Category Archives: Writers

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Lucy Cameron

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today, my friend Lucy Cameron is sharing her thoughts with us. Her experiences may not be what you might expect…

Vic x

When I shouted ‘Pick me, Pick me’ to be included in this blog series I hadn’t really thought it through. I am a crime/horror writer, but my day job in no way connects to what I write, or ever has.

I am not a solicitor or barrister, I have only ever been in a police station to ask if they rent out uniforms to film makers (they don’t) and I have never been in a court house, if that’s even what they are called outside of films. As for ever committing a crime…? Okay, I once had a parking ticket. In short, I have never worked within, or outside of, the law.

What about medicine? Were I ever to see heavy blood flow I have little doubt I would faint, my uncle works in the local funeral parlour, but I’m not sure that counts.

Other avenues into the field of crime writing? I have never been a journalist, or an editor, or even written for a student magazine. I have never taught creative writing, nor have any qualifications in the above.

For a long time I believed you had to have done one of the aforementioned to even consider writing a crime novel. I was wrong.

What did I do to while away the hours before becoming a writer, and by this I mean pay the bills and mortgage, was work as a Convenience Store Manager for a food retailer. For anyone that’s ever worked in a public-facing job, if that doesn’t put you in situations where you want to kill people, or indeed meet people on a daily basis that could easily commit a crime, I don’t know what will.

I loved every minute. Okay I loved half of the minutes I worked in food retail, it was fast, it was busy, it was a minimum of sixty hours a week. The teams I worked with over the years were like family and we shared plenty of laughs and tears, and it’s this people experience I draw on when writing.

Writing I can do now that I have left my glittering career in food retail far behind me. Days were full of little interactions with customers, throwaway comments overheard. Once you have the characters in a story, once you have the idea, you can go and find out about the procedures and any and every job allows you to do this.

Now I am a writer, what do I do to while away the hours that I should be writing, and by this still I mean pay the bills and mortgage? I work as a Business Administrator for a local theatre, this time a job I do love every minute of, and that allows me the time to write. If you want to be a writer, you can be, whatever your background and this sounds like great news to me, and a future full of varied and interesting books.

Write because you love it, not for the money, and don’t worry if your job doesn’t seem to fit with ‘write what you know’, fiction is after all, exactly that.

You can catch up with Lucy on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

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Don’t Quit the Day Job: Paul Harrison

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today we have Paul Harrison talking about his time in the criminal justice system and how it’s influenced his writing.  

Vic x

I had a career within the criminal justice that spanned four decades. With over twenty years being spent as a police officer. Needless to say, I’ve seen a lot. Things that no living person deserves to see.  I’ve been told things I wish I’d never heard.  I joined the police to make a difference, to put the bad guys in prison to keep people safe. Little did I know, then, the route my career path would take.

Interviewing the darker side of humanity, and getting inside the heads of incarcerated criminals like serial killers, sounds terribly exciting, because fundamentally, it is. However, when those connections are made, and the killers believe you are their friend, it get’s a bit scary. That’s when they begin to open up, to tell you their innermost secrets. They make demands on your time, and you. They try their best to mess with your head, to intrigue you, to give them some control over your life. It’s fascinating stuff, and not at all for the faint hearted.

After a time, you begin to notice similar traits in the criminal interviewees, they are demanding, full of their own self importance, and most have a need to be liked. When they realise the friendship is nothing but a professional one, they retaliate with threats, violence and abuse. Hopefully, by that point, you’ve extracted all the required information because there’s no going back.

Those kind of experiences, and there’s been plenty of them, taught me how to interview and to read people. To give out very little information about myself, but to maximise what I collected. Every interview is different, so you have to be adaptable to each individual.  Not every killer is like Hannibal Lecter, in fact, there’s only I’ve met, who I’d put in the same intellectual plain. I wont mention his name here, but he’s in an English prison and he’s the master of psychological games.

With all that experience behind me, it’s natural that I should use it in my crime fiction writing. When I wrote: Revenge of the Malakim (Williams & Whiting), I wanted to create a believable serial killer, someone that walked among us, unnoticed. The killer is a psychological mix of a couple of real life murderers, with their own agenda for murder.  It creates for confusion among the detectives investigating the crimes, which again, is realistic.

Most murder investigation are painstakingly laborious, it takes the skill and tenacity of a good team of investigators and solid scientific support, to help snare a killer. Then comes the all important offender interviews. The mind games to catch the killer out, or the overwhelming evidence that proves guilt.

My career in the criminal justice system may be over, however, my crime novel writing one is just beginning, and I’m about to unleash some pretty horrific killers on the reading public.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Rachel Amphlett

Welcome to the first Don’t Quit the Day Job of 2018! It seems like a long time since Paul Gitsham’s post, doesn’t it? 

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Kicking us off for 2018 we have Rachel Amphlett, the bestselling author of the Dan Taylor espionage novels and the new Detective Kay Hunter series, as well as a number of standalone crime thrillers. Rachel’s novels have been compared to Robert Ludlum, Lee Child and Michael Crichton.

You can follow Rachel on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as her website.

Vic x

Prior to becoming a full-time writer, I spent many a year working as a project and contracts administrator supporting engineers in delivering major projects in the gas, infrastructure, and railway industries.

It doesn’t sound as sexy as crime thriller author by a long way, but those years behind the scenes have served me well in my current career as a writer.

For example, I was surrounded by people who had held different roles prior to turning to project management, and often within the armed forces. As an author of espionage fiction for a number of years, it meant that if I kept my ears open while ferreting around making sure sub-contractors were paid on time and monthly reports were delivered to management without a hitch, I could bribe someone with a coffee in return for hearing about their military experiences.

From an ex-Lynx helicopter pilot to a weapons guidance systems engineer who helped me blow up a submarine in Under Fire, I had all sorts of combat and non-combat experience at my fingertips – and I made full use of it.

On top of that, chatting with colleagues in the break-out area, I soon had an offer of being taken pistol shooting so I could find out what it was really like to fire a weapon.

When my writing took off in 2016, I’d already been implementing a lot of project management techniques within my writing business and these enabled me to really focus on what was important.

The best tool in my business is that of a project schedule – I use a simple Excel spreadsheet format for this, which gives me a 12-month look-ahead for the books I want to write and publish (typically a minimum of three), broken down into the steps that need to be taken to publish each book.  These include finishing the first draft, getting the final draft to beta readers, drafting again before handing over to an editor, working with my cover designer, and setting up everything else that is needed to publish a book successfully (and on time).

I can then highlight the really important milestones that I need to hit for those books – this is known as being on the “critical path” in project-speak. That is, if I don’t hit those milestones, there is no book!

Having this project schedule keeps me focused – and, if something changes during the year that means I have to switch a project with another to take advantage of an opportunity, I can. All I have to do is adjust the dates, and off I go again.

Now that I’m a full-time writer, I can use this scheduling tool to make the most of my time – it’s likely going into 2018 that I’ll double my output, but at least using my project background, I’ll be able to keep track of where I am and mitigate any hiccups along the way.

Could I be this productive without a project management background?

I doubt it very much.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Paul Gitsham

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Following on from Linda MacDonald’s insight into how teaching A Level Psychology contributed to her debut novel, we have another teacher on the blog to talk about how teaching has inspired him to write a series of crime novels.

My thanks to the lovely – and very busy – Paul Gitsham for taking the time to write about his day job. To find out more about the DCI Warren Jones series,  go to Facebook, Twitter or Paul’s website

Paul’s will be the final blog in the Don’t Quit the Day Job series for 2017 because December, as always, will be taken up with daily guests reviewing their year. Don’t Quit the Day Job will start again in January 2018.

Vic x

“You know, if you bury her body under the new school hall, no one will ever find her, Sir.”

This was not a helpful plot idea from one of my students, rather the response of another pupil to his classmate’s question “are trees alive?”, asked precisely three weeks before the class were due to sit their biology GCSE.

Fortunately, the question appeared to be little more than a random synaptic misfiring – probably caused by stress – and the frantically blushing pupil went on to do very well.

If I tell someone at a literary festival that I am a school teacher (often in response to the question, ‘why don’t you write more quickly?’ or ‘can’t you take the afternoon off to arrive at a more reasonable hour?’), they naturally assume that I teach English. That I am a former biologist and now teach science seems to bemuse many people.

Yet I find that although teaching full time eats into my writing time, it also feeds into what I write. For example, DCI Warren Jones is happily married to Susan, a – you guessed it! – secondary school biology teacher. She even supplies the odd crucial insight – thus allowing me to vicariously fulfil my own fantasies…

The first person we meet in my debut novel, The Last Straw, is Tom Spencer – who just happened to be sitting opposite me, marking coursework, as I dreamt up that book. By contrast, the laid-back, portly, pony-tailed Crime Scene Manager Andy Harrison, who appears in all of my books, is the polar opposite of his namesake, another former colleague. A number of workmates have given me explicit permission to either kill them off or name a serial killer after them. If nothing else, the people I work with or teach are a useful source of interesting names and personality quirks.

It was also through school that I met my forensic science contact. Lee ran workshops for our science and engineering club, but his day job is that of a crime scene investigator for Essex police. An endless source of dark and blackly humorous war stories, he’s given me countless ideas and advice.

Like all writers, I am a trivia magpie and nowhere is a better source of random information than a science classroom. For example, did you know that deer stand still in the glare of headlights because they interpret the lights as eyes, but are confused by the lack of legs? Thanks to eleven year old Francis for that fact – look out for it in book 2, No Smoke Without Fire. I’ve also spent ten years teaching about diabetes and blood glucose regulation – a key plot device in Silent as the Grave. An A Level practical investigation into how blood is identified at a crime scene triggered a lovely little sub-plot in an upcoming novel.

Writing this article has really made me consider the impact that teaching and being a teacher has had upon my writing. And so, for the foreseeable future at least, I have no plans to give up the day job entirely.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Linda MacDonald

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we’ll talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

Today on Don’t Quit the Day Job, we have the lovely Linda MacDonald to talk about how teaching Psychology to sixth formers inspired her debut novel, ‘Meeting Lydia‘. My thanks to Linda for sharing her interesting journey to publication

Vic x

How a computer, an A level topic, a classroom accident, radio news and a work-related breakdown all contributed to my writing career.

My 2001 resolution was to buy either a home computer or a rabbit. The computer won. The day job of teaching in a sixth form college demanded I learn how to use one. Little did I know that this computer, this alien in the living room as I thought of it for a long time, was to be the vehicle of inspiration for my first novel, Meeting Lydia.

Friends Reunited hit the headlines later that year and on a wave of nostalgia, I found the only boy in the class who was never horrible to me at a time when I was bullied. Many emails followed and supplied me with two themes for a story: the long-term effects of school bullying and the psychology of internet relationships.

Write about what you know is the oft-heard mantra. My main character became a teacher of Psychology, someone able to analyse the pros and cons of electronic communication. It was already a topic on the A Level specification and I asked for volunteers to come to an extra lesson to discuss the issues. I told them I would like to tape them with view to gathering authentic ‘student speak’ for a novel I was writing. Their amazing contributions formed the basis of three chapters and added to the quirkiness of a novel.

I was driven by a fire that consumed me: a book that had to be written. In the evenings, when the supper was eaten and the dishes were washed, I made myself write instead of collapsing to watch some inconsequential rubbish on TV. I wrote random chapters, as yet no clear plan of how they would interlock: the bullying backstory; a collapsing marriage; menopausal madness; the psychology of jealousy.

And every morning on my drive to work, I listened to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, hoping for an interesting piece to provided inspiration for the email exchanges that must be anything but mundane.

Five years later I had a novel of over 110,000 words; three years after that, I had drafted a more commercial sequel. But the day job still had cards to play. In 2009, I smashed my wrist tripping over a classroom chair and as I lay in hospital, I mused. I was in my fifties, time was running out and I decided to go the self-publishing route.

Sadly, perhaps ironically, the job that was to fuel my writing career was also partly responsible for my having a stress-related breakdown in 2011. ‘Adrenal fatigue’ is a label I found best summed up my condition and my day job became impossible.  I took early retirement. I didn’t have a choice. Yet looking back, without the breakdown, I would have carried on teaching for another few years and I wouldn’t now have four published novels.

Life is unpredictable and I still don’t have a rabbit.

Linda’s latest novel ‘The Man in the Needlecord Jacket‘ is available now. 

Don’t Quit the Day Job: David Videcette

Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we’re talking to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.

As a former Scotland Yard detective, David Videcette has worked on a wealth of infamous cases, including the 7/7 London bombings. He is the author of bestselling crime thrillers The Theseus Paradox and The Detriment – based on real events. His motto is: ‘I can’t tell you the truth, but I can tell you a story…’™

When David isn’t writing, he’s commentating for the news media on policing, crime and terrorism. You can find out more about him via his website  or chat to him on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.  For the chance to win signed copies of David’s books, pop in your email address here.

Thanks to David for taking the time to explain how fiction compares to life at the coal face.

Vic x

Timing is everything
Having spent a career as a Met detective, I know that the most complex investigations take years to solve. Real life cases involve dead ends, false leads and red herrings along the way, which drain resources and often our will to live. In crime fiction, these real-life tales would never fit into 350 pages, and readers would tire of them. With experts saying crime novels should be tied up in around 90,000 words, this is totally at odds with reality, and my policing brain. But that’s my burden as an author – to make these stories work.

Tempo
Real detective work is 90% boredom and 10% sheer terror. That 90% is slowly and methodically piecing evidence together – painstakingly linking phone number to phone number, or trawling through witness statement after witness statement for that golden nugget that solves the case. The boredom is not what people want. They want that moment you find the golden nugget and the 10% of sheer terror when someone shoves a gun in your face. And who wants the reality of police officers constantly rowing about childcare with their spouses in their nail-biting thriller? Finding that balance in a novel is important. 

All the loose ends
Then there are the nice tie ups that readers expect at the end of a book.  That bit where the crime gets solved; the relationship puzzle and sub plots tie up; the sun sets over a glass of wine; and everyone lives happily ever after.

In real life, sometimes we don’t solve the case, sometimes innocent people die, and sometimes we never get the girl…or we work in windowless offices where we don’t see the sun for days on end.

The troubled detective is inescapable
Many people expect police officers to be some sort of cross between Superman and Batman in our day job, then go home and have dinner with our partner and forget all about our investigation till the next shift. Yet there is always a build-up of trauma which will eventually impinge upon your mental health. We teach ourselves to put protective barriers around our emotions, but there are often chinks in our armour.

For example, a lot of police officers find that dealing with adult deaths can become just about bearable, but when suddenly faced with the death, rape or torture of a child, their defences aren’t able to cope and they unravel. If you’re used to dealing with stabbings, but then come across scores of people blown up by a bomb, this can completely wreck the impenetrable armour you thought you had in place.

The troubled detective who drinks too much is no cliche. He or she is very real, made of flesh and blood, and often wishes that he were just a fantasy trope invented solely for the purposes of making crime fiction books more interesting.

Getting to Know You: Lilja Sigurðardóttir

I’m delighted to welcome Lilja Sigurðardóttir. I first met Lilja at Newcastle Noir 2016. Having heard her talk about her books, I – like many others – were desperate to read them and I’m thrilled that Orenda Books have published Lilja’s novel ‘Snare‘ in English. Yet another novel on my ever-expanding TBR pile! 

Thanks to Lilja for taking the time to talk to us today.

Vic x

Tell us about your books.
I am the author of five novels that have been published in my home country of Iceland. The latest are the Reykjavík Noir Trilogy that is enjoying international success and being translated into many languages. The first in the series, Snare, is just out in English, translated by Quentin Bates. 

What inspired them?
It is hard to tell what inspires a book, as there are so many things that influence a story. I would say that I have a passion for writing, for telling stories and entertaining people with them. That passion is the driving force behind what I do.

How do you feel about your novel being translated into English?
It is an absolute dream come true! Both because I have many English-speaking friends and they have been waiting impatiently to get to read my books, but also because the English language is such a gateway to the world. I have been a bit stressed about how the stories would be received in English as the English-speaking world has such a rich and strong tradition of crime fiction, but the reception so far has been very positive. But the best part of the whole process was working with Quentin Bates, whom I now consider a close friend.

Where do you get your ideas from?
From all over, I have to say. I dream a lot and some of the ideas come from my dreams as strangely as that sounds. It usually starts with a character that begins to grow in my mind and then I try to find a place and time for them, a purpose and a drive and from there on dreams and research come in handy. Dreams for mad ideas and research for deciding the limits of the possibilities.

Do you have a favourite story / character / scene you’ve written?
Oh, so many! I do love my characters like family. Even the nasty ones. Usually my last book is the favourite one, as it is fresh in my mind and I still feel like I´m in love with the story but now with the publication of Snare in English I have been reading it again and talking about it and promoting it, so now I’m totally in love with it again! I will have to say that the complete Reykjavík Noir Trilogy is my favourite work.

What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever been given and who it was from?
The best advice I have been given was from a wonderful friend and renowned Icelandic poet and writer Þorsteinn frá Hamri. He told me that since I had a compulsion to write I would just have to make a go of it and give it my best, otherwise I wouldn’t be happy. He was right. I have never been happier than when I made writing my main job.

What can readers expect from your books?
Entertainment! I hope. My main goal with writing is to make people happy. Everyone likes a story and in order to make people happy, the story has to be good and fun to read. ‘Snare‘ is fast-paced and the point of view changes between four very different characters that then connect to each other. Everyone seems to have a favourite character in that group and I love asking people who their favourite character is.

Have you got any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes. Only one. Write a story that you love. Never mind trying to be clever or funny, just write a story you fall in love with. Then it has the best chance of being a good story.

What do you like and dislike about writing?
I love, love, love writing! I love creating the story, connecting to the characters, finding the pace, pumping up the action. Editing is another thing altogether. Rewriting and fixing sentences and proofreading are things I wish I could get out of. It takes way too much time and bores me. I would rather write a whole other book than edit one I’ve finished.

Are you writing anything at the moment?
Yes. I am starting a new series. It is very exciting although I miss my old characters from the Reykjavík Noir Trilogy and am very tempted to make some of them appear in the new story, just so that the readers and I can see where they are now. But we’ll see.

What’s your favourite writing-related moment?
Every morning that I have time to write and sit down at the computer with coffee in the mug that Quentin gave me and Malinche, the 16th century Mexican skull my dad gave me, by my side. I enjoy living in my head and portraying that inner life to a page. Of course, like all writers I love the moment when I write: “Endir” at the bottom of the last page. That’s Icelandic for: The End.