Friday, 8 January 2021

Do you want to write a crime story?

 

"There is evil everywhere under the sun” Agatha Christie.

 Perhaps you have always wanted to write a crime novel. Now is your chance.

 This is the first in a monthly series of posts about writing crime fiction. Let’s start at the very beginning.

 What kind of crime novel do you want to write? There are many forms from which to choose:

·       The cosy, where sometimes you get to eat cake and are given the recipe.

·       The gritty crime novel, which has a hard edge.

·       Noir, which can be scary and gory with no punches pulled.

·       Historical, set in any era from Ancient Egypt to the recent past.

·       Psychological novels, which have a lot of suspense and careful plotting. They major on detailing the innermost workings of the mind of the main character and how the MC concentrates on his/her victims’ weaknesses.

·       Legal novels where the lawyer sometimes does the detecting or aids the police investigation.

 You can choose, within these categories to write a police procedural, with the investigating officer as your main character; or a private detective; or an amateur sleuth who can either be a nuisance to the police or a helping hand. Do you want your story to be utterly serious, humorous or a mix of the two? Some stories mix up forms, so a historical crime can also be a police procedural etc.

 So your first and most important decision is to decide which form of crime novel you want to write. It must suit you, otherwise it’s a non-starter. Don’t write a gritty police procedural if the thought of gory murder scenes turns your stomach or you don’t want to be confined by the strictures under which the police have to work. Likewise, if the thought of a light-hearted, witty amateur sleuth getting in the way of the police puts your teeth on edge, don’t go there. Above all, my advice is that, irrespective of which is the best-selling kind, only write what you want to write. If you try and shoehorn your style to noir if you really want to write a cosy murder set in a teashop with recipes for lemon drizzle cake, you will fall at the first hurdle.

 The crime genre has a slightly different set of needs to other types of genre. You need a crime – usually murder and, usually at least two of those. You will need to plot and plan a little more precisely, although I will deal with allowing yourself off the plotting leash in a later post. You will need a main character. He/she does not have to be the detective. Many successful crime novels have been written with the killer as the main character and the book deals with how the killer does/does not get away with the crime.

 You will need enough suspects to give the reader enough of a puzzle to solve. One of the reasons Agatha Christie was so successful was because she gave the reader so many suspects to consider. Each suspect must have a logical reason why they might want the victim(s) dead. Their motivations must be logical and compelling. Each character must always act “in character”. You will have to learn to “seed” clues and red herrings so that your reader isn’t sure what is going on. The more you can confuse the reader, the more they will love the read. But there is one absolute rule. You must be fair to the reader. You must present all the clues so that, if the reader is able to see through your red herrings and pick them up, they can solve the murder. Hopefully, your red herrings will hide the real clues and that is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing crime.

 Have I whetted your appetite to try your hand at a crime novel? If so, make sure that when you have chosen your particular type of novel, you set about reading as many in your chosen category as you can by different authors. If you are still unsure, here are a few suggestions to kickstart your reading:

 

·       Cosy – Lynne Florkiewicz: Faith Martin and, may I also suggest my own Georgia Pattison series?

·       Gritty – Stuart MacBride: Ross Greenwood

·       Police Procedurals – Ann Cleeves: Peter Grainger: Michael Hambling: Damien Boyd

·       Noir – Val McDermid: J M Dalgliesh: James Carol

·       Historical – S J Parris: Paul Doherty: Candace Robb

·       Psychological – Angela Marsons: Minette Walters: Phoebe Morgan

·       Legal – Natasha Cooper: John Grisham: Scott Pratt

 

You can find out more about me here:

 

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Monday, 7 December 2020

The adventures of a writer doing NaNoWriMo

 

For those not in the know, National November Writing Month sets writers the challenge of writing a book, or part of a book, and the total wordcount to aim for within the month of November is 50,000 words. I had done NaNo twice, but 2020 has been a doldrums year for my writing, with no wind of creativity filling my sails at all. So I decided I would give NaNo a third try and write the next Georgia Pattison Mystery, or, just over half of it.

 I managed just over 60,000 words by 30th November – about two-thirds of the novel. The theme of Who Wants To Live Forever is knowing oneself, something Georgia has always struggled with. And I am in good company with that theme, since it is, more or less, the theme of most of Jane Austen’s novels.

 Georgia’s life has changed since she decided to set a date for her wedding to her beloved Ned, aka Sir Edward Broome, a man who can trace his ancestry back to the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. And, for the history buffs, the surname Broome has sometimes been taken by “wrong side of the blanket” Plantagenets, who take their name from Planta Genista, the common broome shrub. So does that mean Ned might have royal blood in his veins?

 Like any bride, there are a few hiccups on the way to her wedding day, but these are all to do with her choice of dress, their choice of venue and, generally, Georgia’s mother having a meltdown when Georgia and Ned decide to have a tiered chocolate cake. But, finally, our heroine is walking down the aisle and things are set to go swimmingly. Of course they don’t. A complete stranger objects to the marriage and he is later found dead. The real trouble begins when Georgia finds out who the stranger is…

On the face of things, writing just under 2,000 words every day in November does not sound particularly onerous, especially in the middle of a pandemic when we are supposed to be stopping in and not being sociable. But I think the Covid-19 lockdowns have had a real impact on all of us, me included. That it affected me was a shock because I am, by nature, a hermit and very anti-social at the best of times. So why did I feel so trapped?

 I think it’s all to do with perception. My life didn’t change at all, in reality. I still walked the dog early enough to avoid other people and then hunkered down and wrote words. But the lack of being able to jump on the bus to Whitby if I felt like it, was difficult to handle. I found my inner sewing bee instead and my writing suffered.

 NaNo was my way of making sure I could still “do it”: making sure the creativity was still there, the spark, that what-if? that seemed to have gone walkabout. The good news is that I can still “do it”. And that has inspired the idea for a whole new series, which I want to start in January. I just have to finish Who Wants To Live Forever first. Another 30,000 words should see it in the bag. There is even a faint chance I might have this first draft done by Christmas. That would be a cracking present to myself.

 You can read more about me here:

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Wednesday, 3 June 2020

To dictate or not to dictate. That is the question...



The joys – and perils – of dictating. I need to say at the outset I have no affiliation whatsoever with Nuance or Dragon NaturallySpeaking.

At the beginning of this year, I took the very difficult decision to ditch my Apple computers and transfer everything back to Windows. Why? Because my hands are increasingly painful with arthritis, even though I continue to play the piano. I have become unable to type 3000 words of my books in one session as I used to be able to do. I tried the integral dictating software and free and cheap software and, to be blunt and honest, they are all rubbish.

Apple does not support the only decent dictation software - Dragon NaturallySpeaking, made by Nuance and that is what fuelled my decision. I sold my MacBook Pro and gave my iMac to my brothers. My husband also decided to switch back to a Windows machine, although he has kept his iMac.

On YouTube, he has been following a computer specialist who has been building and repairing computers for over 30 years. From watching these videos, my husband decided he would build himself a Windows desktop machine. Which he did, and during which he learned a lot. So much so, that when he offered to build me a new Windows desktop machine, I did not hesitate to say yes
.
I also bought an HP laptop, which I have to say, drives me crazy, and which I only use when I am working in bed. And once all that was done, I bought Dragon NaturallySpeaking. In all, I have spent almost £2000, but I now have a top of the range desktop machine, an adequate laptop and the best dictating software available. And yes, it is expensive.

But, as with all things, Dragon is not perfect. I became interested in Scott Baker’s books and blogs and followed his advice, ditto Chris Fox. Both authors dictate their books and have written about the hows and whys of it. So, what are the pros and cons?

I find the most useful thing about Dragon is that you can train it. It asks you regularly to update new words you have written in either your blogs, emails or Word or whichever software you are using. I use Scrivener and it is less accurate in that software, but I think I have worked out what I’ve done wrong and will experiment with it.

I find that Dragon is about 96% accurate, which, when you think of the different things that people use this software for and the number of accents it has to deal with, is simply amazing. I now dictate all my emails and certainly the first draft of my writing projects. The other huge advantage for me is that when I am walking the dog very early in the morning, I have a hand-held dictating machine into which I dictate ideas, to do lists and notes or text for the current WIP. This little machine has a USB which I plug into the computer and Dragon transcribes everything I have said.

This means I can work on the move, and, as is generally now agreed, moving around when you are trying to be creative is a good thing. The function that asks you to update new words is incredibly useful when you use peculiar terms or names. For example, in my latest WIP, the name Arimanius occurs and I have now trained my Dragon to recognise that name. High Cliff Nab, pictured right, which I can see from my sitting room window features in this book. The book is set in 1970 and the working title is "Shades of Menace". Watch this space!


Where Dragon falls down is usually the little connecting words, such as of, to, in, and of course, it is dependent on the quality of your speech. It cannot recognise the difference between “all” and “or” for example. It is ideal for first drafts, but very much less so when you are editing. Even when your diction is clear, as mine is (trained classical singer), it will still make mistakes and two amusing ones spring to mind.

In the first draft of my Wars of the Roses fantasy crime novel, one of the settings is a manor house in rural Lincolnshire called Eresby. Despite my very best endeavours, this always gets transcribed as “errors be”, so I have had to call it Manchester and then do a global find and replace in Word. In my latest WIP, I have a character called Neil Darke. This has provided quite a few gigglesome incidents because of the words “kneel” and “dark”. So much so, I am going to call him something else!

I have also learned that it is best to not look at what is appearing on the screen and also, more importantly, that to dictate up to 5000 words an hour, you only need to speak very slowly. Scott Baker in his book “How to train your Dragon” highlights this when he asks you to dictate a passage in his book taking two minutes to dictate it. If you dictate at your normal speaking speed, you will only take about 40 seconds.

You need to make extensive notes about to what you want to say and learn a few commands – (this is why editing is such a pain if you use Dragon – the commands you need to learn and remember to say to make the edit). Most people use the command that opens up quotation marks for speech, but I know Chris Fox just uses the command for the next line and put in speech quotes when he edits.

Has it been fun? Absolutely. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. I can now dictate on the move and at my desk. Making more extensive notes than I am used to is useful as part of the outlining process. I am more productive. I now have 2 first drafts being edited and the beginning of a new series being dictated. Yes, you have to edit more rigorously then you may be used to, but that in itself could be an advantage, because you are looking more closely and mindfully at your text.

You can read more about April Taylor here:





Monday, 20 January 2020

Places in my writing life: Part 1




Paul McCartney sings about places in his song In My Life:

There are places I'll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone, and some remain

And so it is with all of us. I think this chimes with writers, especially those of us who are fascinated by history. I write crime, some contemporary and some – The Tudor Enigma series – set in an alternate Tudor history with a bit of magic thrown in.

When I was younger (so much younger than today), I lived in Worcester, another city chock full of history. I have stood where Charles II stood, high up on the Cathedral roof, as he watched Cromwell’s forces overwhelm his army. I can show you the place where he escaped by climbing out of a window and over the walls of the city.

In the Cathedral itself, the tomb of Henry VIII’s elder brother, Arthur is situated, as is the tomb of an early Plantagenet, King John, himself an interesting character. I have a theory he would today have been diagnosed as bi-polar.

The place that holds my heart will always be Worcester Cathedral. In 1978 in the middle of a Three Choirs concert, the first inkling of the book that would become Dearly Ransomed Soul popped into my head.

In Worcester, we are talking serious Elgar territory. The opening concert was Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius conducted by Sir Charles Groves. He looked just like a jolly Father Christmas but he had a tongue that could strip wallpaper if any of the musicians fell below his standards. Since we were in Worcester, any choir singer on that platform was supposed to have taken this oratorio in with their mother’s milk. I had just come from the wilds of Norfolk! This concert was where I learned to sight-sing very accurately through sheer terror.

The part of the Angel was sung by Sandra Browne and I sat transfixed. But even then, the writer in me was alive to crime story possibilities. What if the Angel, having sung her socks off, was murdered immediately after the concert? The finished book came out in 2008 – yes 30 years after the initial idea - published by Legend Press. Although the characters went through several incarnations and I called Worcester, Temingham, the title never changed from Dearly Ransomed Soul. Since then, I have always chosen musical titles for the Georgia Pattison Mysteries and included links at the end of each book to music mentioned in the text
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I rewrote it a few years later and published it digitally. The second incarnation had a different killer and was set in Worcester. I was much happier with this new version and Georgia Pattison, my early-music soprano was born. Her second full-length adventure is Laid in Earth, also set in and around Worcester.

When I saw the trend for publishing Christmas novellas, I thought Georgia Pattison was ideal for the purpose. I decided she needed an introductory novella, which I set in Whitby and concerned the murder of a young woman Georgia used to babysit. As with all the Georgia Pattison books, the title had to have a music connection but also fit the theme of the book. I decided on Whistles After Dark from Kipling’s Smugglers Song. Being a “first” book, it was not set at Christmas, but there have been several since then that focus on the festive season. Not all have been set in Worcester, but all have had a solid foundation in their geographical place.


You can find April Taylor on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/britwriterapriltaylor
and Twitter: https://twitter.com/authAprilTaylor





Thursday, 19 December 2019

Georgia Pattison's 2019 Christmas novella

It has become one of those things some writers do to include in their annual output a Christmas short story or novella featuring their series character. But how does a writer find a protagonist strong enough to be the lead in a succession of books?

My contemporary series character is early-music soprano, Georgia Pattison, who sprang from my experiences as a choral soprano with Worcester Festival Choral Society. The memories of my involvement in the musical life of that city in the 70s and early 80s are very happy ones. Being invited to sing in Three Choirs Festivals was an honour. For one week, we lowly amateur singers mixed with the best and the brightest - and royalty on occasions. I loved it. In all the years I was with Worcester, there was only one piece of music I never grew to like and that was Tippett's Child of Our Time. I can, hand on heart, say that every other piece, even if I didn't much like it when we started, I loved by the time it came to the performance.

Georgia came into being during a performance of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius. There is quite a bit of sitting down in the second part of this oratorio as far as the choir is concerned. With the best will in the world, one's attention can wander.

Mine began to wonder what would happen if the Angel sang a fabulous concert to ecstatic acclaim, and was murdered shortly afterwards. I tried several attempts to get the story down, but it was 30 years before I had the time and the determination to really write the book. Dearly Ransomed Soul was the result and the beginning of the frequently rocky relationship between Georgia and DCI Hamilton of the Three Counties Police.

To come full circle to the beginning of this blog, Georgia, poor girl, is now well and truly destined to find a body every Christmas. This year's adventure comes about when she stands in for the music teacher at a school in Worcester during their nativity play, followed by a concert from the school choir.

The fact that a man is killed virtually under Georgia's nose she regards as something of an insult, not least because she had no idea that it had happened. She resolves to find the killer. What drives her resolution even harder is the fact that DCI Hamilton is facing a disciplinary hearing and possible instant dismissal. The detective and the singer may have had a volatile relationship but it is one built on mutual respect. If Georgia can find evidence to prove that Hamilton is innocent, she will. If she can find the killer, that will also help Hamilton's case.

The killer, however, has other ideas and this time it could well be that Georgia has put herself in danger once too often.

You can find While Shepherds Watched here: mybook.to/Shepherds

You can find out more about April Taylor and her books here: https://amzn.to/34zf90n

You can contact April Taylor:



Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Interview with Lesley Cookman, the Queen of Cosy Crime

I am delighted to welcome Lesley Cookman to the blog today. We first met Libby Serjeant in Murder in Steeple Martin in 2006. Murder Repeated, published on 5th December is Libby's 20th outing.

There were several reasons I wanted to interview such a seasoned and successful crime writer, not least because my husband reads the Libby books, but not mine. Yet.


How was Libby Serjeant “born”? What did you immediately know about her and what characteristic was a surprise?

That’s an interesting one – but an easy one! One day, probably during the school holidays, I was driving home from my younger daughter’s best friend’s house, where I had dropped her off. For some reason, I took a slightly different route home, in a spirit of exploration. Said friend lived with her family on the edge of a tiny country village – the stuff of many a girlhood fantasy, ponies and all. So off I went on a little tour of other villages. And I was driving past a piece of open ground with some cottages the other side, and suddenly, I knew who lived there. I went home, and despite not currently being a novelist, wrote the first paragraphs of the first Libby Sarjeant book. And there she was – as were two of my other characters, Harry and Peter.


What is your writing process: What sparks that initial ‘that would make a great story’? moment. Are you a plotter or a pantser? Do you know the end before you start?  How much leeway do you give yourself to veer off at a tangent?

I’m definitely a pantster, and mostly, it’s my son Miles who comes to me with an idea: “This would make a great story, Mum.” Trouble is, I then have to make it up! No, I don’t know the end, and the murderer often changes as the story goes on, and I’m a champion veerer. I never believe people who say the spotted the murderer at the beginning – I never do!


Walk us through your writing day. 

Wake up, stagger out of bed, go downstairs, put kettle on, feed cats. Read emails on laptop with tea. Eventually make it into the office, muck about on computer and finally get down to writing. Work until I feel I can legitimately stop.


If you could give your younger writing self any piece of advice, what would it be?

I don’t know, because I wasn’t actively trying to become a novelist, until I fell into it!


What three things are you grateful for?

My immediate family, my cats and having a roof over my head.


Name one essential quality you believe a writer needs and one essential element for a successful book?

A good imagination, and an understanding of your readers.


Setting aside the plethora of Indies, what has been the greatest change in the world of publishing for you since ‘Murder in Steeple Martin'?

Ebooks. I started before the digital revolution, and believe me, I couldn’t  have foreseen the sudden upsurge in my royalty statements when my back list became available in ebook. Dropped off, now, of course, but it was the biggest change I remember.


Thank you, Lesley. I wish you continuing success.

If you want to find out more about Lesley, go here: http://www.lesleycookman.co.uk





Saturday, 23 November 2019

Going back to move forwards

Sounds like the title of a film, doesn’t it? However, this blog is not about a movie. It is about changing habits in a way, but is why sometimes you have to change them back.
As anybody who follows me on Facebook or Twitter will know, I have had severe difficulties using the dictation app that comes as standard with Apple. Unfortunately, Apple decided that they could no longer allow Nuance to access their software, which meant that Apple users could not use Dragon Naturally Speaking. This would not have been such a problem had the Apple integral dictation software been programmed to learn its users’ vocabulary or to learn from its mistakes, in other words, the user having the ability to tell it how to spell a word.
Neither of these two things happens and that means that the software is fatally flawed for everyone except bloggers or people who dictate emails - things that are quick to edit. In other words, millions of writers cannot use it efficiently because it makes far too many errors. For somebody like me who writes 100,000 word books, the Apple dictation software is useless.
Therefore, I have decided with much thought and a lot of regret that my increasing problems with arthritis mean I must go back to a Windows machine so that I can continue to produce my books by dictating them. This decision is solely down to Apple’s inability to realise that some users need a good quality, dependable, dictation system that learns with its user. My husband is therefore going to build me a new computer. 
The other thing to which I am returning and that is already resulting in a huge increase in my writing productivity, is to revert to my original method of writing. In other words, using the writing method that worked for me so successfully when I penned The Tudor Enigma.
All writers want to learn new things, try new things, but over the past four years, I became too focussed on other people’s methods of writing and plotting. I learned about inciting incidents, thwarts, character flaws and pacing – other people’s pacing. And, to be completely honest, writing lost much of its charm and became something of a chore. 
I have writing friends who plot every little detail of a book before they begin writing it. Jeffery Deaver allegedly writes 40,000 word preparations before he writes a word of the book he is planning. I have other friends who sit down with an idea of some characters and write the book by the seat of their pants.

My instinctive method, before I became bogged down trying other people’s, is what I call the roadmap method and it is a mixture of the plotter and the pantser. Since I live in the UK, I will use the UK roadmap to illustrate what I mean. Let us say I plan to journey from the Isle of Wight to Newcastle. The Isle of Wight is the beginning of my book. I know what my beginning is, who my main characters are. I know the basic plot and several events that must happen during the course of the book. To continue the metaphor, logic dictates my route needs to involve a passing acquaintance with London, Peterborough, Leeds and York (the events) before it ends up in Newcastle, which is the end of the book. However, since I write crime, I reserve the right to suddenly make tangential moves to Birmingham and the Lake District before heading up to Edinburgh and then circling back down to Newcastle. 
I do not plot the tangential moves, they happen as I write. Quite suddenly, one character will do something I hadn’t planned. For instance in my current book, a character made a sudden declaration of love to my main character that took both of us by surprise. It is akin to having booked a hotel in York and finding yourself in Liverpool. You have to rethink what is going on. 
Usually, I have found these tangential unexpected moves to be beneficial to the book. And it is instances like this that make me love writing and are things that could never happen when every little detail is planned in advance. Going back has reinvigorated my writing and my
passion for writing.  
     When I have finished this first draft, I will return to this year’s Georgia Pattison Christmas novella, While Shepherds Watched and edit that ready for publication before the festive season. I hope to have my current work in progress, working title Keeping Secrets out in spring 2020.

You can read more about me and my books here:


















Do you want to write a crime story?

  " There is evil everywhere under the sun ” Agatha Christie.   Perhaps you have always wanted to write a crime novel. Now is your ch...