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.

Or if you want to learn more about the characters and stay up to date with new releases, you can join my Reader Group by entering your details below. I’ll never share your information or spam you, and you can unsubscribe any time. You’ll receive a free copy of A Health Inspector Calls, filled with humorous tales from my work, if you do.

Authors who inspire me to write better

Last weekend, I wrote about the authors who inspired me to move from the ideas buzzing around my head to putting fingers on the keys of a typewriter or word processor. (You can read the post here.)

Sue Grafton’s alphabet murder series, featuring Kinsey Millhone, helped me believe I could create my own detective and write crime fiction. Now, with two books published and the third scheduled for May this year, my inspiration comes from other crime writers who bring their own style and ideas to the party.

Plenty of choice

Let’s face it, there are millions of books out there, each vying for your attention as you scan the results on Amazon, Kobo or your local library bookshelves. But out of those millions, how many will appeal to you? How many would you class as ‘essential reads’? How many books would you buy on the strength of the author’s name?

There are so many good writers out there, offering different spins on the same themes and subjects. Why do some capture your imagination more than others? Why do they talk to you in a way that others don’t? What is it that draws you to a particular writer?

I’ve no idea, but I suspect it has a lot to do with the author’s voice and style. The author talks to you in a way you like and understand. The story and characters still have to be good, and familiar settings can help, but there’s something about particular authors that strike a chord or two.

I could list well over twenty authors, whose police procedurals, psychological thrillers or private detective novels have entertained me over the past few years. (There’s a similar list of authors whose books were dumped after a few chapters or pages.)

But at the moment, there are only four authors who inspire me, who make me want to write stronger and better to reach the benchmarks they set. They all write police procedural series with strong central characters, imaginative plots, and dramatic storylines. Yet each author is distinct, bringing something different to the table. I’ve listed them in the order I discovered them.

Robin Roughley – DS Lasser series

Tethered to the DeadRobin has written fifteen of sixteen books so far, set in and around Wigan, but I’ve only just finished reading Tethered to the Dead, which is No 3, but I love the character and his fearless pursuit of criminals. The plots are complex and explode in all directions from a simple crime. There’s social comment, an unflattering view of the seedier side of life, and a wonderful optimism and wit that reassures you that the world will be all right once DS Lasser gets the killer.

But best of all, I like the way the author takes you into the heads of his characters, good and bad, revealing there essence in a few paragraphs.

Peter James – Detective Superintendent Roy Grace

Not Dead EnoughAgain, I’m only on book three, Not Dead Enough, but I can see why Peter James is one the top crime writers in the country. Not only is he an excellent writer who can create memorable characters and brings them to life in a few paragraphs, his plots are wickedly clever. He portrays all shades of Brighton and offers plenty of social and political comment in his investigations, but it’s his attention to detail and police procedure that lift his stories above most of the others. That detail about how the police operate, the systems they use, the buildings they occupy and the rules and regulations that govern their work add great credibility and authenticity to the novels.

LJ Ross – DCI Ryan

I’m a newcomer to this series, set in Northumberland, but again, it’s the story and characters that matter, including a touch of romance, which we all enjoy, don’t we? Holy Island, had a distinctive plot, laced with an undercurrent of ritual and mysticism, to tax the charismatic lead characters in a tale filled with suspense and drama. The style leans more towards the cosy end of the crime market, but remains modern and relevant, which appeals to me.

Book two, Sycamore Gap, is my next read.

Rachel Amphlett – DS Kay Hunter

Will to Live coverI’ve only recently discovered this series and enjoyed the first two books, Scared to Death and Will to Live. Rachel has a no-nonsense, economic style of writing that engages you from the first paragraph. Like Peter James, her plots are different and deftly delivered with a touch of wit and humour to lighten the tone.

While she tackles gritty subjects and hard hitting crimes, she manages without littering her stories with profanities and gratuitous descriptions or violence, which proves it’s the story that counts. I also like to write this way.

These authors all have distinctive styles, but share a number of characteristics that heighten their appeal and inspire me, namely

  • strong central characters who will do whatever it takes to bring the villains to justice
  • complex, twisting plots that baffle, intrigue, entertain and fulfil
  • realism and credibility
  • humour and wit, often dark, that’s often lacking in many novels.

 

Though a newcomer to crime fiction with much to learn, these are the characteristics I strive to bring to my novels, and I’m delighted I’ve found such fantastic examples to show me the way.

I’m sure there will be many more authors in my ‘To Be Read’ pile that will entertain and hopefully inspire me.

That’s the joy of reading.


Click here for reviews of the novels mentioned in this post.

If you’d like to find out more about my novels and lead character, Kent Fisher, please check out my website at http://robertcrouch.co.uk or my Amazon page.

If you’d like exclusive previews and insights, sign up to my Reader Group by entering you details in the form at the top right of the page.

The authors who inspired me to write – Part One

“If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
Toni Morrison.


Reading inspired me to write. The discovery of exciting new worlds, memorable characters and epic conflicts made me want to create my own. I wanted to bring as much enjoyment and pleasure to others as reading had brought to me.

Early stirrings

Famous Five seriesFrom the moment I learned to read, words captivated me. They offered me imaginary worlds, characters I knew better than my friends, and exciting stories that brought me every emotion you could imagine. From books, I learned about life, friendship, courage, good, evil, and love.

The first books to grab my imagination and feed it with possibilities were Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. I wanted to join their adventures, to fight the bad guys and defeat evil, making a difference to the world.

The short stories I wrote for English homework mimicked these adventures, allowing my imagination to flourish.

The Narnia series by CS Lewis took me to more mystical worlds, where the fight between good and evil was much sharper as the future of mankind seemed to be at stake. For the first time I discovered betrayal and consequences, further feeding my developing imagination. Sitting in the attic of the house, I longed for a magic wardrobe, but had to make do with pen and paper.

The novel that changed my life

To Kill A Mocking BirdTo Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee had such a profound effect of me, I still find it almost impossible to put it into words today. Let’s just say it transformed the way I looked at the world.

I couldn’t believe that such ignorance and prejudice could exist in an educated world. I felt angry, driven to write my own novel that showed how education and working together would always defeat evil in any form it took.

I was 16 at the time, with little idea of how complex life could be, or how to get a book published, but I had to speak out.

Intellectual – don’t make me laugh

Harper Lee increased my appetite for more literary novels to feed my intellect. Tolkien and Aldous Huxley led me to Somerset Maugham to DH Lawrence to Graham Green and finally HE Bates.  I enjoyed their stories and their different styles, but none captured my imagination or inspired me to write.

Wilt Tom SharpeBut Tom Sharpe did.

He blew my socks off with Riotous Assembly, which satirised the Apartheid regime in South Africa and reduced me to  helpless laughter, often forcing me to read under the bedclothes so I didn’t wake anyone, with Wilt. He inspired me to write a humorous novel of my own. Though I couldn’t find a publisher that would take They Laughed at Noah, it remains one of my favourite novels and often begs me to revise and rewrite it for today’s readers.

A Joy to read

I continued to write as marriage and building a home took precedence, but nothing fired my imagination until I chanced on Joy Fielding’s See Jane Run. This psychological suspense story pulled me in with its terrific opening sentence and never let me go.

While I tried to write my own psychological suspense novels, I struggled with the plotting, failing to generate the suspense needed.

Then Colin Dexter and Agatha Christie came to my rescue, though I never read their books at the time. The TV adaptations of Inspector Morse and Miss Marple ignited a desire to write crime fiction. The shows taught me how to develop taut, complex plots alongside engaging characters. I still watch the shows today, always learning, always enjoying.

Despite the desire to write crime, and my newly acquired knowledge of plotting, I still struggled to produce memorable stories. It took one more book, or should I say series, to inspire me.

It’s as simple as ABC

Sue GraftonSue Grafton’s alphabet series blew my socks off.

I came across the first three novels in a compendium by a book club, which I ordered for free as part of an introductory offer. I had no idea what to expect and I didn’t know at the time that this book would become one of my most treasured possessions.

When I started A is for Alibi, featuring feisty Californian PI, Kinsey Millhone, I had never read another book like it. The first paragraph not only captured my imagination, it compelled me to write my own murder mystery novels.

Sue Grafton created something quite different and unique and showed me what was possible. Sadly, she died recently, not long after the publication of Y is for Yesterday, but as my own lead character, Kent Fisher, is a Kinsey Millhone fan, this wonderful author will never be far from my thoughts.

In Part Two, I’ll talk about some of the current authors who inspire and delight me.

If you want a sneak preview of who they might be, take a look at the Reviews page on my website, where I offer my thoughts on the books I read. You may find some of your favourite authors there.

And if a book or author inspired you, please tell me about it by leaving a comment below.

 

Alas poor Robert …

I wanted to be an actor.

I didn’t know this until I was eleven and stepped onto the stage during a Drama class at school. But it wasn’t until we were asked to pick a song and act it out that I realised acting was for me. I had no idea what to do with Metal Guru by T Rex, and realised I needed a song with a story. My mother liked Tony Christie, who was riding high with a song called, I Did What I Did for Maria, about a guy killing the man who attacked his wife.

It was melodramatic stuff and under my enthusiastic direction, we brought the song to life. I lost myself in the part, becoming the wronged man out to deliver his own form of justice in a world that didn’t care.

I’d always had a terrific imagination and drama allowed me to channel it. I wrote short stories and plays, eager to perform them. But alas, the kids in my class were neither keen nor as driven as me. To them, our one drama lesson a week was a chance to escape from behind the desk and lark about with a soft teacher. My ambitions and self-confidence took a hit, more so when I discovered that there would be no more drama classes the following year.

The following year, one of my teachers destroyed what was left of my self-confidence.

We had to choose the subjects we intended to take for ‘O’ level in two years’ time. Looking back, I should have realised it was an hour dedicated to ensuring every pupil took as many science subjects as possible.

You might be surprised to learn, I had no sciences on my list. The teacher homed in on this like a missile, cross examining me like a barrister, refusing to accept that any boy in the North of England could be interested in the arts.

Advisor“And how do you think you’re going to earn a living from arts?” he asked, focusing the class’s attention on me. “Employers want people with qualifications in science, not someone who can paint the view from the canteen window.”

The sniggers from my classmates told me I was on my own. “You don’t need sciences to be an actor,” I said defiantly, oblivious to the reaction this would cause.

“An actor?” The teacher said it several times, making me sound like I’d lost all reason. He studied me with disdain, his voice a mixture of disbelief and mockery. “You want to be an actor?”

He laughed along with the rest of the class, certain I needed to be totally humiliated to cleanse me of this disease that had infected my mind.

I could live with the laughter. It was the destruction of my dreams I couldn’t recover from.

Two years later, I did some scene shifting at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester, meeting some well-known actors. I loved the atmosphere and mixing with these creative and artistic people, but I couldn’t muster the courage to take up acting.

After I’d left school, I trod the boards playing one of the orchestra in the finale of a musical in a local amateur production. I remember the makeup, dressing up in a red jacket with gold buttons, and choosing the French horn to march around the stage with. But it wasn’t acting.

reporterI could have written a review for the local newspaper had my dreams of going into journalism not taken a similar battering at school. It wasn’t a teacher who rode roughshod over my dreams of becoming an investigative reporter, delving into scandals and cover ups, exposing wrong doing and all manner of evils.

It was a careers advisor, brought in by the school. We each had a 15 minute session with him in a portakabin in the school yard.

“Have you any idea how difficult it is to become a journalist?” he asked. “Out of the thousands who try, only a select few ever make it. You’ll waste years at university and end up working in a chip shop.

The irony of wrapping greasy food in newspaper crushed another dream. I tried to reason and argue, to fight for my chosen career, but he had all the answers, and a manner intended to make me feel indebted to him for the way he destroyed my aims.

“You need a qualification that offers you the greatest range of opportunities,” he said, producing a brochure from beneath the table. “Business Studies is the degree to take at Manchester University. It will open doors into worlds of opportunity in almost any discipline you could imagine.”

“Including journalism?”

He shook his head. “I think we can both agree that writing’s hardly a business, is it?”

The following day, back among my classmates, I was surprised and then angry to discover that we were all applying to Manchester University to take Business Studies.

I continued to write and dream, but soon I would have to leave school and join the world outside. My desire to protect the world we lived in and banish the pollution that was causing so much harm drew me to environmental health. Even better, I could go to college or university, get a qualification and have a job at the end.

I didn’t realise at the time, but my career choice would not only allow me to indulge in some acting, it encouraged me to be creative and I got to meet some terrific and inspiring characters. I’m writing about many of them in A Health Inspector Calls, a collection of humorous incidents from my work. It’s free to anyone who subscribes to my Reader Group.

Just complete the form at the top of the page to join.

Throughout my career, I remained an artistic square peg in a scientific round hole, but I’ve no regrets. It took a long time, but my work allowed me to create Kent Fisher, described by reviewer Susan Corcoran as ‘a wonderful creation, unique in crime literature.’

He’s not a hard act to follow – just click here or visit my website at http://robertcrouch.co.uk to learn more.

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.

The Curse of the Baskervilles by Colin Garrow

August 2017

5/5 stars. Imagine Dr Watson feeling a tad frustrated and peeved as his smart-Alec, know-all friend, Sherlock Holmes, swoops in to solve another baffling case with consummate ease. All this after Watson’s done all the mind-numbing donkey work.

Description

Intrepid investigators Holmes and Watson continue their fight against crime in a not quite Post-Victorian, steampunk parallel universe. In three more adventures, the intrepid duo tackle a ghostly locomotive, journey to Dartmoor in search of a gigantic hound, and team up with bloodthirsty psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter in the hunt for a murderer.

Adult humour throughout.

Curse of the Baskervilles is book #3 in this Victorian comedy adventure series.

If you love historical mysteries, buy something else instead, but if you’re into fart-gags and innuendo this’ll be right up your Victorian street.

My thoughts

I love something different, especially if it makes me chuckle and this had me laughing from start to finish. Imagine Dr Watson feeling a tad frustrated and peeved as his smart-Alec, know-all friend, Sherlock Holmes, swoops in to solve another baffling case with consummate ease. All this after Watson’s done all the mind-numbing donkey work.

This is the basis for an irreverent comedic romp at the expense of crime literature’s most famous double act. Watson, determined to show his friend he can solve baffling cases, gives a slightly offbeat version of events that’s a delight to read. Better still, I loved Watson’s feisty and amorous wife, Mary, who showed a flair for kicking ass and putting the men in their places.

Inventive, irreverent and hugely entertaining, the Watson Letters will leave you laughing, and occasionally gasping in disbelief as the detective duo trample over convention and good taste to solve some of the most baffling (and curious) cases imaginable. Even an appearance by Hannibal Lecter seems perfectly in keeping as modern characters and events are thrown into the Victorian melting pot of Holmes and Watson.

Once I tuned into the humour and went with the flow, I thoroughly enjoyed the stories, which got better as I progressed, reaching an epic climax in the Silence of the Lambtons.

Colin Garrow is fast becoming one of my favourite authors and I would thoroughly recommend his books to anyone who enjoys a good and irreverent laugh.

5/5 stars