No Sex Please We’re Crime Writers

19th February 2021.

Have you ever wondered why there’s so little sex in crime fiction?

Maybe there is and I’m reading the wrong books. Maybe sex and murder are not good bedfellows.

Some categories of crime fiction, such as cosy mysteries, exclude explicit sex, graphic violence and excessive swearing. In my book, literally and metaphorically, this doesn’t exclude romance, sexual tension and people sleeping together. It simply frowns on graphic description.

But sex scenes should only be in a story if they are essential to the plot or character development. This should be the case in any book in any category. If a killer, for instance, seduces his or her victims before killing them, does this need to be shown in detail?

Crime Scene - No sex please

You could argue the same for murder. Does it need to be shown in great detail?

It depends on the type of book and the writer, I guess. With so much emphasis on the collection of forensic and DNA evidence at crime scenes, detailed description that may lead investigators closer to the killer would be essential.

It’s up to writers to show the world as they see it.

Personally, I’m not a fan of torture scenes or any graphic descriptions that involve violence or someone inflicting pain on another human being or animal.

That’s not to say I live in a closeted world where everything’s rosy. I simply don’t need to read the details. I have an imagination. If someone is being tortured as part of the story, tell me. I need to know. But do I want to know every detail of what the killer’s doing?

Some writers like to get into the minds of killers, to show how they’ve become who they are. We’re all inquisitive and the subject’s fascinating, but that doesn’t mean it needs graphic descriptions.

It’s the same with sex. My readers can imagine a sex scene much better than I can write it. And let’s be honest here, each person will imagine it a little differently, making the story more personal to them.

Fun readingSurely, that’s what we want as authors – readers to enjoy our books. Reading is an emotional experience. The imagination fills in the blanks. We see characters in a particular way, even when they are described in detail. It means readers are more likely to get something personal to them from what they read.

Of course there are times when you have to lay things out in detail, if only for accuracy or credibility, but I would suggest there’s always some room to allow the reader’s imagination to personalise what they’re reading.

If I want everything laid out for me, I’ll watch TV.

Then I can complain on social media that the main character is nothing like the one I pictured in the books.

Not that I really picture them. I’m more interested in who they are, not what they look like.

And that’s the point, ultimately. No two readers are alike. Every one of us has different tastes, values and attitudes. I prefer to read books that aren’t graphic or filled with profanities. I know people swear in the real world, but they also belch, fart, pick their noses, scratch their bums and so on.

If the story and characters are engaging, some swearing and violence won’t put me off a book.

If the swearing and violence feel excessive or unnecessary, I can stop reading – and often do.

I want people to enjoy my books. I want to entertain my readers.  I want to tantalise them with complex plots and mysteries in a contemporary world that feels real.

I don’t need graphic sex, foul language and excessive violence to achieve that. It doesn’t make my books soft and fluffy or unrealistic.

I’m writing a murder mystery not a bonk buster.

Reading questions

How do you feel about swearing, sex and violence in crime novels?


Learn more about the Kent Fisher murder 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.

River of Dreams

5th July 2019 – Songs that changed my life

Sometimes you listen to a song and it has a special significance, a deeper resonance. It touches you in a way that makes your spine tingle.

That was my criteria for selecting songs for my appearance on the Martina Mercer show on Hailsham FM recently. We had two hours of conversation, punctuated by my favourite songs. (Click here if you’d like to listen to the show and some great songs).

River of Dreams by Barclay James Harvest is a song about regret, about looking back at what might have been, about hopes and dreams unfulfilled. This was the original band’s last studio album in 1997, so I guess it was inevitable that they would look back on their career.

Ironically, River of Dreams stirred me to look forward, not back.

Up until then, I sometimes wondered if my life had been a series of missed opportunities.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happily married with an interesting and fulfilling job in environmental health, a gorgeous wife and a lovely home on the south coast. But my success as a writer amounted to a few articles published in national magazines and a regular column on technology in Writers Monthly magazine.

When I wrote my first novel at the age of 17, I dreamt of becoming an author like Graham Greene or Harper Lee, writing books that could change people’s lives. The unimaginatively titled book, Survival in the Garden, was written for children as my life experience was mainly the wishful idealism of a teenager.

Publishers, Hamish Hamilton, wrote me a lovely letter, complimenting me on my realistic dialogue and story. It was a shame I’d used anthropomorphic characters as they felt the story would have had more appeal with human characters.

Had I known better, or had anyone to advise me, I would have revised the story and used human characters.

I would also have told them I was 17 years old.

I didn’t mention this because I thought they wouldn’t take me seriously or think I was precocious.

I guess this was my first experience of regret. Every rejection letter took me back to that missed opportunity, which seemed to set the pattern for my life.

rejectionWhen I wrote, I always felt I was a notch below where I needed to be. But what did I need to do to lift my writing a level? What was the secret ingredient that years of searching had failed to uncover?

Even my modest success writing articles didn’t translate into better novels. I kept trying, though my output was minimal since my first flurry into novel writing – five or six finished novels in 30 years. Many unfinished, I suspect. Plenty of short stories and humorous pieces though.

Life got in the way – marriage, creating a home, my career as an environmental health officer. If I couldn’t make it as a writer, I could succeed at these.

But I couldn’t help looking back, regretting chances I could have taken. I resented the success that others had, wondered why they got all the luck. My writing was as good as theirs, wasn’t it?

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. I never tried hard enough to improve. I joined writers’ circles on the internet and at home, critiquing while others critiqued me, but I never believed in myself.

I thought success happened to others, that I was fated to feel frustrated and a failure.

failureHadn’t a careers teacher at school destroyed my dreams of becoming a journalist?

Hadn’t I made a childish mistake with my first novel, writing about animals and insects?

And then I listened to River of Dreams. This was me, getting bitter and resentful because I hadn’t had the life I deserved.

Only I had. You get out what you put it, right?

Had I really tried to improve my writing by editing and revising my work when it was rejected?

Had I really learned from the articles I sold to national magazines? I succeeded through hard work and preparation, market research, revising and honing my words.

Couldn’t I do that with novels?

Why not? All I had to do was apply myself, work hard and learn. If I stayed positive and believed in myself, I would find a way. Better that than looking back with regret over what might have been.

I did the market research. Crime was filled with detectives of all kinds, but no one had an environmental health officer solving murders. It sounded ridiculous at first, but it’s not as daft as it may sound.

I created Kent Fisher shortly after listening to River of Dreams. It was a turning point that eventually led to an independent US publisher giving me what I’d always wanted – an offer to publish my novel.

Would I have got there without River of Dreams? We’ll never know.

River of Dreams


No MysteryIf you’d like to find out whether you’d enjoy the Kent Fisher mysteries, this free introduction to the series is free when you sign up to my monthly newsletter, which will keep you up to date news and releases. Click here to continue.

Would you turn back to change your life?

If you could go back in your life and change one decision you made, which would it be?

We’re not talking about buying the wrong car here. We’re talking decisions that could be life changing – turning points, if you like. At the time, you don’t always realise the impact of some choices or decisions.

Most people can probably find several turning points in their lives.

Last week, while I wrote about how poverty and the loss of my father at an early age affected my life, a couple of my turning points sprang to mind. (Click here to check out the post)

Friends or integrity?

My love of reading and my active imagination got me into trouble as a child.

I liked to tell stories rather than simply relate events. These embellishments may have made my accounts more exciting, but on this occasion one of my friends to call me a liar.

I’d exaggerated the facts, added a few flourishes here and there, to make the tale more entertaining, but I hadn’t lied. My friend continued to accuse me of being a liar. I fought back and the accusations and counter accusations grew in volume.

In the end, he said he had better things to do than listen to a liar and walked off. To my dismay, the rest of the group followed him.

I walked off in the opposite direction. I lost my friends, but retained my integrity.

I wasn’t to know that it would set the pattern for my life.

Would I go back and change that decision?

No way! It made me the defiant (my wife calls it stubborn) person I am today. But I learned to save my embellishments for my writing.

Age matters

My second turning point came when I wrote my first novel, Survival in the Garden. Yeah, I know it’s not the most exciting title, but it was accurate and was written for children. The story dealt with tackling bullies and oppression by banding together.

I submitted the novel, typed on my portable typewriter, to Hamish Hamilton Books, a publisher I’d found in the Writers and Artists Yearbook. I wrote an accompanying letter, as recommended, and waited for a response.

Several weeks later, the publisher wrote back, praising the characterisation and dialogue, but no offer of publication.

A few years later, when publication continued to elude me, I wondered whether I should have told Hamish Hamilton I was 17. I thought they would look at my age and not take me seriously. After all, how many 17 year olds wrote novels when they could be out chasing girls, playing football or starting a job?

With no father, no one around me who wrote fiction, and friends who thought I was weird writing stories, I probably made the wrong decision. Hamish Hamilton may have looked at my story in a different way, maybe even taken me on.

We’ll never know.

Would I go back and change this decision?

It’s tempting to imagine what might have been. That’s what writers do. They imagine new worlds and fill them with new lives. Maybe one day I’ll write about a 17 year old who gets a book deal.

The real turning point

At the age of 23, I was still living at home in Bury, north of Manchester. I wanted a place of my own and found a house I could afford. It was exciting, making plans, imagining what it would be like to live alone, to have the freedom to do as I pleased.

But the cracks soon appeared – not literally. The house wasn’t sinking into the ground. No, a small patch of dampness, caused by a blocked air brick, prompted the building society to demand a full damp and timber survey, which I had to pay for. They refused to accept my evidence as I was not a surveyor.

Neither were the people who did damp and timber surveys, but that didn’t seem to bother the building society.

I pulled out. I didn’t feel the same about the house anymore. The whole episode had turned the dream into a nightmare. It was an emotional rather than a practical decision. A decision based on principle.

It cost me the freedom I yearned.

Or did it?

No, it made me realise I wanted change, the chance to spread my wings, to live my own life. I didn’t need to buy a new house to achieve this. I could get a new job.

Three months later, a job opportunity came up in Eastbourne, a seaside town on the south coast, 310 miles away from Manchester.

Had I bought the house, I wouldn’t be here today, writing crime novels set in the majestic South Downs.

Okay, It’s a lame link to updating you on my progress with my January Challenge to complete the first draft of my latest murder mystery novel by the end of the month.

I haven’t written as many words as last week – 8,086 for those who like precision –  but I

  • moved the story to the point where everything is about to kick off
  • introduced some new ideas and twists that I never envisaged
  • wrote one scene that brought a tear to my eye – and that doesn’t happen often.

Looking ahead, I may even look back at my decision to ‘go for it in January’ as a turning point.

Something for the weekend

Instead of the usual wordplay, I’ve chosen a favourite song that came to mind while I wrote this post. River of Dreams by the original Barclay James Harvest was the title track on their final studio album. The track deals with looking back at your life and what might have been.

Click here to listen to River of Dreams.


If you’d like to know more about my murder mystery novels, click here to visit my Amazon page. Or you can sign up to my reader group for more insights, updates and a sample first chapter from the novel I’m currently writing.

How deception made me a writer

In my childhood I improvised to survive. At times my life was as fictitious as the stories I read. Pretence was sometimes the only reality.

That’s what made me a writer.

I was eight when my father died. Though sad at his loss, I had no idea of the struggles that lay ahead. We were poor. Unlike the children around me, I had no pocket money. Clothes and shoes had to last as long as possible. Holidays were an escape from school, not a towel on a beach.

Education offered me a way out, but grammar school brought me face to face with children from wealthier backgrounds. Envious of what they had, I had to find more and more elaborate ways to disguise the fact I wasn’t one of them.

I resented being poor, especially when I took an interest in girls. I made excuses to avoid taking them home. I could have explained the rising damp was an experiment to determine the porosity of bricks. Had global warming been in the news, I could have used it to explain why we didn’t have central heating and wore coats around the house in winter.

Instead, I said my mother was ill and kept girlfriends as far away from my home as possible. In hindsight, I should have dated the girls from my estate, but grammar school made me judge people by their worth.

It led to an interesting double life.

maskAt school, I was a loner, a studious kid, participating in a competition to see whose uniform would last the longest. Okay, I was the only entrant, but competing against myself made me work harder. I told everyone I preferred to spend my evenings reading books as TV was boring and full of repeats. This first part was true because we couldn’t afford a TV.

At home, I played football with the lads, hung around on street corners, and did my homework late at night. Many of the local kids didn’t bother with homework. There was no point when they were going to work in the paper mill opposite when they left school.

Reading lots of books carried me through tough times.

Books inspired me, gave me dreams and aspirations, brought me heroes like Atticus Finch. They fired my imagination, took me to new worlds like Narnia, and showed me every facet of human nature, conflict and courage.

Reading made me want to change the world, to fight poverty and inequality, to clean up the environment, to end ignorance and prejudice.

I wrote stories to express these aspirations and experiences. I’m not sure I did them justice, but my marks were high. But English was my favourite subject by miles.

I loved everything about words – their sounds, meanings and origins. Words had the power to mesmerise and transform. This made me unique in a school determined to drill science into every pupil’s psyche. But thanks to books, I refused to succumb, choosing artistic subjects instead.

English was also about communication, the ability to express ideas and ideals, to persuade others, to capture the beauty and horrors in the world. Unable to afford a camera, and with no TV, my imagination created adventures and worlds.

Being different and a bit of a loner made me a target. Useless with my fists, I learned how to talk my way out of trouble – often after I’d talked myself into it. Without books, the learning and the words, I would have been pummelled by bullies.

I learned to deceive, to imitate and to pretend to be just like them. The moment I discovered I would be judged by my poverty, I became an actor.

Spending so much time alone, my imagination became choked with ideas I needed to share. I had a desperate urge to express my ideas, to influence what people thought, to make them accept me as an equal.

The future becomes the past

Now, as I write, I feel the influence of the past in my words, my attitudes and values. That’s why my central character, Kent Fisher, comes from a background of poverty and loss. He fights for the underdog, for those who have no voice, such as animals, and for those who would otherwise be walked over.

Kent does what I was never brave enough to do in my youth – accept the unfairness, move on, take chances, take control.

He’s even taught me to take control.

I challenged myself to complete the first draft of my latest novel by the end of January.

WritingIt’s been a struggle, an exercise in doubt, a story I couldn’t bring to life. Doubt does that to you. Nothing is good enough. You feel a failure. But as one of my friends likes to say when she’s struggling, ‘I need to give myself a good kick up the arse.’

So I set myself a target of writing 10,000 words each working week in January. I’ve gone public, which means there’s nowhere to hide. I’ve told my readers the book will be published in May 2019.

So how did I do this first week?

I wrote 11,775 words, which surprised me, I can tell you. Better than that I

  • ignored my smartphone, leaving it downstairs while I wrote.
  • stopped wasting time on things that either distracted me or didn’t achieve anything, like checking emails, Facebook and Twitter, opening the post
  • kept a low profile on social media
  • planned the week ahead

I feel more motivated, more excited, more productive. As well as writing more words in each hour, I’ve increased my writing hours on at least three days of the week.

Best of all, the ideas are flowing once more, improving the story and I’m starting to believe I can do it.

And if you’d like to know more about the Kent Fisher murder mysteries, click here to visit my Amazon page. Or sign up to my reader group for more insights, updates and a sample first chapter from the novel I’m currently writing.

Something for the weekend

Is ‘horizon scanning’ the perfect subject for distance learning?