Today, I'm excited to introduce fellow mystery writer and guest blogger Jane Isaac. Jane is the author of the psychological thriller, An Unfamiliar Murder.
Jane lives in rural
. She studied creative writing,
and later specialist fiction with the London School of Journalism. Jane is not
only a mystery writer, she is also an avid reader, a mum, a dog lover and a
traveler. Recently, she has had two short stories accepted for crime anthologies, so please listen
up – she knows what she’s talking about. Northamptonshire, UK
Here is her fact-filled essay:
The Devil is in the Detail
No matter what genre you write, every book carries some element of research and, for crime fiction, the weight is a heavy one.
There’s not only police procedure, plotlines, areas and events to study, but also people. What’s the secret formula behind the great characters in fiction? Research. Investment into creating and layering our characters gives them the depth to become ‘real’.
As writers we are great people watchers. Aside from interviewing people in our chosen genre, we observe the world around us and pick up little traits: the man in the cafe with the six o’clock shadow, the perfectly manicured mum at the school gates, the child with the tuft of hair that sticks up around his crown – all quirks that help us to build the characters in our fiction.
I’ve always been a great fan of studying, a perennial student in many respects, undertaking courses in a plethora of different subjects over the years including law, pottery, even sign language. Consequently, research is one of my favourite aspects of novel writing – a labour of love, one might say.
It’s interesting what directions book research takes. For An Unfamiliar Murder, fire research led me to a wonderful meeting with the former Chief of Northants Fire Service who explained how the structure of our old terraced properties work in the UK, the role of accelerants, and their fire procedures.
I also spoke to endless police officers about their role, their aspirations, the politics of the organisation. Then there are all the books about serial killers and psychopaths – the real case studies that kept me awake at night and haunted my dreams.
Recently, for the sequel, I met up with a former Detective Superintendent, who managed murder squads all over the UK during his 30 year career, for some in-depth research into some of the cases he has managed. Boy, did he have some tales to tell...
The internet can provide a great resource model but, when considering settings, I prefer the hands on approach. I like to visit a scene, if possible, to see what it really looks like, how it smells, what noises I can hear in the background. There are times when you can’t beat touching the cold stone, breathing the air around you. I spent hours trudging over fields examining disused mine shafts, old pump houses, railway cabins, derelict cottages, in pursuit of deposition sites for a body for my first novel. Something my Labrador, Bollo, found particularly enjoyable!
Often such information provides background material which never appears in the novel, or only converts to a couple of lines. Sometimes it’s edited out. But the details we learn provide more depth to our work, allowing us to describe scenes and people from an informed viewpoint. This not only enables the words to flow, but makes it feel more real, which is particularly important for a psychological thriller.
Ever read a book when you’ve questioned an event, a character, a place because it isn’t quite right? Failing to do your research will show. And with the internet these days, it’s easier than ever to make sure we check our information. I’d never claim for my work to be completely factually correct, but it’s certainly not for the want of trying.
Jane Isaac’s debut novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, was published by Rainstorm Press in February 2012. You can learn more about Jane, read her blog and an excerpt from her novel on her website at www.janeisaac.co.uk