The origin of the series

My journey as a crime writer – Part 1

It started with a simple idea – could one person make a difference?

It could easily have been a woman, but I felt more comfortable writing about a male protagonist, especially one who was going to embody my values and experiences. I envisaged someone with a strong sense of fair play and justice, someone who would take action to deliver it.

But not a police officer. I’ve worked with the police, but I’ve no real idea what it’s like to be a murder detective or part of a Major Crimes Team. Besides, there were too many police procedurals in the bookshops and on TV. Even more now crime fiction is the most read genre.

Sue GraftonNot a private eye either. Though a huge fan of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone, who inspired much of what I was to create, there were also plenty of PIs on the bookshelves and TV.

I wanted an ordinary person to solve murders – someone different, distinctive and original.

The idea posed quite a few challenges, namely credibility.

Ordinary people don’t solve murders, do they?

You wouldn’t wake up one morning and decide to solve a murder. You can’t go down to the police station and offer to investigate some of their unsolved crimes to help them out.

And where would you start? How would you collect evidence? What about personal safety?

Okay, Agatha Christie and writers of cosy mysteries have had ordinary people solving murders for years, but I wasn’t interested in quaint village murders, solved by a local resident who judged competitions at the flower show. I wanted something that resonated with the real world, something contemporary, but still a traditional whodunit.

The choices were simple.

  • My protagonist could have a personal connection to the victim, such as a lover or close relative. This works fine for the first book, but it would become repetitive and unbelievable after a few of books. It wouldn’t take long before my protagonist had no close family or friends. I’d also need a list of killers with a grudge against him and his family.
  • The police arrest the wrong person. This seems to be a favourite among crime writers and TV dramas like Murder She Wrote. Again, it doesn’t take long to become repetitive. And I’ve never liked the idea of showing the police to be inept. They have a difficult enough job already without me adding to their problems.
  • The protagonist stumbles across something that puts him in danger. This is more thriller territory than murder mystery and I can’t compete with the likes of Dick Francis and Simon Kernick.

Besides, the thought of shoe-horning my protagonist into solving murders didn’t appeal. I wanted my ordinary person to evolve as a sleuth, not set out to be one. This seemed more natural and credible – more plausible in today’s cynical world.

In the end, it all came down to the character of the protagonist.

I needed someone with strong principles and a sense of duty. This person couldn’t simply stand by and allow an injustice to happen. He was no knight in shining armour, but someone who felt he could make a difference, albeit a small one. This was a man who had a history of standing up for the underdog, battling for justice and fair play.

He would also need the means and time to investigate, to take action. Either he was rich and retired or he had to fit murder investigation around his day job and life outside work.

Slowly, my protagonist began to take shape in my mind.

He was the kind of person I would have liked to have been.

This realisation clinched the deal.

I was an environmental health officer – a law enforcer, protecting the public, improving health and the environment. I worked with the police, which meant I had contacts that could help me, like a Scenes of Crime Officer, for example. I had the skills to undertake complex investigations, interview suspects and build a case to prosecute offenders.

I occasionally investigated deaths – people who were killed in workplace accidents. This was part of my role in health and safety at work, protecting employees and ensuring workplaces were safe.

All I had to do was disguise a murder as a fatal work accident and my protagonist would be drawn into his first case.

There was still plenty of work to do, several false starts to overcome, and my ability to bring such a character and story to life.

Those are issues for future blogs.


In the meantime, if you’re interested in a complex murder mystery that pays homage to the classic whodunit, the Kent Fisher murder mysteries maybe for you. You can find out more on my website, where you can also sign up to my email newsletter.

An interview with author Paula Williams

I’m delighted to welcome crime novelist Paula Williams to Robservations. The third novel in her Much Winchmoor series, Burying Bad News, is published on 17th March 2020.

Having enjoyed the first book in the series, Murder Served Cold, I thought it would be interesting and fun to learn more about Paula and her writing.

Paula, please tell me a little about yourself and your writing.

I began my writing career writing short stories and serials for women’s magazines, which I still do sometimes, although it’s now a sadly shrinking market.  So I started thinking of a change of direction and decided to dip my toe in the murky waters of my first love, crime fiction.

A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to be taken on by Crooked Cat Books and have recently moved across to their Darkstroke imprint, which focusses on crime and all things dark.  Darkstroke is about to publish Burying Bad News, the third in my Much Winchmoor Mysteries.

I live in Somerset with my husband and a gorgeous rescue dog, a Dalmatian called Duke.  My books are mostly set in Somerset and very much inspired by my friends, neighbours and fellow regulars in my local – although none of them, as far as I know, have murderous tendencies.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?

I wanted to be an author for ever!  I started writing stories as soon as I could hold a pencil.  Although my mother used to say that I was making up stories long before then, but they were of the ‘It wasn’t me, Mum, it was him’ variety.

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

I can remember writing an essay in school when I was about 12.  The topic was to discuss whether it was better to be the eldest or the youngest in the family.  I had very strong views about this, as I come from a large family and am firmly in the middle.  I got an A for my essay and Mrs Phillips (see, I can still remember her name) read it out to the class and called it an ‘excellent’ piece of writing.  I can still feel the glow of pride that gave me and it made me realise that writing isn’t really work when you’re writing something you feel strongly about.

What do you most enjoy about being an author?

Oh my goodness, just about everything.  It still gives me a buzz to hear myself described as such.  It is the best job in the world.   I really love the actual process of writing, especially in the beginning when I’m still sorting things out and the possibilities are endless.  I love creating a world that I can control.  But most of all, I think, I love it when people take the trouble to read my books.  It’s quite humbling that someone will give up a bit of their precious time to sit down and read ‘the book what I wrote!’  And if they leave a review, well, that’s the icing on my happy cake.

What do you least enjoy about being an author?

I know I’m not going to be alone in this when I say the thing I like the least is marketing.  Like many writers, I am an introvert and at my happiest when I’m on my own at my desk, talking away to the characters in my head… or, as if often the case, listening to them.

Putting myself ‘out there’ on social media is, quite simply, terrifying.  But it’s part of the job so I get on with it and spend a lot of my time studying how the successful authors (like you, Robert) do it.

(I don’t know about successful, Paula, but thank you.)

What type of characters do you love and hate to write? Why?

I love to write about feisty old ladies!  My mother in law was one and although she’s no longer with us, she certainly lives on within the pages of my books.  They are such fun to write.  I don’t have any characters that I hate to write.  I enjoy writing them all, especially the villains.

On your Amazon author page you talk about your first success being with short stories. Can you tell us a little more about what you wrote and how it led to writing novels?

The first short story I had published was an only slightly fictionalised account of a pageant I wrote when I was about eight and forced my younger brothers to appear in.  It was staged on our front lawn, to celebrate St George’s Day and everything that could do wrong did go wrong.  It must have been hilarious for the adults who’d been press-ganged into watching although I don’t remember anyone laughing.  So I read this how-to-write book that talked about writing about what you know and wrote about the pageant.  And, to my amazement, Woman’s Weekly bought it straight away.  When it was published, I bought each of my brothers a bottle of champagne and a copy of Woman’s Weekly.  They claim they’re still traumatised by the pageant and haven’t yet forgiven me.

I got into writing novels because I found I enjoyed writing crime as much as I enjoyed reading it.  In fact, the first in my Much Winchmoor series, Murder Served Cold, started life as a two part, 8,000 word serial for Woman’s Weekly and I enjoyed the characters so much, I couldn’t let them go. (Or, should that be, they wouldn’t let me go?)

In your blog you ask authors where they get their ideas. Where do you get your ideas?

I have lived most of my life in small communities, apart from a few years when I lived in Bristol.  I grew up on a farm in South Somerset and couldn’t wait to get away from the place – which I did when I was 18.  I married a Bristolian and thought I was set to live in Bristol for the rest of my life.  (I’d become a ‘proper townie’ by then).  But five years after we married, he was transferred to Somerset and I ended up living in the same sort of small community I’d been so eager to leave a few years earlier.

That was two children, four dogs and almost a whole lifetime ago now and I’m still here!  The difference is that now I love it and wouldn’t live anywhere else.  My family, friends and neighbours, even the lady in the queue next to me in the supermarket, are a constant source of inspiration to me.  Where would I be without them?

What inspired you to write the Much Winchmoor stories?

I was in my local pub one day and was, as is often the case, more interested in the conversations of others than listening to my husband and his friends bemoaning the sorry state of English rugby/cricket/weather or whatever their current moan was, when a voice rang out across the bar. “Well, everyone knows that Marjorie Hampton (not her real name) killed the Farm Shop”.  And that got me thinking.  (A) I knew the lady in question and she would never kill anyone or anything, least of all the local farm shop (Tesco’s managed to do that all on their own) and (B) why was that particular man so angry about it.  And then I started trying to answer that question.  The result was the 2 part serial I was talking about earlier.

How would you describe your books to someone who has never read one before?

Hmm, that’s a tricky one.  I suppose the genre is cosy/cozy crime but, I like to think, with a difference.  It’s more like what would happen if Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum was transported to rural Somerset.  Kat, my main character, is feisty, with an answer for everything.  She’s also been likened to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Mahone and M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin.  So she’s in pretty good company.

What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your books?

I think the best compliment of all is that someone has taken the trouble to read one of them and I am grateful to each and everyone of my readers, particularly those who are kind enough to leave a review.  I treasure every single one.

But one of my most treasured compliments came from a story I wrote for Woman’s Weekly.  It was about a widow, struggling to come to terms with her husband’s sudden death,  who was persuaded to keep a journal to write down her feelings.  She did so quite reluctantly but gradually came to discover just how very therapeutic writing can be. (And there’s a lovely rescue dog in the story as well).  The magazine forwarded a letter they’d received from a reader, saying that she too had been recently widowed and that after reading my story, had tried keeping a journal.  And it had worked!  She found (as all writers know) that writing can be the best therapy.  That just blew me away!

In fact, while I’m thinking about it, I am going to put that story on my blog,  It can be found here.

Do you have any favourite authors? What is it about them or their work that appeals to you?

I’m going to start with Agatha Christie because my mother introduced her to me when I was 12 and I’ve loved her writing ever since.  I also love Charlotte Bronte and reread Jane Eyre every few years.

I’m very lucky to be published by Crooked Cat/Darkstroke and have found some brilliant new to me authors there.  Another great way I’ve come across new to me authors is by joining the UK Crime Book Club on Facebook, which is where I came across you, Robert, as well as many other great crime writers.  It’s a brilliant group with a good mix of writers and readers of crime fiction.

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

I’d invite Alan Coren (because he was so clever and witty and I miss him, even now, after all this time); Inspector Morse (because I really enjoyed both the books and the TV series and I have never watched or read the last one where he dies! Also because I share his love of choral music and crosswords although I’m not nearly as good at them as he was) ;  Mrs Phillips, my English teacher from school to whom I owe so much.  I’d love to have met her as an adult – although I’m not sure what she would make of my books!  And finally, I’d love my mother to be there.  She died many years ago but instilled in me a love of reading that has never left me.  I would dearly love to see her face when I place one of my books in her hand.  I think she’d have been proud – although she’d probably tell me that Agatha Christie would have tidied things up better – and, of course, she’d be right!

Please tell me about your latest project/plans for the future.

I’ve just finished an 8-part serial for the People’s Friend magazine and am now working through the edits for my third Much Winchmoor book, Burying Bad News, which is to be published on March 17th.  I’m really looking forward to getting the edits out of the way, as the fourth book in the series in clamouring to be heard.  It’s a bit crowded inside my head at the moment.

Thank you for the glimpse into your world, Paula. It’s always a delight to talk to authors who love what they do as much as you. Your enjoyment and sense of fun shine through in your writing.

Good luck with Burying Bad News.

Social Media Links

Blog – paulawilliamswriter.wordpress.com

Facebook author page – https://www.facebook.com/paula.williams.author.

Twitter –  @paulawilliams44.

Website –  paulawilliamswriter.co.uk

Instagram – paulawilliams_author

Amazon links to the Much Winchmoor Mysteries

https://mybook.to/murderservedcold

Murder Served Cold

https://mybook.to/roughanddeadly

Rough and deadly

https://mybook.to/buryingbadnews

One severed head, two warring neighbours – and a cold-blooded killer stalks Much Winchmoor. There’s the murder made to look like a tragic accident, and a missing husband. Could he be victim number two?

The tiny Somerset village is fast gaining a reputation as the murder capital of the West Country, and once again, reporter/barmaid/dog walker Kat Latcham finds herself reluctantly dragged into the investigation.

Things are looking bad for Ed Fuller, the husband of one of Kat’s oldest friends. Kat’s convinced he’s innocent – but she’s been wrong before.

Has Kat come across her biggest challenge yet?

Fans of Janet Evanovich could well enjoy this “funky, modern day nosey detective” transported to the English countryside. The third Much Winchmoor mystery is, as always, spiked with humour and sprinkled with a touch of romance.

Running Scared

Sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind. Doubt can hold you back as easily as an injury. Self-doubt can cripple you, making it almost impossible to throw anything to the wind.

For most of my life, it’s felt like there are two people inside me.

The first is the dreamer, the person I want to be. This is where the writer lives, creating new worlds filled with intriguing characters and exciting plots. The dreamer is by nature an optimist, believing that nothing’s impossible.

This is the guy who helped me quit smoking. He helped me to eat better, to become a runner and to keep running when injury dragged me down. He helped me pass my driving test on Friday, 13th May, my final exams to become an environmental health officer, and to get the jobs that took me from Manchester to the Sussex Coast.

This is the guy that helped me deal with the many rejection letters I had from publishers and agents, telling me I had the talent and ability to become a published writer. He was right. Back in the early 1990s, I began to publish articles in national and local magazines. Then there was my regular column on technology in Writers’ Monthly, which ran for several years until the magazine closed down.

The second person is the doubter. In a way, he’s the little devil that sits on my shoulder. The doubter sits there because it’s easy to whisper in my ear.

The doubter isn’t interested in me achieving anything. The doubter doesn’t like change. Change means I might not need him any more. Trouble is, he can be incredibly difficult to dislodge. He’s clever. He nips in at the early stages of a dream, when ideas and aspirations are vague, and covers it with a blanket of misgivings.

What if it goes wrong? What if it’s more difficult than you imagined? What if it’s not what you want? Have you stopped to consider the effect on others?

This last one is always a killer. It’s often the last throw of the dice for the doubter. When all else fails, use emotional blackmail.

I was eight when my father died. At the time, I had no idea how to express how I felt. I’m not sure I knew how I felt, but I had this overwhelming sense of unfairness.

Why had he been taken from me?

What did I do to deserve this?

This is when the doubter was born. He told me that this is what life was like – it knocked you back if you started getting ideas, if you wanted more than you deserved. And whenever anything went wrong or I goofed, the doubter was there, giving me a sad shake of the head.

The fact I fought the doubter, strived to be better, owes much to a spirit that came from reading books. Heroes didn’t quit. They didn’t flinch at the obstacles that faced them. They found ways to defeat evil and those who wanted them to fail. They battled on, even when the odds were overwhelming and defeat was certain.

To Kill A MockingbirdTo Kill a Mockingbird taught me that final lesson. It reinforced the dreamer in me at the age of 16. It spurred me to write my first novel, which I sent to a publisher at the age of 17.

The doubter tried to clip my wings, of course. ‘If you tell them you’re 17, they’ll laugh, wondering who the hell you think you are.’

I didn’t mention my age. I received a lovely, encouraging letter from the publisher, praising my characterisation, realistic dialogue and the story, but no offer of publication.

Many times I’ve looked backed, wondering whether the publishers would have reacted differently had they known my age.

This is what the doubter does to you. He likes to remind you of failures because they prove him right.

Fortified by this early victory, the doubter undermined me, quick to remind me how disappointing life could be. Whenever, I had a big decision to make, the doubter was there, pointing out everything that could go wrong and how bad it would make me feel.

When I wrote further novels, I was never sure of my abilities, always afraid to really go for it and to hell with the consequences. The story was never good enough. The plot wasn’t realistic. The characters didn’t jump of the page and into the reader’s heart.

The doubter urged me to focus on real life – marriage, building a home, settling down. You’ll never earn enough from writing to pay the mortgage so why bother?

I did bother. I kept writing. I have to write.

I’m stubborn, see. I’ve read books that live long in the memory. I’ve read books that have the power to change my life.

I’ve also shown I can defeat doubt. I published articles. People wanted my work for their readers. I quit smoking. Okay, giving up smoking may not seem like a big deal, but it was integral to my life, to my writing.

Giving up smoking meant giving up writing. Oh, the doubter thought he was onto a winner with that one.

But my health meant more to me than anything else. I was overweight, unfit and still collecting rejection slips from publishers. It was time to change, to set the remainder of my life on a sensible, healthier course. I didn’t want to wake in the night, coughing and clearing my lungs. I didn’t want to die prematurely when I’d yet to achieve my ambitions.

For once, the dreamer was pragmatic. I gave up smoking with much less effort and will than I ever imagined. The doubter never got much of a look in – he hadn’t reckoned on the running.

I started running before I quit smoking. My wife and I joined the local gym. We began to exercise, to get healthier and fitter. We would come out of the leisure centre, exhausted and dripping with sweat, but invigorated. The first thing I would do was pop a cigarette into my mouth.

Six months later, the cigarettes were gone and have never returned. I learned to write again – short pieces at first.

No AccidentI wrote Fisher’s Fables, a humorous blog of my experiences as an environmental health manager. It gave me the author’s voice the doubter had always denied me. A publisher wanted my first Kent Fisher mystery novel, No Accident.

Then last year, I strained the muscles in my lower back. It was an old injury, more niggle than problem, or so I thought. It took me six weeks to recover.

The doubter saw a chance to return after years in the wilderness.

When I started running once more, I didn’t run too far. I listened to my muscles, aware of the stiffness in my lower back. The doubter told me it was futile. I would never reach the distances and speeds I had before.

I was running scared – worried I’d strain my back once more.

Almost six months have passed. I still run scared, even though my back feels fine. The doubter’s still there. He’s given up attacking my running, casting doubt on my writing instead.

No RemorseI no longer plan or plot in any detail. I started No Remorse, the third in the series, with a line of dialogue, curious to know what would develop. It became my best work at that point, a triumph of confidence and self-belief. I’ve written two more Kent Fisher mysteries without plans, never sure what’s coming next.

The doubter’s on at me from the first page. What if you can’t do it again? What if you write yourself into a blind alley? What will your readers think?

Then I have a moment of insight, when I realise what the story’s about. The dreamer returns, fed by my subconscious, telling me what the story’s about. There are no details – these come when I write – just a skeleton.

Would that happen if I didn’t have a little doubt to spur the dreamer in me? Maybe it’s a ying and yang thing. A little doubt makes me focus, work harder, unwilling to accept anything other than the best I can do.

Maybe I’m better off running scared … and writing scared.

What do you think?

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

 

If you’d like to find out more about the series and never miss a book release, why not sign up to my Readers Group.

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.

Five things I learned from writing No Bodies

No Bodies is the second novel in the Kent Fisher mystery series. It follows hot on the heels of No Accident, the first novel. If you want to read what I learned from writing No Accident, you can check the post here.

Both novels began their uncertain lives just after the millennium under different titles. After No Accident was published in 2016, I revised and rewrote much of No Bodies to bring it up to date and into line with the first.

1. Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten (Michael Crichton)

Okay, the rewrite was carried out over 12 years after the original version was written. Only the plot remained intact. The story was revised into the new style I’d developed. My newfound love of editing reduced the size of the book and sharpened the prose, allowing my characters to ‘leap off the page’ – something a literary agent didn’t find when she read the original version.

The story and treatment were similar to No Accident, but there was more purpose and drive to the investigation and a greater personal threat to Kent and those nearest to him. I also had the chance to expand Columbo’s unique relationship with Kent.

Robert Crouch Author

Robert with Harvey, aka Columbo

The rewrite proved challenging as the characters had changed but the plot had to stay the same. Times had also moved on, demanding a different approach to several of the issues raised by the story. Both restricted my freedom and new ways of working, drawing me to my next conclusion.

2. Planning was at the heart of my failures

No Bodies was originally planned in great detail. It’s a complex murder mystery with two separate storylines that ultimately crash into each other, helping Kent to solve the murders of several missing women.

My method of writing at the turn of the millennium was based on detailed planning of the plot and main events. I wrote copious notes, which filled a Lever Arch folder. Everything from character profiles, descriptions of settings, time lines and ideas for plot events found its way into the folder.

An outline of the story and main events helped me convert the many notes I’d written into a more detailed synopsis. This became the blueprint I kept beside the PC while I wrote the first draft.

It didn’t take long before I discovered how restricting this was.

My mind continued to produce ideas. Some were so tantalising, I couldn’t resist them. Many couldn’t be easily accommodated in the synopsis. It led to some bloating and diversions from the main plot that took the edge of the pace and momentum.

Looking back, I also believe the constraints of the synopsis smothered my natural creativity and immediacy. Planning dulled the prose. Planning resisted the unexpected moments that often lift a story or send it running in a new, but more exciting direction. Planning took the life out of the story and characters, as the literary agent discovered.

It also made me more determined to breathe the fire back into the story during the rewrites.

3. Nothing’s impossible. The impossible just takes a little longer.

Until the rewrite, I never fully appreciated one of my guiding principles.

Whenever life didn’t meet expectations, I would remind myself of this principle. Most of my writing failures were the result of rushing, impatience and a failure to recognise, or deal with, the shortcomings in my approach.

I hated editing and revising, which meant I often did it badly, if at all. I told myself editing destroyed the immediacy and essence of my narrative. It’s easy to make excuses for the things you don’t want to do. The trouble is, you don’t learn or progress either.

When faced with the challenge of updating a long novel I knew to be less than perfect, I was tempted to leave it and write a new story instead.

Only I couldn’t. I’d written No Accident to dovetail into No Bodies

With my guiding principle in mind, I didn’t rush the rewrite. The impatient and frustrated writer of old was replaced by a calmer, more determined one. Having parted company with the publisher of No Accident, there were no deadlines or pressures from outside.

I could even afford to make the story better and more realistic.

4. Google doesn’t have all the answers

Kent Fisher had to visit Glastonbury to confront a suspect. Naturally, things didn’t go to plan, leading to a chase across town. Having already visited and loved Glastonbury’s unique atmosphere and buildings, I’d written the chase from memory.

 

With the advent of Street View on Google maps, I had the chance to check out the route so I could describe it more fully. Within seconds, I discovered my memory was faulty. Google allowed me to plot a better route using Street View.

A few months later, Carol, Harvey and I went to Glastonbury for a break. We started to walk the Google route, but it soon went in a different direction to the one I thought I’d chosen.

Reverting to traditional shoe leather, written notes and photographs, we recorded the exact route I wanted Kent to take, murals included.

5. Just ask a police officer

The final detail I wanted to check for authenticity was the police interview facilities. The days of small, cold rooms with concrete floors and uncomfortable chairs, squeezed into the basement of the police station, have long gone.

The principles are the same – table, chairs and recording equipment, only the custody suite is more modern and uses video and PCs.

Thanks to a friend, who’s a former police officer, I was given a guided tour of the custody centre by the sergeant in control of the place. He took me from the area where suspects arrive, through the processing point, past the cells to the interview rooms. Along the way, he explained how they worked and used the facilities. He answered my many questions and even suggested how to improve the scene I was setting there.

Apart from the fascinating insights, the visit meant my scene has authenticity and accuracy, even if I had to lose a few of my more dramatic flourishes. To me, this equals credibility and hopefully builds trust between the reader and author.

The details are in No Bodies, as is an encounter I had with someone who walked from the suite into the waiting area where I was seated. She was bouncing along, grinning to herself when she spotted me.

“Just had some brilliant news,” she said, strolling over. “I got bail.”

I had no idea what to say, but I simply had to put her into the scene in No Bodies.


No Bodies is available from Amazon on Kindle and paperback.

Click here to learn more about me and the Kent Fisher mysteries.

 

Would you believe it?

Not so long ago, a reader asked me a question I couldn’t answer. We’re not talking University Challenge type questions that require a degree in quantum mechanics, if that exists of course.

I don’t know.

That’s the answer I gave to the reader’s question. What I should have said was, ‘I’ve never really given it any thought.’ At least that was true. ‘Let me think about it for a moment,’ I said.

My expression worked its way through several thoughtful grimaces. ‘How do I write a novel?’ I asked, repeating the question to buy more time. ‘I get an idea, make some notes and then open a Word document. I type Chapter One, and start writing.’

The questioner didn’t seem too enamoured with the response. Maybe it sounded glib, condensing a journey that can take months, years or even decades to complete. Many people never complete the journey from idea to finished novel.

My answer was an honest attempt to explain something I’d never given much thought to. I have ideas, I turn them into stories. Or the ideas sit in a file on my PC for future consideration. They’re insurance for the day when no ideas clamour to be heard.

Most questions readers ask me cause a temporary mental block.

I’m a writer so I write. I don’t generally think about being a writer. I still hesitate to call myself an author because I wonder if it sounds pretentious to others. It’s crazy, I know. It’s what I do, what I am.

I’m not ashamed of writing novels – quite the opposite. I had a long apprenticeship and decades of disappointment and rejection, like many authors. When finally I found my author voice, by accident, I would add, my confidence grew. I believed in myself. There was still a way to go, along with help from those who had made it already, but I made it.

Yes, you’ve guessed it – I didn’t believe it.

Not at first anyway. A publisher wanted my first novel.

Okay, it was not my first novel. It was about my tenth, I think. It was the first Kent Fisher novel in a series. Being the maverick I am in my imagination, I wrote the second Kent Fisher novel first. Then I wrote a prequel to explain a lot of what happens in the second story.

See, that’s how much I knew about novel writing.

So, I had a publisher who wanted my novel. Would you believe me if I said it was nowhere near ready, being too long, ponderous and unfinished? When I say unfinished, the story had a climax and a resolution. An exciting climax, if I say so myself. That I knew.

Unfortunately, as a classic whodunit, it lacked one small key feature – my hero, Kent Fisher, couldn’t solve the murder.

Can you believe it?

I couldn’t. I knew who the murderer was and why. I wrote the story, after all.

I couldn’t work out how he could unearth the clues that would allow him to solve the murder. In many ways, it was the perfect murder. That’s what I set out to write. I never expected it to defeat me.

So, what did I do?

Did I own up to the publisher? Of course not. He’d offered me a contract.

I asked for six months to ‘knock the story into shape’, hoping he wouldn’t lose interest. He didn’t and I managed to find the clues to solve the murder.

It’s surprising how the lure of a publishing contract can sharpen the mind.

When it was finally published on Amazon, I still struggled to believe it. I knew it was my book, yet it seemed to belong to someone else.

No Accident

It was the same with my first talk to promote the book. I was sitting in front of a reasonable gathering, all waiting to hear about my journey. My journey was one of struggle, lack of self-belief and more failures than I wanted to think about.

I never thought anyone would be interested. I was surprised to find people were. Worse than that, they proceeded to ask me questions I’d never considered before.

How do you create your characters?

Where do you get your ideas?

Did you always want to write crime fiction?

Honestly, I’d never considered any of these questions before. I didn’t think anyone would be interested in such details, even though I’d asked similar questions to authors at events. The trouble is, when you’re an aspiring author talking to a successful one, you’re hoping for the magic bullet that will transform you into the next Stephen King. In my case I wanted to be a modern Agatha Christie, but you know what I mean.

Agatha Christie

I quickly learned that you can’t answer, ‘I don’t know’ to every question until someone asks you something you can answer. Equally, you can spend too long thinking about an answer. Readers believe you’re an expert now you’re published.

Sorry to disappoint you, but some days I struggle to believe I’ve written five Kent Fisher murder mysteries. I’m better at answering questions, having been interviewed a few times. I’ve had the time to work out the answers.

Of course, there’s a whole raft of new questions to replace those I can answer.

‘How do I get more people to buy and read my books?’

How can I convince them I’m a modern Agatha Christie when no one’s heard of me?

If you know the answers, please let me know.

An interview with author, Barry Faulkner

I first got to know Barry Faulkner during an online Q and A session for the UK Crime Book Group on Facebook. Little did I know what an interesting life he led before publishing his Serial Murder Squad novels. From washing the cars of London gang leaders to contributing material for light entertainment shows, Barry’s experiences have all contributed to the fast-paced, no nonsense crime thrillers he publishes. As someone who likes something a little different from the usual, I can highly recommend the stories, which made me think of The Sweeney.

My grateful thanks to Barry for taking the time to answer my questions. Over to you, Barry.

Please tell me a little about yourself and your writing.

My father, elder brothers, uncles and cousins were all on the wrong side of the tracks and sometimes ran with the notorious Richardson Brothers gang in South London in the 60s -90s. My mother was determined her youngest would not follow that family tradition and made sure I was kept away from it although I mixed with many of the ‘names’ as a kid and cleaned the Richardson’s rollers every Saturday for 10/- at their scrap yard in Camberwell as well as other members cars. The golden rule was never to go inside the cars or open the boots. I wonder why? I started writing at school and was encouraged to do so by a great English teacher called Mr Reid who saw something in my juvenile doodling. I owe him a lot.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?

I first realised I wanted to write when I read Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee, I must have read it twenty times by now. The descriptive writing is the best I have ever read and paints a picture in your imagination that no other writer has ever equalled for me.

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

The first significant piece was a fun piece describing a weekend away at the coast with the scouts. It made the local paper and the Scout Magazine. I was hooked thinking that everything I wrote from then on would get published. Sadly not so.

What do you most enjoy about being an author?

The most enjoyable thing about being an author for me is the power to let my imagination run free and see where it takes me. I don’t plan a book other than the basic premise and where it is set. Each one has a different setting. The Last one, Ministry of Death is set in the NHS Drug Procurement Department , the one before that in the take away meals environment, I’ve also done Television, The City of London Financial District, Rock Groups etc..so half the fun of writing is the research into the different settings. I like to get it right.

What do you least enjoy about being an author?

I don’t think there’s anything I don’t enjoy about being an author.

Burning Ambition by Barry Faulkner

I see from your Amazon biography, you worked as a copywriter for an advertising agency. How did this influence your writing?

Yes, advertising copywriter for Erwin Wasey Ruffrauth and Ryan in Paddington. A top US advertising agency whose boss lived in a suite at the Dorchester! I think some of  the characters I came into contact in that industry have stuck with me and surface in the books from time to time. My character Benji, the next door neighbour and nemesis of my DCS Palmer is definitely from that workplace.

You were also a script writer and editor for TV during the 1980s and 90s. Can you tell us a little bit more about that and what you think it’s brought to your novel writing?

Whilst at the Advertising Agency I was writing stuff and sending up to the television companies  and got lucky.( they won’t even look at unsolicited commissions these days which I think means they are missing out on a lot of new writers and we get the same old tosh all the time) Anyway I was called up and asked to contribute to various light entertainment shows during the 70s -90s and ended up as a script editor/writer on most of the Light Entertainment shows including Bob Monkhouse, Tom O’Connor, Russ Abbot, Not The Nine O’clock News etc. It broadened my outlook and way of writing as I spent a lot of time in the ‘writers room’ with other writers and we bounced ideas off each other as well as having my own work edited and on many occasions binned!

What made you want to move from TV scriptwriting to crime fiction novels?

The television job meant many days and even weeks stuck in hotel rooms at night and that’s when I started to put together various ideas for TV series, mainly of the LE format but all the time in the back of my mind I had this DCS Palmer character pushing to get out. I don’t know where he came from but I get quite a few emails and letters from retired ex Detectives and old South London criminals now in their 80s- 90s telling me they recognise various characters in the books  so maybe some of the people I met as a youngster, from both sides of the law, have stuck in the recesses of my brain and emerge as a character in a book, who knows? Anyway, Palmer kept insisting he be written and I really got into him and the Serial Murder Squad in those hotel rooms. He was written as a pilot for a TV series but never made it.

Tell me about the inspiration and motivation to write the Serial Murder Squad series.

I wrote three Palmers for TV and being rejected they went into the drawer with all the other reject slips and then three years ago when I fully retired and time became available I went back, pulled him out and gave reign to all the plots in my head and in various notebooks that I’d kept over the years. So like many writers I sent them out and started collecting the reject slips but with the birth of Amazon there was another route to publishing as an Indie. I realised that floundering away on your own as a new indie would lead to mistakes and probably very little sales so I joined the Alliance of Independent Authors which was the best thing I have ever done in my writing career, I attended, and still attend a local meeting of members of that group in Cheltenham where the fonts of all publishing knowledge, Debbie Young and David Penny guided me through the tricky road of wannabe author to published author with several thousand Palmers sold. There’s about forty of them in various notebooks so many more Palmers to come I hope.

How would you describe your books to someone who has never read one before?

I think you have to have a USP (Unique Selling Point) or your books will get lost in the plethora of the police procedural genre  of thousands of books. Many authors use their own area like Scotland or Cornwall to capture readers who recognise the settings.  I use London as that’s my place of birth and I know it well,  but realising how many are set in London I also have a USP of humour. Coming from a light entertainment background in television my mind is programmed to add (hopefully) witty and humorous remarks between my principle characters and with the addition of Benji, Palmer’s nemesis neighbour, I am able to run a fairly light back story against the main serial killer theme. Readers seem to warm to that and the juxtaposition and banter between the irascible old school DCS Palmer and his young IT and cyber expert Detective Sergeant, Gheeta Singh, chalk and cheese. So the reader will be taken into the darkness of serial murder but now and again will laugh.

Takeaway Terror

Who inspires you and Why?

I’m not inspired much by books and authors these days, I get bored very easily and hate the current trend of every detective having an Achilles heel and family problems and pages and pages of back story not relevant to the plot but insisted on by traditional publishers to increase the book price and KU page read income. Not on. I recently spoke with a well respected traditionally published crime author who told me she had submitted her next book of 80,000 words to be told by her publisher to expand to 140,000!!! She wasn’t happy.

I do get inspiration from television. Television crime drama, especially the streaming channels of Netflix and Amazon are right up to date with their output. Forensics are state of the art and the characters well drawn, my all time favourite is The Sopranos, but currently I like Ray Donovan. I intend to start another series of books about a present day London Organised crime syndicate and having just watched The Irishman film on Netflix that is inspiring me to get going on it. That film is a classic, half true and half fiction but so well put together.

What’s the best compliment you’ve received about your books?

I suppose the best one is one I get quite a lot, ‘these books should be a television series’. I’d love to go back in time with them to the BBC commissioning editor who said ‘no’ and push them into his face and say,  ‘see what you missed, I could have been a millionaire Rodney’

Do you have any favourite authors? What is it about them or their work that appeals to you?

My favourite authors?  Laurie Lee for his use of descriptive words whilst moving the story along at pace, a complete master.  Ed McBain, the all-time number one in the pulp fiction genre that I reside in.  Robert Crais and his Cole and Pike novels, I rate them above Jack Reacher. His use of words and sentences is unique. Do try him.

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

Four dinner guests?  My great grandfather and my grandfather both of whom I never knew so I could find out the truth about a family business fortune gambled away in the 1800’s. Probably all make believe but it would be an interesting chat anyway as I know nothing about the family before my dad. Fred Karno, the UK’s first impresario who ran concert halls in the late 1800s and 1900s. He took Charlie Chaplin and his understudy, Arthur Jefferson, who later changed his name to Stan Laurel, to America and worked with Hal Roach on silent comedy film shorts for Buster Keaton and the rest of the silent comics. His life went from poverty to millionaire back to poverty ending up running an off licence in Dorset. And my fourth and last guest, Leonard Ernest ‘Nipper’ Read, DCS Read, the detective who nicked the Krays and many more top criminals whilst head of the Murder Squad in the late 60s-70s. He also helped clean out corruption amongst detectives at Scotland Yard with Commissioner Sir Robert Marks when close to 200 were sacked or took early retirement.

Please tell me about your latest project.

My current work load, and I don’t look at it as work as I enjoy it too much, I’m getting paid for having a lot of fun and meeting a lot of interesting people, however my current projects are finishing DCS Palmer book 10 ‘The Body Builder’ (there’s a clue!), getting my London Gang series underway and hassling Literary Festival organisers for a spot (unpaid) in there programme next year for my illustrated talk on ‘the Heists and Geezers of UK Crime from 1930 to Present Day’ or any other ‘crime’ spot they’d like to offer, I just love meeting writers and readers.

 

Thank you, Barry, for some fascinating insights into your life and writing. Good luck with ‘The Body Builder’. I look forward to reading it.

 

The Met’s Serial Murder Squad investigate the unusual deaths of three staff working at the Ministry of Health Drug Procurement department. Are all three deaths from natural causes or had the deceased stumbled on something that senior management and the pompous head of the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee in the House of Commons want to hide away at any cost, even murder?

How does a Romanian drugs company fit into the jigsaw and can Palmer and the team uncover the facts before more deaths occur? DCS Palmer needs hard evidence to convince his boss that there is a serial killing going on so the team start to dig and are surprised at what they find.

(Read my 5 star review here.)

 

For details of my reviews of Barry’s thrillers, please visit my review page.

An interview with author, Colin Garrow

I’m delighted to welcome author, Colin Garrow, who writes the entertaining Terry Bell murder mysteries and a glorious spoof of Sherlock Holmes, The Watson Letters. He’s also written plays, books for young adults and always has several projects on the go.

Colin grew up in a former mining town in Northumberland. He has worked in a plethora of professions including: taxi driver, antiques dealer, drama facilitator, theatre director and fish processor, and has occasionally masqueraded as a pirate. His short stories have appeared in several literary mags, including: SN Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Word Bohemia, Every Day Fiction, The Grind, A3 Review, 1,000 Words, Inkapture and Scribble Magazine. He currently lives in a humble cottage in North East Scotland where he writes novels, stories, poems and the occasional song.

 

If you were to go back in time before your first book, what would you do differently?

The first novel I finished writing was ‘The Devil’s Porridge Gang’. Originally, I was thinking about it in terms of a screenplay but didn’t get further than the title and creating the main character. Then, about twelve years ago I had a go at the NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and managed to write ten thousand words in a month but didn’t do anything else with it for ages. By 2013 I’d moved to a small village in Aberdeenshire, was living alone and struggling to make ends meets, so decided to try and finish the book. I’d always intended it to be a story for children, and that’s partly because I didn’t think I could write seriously for an adult audience (despite the fact I’d been writing plays for adults for years). Anyway, I finished it in three months and immediately started on the next one, ‘The Architect’s Apprentice’, another book for kids, followed by yet another, called ‘The Hounds of Hellerby Hall’. I realise now that if I’d pushed myself harder and started writing for adult readers instead of middle grade, I could have established a solid murder/mystery series, instead of all those kids’ books. Then again, maybe I needed to go through that process in order to get to where I am.

How has writing plays influenced the way you write novels?

It’s interesting hearing your words being spoken aloud, but the really interesting thing is when someone else interprets your words. I’ve written plays where I’ve had very specific ideas about a particular speech and what I think the character is saying, but seeing actors bring their own ideas to the words would often bring themes and nuances out that I didn’t know where there. Years ago, I ran a couple of writing courses (at Newcastle and Hull Universities) and used to encourage people to write monologues to explore what their characters were thinking.

I still think monologues are a great exercise for writers and consequently I always read my work aloud to hear where the problems might be, like if a certain passage doesn’t flow or I’ve used too many clunky words. I’ll often try to bring a sense of performance to my reading too, in an effort to hear the different ways a piece of writing might be understood.

You usually have several projects on the go. How do you juggle all these projects and what challenges do they give you?

I hate being tied down to one thing, and I also think it’s important (for me, at least) to have something else to turn to when I get a bit stuck. This works especially well if I go from working on a Terry Bell book to a Watson Letters book, as the writing style is quite different. I’m not sure about the juggling – it’s more like trying to keep each one going in the right direction while staying motivated and interested. And no, I don’t know how to do that.

Demon of Devilgate Drive

Why should people read your books?

There are some writers who can truly claim to influence people, but I think of my books like movies or stage plays, so all I want is for my readers to go away having been entertained for a few hours. Other than that, I’d never expect anyone to feel enlightened, enriched, or (for readers in Springfield) embiggened.

Do you write for yourself or your readers?

When I first started writing short stories, I studied women’s magazines, thinking it’d be a way to make a great living. Pretty soon I realised the reason I kept getting rejection slips was that I wasn’t interested in the people I was writing about (aside from the fact most of the stories were crap). When I changed to writing about things that interested me, I found it was a lot easier, so essentially, I write to entertain myself, after all, if I wouldn’t read them, why would anyone else?

In terms of writing and being an author, what was the turning point in your life?

Great question. There’s been a few, but the major turning point was in the early nineties, after I’d moved back to my parents’ house following a couple of really crappy relationships. While looking for a job, I heard about a course in Community Drama. It was a six-month course and explored all sorts of things like writing, storytelling, mask-making, puppets and acting and it changed my life – I realised I was good at creative stuff and so continued my learning curve at the University of Northumberland with a Drama degree.  I gradually noticed there’d been a massive shift in my confidence and found I was able to get up in front of people and perform, without feeling incredibly vulnerable.

The next turning point related to writing and my struggle to get down on paper the stuff that was in my head. While I was at uni, we studied various theatre practitioners, including Brecht, Stanislavsky and Mayakovsky. This allowed me to see how different styles of writing and performance worked in different ways, and more importantly, why some of my writing worked and some of it just didn’t. By the second year, my writing improved dramatically (no pun intended) and I started to write short plays and monologues that audiences liked.

Finally, going back to what I said about my first book, I think being able to finish that first novel was a major step forward. I didn’t quite understand how I’d been able to do it (and sometimes still feel that way on finishing a book), but I realised if I could do it once, I could do it again, and that felt amazing.

Something Wicker this way comes

What are your plans for the future?

At the moment, I’m working towards establishing the various book series I’ve been thinking about for a while. These include the Terry Bell Mysteries and The Watson Letters, of course, but I’m also planning two new series: one is about a nightclub singer in 1950s Newcastle, who gets involved in a kidnapping plot (tentatively titled ‘Blood on the Tyne’), and, because I like a bit of horror, the other is a 17th century tale of witchcraft and malevolence set in London. I also have an unfinished novel called ‘Terminal Black’ that I’ve been fiddling around with for about six years. It’s set in Inverness and Aberdeen and features a dodgy hero and a bent cop.

Along with all the middle grade books in my creative pipeline, I’m aware that sounds like rather a lot, but I’m getting much better at spending time writing, rather than finding excuses for not writing, so I think in the next couple of years, there’ll be a lot of new books coming out of the House of Garrow.

Can you tell me about your current project?

The next two books published will be ‘The Watson Letters Vol 5: Murder on Mystery Island’ and ‘The Curse of Calico Jack’, the second in my Skeleton Cove middle grade horror series. After that, I’ll be busy with the next Terry Bell and the two new projects I mentioned.

When you’re not writing how do you like to spend your time?

I started learning to play the guitar when I was about seven years old. This naturally led to trying other instruments, so I currently have four guitars, two ukuleles, a bouzouki, a mandolin, a five-string banjo, a saxophone and a clarinet (though with the latter two, I’m very much at the beginner stage). I’ve also got a digeridoo, but let’s not go there.

Colin Garrow author

A Long Cool Glass of Murder

When taxi driver and amateur sleuth Terry takes on a new client, he doesn’t expect her to turn up dead. With echoes of his recent past coming back to haunt him, can he work out what’s going on before someone else gets killed?

‘Charis Brown’s elfin-like smile was, like the footsteps on the stairs, noticeably absent. She looked at me, looked at the dead woman and let out the sort of sigh I knew from experience meant it was going to be a long night.’

‘A Long Cool Glass of Murder’ is book #2 in the Terry Bell Mystery series.

If you love mysteries and amateur sleuthing, ski-mask-wearing villains and the occasional bent copper, this’ll be right up your everyday seaside-town street.

A Long Cool Glass of Murder

Newsletter

Website – includes links to his newsletter – BookNook

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Failing our future?

Two recent news stories have added to my fear that we’re not planning properly for the future in this country of ours.

Image courtesy of BBC News

 

Imagine for a moment, you live in Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, perhaps in a new development. It’s peaceful place, with beautiful countryside nearby to walk the dog, including Toddbrook Reservoir, its calm waters lapping against a mighty dam that towers above the village.

Then the rain comes and comes and comes. Torrents of water flow down the outside of the dam. There’s a knock on the door and the police ask you to leave your home. The dam’s damaged and millions of tonnes of water could sweep through the village if it fails.

It’s difficult to imagine, let alone believe that a village could be swept away in this day and age. The drama was intense, the stakes high. Could those battling to save the village empty the reservoir in time? We had pumps, Chinook helicopters and the massed ranks of the media on hand to keep us up to date.

Below the village became a ghost town. Those evacuated watched and waited to learn whether they would have homes to return to.

Image courtesy of BBC News

 

On Friday, large swathes of the country lost power around 5pm. Trains stopped running. Stations were closed. Traffic lights went out. For a while, no one knew what was happening. Power was restored, but what had caused such a massive failure in the national grid?

It appears two generators went offline with minutes of each other, leading to the failures.

While these are very different events, they share one thing in common – can they cope with the demands of today and the challenges of the future?

In our rush to move forward, to develop and build, are we neglecting the infrastructure needed to support our future?

The intense rainfall that damaged the dam at Whaley Bridge may have been unusual, but scientists say global warming will lead to more extreme weather conditions. Then there is the age of the dam, its construction, its condition, the wear and tear it faces daily.

And let’s not forget the housing developments permitted below the reservoir over the decades.

The purpose of planning is to balance development needs with their impact on the environment and local communities. The pressure to build more houses leads to encroachment into the countryside and development on flood plains. Local authority refusals are often overturned by government inspectors, which can make you wonder whether there’s any point in local plans.

Each house built needs water, power and drainage. While estates spring up, where are the new reservoirs, sewage works and power stations to sustain them? Where are the extra schools and GP surgeries for the people who will live there?

If anything, we’re losing teachers and GPs at a time when we need them more than ever.

The same imbalance seems to be building with power supply. More and more homes and businesses draw electricity through the National Grid. Are we generating enough power to meet the growing demands of more households with more computers and electronics? Can the existing systems cope with the extra power they have to move?

And what about the future, when the government imagines we’ll all be driving electric cars to reduce carbon emissions?

Do we have enough charging points around the country to tempt people to switch to electric cars? If we did, can the National Grid cope with the additional consumption?

Why aren’t solar panels a legal requirement on all new build properties to increase the amount of green energy we produce?

Existing sewage works and drainage networks were designed and built for a different age. They now have to cope with the waste water from thousands of additional properties, while ensuring the final effluents meet strict environmental standards. How many more developments can they cope with before they fail?

Water pressures are increased when more houses need a supply. Old supply pipes can only take so much pressure before joints burst. When they do, they can close roads for days, affecting the local economy and wellbeing of people.

And as many of the companies responsible for our infrastructure are privately owned, will shareholders agree to fund the new reservoirs and sewage works we need? Will developers be made to pay for and build schools and GP surgeries for the people who will occupy their estates?

During my time as an environmental health officer, I was consulted on major developments by my colleagues in the Planning Department. Many times, I questioned whether the local sewerage systems could cope with the additional volume of waste water likely to be produced.

I don’t recall newer, larger sewers ever being built.

I’ve queried the impact of development on local communities and raised concerns about the impact on groundwater and potential flooding. Years later, I’ve been called back because residents had water ponding under their floors or flooding in their gardens.

The role of local government, particularly Planning and Environmental Health, is to protect the community and the environment and foresee and prevent future problems.

But when will government and the political parties do the same and agree a long term strategy to ensure we invest as much in the infrastructure and wellbeing of our communities as we do in new development?

What do you think?