Tag Archives: book

Guest Post: James Henry on Writing a Crime Series

Today on the blog, I have James Henry, author of the DI Nicholas Lowry series. James’s books are popular among readers and writers of crime fiction alike.

Whitethroat‘, the third in the series is due out in July and James is here today to give his thoughts on writing a crime series.

My thanks to James for taking the time to share his experience with us.

Vic x

James Henry

Tips on writing a Crime Series

When I start thinking about writing a new crime series, my first rule is to try and write each book in such a way that it works, as far as is possible, as a standalone novel. That is to say, a reader should not have to have read book one in order to understand and enjoy books two, three or four – each should be satisfying in its own right. The point of this, of course, is that you can still pick up new readers with each new book as your series develops – readers who may then dip back to earlier books. If you achieve that, you continue to build your audience.

To do this successfully, remember a few key points when starting out:

Keep a notebook detailing simple things – like description of characters physical traits, their age, their habits and peccadilloes. You think you will remember the simple things; you think you will remember your character prefers white bread to wholemeal; you won’t – but your reader most certainly will… You will thank yourself for having something to refer back to. 

However, I would caution against going overboard on detail too soon: you have a long road to travel, so be wary of packing too much baggage in the early days. You have to carry it all with you. Allow characters to develop gently. The first book in the series should focus on the story, making the plot as tight, engaging and pacy as possible.  

As your series progresses you can allow your characters to develop. The more books you write the more backstory you will accumulate – a sense of shared history involving character relationships, tragic events, celebrations, any number of things. You will draw on this history in your writing, but do so judiciously – too much repetition risks slowly the pace of the story as a whole. Say that book one sees your detective break up from a long relationship, as well as receive a great promotion at work. A long explanation of the reason for their new job in book two may not warrant the page space it takes to tell; but exploring the reasons why they are miserable and drinking more than usual in spite of having an important new job, very well may. 

Remember that as your series develops you have to write with two readers in mind: your new reader, the one who may be discovering this series for the first time; and the readers who have been with you from the start. From now on, think about how you orientate new readers in the world you have created as well as keep things fresh for those who are familiar with it. For instance, you can re-introduce the setting, the landscape – but perhaps you can add some new detail on the geography or history of the area. There is always a way to make the familiar newly interesting.

With all this to bear in mind, the writing may seem hard work, much beyond a one off novel say, but there is a sense of satisfaction in an adding another layer to the world you have created that can only be had by series fiction.

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Neil Broadfoot

It’s my pleasure to host my very good friend Neil Broadfoot on the blog today.

Neil’s latest book, ‘No Place to Die‘ is available now. ‘No Place to Die‘ is the sequel to ‘No Man’s Land‘ (you can read my review of the first book in the Connor Fraser series here).

Once a controversial venture capitalist, Blair Charlston reinvented himself as a development guru after a failed suicide attempt when a business deal went disastrously wrong. So when he decides to host a weekend retreat on the outskirts of Stirling for more than 300 people, Connor Fraser is drafted in to cover the security for a man who is both idolised as a saviour and hated as a ruthless asset stripper.

For Connor, it’s an unwelcome assignment. He’s never had much time for salvation by soundbite, and Charlston’s notoriety is attracting the attention of reporter Donna Blake, who’s asking more questions than Connor has answers for.

But when an old colleague of Donna’s is found brutally bludgeoned to death, and the start of Charleston’s weekend of salvation becomes a literal trial by fire, Connor must race to unmask a killer whose savagery is only matched by their cunning.

No Place to Die‘ is available now and Neil is here to take part in our ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’ series.

Vic x

Don’t quit the day job?

Nice thought. But thanks to this virus, that’s what we’ve all been forced to do. The old ways of working are gone, society reshaping itself to this new bizarre reality we find ourselves faced with. A reality where book festivals and mass gatherings are fondly remembered dreams, and meeting your pal for a pint seems like a life goal rather than a normal occurrence. 

And yet, the crime writing community has risen to the challenge. With bookshops closed, festivals axed and book launches scrapped (I was meant to be doing events in St Andrews, Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Stirling, Newcastle and Durham to launch No Place To Die), writers, bloggers and event organisers are getting creative. Virtual Noir at the Bars are being held, authors are holding online launches, bloggers are flying the flag for books more enthusiastically than ever. And while we may all be in social isolation, social media has never been more robust in getting the message out about books and new works.

Case in point. Thanks to Vic and this blog, you’re hearing about No Place To Die. The second Connor Fraser thriller, this time it’s set in a hotel just outside Stirling, where a self-help weekend for a couple of hundred people is being held (without a face mask or a mandatory 2-metre gap in sight). As ever, things go south and, as the bodies, pile up Connor is hot on the heels of a killer who will go to any ends to fulfil his plan. 

It’s a book that reflects the time it was written but, as the old lyric goes, the times they are a changin’. I’m due to start my next Connor book, out next year,  later this week, but every time I go near the keyboard I’m haunted by a thought – how do I reflect what’s going on right now? What will the world look like when Connor returns? Will he still be providing close security for clients, or will that business have gone belly up, driven into extinction by social distancing and the fact that no-one leaves their house any more? Which then raises a question – what would tempt someone to break the lockdown, to venture out? And what happens if that person is then found dead? 

(Sorry, sorry. I’m a writer. I’m always thinking stuff like that up. Especially now, when I’ve a lot more time to think than normal. Whether that’s for good or ill, I’ll leave you to decide.) 

But despite all this uncertainty, there’s certainty too. Connor will still be Connor. He will not stop until he solves the mystery. Along the way he’ll get into fights, do a bit of cooking, hit the gym and continue his will-they-won’t-they dance with Jen. Donna will be her ruthless self while Paulie will lurk in the shadows, a friendly psychopath just waiting for his moment to strike. I hope you enjoy No Place To Die, I had a blast writing it, and, in these uncertain times, that’s about as much as we can hope for, isn’t it?  

Don’t Quit the Day Job: Philippa East

OK, so COVID-19 is a thing and the UK is enforcing social distancing – thank goodness. With that in mind, lots of bloggers are trying to help people get through the partial ‘lockdown’ with book recommendations as well as introducing you to some new authors.

As part of that, I’ve decided to resurrect my ‘Don’t Quit the Day Job’ series.

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 it’s the turn of Philippa East to tell us about how her work as a clinical psychologist helped her writer ‘Little White Lies‘. My thanks to Philippa for sharing her experience with us.

Stay safe, everyone.

Vic x

Philippa East headshot

I first got the idea for Little White Lies when I caught a snippet of a news story on TV – a teenage girl in Spain had disappeared then re-appeared a few weeks later, all under mysterious circumstances. There were many question marks over the case: had she been abducted, or was something else going on? The TV showed the family in a courtroom and I found myself thinking – what on earth are these people feeling now? Do they trust each other at all?

I knew I wanted to write a book about a missing child, I also knew there was a solid precedent of popular books on the shelves exploring this topic. But as a psychologist and therapist, I have always cared most about the pieces of the story that never usually get told. Tragically, children go missing all the time; I was fascinated by what might happen once a missing child came home. 

But what did I really know about this topic? Heartbreakingly, cases of children being found alive months or years after their disappearance are incredibly rare. My story started where most other ‘missing person’ books ended. So how on earth was I going to write about that?

The question really quite stumped me until I realised that, while I had never been involved in a real-life case like Abigail’s in Little White Lies, maybe I did have expertise that could help me, via my work with adult survivors of childhood trauma. In Little White Lies, against all odds, Abigail has escaped and survived her abduction. In the same way, the clients who I was seeing in my work had (physically) survived their childhood experiences. For both Abigail and my clients, a whole new journey would now begin. 

Little White Lies is about a family trying to heal after the very worst of traumas. The book focuses on the relationship between Abigail and her family – her mother Anne especially – both before and after her abduction. The more I wrote, the more I found myself delving into issues of responsibility and guilt, the instinctive desire to avoid what is most painful, and the healing power of acknowledging what went wrong – all themes I had encountered many times in my therapy work. Little White Lies went through many, many drafts as I wrote it, but it was when these themes came together as the heart of the novel that I was able to shape the story into the book you’ll read today.

These days, I am struck time and again by how much being a writer and being a psychologist have in common. Both therapy and writing are all about words and narratives; these truly are the “tools of our trade”. In both fiction writing and in the process of therapy, we share and absorb stories in order to make sense of the world, and try to understand our own complicated human natures. And both characters in stories and the clients in my practice go on profound journeys of change. 

Looking back now, I wonder whether I would ever have had the confidence to write Little White Lies without my background in psychology. To be honest, I am not sure that I would! 

LITTLE WHITE LIES JPEG copy

Review: ‘Who Killed Ruby’ by Camilla Way

Over thirty years ago, Vivienne was in the house when her older sister Ruby was murdered. 

Jack Delaney – Ruby’s boyfriend – served thirty years in prison for Ruby’s murder following Vivienne’s evidence but on the anniversary of Ruby’s death, Vivienne receives a delivery of irises – her sister’s favourite flowers. Sinister messages continue and end up pushing Vivienne into trying to discover if she was wrong. 

Who Killed Ruby?‘ is a slow burn psychological thriller with plenty of twists and turns. Way peppers the narrative with clues and although I worked a few little things out, I certainly didn’t see the reveal coming!

Who Killed Ruby?‘ has a steady pace but the tension – and the pace – ratchets up in the final third of the book.

With an interesting cast of characters and plenty of red herrings, ‘Who Killed Ruby?‘ is a compelling read. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Murder of Harriet Monckton’ by Elizabeth Haynes

On 7th November 1843, 23 year old Harriet Monckton, a woman of respectable parentage and religious habits, was found murdered in the privy behind the chapel she regularly attended in Bromley, Kent.

Harriet’s death – as a result of swallowing prussic acid – disgusts the community. They are further shocked when they discover that Harriet was pregnant. 

Using witness testimonies and reports from the coroner, Elizabeth Haynes creates an interesting story through the eyes of the last people to see her alive and those closest to her.  Whether her companion, her would-be fiancé, her former lover or her seducer – they all have a reason to want Harriet dead. 

After stumbling upon records of Harriet’s untimely demise while researching another book, Elizabeth Haynes has melded fact and fiction beautifully to create an intriguing account of a young woman’s final days. The characters are perfectly embodied and Haynes gives enough information to encourage the reader to empathise with some more than others. 

With consistent language and distinctive voices, Haynes conveys society and the time well as well as how families functioned in the 1800s. The complex investigation is used to create tension and pull the reader into this ultimately sad story. 

Poignant and thought-provoking, ‘The Murder of Harriet Monckton‘ will stay with readers long after the final page is turned. 

Vic x

Review: ‘Hysteria’ by L.J. Ross

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Following his last case in Ireland, criminal profiler Alexander Gregory is called upon by the French police to investigate a spate of murders during Paris Fashion Week. One victim has survived but she’s too traumatised to talk. Without her help, the police are powerless to stop the killer before he strikes again – can Gregory unlock the secrets of her mind, before it’s too late?

L.J. Ross takes readers to Paris in this, the second in the Dr Alexander Gregory series. The descriptions of The City of Light reflect the storyline where the world’s most beautiful people have gathered for fashion week but juxtaposes the brutality of the murders Gregory is investigating. Ross’s descriptions evoked such strong imagery that I could see the action unfolding in my mind’s eye. 

It’s difficult not to draw parallels with this novel and what’s going on in the entertainment industry at the moment regarding abuses of power and the #metoo movement. Featuring illegal dealings and murky underworlds, ‘Hysteria‘ pulls the reader in and uncovers the horror that lurks behind the glamour. 

The characterisation of Gregory is further explored through his relationship with a mystery woman. He’s a complex character and I’m really looking forward to seeing how he develops as the series continues. The way in which Ross uses Gregory to explain psychological conditions and theories is really well done. 

As always, Ross weaves a compelling narrative full of characters with substance. I particularly enjoyed that Ross uses a smattering of French in the book and doesn’t underestimate her readers by then providing translations.

Hysteria‘ is a well-written novel with a surprising conclusion. Whether or not you’ve read novels by L.J. Ross before, you won’t want to miss ‘Hysteria‘. 

Vic x

Review: ‘One Christmas Night’ by Hayley Webster

Christmas is ruined on Newbury Street, Norwich, following a spate of burglaries. Rumours are swirling that the thief may even live on the street. Instead of festive cheer, the residents are filled with suspicion and dread. 

The police have increased their presence on Newbury Street and as Christmas creeps closer, their investigations reveal that everyone has something to hide. 

But Christmas is a time for miracles… and if they open up their hearts and look out for each other, they might discover the biggest miracle of all.

Hayley Webster has written a lovely book with believable characters that the reader roots for. I really enjoyed the fact that ‘One Christmas Night‘ combines a mystery with heartwarming subplots.

As the story went on, I got more and more involved in the lives of these characters. I really admire that Webster manages to move the reader without being overly-sentimental. 

Although it’s an easy read, ‘One Christmas Night‘ tackles serious subjects like racism, fraud and coercive control. I haven’t read a book with such a compelling cast of characters since ‘The Casual Vacancy‘.

I couldn’t put ‘One Christmas Night‘ down – it is the perfect festive read. 

Vic x