I’m back from my traveling/holiday hiatus, and I’m thrilled to bring you a guest post from author Kate Evans. Kate E. writes crime fiction — a genre which I couldn’t write to save my life! — and she was kind enough to share what attracted her to crime fiction, some tips for researching for your crime novels, and the scoop on her newest book The Art of Survival (follow up to The Art of the Imperfect, which I reviewed here). Over to Kate E.!
A couple of years ago I embarked on a project to write/publish a crime series. I had already written five novels during the preceding thirty years, some of which I had tried to find an agent/publisher for. The last of these five was a long, rangy affair which lacked structure and clarity. I knew I wanted to re-tell this story and take it further, I also recognized I needed to find a shape for it, which would engage the reader. At some point in the middle of a deep sleep, my unconscious brain gave my conscious brain the solution; I woke up knowing I was going to write a crime series.
It was the obvious answer for me, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I read a lot of crime novels, so I was already aware of many of their characteristics. Secondly, I enjoy reading crime novels, which meant I was excited and motivated to get on with it. Thirdly, since I thought I would probably have to indie publish my novel, I wanted a clear genre to help with marketing and crime fiction is a popular genre certainly here in the UK. Finally, I agree with crime writer Val McDermid, when she says hers is the perfect genre for putting up a mirror to our society and asking questions about it. My novels explore ideas around what is good mental health and how the vulnerable and marginalised are treated.
In the UK there was an era of what was considered to be ‘cosy crime’ writing. It came after the First World War, and at first sight, it may seem odd that people would want to immerse themselves in more violence and death. However, it is often argued, these crime novels offered an antidote to the indiscriminate carnage of war, in that they gave a sanitised version of murder and there was always a tidy resolution.
I’m not entirely sure this was the case then, and I certainly don’t think it is now. I’m with writer Melanie McGrath when she suggests the attraction of crime fiction to both readers and writers is that it allows us to experience and explore emotions which would normally be unacceptable in polite society. She said, in The Guardian Books Blog June 30th 2014: ‘Crime fiction gives us permission to touch on our own indecorous feelings of rage, aggression and vengefulness, sentiments we’re encouraged to pack away somewhere… where they won’t offend.’ As a psychotherapeutic counsellor I would add it could also be healthy to do this safely through literature, rather than leaving our shadow side un-investigated, giving it the potential for erupting into our every day lives.
So that’s the why write crime, here’s a little bit about the research which I did to get me going. Initially, I read and re-read a variety of crime novels, this time really focusing on the plotting and structure. My novels are character-led, and I am not writing a police procedural, however, I do want the way the investigation unfolds to be believable. The sources of information I have used are: books, fiction and non-fiction, there are more and more handbooks for writers, including a recent one on forensics by Val McDermid; the court reports in the local paper especially as my novels are based in my home town; TV programmes, there’s been a recent fly-on-the-wall documentary about the police which proved invaluable; I have a couple of personal contacts within the police and legal profession; and the internet.
There’s more I’d like to do, for instance spending some time in the public gallery of a court, maybe having a tour of the local police station and asking a few questions. However, I remember seeing a more successful/famous crime writer than me at a literature festival and he said when he spoke to his law enforcement contacts he’s not interested in whether something has happened or is likely to, just whether it could possibly happen. I understand most police officers hate reading crime novels, so I don’t expect any will read mine, and what I have to do is make the story-telling authentic within the world of the characters I have created.
One of my main characters is a trainee and then qualified psychotherapeutic counsellor. This is a universe I am very familiar with. I enjoy depicting it honestly, and more accurately, than the vast majority of fictional versions I’ve come across to date.
I believe my strengths in writing are in creating believable layered characters and a strong sense of place through sensual descriptions. Up to now, I have, perhaps, been less skilled at structuring and pace. The crime novel with its moments of tension, red herrings and movement towards a resolution offers a solid format, not to be followed blindly, but to be played with and subverted. It has been invigorating to discover how it can be tailored to the stories I want to tell.
The Art of Survival asks: What will fear push ordinary people to do? What happens when little girls get lost? DS Theo Akande is investigating the disappearance of eight year old Victoria Everidge. Her mother, Yvonne, is a desperate woman. What is she capable of? Eminent journalist and newspaperman, Stan Poole, dies leaving a filing cabinet full of secrets. As these leak out, his daughter, Hannah, begins to question her own girlhood. She is losing her way. Her best friend, Lawrence, newly an item with Theo, finds it hard to remain supportive. Instead Hannah clings to her work as a trainee counsellor and to her client Julia. Julia is apparently no little girl lost, but appearances can be deceptive. Then a body is found.
About the author
This is the second novel by Kate Evans. Her first, The Art of the Imperfect, was long-listed for the Crime Writers Association debut dagger in 2015. Kate Evans is a writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her book, Pathways Through Writing Blocks in the Academic Environment, was published by Sense Publishers in 2013. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Sussex University and teaches on the Degree in Creative Writing at the University of Hull, Scarborough campus. She is trained as a psychotherapeutic counsellor. She loves walking by the sea and afternoon tea, and has an inexplicable drive to bring a new generation to the poetry of Edith Sitwell. For further information, see: www.writingourselveswell.co.uk
Praise for The Art of the Imperfect
‘The first thing to mention is the writing style is incredibly strong. … The description through this book is brilliantly constructed so that I really felt completely immersed.’ Lizzy, My Little Book Blog
‘The book … retains its readability on a second or third reading and beyond. It is written by an unobtrusively gifted creative talent, whose gifts will assuredly go on expanding and enlarge their range … The novel is convincing enough to haunt us, and graze us into deeper thought.’ Dr Heward Wilkinson, UKCP Fellow, UKCP Registered, Integrative Psychotherapist.