The challenge of writing a series

‘The Kent Fisher murder mysteries are a long way from the cop with a trauma, which seems to be one of the current trends in crime fiction. They’re traditional murder mysteries, driven by both character and plot to entertain readers.’

If you want to find out more about why I write the Kent Fisher mysteries, you can read the guest post at Between the Lines

My thanks to Cathy at Between the Lines for letting me spread the word.

 

Are your novels cosy mysteries?

When a reader first asked me this question, images of Miss Marple and tearooms in quaint country villages sprang into my head.

That’s okay, I thought, because I love Miss Marple and Agatha Christie. They’re one of the reasons I write traditional whodunit mysteries. When bestselling author, Tamara McKinley suggested that Agatha Christie fans would love my first novel, No Accident, I was delighted.

But I never envisaged the Kent Fisher mysteries as cosy. They deal with modern, serious issues that don’t feel cosy.

To settle any doubt, I turned to Google.

A quick check suggested cosies were crime fiction in which sex and violence are downplayed or treated humorously, and the crime and detection take place in small, socially intimate communities. The person solving the crime is an amateur, usually but not exclusively a woman, with contacts in the police or other law enforcement agencies.

Well, that got me thinking. There’s no graphic sex in the Kent Fisher mysteries because I believe a reader’s imagination can do a much better job. Any violence is usually confrontational and targeted at Kent to stop him solving a case. The communities are not socially intimate, though most of the action takes place in the small towns and villages of the South Downs. Kent’s an amateur detective, sure, but as an environmental health officer, he’s a law enforcer and often works with the police, giving him certain detection skills.

His best friend is a retired Scenes of Crime Officer.

On balance, it looks like my novels fall into the cosy category.

As Kinsey Millhone, Morse and Miss Marple inspired and influenced me, why did I ever doubt this? After all, my goal has always been to entertain readers with absorbing, complex mysteries, engaging characters with their own stories and troubles, all laced with a healthy dash of irreverent humour.

I prefer to think of the Kent Fisher mysteries as the cosy end of the crime fiction spectrum, like LJ Ross or Dick Francis.

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?


If you want to find out more about me and my books, you can sign up to my reader group using the form on the right of this page.

Alternatively, please click here to visit my Amazon page.

When Hollywood lent a helping hand

A year ago this week, the wonderful Carrie Fisher passed away.

Carrie FisherMy earliest memory of her is Princess Leia in the original Star Wars trilogy, but it was her TV interviews with Clive James that helped me discover and appreciate her wit, intelligence and delightfully acerbic sense of humour. This lady was sharp, irreverent and so honest you couldn’t help but admire her.

At the time, I had no idea she would help me create a new crime fiction character and series.

During the late 1990s, after some success writing articles for magazines, I wanted to write a crime novel. I was reading Dick Francis and Sue Grafton at the time, watching Inspector Morse and Miss Marple on TV, and desperately in need of something to put my heart and soul into.

I wanted to create something fresh and different, something that would stand out in a crowded market.

Why couldn’t an environmental health officer (EHO) solve murders?

But it couldn’t be a traditional EHO, bound by rules and red tape, working for a local authority. He needed to be dynamic, courageous and dogged, willing to bend or break rules, and he had to handle himself in difficult, life threatening situations.

But to bring this character alive, I needed to give him a name.

Names matter because they create an impression of the person behind them. Take my name, Robert. Think how different I would be if I were Rob or Robbie, Bob or Bobbie, Bert or Bertie. Each name conjures up a different character and persona.

I went through an alphabet of names before I settled for Kent. It was unusual. It said cool and decisive, dynamic, a man of purpose and action. It had echoes of Superman, which I liked. Maybe he’d earned the nickname, Superman, from his days in the army.

And if anyone asked why he was called Kent, he would tell them it was where he was born. (This would prompt the riposte, Lucky you weren’t born in Middlesex.) But in reality, he’d abbreviated the name Kenneth, which was a family name he hated.

This said plenty about his character.

His surname proved more of a challenge. I wanted a fairly traditional name that sounded good with Kent, but nothing sprang to mind. I thumbed through telephone directories, watched the credits at the end of TV programmes and checked the obituaries in the local paper, but without success.

So I explored his character, his background, his education and his tastes, hoping to trigger a name. That’s when I realised he was in love with his assistant, Jenny (later changed to Gemma). She looked like the young Carrie Fisher and had the same dark, sexy eyes.

As a teenager, Kent had idolised Carrie Fisher, loving her wit and humour, sharing her sense of not fitting in, watching all her films, pinning posters of her on his bedroom wall.

And that’s when I knew he was a Fisher too. He realised they could marry without Carrie having to change her surname. The fantasy amuses him – not that he would ever share it with anyone – and reminds him of those lonely teenage days.

Hollywood sign

Since then, Kent Fisher has changed and developed, and continues to do so with each novel, but he would never have existed without a helping hand from one of Hollywood’s finest.

Find out more about Kent Fisher.

Do you remember your first?

Earlier this week I had to think long and hard to remember the first crime novel I read.

Scared to Death coverAuthor, Rachel Amphlett, who writes the Kay Hunter series, posed the question in her latest email newsletter. Having just finished the first in the series, Scared to Death, I could have told her the last crime novel I’d read.

Instead, I had to travel back to my childhood when I plundered the school and local libraries in search of new fictional worlds to explore. The first books I remember reading were the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton, but they were adventure stories, not crime. So were the Secret Seven, also by Enid Blyton.

Then I remembered a conversation I had with the local librarian when I was about 11 or 12. Having exhausted the books I wanted to read in the children’s section, I stated to explore the much larger and more exciting adult library.

As a regular customer, the librarian knew me well and was willing to let me borrow from the adult library. However, she would make the final decision on whether the books I chose were suitable or not.

I’m sure she put many of my choices back on the shelves when I started, but I remember reading Ian Fleming’s James Bond books fairly soon after moving to the adult library. As I haven’t read them since, I don’t know how graphic or explicit they were to a young teenager, but I doubt if they count as crime novels.

The Murders on the Rue Morgue, by Edgar Allan Poe, may well have been the first crime story I read, but a quick check on Amazon suggests it’s more short story than novel. The same could be said of Sherlock Holmes, though I read all the stories in the volumes written by Arthur Conan Doyle.

The first crime novel I know I read was Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie. I was about 15 or 16 at the time, and beyond the censure of the librarian. The plot and ending stick in my mind because I thought they were clever and different.

Maybe that goes some way to explaining why I wanted to write something different in my crime fiction.

But Murder on the Orient Express doesn’t explain my interest in writing crime, specifically murder mysteries.

That accolade goes to Dick Francis, who I discovered in the 1990s. His no nonsense, direct style, often with a first person narrator, introduced me to thrillers. While I avoided his books about horse racing, the rest of his thrillers proved irresistible.

Simon Kernick then came along with his thriller, Relentless. It started at 70mph and got faster, leaving me breathless by the end. What a ride that was. And after devouring the rest of his thrillers and crime novels, I wanted to emulate him and Dick Francis.

My first attempts at writing Kent Fisher were pure Dick Francis. This is the opening paragraph to the first Kent Fisher novel I wrote, entitled Too Many Secrets.

My impulse to visit the Kubla Khan Hotel cost me my job, my marriage, and took me within inches of my life.  But I couldn’t ignore the body in the swimming pool.

But as I soon discovered, I was no Dick Francis.

Enter Sue Grafton and her Kinsey Millhone alphabet series. Her A, B and C novels were offered in a hardback volume that I bought for £1 as an introductory offer to a mail order book club. A is for Alibi had an intriguing ring about it and I soon warmed to the feisty, opinionated Californian detective, the first person narration, and gentle tone that often masked some fairly gritty themes and action.

That’s what I wanted to write – a murder mystery series with a strong, witty and opinionated central character.

It took me a while to develop the character and voice that gave rise to No Accident, but nowhere near as long as my journey from Murder on the Orient Express to the Dick Francis thrillers that made me want to write crime.

You can find out more about the Kent Fisher mysteries on my website and Amazon.