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Do writers suffer for their art?

Writing can have its downside. At some stage, many of us have probably suffered from lower back pain, aching shoulders, sore eyes or headaches. And then there’s something called writers bottom! Spending much of the day tapping away on the keyboard can even lead to serious conditions such as repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome.  We all know how important it is to have a decent chair at the correct height, but how many of us end up huddled over to stare at the screen? My husband is constantly moaning at me for doing so. I can only hope that five hours of yoga, tai chi and Pilates, plus a similar amount of time line dancing and Zumba each week make up for my slovenly posture at my desk. Knowing the theory is one thing, it’s the putting into practice that can easily fall by the wayside.

Trying to get published can be soul destroying. When the rejections keep coming, it takes grim determination not to let it ruin your day even if it doesn’t stop you writing. Perhaps that’s why so many writers self-publish.  There’s a limit to how many times you can face being knocked back.

Does it have its positive side? Perhaps we should take note of Aldous Huxley’s famous quote – ‘Perhaps it’s good for one to suffer. Can an artist do anything if he’s happy? Would he ever want to do anything? What is art, after all, but a protest against the horrible inclemency of life?’ I’m not sure that I would go that far, but then I write cozy crime not angst-ridden literary fiction.

I’m just back from a research trip for my next Fiona Mason Mystery. Setting my novels in different countries on a holiday tour means I need to do the holiday itself – definitely a hard life, but someone has to do it! My husband and I went on a wonderful river cruise along the River Rhone. On our first full day, we went on a tour to Les Baux up in the hills of Provence. I managed to trip and fell headlong. I’m not sure that I was actually making notes at the time but I certainly had my pen in one hand and my note book in the other. I managed to dislocate the middle finger of my right hand (good job I’m left handed). Strangely enough, it didn’t hurt – either at the time or, after three or four puffs on some magic gas and air, when the surgeon pulled it straight. The bruises on my chin, left hand and shoulder were more painful. The worst part of the experience was the ambulance ride to Avignon hospital. The bed was ridiculously high off the ground and the rail only a couple of inches high. The straps meant to hold me down were very slack and any attempts to tighten them failed. With a damaged right hand, I had to grip like mad with the left every time we went round a corner. On the plus side, I’ve never been in an ambulance before so if one of my characters ends up having to be rushed to hospital, I can at least write from experience.

It was a hiccup not a disaster, but it demonstrated how kind people can be. I could not have been better looked after. The cruise director was escorting the tour and she phoned for the ambulance and waited with me until it came. It was fortunate that the ambulance took me to Avignon and not Arles. Our ship, the Viking Heimdal, was sailing from Tarascon back to Avignon. After we left the hospital, we were able to walk into town and have a meal before we wandered to the river to watch the ship’s arrival at 10pm. Once the gangplank went down, even before it was secured, the captain came running down. I assumed it was to check the ropes but he came over to me, whipped off his jacket and put it round my shoulders. The next day, the hotel manager gave me a bunch of roses – to cheer me up! Whenever they saw me for the rest of the trip they asked how I was. I can’t speak highly enough of Christine, Richard and Chris. Staff and passengers were all so friendly and kind. Even the maitre d’ asked how I was by name.

I haven’t begun to plot the novel yet so I have no idea if one of Fiona’s passenger will be foolish enough to trip and end up with a dislocated finger, but the experience could well end up in a book some day. We did a coach trip to the Rhine Gorge when I was writing Blood in the Wine. The itinerary was the same as Fiona’s. Those of you who have read the book may remember one of the characters slipped down the last two stairs and wrench an ankle. That really happened and I was in some pain by the time we got to the hotel (the one I describe in the novel) and like Fiona, I was too preoccupied to listen to the instructions on how to find our room.

Perhaps we do suffer for our art, but if it’s any consolation, always remember, you can use it a future book. We writers can get our own back on all those difficult people we meet by using them as models for our more unpleasant characters, (I have many a time). No difficult experience is ever wasted. Keep smiling. Keep writing.

The Ideas Behind the Book

Today is launch day for Blood Across the Divide. I am often asked where I get the inspiration for my novels so it seemed appropriate to explain some of the things that inspired the novel.

Two mysteries – what has happened to Fiona’s missing passenger, and who shot the rebel republican terrorist, Eamon McCollum? Once again, tour manager, Fiona Mason and MI6 chief Peter Montgomery-Jones come together to find the answers and unravel how the two cases are linked.

Belfast rightly deserves its reputation as one of the top British cities for tourists. All looks set for a wonderful tour, but, people are not always who they claim to be. Fiona and her coach party quickly find themselves drawn into the undercurrent of distrust and thirst for revenge that has been simmering in Northern Ireland since the time of The Troubles. Drawn into one another’s investigations, Fiona and Peter need the other’s help to cut through the web of deceit and betrayal to find out what has been going on.

Established parameters

My first two published novels were standalone psychological suspense, but when I was having problems with the third book, my then agent suggested my books would be easier to sell if I had a series character. I gave some thought to the idea and decided my investigator would be a tour manager for a coach company. Her sidekick could be her driver and, in true Agatha Christie fashion, my cast of suspects would be limited to the number of passengers.

Not that things quite worked to that pattern as I hadn’t accounted for Peter Montgomery-Jones. Intended as a minor character, he took on a life of his own and not only demanded on a bigger role in Book 1, insisted on coming back in all future mysteries. Who said characters don’t take over?

Blood Across the Divide is the fifth Fiona Mason Mystery therefore there are I didn’t start with a blank sheet. I already knew my leading character, Fiona, who would solve a murder within the time frame of a coach tour. Two other characters would also an essential part of the mix – Peter Montgomery-Jones – who would have his own investigation – and Fiona’s West Indian driver, Winston whose role might only be minor, but already established as a steady rock for when Fiona is besieged by problems.

In every good novel, the leading character is changed in some way by the events that happen and although Fiona and Peter are well-established characters, they two continue to grow.

First decisions

The location is obviously another important element in any Fiona Mason Mystery. In the first novel Blood on the Bulb Fields, the idea of finding a dead body in a beautiful place like Keukenhof gardens appealed to me. I’d been to the Netherlands several times and, once I settled on Holland as the venue for Fiona’s coach party, the whole plot began to come together. Amsterdam has one of the world’s leading diamond cutting industries. Smuggling diamonds then became the obvious crime. Research told me that most smuggled diamonds are conflict or blood diamonds and that they are financed by terrorists – hence the introduction of Peter Montgomery-Jones as head of an anti-terrorism unit.

With the next two in the series, I knew the locations well although it did entail a further visit. In the case of Blood in the Wine, we did an actual coach trip and I used the same itinerary when I came to write the novel. A cruise of the Elbe valley beginning with a pre-cruise stay in Berlin was never intended as a research trip but it quickly became the itinerary for Mystery number 4 – Blood Hits the Wall.

With Blood Across the Divide, things were a little different. I had been to many of the places on Fiona’s trip before on different occasions, but with this book, time eluded me, and the return trip to check all the different locations never quite happened. Last year was a very busy year. One of the reasons was the solid six months of research needed to be the port lecturer on a couple of cruises. However, one of the ports I needed to research for my presentation was Belfast. By the time I’d finished, I was familiar with the history of Belfast and Northern Ireland and all of Belfast’s tourist attractions. As port lecturer, I also had to talk about the details of all the tours the ship had to offer. These then became Fiona’s itinerary. Naturally, when we arrived at the port, I opted for a tour to one of the places I had not previously visited and my husband visited the other – with strict instructions to make notes and take as many photos as possible. As luck would have it, I have a friend who lives in Belfast and she was kind enough to act as one of my beta readers checking that I had my facts right.

Location is not the only thing that has to be decided upon before I start writing. I need a reason to involve Peter Montgomery-Jones. What terrorist activity will bring him hurrying over from his MI6 headquarters? The crime must be related to the location. Setting Blood Across the Divide in Northern Ireland, something to do with the Troubles seemed an obvious choice. But it’s an emotive issue, and I was apprehensive that I could walk the fine line that would fulfil the needs of a crime novel and, at the same time, cause no offense.

I’m beginning to think about the next novel. I have two locations in mind. Originally, I’d decided on the Rhone Valley – we have a visit planned in March/early April but the idea I came up with for Peter’s investigation is probably better served by setting Fiona’s trip in Paris and the Normandy Britany area. We will have to see!

Author Interview on ‘toofulltowrite’

First and foremost, I wish you all a happy and productive New Year.

Towards the end of the year, I was approached by David Ellis and asked if I would agree to be interviewed for his toofulltowrite website subtitled as a Creative Palace for Artists and Author Resources. David asked some interesting questions that had me scratching my head at times and here is the result.

PORTRAITS 043_cr 300 tallAuthor Interview – Judith Cranswick

Welcome to the latest installment in the Author Interview series and we are finishing out the week with a bang.

Tonight we speak to Award Winning author Judith Cranswick about her crime thriller novels and what makes them so special, engaging and worth reading.

 

Hi there Judith, thank you for taking the time to be with us today to talk about your thrilling stories.

Blood Hits the Wall front cover copyLet’s start with your latest novel “Blood Hits the Wall” – Book 4 in the Fiona Mason Mysteries Series. Please tell us more about Fiona, how she has evolved over the course of four novels and what sleuthing adventures and sticky situations she is going to find herself dealing with this time round?

In the first book in the series, “Blood on the Bulb Fields”, Fiona was recently widowed. She had spent the last nine years looking after her terminally-ill husband. When he died, family and friends suggested she get herself a little job to keep herself occupied though becoming a tour manager for a coach company wasn’t quite what they had in mind. Fiona has grown in confidence as the year (and the first four books) has gone on and in “Blood Hits the Wall”, on her tour to Belin and the Elbe Valley, her relationship with MI6 chief, Peter Montgomery-Jones develops though they continue to find themselves at odds with one another all too often as they pursue their separate objectives. This time she wants his help when the group is detained in Berlin following the murder of their local guide, but he has his own secret mission which he cannot jeopardise. Continue reading

Research – My Excuse for Becoming a Port Lecturer

Boudicca-in-Scotland-banner_originalResearch becomes second nature to writers. That little voice inside that says never miss out on an opportunity because you never know when the experience will come in useful is a good excuse for taking time out from the actual writing. That’s my excuse for spending the last six months totally immersed in the world of port lecturing – telling cruise passengers about the ports we were about to visit. I’ve been a cruise lecturer for several years. I began running fun writing workshops on board ship and then developed a series of talks about writing and what attracts me about writing crime. Continue reading

A Thirst For Research

slide 2Creating a novel involves a great deal more than sitting at the keyboard and typing away. There is always a vast amount of research. If you slipup putting a well-known building in the wrong place, a flower blooming in the wrong season or describe a journey that could not be done in so short a time, you will lose all credibility. Lose that, and you lose your reader.

Research is more than a quick Google. We all know that research can become time consuming but, like the majority of writers, it’s something I do enjoy. Continue reading