Who’d have thought?

What went wrong?

Why did the fire for No Smoke go out before it really caught light?

If you read my previous post, All that glitters is not told, you’ll know I had some great ideas and plenty of enthusiasm for No Smoke, the fourth Kent Fisher mystery. (Click here to read the post).

Yet when I sat in front of the computer, notes on the desk, the story didn’t catch fire. I wrote, sure, but it didn’t come alive, barely smouldering as I edited and revised. After a frustrating couple of weeks and many rewrites of the first few chapters, I stopped.

Did I get carried away?

I don’t mean literally, though a few days of rest in hospital might have eased the frustration and tension. Maybe the idea wasn’t as good as I thought. Maybe I’d enjoyed writing No Remorse so much, the prospect of repeating the process put doubt into my mind.

Writers are often plagued by self-doubt. It can be healthy if it makes you stop and check what you’ve done, to be more careful and meticulous. And it can be a sod, undermining your confidence and beliefs, making you question your abilities, eroding your chances of successfully completing your story.

After reading back through my notes, I knew the story had legs.

So why was it on its knees?

Was I trying too hard?

You know that feeling, when you want to shine and excel. You’ve got something good and you have to give it your best. Half measures won’t do. This is your moment to shine – and trot our more clichés than you can shake the proverbial stick at.

HemingwayOnce the platitudes reached a plateau, I shook my head. No, I wasn’t trying too hard. This was a first draft. Hemingway said, ‘the first draft of anything is shit.’

You can always improve the writing and flow when you revise the completed first draft. Armed with Hemingway’s advice, I returned to write more – but my doubts multiplied.

Was I heading for the dreaded writer’s block?

Or had I simply lost interest in the idea?

Maybe I could write a different novel. I have a stock of ideas for future stories. They’re only summaries and outlines, issues I’d like to explore, but they’re tied up with the developments in the backstory.

Maybe the backstory was to blame

Six months had elapsed and quite a few issues from No Remorse needed attention. I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right choices for the backstory. Maybe a little doubt held me back.

I checked the main issues and the actions taken to solve the problems. I toyed with some alternative solutions to see if they would inspire me.

They didn’t.

If anything, I felt more confident with the original plot. Yet my inner voice, the little devil that picks at the details to cause doubt and confusion, wouldn’t let me move on. It kept reminding me I wasn’t as smart as I thought.

Kill your babies

This advice is often given to writers. Great ideas, sudden moments of inspiration, one-liners that can’t be equalled, all come with a health warning. Don’t get smug. Don’t think this is the best thing since sliced bread.

But it’s your idea, your baby, the one you created in a moment of inspired magic. Okay, the story needs a little tweaking to make the idea work. There may be a couple of lines of stilted dialogue to set the idea up, but it’s a killer, right?

Wrong.

If it doesn’t fit, flow or take the story forward, it’s no use – no matter how inspired or clever it is. I’ve killed many such ideas, deleting them from the story. It’s a shame, but the story’s better without them.

There’s no need to ask who had a killer idea as he wrote the first paragraph of the first page of the first chapter on the first day.

Guilty as charged.

In my defence, I have to say it was a terrific idea that I fought hard to keep. I did my best to make it work, but deep down, I knew it wasn’t right. I simply didn’t want to admit it.

Smouldering, not smoking

Having identified the problem, I settled down at the computer, full of renewed enthusiasm, focused on what really mattered in the story. No Smoke came alive, but a lingering doubt continued to nag me, pursuing me through each chapter I wrote.

The title was wrong. Or, should I say it wasn’t quite right?

With no alternative springing to mind, I wrote on. A better title would come to me sooner or later. Yet like a mound of files on the desk or a long list of To Do items, the issue wouldn’t let me rest. I went to bed, contemplating alternative titles. I woke, having dreamt up a few more.

This nagging doubt was taking over my writing life. It was telling me I couldn’t manage something as simple as a two word title. I already had the first word – No. All I needed was a second.

How difficult could it be?

The right frame of mind

I always tell people to let the subconscious find the answers. If you try to force your mind to provide the answer, it protests. And, as someone with a black belt in pig-headedness, I should have known better.

The moment I forgot about the problem, my subconscious gave me the new title.

No Stone.

And the strapline.

Who is Peter Stone?

And if you’ll forgive the pun, it looks like this is the cornerstone of the whole plot.

Who’d have thought?


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All that glitters is not told

It gleamed – even in the fading light of dusk. It glowed and winked like a star in a dark sky.

With an excited smile, I buffed and polished, savouring the warm glow it gave me before putting it away.

Then, unable to resist another peek, I opened the notepad and read the idea for my next novel, No Smoke, once more. No smoke without fire…

Okay, you get the drift – I was rather excited with the ideas for the fourth Kent Fisher Mystery.

excitement

It was the 19th August 2017 in Crouch Corner. I’d completed the first draft of No Remorse, the third novel, and put it to one side for a couple of months. These periods are essential to put some distance between the story and me so I can be more objective when I edit and revise.

Trouble is, when you’re buzzing, you don’t want to forget about it.

Hell, you’ve spent the best part of six months thinking about little else. You’ve lived and breathed this work, marvelling at the ideas and twists that spring from your subconscious like gifts from the gods.

You’ve finished a journey that’s taken you to places you never imagined. (Yeah, I know most of these places were imagined as part of the writing process, but you know what I mean.)

No RemorseTo ease my cravings for No Remorse, I thought about the next novel.

When you write a series, there’s a backstory, filled with characters and all the usual problems you encounter in life. It roots your story in reality, distinguishes it from the countless other crime novels on the market, and offers possibilities for further conflict, challenges and problems to enrich your work.

These further challenges – and there were quite a few, I can tell you – had to be addressed in the next novel.

Or did they?

Did I want the backstory taking away attention from the main plot? I am writing murder mysteries, after all.

What if I addressed the backstory issues and challenges in the interval between the two novels? That would then leave Kent Fisher to deal with the fallout and consequences at the start of the next novel.

And, if I’m lucky, readers will be itching to know what happened (and how) in the interval.

First hurdle cleared, I got creative.

The premise for the fourth novel is the arrival of Detective Inspector Ashley Goodman, who seeks Kent’s professional help as an environmental health officer with a cold case. Naturally, Kent goes on to solve the case because it wouldn’t be much of a story if he didn’t.

This golden nugget of an idea exploded into a treasure trove of possibilities, filling page after page of my notebook. Within days, I had a complex, twisting plot that would test my writing skills, let alone Kent Fisher’s powers of detection. I had backstory fallout wreaking havoc with his plans, and mine.

All I had to do now was discuss my ideas with a detective in Sussex Police to make sure they were feasible.

Peter JamesI come from the Peter James camp, believing accuracy and adherence to actual police procedures makes a better story, adding credibility and authenticity to a novel.

Two weeks later, in the café of a local garden centre, I pitched my idea to a detective sergeant in the Major Crime Unit of Sussex Police. She listened without interrupting, sipping her tea as I explained the premise and plot of my novel.

Then she shifted in her seat. She took a long sip of tea, pursed her lips and looked me in the eye. “Sorry, Robert, but I think I’m going to sink your story before it starts. The police would never reveal that much information about any case, live or cold.”

“Excellent,” I said. Like Kent, I’m great at hiding my true feelings, especially disappointment. But on this occasion I meant what I said. “It means Kent will have to work much harder to find out the information the police won’t reveal. That means a better story.”

She gave me a hesitant smile, no doubt wondering what I had in mind, and then made my afternoon by exchanging ideas on how Kent could do this. She made suggestions on how the plot could develop and how the police would handle the investigation, especially if Kent trod on their toes.

To cut a long story short, I ended up with more than I could have hoped for.

Back home, as the light faded, I wrote reams of notes, determined to remember every detail of the discussion. More ideas flowed until I was sure I had a great story in the making.

So, what went wrong between these heady moments of inspiration and the writing of the first draft, which began in early May this year?

Why did my golden nugget look and feel more like a lump of lead?

That’s a story for the next post…


In the meantime, please visit my Amazon page to discover why blogger, Susan Corcoran, said, ‘Kent Fisher is a wonderful creation, unique in crime literature’. You can also check out the reviews and read samples of the books.

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You never know

Two years ago, on 20th June 2016, my first novel, No Accident, was published.

Was it a dream come true?

Graham NortonOf course it was, but I have to admit to some disappointment when Graham Norton didn’t ring and invite me onto his show. I had all the funny stories lined up from my days as an environmental health officer (or EHO if you prefer TLAs – three letter acronyms).

“You drove around the South Downs, thinking of ways to murder people while you checked their kitchens for hygiene?” he would ask incredulously. “Didn’t it put you off your food?”

“No Graham, I never eat at any place I inspect.”

Pauses for comic laughter and blushes as JK Rowling complements me on my wit.

But the phone call never came. Hordes of fans didn’t beat down my door. The postman gave it a good rattle when he delivered my five complimentary paperbacks, courtesy of my publisher. No one recognised me in the street because none of the bookshops even knew my book existed.

Most of the population fell into the same category. The people who knew – friends, family and colleagues were probably bored of me mentioning the book or they were reading it.

Slowly, as the months passed, I realised the blue plaque on the wall of my house would have to wait a few more years. If I was going to get my book on Richard and Judy and become a household name, I had to get noticed. I had to market myself and my book to the masses.

Miss Marple photoFirst mistake! I needed to find people who liked reading about an environmental health officer who solved complex murders that paid homage to the traditional murder mysteries of authors like Agatha Christie.

Yes, I could see it was going to be a difficult sell. Most crime stories involved police officers or private detectives. Who’d ever heard of an EHO solving a murder?

But why not? If an elderly lady from St Mary Mead could do it …

So I send EHO, Kent Fisher, to investigate a fatal work accident and he uncovers a murder. Simple enough. But he also uncovers a shedload of family secrets and troubles along the way. That’s what happens in books, isn’t it?

Only Kent rolls with the punches, relying on his finely tuned sense of humour to see him through.

He becomes a local hero and gains his first commission to find a missing wife in the second novel, No Bodies, published in 2017. Once again, environmental health plays a key part as said missing wife ran off with a dodgy caterer.

Who said you can’t have your cake and eat it?

In No Remorse, published in May 2018, Kent takes his West Highland white terrier, Columbo, (no points for guessing my favourite TV detective), to entertain the residents of a well-to-do care home. One of the residents, who has dementia, is convinced they’re trying to kill him.

When he dies a few weeks later, does Kent think it’s murder? Of course not – until he’s handed a cryptic code that the old man left for him. And Kent’s on the trail again.

You might wonder how an EHO can solve murders. You might not think that running an animal sanctuary and trying to protect the environment are that heroic or worthy. And with all the personal baggage he carries, you might wonder why he doesn’t collapse under the weight of it.

That’s fine. If you prefer your heroes to be cynical coppers who drink and smoke too much, have broken marriages, and spend lots of time in their cars eating junk food between apprehending villains, there are some brilliant stories out there.

KindleI know, I’m an avid reader as well as a writer. Dip into my Kindle and you’ll find Peter James, LJ Ross, Rachel Amphlett, Robin Roughley, Elly Griffiths, Agatha Christie, Conan Doyle and many more crime writers.

They’ve all inspired me in some small way to write the kind of book I like to read, filled with twisting plots, irreverent humour and engaging characters who have real lives and issues to deal with.

I’m lucky to have a small, but growing number of readers who like the stories. Some of them write reviews that lift my day and keep me writing. Others send me messages by email or social media to say how much they enjoyed the novels. Some discuss the books with me, which is always an honour.

I love it when bloggers and reviewers hate a character – or love them. Some think Kent Fisher would make a great TV drama. Others think he should pack in environmental health and become a private detective.

Okay, Graham Norton’s not one of them, and he hasn’t signed up for my monthly newsletter either, despite the offer of a free book as a thank you.

I feel honoured and humbled that people have bought my books and enjoyed them. That’s all I ever wanted really – to entertain people with complex murder mysteries that would hopefully baffle them until the final reveal when they would sigh and say, ‘Of course.’

It would be great to shift millions of books like Peter James so I could make a living from writing. Maybe one day I will. Maybe I’ll emerge from Crouch Corner for lunch, take a peek at my phone and discover I’m an overnight sensation after all these years.

Or I’ll return to my desk and continue with the first draft of No Stone, the fourth Kent Fisher mystery. After all, there’s a small, but growing group of people who are waiting for the next book in the series. And I care about those people, who invest their money and time in me.

More than I care about sharing a sofa with JK Rowling, Elton John, Victoria Coren-Mitchell and Bob Mortimer, soaking up the laughter and applause as another funny story about noisy neighbours in bikinis rolls off the tongue.

But if I work hard and keep trying … you never know.

Robert Crouch

It starts with The End.

It started before I typed ‘The End’ on the last page of No Remorse, the third Kent Fisher mystery.

Typing ‘The End’ is only the beginning. The editing and revising can take longer than writing the first draft. This is where you polish to make the story shine. It didn’t always feel like this in the past, but once you realise how much you can improve the writing, editing becomes much less of a chore.

But I’m not talking about editing and revising today. I’m talking about the fourth novel in the series, provisionally entitled, No Smoke. A couple of weeks ago on Robservations, I talked about keeping a record of the writing process – an abbreviated journal, if you like. (Click here to read the blog).

When you write a series, you soon realise the challenges.

Everything you write has implications for future novels. While writing No Bodies, the second in the series, I was continually checking No Accident, the first book, to make sure characters hadn’t changed appearance or name, or suddenly become widowed. And that’s before you consider birthdays, anniversaries and significant events.

You also have look into the future. I’m not talking crystal balls or tarot cards, but ideas for future plots and events.  I have a story idea for Book Six. Book Five needs to set it up. Book Four will contribute, I’m sure. And while I was writing No Remorse, I realised I could start the process here.

It means lots of notebooks.

My study in Crouch Corner heaves with notepads, scrap paper and Post It notes. In one pad, I made the first entry for No Smoke on 14th August last year. It says:

‘A new Detective Inspector wants Kent’s help with an old case.’

From here, I flesh out some of the details of the cold case that the DI wants help with. There’s a link to an Asian restaurant with a history of ‘hate crime’. You may think that’s a matter for the police, but under Health and Safety at Work legislation, employers have to protect their employees. If employees are subjected to verbal and physical abuse, they need protection.

It’s another area of environmental health work that I wanted to highlight at the time. Since then, and pages of notes later, the plot has moved on and changed direction into something much more complex and devious.

The notes on the backstory, however, cover five times the pages dedicated to individual plots.

And it’s the backstory that shapes the series. Events from previous books cast shadows. Characters are changed and shaped by events. Relationships develop and shift. For instance, Kent Fisher and Gemma Dean, the main characters, have a history. Nothing unusual in that, but it’s the sexual tension, the ‘will they, won’t they’ aspects of their lives that impact on the main plots.

Readers tell me they enjoy this tension.

Whatever my plans for the next novel, I have to consider this relationship. Readers want to know what happens to them. Curiously, I’m never quite sure myself until I start writing.

Then there are secrets, events from the past that are exposed by previous investigations. Lives and attitudes are changed. Friendships can be shaken or broken. New alliances are forged. As in life, there are missed opportunities, regrets and a loss of control.

What about the impact of solving a murder, especially if your life was threatened?

Imagine how you might feel if you went to work one morning and uncovered a murder? You’d probably ring the police. But what if they didn’t believe you? What if you didn’t believe it yourself?

My hero’s an environmental health officer, not a police detective. He’s not hardened to murder. He doesn’t have a team of dedicated officers to support him. He only has his wits and his intuition and a determination to uncover the truth.

How does he deal with what he finds and the dangers to his life?

Denial becomes his weapon of choice. He chooses to roll with the dice and get on with life rather than complain about it. But every time you shut away some horror or upset, it lies there waiting to bite you later.

This is what makes the backstory so much fun. It adds an extra layer of interest. It helps the reader learn more about the characters. There’s additional conflict and challenges to keep the reader reading.

And all those details to remember and consider.

So, after I type The End, I start by considering what will happen in the time before the next novel starts. What will happen behind the scenes to influence events in the next story? What are the issues left over from the last novel?

No Smoke begins about six months after the end of No Remorse. A lot has happened in the intervening period, which is why I’m filling my notebook with ideas. And that’s before I consider the murder plot and suspects.

No RemorseAt least I know how the story will start and that’s usually enough. But I love throwing in twists and complications at the end of chapters. What if someone does this? What if that happens? Most of the time, I roll with these twists and turns because they take me beyond the story in my head.

There’s a chance they could lead me down a cul-de-sac. There’s also a chance they’ll transport me on a more exciting journey. They did in No Remorse, which took a new direction that led to three weeks of revisions, trying to make it all work.

It’s now leading to more decisions needed for the backstory.

At least I have a good supply of notebooks. I have a feeling I’ll need them, but that’s another story, of course.


If you’d like to find out more about No Remorse, which will be published on 7th May 2018, please click here to go to Amazon, where you can pre-order the book and check out the first two novels in the series.

From looking back to moving forward

‘You were a bright lad, but you were in the wrong job.’

Two years ago, after 39 years of service, I quit my job in environmental health to write full time. I rang Ged, who was my first manager when I started as a student Environmental Health Officer (EHO) in 1977. He chuckled and said, ‘You were a bright lad, but you were in the wrong job.’

Looking back, he was probably right. But I never had the courage, conviction or support to become a writer, as you’ll see if you read my post, Alas Poor Robert.

It may have been the wrong job, but I loved environmental health. It’s one of the most varied and rewarding jobs you can imagine. You’re out and about, meeting people and finding solutions to all manner of problems and issues to protect and improve public health.

Like nursing and teaching, it’s a vocation. And like many public sector jobs, it’s suffered in the last ten years as funding cuts and the media’s deriding, but false image of local government have taken their toll.

managerI was managing a team of officers by then. I spent much of my time justifying my actions and decisions to senior management, councillors, colleagues, my team, the press, the public and numerous other government bodies. It seemed crazy to me as I was following policy, working efficiently, within budget, and providing a good service.

In the end I couldn’t take any more and quit.

It wasn’t an easy decision. I had doubts right up to the moment I pressed send to email my resignation, but I’ve no regrets.

Okay, it took me 39 years to find the right job, but during that time I was hardly idle. I wrote and struggled like many other aspiring authors, working into the early hours most nights. A couple of novels drew interest from agents, but not enough for them to take me on and nurture what talent I had.

WritingDuring the 1990s, I sold articles to national magazines and had a column in Writers’ Monthly magazine. It was a hard slog, fighting for recognition among the stalwarts and regulars that magazine editors favoured.

And I wanted to write novels – crime novels.

As the millennium stepped up to the horizon, I’d already created my protagonist, Kent Fisher. Like me, he was an EHO, but that’s where the similarity ended. Unlike me, he was ex-army, married to the wrong woman, and in desperate need of a vice to fit in with all the other detectives on TV.

Kent appeared in three novels, shifting and changing like a chameleon as ideas came and went.

I was running low on rejection slips to paper the walls at Crouch Corner, so I sent the second novel to publishers and agents here and in the USA. One agent read it from cover to cover, but didn’t take me on.

Around the same time, I was promoted to manager and once more writing took a back seat for a few years. I loved the new role to start with. There I was, in control, setting policy, leading my team. Then I discovered the joys of meetings, human resources and memos. I also spent a lot of time checking the holiday planner to make sure we had enough cover on Fridays.

I immersed myself in service plans, performance management reports, and reading my manager’s mind so I knew what his priorities were. Like many senior managers, he never felt the need to explain what he wanted done.

Fisher's Fables coverKeen to record and poke fun at these moments. I named it Fisher’s Fables after my gung-ho detective EHO and let him be my mouthpiece. I created a fictitious environmental health team, populated by imaginary officers, who worked for a mythical local authority in a town that didn’t exist.

Over the years the length of the blogs increased as the number of post each year decreased.

By then, Fisher’s Fables was almost a sitcom, with a healthy following, which included the Chief Executive. I don’t know if he was disappointed to discover he didn’t feature in the stories, or relieved.

And that’s when it hit me between the eyes.

Not the blog, or the Chief Executive, but the realisation I had a cast of characters for my Kent Fisher murder mystery novels. More importantly, I’d found my author voice.

I don’t know whether it took 39 years to develop this voice, but looking back the clues were there from the age of 16. If only I’d stopped to look, to take notice of what my gut was telling me.

But that’s a story for another day.

Looking back

Over to you

Did you ever realise you were in the wrong job? What did you do about it?

If you’d like to find out more about Kent Fisher and the mystery series, click here to visit my website.

A novel approach

Do you have weeks where everything starts to come together?

Lovely, aren’t they?

Here at Crouch Corner, the week starts with the report from my new editor. I like the sound of her from the few emails we’ve exchanged, but I have no idea what to expect. I don’t need to worry though. Many of her recommendations amplify and echo my own doubts. But she gives me suggestions to improve the story, leaving only a small number of wrinkles and anomalies to iron out.

Two days later, No Remorse, the third Kent Fisher mystery, is ready for release on 7th May.

IdeasI sit back, delighted with the finished novel and have the first of several ideas.

I send the manuscript to my Kindle so I can read the novel the way I read other books. It looks and reads differently as a book rather than a double-spaced manuscript on a computer monitor. This helps me to spot a few typos that have escaped all the previous edits. It’s also a great way to identify any phrases or sentences that don’t read well or sound clumsy.

That’s when I have another idea.

Maybe I can read the first draft of the next manuscript on my Kindle rather than print it out and smother the pages with handwritten notes and comments I can’t decipher later.

Clearly, I have to write the next novel before I can try this, which gives me a third idea.

Why not record the writing and editing process from start to finish?

Many times over the years, I’ve thought about doing this. I find a few files on the computer where I started to write a journal for the book I was working on. But none of these files have more than a handful of entries.

I always have a working notebook where I write down ideas, snatches of dialogue, plans and that kind of thing. That’s in addition to the scraps of paper, Post It notes, and messages dictated onto my phone. These accumulate while I’m writing the stories.

Book ideasBut is anyone interested in what goes on in an author’s head?

Do readers really care about the work that goes into writing and producing a book?

Would you be interested in finding out?

Let me know by commenting below or contacting me through my website.

I’ve never really recorded the process of writing a novel, so I’m intrigued to find out how I work and what issues I need to address. As the weeks and months go by memory fades. The brain becomes full of new ideas and issues to attend to, often leaving vague or distorted recollections.

For instance, I couldn’t find a way for my hero, Kent Fisher, to solve the murder in my first novel, No Accident. Despite repeated attempts, it took a publisher to become interested in the novel and a deadline before I worked out a solution.

I don’t remember how I wrote myself into this problem. I recall the frustration and failed attempts to resolve it, but little more. Now it’s one of the anecdotes I relate during talks – I created such a perfect murder, even I couldn’t solve it.

I don’t know if anyone believes me but they usually smile.

So, with my thoughts turning to No Smoke, the fourth Kent Fisher mystery, I’ll record anything of interest and talk about it on Robservations. It won’t be every week and there won’t be any plot details or spoilers revealed.

CoffeeI hope it will show what goes into creating a book from nothing more than an idea or thought to the finished eBook and paperback that you can hold in your hand.

It might even help readers to understand the work and emotion that goes into producing something that’s often bought for less than the price of a cup of coffee.

But that’s another story …


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Fighting for restraint

Writers are not known for keeping their opinions to themselves. It’s their job to write about what matters to them, to present their vision of the world as they see it. Some writers devote whole novels, even trilogies and series, to express their values and beliefs.

So, you won’t be surprised to learn that a discussion about graphic sex and violence in novels prompted a lot of debate and opinion in one of Facebook’s crime book clubs.

Opinions are divided, as you would expect.

Overall, most participants disapprove of gratuitous sex and violence. Whether they agree on what’s gratuitous and what isn’t, I couldn’t say.

Normally, I follow such debates from the relative safety of Crouch Corner, intrigued in particular by what readers say. After all, these are the people who buy the books we produce. And it’s interesting and informative to consider a wide range of views.

But sometimes, you have to jump down from the fence, taking care not to land in a cow pat or boggy ditch, I would add. Falling flat on your face in such terrain is also to be avoided. As a former environmental health officer, I could tell you all about the risks to health in graphic detail, ironically.

Ultimately, it’s for every writer to decide how to tell their stories. Their choice of language, the words they put in their characters’ mouths, and the way their creations behave depends on a variety of issues and details.

And in the final analysis, readers who don’t share the author’s vision can put the book down and move on.

That said, it’s only fair that authors warn their readers of what to expect. Publishers do their best to help with words and phrases like serial killer thriller, or gritty, dark, disturbing, not for the faint-hearted. Covers, titles and blurb can often indicate the type of content you can expect.

But is that any predictor of how graphic the content may be?

A recent article in the press suggested that some publishers may pass manuscripts to ‘sensitivity readers’. These readers will advise publishers on how sensitive content could be and whether it could cause offence. I imagine the publisher would then seek to remove such content before publication.

On Facebook, the backlash was about freedom of speech and censorship by the back door, as you would expect.

But what I find more interesting is that publishers may actually be considering such measures.

All freedom requires responsibility. I doubt if anyone writes anything intending to offend. Sure, some people may find the words offensive, but if it’s not intentional, what’s the problem?

But is it necessary to litter dialogue with the ‘F’ word? Used frequently, it ceases to have any impact. But it can still distract you as a reader. It can take you out of a story, which is not good. Sometimes, it’s the right word for a situation. But I would suggest there are always others.

Is it essential to describe violence in blow-by-blow graphic detail? Like any form of description, if it’s overdone it can become boring and take a reader out of the story. The same applies to sex. If it’s a life-changing moment for a character, then show that, by all means, because it moves the story along.

Would you agree?

Do you care about the amount of sex and violence in the books you read?

I’ve always believed that reading was about stimulating the imagination, taking the reader on an emotional journey with characters they care for. When it comes to sex, I’m sure my readers can imagine a scene much better than I can write it. And, they can imagine it how they want to see it.

After all, I may not write it the way they see it.

Similarly, I would question what graphic violence brings to a story. As an author, don’t you trust your reader to know that an assault or murder is devastating? If you trust them, why do you need to describe it in great detail?

One author in the debate claimed you shouldn’t sugar coat crime. By its nature it’s cruel, violent and uncomfortable and people need to know that. But people do understand that. They see it on the news every night. I don’t need a book to show me what I already know and understand. I want a book to entertain and lift me, to give me hope.

That’s how I try to write my books. And like many things in life – I think less is more.

Trust your readers’ imagination. Involve them. Let them fill in the blanks as much as possible to make it their story.

Caution


To find out more about the Kent Fisher mysteries, click on the links at the top of the page.

Revising my opinions

Or did I really write that?

Yes, I’m afraid I did write it. When you’re writing a novel, there’s no one else to blame for the words you choose and the way you put them together. (Ghost writers excepted.)

It’s your name on the cover and there’s no hiding.

But before we get too carried away with responsibility, let’s go back to where it all started – the first draft.

Michael CrichtonNow, in writing circles, everyone tells you the first draft is the start. Michael Crichton said, books are not written they’re rewritten. And he’s right. Of course he is. The chances of turning out a perfect novel first time must be greater than winning the lottery. The opposite’s usually true – most authors could happily tinker away at their work for years to come. (We’re talking sentences and paragraphs here.)

We grow in confidence. We get better. We expect more of ourselves.

But we’re never satisfied!

Anyway, back to that pesky first draft. There’s a pretty good chance it will be too long, too meandering, repetitive, lacking suspense in the right places, or any number of other issues that mean it bears little resemblance to the perfectly formed creation in our imagination.

Ernest HemmingwayOr, if you’ll forgive the Anglo-Saxon, I’ll defer to Ernest Hemmingway, who apparently said, the first draft of anything is shit.

While I’ve no wish to argue with someone so respected, I would say the first draft of anything can usually be improved. So, why, on the third round of editing and revising, did I come across a chapter that made me wince?

Did I really write that?

It’s my own fault. I started writing the third Kent Fisher mystery, No Remorse, without an outline, a synopsis, or a plot. The story was a simple trail from the present into the past to discover a dark secret. Kent Fisher and I started with a challenge and set off on the trail. We discovered the clues, followed the leads, and dealt with the obstacles as they occurred, never quite sure where they would take us until everything began to fall into place towards the end of the story.

I was pretty pleased with the first draft, I can tell you.

Once written, I printed out the first draft and set the manuscript aside to distance myself before editing and revising. In this case, I allowed two months to pass before I read the story from cover to cover over three days, my trusty fountain pen in my hand.

Boy, did I make some notes and alterations.

EditingThe purpose of this read through is to discover whether the story hangs together, whether it works. But in addition to the structural elements, you soon spot errors, changes in character names, events referred to wrongly, repetitions, boring descriptive passages and so on.

More importantly, you get a feel for the overall balance of the story. Does it flow logically? Do the characters behave correctly, dealing with conflict after conflict in a realistic way?

I hesitated. There were a couple of chapters where things were a little too easy, a little too convenient for Mr Fisher. I spent a considerable amount of time trying to correct the problem, trying different ideas, until finally it felt right.

I wish!

Come the second edit and revisions, I reached the revised chapter and winced. I’ve no idea what happened when I rewrote the chapter, but clearly my brain and fingers were working to different agendas.

Do you ever suffer that? You’re thinking one thing but saying or doing something else?

Fortunately, I saw a solution that not only worked better than the previous two versions, it added something more meaningful to the character and story. And now, a few days after emerging from 10 days of intense editing and revision, I realise this process was a necessary evolution to get the story where it needed to be.

No pain, no gain, as they say.

And that’s why editing and revising are so important. I only discovered how important a little over two years ago while working with a publisher’s editor for the first time. We batted ideas, solutions and revisions back and forth for a couple of months. She showed me a different slant to my words. She helped me improve whole sections of the story, like polishing a tarnished surface to a shine.

It was fun. It boosted my confidence. It showed me how to distance myself from my work so I could look at it with an objective eye.

If only I could do the same with my life … but that’s probably a story for another day.


No Remorse is scheduled for release in May 2018.

If you’d like to know more about No Remorse or the other Kent Fisher mysteries, you can visit my website by clicking here.

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U will be sadly missed

I have to confess I had to blink back a couple of tears when I wrote my review of Y is for Yesterday, which has turned out to be the last novel in the Kinsey Millhone series by Sue Grafton.

(Click here to read my review)

A is for AlibiAs I’m sure I’ve written elsewhere, I discovered A is for Alibi, the first in the series, in the late 1980s. The moment I began reading, I loved the feisty private investigator with her sardonic asides and no-nonsense attitude to life and criminals. But the stories were about much more than crime. Kinsey had an intriguing backstory concerning her family.

This began to play out over the series, adding an extra layer to the books.

Then there was Henry, her neighbour and landlord, who was her sounding board, protector and best friend throughout the series. From time to time, his colourful brood of relatives popped in to lighten a story.

We had Rosie, the owner of Kinsey’s local eatery where Hungarian dishes, made with various cuts of offal, complemented by cheap white wine, never failed to raise a smile. Then there were the police officers she knew, the detectives who helped her and vice versa, and an enormously entertaining support cast that you looked forward to meeting again in future stories.

I think G is for GumshoeSue Grafton brought something new and different to the private detective novel. There was no room for world weary detectives with smoky offices and cynical asides. She created a protagonist, who on the surface was not much different from you and me. She didn’t come with excess baggage, worried about taxes and parking while she struggled to make a living. She was a sucker for hard luck stories, fiercely independent, but loyal to her friends. But she had attitude and balls, tenacity and wit, often putting her life on the line as she did her job.

You felt you knew Kinsey. She was someone you could talk to, someone who would support you. She was someone you wanted as a friend. But she’d tell you straight if you were wrong. And fight for you if you were right, whatever the odds.

Sue Grafton showed me a different way to write the private detective novel, inspiring me to create Kent Fisher, an ordinary man who would learn to solve murders. He had wit, humour and tenacity, a love of animals and the underdog.

When a small independent publisher in the United States published the first novel, No Accident, in June 2016, I sent a message through Facebook to Sue Grafton. I never expected her to read it. Let only reply, but she did, wishing me a long a productive career.

I couldn’t believe it. My favourite author was talking to me.

It was the start of a conversation that ran for six months. I asked her lots of questions, she replied candidly, sometimes surprising me with her honesty about her early struggles as an author, about the problems of writers’ block and how long it took her to write a book.

I believe she was an intensely private person, who still seemed baffled by her success and struggling with the pressures it brought – as if there weren’t enough challenges, having to produce 26 novels eventually.

Sadly, she didn’t quite make it, but her legacy will live for many years. I’m sure new fans will discover Kinsey Millhone and come to enjoy her adventures as much as I have. While not every story reaches the same dizzy heights, the novels never fail to entertain. They offer a glimpse of life in 1980s California, in a fictional seaside town, lapped by the Pacific Ocean, where the smell of Henry’s baking beckons you over for a chat and a glass of wine as you try to solve some of the most intriguing and original crimes you can imagine.

U is for undertow

U will be missed, Sue Grafton.

 

Talking authors

It’s easy to lose sight of what matters, isn’t it?

You’re focused on editing and revising your latest novel, maybe wondering how to raise your profile on social media, hoping someone will notice your books on Amazon. It’s easy to become isolated and frustrated, especially when your attention’s focused inwards.

So it was brilliant to look outwards and engage with readers and authors on one of UK Crime Book Club’s Author Chats on Facebook last Wednesday.

It’s a simple premise – for an hour, the author answers questions posed by those taking part.

It didn’t stop me wondering if it could be that simple though.

As this was a new departure, I joined a chat with author, David Videcette, to discover what was involved and hopefully get a few ideas. He made it look easy, posting quizzes and games in between answering the flurry of questions fired at him. I clung onto his shirt tails, following the questions and replies on all manner of topics.

Fortified by this experience, I drew up some quiz questions, tracked down a few humorous quotes, knowing that preparation is the key.

But what if no one showed up after all that preparation? Having read an article about an author who did a book launch where no one turned up, I felt a little apprehensive. While a few people said they would take part in the author chat, few people have heard of me and what I write.

Murder mysteries, if you’re interested. A traditional whodunit with a modern twist, ‘unique in crime fiction’, according to one reviewer.

HarveySo, after walking Harvey, my West Highland White Terrier, and eating a somewhat rushed tea, I pulled up my chair a couple of minutes before 7pm. I logged into Facebook, opened the file on the PC with my quiz questions and humorous quotes so they would be easy to access, and waited.

Was there anybody out there?

There was no way of knowing until people posted questions. Caroline from Admin, who was hosting the chat, introduced me and promptly fired off a number of questions to get me going. Tell us a little about your writing had me foxed for a moment. How did I sum up my aims, goals and aspirations into a few short sentences?

Then more questions from those who had joined the chat. My fingers flew across the keys, I scrolled back and forth, trying not to miss any questions as more came in.

It was so full on, I almost forgot my quiz questions.

It was great to chat with readers and other authors, replying to comments, answering diverse questions that made me think hard before answering.

What was the easiest part of writing? That was a tough one.

What was my favourite method of murder? What’s your favourite book? Why write crime? Do you map out your plots? Are your characters based on people you know?

The hour whistled by, leaving me tired, but exhilarated. It was brilliant and so much fun, engaging with people who have a genuine interest in books and authors, but most of all learning what interests them. As Caroline closed the chat, I felt a little sad that it was all over so quickly.

I hope everyone who took part enjoyed the experience. I would certainly encourage other authors to take part. And it’s a great way for readers to discover new authors and what they write. After all, we need each other, so it’s a great way to get to know each other too.

But I’m still not sure what’s the easiest part about writing.

Any thoughts?


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