The perils of being a crime writer

“Oh, Philosophers may rhyme

Of the perils writing crime,

Yet the duties are delightful and the privileges great…”

(From “The Gondoliers.” My profound apologies to Messrs Gilbert and Sullivan)

So, the perils of being a crime writer? Well, I`d say the greatest peril is the risk that writing, crime or otherwise, takes over your life! As I dream up my plot-lines, I have frequently found myself unable to concentrate on reading other authors` works, I can easily tune out of a movie if it fails to captivate me and I will often miss the content of family conversations (mind you, with a wife and two teenage daughters, who can blame me?)

I even took my laptop on our three-week summer trip to Florida, for goodness sake! In my hand-luggage too, along with my trusty Nikon 35mm film camera. A glutton for punishment, me; it seems that I can`t live without my characters and their stories and therein lies another of the perils. They all seem very real to me but I suppose that they must, otherwise how would I be able to relate their feelings, how they react to different situations? But when I fell in love with my female lead? Hmm…

Of course, that didn`t happen by accident; I suspect I wrote her to be fallen in love with – just as I wrote my DCI to have pity felt for him, my criminals to be reviled. But the lines can become blurred sometimes. As my Detective Sergeant would say “don`t get involved…` but it`s impossible. They are part of me and there is a big part of me in them.

And, of course, when you read “any resemblance to characters, living or dead, is entirely co-incidental…”

Really? You think…?

Take the discovery of the body in the loch, for example. A month or so after I started started writing, I had the entire plot set out in my head, based around that gruesome event. Then, out of the blue, a poor soul, suffering from Alzheimer`s, tragically went missing, presumed drowned in said Loch. Eventually his body was found (ironically by a rower) not in the loch but in a ditch near the water. However, for a number of weeks it was assumed that, sooner or later, his body would turn up in the loch itself, in all likelihood discovered by a rower. The peril of fact being stranger than fiction…

As to the “duties and privileges” – well, writing “Sins” has been one of the best experiences of my life; absorbing, exciting and great fun. I have met some lovely people, I have talked endlessly and excitedly about my book and about writing, I have enjoyed every minute and continue to do so as I write the next chapter of DCI Grant McVicar and DS Briony Quinn.

“And the culminating pleasure

That we treasure beyond measure

Is the gratifying feeling that our duty has been done!”



A call to readers

Many of us look at reviews when we consider buying a book. I often find reviews useful in a number of ways, they can give a better understanding of the plot, the quality of the writing, and that essential ingredient that makes a truly engaging book impossible to put down. Whether from other authors, or from readers, reviews are an excellent tool to help the consumer decide what to buy.

But reviews also benefit the authors, a good review can increase sales and sometimes aid in media coverage, while bad reviews can do the opposite. This of course has little effect on bestselling authors; they usually have a loyal following who automatically buy their latest offering, while the media also tends to give plenty of publicity to the stars of the literary firmament.

But what about new authors who are trying to make their way in the marketplace?

For a new author, or simply one which is not yet well known; reviews can make the difference between success or abject failure. A writer can produce a masterpiece, but if few people ever find out about it, the sales will not reflect the quality of the work, and in some cases the author will become so discouraged that they simply give up.

Most readers recognize truly great writing when they see it, but very few will post a review, it simply doesn’t occur to them. But if you enjoyed a book, or even better were transported by it, it’s in your own best interests to review it. Because if you don’t, that author may never write again and we the readers will miss out on the massive enjoyment that they could have given us.

So if you liked a book, do yourself and everyone else a favour, leave a review and help to make the literary world a better place.

Jim Campbell

Don't play misty for me

I was pleased to hear Neil Gaiman talking recently on the difficulties of being creative. He likened finding a narrative to walking through mist. This is very similar to my own experience. I am ever envious of writers, who claim to love a ‘blank page’ or the chance to find out what their characters are going to do next. In my own personal experience I bumble around in fog that would have struck fear into the stout heart of Rupert the Bear. Words come to me through the fog. I hear them, catch sight of their shadows, listen to their echoes. Often I have no inkling how they fit in the narrative or if I’m being led astray by a kind of creative willow the wisp.

It is possible for me to wander days in this mist searching for the story-line. I think three weeks was my all time low, and when I finally emerged, damp and very frustrated, it was with the single word, ‘sunrise’ in my mind.

It isn’t a comfortable or pleasant place to wander, this mist. So why do I do it you ask? Because the words I find are beautiful and perfect, and tantalizing and addictive. And each one fits like an infinitesimal piece of a gigantic jigsaw puzzle until finally I have it in front of me, the story that no-one else saw because very few of us like to spend time lost in the mist. Hey ho, time to get my scarf and check trousers on.

L. M. Affrossman