months to write the first half and one month to write the second.

Crazy.

(I would add that it took me much longer to edit and revise the second half of the novel, which needed far more work to bring it up to standard.)

I also know how people can write a 50,000 word novel during National Novel Writing Month, usually November each year.

Now all I had to do was take direct action marketing my work.

When I was a manager in my former career as an environmental health officer, I had a couple of mantras. Unlike Danni in my novels, I didn’t post them on a pinboard, but I often quoted them to my team.

Actions are not the same as achievements.

If only I could embrace it in my work as an author.

After completing No More Lies and booking the blog tour, my marketing efforts consisted of research, reading informative articles, and planning. Lots of planning – even a dreaded spreadsheet. (You can’t get more middle management than that.)

Lots of actions, but no achievements until the tweaks in December to improve and simplify my website.

Okay, I posted on Facebook, tweeted occasionally, and wrote a few blog posts, but it was all a bit half-hearted. Trouble is, I feel self-conscious when I write about my writing. I see other authors promote themselves in various Facebook groups with some style, able to talk about themselves without sounding unnatural or boastful.

These authors also spot opportunities to promote themselves, start conversations, share photographs and discuss problems they’ve faced and solved.

I’m always concerned I’ll sound pretentious.

Net result – I did hardly any marketing last year. I read many useful articles. A few ideas popped into my thoughts, but I lacked organisation and plans. I took a short online course, which was informative, but I’ve yet to turn it into actions, or achievements.

Thankfully, there’s nothing wrong with the writing

I completed the fully edited fifth Kent Fisher mystery, No Mercy, by the middle of December. Unlike the previous novel, this one flowed from start to finish. The editing and revising were thorough and everything is now ready to go for publication on 16th January, complete with a launch team to help promote the book.

I’m feeling good.

So good it makes me wonder whether I can repeat the process with the sixth novel. With little more than a scattering of ideas and disparate events, there was nothing urging me to write.

Then yesterday morning, I picked up a pad and my fountain pen, determined to make some sense of these ideas. Within a few minutes, my imagination took over, making connections, raising questions and complications, producing a delicious twist that took my breath away.

Okay, it’s all background detail rather than a synopsis. I don’t have a plot or outline. I prefer to write the story as it happens, discovering and detecting alongside Kent Fisher as he weaves his way along, a chapter at a time, never quite sure what’s coming next.

That’s the positive side of not knowing.

Maybe I should translate that into marketing – simply have a go and see where it leads.

I might even surprise myself in 2020.

Deadly Games by Sally Rigby

29th December 2019. 3 stars.

I enjoyed the story, which was a familiar police procedural where the killer was always one step ahead of the police and adept at leaving no evidence. The pace was good and the plot developed steadily, with several possible suspects and a neat twist at the end.

The characters and their relationships felt a little stilted, especially Walker’s somewhat clichéd view of her fast-track boss. The relationship between Walker and Cavendish also seemed a little black and white. One minute DCI Walker wants nothing to do with Cavendish. Then, before you know it, they’re almost best friends.

I’m not sure the chapters written from the killer’s perspective contributed anything new or useful to the story or plot. If anything, these chapters intruded into the police investigation, lowering the suspense and tension rather than increasing it. I would have preferred the author to spend the time on building the characters and relationships to make them more believable.

Description

A killer is playing cat and mouse……. and winning.

DCI Whitney Walker’s in trouble. She’s threatened with demotion if she screws up another case. So, when a killer starts murdering female students, it’s a chance to redeem herself.

Forensic psychologist, Dr Georgina Cavendish, has spent her life inside the university walls, but when one of her students is murdered, she steps out from behind the text books and puts her skills to the test.

The two headstrong women join forces to stop the killer. But sparks fly when real world policing meets academic theory, and it’s not a pretty sight.

Deadly Games is the first book in the Cavendish and Walker crime fiction series. If you like serial killer mysteries and psychological intrigue, then you’ll love Sally Rigby’s page turning book. Pick up your copy today.