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.

 

5 things I learned from writing a series

My thanks to Eva at Novel Deelights for posting this to support the release of No Mercy, Kent Fisher Mysteries #5.

Click here to read the post.

Click here to learn more about the books in the series.

27-10-2019. Meet the author interview on Curled Up With A Good Book

Many thanks to Chelle for this interview on her terrific blog, Curled Up With a Good Book. She asked some terrific questions that forced me to think long and hard and delve deep into the past.

Click here to read the full interview.

Here’s a link to Chelle’s review of No More Lies earlier this year.

 

River of Dreams

5th July 2019 – Songs that changed my life

Sometimes you listen to a song and it has a special significance, a deeper resonance. It touches you in a way that makes your spine tingle.

That was my criteria for selecting songs for my appearance on the Martina Mercer show on Hailsham FM recently. We had two hours of conversation, punctuated by my favourite songs. (Click here if you’d like to listen to the show and some great songs).

River of Dreams by Barclay James Harvest is a song about regret, about looking back at what might have been, about hopes and dreams unfulfilled. This was the original band’s last studio album in 1997, so I guess it was inevitable that they would look back on their career.

Ironically, River of Dreams stirred me to look forward, not back.

Up until then, I sometimes wondered if my life had been a series of missed opportunities.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happily married with an interesting and fulfilling job in environmental health, a gorgeous wife and a lovely home on the south coast. But my success as a writer amounted to a few articles published in national magazines and a regular column on technology in Writers Monthly magazine.

When I wrote my first novel at the age of 17, I dreamt of becoming an author like Graham Greene or Harper Lee, writing books that could change people’s lives. The unimaginatively titled book, Survival in the Garden, was written for children as my life experience was mainly the wishful idealism of a teenager.

Publishers, Hamish Hamilton, wrote me a lovely letter, complimenting me on my realistic dialogue and story. It was a shame I’d used anthropomorphic characters as they felt the story would have had more appeal with human characters.

Had I known better, or had anyone to advise me, I would have revised the story and used human characters.

I would also have told them I was 17 years old.

I didn’t mention this because I thought they wouldn’t take me seriously or think I was precocious.

I guess this was my first experience of regret. Every rejection letter took me back to that missed opportunity, which seemed to set the pattern for my life.

rejectionWhen I wrote, I always felt I was a notch below where I needed to be. But what did I need to do to lift my writing a level? What was the secret ingredient that years of searching had failed to uncover?

Even my modest success writing articles didn’t translate into better novels. I kept trying, though my output was minimal since my first flurry into novel writing – five or six finished novels in 30 years. Many unfinished, I suspect. Plenty of short stories and humorous pieces though.

Life got in the way – marriage, creating a home, my career as an environmental health officer. If I couldn’t make it as a writer, I could succeed at these.

But I couldn’t help looking back, regretting chances I could have taken. I resented the success that others had, wondered why they got all the luck. My writing was as good as theirs, wasn’t it?

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. I never tried hard enough to improve. I joined writers’ circles on the internet and at home, critiquing while others critiqued me, but I never believed in myself.

I thought success happened to others, that I was fated to feel frustrated and a failure.

failureHadn’t a careers teacher at school destroyed my dreams of becoming a journalist?

Hadn’t I made a childish mistake with my first novel, writing about animals and insects?

And then I listened to River of Dreams. This was me, getting bitter and resentful because I hadn’t had the life I deserved.

Only I had. You get out what you put it, right?

Had I really tried to improve my writing by editing and revising my work when it was rejected?

Had I really learned from the articles I sold to national magazines? I succeeded through hard work and preparation, market research, revising and honing my words.

Couldn’t I do that with novels?

Why not? All I had to do was apply myself, work hard and learn. If I stayed positive and believed in myself, I would find a way. Better that than looking back with regret over what might have been.

I did the market research. Crime was filled with detectives of all kinds, but no one had an environmental health officer solving murders. It sounded ridiculous at first, but it’s not as daft as it may sound.

I created Kent Fisher shortly after listening to River of Dreams. It was a turning point that eventually led to an independent US publisher giving me what I’d always wanted – an offer to publish my novel.

Would I have got there without River of Dreams? We’ll never know.

River of Dreams


No MysteryIf you’d like to find out whether you’d enjoy the Kent Fisher mysteries, this free introduction to the series is free when you sign up to my monthly newsletter, which will keep you up to date news and releases. Click here to continue.

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?

 

 

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

14th October 2018 – 5/5 stars.

I studied this novel for my English Literature O level back in 1974/5 and it changed my life. The story taught me about tolerance and hope in a world of ignorance, prejudice and injustice. I wanted to be an author and write a novel as moving and memorable as this.

So, having such profound memories of the novel, would I still love it forty years on?

Of course I did. Only this time, I read it as a reader.

To Kill A Mockingbird is a book of its time, beautifully portraying the atmosphere, people and attitudes of a small Alabama town in the 1930s. Yet you see it through the eyes of Scout Finch, the curious, questioning nine year old daughter of lawyer and humanitarian, Atticus Finch. Seeing the horrors that unfold through the eyes of a young girl makes them all the more powerful and dramatic.

But this is so much more than a story about racial prejudice. It’s a story about hope and enlightenment through respect, understanding and tolerance.  It shows the best and the worst of people without judgement.

‘Never judge a man until you’ve walked in his shoes,” Atticus tells his children.

Though slow in pace by today’s standards, the novel weaves a rich tapestry that draws you in and slowly builds tension on several fronts before exposing you to the harsh realities of the time. It’s memorable, sad, challenging and as powerful as the day I first read it.

And while I am now an author, I would still love to write something as moving and memorable.

Everyone should read this novel.

5/5 stars

To Kill A Mockingbird

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.