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.

Writing & Publishing Articles, Writing Craft & Tips

NaNoWriMo Prep: Gathering Inspiration

Once I have a basic idea for a novel, I like to start gathering inspiration and references. As I’ve described before, for me, the theme and message of my novel tend to be the first aspects to emerge, with plot following shortly after. However, even before I flesh out the story line, I like to have a solid idea of what my characters and their world are like. I realize this may seem a bit counterintuitive to some writers. However, I prefer to do world building before plot mapping for the following reasons:

Setting inspiration for NaNoWriMo
Setting inspiration for NaNoWriMo

Setting and characters define mood and morality. Because theme and message are the most important aspects of a novel to me, I want the world and its people to be built to best convey these elements.

Setting influences plot. Most writers dream up their plot and then shape their world to best facilitate the action. While I do this, too, I like to start with a rough map of where my action takes place. After all, the novel’s world and its people will determine the reality of the novel, the parameters of the fictional world, which give a writer guidelines on what the plot can and cannot do within this world.

Characters influence plot. If I know my characters fairly well before I begin plotting, I have a good idea about what they will and will not do. This prevents me from taking the plot in a direction that does not seem authentic to my characters.

Now, while all this sounds hunky-dory, sometimes it is difficult to find inspiration. Or, even if you breathe inspiration with every air particle, it is sometimes difficult to find the right inspirational references for your particular setting and characters — especially if your idea is in a genre or part of a theme you haven’t worked with before. The latter has been my case for this year’s NaNoWriMo preparation. I have lots of ideas, but the setting and characters I have chosen to execute my plot are unlike anything or anyone I’ve crafted before. Therefore, I couldn’t rely on past knowledge. I had to actively go out and seek inspiration. In case you are in the same boat, here are some time-tested ways to gather inspiration and references:

Character inspiration for NaNoWriMo
Character inspiration for NaNoWriMo

Research, research, research. No matter how familiar you are with your writing material, even if you have chosen to “write what you know,” there is always more to learn. Scan some Wikipedia pages, search Google images, go to the library, visit a location or group of people, if you can. Just get knowledgeable. This Wikipedia page was a good starting place for me.

Read books and watch movies. Absorb other media in which a similar setting or character types can be found. By seeing what others have done, you will know the hallmarks of your chosen world and people. This is good, because it allows you to align yourself with certain genres and themes and make your book more marketable. On the other hand, it also allows you to see what’s already been done, so you don’t repeat history.

Write what you know (almost). I have an intense love-hate relationship with this advice. On one hand, it’s true — writing about what you know makes writing easier, as you have less research to do and more confidence in your material. It can also be really boring. Therefore, if you decide to place your novel in a familiar setting or base your characters on familiar people, make sure to mix it up for yourself. Give your hometown a mysterious abandoned warehouse or beautiful sunflower field, give your well-known characters an unknown disease or occupation. There’s lots of ways to take a familiar home base and turn it into exciting new territory.

Get on PinterestPinterest (and other image websites) are full of visual inspiration. You can start with one search, which will yield hundreds of images, and then take suggestions and follow them down new rabbit holes. Also, you can keep all of your references in one place and see how different elements work together. For an example, you can check out my NaNoWriMo 2014 Pinterest board and the board for another project idea.

20141019_195816Keep a journal. You never know when inspiration will strike. Keep an electronic or paper journal handy and photograph or write down every little thing that catches your fancy. (After all, we can’t spend all day on Pinterest and Instagram.) At first, these random snapshots will seem relatively insignificant. Over time, you’ll have an overflowing well of inspiration. The journals on the right are mine – gray for fiction and red for nonfiction.

Okay, so now you’ve researched your ideas and gathered your inspirational references. You know what settings like yours look like and what characters like yours look and act like. You have used what you know as a gateway into a larger fiction world. You have spent time applying your knowledge to find visual representations of your setting and characters and continued mapping daily inspirations for the future. Now what?

Well, of course, you’re the inspired one! You know what to do — get writing!

However, if you want some more Kate advice, tune in tomorrow for my biggest rule on putting inspiration into action: The Puffin Rule.

And as always, NaNoWriMo participants can check me out and add me as a writing buddy here.


How do you compile inspirational references? How important is seeking out inspiration for your writing process? Let me know!