Dogged determination to write crime fiction

Last night, with forecasts of heavy drifts of snow, and ice all over the roads and pavements, I was tempted to go on the Internet to see if I could hire a digger or bulldozer.

How else could I dig my way out to take Harvey for a walk in the morning?

Not that my West Highland white terrier was interested in tomorrow morning. He was too busy enjoying one of his favourite TV programmes, Winterwatch, from the sofa in Crouch Towers. Ear pricked, eyes focused on the action in the snowy landscape of the Cairngorm Mountains, he was already growling at the various birds on the feeders.

Usually, it’s foxes, dogs and farm animals that prompt hearty barking, a leap to the floor, and a short dash across the carpet to watch the action on TV from close quarters. Last night, it was a couple of white hares, barely visible against the snow. I’ve never seen his tail wag so vigorously, dispersing the heat from the nearby radiator.

He watched for a good 30 seconds, captivated by the hares. Then, when the cameras returned to the presenters, he slunk back, leapt onto the sofa to lie next to me, and resumed his vigil, watching for the next animals to appear.

Harvey on sofa

He’s the same in the morning. He lies on the bed, looking out of the window, at the roof opposite. This is a favourite roost for gulls, pigeons and starlings. Once, we had a magnificent kestrel stop by, happy to pose for photograph before flying off.

Harvey rears up on his hind legs and barks at any bird that dares enter his field of vision. Even when he’s finished barking, he keeps watch, a low growl rumbling in his throat, blotting out the news on the radio.

As you can probably imagine, we struggle to watch programmes like Countryfile, any David Attenborough documentary and Supervet, Noel Whelan. In summer, we let him into the garden – Harvey, not Noel. He can then bark at anyone passing by or enjoying themselves in their gardens. If he starts to enjoy himself too much, we have to bring him inside and change TV channel.

I can’t recall the last time I watched Crufts.

Does your dog go wild when animals or birds appear on the TV?

Anyway, I wouldn’t be without Harvey. Now he’s getting older, he’s become more sociable. He often follows me upstairs when I go to my study to write, sometimes sitting by my feet, sometimes behind my chair, which means I have to remember he’s there and not move suddenly.

January Challenge completed.

Luckily, he wasn’t in the study when I completed the first draft of No More Lies, the fourth Kent Fisher murder mystery novel. After typing ‘The End’, I pushed my chair back and enjoyed the moment.

I’d completed my January challenge two days ahead of schedule.

For anyone who likes the details, the first draft came in at 99,000 words. Once I begin editing and revising in three weeks’ time, this will reduce as I sharpen the prose.

Editing has become one of my favourite parts of the process as I refine and polish the original work and improve it into the story I envisaged.

YouTube

All I need to do now is make a video of the process. Only joking. But I have finally created a Robert Crouch Author channel on YouTube. It’s been in my mind and on my wish list during the past year, but I didn’t know where to start.

I still don’t know, so I set it up and posted a video of Harvey and me, playing on a beach in Teignmouth. It won’t win any Academy Awards, but it’s fun.

Click here to view the video.

With the channel now live, the pressure’s on to create some videos about my writing and the Kent Fisher murder mystery novels. With the lovely East Sussex countryside and the South Downs on my doorstep, I could take viewers to some of the places in the novels when the weather warms up.

I have a feeling there may be a few more videos of Harvey running around the South Downs somewhere …

Cuckmere River


Something for the weekend

Why are meeting notes called minutes when they take hours to produce?

Robert Crouch
https://robertcrouch.co.uk

Entertaining crime fiction

There’s enough misery in the world without me adding to it.

That’s why I like to escape into a fictional world. If I want gritty realism and the worst humanity has to offer, I can watch the news or a hard-hitting documentary or drama. When I’m reading, I want to be entertained with a great story, filled with engaging characters, an exciting and twisting plot and a healthy dose of humour.

Yes, I know people can be inhuman and commit barbaric acts. All I’m saying is that I don’t want any of this in the books I read or the dramas I watch on TV. They’re no substitute for a great story.

I’m not looking for some rose-coloured perfect world where everyone is nice to each other. That would be dull. But you can have suspense, tension, intrigue and conflict without graphic descriptions and bone-crunching violence.

And as for sex scenes – I suspect most people’s imaginations can do better.

To those who believe we need to confront the horrors of our times, to expose the cruelty and inhumanity that exists, I agree. But treat the readers and viewers with some respect. Most of us can imagine and empathise. We don’t need to be shocked or won over with graphic detail.

We don’t need to be spoon-fed the horror in bite-sized chunks till we feel sick.

Having said all that, you may wonder why I write crime fiction. After all, there’s nothing pleasant or enjoyable about murder or any serious crime. Loved ones are hurt, lives are changed forever, society feels threatened.

justiceBut crime fiction is about the fight for justice, the battle between the police and the clever killer, the satisfaction of solving the crime. Like any book or drama, you learn about people, about settings, about issues that matter. You see the best and worst of people, but safely, in the pages of a book.

Like any book, a crime novel tells you about the world it inhabits and the world around you. Some authors strive to get into the minds of killers and rapists, to understand what turned them into what they are.

And some authors simply want to entertain you, to take you away and give you a break from reality for a short while.

That’s why I write murder mysteries. I know people swear, but it doesn’t mean my characters have to. I know people can inflict horrendous cruelty on others. It doesn’t mean I have to describe it in great detail.

Inspector Morse

I want to entertain readers, to surprise them not shock them, to intrigue and baffle them as they try to work out the identity of the killer. I want to show them new worlds and different perspectives without making their stomachs turn. I want to laugh, cry, and feel part of the stories, all in a realistic, if fictional world.

Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, Dick Francis and the like entertained and thrilled readers the world over with clever plots, cunning twists and turns, memorable characters and good writing. They are my role models. They set the benchmark I aspire to with crime writing.

If this sounds like the kind of story you’d enjoy, then please visit my website here, or my Amazon author page here for a flavour of the Kent Fisher murder mysteries.

No AccidentThe first in the series, No Accident, is currently on offer for only 99p on Amazon Kindle – less than a cup of tea on the High Street.

If you know anyone who enjoys a whodunit, then please share this post and let them know.

 

Challenging times

The fourth Kent Fisher murder mystery, No More Lies, is currently my January challenge.

It’s no secret that I’ve struggled to write the first draft of this story, but that’s a tale for another post. As 2018 came to an end, I knew I had to get my act together. So I set myself a challenge for complete the first draft by the end of January.

After a tiring third week, where I wrote over 12,000 words, I’m fast approaching the climax of the story and aim to write it this week. I’ve crashed past 90,000 words and the pace is picking up nicely as Kent Fisher starts to solve the mysterious cold case that’s left the police baffled for so long.

But you know it’s not going to be that simple.

Something for the weekend

How about a little escapism with Billy Howard’s King of the Cops? Enjoy!

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?

 

 

Getting going by going public

Are you one of those people who like talking about your feelings and achievements?

Me neither.

If you’re an author, you want people to look at and buy your books. You have to tell them what’s good, why they invest time and money in you. The alternative is to hope readers will stumble across your books among the millions of others on internet retailers like Amazon and Kobo.

Readers are also interested in the author as much as the books. Maybe more so. It means you have to reveal more of yourself, tell readers who you are, what you stand for, why you write crime novels and so on.

The marketing gurus say, you, the author are the brand. Readers buy into your brand. Readers are interested in you. Tell them about yourself on your website, on Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets.

Tell them what? I’m Robert Crouch and I write murder mystery novels. It says that on my Amazon bio.

Okay, give readers ten facts they won’t know about you.

As most readers have yet to discover me, I could tell them almost anything. But would you be interested in what I eat for breakfast, where I live, or would you prefer to have my views on the state of the environment?

Okay, give them ten interesting facts.

Wolfie SmithI used to go ten pin bowling. Oh, you want to know if anything interesting happened. Well, one night I played in the lane next to Robert Lindsay. Who’s Robert Lindsay? He’s the guy who played Wolfie in Citizen Smith. It was a comedy back in the early 1980s. No, I haven’t played ten pin bowling recently with a celebrity from Love Island. No, I don’t have any selfies with the cast.

Robert Lindsay and I both went for the same bowling ball that night. No, I don’t suppose it’s that interesting, even though he told me about Citizen Smith and the character he was playing, long before it came out on TV?

No, not even if the people who read my book are more likely to be interested in Citizen Smith?

That’s one of the reasons I’d rather not talk about myself.

I’ve no real idea what people would find interesting.

What do I want to know about the authors I like? That’s easy – when is the next book coming out?

That’s what made me decide to go public and announce my intentions. I was already wondering whether I could complete the first draft of my latest novel by the end of January. Now I’m going to commit myself to doing this so I can publish the fourth Kent Fisher murder mystery in May 2019.

You heard it here, folks!

In part, the New Year prompted me. I want to get this latest novel finished after a bumpy start, punctuated by distractions, numerous revisions and edits and three changes in title. The title’s as important as the names of characters. Get them right, and I write better. Not being a psychologist, I’ve no idea why this should be, but it helps.

get it DoneAnd so did a fascinating book, entitled Get it Done, by Michael Mackintosh.

It’s a self-help book that claims to offer a proven system for helping you achieve your goals in 21 days. One of the key tenets is going public. It adds accountability to your goal. You make a commitment in public, so you have to keep it. There’s nowhere to hide, which means you have to beat down the doubts and demons that want you have a quiet life without all this pressure.

These doubts and demons are happy with your comfortable existence. The moment you start getting grand ideas, they throw procrastination in your path. If this fails, they summon up anxiety and self-doubt to make you think twice.

I could have continued to write with no deadline, but I wanted to get my book out to readers. I want them to know what they can expect from me.

I’ll be blogging on Robservations about my progress, letting you know anything of interest or whatever tickles my funny bone. I’ll post on Facebook and Twitter, though I plan to keep a low profile and spend less time on social media in January so I can complete the first draft.

If you’d like to join me on the journey, please follow me and tell your friends. Let me know about your journeys.

If you have questions, post them in the comments box below.

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

Should people who arrive late for a time management seminar be allowed to take part?

New Year Realisation

28th December 2018.

It never ceases to impress me how the movement of a single digit can create such a surge of optimism to tackle one of life’s most difficult challenges.

Before you start thinking conquering Everest, reading a news story based on fact rather than opinion, or inventing a washing machine that doesn’t finish the cycle with one odd sock left in the drum, we’re talking about change.

That’s right, change – as in doing something different, embracing something new.

Apart from a select few, most of us are rubbish at change. We prefer to stick with what we know, what’s comfortable. After all, habits and routines were created to make life easier, to deal with the mundane issues and free up time for the bigger stuff, like which main course to choose at the restaurant.

That’s right, you go for the one you had last time.

You know what you’re getting. So you had it the time before that and the time before that too. It shows you’re consistent and reliable. It makes life easier for the waiters, who can spend more time with customers who tip better.

So, why do we all get excited as New Year approaches?

We start coming up with resolutions that will involve changing habits we’ve spent years, sometimes a lifetime, perfecting and polishing. We know deep down that we don’t really want to change, but the alternative is trousers with elasticated waistbands, and that would never do, would it?

We know smoking’s bad for our health, and the health of others, but grandad smoked 60 Capstan Full Strength a day from the age of seven and lived to be 120 without taking a day off sick in his life. And science will prove smoking’s less harmful than exercise given enough time and money. Yeah, you wish!

And let’s be honest, we’d all be better people if others stopped trying to change us.

But as the excesses of Christmas settle around the waistline, hips and buttocks, we know the year’s going to change shortly. A New Year means things are going to be different. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The year’s got a different number. What else do you need – a cloud of cosmic space dust to sweep over the planet to make the changes we failed to make this year?

Experience and statistics reveal that New Year resolutions often fail and tumble within hours and days, sometimes sooner. But this rarely dents the optimism and enthusiasm for a repeat performance next year.

It’s great that people want to change their lives for the better.

Many will. The change of year is the stimulus they need to join a gym, paying for a full year up front to ensure they go every week and keep going. Without these people, the leisure industry would be much poorer.

The start of a new year also makes it easier to remember when you began the great journey of change. If you like to count off the days, weeks and months, or years if you give up smoking, then you don’t want to be looking through old calendars and diaries for the day you began.

It was May 17th, twelve years ago, when I quit smoking, in case you’re wondering. If you’re not wondering, then you’ve learned something new about me.

I started going to the gym six months before that. I paid by monthly direct debit because I didn’t know if I would like the gym or stick at it. I did and I did, but I wasn’t going to risk the money.

As a result, I’m healthier, fitter, and I eat better. I’ve lost weight, gained greater focus and determination, and would recommend putting better health at the top of your agenda.

Without good health, you can’t enjoy everything else.

If it takes a New Year resolution to stimulate you to make a change, then go for it.

Just be realistic, think it through and make some plans for how you’re going to achieve whatever goal you set. The gurus tell you to tell everyone what you’re doing as it makes it more likely that you’ll do it. Yeah, right! You can enlist the support of others to keep you going and help you through the difficult times. Like the people at work who laughed when I said I’d given up smoking? No thanks.

Well I quit smoking, and there’s no reason why you can’t achieve your goals if you want to.

So, with that past experience in mind, I settled at my desk in Crouch Corner and turned my attention to what I can do to be a better, more successful writer in 2019.

First problem – what does successful mean? How do you define success?

I discovered numerous blog posts and websites on the subject, which told me that success is whatever I want it to be. So, success is a plain chocolate Lindor (or three) at this moment.

My meanderings into marketing, social media and what my contemporaries do, didn’t help much either. I could have blown my budget on courses to teach me how to advertise on Amazon, Facebook and other media. I could also nip round to the newsagent and put a notice in the window. Remember, success is what I want it to be.

To cut a long, boring story short, I spent a lot of time and effort, creating targets, drawing up lists of tasks, priorities, how to measure my efforts, tweak the ones that failed, and so on. It was like being a manager again.

Then, while I was writing this blog post, the answer came to me.

Maybe it was cosmic space dust. Maybe it was my reflections on quitting smoking. Maybe it was my wish to condense everything into a single, snappy New Year Resolution.

Or maybe it was the realisation that I was looking at things the wrong way round – or arse about face as we used to say Up North.

My New Year Resolution became a New Year Realisation. This wasn’t about me, this was about readers.

I write my books for readers, people like you who enjoy a good murder mystery with a bit of humour. (Click here to take a look) Without you, I’d be publishing books for me, which would be a pretty pointless ego trip.

So, here’s my New Year Resolution for 2019 –

I will give my readers more.

  • It means more books, more information, more updates, more insights, more chances to comment and be involved in future novels.
  • It means producing more content, such as blogs, videos, newsletters, media appearances and local events to keep you informed and up to date.
  • It means more book reviews, interviews and guest posts to introduce you to authors you might like to try.

 

All I ask in return is that you comment, ask questions and engage with me so I know whether I’m giving you more, or a migraine. Please don’t be shy.

Start by commenting below, following this blog, or signing up to my Reader Group newsletter at my website https://robertcrouch.co.uk.

Something for the weekend

Have you heard the one about the guy who set up an origami business? It folded after six months due to the amount of paperwork involved.

My favourite crime novels of 2018

21st December 2018

It may be the shortest day of the year, but here at Crouch Corner, there’s a long list of crime novels to wade through if I’m to select my favourites of the year.

Without doubt, crime’s the most diverse genre and possibly the best-selling. You can read everything from little old ladies solving murders between cream teas to full blown serial killer thrillers that leave little to the imagination. We’re all interested and intrigued by murder, and many readers like to solve the mystery before they reach the solution.

I started over 50 crime novels this year, though some of them fell by the wayside and didn’t capture my interest. I finished reading 42 and enjoyed most of them. This included a number of existing favourites and many new authors, who I read for the first time.

I’ve reviewed all of the novels mentioned here, along with many more that didn’t make this post. I think of it as a way of saying thank you to the authors for entertaining me, and I hope it helps others to discover some of the great novels out there.

All my review are posted on my website and can be viewed by clicking here.

If you’ve any favourite crimes novels for 2018, please comment below and tell me about them.

Series characters

Like many readers, I love a good series, and they don’t come much better than Peter James and his hero, Roy Grace, who fights crime in Brighton and Hove, just along the East Sussex coast from me. As well as beautifully crafted plots, the author provides a detailed insight into the way the police work and operate, including the issues they face with public spending cuts, the media, and senior management. This gives the stories a credible and authentic feel that makes them come alive.

Not Dead Enough

I’ve only read the first eight novels in the series, but the one that gave me the most pleasure, was the third, Not Dead Enough, which finished with a series of exquisite twists.

The DCI Ryan series by LJ Ross, set in Northumberland, has become a firm favourite since the first in the series, Holy Island, based in Lindisfarne. The author’s easy style and cast of likable characters, facing internal and external threats, some of them personal, make for entertaining reading.

While every novel is terrific, my favourite is High Force, which deals with a personal vendetta that cranks up the tension to an almost unbearable level before the finale, which gives more than a passing nod to Sherlock Holmes.

High Force

Finally, my other favourite series this year involves DS Kay Hunter, created by Rachel Amphlett. Set in and around Maidstone in Kent, these novels have a straightforward, no-nonsense style and another team of likable detectives, who fight for each other as much as they fight criminals. There is also a personal element to many of the stories to add to the tension.

Hell to Pay was my favourite as Kay Hunter finally discovers who’s trying to destroy her career and why.

Hell to Pay

New authors

One of the joys of reading is discovering new authors and books that hit all the right spots. Sometimes, they come by recommendation from other readers. Sometimes a publisher offers a book for a reduced price or for free to tempt new readers. Whatever the reason, I’ve broadened my choices in 2018 and these are my favourites.

Michael Wood

His books feature DCI Matilda Darke, a detective returning to work after sickness caused by stress. In For Reasons Unknown, as well as proving she’s physically and emotionally fit to return to work, she has competition, no guarantee of getting her old job back, and a cold case that bites back. Her personal battles add that extra layer of tension and engagement to lift the story.

For Reasons Unknown

Outside Looking In continues Darke’s return to her old job. But with a vendetta threatening to derail her recovery, the tension builds to a superb climax that kept me reading well into the afternoon to reach the climax.

Harlan Coben

A friend of mine commented on Facebook about Caught, describing Coben as a favourite author. I took a quick look on Amazon and loved his distinctive voice and style of writing. The story drew me in effortlessly with a TV sting snaring a child abuser. Only it was never going to be that simple. And the complications and twists kept coming, leaving me quite drained by the end.

I’ll definitely be reading more Harlan Coben in 2019.

Harlan Coben Caught

Cheryl Bradshaw

Another American author with a voice and style I immediately connected with. While it’s always best to start a series with the first book, I began with Hush Now Baby, the sixth in the Sloane Monroe private detective series. I loved the characters, plot and tone of the book, which was reminiscent of a grittier Kinsey Millhone.

Hush Now Baby

A special thank you to Sue Grafton

My reading year was tinged with sadness when Sue Grafton died. The creator of Kinsey Millhone had completed 25 novels featuring her wonderful private eye. While Y is for Yesterday wasn’t the best of the novels, in my opinion, it was a fitting end and tribute to a wonderful author, who inspired me to create Kent Fisher and write my own crime novels.

Y is for Yesterday

I also revisited A is for Alibi, this year and loved it as much as the first time I read it back in the late 1980s.

That only leaves me to tell you my favourite crime novel of 2108.

It wasn’t an easy choice by any means, and there were quite a few contenders, but the decision was based on my emotional reaction when I finished the book.

You should always feel sadness when you reach the end. For hours, days, maybe weeks, you’ve lived with the characters, following them through the twists and turns as they battle to overcome the challenges that face them. Now it’s over, but the book lives on in your memory. You think about it, relive some of the moments and reflect on a story that moved you, maybe even changed the way you look at life.

That’s the mark of a great book and the crime novel that moved me more than any other this year was Outside Looking In, by Michael Wood. I think it was Matilda Darke’s determination to face her demons and battle through that left the biggest impression.

If you haven’t read this series, give it a go.

And my overall favourite book for 2018

Outside Looking In

Well, that’s almost it for 2018, a year that gave me lots of reading pleasure. I hope to read more crime novels from my favourite authors and discover a few more new to me. I already have quite a few loaded onto my Kindle.

Next week, I may well reflect on 2018, when I published my third and favourite Kent Fisher mystery, No Remorse. It could also be a good time to share my hopes for 2019.


You can keep track of developments and news by signing up to the Kent Fisher Reader Group. Simply add your details in the form on the right of the page and you’ll receive a free copy of my Case Files.

You can also follow me on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.

And if you’ve read and enjoyed the Kent Fisher mysteries, then please help by spreading the word and sharing this blog. By clicking on the social media icons below you should share this blog to your Facebook or Twitter account. Thank you.

 

Why crime novels grip me, or often don’t

9th December 2018

Like every other reader on the planet I love a good story.

I want to be taken on an exciting journey to meet new people, see new places and learn new things. Sometimes, I learn something about myself I didn’t know. Occasionally, I’m moved to tears, usually by injustice or dashed dreams.

Miss Marple photoTop of my reading list are crime novels. They come in so many shapes and sizes, with no end of new authors and styles to choose from. That in itself poses a problem of how to get a book noticed, which I’ll come to in a moment.

The whodunit sits proud at the top of my reading pile because I love puzzles and mysteries. Whether it’s Miss Marple, Inspector Morse or Kinsey Millhone, there’s something immensely satisfying about picking through clues, trying to piece together the evidence to find the key to solving the mystery.

That said, I should let you in on a secret. As I read for pleasure and entertainment, I rarely solve a whodunit while I’m reading. I want to enjoy the story, not step out of it to make a list of clues and suspects. Sometimes, the identity of the murderer comes to me as I read, but it’s not essential to my enjoyment.

Beyond murder mystery novels, my interests spread mainly across police procedurals, dipping into the occasional psychological thriller. While I loved the millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson, I don’t tend to read Scandinavian noir, or any noir, come to think of it. If I want bleak I’ll watch the news.

Gritty and violent are okay if handled well and with restraint. Swearing doesn’t bother me. I know people swear, and a spot of DIY never fails to release the Anglo Saxon in me. But I wonder why some authors scatter profanities across the pages when a more selective use can create much greater impact.

And when it comes to sex scenes, my imagination can do it so much better.

I also realise there’s a lot of cruel and vicious crime out there in the world, but I don’t need to fill my head with it. I want to be entertained when I read, not depressed. That makes me selective.

While I appreciate a stylish cover, it’s the words inside that matter.

But, in such a crowded market, publishers and independent authors seem to be in the grip of an epidemic that’s infecting the straplines of crime novels.

The case of the gripping serial killer thriller’s unexpected twist of the year

Peter JamesOnce upon a time, endorsements by the likes of Val McDermid, Lee Child or Peter James were enough to create interest in a new book or author. Comparisons to Agatha Christie or another luminary of crime fiction often helped to lift a book a little higher up the list.

The message was simple – if you like these well-known authors, you’ll like this one.

But like any good idea, it’s usually overdone. The guys in the marketing department need to up their game and come up with another way to promote these books.

Cue the strapline.

This does for a book title what a mission statement does for a business.

Take a look around as you walk the streets. Traders have straplines on their vans. ‘We use copper because we do it proper’ caught my eye on a plumber’s van last week. Businesses like hairdressers and bakers have been using puns and catchy phrases for decades.

But once the publishing industry caught the bug, the disease began to infect covers like a rash.

Earlier this year, I read a crime novel that claimed it had a killer twist I wouldn’t see coming. Okay, that’s a challenge in anyone’s language. And while I’ve no wish to be smug, I saw it coming sometime before it arrived. And it wasn’t that big a deal either.

But the publisher didn’t care – I’d bought the book, hadn’t I? Well I would have, but they offered it for free for a limited period. Maybe their strapline didn’t quite have the desired effect?

Some make me smile. A serial killer thriller like no other.  All books are unique – otherwise the courts would be inundated with claims for plagiarism, surely. ‘Gripping’ has become one of the most overused words in the English language, it seems.

But the publishers cling onto it.

At the moment, there seems to be no respite for this infection, though some publishers and books appear to have discovered an antidote – a strapline that reflects the theme or issues in the novel. Whether it will help to reduce the sensational strapline claims is anyone’s guess.

I prefer accuracy over hyperbole.

No RemorseI would never make a claim I couldn’t substantiate. I could have described my last novel, No Remorse, as Kinsey Millhone meets Agatha Christie in a modern twist on the traditional whodunit. Actually, I couldn’t have done that as I’ve only just made it up, but you get the gist.

I went with Old sins cast long shadows, which was entirely in keeping with the novel. Hopefully, readers found the strapline interesting enough to look a little closer.

Maybe you could tell me.

 

Meanwhile, back in Crouch Corner, while wrestling with the first draft of No Stone – as in no stone unturned – I may have turned a corner.

Like all authors, when I approach the end of a chapter, a hook adds a note of intrigue, designed to make the reader want to carry on. This week, an unexpected twist came out of nowhere and gripped me so tight, you might have thought I’d won the lottery.

Okay, let’s stick to accuracy. This twist flowed from my fingers onto the screen. I don’t know where it came from, but it’s turned my plans upside down. I’ve uncovered the true direction of my crime novel. My subconscious has seen what I couldn’t see. This unexpected twist not only raises the stakes, it makes the investigation more personal, adding to the dangers and threats facing my protagonist, Kent Fisher. The road ahead seems much clearer now.

On the flipside, I’m not sure No Stone is the best title. I suppose I could take a leaf out of the publishers’ manual and spice it up with a killer strapline …

No Stone
A gripping murder mystery with a killer twist about a missing pebble.

No Stone
A gripping cold case that’ll freeze your rocks off.

No Stone
The gripping murder mystery of the year with more atmosphere than a disused quarry.

Okay, I’ll choose a new title.


You can keep track of my progress with No Stone by signing up to the Kent Fisher Reader Group. Simply add your details in the form on the right of the page and you’ll receive a free copy of my Case Files.

You can also follow me on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.

And if you’ve read and enjoyed the Kent Fisher mysteries, then please help by spreading the word and sharing this blog. By clicking on the social media icons below you should share this blog to your Facebook or Twitter account. Please let me know if it works. Thank you.

 

Life’s full of mystery stories

3rd December 2018

Fact can often be stranger than fiction.

Here at Crouch Corner, they often blur during the writing week. It’s not the result of alcohol or any other substance, simply the power of imagination. Sometimes, the writing flows so well the characters in my fictional world burst into life and become real.

research assistant

Maybe I spend too much time in the study, wrestling with all kinds of make believe, but that’s how I spent my formative years, engrossed in the worlds created by books. Now I write crime and murder mystery novels, I want to make them as real and credible as possible. That means accuracy.

My faithful research assistant, Google, remains close at hand, happy to check sunset times, the distance between two towns, or what the inside of a hotel or pub looks like. Naturally, I have to check the latter in person, as people don’t always keep Google up to date.

This week, I’ve stretched Google with some diverse searches, including mail order brides, names for dog grooming businesses, and the meaning of the name, Amanda.

If a young Russian dog groomer called Amanda goes missing before her wedding, I may have to go into hiding.

And like any crime writer, I’ve asked Google to search for far worse. It never complains, often anticipating what I want with remarkable accuracy. I don’t have many friends who can do that.

But nothing beats personal experience. My career as an environmental health officer gave me a few insights into police procedures. As an enforcement officer, I had to follow the same rules of evidence as the police. I worked with them and Coroner’s Officers, when I investigated fatalities arising from workplace accidents. I’ve gathered evidence, interviewed suspects under caution and prosecuted in Magistrates and Crown Courts.

My experiences investigating fatal workplace accidents inspired No Accident, the first Kent Fisher murder mystery. My knowledge and experiences helped shape the plot. And while I used some poetic licence, like any writer, all the action and events had to be plausible.

And while some writers choose to ignore procedures or rules that get in the way of their plots, I love the limitations imposed by the real world. It means Kent Fisher has to work so much harder to solve the murder. He has to be devious, creative, and occasionally deceitful.

Surely this makes for a more intriguing and challenging story.

Talking of intriguing, my neighbours and I have had our own little mystery…

The case of the abandoned white car

For at least six weeks I’ve looked out of my study window at a white car, parked in the road opposite Crouch Corner. The car hasn’t moved. No one has gone near it. None of the neighbours know who it belongs to or why it’s been left there.

Okay, one of us could have reported it to the police, but we live in a quiet cul de sac. It’s not joy ride city. And would joyriders abandon cars by parking them neatly against the kerb in a cul-de-sac? Then again, the writer in me didn’t see an abandoned car.

Oh no, we’re talking a body in the boot.

When my car needed a wash, I parked next to the white car. I sniffed around the boot, hoping for the scent of decomposition. I took a quick peek underneath to see if any fluids were escaping.

After four weeks, having eliminated a body, unless it was tightly wrapped in polythene, I wondered if the owners had been kidnapped while on holiday. What if they were in a coma in hospital after a horrific crash on the motorway? What if the police were waiting for the one call that could help to identify these people?

Better still, what if the owners were fleeing for their lives, dumping the car somewhere innocuous to throw the police off the trail – like Lord Lucan? (I’d love to solve that mystery.)

It’s now six weeks and until Thursday, I reckoned the owners had done a runner, disappearing to start a new life somewhere. Then, when I returned home after lunch with a friend, the car had gone.

Now I had a whole new set of mysteries, all far more exciting than the owner returning to collect his or her car. The mundane can take on a new fictitious life when you let your imagination run loose.

Sometimes, the imagination delivers something so profound it transforms you.

I love to throw in complications, or something unexpected, at the end of a chapter. This makes the story more interesting and exciting, offers new opportunities, and leads to more ideas. As I don’t have an outline, synopsis, or much idea where I’m heading, it helps to keep the story fresh and exciting.

Equally, there’s always the risk of writing myself into a cul-de-sac.

But this week, as I approached the end of a chapter, I threw in a killer line of dialogue that came out of nowhere. The words appeared in my thoughts moments before they appeared on the screen. I stared at this unexpected twist, realising the implications.

It turned the novel on its head, giving it a new meaning and premise.

Finally, I understood why I’d been struggling. I was writing the wrong story. This wasn’t just a murder mystery – this was a story about trust and deception. The ideas started to flow. Dialogue and behaviour I’d already written made more sense now. The characters’ drives and motivations became clear.

As always, my subconscious had taken all the ideas, all the words written, all the false starts, and made sense of them.

Then, while out running on Tuesday morning, a new strapline popped into my thoughts. It’s now demanding a new and better title, but what the hell? I’m already on my second.

That’s the joy of writing, whether it’s a romance, literary fiction or mystery novels. You can change and improve things. You can learn new things, travel to new places and meet new people.

And if anyone antagonises or upsets you, put them in the novel.


You can keep track of my progress with No Stone by signing up to the Kent Fisher Reader Group. Use the form on the right of the page.

You can also follow me on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.

And if you’ve read and enjoyed the Kent Fisher mysteries, then please help by spreading the word and sharing this blog.

 

 

Traumatic times in crime fiction

25th November 2018

Like a pop star on his third final tour, Robservations is back.

Holidays, and the disruption caused by works at Crouch Corner knocked me out of my stride. They also stressed Harvey, who wasn’t happy with the changes to the kitchen, even though his water and food bowls remained in the same place.

He’s settled once again, but now spends more time upstairs with me as I write No Stone, the fourth Kent Fisher murder mystery.

But before I update you on my progress, I need to warn you about a condition that’s devastating officers in police forces across the UK and beyond.

A severe case of Traumatitis

From the crime fiction I’ve read this year, it seems like there’s hardly a detective in the land who doesn’t suffer a major trauma before embarking on a new crime series. Even more worrying, the epidemic has spread into psychological thrillers. These traumas leave deep mental and physical scars which will haunt the detectives for the rest of their careers.

But far more worrying are the complex and baffling side effects, such as a resistance to counselling, common sense and recuperation. Despite being medically and psychologically unfit to return to work, these officers ignore medical advice, health and safety and operational policies to take on the latest serial killer that threatens to wreak havoc in their district.

Police forces are so clearly depleted there are no other detectives available to do the job.

And in case you’re in any doubt about how heroic these damaged detectives are, they revisit their traumas in every book so you don’t forget them.

With little evidence of a cure, it looks like Traumatitis will continue to deplete police forces up and down the country, masking the effects of less glamorous problems like chronic underfunding, difficulties in recruitment, and bad press.

Fortunately, some authors handle the condition with great skill to enhance their crime fiction.

Hemingway’s Home Truths

Hemingway

I don’t know if Ernest Hemingway wrote crime fiction, but he had a bit to say about the craft of writing.

He’s credited with remarking that ‘the first draft of anything is shit.’

Having written numerous reports about leaking septic tanks in my days as an environmental health officer, I know where he’s coming from. In the days before I was a published author, I viewed editing and revising the same way as I viewed visits to the dentist – something to be avoided wherever possible.

But when a publisher offers you a contract, editing and revising becomes a lot less painful than toothache.

That said, I’m not totally in agreement with Hemingway.

First drafts will always benefit from revising and editing, but it doesn’t mean they’re bad. I’ve written some great lines over the years, but I’ve also cut them if they don’t add to the story. Equally, I’ve had moments where my first draft has as much excitement as setting concrete.

Writing the first draft of No Stone has been so frustrating I’ve considered renaming it No Picnic. While holidays and disruptions interrupted my flow, as mentioned earlier, the character of Detective Inspector Ashley Goodman, one of the main players in the story, refused to come to life.

This impacted on her scenes with Kent Fisher and the direction of the story. I didn’t realise how much until we returned from the first holiday and I started to read through from the beginning. Immediately, I knew I had a serious problem.

Almost two months later, after numerous tweaks and revisions and a second break, I returned to my desk in Crouch Corner on Monday morning. To get me into the flow of the story, I went back to the beginning to refresh my memory.

Cue the Hemingway quote.

By the end of the week, I considered dumping the story and writing another. But sometimes in these dark moments of despair inspiration saves the day. After a writing a few lines of dialogue, I realised what made DI Goodman tick. I understood what she wanted, what drove her, what made her who she was.

The story came to life as I revised. Ideas popped into my head without any provocation, usually while I was shaving or making another cup of tea in the new kitchen. The complications are coming thick and fast, taking the story into areas I hadn’t envisaged.

I’ve written beyond the point where I stalled. Kent’s investigation is raising more questions than answers. I’ve no idea where it will go or how it will end, but that’s how I like to write my novels – by the seat of my pants.

Kent may not suffer from Traumatitis, but he gets a few unwelcome shocks in No Accident, the first in the series.


You can keep track of my progress with No Stone by signing up to the Kent Fisher Reader Group. Use the form on the right of the page.

You can also follow me on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.

And if you’ve read and enjoyed the Kent Fisher mysteries, then please help by spreading the word and sharing this blog.