Tag Archives: inspiration

I am a Sick Bunny

CrimeFest

Yes – it’s official I am a “Sick Bunny”, will explain later.

I spent last weekend (17 – 20 May 2018) at Crimefest, had a great time, as ever. Caught up with lots of old friends, made some new ones.  Listening to the panels, I’ve picked up some great tips for future novels – and the current work in progress.

I’ve attended a few Crimefests now and never managed to get on the Forensics Excursion, but this year a note went out last minute to say that two tickets had come available, and I was lucky enough to be one of those that snagged one.  It was brilliant.  A great way to look at ‘crime scenes’ and see how they worked. At last now, I understand the priority order how things are numbered for photographs etc. at crime scenes.  Makes so much sense now (the lower the number the more vulnerable the evidence). Will definitely be using what I learned, and it was well worth giving up a lie in to leave the house at 0630 in order to be sure to be there.

Thoroughly enjoyed loads of panels. Would pick out a couple, The “Debut Authors” on Friday with Emily Elgar, Caroline England, Chris McGeorge, Elizabeth Mundy, Robert Scragg.  Meet Robert at Newcastle Noir and he’s one to watch.  Another highlight was the “Bloody Scotland” panel; Lesley Kelly, Douglas Lindsay, Caro Ramsey and Tana Collins, who I’ve blogged about before. My last of the weekend sent me out on a high, that was the “Give Me A Break” panel on Sunday – will be reading books from Oliver Bottini and Alis Hawkins.

It was also lovely to see so many members of Crime Cymru, at the event, and many of them on panels (including Cathy Ace, Rosie Claverton, Alis Hawkins)

Well as you may well know, there’s always Gala Dinner at Crimefest, and I attended this year. The organisers do give delegates the chance to say who they would like to sit with, but this year I decided to take the role of the dice and ask nothing, just see where I got placed.  I was fortunate because I ended up on a table with Kat Hall, Sarah Ward, Oliver Bottini (German Author recently translated into English), Katharina Bielenberg of Maclehose Press.  Even though there was a lot of German spoken (of which my limit is about sprichst du Englisch?), but these were lovely, interesting and inclusive people, I had a great evening.

So why am I a sick bunny?

One of the other people at the table was David Hicks, of The Book Trade Charity.  I’d met David in London in March and we’d spoken, and I’ve given him a copy of my short story collection Last Cast Casebook. I never really expected to hear from his again, let alone bump into him, but I did and he told me that he’d read the collection, and I am a sick bunny. I think that means he enjoyed it, even if some of the stories made for uncomfortable reading – and that means I did my job right.  Woohoo!

So, there you go.  Crimefest was fantastic and I am confirmed a sick bunny.

 

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Minor Character Shift

When writing Locked Up, Charlie developed pretty quickly, and soon after I had Teddington too.  But it’s a rare book indeed that survives on just two characters.  Even when you only actually see two, others tend to get referenced.

And since my book is set in an overcrowded prison, I needed lots of characters and I had to know who each of them were.  Some I knew better than others, and some became friends faster than I was expecting.

When I started writing the whole book was to be carried by Charlie; that he would do all the leg work, find out everything.  But the reality of any real investigation is that it is a team effort and Charlie really wasn’t at liberty to go far.

Of course, Teddington was the obvious choice to assist, but even she was limited by her knowledge  (or rather lack of) investigative practices.

Besides, there was Piper.  DCI Piper was always going to be in the book, because procedural checks told me that the police would look into a murder inside a prison.  Originally that was all he was going to do.  Turn up and allow a whitewash.

Then I wrote his opening scene.

Without me really thinking about it, Charlie knew Piper, knew him well. Worked with him.  Admired him. And I knew Charlie.  Charlie wouldn’t admire a bent or even a lazy cop.  He just wouldn’t.  His instincts are good enough he wouldn’t be easily fooled either.

That changed who Piper had to be.  Then I started really thinking about who he was, what he would be like, how he could help.

Suddenly Piper stepped out of the shadows.

And when Piper stepped out, Carlisle stepped out too.  DS Carlisle was a bit of a surprise to me.   Hadn’t expected him to be much more than a couple of “Yes, Sir”s,  but he turned into way, way more.  In fact, it’s Carlisle that keeps surprising me.  I am currently writing book three and Carlisle has taken a path I never expected from a character originally intended to be a nothing more than a procedural prop.

Then there were the other characters; the prisoners and the prison officers.  There had to be enough of them for the population to be realistic, but not so many it confused the reader.   Have to admit I kind of misjudged this one and in the final edit I slashed ten characters out of existence.

Have to also say that there is one minor character in “Locked Up” that I have known for a very long time.  Jack Perkins.  Perkins is a grade A (insert insult of choice – they all work).  He’s  a misogynistic wife beater, a bully of the worse kind.  I know Jack because I know his wife. I wrote two and a half books about her.  They didn’t stand up to scrutiny so you’ll never meet his wife but I’ll always know her and Jack, being the “man” he is, with a back story of jail time, fit perfectly into “Locked Up”, so I used him, it’s what he’d do to any woman he had under his control.  He’s still a minor character, and that is all he’s worth, but I know him very well.

I know many of the other inmates, may be not quite so well, but better than the readers will ever know them. I know what they are in for, their crime, and I know what they are in for, their fate.  The readers won’t necessarily see all that because there are a lot of things that I didn’t put on the page – there is nothing worse than trawling through superfluous information that doesn’t matter.  I also know that I can afford to forget these people now because they aren’t likely to crop up again; unless like Jack they are the piece that fits the puzzle, in which case, knowing the weird way my memory works, I’ll remember them, and if I don’t, they’ll knock on my skull and make me remember them.

Characters really are people, the good ones are real people, and like people, characters can surprise you.  As a writer, I think that makes for better, more interesting characters, which makes for more interesting books, but you, the reader, will be the true judge of that.

While most of the intended to be minor characters stayed that way, Piper and Carlisle did not. That pair have more surprises in store and if you read the Locked series, they may surprise you too.

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Highs and Lows

Sat here wondering what to write for a blog, and as usual I did a bit of a look back over the last month.  August has been an odd month of highs and lows, and some really low lows at that.

 

I’ve had a lot of negative feedback through August, which is always a difficult thing to deal with, but I got so much from so many different angles, that I got to the point that I actually wondered is it worth carrying on.  The sad thing is that when my thoughts went in that direction, it went further than just the writing. 

 

I’ve suffered from depression for a long time and what happened in the middle of the month took me lower than I’ve been in years.  So I have to admit that thoughts of suicide did start to dominate.  Luckily I have had a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, so I did have to turn to those techniques.  The thing is that writing has always been the technique I’ve relied on.  I used writing as a coping strategy even before I had any idea that it was a coping strategy.  So in my darkest hour, I sat at a laptop, tears streaming down my face and wrote a story of depression and suicide.

 

Then I sent it off to my editor, he said it contained an “exhausted, fatalistic tone of utter emptiness”, which is pretty much what I was feeling when I wrote it.

 

That was surprisingly cathartic.

 

It was also a Eureka moment.

 

I’ve always written and I can’t stop, take writing away and I can’t survive long – about a week without doing some kind of writing.  I know this because I’ve had times when I deliberately haven’t written and that’s about as long as I can last.  Usually 24 hours is enough to start my brain itching.

 

There was a high with seeing the Doctor Who world premiere, of course, but what really helped, but what helped most, was a holiday, the last week of August we went away for the bank holiday week.  We went up to Matlock and stayed at this beautiful place called Cambridge Lodge, which is actually a converted Service Reservoir, something that instantly appealed to both my husband and I as we both work in the Water Industry. 

 

The place was absolutely fabulous, and the welcome was incredible, unexpected and overly generous.  Never mind the weather (which wasn’t good), we had a great chill out week.  I made a conscious decision not to use my laptop much. 

 

So I went back to my old habit of long hand writing in a note book.  On the Thursday before we left, the 21st, I started a new notebook on a new book, wrote about 1,500 words.  On Saturday the 23th, I splurged on a new pen, purple ink of course.  By the time we got home on Saturday 30th, the pen was half empty and the notebook about 80% filled, roughly 22,000 done while on holiday.  Have managed another 3,000 since.

 

There’s something I should also mention, it’s one of those reasons to be cheerful that I try to remember.  The book I wrote was largely based on a plot I’ve been working on for a while and one I had a lot of help from RR Haywood (https://www.facebook.com/ivan.haywood.5?fref=nf_fr).  He helped me to figure out the timeline and made this one of the easiest books to write that I’ve ever committed to paper.  So thanks Rich.  (And by the way – he writes some stonking zombie fiction)

 

To round this off, I have had a crappy month, and I have seriously considered giving up writing, but apparently in my brain makes not writing equal not breathing, so I am not going to be giving up writing any time soon.

 

 

Just to add the upside, I sent the depression story off and it’s now being considered for an anthology.

 

 

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Take Inspiration Where You Find It

Well May went past a bit quick, but it was inspiring.

Okay, so I didn’t win the CWA competition, well done to the winner, yes I am envious, but I’ll survive.

Anyway what I learned in May is that inspiration can come in the most unlikely places.  Newspaper, lessons, business trips, unexpected conversations and competitions I can’t enter.  So here’s where I found my inspiration this May, though in no particular order.

On May 7th, I attended the Swansea and District Writers’ Circle (SDWC) where we had Tom Anderson speaking about travel writing.  Now I have to admit, I wasn’t over inspired by this prospect, my husband may read Bill Bryson and others a lot, but travel writing’s never been a thing I’ve been much interested in.  But Tom was a really interesting speaker, made it sound great, with tales of his surfing and writing, time as an investigator, thoroughly engaging and worth listening to.  He also set an interesting competition, having told of a time when he saw a Living Statue with a sign beneath it and he always wanted to ask what he was doing but when Tom returned, the statue was gone so he couldn’t ask, he set up to answering the question.  We have to pick a place and write the conversation with the statue.  Can’t tell you what I wrote because the closing date for the competition hasn’t come by yet, however I can tell you that it took me to a moment when I was overseas for a previous job, and I’ve based my story on the things I saw there.  Really looking forward to getting some feedback on that one.

I’ve also been taking another MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), this one from the OU and entitled “Start Writing Fiction”.  I wasn’t at all sure what this course would be like, but it’s been okay.  What surprised me about it was that one exercise we were given was a simple two sentences about a woman getting on a bus and asked to sketch her character.  Sounded like a naff exercise on first reading it, but after a few minutes of thinking about it, I came up with an idea and that’s inspired a new short for a series of shorts that I have started, though in truth, the shorts are turning out to be more like chapters in a book.

 The SDWC is also running a competition for non-members all about World War One, but members have been asked to submit stories so that we have enough to make up an anthology.  I have to admit WWI isn’t something I know a lot about, having studied WW2 for my A levels.  So I really didn’t know what to do for this one.  However, there’s a certain newspaper which has been running a number of WWI storied and reading one of those has given me the outline of a story.  All I have to do now is finish it.  I’ve written on bit, which has been seen in the MOOC and I’ve written another which is in long hand only, but there’s still some to go. 

Finally, I’ve been away again on business and this time I was staying in Ruthin Castle, a place I would highly recommend to anyone, great accommodation, fantastic food and really interesting history.  They also have really friendly staff, and it was while talking to one of the staff that I get some great details on the place.  From talking to him, I also got the idea for another murder mystery, a book in my Autumn Raine series, a whole plot came in one go, that’s never happened before.  And all in five minutes from a single conversation.  All I have to do now is write the thing.

Well plenty to get on with, so best be off.  Bye.

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