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.
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.
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