Fiction Blog, Guest Posts, Musings & Bookish Things, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Guest Post: Exploring Truth in Crime Fiction by Kate Evans

Today, I’m excited to welcome back crime fiction author Kate Evans. She’s talking about using her Scarborough Mysteries series as a vehicle to explore human truths, psychology, and mental health. Whether you’re a writer or a reader, this is a fascinating take on one author’s approach to fiction! Stay tuned tomorrow, when I’ll be reviewing Kate’s latest book, The Art of Breathing.


art-of-the-imperfect-cover‘What should the novel do: be a mirror to the reader’s world, reflecting it back at her, or be a clear pane of glass, not reflecting but offering something away from the self, a vista of a bigger, wider, different world outside? The moral energy of the novel form derives from its capacity to imagine the lives of others. This empathy can be seen as the beginning of the moral sense.’ Neel Mukherjee, shortlisted for 2014 Booker Prize.

Mirror or window, I enjoy novels which are either or both. I want my reading to make me think, make me ask questions, offer me perspectives on parts of the world I am unlikely to visit.

I write the kind of novel I would like to read, which means a novel which looks askance at the world we live in.

My own experience of depression and therapy and then my training as a psychotherapeutic counsellor led me to interrogate how we in the UK (and, perhaps, more widely in Western culture) perceive mental health. I am intrigued by discussions around why we talk about physical and mental health, why are the two separated? What we mean by good and bad mental health, what is the line, the distinction? About the idea of diagnosis, are we medicalising too much what are straightforward human responses?

art-of-survival-coverThese kinds of questions underpin my three Scarborough Mysteries novels: The Art of the Imperfect (long-listed for the Crime Writers Association debut dagger); The Art of Survival; and The Art of Breathing. The series is set in Scarborough, the North Yorkshire coastal town where I live. The stories are told from the point of view of three characters: Hannah Poole; detective sergeant Theo Akande; and Aurora Harris. Hannah is training to be a counsellor, but her own rickety sense of self is sent into turmoil when her father dies and she begins to get back in touch with the memories of the childhood abuse she suffered. Theo is black and gay and a new-comer to Scarborough, trying to find his place on the town’s police force. Clever and kind, he undoubtedly has the most psychological equilibrium of the three story-tellers. Aurora Harris is neighbour and friend to Hannah; solicitor and new mum she struggles to balance these roles. Each book has a different crime which the three characters are drawn into, plus the emotional stories of Hannah, Theo and Aurora twist, interweave and develop.

Through Hannah’s narrative, in particular, I hope to give the reader a taste of depression from the inside and also the experience of a possible route towards recovery. I know that several readers found Hannah ‘too hard to like’, missing, perhaps, the point that depression leads to a self-loathing which is unutterably distressing and all-encompassing.

The Scarborough Mysteries are a result of a thirty year long journey of writing and they didn’t find their genre – crime – until I made the decision to give my novel writing the time and space to come to fruition. So why crime? It was one of those weird writing experiences when I’d been tussling with the problem of structure and one day I woke up knowing that a crime novel would offer me the scaffolding within which to construct my story. Since I’ve always enjoyed reading a lot of crime novels, it was relatively easy for me to reacquaint myself with the crafting of one and the writing began to flow. It was a good decision. Having said this, the first in the series, The Art of the Imperfect, is less like a traditionally plotted crime novel than my third, The Art of Breathing, and I did a lot more planning for this most recent book with the usual shape of a crime novel in mind.

art-of-breathing-coverIt was only after taking my decision that I began to hear writers talking about crime as a genre for exploring the way our society is today. For instance, author Val McDermid has said that, of all the genres, crime is the best at tackling current issues. In a recent Artsnight (BBC2, 22nd July 2016), she explored what she described as the ‘complex relationship between truth and fiction.’ She said she had, ‘Walked the fine line between making things up and staying real.’ And, for her, ‘The very act of imagining has been a powerful way of accessing the truth.’

In addition, I want my novels to go against what I see as a wrong-headed trend in modern day crime writing, the propensity to label the perpetrator of the crime, usually murder, as a psychopath. For me this is too easy. It also has the tendency to mark out the murderer as ‘other’, it’s too cosy, for me, for the reader to think, ‘I am not a psychopath and so I would never do anything as awful as this.’

In my stories I want to explore what measures very ordinary people might take – out of fear, jealousy, hate, love – and how it might all go horribly wrong. I do believe most people who commit crime, particularly abuse and murder, are able to justify their actions to themselves, and I am very interested in those justifications. I do think we have many potentials within us and if we ignore what may be lingering in what Carl Jung called our ‘shadow’ we do so at our peril. Firstly because we are not fully aware of all of ourselves. Secondly, we might unknowingly act from our shadow which could have disastrous consequences for ourselves and others.

In the UK, around a quarter of the population live with emotional or psychological vulnerabilities. I hope they may recognise some truth in my novels. And, maybe, those who are around them may gain an increased understanding of what mental health and resilience means.


Kate EvansAuthor Biography
Kate Evans is a writer of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her non-fiction articles have been published in (among other publications) The Guardian, The Independent, Counselling Today, Poetry News, The Journal for Applied Arts in Health and The Journal of Poetry Therapy. Her book Pathways Through Writing Blocks in the Academic Environment was published by Sense Publishers in April 2013. She has created two word-based installations for the arts festival Coastival, one inspired by the works and life of Edith Sitwell. 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.

In October 2016 she will be appearing at the Beverley Literature Festival. The Art of Breathing will be launched in WH Smiths in Scarborough on the 29th October 2016.

Connect with Kate Evans
Email: kateevans@tinyonline.co.uk
Website: www.scarboroughmysteries.com
Twitter: @KateEvansAuthor
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kate.evans.author
The Art of the Imperfect: https://goo.gl/JrGat2
The Art of Survival: https://goo.gl/6RPzk5
The Art of Breathing: http://amzn.to/2fbu1g7

Guest Posts, Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

Guest Post: Author Kate Evans on Writing Crime Fiction

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.!


Kate EvansWhy Crime?

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.

Art of SurvivalNew novel launched

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.