Blogging experiences

Finale to my National Crime Reading Month daily blog series

Northern marsh orchid, Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

Today is the last day of June and therefore today’s is the last of my daily blog posts to celebrate Crime Reading Month. I’d like to pay tribute to the CWA for coming up with the idea of CRM and to the countless people who have supported it. I’d particularly like to thank everyone who has contributed to these thirty posts by providing so many magnificent insights and vignettes and for giving up their time so generously to help me. It’s impossible to pinpoint highlights – I feel as if I’ve been on a high all month! – although a few moments stand out for me personally. I was struck by Hannah Deuce’s comment that all writers are different, so she supports each one in different ways; by Natalie Sammons’ observation that if you write to please yourself, you won’t be disappointed ‘whatever the outcome’; and perhaps most of all by Frances Pinter’s description of Brexit in one punch-packing word: ‘frivolous’. Frances’ post was all about the importance of peace and how we should dread the danger of war that is looming once again; sadly, as we reach the end of this month, the conflict in Ukraine is no nearer to resolution than it was on 1st June.

CRM has given me some humbling opportunities to read or re-read some fine works of fiction: Snegurochka, by Judith Heneghan, and The Manningtree Witches, by A.K. Blakemore impress with their originality and fine use of language, but I have enjoyed all the novels that I have written about this month and am in awe of all their authors. In this, I include Annie, the only poet featured, whose stark poems about domestic violence bring home the enormity of it more vividly than any number of newspaper and court reports. I’d also like to pay tribute to those who have always supported me as a writer and continue to do so: Annika, Valerie, Noel, Dea and now, Hannah, please take a bow. I salute those who have dedicated their lives to supporting the bookselling and publishing industries: Richard, Nick, Lynette, Linda and, again, Frances and Noel. I’d love to be a member of Deirdre’s reading group – she and her book club friends seem to have such fun! And finally, I’d like to thank Betsy, Tara and Hannah for publishing The Canal Murders to the usual high Bloodhound standards; and I’d like to take the opportunity to apologise for (temporarily) having forgotten my own publication date!

As readers of this whole series of posts will know, I have been privileged to speak at four libraries during the course of the month. I have, of course, known for many years how much librarians bring to their communities, but when I met Helen, Kathryn, Tarina and Kay and their teams, their generosity, talent and tireless efforts to help people were brought home to me all over again. I’d like to thank them once more for their wonderful hospitality – and the equally wonderful audiences to whom they introduced me, each of which taught me far more than I felt I had to offer them. I now know about ran-tanning, the use of opium for Fenland agues and many more facts about life in Lincolnshire, both past and present, than when I started out. The library visits also gave me the opportunity to research some unsolved Lincolnshire murders, including that of Alas! Poor Bailey, my favourite. My encounter with the vicar of Long Sutton church will stay with me.

When I introduced this blog series, I promised to tell my readers at the end of it why I write about the Spalding of my childhood even though my novels are set in the present. I renew that promise now, but I hope you will allow me a short delay. It is because – as I mentioned earlier this week – I am currently on holiday in Orkney – in fact, sadly, my time here is drawing to an end; and while I am still able to imbibe the magic of this place I should like to introduce you to one of the island’s serial murderers – the great skua. Called “the pirate of the seas” or, in Orkney, “the bonxie”, this formidable bird – which appears not to be afraid of humans – hunts other birds on the wing. Today my husband and I watched spellbound as a pair of great skuas systematically chased a curlew through the soft blue skies and engaged above and around us in aerial combat with greater black-backed gulls. I came to Orkney for inspiration as a writer and I have found more here than I could ever have dreamed about.

As I prepare to return home and submit myself to the discipline of the keyboard once more, I should like to conclude by thanking everyone who has read even one of these posts. I do hope you have enjoyed them. There are more to come – I was surprised and grateful to have more offers from would-be contributors than there are days in the month of June. And of course I shall not forget my promise.

I leave you with a cheerful picture of one of Orkney’s denizens.

‘Tammie Norrie’ on Marwick Head, Orkney

In which I almost miss my own publication day!

This morning I got up at 4 am, just as the day was dawning, rejoiced in the singing blackbirds, took a quick look at the BBC news – complete with midsummer celebrants at Stonehenge – and spent almost four hours facilitating a webinar featuring librarians from Australia and New Zealand. As you do, when you live at the wrong side of the world. 😉

By 9 am, all the librarians had signed off and I was looking forward to breakfast, but I could see emails in my Outlook and thought I’d read them first. (I can never resist that little yellow envelope symbol – it has encroached on my writing time on more occasions than I can remember.)

And there it was. A message from Hannah, the lovely marketing manager at Bloodhound: I just wanted to pop you over an email to say congratulations on your publication day for The Canal Murders! I hope you are able to find time to celebrate today. 

Reader, I had forgotten the publication date of my own novel! Duh!

That doesn’t mean to say that I am not over the moon. I’m humbled, too: everyone at Bloodhound has been beavering away while I have been focusing on the Antipodes. Not that I regret that, but clearly I need to do some serious work on my multi-tasking skills.

As readers of this blog are aware, I have given several library talks recently. It has been striking how often members of the audiences have asked me how I got the idea for a particular book. What was the initial spark that started off the creative process? What triggered the gleam (or grit!) in my eye?

The Canal Murders was inspired by several separate events and discoveries. A few years ago – pre-COVID – I was asked to give a talk at the main library in Lincoln and had time beforehand to explore the beautifully restored waterways in the city. I’m interested in canals – I’ve taken several narrowboat holidays – and have read about the Fossdyke, the ancient canal originally dug by the Romans that connects the River Trent to Lincoln at Torksey; and because I’m interested in canals, I have also read about two murderers, one based in Yorkshire and the other in Greater Manchester, who have made use of the canal network to dispose of the bodies of their victims (I won’t identify them, as I have used aspects of their real-life crimes in the novel and I don’t want to give too much of the plot away). When I was thinking about this novel, I had also been reading about copycat murders and how their seeming lack of motive creates extra obstacles for the police when trying to track down the killer(s). Yet another theme came from some items of farming news in East Anglia at the time, about soil erosion and the need to take proper care of the land. This is also woven in.

The novel has a multi-layered plot, because there are several murders, each featuring a different type of victim. And the sub-plot – in response to requests from readers – focuses on DS Juliet Armstrong’s private life.

I hope that you will think this sounds intriguing. I rarely write about my own books on this blog, but perhaps you will forgive me on this occasion, as The Canal Murders has been published during Crime Reading Month, the focus of all my June 2022 posts, and it’s also been published on Midsummer’s Day. I can think of no more propitious date on which to launch a murder mystery. The gods will surely raise a cheer, awoken from their slumber as they have already been by the votaries at Stonehenge!

More to the point, Hannah has been cheering The Canal Murders, too, in her own quiet but indomitable and infinitely more practical way. Thank you, Hannah, for all your inspired work and for being a much better multi-tasker than I am.

A privilege, indeed, to fly with Kevin Taylor, Chief Pilot, Lincolnshire Police Drones

Kevin Taylor is the Chief Pilot of the Lincolnshire Police Remotely Piloted Air Systems (RPAS) Unit. He has worked as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) flight instructor/assessor, training staff at all levels, from beginners to advanced remote pilots. He specialises in the training of military and emergency services personnel. He has himself flown both manned and unmanned aircraft and is qualified to fly both aeroplanes and helicopters. He has put in more than 1500 flying hours in more than twenty aircraft types. He acts as test pilot for the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA) and the Light Aircraft Association (LAA). This involves testing new lightly manned aircraft. Kevin himself owns a light sport aircraft and flies regularly.

Kev began his career as a radar engineer in the Royal Air Force, then joined the Special Constabulary in 2003. He serves as a Special Sergeant in the Lincolnshire Police RPAS Unit. He has overall responsibility for the safe delivery of RPAS operations, including all aspects of training and safety standards. He is experienced in all the operational areas of police RPASs and has carried out hundreds of live deployments in Search & Rescue, Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear incidents and Offender and Event Crowd Dynamics. He is also experienced in Beyond Visual Line Of Sight flights. He has received multiple commendations for his operational RPAS flying. He has also worked with the UK defence industry to develop autonomous RPASs. He has pioneered police use of RPASs in relation to criminal activities.

I asked Kev to contribute to my series of blog posts to celebrate CRM because Lincolnshire Police have very kindly been following this blog for several years. They also helped to influence the plot for Chasing Hares.

Q:  Do police drone pilots train from scratch or have they already been flying drones as a pastime?

A: In Lincolnshire Police, drone pilots are police constables who work mainly as responders and attend a vast array of incidents. If an incident can benefit from the use of a drone, a drone officer will be deployed to assist. A drone is just one of numerous tools available in a police officer’s kit bag and drone flying should be described as a skill, rather than a role. In some ways, it’s like carrying a taser: the training has some similarities. The initial training course consists of five days’ training followed by a practical test which the trainee must pass.  Once an officer is trained, s/he must pass an annual requalification test.  If prospective drone pilots are already interested in drones before they train, it is useful, but not essential.

Q: What, very briefly, is the history of police drone use in the county? How many officers are involved and how has this field of policing been expanded in Lincolnshire?

A: Lincolnshire Police started its drone journey in March 2017. The first operational flight took place in September of that year. On average there are now 350-400 deployments per year. The target is to have five officers at each of the four main bases: Lincoln, Boston, Grantham and Skegness. Currently there are twelve officers and six more in training.

Q: Would you explain the particular value of drones for police work in a place like Lincolnshire or, indeed, anywhere.

A: Lincolnshire has the perfect landscape for drones. In terms of geographic area the force is one of the largest in England and Wales, covering 2,284 square miles. The population of this area is 736,700. Policing such a large area presents challenges: Lincolnshire has vast areas of open countryside and, as such areas are difficult to search on foot, effective air support is vital. Drones can now play a pivotal role in addressing this challenge. The running cost of a drone is negligible when compared to the other options available, such as crewed helicopters. Drones are also used to manage large events such as Christmas markets and can assist with crowd dynamics, acting as an extension to the CCTV camera network.

Q: What incidents stick out in your mind as memorable examples of success? (Not just nabbing the villain, though that is very interesting, of course; perhaps the successful rescue of someone vulnerable or the way in which a traffic incident has been helped by drones.)

A: There have been many incidents that have resulted in a positive outcome for the whole team. We are not allowed to discuss one of the most unusual ones, owing to reporting restrictions, which is a real shame. All drone pilots will have a personal set of memories of occasions that got their adrenaline pumping; one of my own was using the drone to discover an unconscious male in a ditch following a road traffic collision. It was in early 2018; his was among the first lives to have been reported as saved by a police drone in the UK and this incident alone demonstrates that the investment in drones by Lincolnshire Police was worthwhile.

Q: What do you find particularly frustrating in your line of work?

A: When we first launched the drones initiative there was some scepticism. There was criticism that drones were just glorified toys. However, the clear and powerful images produced by the drones once they became operational soon converted the sceptics to supporters. There aren’t too many frustrations, but it may not be a surprise to hear that if I had better funding I could achieve so much more. That said, the Chief Officer Team has been very supportive of drones and can see they provide value for money. The results speak for themselves, although we can’t always put a financial value on all that we do.  

Q: Do you read crime fiction? Would be your advice to a writer like me to up her game in presenting police work?

A: I’m always on the go, so sitting down and reading a book is something I don’t have much time for. I would say that policing is moving with the times and that technology plays a large part in the way criminals operate today, so the police need to use it, too, to keep up. I guess a crime writer would benefit from understanding the technology and tools at the disposal of a current, modern-day police force. Drones constitute just one small part of contemporary technology that benefits the police and public, not only in Lincolnshire, but worldwide. Besides operating drones, we play a considerable role in education and enforcement. Drones technology is constantly evolving and the regulations have also evolved quickly. Lincolnshire is a very RAF-centric county, with a busy airspace, and we contribute to the effort to ensure that all airspace users can share the airspace safely. In July, we’ll be inviting the public to the Lincolnshire Police HQ to learn more about how to fly drones safely and to understand a little more about how we use them.

All pictures © Kevin Taylor

The gold of reader loyalty

Val Poore

Were I to say that readers are not unimportant to writers, I’d be providing you with an extreme example of litotes. Readers are an author’s lifeblood. If a novel has no readers, it barely deserves to be called a book, just as a portrait kept forever in the dark is scarcely a picture. I feel blessed that as a crime writer I have been ‘discovered’ by some loyal readers who have subsequently read and reviewed all my books. No one has been more staunchly supportive of my work or sympathised more with what I have set out to achieve than Valerie Poore. Recent posts of mine have featured Fraser Massey, a fledgeling crime writer and Mickey J Corrigan and Sarah Stephens, two established writers whom I’ve never met in person.  Similarly, I have never met Valerie (a couple of times, on my way through Holland, I tried to visit her on her vintage Dutch barge in the Oude Haven in Rotterdam there are two links here – but, sadly, on those occasions she was not there). I know she supports other authors as well as myself. I have asked her to write a short post on why she is so generous with her support for others – and how she finds the time to do it!

For several consecutive years, I’ve looked forward eagerly to each of Christina James’ nine crime novels. If I remember correctly, In the Family, her first DI Yates book, was also the first crime fiction I’d ever read from a novelist who wasn’t already widely known in the genre. I was a detective novel fan of old and had read most of the big name authors: PD James, Elizabeth George, Ian Rankin, to name just a few. But at some point, I found the plots becoming ever more harrowing and disturbing – so much so that I stopped reading crime fiction for quite some time.

As a result, I was somewhat hesitant to start down the detective novel path again, but after meeting Christina James on Twitter and enjoying our interaction, I decided to give In the Family a try. To my delight, the book ticked all my mystery-solving boxes and I can say with some conviction that Christina gave me back my taste for crime (so to speak). It was an extra benefit that having ‘met’ her on Twitter, I could also continue to interact with her and support her writing on social media.

Since then, I’ve added several other, mostly independent, authors to my list of favourite crime fiction writers, nearly all of whom I’ve discovered through Twitter and book bloggers. And even though I’m not a crime writer, it’s still the fiction genre I read the most, so I love being able to support their books as a reader, reviewer and tweeter.

So when Christina asked what motivated me to help other authors through social media support, the answer came easily: it’s because I was an avid reader long before I became an author myself. Without exaggeration, I can say I’ve loved immersing myself in books my entire life and nothing gives me more pleasure than reading. I also appreciate others’ excellence in writing, so if I read an author whose prose, dialogue, plot development or even turn of phrase I admire, I instinctively want to tell the world about them and share my enthusiasm.

As a student and young adult, I could talk books for hours with my friends – I studied English and French literature, which helped, of course. These days, that appreciation is more easily conveyed through social media, as I no longer have the time to linger with fellow readers to the same extent; nor do I live in an environment which would tempt me to do so. My home for twenty years has been on an old barge in the Netherlands among folk whose passion is restoring historic vessels. Welding, not reading, is what lights their fires. And although I’ve written about these colourful neighbours in my memoirs, I cannot talk books with them.

My solution, then, is to share my reading discoveries on social media where I can promote and interact with the authors whose books I enjoy. But there’s a spin-off benefit too: I now belong to a community of readers and authors, many of whom reciprocate by reading and sharing my books too. Promotion, I discovered, is reciprocal. What you give is what you get, a further reason (as if I needed one) to share and share alike.

So, there you have it: someone who loves crime fiction and promotes it, brilliantly! I should add that Val is a writer of memoirs other than those of her experiences on the canals of the Netherlands, Belgium and France, for she has lived in South Africa, too. I’m adding the link to her fascinating blog so that you may wander with her if you wish! I’ve also provided two links to my posts about my visits to the Oude Haven, if you’re interested. I’ll finish with a photographic flavour of her watery life and her books about it:

At the wheel of her vintage Dutch barge
My review of this is here

The influencer: Linda Hill, founder of Linda’s Book Bag

Picture copyright Linda Hill

Linda Hill founded Linda’s Book Bag in February 2015 and has never looked back, rapidly becoming one of the most influential blog-based reviewers in the country.

As to how she built up her huge following, she says:

“I went on to Twitter and followed all the authors I knew, then searched for publicists and publishers. I put out a few reviews and quite soon I was asked to do a blog tour. It just grew from there – people started sending me books and requesting review space on the blog. It snowballed after the lockdowns. During the first one, I was receiving 200 emails a day. It’s even escalated since then – I’ve just been out to meet someone for coffee and when I got back there were seventy-four new messages waiting for me.”

Linda always refuses payment for anything connected with Linda’s Book Bag (she is a guest reviewer for My Weekly and does accept payment for that). She says she doesn’t want to be paid because her aim is not to act as an advertiser: it would compromise her own morality and she would find it distasteful. She does not, however, give bad reviews. “I can’t read everything I’m sent – nine books arrived this week. It’s wonderful to get a book through the post, but that doesn’t mean I’ve promised to praise it. If I read – or start to read – a book I don’t like, I contact the person who sent it to me and say it’s not for me.”

Once she has met or reviewed an author, Linda often keeps in touch with them. “Lots have become friends – I’ve been to their homes and they’ve been to mine. One of the things I most like about the book community – I mean the genuine book community, people who really love books and writing – is how mutually supportive it is.”

She has only had a couple of negative experiences over the past seven years. One author sent her a book to arrange a book tour and she discovered the book had been ‘completely stolen’ from another author. The author ‘disappeared completely’. And sometimes people who contact her are ‘not as polite as they could be’ – they may take it as a given that she will want to read and review their books.

As well as running her blog, Linda is one of the organisers of the Deepings Literary Festival, now in its third year. The original plan was for it to take place every two years, but the 2020 and 2021 events had to be cancelled owing to COVID restrictions. The festival took place this year, so the next one will be in 2024.

“In the first year I was asked to interview Alison Brice. Planning interviews takes much longer than people realise. I spend several hours researching and writing the questions. I write out the whole script – just so I can get it straight in my head, and, for the last festival, in case I went down with COVID, so someone else could take over.”

Asked if she writes herself, Linda says that she has published more than twenty tutor resource books for Hodder Education. She started her working career as an English teacher and then became an Ofsted inspector. She also set up her own business running independent projects – for example, an event in the Millennium Dome. She was in demand straight away. “The first year I went independent, I had ten free days, including weekends.” She has been encouraged to write by others and once entered a competition run by Simon and Schuster that involved writing the first few chapters of a novel. “They said they’d like to see the rest, which didn’t exist, so I wrote 55,000 words in the space of two weeks! Unsurprisingly, their verdict was that it had promise, but it wasn’t for them.” However, although she has a ‘story in her head’, Linda says she has no burning desire to write. She wants to do other things, including the Book Bag and travel. She and her husband Steve are prodigious travellers and have been from “Antarctica to Zambia, Australia to Zimbabwe.”

Linda grew up in Wood Newton, which at the time boasted a pub and a shop and a solitary telephone box. She was a late reader, not learning to read properly until she was eight, when she first acquired a pair of spectacles and realised that “all those black marks on the pages mean something.” Thomas Hardy is her favourite writer from the classics. Among her modern favourites are Carol Lovekin, Chris Whitaker and, for crime, M W Craven, to whom goes the distinction of being the only writer whose entire series of books she has read. She says her tastes in writing are eclectic – she reads most types of fiction, except SF, Fantasy and Horror.

Asked what advice she would give to new authors, Linda says:

“When you’re contacting reviewers or other people on social media, don’t just launch in with ‘Here’s my book; buy it!’ Build up a following by following authors of books similar to your own. Support other authors. Organise a blog tour – it’s like undertaking a physical tour of bookshops. Take part in social media regularly – not necessarily by writing a lot, but by constantly reminding people you are there. Join Facebook groups – the Crime Book Club, Book Connections. Interact with people. Create relationships and build them up. Be brave: approach local libraries and radio stations. Be prepared to put yourself out there – I know this is hard for some authors.”

Oude Haven, Rotterdam, again…

Oude Haven

Oude Haven and Het Witte Huis

Val Poore, that most elusive of authors, at least to me on her home territory, proved impossible to find on our return after five years to Rotterdam’s Oude Haven. Not knowing when we might arrive in Rotterdam (for time for trans-European car travel is notoriously difficult to estimate) and the fact that Valerie was almost certainly at work (it was a Friday), made it unfair to alert her to a visit we might not have been able to make. As it was, we discovered that the parking meters I wrote about those five years ago had all been made credit-card-friendly (maybe someone on the city council read my blog post!) and we could relatively easily pay for our stay. (If you are out there still, council person, to have various languages – as do ATMs – on your meters would make them even friendlier!)

Anyway, we were interested to find that, aside from the meters, not a huge amount had changed. Perhaps that isn’t so surprising for a museum of vintage barges, but there seemed to be more of them, so no doubt Valerie’s two memoirs recounting her experiences of restoring and living aboard her Vereeniging have encouraged others to do likewise. The boatyard was much busier, too, as you will see from the photographs, with more going on than the repair of one raised barge.

In the yard

In the boatyard

In the boatyard 2

In the boatyard 3.jpg

Xenia on the slipway

Xenia on the slipway

 

Activity on the water

On the water

Motorised raft

Getting around by raft…

Vereeniging looked very well, too, with her gangplank effectively repaired (Valerie blogged about its vandalised damage) so that we momentarily wondered if we dared a quick stand on the foredeck! I’m sure if we had, the neighbours would have made us walk the plank in a rather different way! We met one of them, briefly (he had just arrived by bicycle), and asked him to say hello to Valerie and Koos for us.

Vereeniging

Valerie’s Vereeniging

Gangplank repair

Robust repair to the gangplank

I can safely aver that Rotterdam continues to thrive and the vibrancy we noted on our previous short exploration is still very much in evidence, even though the weather last Friday was gustily post-stormy and chilly. Anyway, enough from me now, except to say that Valerie has been a huge supporter of DI Yates and I’d very much have liked to meet her in person. I think that she has another memoir in the making and I’m sure it will be as warm and colourful as the others. Buy one and you’ll see what I mean. If you like canals and barges and narrowboats as I do, then her wanderings (‘farings’) along Dutch, Belgian and French waterways will hold you spellbound.

Here again

Here again, at the harbour bridge

Christina James, happily hopping from one blog to another… #Mondayblogs

Sausage Hall

I have Jenny Lloyd to thank for nominating me for The Writing Process ‘blog hop’.  (Why do I dislike this term?  I’ve never liked the ugly sound of ‘blog’ and ‘hop’ has unfortunate ‘bunny’ associations – as if I’ve been given fluffy ears and a scut to bounce around in – hah!)  Jenny is renowned as the author of Leap the Wild Water, a widely-acclaimed historical novel focusing upon the sufferings of women and the harsh conflicts and unbearable tensions between self and society in rural Wales two hundred years ago; she’s getting close to releasing a sequel to it, The Calling of the Raven, and is already working on the third book.  Thanks, Jenny, for this opportunity to join The Writing Process and best wishes for The Raven!  (Do visit her blog at http://jennylloydwriter.wordpress.com/, which for me has wonderfully sensitive insights into her homeland, its people and its history…  wiv pitchers!)

So, here I go, with a bounce:

What am I working on?

I’m just writing the concluding chapters to Sausage Hall, the third DI Yates novel.  Like the first two novels in the Yates series, it is set mostly in Lincolnshire, though some of the action also takes place in Norfolk.  Sausage Hall is the name that the locals give the house that is called Laurieston in the novel. It is situated in the village of Sutterton and based on an actual house, which really was nicknamed Sausage Hall, because it had been built by a butcher who’d gone bankrupt in the 1850s.  My grandmother, having worked in domestic service all of her life, moved when she was sixty to Sutterton, which is about ten miles from Spalding and seven miles from Boston, to become companion to a very old lady who lived there.  The old lady had been the wife of a gentleman farmer who was twenty years her senior, so he must have been born in the mid-nineteenth century.    The house was frozen in a time warp.  It was packed with quaint furnishings, but the most astounding thing about it (though as a child I just accepted it as normal) was that the walls were decorated with many sepia photographs of the old lady’s husband when he’d been on safari in Africa as a young man.  These photographs must have been taken in the 1870s or 1880s and in many of them he was accompanied by several black women wearing very little except strings of beads.  It has long been my intention to write about what I think might have happened in this house.  When I began researching the period and the district, my plot was given a considerable boost when I discovered that someone very famous had lived nearby in the late nineteenth century.  That person appears in the novel, too. The book is set in the present, but the characters and their actions are considerably influenced by what went on at Sausage Hall more than a century ago.

How does my work differ from others in this genre?

As is well-known (especially by those who organise creative writing courses!), the genre of crime fiction is usually divided into several sub-genres.  I’m only interested in a few of these: primarily the psychological crime novel, with a slighter nod to the ‘woman at risk’ variant.  Except tangentially – for I do try to get the facts right about policing, the law and the justice system – I’m not what is known as a ‘procedural’ crime writer.  I don’t plod through all of the police action step by step, leaving no ‘i’ undotted or ‘t’ uncrossed.  Nor do I seek to hold my readers’ attention or shock them with descriptions of excessive violence or bloody massacres.  I don’t write action thrillers or spy novels.  Conversely, I’m not a creator of what has been called ‘cosy’ crime: the type of novel that those of a nervous disposition can happily read in bed at night when in the house on their own.  I like to think that, through careful characterisation and as much psychological insight as I can command, my novels explore some pretty gritty truths and moral dilemmas.  I also try to flip the crime-writing conventions on their head in various ways: for example, I tend not to tie up all the loose ends (life’s just not like that) and, flying in the face of the notion of catharsis, I don’t always make it absolutely clear who the perpetrator is.  I’ve been told by several reviewers that I’ve broken new ground in the crime genre, but I try not to stretch this too far.  For example, I don’t think it works to try to mix genres and combine crime with Science Fiction or Fantasy – a few authors might be able to pull it off, but they’d have to be very skilful indeed.  More prosaically, although my novels are set in the present, the town of Spalding in which most of the action in the Yates series occurs is the Spalding of my childhood, not the town as it is today.  This gives me the advantage of being able to write about a finite, unchanging place that only I have access to, because it is locked in my memory (with all that that implies).

Why do I write what I do?

I’m not wedded always to being exclusively a crime writer.  I’ve written novels and short stories which would certainly be pigeon-holed in the ‘literary fiction’ bracket by most publishers.  However, although the quality of my writing was praised when I tried to publish some of these (others have not been and never will be shown to anyone!), I repeatedly received feedback that I needed to tighten up on the plot and make my work more accessible generally.  I therefore decided to try writing crime fiction, because it requires a tight and carefully-constructed plot and the action itself keeps the novel moving on nicely.  The constraints of the genre provide an excellent way of creating and maintaining self-discipline in the writing.  I have to weed out the ‘purple passages’ when revising if I realise that they don’t contribute to the plot.  Once I have a sound plot, I’m also less likely to get stuck or suffer from ‘writer’s block’ than when writing literary fiction.  However, although I’m very happy writing crime fiction and shall continue to do so, I do have other plans in the pipeline as well.

How does my writing process work?

Following on from what I’ve said in the paragraph above, plot is very important in crime fiction.  Once I have an idea for a novel, I work painstakingly on the plot, often during my long annual holiday in France, until I am satisfied that I can make it work.  I will usually also draft a half-page outline for each chapter.  I don’t always stick exactly to my original plot afterwards, but, if I change it, I make sure that the changes don’t create inconsistencies elsewhere in the novel.  I don’t start out by conducting the research.  Although I do research the background to my books thoroughly, I tend to do this as I go along.  This works better for me than conducting the research at the outset, because, like most writers, I am easily seduced by reading.  It’s very easy to spend several days on what you might like virtuously to term ‘research’ when what you’re actually doing is enjoying yourself by feeding a curiosity that far exceeds the requirements of the novel!  I’m a firm believer in writing every day if possible, though I don’t set myself huge word targets.  I’m satisfied with 1,000 words a day or a little more.  I revise constantly – the first revision usually takes place on the same day as the original writing, and I’ll often revise it the next day before I start writing again.  Thereafter, I revise in groups of chapters – every time I’ve completed, say, the next eight or ten chapters, I’ll revise this group as a single ‘chunk’ of writing.  Often I do this on long train journeys.  Finally, I revise the whole book all the way through, sometimes more than once, keeping a sharp look-out for inconsistencies and other solecisms and sharpening up the text.  Then I hand the MS over to my husband for checking.  He is an even fiercer critic of my work than I am and, as well as weeding out inconsistencies, will scrutinise the grammar, punctuation and syntax.  Although I don’t always agree with his suggested revisions, his contribution is invaluable.

‘Ere, Valerie, your turn!  Have some fluffy ears and a white fluffy tail and go hopping!  I nominate Val Poore @vallypee for this excitement.  She’s both a teacher of English for business and academic purposes and a historic bargee… sorry, she owns a historic live-aboard barge in Rotterdam and has turned her rich experiences in England, South Africa and The Netherlands into both funny and serious stories, both autobiographical and fictional.  One, The Skipper’s Child, recently won the Wishing Shelf Silver Award.  Respek!  You’ll find her faring along the European canal system or simply soaking up the atmosphere of Oude Haven, here: http://wateryways.blogspot.co.uk/

Oh, as for blog-hopping, I don’t know quite how it happened, but Jenny’s nomination for today coincided with Bodicia’s very kind guest blog opportunity here.  I had to use a bit of the same material for this post on my site, so I hope you will forgive me for that.

The writer and her blog: Dr Lucy Robinson

Dr Lucy Robinson, from the University of Sussex website

Dr Lucy Robinson, from the University of Sussex website

I’ve been in Brighton for most of this week, attending the academic bookselling and publishing conference for which I’ve been organising the speaker programme for the past fourteen years. I shall eventually write about the whole of this conference, but in a different forum and for a different audience: I don’t think that a detailed account of the present hot topics in academic publishing would greatly appeal to most of the readers of this blog! However, I do think – and hope – that you’ll be interested in the following account of the comments made by Dr Lucy Robinson, lecturer in Modern History at the University of Sussex and published historian, during a fascinating panel session for authors that took place on the first day of the conference.
Lucy said that there was sometimes a tension between writing her blog and writing her book (she has already published a book with Manchester University Press and is currently working on another). Sometimes, she almost feels that there is a competition going on between them and wonders which is the right way to go: should she focus more on the book or concentrate on the blog? But she also said that a smart author could create a ‘virtuous circle’ in which the blog could feed creatively into the book.
She said that she disseminates her research via a number of social networks, but at the same time wants to publish her history of the 1980s in a conventional publishing format. She explained that the challenges facing a contemporary historian are different from those that a historian of, say, the early modern period has to address. For the latter, the main difficulty lies in getting his or her hands on the small amount of material that now survives. Lucy’s challenge is that her material is ‘everywhere’ and that it is important to tell a version of everyone’s story, down to, for example, the cakes that people in the ’80s made or ate. The format that she uses is therefore to a large extent the product of the particular time that she writes about. To organise the material in a conventional book with the same effectiveness that the digital format allows is difficult. Nevertheless, she wants to see her work in both formats.
One of her reasons for this is that, although she values the internet as a medium, she also loves books. Another is that, for an academic, getting a book published by a recognised publisher is an ‘esteem marker’. Academic careers depend upon producing ‘globally significant research in academic form.’ The object is to influence others – fellow academics, researchers, students – to do or think something differently as a result of the research. This goal of impact cannot be achieved unless the research has been published in a traditional, authenticated format. This does not mean that she does not value the blog, however. She said that “the blog helps you to keep up-to-date. It allows you to change your mind. It is little. It is safe. I can best describe it as a way of being ecological with your work: then you can write it up in your book afterwards to give the work authority.”
She added that writers are now on a journey and it is a tricky one. Social networking enables a sort of autobiographical build-up of identity. Parallel to this is the other persona of the academic writing the book, ‘saying clever stuff and selling it to people.’ She repeated that there is a tension there. One of the audience asked her why the print output of her work was so important to her. She replied that she simply wanted to write a book called ‘The History of the 1980s’.
I found this really interesting, because I think that fiction writers often experience the same kind of dichotomy. We, too, value both formats; most of us also seek validation via the printed word. We understand the value of reaching our readers online, via social networking and blogs, and we don’t begrudge the time and effort spent producing work for them to consume free of charge, work that we hope that they will enjoy. There can be few greater rewards for a writer than to gain a following of loyal online readers who are under no compulsion to read our work but nevertheless return to it time and again because they appreciate it. At the same time, most of us also want to write more formally and there can be few writers who don’t mind whether or not they are paid for their formal creative output. Payment is itself a kind of validation. I said this to Lucy over a cup of tea after her presentation and also mentioned that, for me, there was the further dilemma of not having the energy – or, sometimes, merely the ‘bandwidth’ – to write both blog and book and do the day job as well. She agreed, and said that, although for the conference she had distilled her experiences as an academic writer, many of the things of which she spoke had come from the world of fiction writing originally. Academic writers had picked up on some of the digital initiatives that fiction writers had developed and adapted them to their own writing.
Food for thought, and fascinating, I hope you’ll agree. Lucy’s blog may be found here. I hope that perhaps she will become an occasional visitor to this blog now. I’d also welcome comments from other writers who would like to join this debate.

To Brighton again, with spring in step…

From the train window

As you can tell from the date of the picture I took from the train window just over a week ago, this post is a little behindhand.  I was then, and am now, heading south on East Coast rail.  What a lot has changed in one week!  The temperatures have soared, high pressure has established itself over the whole of the UK and the train Wifi is working for once!  I’m conference-bound today, with all the lightness of heart that good weather brings.  Here’s what I wrote last week:

I’m on the train to London again, for the first time in quite a while.  It’s just after 7 a.m. and broad daylight – a luxury that I haven’t experienced on this journey at this time since last October.  It’s chilly: the fields are damp, still drying out after the rains, and a low mist rises from the earth as it warms up for the day.  The sky is oyster-coloured and fretted with a complex pattern of clouds that seem to form the shape of the skeleton of a whale, or some long-dead prehistoric beast; I see a dog running across the grass, but can’t spot its owner.  Mostly the land in this area is flat and arable, but occasional huddles of cows or solitary horses tethered in a paddock, grazing peacefully, flash by.

As usual, there is a problem with the train’s WiFi, but mercifully the electrical sockets are working, so I can still use my laptop.  This is just as well, because, try as I might, I’m struggling to find my fellow passengers interesting.  Opposite me sits a burly man reading the Metro newspaper.  He licks his finger to get a purchase every time he turns the page, an unhygienic habit that I’ve always found irritating (particularly when employed by bank tellers counting out notes that I must then grasp).  I wonder how much newsprint he swallows each week?  The man sitting opposite is slenderer, younger and quite geeky.  He’s wearing square, heavy-framed spectacles and is immersed in his iPad.  I can just see that he is reading the Financial Times (and can tell that he is familiar with East Coast – he’s downloaded the paper before getting on the train!).  At least there’s not much prospect of his sucking on his thumb and index finger as he scrolls down the articles!

Looking round, I see that all my fellow passengers are men.  The ones behind me, each seated at a separate table, are all reading documents and making notes: weekend work that didn’t get done, I guess.

Now the train is approaching Newark Northgate.  The sun is riding quite high in the sky, but is still watery and pale.  Newark is this train’s last stop before King’s Cross.  Quite a crowd of people is waiting to embark, but again not a woman in sight.  Smarter than I, perhaps – they’ve managed to stay at home to enjoy what promises to be a bright early spring day.

Breakfast arrives (I’m travelling first class, though on a very cheap ticket, because I ordered it weeks ago).  It’s a smoked salmon omelette.  Porridge and fruit compote, which was what I really wanted, has apparently ‘sold out’.  I’m sceptical about how this could happen on a Monday morning.  Someone forgot to fill in an order form, perhaps?  The omelette is OK, but the half-bagel on which it sits looks tough and rubbery.  I decide to give it a miss.

All of this, I’m sure you’ll agree, is quite humdrum.  The journey is one that I’ve made scores of times before, usually, but not always, with more promising travelling companions.  (I’m hoping that the rest of it will be as uneventful and that the train will arrive on time, as I have only forty minutes to cross the city to get my connection at Victoria.)  But my spirits are lifting.  I feel the old magic that I’ve always associated with train journeys since I was a child.  It’s been dulled by the dreariness of winter, but today it has returned, in full strength. 

It’s 8.10 a.m.  and the sunlight is streaming through the train window, flinging a glare of orange across the computer screen so that I can hardly see these words.  Spring is here.  When I arrive in London, spring will be burgeoning there, too.  It is the beginning of March and at last it seems as if the year has really started.  There is the whole of the spring to sip at as if it were a delicacy and the almost-certainty that it will be followed by the feast of summer.  It will be eight whole months before we shall arrive at the end of October and watch with dismay the withering of the trees and the light as winter approaches again. 

Today, I am travelling to London, then on to Eastbourne: an ordinary work-day expedition.  But it is part of a much bigger, more exciting journey: my odyssey into 2014.

Today, I am travelling to Brighton, where this year there will be no heaps of snow on the promenade and I’ll be interested to see just how little the storms have left of the West Pier skeleton, which I wrote about and photographed twelve months ago.

Have a lovely week of spring weather, everyone.

Sorry, Michael, for my previous prejudice… may I make amends!

Chasing the Dime

I am going to start this review with a confession: although I have been given several books written by Michael Connelly and even lent them to my friends, Chasing the Dime is the first one that I have read  – and, ironically enough, I bought it at a book sale in a Co-op supermarket near Oxford, because I’d run out of things to read.  Normally, I wouldn’t buy books from a supermarket because I believe in supporting local bookshops.  So, two firsts in one go!

The reason I’ve not read a Connelly novel until now is that, and my ignorance is pretty unpardonable, I’d been led to believe him to be the kind of blockbuster author in whom I’m least interested: big-picture, change-the-world sort of stuff (x saved the world single-handed from the next atom bomb, Hermann Göring, Nuremberg and suicide notwithstanding, has been alive and well in South America for the last sixty years and running drug rings, that sort of thing).  Chasing the Dime is not like that at all.  Instead, it is one of the most perfectly-crafted murder stories that I’ve ever read.

There’s the background, for a start.  The hero, Henry Pierce, runs his own R & D company.  It is conducting research into molecular computing, in a highly competitive sector where several other companies are also in the race to crack the conundrum.  Their mission: to create a computer the size of a dime.  Hence the title – but the title also reflects the company’s need to find sponsors and also, sadly, refers to why beautiful young women are forced to prostitute themselves.  (The title is one of many aspects of the book that works on several levels.)  I’m sure that when Connelly wrote this novel (it’s now well over ten years old), there was a race to bring such a molecular computer to the market in just the way that he describes, but it says a lot about his talent as a writer that, although during the course of the novel he reveals many facts about the complex technology involved (and has clearly mastered what these are), he never obtrudes knowledge on the reader in such a way that this information seems to be anything other than an integral part of the story.  Few writers can pull this off.

Then there’s the plot.  Henry’s obsessive research has just caused his girlfriend to break with him.  Henry moves into a new flat, for which his PA acquires a new telephone number.  The problems start straight away: the number had obviously previously been allocated to a call-girl.  Because of certain facts in his past – which Connelly allows to emerge at enigmatic intervals throughout the story – Henry decides to find out the identity of the call-girl and what has happened to her.  Owing to several rash but perfectly understandable (from the reader’s point of view) decisions, he quickly becomes a murder suspect.

I won’t say any more, for obvious reasons.  However, I’d add one further thing: nothing in the plot is incredible; there are no fantastic twists or turns and not much transpires in a way that the reader can’t guess; yet, because of Connelly’s psychological insights and his fast-paced but not too whacky writing, the reader is held, spellbound, until the last page.

I owe Michael Connelly an apology for doubting him for so long.  As it is, I shall do ‘penance’ in the most pleasurable of ways: by reading the rest of his novels in short order.  You will, I’m sure, be lining up to tell me that his Harry Bosch series is a must-read and roundly ticking me off for my shocking prejudice.

 

It is Christmas Eve, so I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has read this blog and supported it with so many kind, helpful and insightful comments over the past year.  It has been my very great pleasure to have ‘met’ you in this way and I feel extraordinarily humbled that you have spared the time to take so much interest in me and my writing.  For those of you who celebrate Christmas and for those of you who don’t, I’d like to wish you a very happy and relaxing time and a spectacularly successful New Year – wherever you are and whatever you are doing.  If you are a writer, I wish you some of that elusive luck that all writers need.

P.S. The blog-posts have been a little erratic in recent weeks, as I’ve been away a lot. I shall try to do better as my main New Year’s resolution!  However, I’d like to share with you that the day-job is taking me to China in the first full week of the new year, so they may be a bit thin on the ground then – though you can be sure that I shall recount my experiences in as much detail as you can take afterwards!

O' Canada

Reflections on Canadian Culture From Below the Border

oliverstansfieldpoetry

A collection of free verse poetry.

Easy Michigan

Moving back home

Narrowboat Mum

Fun, Frugal and Floating somewhere in the country!

Maria Haskins

Writer & Translator

lucianacavallaro

Myths are more than stories

Murielle's Angel

A novel set on the Camino de Santiago

Marvellous Memoirs: Reviews and links

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases, so your support of my blog is greatly appreciated.

jennylloydwriter

Jenny Lloyd, Welsh author of the Megan Jones trilogy; social history, genealogy, Welsh social history, travel tales from Wales.

songoftheseagod

I'm Chris Hill - author of novels Song of the Sea God and The Pick-Up Artist

littlelise's journey

Sharing experiences of writing

unpublishedwriterblog

Just another WordPress.com site

Les Reveries de Rowena

Now I see the storm clouds in your waking eyes: the thunder , the wonder, and the young surprise - Langston Hughes

Diary of a Wimpy Writer

The story of a writer who didn't like to disturb.

Rebecca Bradley

Murder Down To A Tea

helencareybooks

A site for readers and writers

%d bloggers like this: