Tag Archives: crime fiction

Nourishing the Creative Soul

As a writer I find that I must take time to nourish my creative spirit. Julia Cameron in her excellent book The Artist’s Way talks about this too. She suggests ‘artist’s dates’ which we take by ourselves to top up our creativity, visits to, for instance, art galleries, the theatre, festivals…

This weekend I went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (https://ysp.org.uk/) What a wonderful place this is. This was my third visit and I sometimes feel I could move in there! As I wandered around, I discussed with my companion (OK I didn’t follow Cameron’s stricture of going alone) the sculptural beauty of the nature around us as opposed to the sculpture created by humans. The trees in particular were looking especially wondrous. I often think this with my writing, why should I try to capture in my paltry words what mother earth creates with truly staggering and startling abundance? In the end, I came up with the suggestion that what we artists and writers are trying to do is add a layer of meaning or story-telling beyond the realism.

We also deliberated over why artists feel the need to share their work, especially when, frequently, the expression is so personal. I have often thought that my need to publish is narcissistic, egotistically and possibly pathological. However, on Saturday, I realised that to share is a human trait; it forms bonds, societal boundaries, empathy. Sharing is (at its best) the glue which sticks us all together. It gave me a modicum of relief from my worries over the balance of my wits.

I am very lucky because next Sunday I will also be gaining food for thought and, hopefully, soul by attending Hull Noir https://www.hullnoir.com/ I am only able to go on that one day – the festival runs over the weekend of the 18th/19th November, and there are events in the preceding week as well – but the panels look as if they will stimulating. The subjects being ranged over include: the golden age Vs digital age; freedom, oppression & control; unusual settings; and unlikeable protagonists.

Hope to see you there!

 

Photos copyright Mark Vesey 2017

The Strange Case of the Disappearing Twin Part Two

The Strange Case of the Disappearing Twin.
What crafting a crime novel told me about myself.

Back with the final part… If you missed the first part, click here: https://goo.gl/Fu8BYR

In 2012, circumstances allowed me to think about fulfilling a long-held ambition, to publish a novel. I suddenly had the time and some financial security, and I gave myself permission to be ‘the monster’ Tóibín has so accurately described.

I knew my 2004 novel was un-publishable, it had a scanty plot and less structure. But it was a starting point. I then took a very pragmatic decision. In the re-crafting, I would use the crime mystery genre. This genre gave me a structure to work towards, it is one I know well as I have loved reading crime fiction since I was in my teens. Plus crime fiction is a fast-selling genre and framing my novel within it would make it more straight forward to market.

I was off, and worked relatively quickly as I already had the setting, most of the characters and bits of the story. I was able to publish The Art of the Imperfect at the end of 2014. It took me a while to notice Clare was missing and that this has meaning for me and my writing doppelgänger.

In the ten years between 2004 and 2014, I was also coming to an understanding of how the therapeutic impact of creative writing goes far beyond the catharsis of free writing. Pennebaker had identified three aspects which, when present, would increase the efficacy of his expressive writing. These are: if a feeling was named and expressed; if there was an alteration of perspective, especially a movement away from using ‘I’ to using ‘you’ or ‘she’ or ‘he’ or ‘they’; and if a narrative, a coherent story, begins to emerge.

Even in the writing of my 2004 novel, I had begun to use my skills as a creative writer to embark on this process. Hannah’s (my) story of depression was told in the third person; I was giving Hannah’s (my) experience a name; and I made an almost lucid narrative from something which, at the time, had felt like pure madness. Now I wanted to offer the story to a readership, I knew crafting would be even more essential.

I am not the only author to have understood the therapy in sculpting a novel. When Jackie Kay was asked how she got through her difficult encounter with her birth father (as described in her novel Red Dust Road, Picador, 2011) she replied, ‘By writing. … By finding some way of crafting an experience, constructing a structure to create a door to let other people in so they can walk into your experience and call it theirs and in the business of doing this in itself gives you somewhere to go with it. It’s almost like telling a story back to yourself. Often the more traumatised we are, the more we’ll tell the story or else we’ll be completely silent. Writing is one of the ways of expressing the inexpressible.’ (Kay, 2016.)

Tóibín explains his task in writing his recent novel Nora Webster (Penguin, 2015), of working out the truth of what had happened when his father died. ‘You’re pulling this out of yourself. This is sometimes very difficult material.’ But ‘it’s an anchor, in a way, all this pleasure [I experience] would mean nothing if this pain, if this working out the pain wasn’t there and I wasn’t writing and I wasn’t doing it.’ (Tóibín, 2016.)

I was attempting to work through my own pain and find my own truth by fashioning a novel I thought others might want to read. And I was doing it in the crime genre. Which could seem an odd choice, if it were not for Val McDermid suggesting it is the best for exploring current issues. She has described how she has, ‘Walked the fine line between making things up and staying real.’ And, for her, ‘The very act of imagining has been a powerful way of accessing the truth.’ (McDermid, 2016.)

In the re-writing, the crafting, the working through, Hannah lost her twin. I didn’t deliberately expel her, she just wasn’t there anymore. Hannah remains a fragmented character, but the spectral disallowed side of her no longer has to be embodied by a twin which exists beyond Hannah’s every-day consciousness. Hannah has become more integrated.

* * *

‘Integration’ could be seen to be a therapeutic, a healing, intention (Erskine et al., 1999; DeYoung, 2003; Finlay, 2016). This can describe many processes, but the one I am leaning towards here, is the bringing together and acceptance of the many sides of who we are. This could include exploring: past experiences which we would choose to ignore or forget; emotions or thoughts which have been long designated as undesirable; how we interact with others and how we fit within societal mores; the extent to which we can find meaning within our lives. The intention of this effort would be to ‘facilitate a sense of wholeness in a person’s being and functioning, at intrapsychic, mind-body, relational, societal and transpersonal levels. We strive to enable our clients to gain insight into their experience and to have a sense of feeling “at home” with self, at peace with others. There are of course limits to the extent to which any of us can be deemed “whole”, but integration remains the driving spirit of our project – particularly with longer-term work.’ (Finlay, 2016, p120.)

My copyeditor noted that in my novel I cycled between using herself and her self/selves. It made perfect sense to me. Our view of the ‘self’ has depended on what era we live in and what part of the world. In Western philosophy, in the seventeenth century, René Descartes gave a ‘self’ centrality. He stressed the autonomy of a first person which was essentially – philosophically and psychologically – a single entity. This notion that there is an authentic core self runs through some therapeutic traditions, for example the classic person-centred approach of American psychologist Carl Rogers. However, there are other concepts of self which allow, for instance, for different selves to be available depending on social context, or for the self to be in a constant process of creation and becoming (Finlay, 2016, p7). I favour this latter view and this is palpable in my writing.

I came to realise, the disappearance of Clare was not only due to me choosing (unconsciously) to craft Hannah as a more integrated character. It was also a sign that I was moving towards a personal integration, what I experience as my many selves were fitting more comfortably together. Furthermore, the writer in me, the double which had previously been shy, and vague, was increasingly formed, increasingly integral to me. This was a process powered by the work of writing and crafting. By doing, I am becoming. And by reflecting back, noticing what is changing in my writing, I am learning more about myself.

* * *

It was not enough for me to write a novel, I also wanted to seek a readership. I decided to publish. It seems to me that there is a merry dance between writer and reader, which, in the best of circumstances, is nourishing for both. As a reader, I know the pleasure and, sometimes, the very profound effect, of having found a story or a poem which touches me and pushes me to think or grasp at a new perspective. As a writer, the connection with the reader could be seen as the final act in a very long and laborious play. Tóibín says that the completion of his novel Nora Webster, which took ten years, allowed him to, at last, find some kind of closure on the death of his father. ‘One Saturday in September 2013 I finished the book. I knew that while I had perhaps opened up this world for readers, I had closed it for myself. I would, I imagined, not come back to it again.’ (Tóibín, 2016b.)

The reader plays a role of witness. Having our story, our experiences, our selves witnessed can in itself be transformative (Finlay, 2016, p37). Psychologist, John Bowlby stated that, in order for us to grow into well-adjusted adults, we need to have a secure base set down in childhood. This is achieved through a loving care-giver effectively communicating to the child that their emotions are acknowledged and understood and it is safe to feel what they are feeling (Bowlby, 1988.). Any deficit in the secure base can be replenished (though often with difficulty) by later empathic relationships. Publishing is a poor substitute for a loving early care-giver’s acceptance. It is not the business of publishers, literary agents and readers to shore-up a crumbling secure base. However, I recognise it is, at least partly, what I am seeking from publication. And I do not believe I am the only writer to do so.

I have noticed within me the tension between wanting to be seen and wanting to hide. Pride competes with shame at each publication date. I want the recognition and yet I fear it. ‘Exposure now means exposure of one’s inherent defectiveness as a human being. To be seen is to be seen as irreparably and unspeakably bad.’ (Kaufman, 1992, p75.)

After the novel launch, I feel sapped, worn-down, de-motivated. As Alan Garner describes it: ‘I had to be totally incapacitated in order to build the energy, to fill the reservoir, that would be needed. The analogy with an enforced hibernation fitted. If I could live with this self-loathing, and see it as a signal to let the waters rise, it could remain a necessary, though unpleasant, part of a positive and creative process. As long as that thought stayed, I could endure. (Garner, 1997, p. 212.)

Like Garner, I walk a lot, out in the rugged landscape of North Yorkshire, feeling the arctic blast into my face. Unlike Garner, I am still writing, though I am back to free writing, ploughing up what’s lurking underneath the now of the mind. And the cycle begins again.

* * *

The assembly, which had formed the perfect tableau of a country house party set in the 1920s, is becoming restless. They had gathered together for a resolution. The detectives have failed to give them one. There is a disconsolate voice calling for chilled champagne. Another suggesting the phonograph be cranked up to play some dance music. Yet another proposes a game of cribbage. The gale can be heard howling outside. Its lament grows stronger, the door of the room crashes open, and a woman enters, apparently delivered on the tip of the storm’s tongue.

It is Harriet Vane (NB*). She is wearing a cloche hat the colour of a good port wine. Her dark eyes under its rim reflect the embers of the fire. She has on a tweed coat threaded with scarlet and gold, her legs are clad in peacock-blue stockings, her feet shod in sturdy brown brogues. Her shoes show evidence of the walk she has taken along the muddy drive. ‘I tried to phone,’ she says crossly. Though, of course, the telephone lines were the first victim of the inclement weather, rendering the isolated estate more cut-off.

Wimsey rushes forward saying Harriet must change into dry clothes, have something to eat, to be given a warming drink. She waves him away, accepting only a glass of whisky which she takes down in one gulp. She moderates her tone (it doesn’t do to alienate your audience at the moment of denouement): ‘I can solve the mystery of the disappearing twin.’

‘Can you Miss?’ mocks the wag supposedly from high society in London, whose accent is as appropriated as his dinner suit.

‘How can you, when these renown detectives can’t?’ asks the dowager. The jewellery flashing on her clawed fingers and sagging neck is glass and paste, bought secretly to replace the family heirlooms long gone to the auction.

‘I can,’ says Harriet firmly. ‘Because I am a writer.’

* creation of Dorothy L Sayers.

References

Atwood, M. (2003.) Negotiating with the Dead, a writer on writing. Virago.

Bowlby, J. (1988.) A Secure Base. New York: Basic Books.

DeYoung, P.A. (2003.) Relational Psychotherapy: a primer. New York: Brunner-Routledge.

Erskine, R.G., Moursund, J.P. & Trautmann, R.L. (1999.) Beyond Empathy: a therapy of contact-in-relationship. London: Taylor & Francis.

Evans, K. (2011). ‘The Chrysalis and the Butterfly: A phenomenological study of one person’s writing journey.’ Journal of Applied Arts & Health 2:2, 173-186.

Finlay, L. (2016.) Relational Integrative Psychotherapy: engaging process and theory in practice. Wiley Blackwell.

Garner, A. (1997.) The Voice That Thunders. Harvill Press.

Goldberg, N. (1986.) Writing Down the Bones. Freeing the Writer Within. Shambhala, Boston and London.

Kaufman, G. (1992.) Shame. The Power of Caring. Rochester, Vermont: Schenkman Books Inc.

Kay, J. (2016.) Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 28th October. Interviewer: Kirsty Young. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.

Mazza, N. (2003). Poetry Therapy. Theory & Practice. Routledge, New York & London.

McDermid, V. (2016.) Artsnight, BBC 2, 22nd July. Editor: Janet Lee. Producer/Director: Jon Morrice.

Nicholls, S. (2009). ‘Beyond Expressive Writing: evolving models of developmental creative writing.’ Journal of Health Psychology 14(2), 171-180.

Pennebaker, J.W., & Beall, S.K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95(3), 274-281.

Smyth, J.M., & Pennebaker, J.W. (2008). Exploring the boundary conditions of expressive writing: In search of the right recipe. British Journal of Health Psychology 13, 1-7.

Pennebaker, J.W. (1997) Opening Up. The healing power of expressing emotions. The Guilford Press: New York.

Sexton, A. (1974.) ‘The Other’ in The Book of Folly. Houghton Mifflin.

Tóibín, C. (2016.) Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 8th January. Interviewer: Kirsty Young. Producer: Christine Pawlowsky

Tóibín, C. (2016b.) ‘How I wrote Nora Webster’, The Guardian, 22nd January.

 

The Strange Case of the Disappearing Twin

In my last post in this series, I suggested ways in which to become more reflexive about ourselves and how we interact with the world through interrogating our creative writing with reflexive questions. Doing this led me to write this essay, which I am posting in two parts…

Part 1

The Strange Case of the Disappearing Twin: what crafting a crime novel told me about myself.

The light sparks off the diamonds, is reflected by the cut crystal, creating ephemeral rainbows across the damask cloth. The fire crackles. The air is scented by expensive perfumes and aftershave. Some of the assembled company stands or sits to attention, while others lounge, on the plush furnishings. These have been pulled into a circle around the crimson rug bought many years ago in an Egyptian bazaar. The company is an assortment of young and old, of men and women, all dressed for dinner: jackets of crushed velvet, silk dresses, furs. They are all waiting for an answer, ‘What has happened to the twin?’ The detectives – Lord Peter Wimsey, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot[1] (take your pick) – are unable to say. The twin has simply disappeared.

I have been writing prose stories and novels over the last thirty years. In the last three years I have published three novels. I was able to do this because of the preceding ‘apprenticeship’. The first two in particular were re-modelings of a novel I wrote in 2004, which I chose to re-craft within the crime mystery genre. One of the main point-of-view characters was named Hannah. In 2004 she was controlled by a twin who turns out to be an aspect of herself. Only after I had completed the re-write did I realise the twin had completely disappeared.

* * *

I live with depression and, for me, writing has become part of my life-approach to maintain my sense of well-being. I discovered its importance to me in this regard during a particularly low point about sixteen years ago. Up until then, writing had been a pleasure, as well as a career choice. However, it wasn’t until the turning of the century that I realised it could be a means to greater self-understanding and reflection which could aid me in my healing.

When I had the wherewithal to investigate, I, of course, discovered a wealth of information about writing as a type of therapy. And why not? We have art, music, drama therapies. Despite having no formal status in the UK, writing therapy has plenty of practitioners and advocates (see http://www.lapidus.org.uk).

American psychologist, James W Pennebaker began to consider aspects of what he calls ‘expressive’ writing in the 1980s. However, it is possible to argue the tradition of words being a source of healing goes much further back through the use of prayer, spells and charms (Mazza, 2003). Pennebaker carried out controlled experiments on his students, inviting some to write over a period of five days about emotions and events which had an impact on them, while others wrote about subject which did not evoke a strong reaction in them. Those in the former group reported feeling better and also had less frequent appointments with the medical centre (Pennebaker & Beale, 1986; Pennebaker, 1997). Since this first research, Pennebaker and others have sought to replicate the results and also pin down the components of the writing which gives it its potency (Smyth & Pennebaker, 2008).

One aspect is the cathartic effect of releasing thoughts and emotions through ‘free writing’. The aim of free writing as defined by Goldberg (1986, p8/9) is to: ‘burn through to first thoughts … to the place where you are writing what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see or feel’, to ‘explore the rugged edge of thought.’ The word ‘free’ here has two aspects. It means putting to one side, for the present, learned rules about writing and setting down whatever comes to mind without judging, censoring or editing. In addition, the writing is freed from an external reader. Only the author will see what has been produced and will decide what to do with it.

This was a response to free writing garnered from the participant of my 2011 phenomenological case study: ‘And I think I’ve probably described the free writing as being like ploughing a field and literally to me it’s like that. A field’s got a load of plants on or a load of top soil on, and you don’t quite know what’s underneath, you can guess, but there’s so much going on underneath the now of the mind, that it’s very difficult to find out what you really think about things underneath. And the creative writing, the free writing, tends to dip down underneath the surface and pull things up and it’s almost like ploughing things up and exposing them and it’s almost, like aha, I knew it was there, I don’t know quite why I didn’t think of it before.’ (Evans, 2011, p180.)

However, this is only the beginning of what could be a very extensive tale.

* * *

The writing of my 2004 novel was very free-flowing and was undoubtedly releasing for me. The experience of depression of the point-of-view character, Hannah, is very similar to mine. And Hannah has a controlling ‘twin’.

When she breathes Hannah knows she takes oxygen away from her twin. She is equally as certain that Clare will punish her for this. The hand, which looks so remarkably like Hannah’s own, drags the razor blade across her arm. She watches the blood bubble up in its wake. The pain only begins when she gets back under the duvet. (Evans, 2004, unpublished.)

Twins have a long heritage in literature and story-telling. I remember as quite a young person being riveted by a 1946 film being reprised on TV. It was The Dark Mirror (directed by Robert Siodmak). It stars Olivia de Havilland who plays both twins, Terry and Ruth Collins. They turn out to be identical in looks but exact opposites in character and moral code. Almost two hundred years before, Robert Louis Stevenson was exploring a similar idea in his 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Twins turn up in legend and folk tales: Jacob and Esau; Romulus and Remus; Snow-White and Rose-Red; some versions of Sleeping Beauty where the wicked and good fairies are twins or sisters. Shakespeare (himself a father to twins, one of whom died as a child) fashioned a plethora of plays where twins have a central role.

In one way or another, these story-tellers from the ancient to the modern, were, at least in part, exploring what Carl Jung later gave a name to. He called it the ‘shadow side’. He postulated that, psychologically speaking, there is a shadow side in all of us which, if it remains unacknowledged, can wreak havoc for ourselves and others.

This was an aspect to Clare, the twin I created for Hannah. At the time, I had just discovered the poet Anne Sexton and her poem, ‘The Other’ (Sexton, 1974, p32) resonated powerfully with me.

It is waiting.
Mr. Doppelgänger. My brother. My spouse.
Mr. Doppelgänger. My enemy. My lover.
When truth comes spilling out like peas
it hangs up the phone.
When the child is soothed and resting on the breast
it is my other who swallows Lysol.

It cries and cries and cries
until I put on a painted mask
and leer at Jesus in His passion.
Then it giggles.
It is a thumbscrew.

Clare is unquestionably a ‘thumbscrew’ on Hannah and on her capacity for enjoying life or relationships.

However, Clare may spring from something else. Atwood suggests twins have a particular significance for writers. ‘All writers are double,’ she says (Atwood, 2003, p32). Within a writer there are twins, the twin who lives and the twin who writes. She calls the latter, ‘the Hyde hand’, ‘the slippery double’ and says, ‘The double may be shadowy, but it is also indispensable.’

The writer’s ‘double’ watches, it observes, even when the writer or someone close to them is in enormous pain. This twin takes the chaotic, the disorganised, the meaningless and gives it shape, a narrative, an understanding. The writing twin steals indiscriminately. Colm Tóibín once told a class he was teaching: ‘You have to be a terrible monster to write. I said, “Someone might have told you something they shouldn’t have told you, and you have to be prepared to use it because it will make a great story. You have to use it even though the person is identifiable. If you can’t do it then writing isn’t for you. You’ve no right to be here. If there is any way I can help you get into law school then I will. Your morality will be more useful in a courtroom.”’ (Tóibín, 2016.)

Clare was a particularly malicious double. Yet she was also a critique par excellence, hard-nosed and distant. Attributes which can, at times, be helpful to the writer.

But in the re-formation of my novel I killed off Clare. And quite unconsciously. How did that happen?

Part 2 to follow next week….

[1] Detectives created by DL Sayers and Agatha Christie.

References

Atwood, M. (2003.) Negotiating with the Dead, a writer on writing. Virago.
Bowlby, J. (1988.) A Secure Base. New York: Basic Books.
DeYoung, P.A. (2003.) Relational Psychotherapy: a primer. New York: Brunner-Routledge.
Erskine, R.G., Moursund, J.P. & Trautmann, R.L. (1999.) Beyond Empathy: a therapy of contact-in-relationship. London: Taylor & Francis.
Evans, K. (2011). ‘The Chrysalis and the Butterfly: A phenomenological study of one person’s writing journey.’ Journal of Applied Arts & Health 2:2, 173-186.
Finlay, L. (2016.) Relational Integrative Psychotherapy: engaging process and theory in practice. Wiley Blackwell.
Garner, A. (1997.) The Voice That Thunders. Harvill Press.
Goldberg, N. (1986.) Writing Down the Bones. Freeing the Writer Within. Shambhala, Boston and London.
Kaufman, G. (1992.) Shame. The Power of Caring. Rochester, Vermont: Schenkman Books Inc.
Kay, J. (2016.) Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 28th October. Interviewer: Kirsty Young. Producer: Cathy Drysdale.
Mazza, N. (2003). Poetry Therapy. Theory & Practice. Routledge, New York & London.
McDermid, V. (2016.) Artsnight, BBC 2, 22nd July. Editor: Janet Lee. Producer/Director: Jon Morrice.
Nicholls, S. (2009). ‘Beyond Expressive Writing: evolving models of developmental creative writing.’ Journal of Health Psychology 14(2), 171-180.
Pennebaker, J.W., & Beall, S.K. (1986). Confronting a traumatic event: Toward an understanding of inhibition and disease. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 95(3), 274-281.
Smyth, J.M., & Pennebaker, J.W. (2008). Exploring the boundary conditions of expressive writing: In search of the right recipe. British Journal of Health Psychology 13, 1-7.
Pennebaker, J.W. (1997) Opening Up. The healing power of expressing emotions. The Guilford Press: New York.
Sexton, A. (1974.) ‘The Other’ in The Book of Folly. Houghton Mifflin.
Tóibín, C. (2016.) Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4, 8th January. Interviewer: Kirsty Young. Producer: Christine Pawlowsky
Tóibín, C. (2016b.) ‘How I wrote Nora Webster’, The Guardian, 22nd January.

Author Interview: Lynne Blackwell

Welcome to Lynne Blackwell to my blog.

Lynne writes crime fiction/domestic noir. After a stint in the Special Constabulary, Lynne began her nurse training, working mainly in acute general and psychiatric hospitals before co-ordinating day-care for people with dementia. Lynne has a BA (Hons) in Social Policy from Sheffield Hallam University, where she studied Psychology, Sociology, Politics and Criminology. She is a winner of the 2015 Northern Crime competition, contributor to the Northern Crime One anthology and writes regular blogs about the road to publication, which aims to encourage new writers to learn from her mistakes and heed all warnings. 

What are you currently working on?
I’m writing a novel that began as a pitch to my ex agent, Lizzy Kremer, six years ago. It is about a girl who runs away from home after she’s made a serious accusation against another family member; an accusation that was based on nothing more than a series of vague memories from her childhood. 

What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
An interest in infantile amnesia.

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
All fiction intertwines with real life – minus the lengthy conversations, long drawn out pauses and anything else that can slow down the pace. Whatever the genre, fiction has to be rooted in reality. 

Could you give five tips on how to tackle either characterisation or plotting or dialogue or descriptive passages?
CHARACTERISATION: I tend to write in first person, so I spend a lot of time working on the prologue and the first three chapters until I’ve created the perfect protagonist’s voice for that particular project.

DIALOGUE: Always read dialogue out loud and in the manner of each character to authenticate the voice.

PLOTTING: Delete everything that is superfluous to denouement and slows down the pace.

DESCRIPTIONS: My novels are contemporary, brutally realistic and usually written in first person, so I have to rein in the temptation to write reams of descriptive passages. I do, however, find ways to get around this. For example: I adapted my story in ‘Northern Crime One’ from my second novel (Ghost Towns, 2013) by changing the female narrator from the mother of the victim into a psychic who is haunted by the visions of a drowned girl. This enabled me to examine the dead victim’s Point Of View in a surreal way. My first novel (Into the Snicket, 2009) is about a woman who is an alcoholic and suffers domestic abuse. She is far too stressed to describe anything in great detail, and usually too drunk to notice much at all. However, the fact that she keeps drifting off into drunken stupors gave me an opportunity to describe what she may (or may not) have witnessed in a series of flashbacks as more memories were retrieved.

PLOTTING: A crime editor once advised me to never submit a crime novel without a prologue. Before I start writing a new project, I go in search of an atmospheric ‘crime scene’ for the next prologue. 

How would you describe your writing process?
I don’t meticulously plan my crime novels/stories unless I’m writing a police procedural. Once I’ve got a crime scene in my mind, I’ll have a think about the murder, murderer, victim/s and protagonist before writing a prologue and the first three chapters. I’ll go over this work many times until I’m happy with the Point Of View. Then I’ll jot down a stem outline to use as a guide. I write the basic draft chronologically, often working into the night to keep up momentum. I don’t write fastidiously at this stage; some chapters might be nothing more than a series of notes and diagrams. Once I’ve produced a 40-60,000 word basic draft, I assess what research needs to be done: sociological, psychology, forensic etc. I’ll write several more drafts until I know the characters inside and out, then I’ll work on the dialogue. I wrote ten drafts for my first novel. 

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
I can only write in a quiet environment – at home and preferably alone. When I’m on a roll I’ll work through the night until the dawn chorus.  

What kind of research do you do and how do you go about it?
My Google history is varied, gruesome and rather fascinating! I have made many contacts over the years, so if something is too complex to use a search engine or I can’t rely on information in a book, I’ll ask a professional for their expert advice.  

Could you say something of your publishing journey and your experience?
After my first novel was rejected by a few editors I was left without an agent. I picked myself up and submitted it to a couple of other agents before taking on board the crime publisher’s advice to increase the pace. I changed the prologue, removed two out of three narrators and kept the strongest voice. Then I put it to one side and began work on the rest of my portfolio; making all my novels similar in style to ‘Into the Snicket’ by fitting them into a domestic noir/crime genre before the likes of ‘The Girl on the Train.’ 

I continued to write blogs about the trials of being an unpublished author and entered a couple of competitions: the second being a short story competition in association with New Writing North and Moth Publishing. As a winner, my story was published in the anthology, ‘Northern Crime One’, which gave me the opportunity to work with an editor and read at book events. It was reassuring to attend these events with the support of NWN/Moth Publishing, and in the company of the other contributors.

The question you wished I’d asked you.
What keeps you motivated? – I love to give myself a challenge at the start of every project. Three out of my four crime novels are written in first person, but the protagonists are not the murderer, murder victim or investigator. For this reason, it has been a challenge coming up with different ways to maintain the pace that is required for crime without ending up with a contrived plot.

How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
‘Northern Crime One’ is published by Moth Publishing on Paperback and Ebook https://sites.google.com/site/lynneblackwellwriter

Blog: The Trials of an Unpublished Author –  https://sites.google.com/site/lynneblackwellwriter/blogs

Twitter: @lynnemblackwell

Thank you Lynne!

(Date of interview: 21st January 2017)

 

 

7 Prompts for Writers #6: plot

OK, by now you are writing regularly and exploring voice and characterisation (see previous 7 Prompts for Writers posts). At some point, if you are writing prose, (though there is some argument narrative applies equally to poetry – see next post in the series), you need to come up with a story-line.

Perhaps you have started with the story and have had to find the characters to tell it. In which case, I hope the preceding posts in this series will have helped. Perhaps, in exploring voice and characterisation, the story has begun to tell itself. There is an alchemy in creative writing which is impossible to dictate, whereby once the elements are in the crucible, the precious narrative begins to shape itself.

However, it is also possible for a writer to be looking for a story. There are obvious places to look: ourselves, our family history, the stories of the places we live or visit, our friends, museums (the smaller and quirkier the better!), newspapers…. The list is endless and I am sure you can find your own additions. As a writer, always be alert to stories, take your writing journal everywhere, so you can jot down ideas, odd facts, questions, all of which are the starting points for stories.

From the ancient Greeks onwards (and no doubt before) there has been much written and pontificated on the basic plots of literature (and life – for the two, are, I believe, intertwined). Personally, I feel most plots can be boiled down to a quest. Skimmed back to the skeleton, most stories start with a question to which the protagonist attempts to find an answer. The protagonist goes on a journey (frequently an internal journey, they become changed by the quest), overcomes barriers/conflict (three times is a good figure to bear in mind here) and comes to a resolution.

I have written elsewhere about structuring a crime novel: https://goo.gl/tVjZJC and much of what I suggested there can apply to a novel of any genre.

I tend to write quite organically, so plan less than other writers. There are no hard and fast rules about how much planning a writer should do, I think it is down to the individual. But, in my opinion, there will come a moment, when a plan/structure will be required. I like to do it on sheets of A3, with columns going across: (1) point of view; (2) what happens?; (3) what does the reader learn?; (4) what do I need to do in terms of re-writing?

When structuring, it’s worth thinking in chunks:

  • 0-15,000 words initial question.
  • 15,000 words point of conflict/tension.
  • 30,000 words conflict/tension, possibly a new path.
  • 45,000 words realisation.
  • 60,000 words resolution.

Always bear in mind: how is my protagonist being changed by this? Where is the conflict/tension?

Where have your story ideas come from? How and at what point in the writing do you plan? The best tip you’ve been given about plotting?

7 prompts for wrtiers #4: voice

Another Place by Antony Gormley

Voice is an interesting aspect to writing – at least I find it so. I think of it in two ways. First, there is the writer’s voice. The often difficult-to pin-down ‘something’ which means when we pick up a book we know it is by a particular author (and not only because that author’s name is on the front cover). Secondly, there are the various (and hopefully variable) voices the writer might choose to take on to create, for instance, a character or a tone for a poem.

It might be easier to compare it to actors. There are actors who have a very strong and defined presence – perhaps Michael Cain is an example – and this comes through in any part they play. Then there are actors who appear to morph into different roles. I remember seeing Daniel Day Lewis in three films in a single year – one being My Left Foot – and I would not have been able to say it was the same actor playing the main protagonist in each, his portrayals were so varied. The writer’s voice is part Michael Cain and part Daniel Day Lewis.

So let’s initially look at the Michael Cain aspect of a writer’s voice. I believe it might take a time for a writer to hit upon their voice and this voice – much as with our natural voice – may change over our writing life. I think mine has become more confident, perhaps more measured, less anxious about its nature – which is (I have gathered from feedback) fairly slow, poetic, discursive.

How to nourish this part of the writer’s voice? Write, lots, as freely as you can, bringing you to what you actually want to write, and not what you feel you ought to write. I follow the methods of Julia Cameron (morning pages – thought I rarely do them in the morning – in her book The Artist’s Way) and Nathalie Goldberg (in her book Writing Down the Bones).

The aim of free writing, says Nathalie Goldberg, is to ‘burn through to first thoughts … to the place where you are writing what your mind actually sees and feels, not what it thinks it should see or feel’, to ‘explore the rugged edge of thought.’ This does take practice and may initially go against our writing instinct.

One thing which certainly squashes the Michael Cain part of our writer’s voice, is criticism (or fear of it) too early in the process, too often and when it is overly or overwhelmingly negative.

Then there is the Daniel Day Lewis aspect. Where does this come from? It comes from listening. Listening to other people: to their use of language, to the cadence of their voice. And from watching, observing their body language. We can also research voices: through interviewing people, through oral history projects and archives. I recently went to the wonderful national centre for the written word in South Shields (http://theworduk.org/visit-us/) where they are collecting examples of dialect both written and spoken. What a great resource.

We do not want all our characters, or poems, to have our voice, so, as writers, we must develop attentive listening skills. Then, once we have done our writing, we must read it out and listen again, to ensure we have captured what we hoped to. I have found the recording function on my computer useful for this, so I can read out and then listen back to my writing.

Writing exercise: take yourself to a local café on your own and choose a corner table. Have a listen. Have a go at reproducing the voices you hear around you in your writing. Or interview someone who has a very different upbringing/background to yourself. Choose parts to transcribe. Notice the use of language. How would you describe the unique cadences in your writing?

What are your thoughts on your writer’s voice?

 

Author Interview: Maggie James

This week I am delighted to invite fellow writer, Maggie James to my blog. Living in Bristol, she writes psychological suspense novels. Her first book, His Kidnapper’s Shoes, was completed in 2011 and self-published in 2013. It has now been republished under a contract with Lake Union. Maggie’s next three books, Sister, Psychopath, Guilty Innocence and The Second Captive followed, along with a free novella, Blackwater Lake. She has also written a non-fiction book aimed at would-be authors, called Write Your Novel! From Getting Started to First Draft. She recently signed a two-book deal with Bloodhound Books for Guilty Innocence and The Second Captive. They will be republished later in 2017. 

Her latest novel is After She’s Gone, published by Lake Union on March 16, 2017 (http://smarturl.it/aftershesgone).

Before turning her hand to writing, Maggie worked mainly as an accountant, with a diversion into practising as a nutritional therapist. Diet and health remain high on her list of interests, along with travel. Accountancy does not, but then it never did. The urge to pack a bag and go off travelling is always lurking in the background. When not writing, going to the gym, practising yoga or travelling, Maggie can be found seeking new four-legged friends to pet; animals are a lifelong love.

What are you currently working on?
I have two writing projects on the go at present. One is plotting my sixth novel, title as yet unknown, which will examine the theme of betrayal. I got the idea from a TV documentary centred on con artists and the suffering they wreak on their victims. The concept is still in the early stages, but I’m keen to start writing. The other book I’m working on is a revised version of my second novel, Sister Psychopath.

What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
My latest novel is After She’s Gone, released on March 16, 2017. I’d been drawn to the theme of arson for a while, as well as examining how a family copes with murder. Somehow the two ideas became interwoven and ended up as After She’s Gone. In the book, the dead body of a teenage girl is found in a burning building, and as her grief-stricken relatives struggle with the fallout, the fires move ever closer to their home. Who is setting them, and why are they targeting the Goldens?

How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
Very much so in some cases, as I’ve found out. After I finished the first draft of His Kidnapper’s Shoes, a case came to light in America of a young child who was snatched as a baby and brought up by her abductor. A similar situation, also in the USA, emerged recently. My book wasn’t inspired by such events – I got the idea after a casual conversation – but the similarity was spooky. Sister, Psychopath was also inspired by a real-life murder. As for Blackwater Lake, I suspect that somewhere buried deep in someone’s compulsive hoarding may indeed be the solution to a crime, as happens in my novella.

Many novels have intertwined fiction with real life, of course. Take Robert Bloch’s novel, Psycho, based on the killer Ed Gein. Or Lionel Shiver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin, inspired by the 1999 Colombine shootings. Real life can provide fertile materials for novelists, and that won’t stop anytime soon.

Could you give five tips on how to tackle either characterisation or plotting or dialogue or descriptive passages?
I think I’ll go with dialogue on this one. Here are my five tips:

  1. This one gets mentioned a lot by authors and editors, but it’s important: don’t overuse speech tags. For the most part it should be clear who’s speaking, so you don’t need to add ‘he said/she said’ to every sentence. It’s unnecessary and clogs the flow of the discourse. Less is more.
  2. For dialogue that does require a speech tag, keep it simple. ‘Said’ is often the most effective one. You don’t need verbs like ‘averred’, ‘theorised’, ‘opined’, etc. The brain tends to skip over short, familiar words like ‘said’, whereas ‘expostulated’ will cause it to do a double take. You don’t want to write something that will jar the reader’s attention away from your story.
  3. Make it sound natural, but without all the ‘ums’, ‘ers’, ‘likes’ and ‘you-knows’ that clog most people’s speech. Contractions such as don’t, shouldn’t, won’t are good, though, because we all use them.
  4. Dialect is a difficult one to get right. Don’t attempt to convey regional speech by changing the spelling of words, as it irritates many readers. It’s best to use speech patterns and colloquialisms instead.
  5. Read your dialogue aloud. What better way to discover if your written conversations sound authentic? Or try text to speech software.

 How would you describe your writing process?
I’m a planner by nature; I couldn’t write a novel without a road map to get my story to where it needs to go. I use the Snowflake method of plotting, whereby I take an idea, and expand it until it’s a fully-fledged outline, complete with character notes, timeline, etc.  For writing software, I use Scrivener, and I love it; it’s excellent and worth every penny of the paltry purchase price. It’s customisable, flexible, and enables me to keep everything I need – research, notes, etc. – all in one place. Then it compiles my document into a formatted e-book in a couple of clicks. Magic!

After I’ve done the basic plotting, it takes me about two months to write the first draft. The next part, editing and revising, takes me much longer. I can spend forever tweaking my narrative, so when I can’t stand the sight of it any longer, I know it’s time to release it to the world.

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
As I’ve mentioned, I couldn’t write without a structured outline. I could just about make do without Scrivener – after all, my first novel was written using Microsoft Word – but I wouldn’t want to. I need silence to write as well, although white noise such as traffic is fine. Definitely no music, though. As for what gets in the way, sometimes my motivation isn’t as high as I’d like, and I procrastinate. If I’ve had a great writing session one day, completing lots of words, I often need to take it easy the day after. It’s all about balance, I guess.

What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
It depends on what the novel requires. I’m not keen on doing lots of research, as I’d rather be writing, but at the same time I don’t want inaccuracies in my books. For police procedural matters, I use Michael O’Byrne’s The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure, along with picking the brains of a couple of friends who are retired police officers.

Google is my friend when it comes to research. Like many novelists, I often joke that the police would have a field day should they ever inspect my browsing history. I’ve used Google to check out topics such as identity theft, computer hacking, body decomposition rates, etc.

I also often visit the locations involved in my books. They’re all based in my home city of Bristol, so I can easily check whatever I need. For example, The Second Captive involved a very pleasant afternoon wandering round Siston, taking notes and photographs.

If you are indie published, why did you choose this route? What are your five tips for would-be indie authors? What are the pros & cons to indie publishing?
I’m a hybrid author, meaning that some of my books are with publishing houses and others are self-published. I’d recommend anyone to try self-publishing, even if they hanker after a traditional contract. More and more publishers are keeping an eye on who’s doing well in the self-published world and signing them up. It’s happened to me, as well as to other author friends.

My five tips for indie authors? Here they are:

  1. Don’t skimp on editing. Hire the best you can afford, and listen carefully to his/her suggestions. My editor, Gillian Holmes, has been invaluable in helping me polish my books. Please don’t be like some authors who think correct spelling, punctuation and grammar don’t matter. Self-publishing equates to low standards in the minds of many readers, and it’s a perception with some basis in truth, given a few of the books I’ve read.
  2. Get the best cover you can afford. I often see real howlers on Amazon that look as though I’ve created them; they’re that bad! (There are websites devoted to poking fun at these gems, but I digress.) People do judge books by their covers, and a sloppy one with amateurish fonts might well sink your novel.
  3. Build your author platform as you write your book, so that it’s ready for when you launch. I didn’t, and regretted it later. Set up a website and start cultivating readers, book bloggers and other writers on social media as soon as possible.
  4. Develop a thick skin if you intend to read your reviews. Many authors choose not to; the Internet can be a brutal place and some readers can be unnecessarily vicious.
  5. Learn as much as you can about book marketing. Check out successful authors on social media and find out how they operate. A good start is Joanna Penn’s blog The Creative Penn. It’s packed with advice for indie authors, and Joanna’s written several useful books about marketing.

Pros of self-publishing? In my view this option holds most of the cards. You can set the pace for your writing career, writing as little or as much as you want, and pocketing 70% royalties from Amazon. You’ll need to work hard on your marketing, and put in a lot of hours, but big rewards are possible. A con of self-publishing can be the lack of support and the feeling that you’re going it alone, although that can be mitigated by forming strong support networks with other writers.

If you are traditionally published, could you say something of your journey and your experience?
Until last year, I was entirely self-published, and happy to be so. Having been offered a traditional contract a while back, and rejecting it, I was clear I wanted to remain self-published. My reasons? Higher royalties along with total control over every step of the publication process. That was until I got a phone call one afternoon.

I found myself talking with an acquisitions editor from Lake Union, one of Amazon’s publishing imprints. She enthused over His Kidnapper’s Shoes, and we chatted, with her saying she’d like to explore ways to work with me. More phone calls and emails followed, the end result being the offer of a publishing contract for His Kidnapper’s Shoes and my latest novel, After She’s Gone. Lake Union, being a digital publisher, can offer a far more attractive deal than the traditional publishing firms, and after a lot of thought I accepted, thus becoming a hybrid author.

Since then, I’ve signed a two-book deal with Bloodhound Books, who will re-release my novels Guilty Innocence and The Second Captive later this year. At this stage I’m unsure what will happen with future books, but I suspect I may retain my hybrid status. It seems to offer the best of both worlds.

The question you wished I’d asked you.
I think I’ll go with, ‘Have you always wanted to be a novelist?’ I chose that question thanks to my delight at being able to write fulltime, as it’s the culmination of a lifelong ambition. As a child, I devoured books (nothing has changed!) and never doubted I’d become a novelist when I grew up. Instead, when I reached adulthood, I went into accountancy, where I stayed for the next twenty-eight years. The urge to write never left me, even though I did nothing about it. In my forties, I started penning some short pieces, which were well received online, but I found the idea of a novel daunting. Then I ran into issues at work, which I used as a wake-up call. I booked flights to Asia, Australia and South America and travelled for a year, with the aim of writing the first draft of a novel while away. And that’s what happened, with me finishing His Kidnapper’s Shoes while enjoying the splendours of Bolivia.

How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
My website and blog can be found at http://www.maggiejamesfiction.com. You can find links to all my books, including my non-fiction offering, Write Your Novel! From Getting Started to First Draft. You can also download my free novella, Blackwater Lake. I blog weekly on all matters book-related, including reviews, discussion topics and author interviews. You can also sign up for my newsletter and receive free books.

Here are my social media links:
Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/MJamesFiction/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mjamesfiction

LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/maggie-james/64/381/727

Google+ : https://plus.google.com/101511690389687930651

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/828751.Maggie_James

Pinterest:  http://www.pinterest.com/maggiejamesfict/

Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Maggie-James/e/B00BS9LVMI

BookBub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/maggie-james

 

 

7 prompts for writers #3: characterisation

conversationAPJune15

Another Place, sculpture by Anthony Gormley

I find the idea for a character in a story can come from anywhere. It might be someone glimpsed on the street or a snatch of conversation overheard or from a piece in the newspaper. Even if the character is inspired by someone I ‘know’, then I will still only be aware of the part of themselves they choose to share, perhaps only the surface.

Characters in stories, especially novels, have to have layers, they have to have conflicts, they have to have textures, and it is the writer’s task to add them. To literally add flesh, bone, blood, soul and mind to a notion of a person.

I live with depression, I have had therapy over a number of years and I trained as a counsellor. I have, therefore, spent some time considering the human condition. I do think this assists in creating characters which live and breathe off the page.

On any creative writing course, we are told ‘show don’t tell’. In other words, if a character is sad, show what this looks like rather than tell the reader, Frank is sad. I would also add, the showing should really be more about inviting the reader to feel the sadness. And to do this, the writer has to get inside the body – their own as well as their character’s.

Our bodies feel our emotions before we can name them. Yet we cannot use this knowledge of the body in our writing unless we allow ourselves to inhabit our own bodies fully. As writers, the danger is we will spend too much time in our heads. As people in contemporary society, we might spend too much time distracted by the whirl of life: phones, adverts, noise, chatter…. In either case, we will miss the vital understandings brought to us by our bodies.

My way into my body is mindful walking (I have written about this: https://mslexia.co.uk/long-distance-writer-3-meandering/). Though yoga comes a close second and I am sure you will findboots your own way towards body awareness. Notice and take notes in your writing journal of how your body reacts to emotions and environments.

However, while you are creating and layering your characters, take this a step further. Imagine yourself into your character’s body. Walk as they would. Ask yourself, how would they feel afraid? Or sad? Or love? Notice and make notes in your writing journal.

Finally, you could also interview others. Ask them how they experience their body? What happens in their body when they feel a particular emotion? You may be surprised, and inspired.

What is your tip for creating layered characters?

7 Prompts for Writers #2

st-marys-lighthousefeb17

This week we went to Whitley Bay. On a grey, blustery morning we scrambled our way to St Mary’s Lighthouse. The causeway was open, so we walked over. The place appeared deserted. My first thought: what a great setting for a novel, especially a murder mystery.

A place can be a great starting point for writing. I am fan of Julia Cameron The Artist’s Way. In it she suggests taking regular ‘artist’s dates’. These are day trips to places to gain inspiration. I would echo Cameron in saying these should be dates with yourself – don’t take anyone else, unless they are also writers and/or know how to be quiet. Endless chatter will get in the way of imagination.

Places abound in stories. When was a place established? By whom? Who were the designers? Who the builders? Who lived there? Are there any connections with historical events? Who lives thereabouts now? How do present conditions compare with those of the past? What about the future? What wildlife is around? What is the landscape like? How has this all changed over time? And so on, I am sure you can supply other pertinent questions to get you going.

Try making notes in situ and remember to evoke all the senses – smell, sight, sound, touch and taste.

What is your favourite place to visit as a writer? Have you been inspired to write a story by visiting somewhere?

Author Interview: Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves, writer, on August 19, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. For more information about using this image contact Micha Theiner: T: +44 (0) 7525 627 491 E: micha@michatheiner.com http:///www.michatheiner.com

Ann Cleeves, writer, on August 19, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.
For more information about using this image contact Micha Theiner:
T: +44 (0) 7525 627 491
E: micha@michatheiner.com
http:///www.michatheiner.com

I am enormously excited to welcome the renown crime writer, Ann Cleeves, to my blog. More so, because I will also soon have the opportunity to hear her speak in my home town Scarborough, North Yorkshire. She is coming here on the 10th February 2017. For more details: http://www.booksbythebeach.co.uk/2017festival/cleeves/ or ring 01723 370 541 for tickets.

Ann Cleeves is an award-winning crime writer, best known for the VERA and SHETLAND series, both of which have been adapted for television.  She has been published for thirty years and Cold Earth is her most recent novel (https://goo.gl/b8eYW1).  She has been translated into nearly 30 languages and has sold 2.5 million books in the UK alone. 

What are you currently working on?
I’m working on the edits of the new Vera book, The Seagull, which will be published next September.  At the same time, I’m thinking about starting a new book set in Shetland.

What has inspired your most recent novel/writing?
The Seagull is set in Whitley Bay, on the coast close to Newcastle.  It was triggered by a conversation with a former shipyard worker in a pub close to my home.  He was talking about working the shipyard night shift and some of the things that went on there.  Those activities don’t make their way into the book, but the conversation helped me to develop one of the characters.

 How much do you think fiction intertwines with real life?
A lot of my fiction is inspired by overheard conversations.  I can’t imagine how I’d come up with cold-earthideas if I didn’t use public transport.  But then imagination takes over and the work is completely fictitious.

Could you give five tips on how to tackle either characterisation or plotting or dialogue or descriptive passages?
This is very difficult, because I never analyse my work but I’ll give it a go.

  • Creating a character is a bit like acting.  You have to get inside the person’s skin and see the world through their eyes.
  • It’s the small detail that brings a character or a scene to life – a pair of shoes, a loved object.  See the person in your head before you start writing, then be very specific.
  • Don’t forget to use all the senses in description. Smell is particularly powerful in evoking memory.
  • Plot in a way that suits you.  Not every writer works in the same way.
  • Read lots.  That’s how you’ll know what works as a good narrative for you.

 How would you describe your writing process?
Organic!  I never plot in advance.  I write like a reader – when I begin a book I have no idea about the story or any of the characters.  I have to continue writing to find out what’s going to happen. 

What helps you to write/what gets in the way?
I write best in the early morning.  Long train journeys help the ideas flow and so do long walks.  Social media gets in the way.  I love twitter – it’s like a strange overheard conversation – but it is very distracting.

 What kind of research do you do & how do you go about it?
I have good friends who are very useful – Prof James Grieves is a forensic pathologist who appears as himself in the Shetland books, Prof Lorna Dawson is a forensic soil scientist who has been the expert witness in many high-profile cases, and Helen Pepper is a former senior Crime Scene Manager.  They’re very helpful!

the-moth-catcher-pb-jacketCould you say something about your route to publishing?
I was very lucky and my first book was an unsolicited manuscript picked from the slush pile.  Then it took twenty years of being published before I had any commercial success.

 How can readers find you and learn more about your writing?
I have a website: www.anncleeves.com and I’m on twitter @anncleeves