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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, the woman whose post gave me the idea for my Don’t Quit the Day Job series – K.A. Richardson – is back again to talk about her career and how it inspired her ‘Forensic Files‘ series. Check out Kerry’s original post from March 2016 about ‘The Real CSI‘.
I had always wanted to be a police officer, however after numerous patella dislocations whilst trying to get fit for the physical entrance test, I eventually realised that being a cop wasn’t on the cards.
This led to me thinking seriously about what I wanted to do – I still wanted to work for the police. I remember seeing a crime scene investigator van outside a house in the town around this time, and also CSI was all over the TV screens in the various shows. I wondered exactly was entailed. Once I’d gathered an overview, I enrolled at Teesside Uni. The next four years of my life consisted of lectures, working on an evening to pay the bills, and doing project work but I eventually passed my degree – 1% off a distinction with a high 2:1. On obtaining the degree in 2008, I quickly acquired my first CSI job working for Durham Police.
Even uni didn’t prepare me fully for the reality of it all. Standing for hours in the snow whilst snow wax, the very thing designed to enhance footwear marks in snow, froze before I could use it. Losing my footing on loose floors where the boards had been taken up to steal copper piping, handing tissues to old men who cried because their pigeons had been killed, being threatened by a young boy with a knife on one occasion, and so much more. The contract there was temporary and when it finished after almost a year, I started at Northumbria Police as a volume crime scene investigator.
I’d been a CSI for about 2 years when I went to see a psychic, Anthony, and after reading for a while and looking very confused, he asked me why I wasn’t writing. He reminded me that writing was my passion – I’d done it since being a kid but never believed for a moment that I could actually be a writer. I went home after that reading and immediately enrolled on my MA Creative Writing.
I loved doing my MA – I loved the modules, and the creative people I was on the course with. The one blip was a lecturer who I won’t name, telling me that I wouldn’t amount to anything and not to give up the day job. This lecturer even said I’d fail the module before I’d submitted my work. It was a definite confidence knock. For days, I worried that I was wasting my time, that maybe the psychic and I were wrong, that writing wasn’t really my passion or talent. Slowly, though, my determination shone through. I passed that lecturer’s module despite his warning, and passed my MA, using the first 15,000 words of what became my first novel, as my dissertation.
As I got further into writing With Deadly Intent, government cuts meant that my job was eradicated – the VCSI role no longer would exist at Northumbria Police. Anyone in the field will tell you how hard it is to get a job in CSI – and I knew I’d find it hard getting back in. My options were leave the police force, or move to the communications department and take 999 calls. I chose that one, and in 2011 I started the role. Two years later, I moved back to Durham Police to take calls closer to home.
I’ll be eternally grateful for working as a CSI and the opportunities that presented themselves after finishing – having that base knowledge and passion for forensics has enabled With Deadly Intent to be the first stand-alone novel (published by Caffeine Nights), which was then followed by a series with Bloodhound Books, now being rebranded as The Forensic Files. Forensics is something that fascinates people – whether they work in the field or have seen it on the telly, people love that science can catch criminals. And I love that I have the knowledge to bring this into my books.
Naturally, my CSI background impacted on my writing and, in fact, has become a massive part of my crime novels. I love exploring the different aspects of CSI work, the methodology and how that can assist in finding killers. Still working for the police has allowed me to make contacts in other departments too, which is a fab asset in writing. I loved heading to South Shields and speaking with the head of the dive team at Northumbria Police and obtaining facts which I then used in Time to Play. And I equally loved dealing with the fire investigator who helped inspire Watch You Burn.
I keep my CSI knowledge up to date, and will hopefully enjoy using it as a feature in my novels for years to come.
The turn of the year comes around quick, doesn’t it? It seems like only yesterday I was telling you all how great 2016 had been! But, here we are, another year older with more experiences under our belts. I must thank everyone who has taken the time to review their year on the blog and to everyone who’s read, shared and commented posts from this blog throughout the last year. Here’s to a happy, healthy 2018!
Professionally speaking, this year has been another cracker. Noir at the Bar has continued to grow, with factions popping up all over the UK. I’m delighted that the one in Newcastle continues to be popular and I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to be in the Blues Bar in Harrogate on Thursday, 20th July. Presenting Noir at the Bar Harrogate to a packed audience was just incredible. Possibly one of the highlights of that day was a gentleman who asked me at the end of the event how often we ran it as he hadn’t known it was going to be on. I said “Sorry, have we hijacked your quiet afternoon pint?” He laughed and said he was thrilled to have stumbled upon the event and would definitely come to them on purpose in future!
This year’s Newcastle Noir saw me do my first ever panel. I was on a panel with Susan Heads of the Book Trail, Quentin Bates, Sarah Wood and the powerhouse behind Orenda Books – Karen Sullivan. Our panel was moderated by the wonderful Miriam Owen and I enjoyed that hour immensely.
Another hour that was fun was appearing on the award-winning ArtyParti at Spark FM with Mandy Maxwell, Iain Rowan, Kirsten Luckins and Tony Gadd. We talked to Jay Sykes about writing and events, it was a lovely atmosphere and I felt completely relaxed thanks to the excellent host.
My writing groups are still going strong and I arranged a stranding retreat on St Mary’s Island in August and the participants gave very positive feedback. I hope to run more retreats next year.
I’ve had a lot of people asking if I’ve finished my novel yet and when they’ll be able to buy it so that’s very encouraging. I’ve also had a few people tell me they’d like to hear it on Audible which is a real compliment. Thanks to my friend Kay setting me an achievable weekly word target, I’ve almost completed my first draft.
Hmm, favourite personal memory? Tough one, that. Well, I suppose I’d better say that getting married to the love of my life was the highlight of my year. Just kidding – of course it was!
Instead of going for sugar almonds as wedding favours, we gave everyone a book. The Boy Wonder and I are both bookworms and we therefore wanted to give our guests a personalised gift. We didn’t have a lot of guests and we enjoyed thinking which book to choose for each of the guests – we were like a real life algorithm!
The day we got married, I was emailed by the production team from ‘The Chase’ to say that my episode – recorded in July 2016 – would be aired on 30th March so watching that was a lot of fun too.
OK, I didn’t mention ‘The Chase’ in my 2016 Review but, contractually, I wasn’t allowed! Watching my episode, despite knowing the result, was nerve-wracking. I actually didn’t mind seeing myself on TV – I was nowhere near as critical of myself as I was expecting to be! I watched with my husband (I love saying that), my brother and three friends. I got lots of lovely messages from friends all over the country.
I’d also like to say what a special day my hen do was. I never wanted a fuss and opted to go for afternoon tea with my friends and my mum. I cannot explain what a lovely occasion that was. Those wonderful women made me feel like a million bucks.
I have enjoyed many books this year including ‘Darktown‘ by Thomas Mullen, ‘The Prime of Miss Dolly Greene‘ by E.V Harte, ‘Lost for Words‘ by Stephanie Butland and ‘Small, Great Things‘ by Jodi Picoult. I also loved ‘Everyone Brave is Forgiven‘ by Chris Cleave. And a late entry has to be ‘Good Me, Bad Me‘ by Ali Land. However, my top three – in no particular order – are ‘Six Stories‘ by Matt Wesolowski, ‘Yellow Room‘ by Shelan Rodger and ‘The Break‘ by Marian Keyes.
Song of the year? Hm. Anything that was on our wedding playlist – we chose all the songs ourselves. We tried to have at least one track for each of the wedding guests so either a track that reminded us of them or one we knew they liked.
Other music I’ve listened to this year includes a lot of music from the Nashville OSTs, ‘…Ready For It?‘ and ‘Look What You Made Me Do‘ by Taylor Swift.
There has been illness and sadness but most of us are still here – and that is wonderful.
However, the death of Helen Cadbury in June was a tremendous loss to many of us in the writing community – and beyond. Helen was a friend to me. She was always kind, supportive and quick with a joke. She pulled out of Noir at the Bar in February because she was poorly but I didn’t know the extent of her illness. In July, we raised our glasses to toast Helen at Noir at the Bar in Newcastle and Harrogate. Helen made such a positive impact on so many that it felt right to dedicate the events to her.
The last time I saw Helen was at Harrogate Festival in July 2016 although I had spoken to her since. She, Lucy Cameron and I joked about having similar hair colours and styles. Helen said we should call ourselves the three northern blondes and take a selfie. For some reason, that photo didn’t get taken and I regret that missed opportunity.
I have yet to read ‘Race to the Kill‘, the final novel in the Sean Denton trilogy, or her collection of poetry, ‘Forever Now‘, because I don’t want to come to the end of Helen’s work. Of course, I won’t put it off forever.
Resolutions? Just keep on keeping on, I think. I over commit and trying not to do that remains a work in progress.
I hope that this world will sort itself out. There are so many things going wrong and I hope that things will be put right but in order for that to happen, we all need to engage.
Gloria Grayson’s life is on the rocks – sacked from her starring role in a top soap, divorced from her bad boy husband and obese from eating her feelings, Gloria finds herself the subject of a cruel tabloid article accompanied by unflattering paparazzi snaps. All seems pretty bleak until Gloria’s agent steps in and encourages her – and her fat and feisty dog – to appear on TV show Reality Rehab.
Locked up with the usual shower of Z-list celebrities and an odd American psychotherapist, Gloria is put on a starvation diet while cameras track her every move. However, just when GG thinks it can’t get any worse, there’s a shock new arrival into the house: her alcoholic ex-husband ‘Mad Tommy Mack’.
‘Reality Rehab‘ features all the tropes of reality TV – ‘showmances’, back biting and drama. Written by former reality TV producer, Lisa Mary London, it’s clear to see London really has written what she knows! The story combines elements of lots of reality shows including ‘Big Brother’, ‘Most Haunted’ and ‘TOWIE’, as well as seeking inspiration from spin-off shows like ‘Katie & Peter: The Next Chapter’.
There are plenty of shocks and surprise twists in this story and the cliffhangers in the novel mirror the format of many reality shows.
The characters, although fictional, seem very familiar and that made ‘Reality Rehab‘ easy and enjoyable to read. I could easily picture the characters and, although I sometimes felt guilty for laughing at them, they were fun to spend time with. ‘Reality Rehab’ is a fun, frothy frolic that, much like Gloria’s diet, leaves you on a sugar high!
‘Game of Thrones’ returns to TV screens this week. Here is writer James A. Tucker to discuss the books, series and what should happen next.
Thanks for being involved, James!
James A. Tucker on ‘Game of Thrones’.
Observe your reaction when I say the following words:
Game of Thrones.
It probably runs through a spectrum. A person not unconnected with this blog suffers constant attempts by her boyfriend to make her read the book or watch the TV series, and hence associates it with annoyance. Some of my friends go into rapture; music starts playing in their heads and their eyes take on what Peter Dinklage, the biggest star of Thrones, calls the “Nerd Glaze”. Others feel deep disquiet and worry at the cruelty and sexism you will find therein. There are people like me who sometimes would rather the TV series had never happened. There are rabid fans who troll the author online for not writing fast enough.
All this rich pageant of humanity is worthy of notice, but for me, the most interesting ones are those who like it despite themselves. Grace Dent, The Independent critic, once wrote one of the most scathing (and funny) slaggings-off of fantasy fiction and fans that I have ever read. However, she likes Thrones. Other watchers you might not expect are Sue Perkins and Clive James, who broke his rule about never having anything to do with dragons.
Those beasts do not appear for a while; there are no elves, hobbits or orcs, little supernatural, and the only dwarf is the kind we know from real life. This is reassuring for those who have trouble with such things. Although being a scientist and a nitpicker, I still see plenty of magic around in things such as the hundred-metre high ice wall.
It takes more than an absence to make something popular; so instead of those fantastical elements, it draws upon real-world history. The various atrocities, treacheries, villainies and iniquities are strongly reminiscent of the Wars of the Roses, or ancient Rome. A certain notorious wedding was based upon real events from Scottish history (The Black Dinner/Glencoe Massacre).
There are some good characters, including superb love-to-hate villains, although very few are black and white; a man who threw a child off a tower in episode 1 is now commonly regarded as sympathetic. But for my money, George RR Martin’s achievement is to do danger superlatively well. No matter someone is in their character arc, no matter how popular or infamous, it seems that anyone can die at the drop of a hat—and they do. Instead of suspending disbelief about protagonists surviving, you feel genuine fear turning the page. I might even lay bets that the world does not get saved in the end.
If anyone is safe, it is the dwarf Tyrion Lannister. Peter Dinklage now receives top billing and probably has the best acting role for a dwarf in TV history. It tackles the way his character has been disadvantaged without being defined by it. He is flawed but admired; he drinks, he fights and schemes, loves or hates his relatives, whores but falls in love. Not to mention getting some of the funniest lines. But perhaps the best part is that it seems to have led on to genuinely height-blind casting with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Dinklage probably deserves some bigger height-blind awards than he already has.
But while we’re on the subject of PC… oh dear. Gratuitous titillation is a common affliction, but that doesn’t excuse it. There may be a fair amount of sex in the books, but the series has added to it and filmed it in HD with unrealistically beautiful and well-lit actresses. For extra sleaze they “method cast” porn stars as sex workers. No doubt the production company has made cynical calculations over how many viewers will be pulled in versus how many will be alienated.
More disturbingly, the TV added two rapes. Fantasy site “The Mary Sue” withdrew from Thrones; GRRM defended it, saying that to portray a medieval society or war without sexual violence used as a weapon would be dishonest. A Scissor Sister took the producers to task.
Why has this caused more disturbance than other horrible fates? While few liked the extended torture and castration of a male character, it did not lead to boycott calls. My best theory is that in real western-world life, misogyny and sexual abuse are far more common than being executed with molten gold, or having your skull crushed by an eight-foot knight. Yes, non-sexual violence is real and there are debates to be had about its depiction, but people are more worried that viewers might be influenced to sexually assault someone than to murder and torture.
Which is not to say that people do not leave the books and series because of its grimness; many have. However, I have quit other authors and series because I thought they were being dark for the sake of it, and I have not done so yet with Thrones; it seems in-keeping with the setting and does not break the story.
Should it simply have remained as books? The TV series has changed the public name (the books were “A Song of Ice and Fire”), altered characters and plots, and now it has overtaken the author. The smug sense I had of knowing roughly what was coming next, and the safety of being braced for the next horrible death, is now history.
By his own admission, GRRM is more of a “gardener” author, plotting as he goes along. However, he now has to plan to the end and tell the TV series what happens, and let them fill in the details. I can feel for his plight; I doubt he anticipated the TV rights being used before the series was complete, or ever imagined it would get this big.
Or he could let them finish it themselves, then write a completely different version. This has happened before with a Japanese manga called Full Metal Alchemist, where a second TV series was made with the book’s ending. But with a plot as vast and complicated as GoT, you might wind up needing two brains.
So… a well-regarded series amongst fantasy readers has now become a seemingly unstoppable juggernaut. In the process, it has opened minds, set records for internet piracy, been visited by the Queen and joked about by the US President, made stars, annoyed, shocked, courted controversy, and broken a few moulds. Love it or hate it, the Thrones explosion has changed things…
James A Tucker
Thanks to Martyn P Jackson for suggestions and comments