Traumatic times in crime fiction


25th November 2018

Like a pop star on his third final tour, Robservations is back.

Holidays, and the disruption caused by works at Crouch Corner knocked me out of my stride. They also stressed Harvey, who wasn’t happy with the changes to the kitchen, even though his water and food bowls remained in the same place.

He’s settled once again, but now spends more time upstairs with me as I write No Stone, the fourth Kent Fisher murder mystery.

But before I update you on my progress, I need to warn you about a condition that’s devastating officers in police forces across the UK and beyond.

A severe case of Traumatitis

From the crime fiction I’ve read this year, it seems like there’s hardly a detective in the land who doesn’t suffer a major trauma before embarking on a new crime series. Even more worrying, the epidemic has spread into psychological thrillers. These traumas leave deep mental and physical scars which will haunt the detectives for the rest of their careers.

But far more worrying are the complex and baffling side effects, such as a resistance to counselling, common sense and recuperation. Despite being medically and psychologically unfit to return to work, these officers ignore medical advice, health and safety and operational policies to take on the latest serial killer that threatens to wreak havoc in their district.

Police forces are so clearly depleted there are no other detectives available to do the job.

And in case you’re in any doubt about how heroic these damaged detectives are, they revisit their traumas in every book so you don’t forget them.

With little evidence of a cure, it looks like Traumatitis will continue to deplete police forces up and down the country, masking the effects of less glamorous problems like chronic underfunding, difficulties in recruitment, and bad press.

Fortunately, some authors handle the condition with great skill to enhance their crime fiction.

Hemingway’s Home Truths


I don’t know if Ernest Hemingway wrote crime fiction, but he had a bit to say about the craft of writing.

He’s credited with remarking that ‘the first draft of anything is shit.’

Having written numerous reports about leaking septic tanks in my days as an environmental health officer, I know where he’s coming from. In the days before I was a published author, I viewed editing and revising the same way as I viewed visits to the dentist – something to be avoided wherever possible.

But when a publisher offers you a contract, editing and revising becomes a lot less painful than toothache.

That said, I’m not totally in agreement with Hemingway.

First drafts will always benefit from revising and editing, but it doesn’t mean they’re bad. I’ve written some great lines over the years, but I’ve also cut them if they don’t add to the story. Equally, I’ve had moments where my first draft has as much excitement as setting concrete.

Writing the first draft of No Stone has been so frustrating I’ve considered renaming it No Picnic. While holidays and disruptions interrupted my flow, as mentioned earlier, the character of Detective Inspector Ashley Goodman, one of the main players in the story, refused to come to life.

This impacted on her scenes with Kent Fisher and the direction of the story. I didn’t realise how much until we returned from the first holiday and I started to read through from the beginning. Immediately, I knew I had a serious problem.

Almost two months later, after numerous tweaks and revisions and a second break, I returned to my desk in Crouch Corner on Monday morning. To get me into the flow of the story, I went back to the beginning to refresh my memory.

Cue the Hemingway quote.

By the end of the week, I considered dumping the story and writing another. But sometimes in these dark moments of despair inspiration saves the day. After a writing a few lines of dialogue, I realised what made DI Goodman tick. I understood what she wanted, what drove her, what made her who she was.

The story came to life as I revised. Ideas popped into my head without any provocation, usually while I was shaving or making another cup of tea in the new kitchen. The complications are coming thick and fast, taking the story into areas I hadn’t envisaged.

I’ve written beyond the point where I stalled. Kent’s investigation is raising more questions than answers. I’ve no idea where it will go or how it will end, but that’s how I like to write my novels – by the seat of my pants.

Kent may not suffer from Traumatitis, but he gets a few unwelcome shocks in No Accident, the first in the series.

You can keep track of my progress with No Stone by signing up to the Kent Fisher Reader Group. Use the form on the right of the page.

You can also follow me on social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.

And if you’ve read and enjoyed the Kent Fisher mysteries, then please help by spreading the word and sharing this blog.

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