Monthly Archives: March 2016

Guest post: Michael Fowler on Getting Started on Your Crime Novel (course).

As many of you already know, I attended Crime and Publishment in Gretna a couple of weeks ago. As a Creative Writing tutor, it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the other side of the classroom, so to speak. But as a writer, it was invaluable. It gave me time to think about my own writing as well as immersing me in an environment where everyone was thinking and talking about writing.

If you would like to give a Creative Writing course a go, Michael Fowler is here to talk about his course Getting Started on Your Crime Novel, which will take place during Spring Bank Holiday – Tuesday 31st May  to Thursday 2nd June. For more information, or to book your place, email Michael

Vic x

The idea of running a crime writing course was first mooted following a joint author talk with Danuta Reah in 2014, upon learning of her creative writing teaching background, and that prospect took a giant leap forward when I met up with Alison Taft at one of her creative writing retreats.

I have to confess, right from the outset, that my knowledge of writing crime novels has come from ‘How to’ books and so, although enthused to be part of this, equally, I felt somewhat out of my depth, especially given Danuta and Alison’s background. Nevertheless, I set about the programme’s development with a great degree of excitement because we had identified that a must would be an input on crime and procedure – my area of knowledge.

From the outset we agreed we wanted to give those attending the component parts of writing a crime novel, plus provide them with knowledge of how to prepare for the publishing market. We also determined that police procedure and forensics, via a crime scene scenario, would be built in.

The hook for the course came thanks to Darren Laws, CEO of our publisher, Caffeine Nights. He agreed to read the best three submissions from those who attended.

The first course ran last April and 15 people attended. The class included a Forensic Anthropologist, whose CV included advising Kathy Reichs and Anne Cleeves on their books, and who has proved to be a great contact for my latest DS Hunter Kerr novel, and a writing fan of Danuta’s, who travelled all the way from Germany.

Over the three days the writers provided some great material and each of them spent individual time with us discussing their projects they were working. Since the course has ended two of them have gained publishing contracts and two have been given the opportunity to pitch to Darren Laws.

Our next course takes place during Spring Bank Holiday – Tuesday 31st May  to Thursday 2nd June. This year’s programme contains everything you need to develop plot and character, create dramatic tension and write a compelling opening chapter, on the novel writing front, and within the  publishing element, will be sessions on writing a synopsis and how to pitch to a publisher. The entire event will be centred around a real-time murder. (In actual fact the incident is loosely fashioned on a murder investigation I was involved in back in the early 1980’s.)

The venue is The Stables, High Melton College, which nestles within the picturesque village of High Melton, 5 miles from Doncaster and only a couple of miles from junction 37 of the A1.

Noir at the Bar NE

Noir at the Bar NE

Over the last couple of weeks, you’ll have read guest posts by Tess Makovesky and Lucy Cameron about the first Noir at the Bar in England, which took place on Thursday, 10th March 2016.

When I told Graham Smith – one of the organisers – that I couldn’t make N@tB in Carlisle due to prior arrangements, he suggested that I set up the North East chapter of N@tB. Initially, I scoffed, telling him that I wouldn’t know where to start but with support and advice from Graham and Jay Stringer, I started to believe that it could be done.

Within a day of Graham suggesting it, I’d contacted North East writers and had arranged a line-up. Then I contacted the wonderful Jackeeta Collins, the brains behind the fantastically successful Newcastle Noir, and asked her to co-host with me. Thankfully, Jacky jumped at the opportunity. During my meeting with Jacky, it became apparent to me that noir and crime fiction inspires such enthusiasm in people, further reinforcing the idea that N@tB NE could be a success.

So I had writers and a co-host, all I needed was a venue. The Town Wall in Newcastle welcomed us with open arms and its cinema room downstairs is a perfect place to host Noir at the Bar NE.

Noir at the Bar NE will have its first outing on Wednesday, 1st June. We’re very lucky to have Graham Smith and Tess Makovesky coming across from Gretna and Carlisle respectively to pass on the N@tB baton. Janet O’Kane and Bea Davenport are travelling from Berwick to participate and Sheila Quigley is representing Sunderland.

We will be picking names from a hat for the line-up and there will also be a wild card round where a member of the audience is chosen at random to give a reading (obviously, those who want to be in with a chance of this must put their names down) so it’s a great opportunity for up and coming writers too.

1st June can’t come soon enough!

Vic x

Getting to Know You: Claire Meadows

Today, I introduce you to Claire Meadows.

Claire is a really impressive woman. She’s the founder of After Nyne Magazine and an Ambassador for male suicide prevention charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably). 

Not only that, Claire’s third collection of poetry –To the Lions‘ – is available through Urbane Publications now. Wonder woman or what?! 

You can follow Claire on Twitter

Vic x

Claire Meadows

Claire Meadows

Thanks for being on the blog today, Claire. How did you get into writing?

I’ve always written… and had an affinity with the written word. Growing up I had a rich and varied inner landscape in my head that I was careful to suppress. I suppressed it for a variety of reasons – I guess the main one being that I felt like the world I created in my own head was preferable to the one in which I found myself. Living on a council estate from the age of 15 was a brutal lesson in survival. You can’t be soft or how weakness. The only way I could feel I could be myself truly was to write it down, to weave life into poetry like rope so it was strong enough to support me.

Tell us a bit about your current book ‘To the Lions‘. What’s it about? What inspired it? Where can we get it?

It’s a testament to the dark side of love. All kinds of love, your love for your parents, betrayal by your parents. Love for a lover who makes you ache with want, for tortured souls who find each other. You can create torture for each other or find the most splendid kind of bliss. Love for a best friend who you’d have gone to the ends of the earth for, whose departure from your life leaves a hole.

It’s probably my most personal collection yet. I had a lot of ghosts to lay to rest. Whether they’ll stay rested is another matter. You can get it direct from my publisher Urbane Publications or from Amazon. You can also get a signed one from my website.

And your upcoming release…

My collected works – Blood Season. I’m very excited about that one – my past three collections and thirteen new pieces. That will be out in May.

You’ve had a really rich and varied career, could you tell us about that?

Ten years ago I was working in Extradition Policy at the Home Office. I left to broaden my horizons in the private sector – three years in the Home Office had made me stale. My horizons were certainly broadened – a short tenure at an absolutely appalling property agency in Mayfair, and I ended up as the PA to the legal team at McDonald’s Europe.

Then I had a whopping big breakdown in 2009 and was hospitalised for nine weeks. A complete collapse. My husband told me I was to abandon working for the big egos and pursue something I truly loved. Such amazing support – I’ll forever be in his debt.

How do you manage to successfully juggle everything?

By having a stellar support cast – in particular my editor, Luciana, at After Nyne Magazine and the team that works with her. I’m tremendously lucky to have found someone I can rely on to that extent.

What about After Nyne? How did that get going?

It came out of my husband’s insistence to follow something I loved. In 2010 I started an artist’s agency, which gave me a real drive to push the work of rising artists alongside established ones. That company folded and I then started up our existing magazine Nyne as a blog, and then moved back into publishing as After Nyne in 2014. From June 2016 we’ll be selling out of 160 WH Smith stores up and down the country. It’s been a long road but we’re getting there slowly.

What are you working on at the moment?

You’ve caught me out, Vic – I should be able to say ‘this and that’ but I actually have nothing in the pipeline at the moment with regards to writing. I was asked by a publisher to write a self-help book based on my journey but with everything else going on it’s been sidelined. I’ll keep you updated.

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Persevere. It took me ten years from starting work on my first collection Gold After to finding my darling publisher Urbane. It forced me to be the very best poet I could be. For the majority of us who are not related to someone very famous there are no easy routes. So hunker down and stick with it. And find a good role model, one that will keep you sane when you want to drown in gin.

What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you when you started writing?

That you’ll have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince of a publisher. And all that agony… it’s going to be very useful to you.

What’s the one story/poem you wish you’d written?

Wolf Hall. Hands down. What else is like it?

Do you have any writing idols?

Truth tellers, visionaries, and Jackie Collins.

Guest post: Lucy Cameron on the first Noir at the Bar in England.

A couple of weeks ago, at Crime and Publishment, I was introduced to Lucy Cameron. Lucy is a lot of fun and I really enjoyed her company throughout the weekend. 

Born in London and having lived in South Wales, Liverpool, York and Nottingham, Lucy currently lives in a shed in her dad’s garden in Scotland where she wears thermals for warmth and writes by candlelight.

Lucy’s debut novel ‘Night Is Watching’ is due to be published by Caffeine Nights Publishing later this year. To find out more about Lucy, please visit her website

Thanks to Lucy for contributing to the blog!

Vic x

Lucy Cameron

Thursday 10th March 2016 was a night of firsts. It was the first ever Noir at the Bar in England, held at the Moo Bar in Carlisle. It was also my first ever invite to read at such an event alongside top name authors – No pressure there, then!


Noir at the Bar originates from America and made its UK debut in Scotland last year. The premise is simple and splendid. Crime writers and readers get together and selected writers are given a five-minute slot to read. Anyone and everyone is welcome. Who wouldn’t want to attend an event that combines crime writing and beer?


‘Crime Ink Corporated’ have now brought the event to England. Matt Hilton, Graham Smith and Mike Craven were our gracious hosts for the evening and from the offset made the atmosphere relaxed and welcoming.

Matt Hilton, Graham Smith and Mike Craven

I arrived in Carlisle at about 4pm and headed to The Crown and Mitre for a pre-event drink followed by a Nando’s, as you do. Then it was time to head to the venue, with the nerves starting to mount.

The Moo Bar was great location for England’s first ever Noir at the Bar, being big enough not to feel too crowded, but small enough to be intimate. By the time I arrived at 6.30pm, a crowd had already gathered and settled into the bar. All of the invited reader’s names were put into a hat (David Mark’s hat, no less) to be drawn at random by members of the audience.

David Mark was first to take to the mic claiming the accolade of being the first ever reader at Noir at the Bar in England. David read from his latest book and captivated the crowd from the offset.

David Mark

David Mark opens the event.

David was followed by Zoe Sharp and Neil White who continued to set the bar high, the audience listening with intrigue.

Zoe Sharp

Zoe Sharp

Neil White

Neil White

Every time a hand went into the hat I held my breath wondering if I would be next, but Jay Stringer completed the first half with a darkly amusing short story and poem that gave me chills. That’s some first half to follow.

Jay Stringer

Jay Stringer

The crowd were receptive and supportive and keen to listen to the variety of work the readers presented. The second half rolled around quickly and my name was first out of the hat. Matt Hilton helped calm my nerves with a humorous introduction. And I was off. And I loved every second of it.

Matt Hilton and Lucy Cameron.

Lucy Cameron

Tess Makovesky was next, and like myself was asked to read having been a success story of Graham Smith’s Crime and Publishment Crime Writing weekend. We have both gained publishing deals through contacts made at this excellent weekend with books due to be published later this year.

Tess Makovesky.

Tess Makovesky.

James Hilton and Paul Finch followed, their readings holding the attention of the audience. Yet again I heard people saying how different all the readings were and how much they were looking forward to reading the books of those speaking.

James Hilton

James Hilton

Paul Finch

Paul Finch

Then it was time for the wild card. The wild card was open to any writers in the room who dared to pop their names in a hat (or in this case, a pint glass) and be drawn at random to read. Linda Wright was drawn and rounded off the night perfectly.

Linda Wright.

Linda Wright.

For me the whole event was like realising one of my dreams, to be asked to read on a bill with authors I admire and look up to. Yes, I was very nervous but the support from my fellow writers and the audience helped no end. It was also a fantastic chance to make new friends and catch up with old ones. Would I do it again? In a shot. A huge thank you to the organisers and everyone I met who made the night so wonderful, and to everyone I didn’t meet but that was in the room making the event so special, I look forward to seeing you all again soon.

The Noir at the Bar gang

The Noir at the Bar gang

My final words? Get to the next Noir at the Bar event, you won’t be disappointed.


Guest post: Tess Makovesky on Coping with Nerves

At Crime and Publishment last weekend, I got to meet people that I ‘knew’ through social media (and lots I didn’t already ‘know’). Tess Makovesky is someone I’ve been friends with on social media for a long time but C&P was the first opportunity we’ve had to meet in real life. I know it won’t be the last, she’s an absolute delight! 

This Thursday (10th March), sees Noir @ the Bar hit Carlisle. Tess is doing a reading and has decided to write this piece in celebration. I really wish I could be there this Thursday but, unfortunately, I’m already booked up for something else. I’d like to wish Tess and her fellow readers all the best – I’ll see you at the next one! 

Vic x


C-c-coping with nerves

By Tess Makovesky 


This Thursday is a really big day for me. I’m lucky enough to have been invited to take part in the inaugural Noir at the Bar Carlisle event, which means doing a five-minute reading from my forthcoming novella. In public. On a stage, with a microphone. In the middle of a crowded city-centre bar.

For someone as shy and retiring as me, that’s quite a challenge. For those five minutes, all eyes will be on me, all ears will be listening to me speak. Understandably, I’m nervous. I might trip over on the steps and take a dive off the stage. I might blow up the microphone.  Or I might just make a total hash of my reading, lose my place and gabble uncontrollably.  It’s all rather daunting. So, how does someone nervous cope with something like this?

Well, as with most things in life the key is preparation. I’ve already marked out the passage I want to read. I’ve practised it so I know it’s pretty much the right length for the time slot. I’ve noted the places where I need to breathe (vital for continuing to read and well, you know, to live…) I’ve got a copy printed out. My friend Linda Wright gave some very helpful advice at the Crime & Publishment course last weekend on exactly this subject, and mentioned that sheafs of paper can flap disconcertingly if your hands are shaking. For that reason, I’ve also downloaded the passage onto my tablet, which might offer a more stable, less give-away option.

I’m lucky in one respect, because this isn’t my first experience of reading aloud. Two of my previous writers’ groups favoured reading your work to the rest of the group, and I also read the first paragraph of my novel to around sixty people at a writers’ convention in Brighton a few years ago. That’s been good practice. I know roughly what to expect, which is half the battle won. There’s nothing so unnerving as fear of the unknown.

Most of all, though, I’m coping by reminding myself of two things. One, the people who come along will be in a good mood, enjoying their night out, having a few drinks, and ready to be entertained. And two, the crime writing world is one of the most supportive environments I’ve ever discovered. Friend after friend is not just showing up, but will be happy to hold my hand.  Figuratively speaking, and possibly literally. That makes the whole thing much less of an ordeal. So much so that I’m starting to think I might surprise myself and enjoy the evening after all.

If you’d like to come and join in the fun, head for the Moo Bar, Devonshire Street, Carlisle at 7pm on Thursday 10th March. I’ll be reading an excerpt from my forthcoming novella ‘Raise the Blade’, a psychological noir about a serial killer who waits for his victims to select themselves! Alongside me there’ll be six other local authors (Neil White, Zoe Sharp, Jay Stringer, Lucy Cameron, Paul Finch and James Hilton) plus a chance for a member of the audience to read their own work, and free books to be won. The event is co-hosted by the Three Graces themselves, Graham Smith, Mike Craven and Matt Hilton. It should be quite a night!

Guest post: LJ Ross on ‘Writing a Series… and other tales.’

Today, I have the lovely LJ Ross on the blog to celebrate the release of her third novel in the DCI Ryan series, ‘Heavenfield‘. Louise has taken time out of her very busy schedule to talk to us about, well, time management. As any writer knows, it’s essential if you want to get your writing done. 

So here’s the lovely Louise to tell us about writing, motherhood and more! Thanks, Louise, and congrats on the book release! 

Vic x

LJ Ross


Any mother will tell you that if you manage to find the time to blow dry your hair in the morning and get through the day without ten strong coffees, you’re a bloody rock star. Factor in multiple children and work, and things start to get pretty frenetic.

In my case, I can’t complain too loudly. I have a hands-on husband who, despite managing his own busy career, is always an equal parent and a great dad to our little boy. My son is two and enjoys spending time at nursery (terrorising the staff, no doubt) which allows me to ring-fence blocks of time during the day when I can work, too. Despite what some people imagine the life of a writer to be, it isn’t all that glamorous! Like any self-employed job, there are long periods of time spent at a desk, with only your fictional characters for company. Then, there is the act of being persistently creative, which can be both a joy and a curse. Finally, there is the crippling self-doubt which comes from putting that creative product ‘out there’ in the real world, where people can heap plaudits or shred it to pieces, depending on their mood.

Why do you do it? I hear you cry. Well, it’s for the simple love of writing stories. I was a lawyer in London before deciding to change career, and almost as soon as I got into the flow of writing I knew that I had made the right decision. The process can be frustrating and there is a lot of hard work involved, but the benefits far outweigh the costs in terms of personal happiness and a flexible working life.

Holy Island

After my first novel, ‘Holy Island’ was published in January 2015, my jaw fell to the floor when it reached the UK #1 spot the following May in the Amazon charts. When I wrote that book, I wasn’t at all sure how it would be received and certainly hadn’t thought far enough ahead to consider that it might form the basis for a series of Northumbrian murder mysteries. Yet, when it was received so kindly by readers around the country and internationally, and people wrote to me to ask if there would be more of DCI Ryan, I began to think about the possibility. I was clear on the fact that I would only write a sequel if I felt there was a genuine story to be told; it needed to come organically, rather than being something formulated only for commercial gain.

Well, I think I’ve been bitten by the writer’s bug, because now I can’t seem to stop imagining new mysteries. For me, the ideas flow from the landscape of Northumberland and its surrounds: the first novel was named after the atmospheric island of Lindisfarne and the second, ‘Sycamore Gap’, after that iconic spot on Hadrian’s Wall made famous in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The third in the series, ‘Heavenfield’ is named after the tiny, remote church of St. Oswald’s, also in Hadrian’s Wall country. The scenery is my muse and so, for as long as the stories keep popping into my mind, I’ll be happy writing them.

Sycamore Gap

But, are there certain rules to abide by, when writing a series? As with any practical advice on the topic of writing, this is a highly individual thing. Each writer is different and their approach to writing stories reflects their own personality. In general, it is probably fair to say that the stories should flow and, depending on the type of series you are writing, you should bear in mind your audience and remain loyal to the characters you have created. When I say that, I mean that you should try to put yourself in the shoes of the characters and ask yourself: ‘what would be likely to happen in their lives, next?’ Thinking along these lines usually helps with the flow of a story, when your planned outline comes to a bit of a shuddering halt with the dreaded writer’s block. Yes, it is a real thing and, no, you cannot always predict when it will strike!

Should each book in a series also be capable of being read as a standalone? As the characters develop through each of the books in the series, it becomes increasingly difficult to create standalone stories unless each book truly encapsulates an entirely new theme. For example, in the first three of my DCI Ryan series, I included a secondary thread relating to a cult circle, which was never designed to continue indefinitely and needed some form of resolution by the third book. This brings a sense of satisfaction to both me and my readers and with the fourth book, I am looking forward to re-introducing my main characters in the context of a new and exciting mystery.

The one potential drawback to writing a series is that, as the stories and characters progress, the fabric of their imaginary lives becomes more and more complex and will require a strong grasp of each so that you do not unwittingly drop a clanger! For, as with people in the real world, the reader will immediately notice if your detective says or does something that is noticeably out of place, or if he grows ten years older, overnight.

Guest Post: The Real CSI by K.A. Richardson

Today, my good friend K.A. Richardson is here to tell us about the real CSI. 

As well as being an author, Kerry passed her BSc in Crime Scene Science in 2008, progressing into a CSI role with the police. After working for 2 separate police forces for three years as a CSI, Kerry was redeployed following government cuts and continues to work for the police, though in a different role. 

Kerry keeps her skills and knowledge up to date by going out on jobs with CSIs every now and then so she’s definitely the woman we need to write this post!

Vic x

With Deadly Intent

The world of crime scene investigation can seem very daunting to those whose knowledge consists of what they see on TV. Shows like CSI and NCIS glamorise the role, portraying female CSIs with long flowing locks of hair, high heeled shoes, and smart dress suits, and male CSIs with chiselled appearances, trained to disarm people with a single glance. It shows evidence is always recovered at a scene, fingerprints bring forth identifications virtually instantly, and DNA is obtained without any PPE (personal protective equipment) being worn by the CSI, and almost always has identifications through by the end of the show.

If only it were really like that!

If only real CSIs could get the idents that quick, or even have DNA authorised for submission. This blog is to show a little about the ‘real’ CSI – the men and women out in the field who recover the evidence and help catch the bad guys. 

What is a CSI?

A CSI – Crime Scene Investigator (also known as SOCO – Scenes of Crime Officer) is a civilian who usually works for the police – there are CSIs used by other agencies but I’ll focus primarily on those employed by the police. They are men and women who have either trained to degree level at university, or have done a forensic training course through the police. Some are ex-police officers, some just had a love of investigation and pursued this as their career. They are generally pretty poorly paid for the job they do – as an example the basic start wage for a CSI in the North East is around £17,500 per annum – this does vary slightly with each police force but as a general rule of thumb it provides an accurate overall start wage. It’s not a lot considering the responsibilities the CSI has to forensically recover evidence that could potentially be the turning point in getting people jailed for a crime.

The CSI will be required to work varying hours, participate in on-call rotas, and occasionally have rest days cancelled to facilitate the demand of work. A CSI reports to the CSM – Crime Scene Manager, who in return reports to their supervisor.

What does a CSI do?

A CSI works alongside police officers to facilitate an investigation by recovering evidence from crime scenes, examining property recovered, providing forensic training to probationary police officers, completing paperwork and statements, managing the evidence recovered and submitting this to relevant agencies, completing notes for each scene attended, attending court when required, and a melee of other duties.

They have to drive a van filled with equipment like boxes, recovery pots, evidence bags, ladders, stepping plates, casting kits (for tool marks and footwear marks), DNA test kits, scene suits, gloves, spare powders etc. They must be able to take photographs during the day and night using various techniques to ensure images are taken to a high standard.

Generally a CSI will carry both a camera case, and their ‘kit’ which is usually a case containing various fingerprint powders, swabs, acetates, rulers, evidence recover containers, evidence bags, cellotape, scissors, Stanley knife, brushes galore, and too many other tools to mention. My case was always highly organised – everything had its place and I could cram more than you would think into my silver aluminium case (lots of CSIs use the standard issue black plastic case but I like the aluminium ones better). I also had a folder – which had things like fingerprint elimination sheets, inked acetates, note forms, paper (for diagrams), pens, permanent markers, ruler etc.

PPE is worn in some form or other for all scenes – CSIs have safety boots, and uniform generally consists of combat trousers, polo shirt and jacket. All scenes generally require the CSI to wear at least one pair of nitrile gloves, and if recovering DNA evidence then masks and additional gloves would be worn to prevent contamination. For major scenes such as murders, rapes, serious assaults etc, then scene boot covers, suits and hoods would also be worn.

Most people would presume that CSIs attend lots of murders – that’s what the TV would have you believe. In fact there are a lot less murders than you’d think. The majority of the day for a CSI consists of attending crime scenes such as vehicle break ins, burglaries, cannabis farms, allotment break ins, taking injury photos in the studio for people who have been assaulted, and dealing with property. In the event that a murder occurs, then it’s not a case of everyone running to the scene to assist – CSIs will be allocated, usually with a CSM, and they will attend, wear appropriate PPE, and process the scene accordingly.

A CSI attends and participates in Post Mortem examinations – there are 3 roles within a PM – a photographer who takes images throughout the examination which is conducted by the pathologist, who is generally assisted by the technician. A dirty CSI who takes the evidence recovered from the pathologist and places this into appropriate packaging for the clean CSI who then writes the bags out, seals them, and completes the relevant notes. Most people will never have seen a PM – there are several you tube clips available and some mortuaries are open to observers if requested and authorised by the pathologist. The CSIs attending will be in PPE, including gloves, masks and suits, not just to prevent contamination of evidence, but also because the PM environment can produce biological health hazards.

CSIs generally head out alone to handle the jobs allocated – they have a personal radio, the same as police officers use, to keep in contact with the control room and each other but generally it’s a pretty solitary job. The scenes processed can be spread across the county in which they work, so there’s a lot of driving involved. A CSI will have passed a police vehicle driving course but this doesn’t mean they get to drive with sirens and at high speeds – the CSI vans aren’t equipped with lights and CSIs have to abide by the standard speed laws, the same as everyone else. In a normal 9-10 hour shift, a CSI can potentially deal with 6-8 standard jobs – often more if the jobs involve property examination etc, or less depending of the nature of the jobs allocated. Examining a plastic bag recovered from a suspect which held possible stolen goods, for example, would take hardly any time at all compared to a burglary where every room has been ransacked.

This post is a brief explanation of what a CSI does – my next CSI blog post will be A Day in the Life of a CSI – it’ll be a more in depth look at the techniques used by a CSI as they perform their vital job.