Today I have a visitor! Frances Fyfield, all the way from the UK, is stopping by to tell us how NOT to write a crime novel. And Frances would know since she has two dozen to her credit! There’s also a review of her latest Blood from Stone, winner of the Duncan Lawrie Dagger for best crime novel of the year in 2008. so, without further ado, here’s Frances:
I know how NOT to write.
Twenty two, or is it twenty three books down the line, I’m still not sure how to do it. I just know that when I hear writers on the radio, at conferences etc, talking about method etc, I have the firm conviction that some of them are being economical with the truth. Those are the ones who seem certain, and certainty was never a strong point with me.
Messing about and making stuff up, is a little more me.
Ok, this is an ideal way: How to Write a Novel.
Spend several weeks/ months researching, create a template, create a plot, followed by a chapter plan.
Know in advance, before you put pen to paper what this book is going to contain, including the high points, the low points, the denouement and every single character including those with walk on parts. Be very clear about which of these is going to survive, and who will go over a cliff or under a bus.
Use wall charts, spreadsheets, bullet points as opposed to bullets, graphs etc. Make sure your cast list is manageably small, albeit capable of being enlarged for battle scenes and shoot outs. Brief them thoroughly, so that they ensure they all know exactly what they’re doing and do not exceed the Brief.
Write a Synopsis.
Stick to it when actually typing out the whole thing, which you do to a daily timetable, beginning at dawn and pausing for refreshment breaks only every four hours. (Healthy food only; no booze and definitely no fags.) Do not deviate, and above all, never, ever laugh at yourself during this process. This is not a good idea. If in doubt, wash your mouth out and follow flow chart. This way, you will get there in the end. (I believe male authors are slightly more prone to writing this way than the female of the species, but that is only a guess.)
How not to write a Novel.
Begin with a place you’re dying to describe. The place is likely to be subject to extreme weather conditions or decay, and might not, therefore, last the length of the book.
Have three or four characters, one extremely nasty, with whom you are going to fall in love and therefore find excuses for, as you would for your own child. Avoid the convenience of the privileged psycopath. Persons without conscience of any kind are extremely rare in real life, tho’wonderfully convenient for fiction.
Begin in the wrong season for the ending, thus start in winter with scenes of cold which, in the height of summer, feel impossible to recreate.
Wait for the plot, instead of making it wait for you. It’s in there, somewhere, dammit.
Methodology: You start only early-ish in the morning, because you have to wait for guilt to set in/ need for coffee/ tea.
..which gives you the excuse for getting the hell out of the house. Nearby shops, cafes are useful. There you can sit and waste time, supposedly thinking about your novel while reading a non- improving magazine, staring at your phone or watching other people..
Post 8 a.m, it is perfectly possible to keep a window salesman on the phone for at least half an hour. Errands can last all day. A preferred approach is go out and buy a slice of bread, so that you can go out later, maybe twice for the rest of loaf.
Then go for a walk.
Despair, make jokes. The plot goes off up endless blind alleys, and comes back naked. You’ve fallen in love with the villain and loathe the hero. As for the heroine, she’s too much like you, she’s a wimp. The will to live is under threat.
Start again, with the comforting knowledge that your novels are true novels of Suspense, because even the Author does not know.
How to accept that your task is impossible.
Categorise your own approach.
I reckon there’s many, many ways of creating anything. Roughly categorised, there’s the Design approach, or the Chip, chip, approach. I met a biographer friend a few years ago, asked him how it was going, and he said, ‘Chip, chip chip, you know, Chip, chip!’ We both new exactly what the other meant.
The Chip, chip approach, means delivering yourself a lump of granite which contain gems or fossils or something. If you chip away at it, the sculpture beneath emerges. Take off another layer, and you find a hand. With luck a plot. You continue to chip away at it, and there’s a diamond. Then there’s a dog, which has to be incorporated. Forms emerge. You know the idea exists somewhere, but it has to be dug out of this granite, more like a fossil hunter, or an archaeologist, than a brilliant creative.
The Design approach, on the other hand, consists of creating a structure around which you add clay or paint, whatever. You make an elaborate scaffold and cover it with stuff, rather than chipping away. The Design approach is one I long to have, but cannot have. The Design approach is creating a prototype and then building it. (You can even get someone else to do the building.)
The CHIP, chip chip approach is all about digging for what might be gold. Whichever method wastes the most material, or is the most efficient use of what you’ve got, is subject to debate from the Greeks to now.
I chip away. Sometimes I lose a leg of the thing beneath. I reckon that’s how the Venus de Milo came to loose her arms.
I must confess I’m leaning toward the Chip, chip, chip side even though I so want to be a designer. Seems so much more efficient, doesn’t it? But are we looking for efficiency or a great book? So which are you?
Blood from Stone
Author: Frances Fyfield
E-Book: 320 pages (also available in paperback)
Publisher: Gayle Trent (November 26, 2013)
A twisting tale of suspense—perfect for fans of Linda Fairstein.
When the body of a successful criminal lawyer is found outside a chic London hotel, it looks like a suicide. For those who knew her, the woman’s death is a shock—Marianne Shearer was at the pinnacle of her career, wealthy and stylish—but for the police, the case is open-and-shut.
There’s something strange about the circumstances, though, something that prompts her colleague Peter Friel to dig deeper. Little by little, he discovers that things are not as they seem. In her final days, Marianne appears to have left a series of small, almost imperceptible clues—clues that point to a far more sinister truth.
This book twists in amazing ways. A hard-hearted criminal lawyer dies and no one truly cares…except for the sister of the last woman she demolished on the stand. Why? Well, it’s all a search for the truth and let me tell you, this truth is craftily hidden beneath years of secrets.
Blood from Stone didn’t really grab me at first. I didn’t really care if Marianne had committed suicide, been murdered or what have you. If you have that feeling fight it! Once Hen comes into the picture fighting off the remaining bad guys who turn to her now that Hen is dead you won’t be able to put the book down. Eventually all the secrets of everyone involved (dead and alive) are revealed and you’ll find yourself saying “Get out of town!”
Frances Fyfield has a wonderful way of dropping little clues along the way that leave half of your brain trying to figure out their meaning while the other half desperately reads trying to find the answers.
Note: There are a few references to sexual acts and violence so, if that isn’t for you…