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Addicted to Crime Fiction

I like to think I’m relatively catholic in my reading tastes, but I find myself reading more and more crime fiction these days. I suppose that is why I write it.

The great thing about crime fiction is that it has so many sub-genres that you can constantly ring the changes. I love them all – from the gentle classic crime of the Golden Age (Agatha Christie is one of the few writers I reread over and over again), the police procedural (especially Anne Cleeves’ Vera), historic crime (Lindsey Davis’ first century detective Roman detective, Falco novels), comic crime (Simon Brett’s actor-cum-sleuth, Charles Paris), the whodunit (Dick Francis), literary crime (Robert Goddard), fantasy crime (Jasper ffjorde’s Thursday Next novels) to Scandinavian noir (Steig Larson’s Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

Then there’s the private investigator (Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Malone), the amateur detective, the American hardboiled detective (Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series), the legal thriller (John  Gresham), the financial thriller (Michael Redpath), the medical thriller (Tess Gerritsen), the forensic thriller (Patricia Cornwall), the spy novel and the howdunit. There’s a growing number of paranormal crime novels and crime novels with a hint of romance plus a rise in what is now classified as domestic-noir (Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl) now being published.     

One of the most popular is the cozy mystery, but as with all subgenres, they can vary considerably from what I call the cupcake cosy,  the locked room mystery to those with a touch of edge. The only thing that links these together is the absence of gratuitous violence, sex and bad language.

I love the variety. Whatever my mood, whether I chose some light and undemanding like an M.E. Beaton, Agatha Raison,  or something a little more challenging to test my powers of concentration with a fast moving, complicated plot with a plethora of twists and turns, I can always find something to satisfy it.

A second great attraction of the crime novel for me, is that they often come as a series. If you get hooked by the first book you know there are many more happy hours of reading to come. Picking up the next book is like meeting up with a dear friend again. I love Estelle Ryan’s Genevieve Lenard novels. Genevieve has autism spectrum disorder, extremely intelligent but with poor social skills. Not the easiest of characters to make the protagonist in a series which has now reached twelve books.

Crime fiction is the biggest selling genre in publishing. You only have to go into any public library to see how popular they are. Nearly all fiction is arranged alphabetically with possibly a few shelves set apart for fantasy and science fiction, but crime fiction occupies stack alongside stack. Perhaps the most important reason for that is that they satisfy two or three very basic instincts that most of us have. The need for justice to win out in the end – we know the road will be bumpy, but in the end the murderer will get caught and his or her bad deeds punished. Secondly, we enjoy the thrill of the chase, the sense of danger lurking behind the corner   (I love the edginess of many crime novels)  and lastly – we love trying to solve the puzzle, piecing together the clues, before the investigator.

When I started writing crime, I was reading a great deal of psychological suspense. I loved Nicci French, Minette Walters and Barbara Vine. A genre that back in those days earned the label of woman in jeopardy. I was attracted to the edginess of their novels – the feeling of the protagonist’s life spinning out of control, taken over by events they can’t explain and the knowledge that if they don’t sort it out, they will end up dead. I suppose it was no surprise that my first novels were in this sub-genre. What appealed to me was trying to capture that fear, that unease, the sense of urgency never knowing what was going to go wrong next.

I was having problems with my third novel – Finding Jade – and to make matters more tricky, the woman in jeopardy type of psychological suspense that I was writing drifted out of fashion. My then agent suggested that I should write about a series character as that was what the publishers were looking for. That meant a change of sub-genre.

I’ve always been a lover of the whodunit mystery and I’d had the idea of a series about a tour manager for a coach company for some time. I thought that her driver would be her sidekick and that the coach would limit by number of suspects. It took a little longer to sort out a location. I knew from the start that the location would be important – that the story couldn’t happen anywhere else. The first Fiona Mason Mystery – Blood on Bulb Fields – began to take shape. Not that it turned out quite as I’d planned. A minor character demanded a bigger part and then went on to insist he came back in future novels. Mr Montgomery-Jones was not a character you dare say no to. He has caused me no small headache ever since. He has his own mission to accomplish in every novel so, unlike most murder mysteries there are two separate crimes to solve that interweave meaning that, at several points in story, he and Fiona are at odds.

Many of the reviews I have been given mention the Fiona Mason Mysteries as being like a modern Agatha Christie. That’s very flattering – she’s one’s of my favourite writers – though I can’t see it myself. Miss Marple never puts herself  in danger like Fiona tends to do. Another author who has been a great influence on me is Dick Francis. Although mine are travel whodunits rather than with a horseracing background, I feel Fiona often has the same sense of not knowing quite where to turn that his protagonists always feel.

In all the Fiona Mason books, the location is an essential element. However familiar I am with the area, I always take a research visit. It’s more that just the history and the architecture of the varies towns and places en route, it’s the whole atmosphere and feel of the place that helps to drive the plot. The little things that happen on our holidays end up in the book. At the beginning of last year, with the fifth book in the series – Blood Across the Divide – published, I could not get down to the next book because our holiday was not until April. I could not sit twiddling my thumbs for four months so I began a completely new series based on the holiday we’d had a couple of months previously. Murder in Morocco, the first of my Aunt Jessica Mysteries. Again this is a travel whodunit but at least, although all stories have subplots, the Aunt Jemima Mysteries don’t cause me the problems of trying to interleave two quite separate major threads.

What is the attraction of crime fiction for you?

Murder in Morocco in Pictures

Location is one of the most important things for me as a writer. I need to be able to picture exactly where the action of each scene is set. My characters are always from my imagination, but the settings are real.

The locations for all but my first two novels have been inspired by holidays, but unlike the Fiona Mason Mysteries, our holiday to Morocco was never intended as a research trip. It was only because I had finished the final draft of Blood Across the Divide and had a three month wait before the research trip for the next Fiona Mason novel that I decided I would try writing a new series. Our holiday to Morocco had exceeded all expectation and was still fresh in my memory. What had helped make it so special is that the travel company was working with the Royal Academy who provided an accompanying history lecturer who pointed out things we might well have missed and who gave us lectures in the evenings. The idea for a novel began to take shape, though suffice it to say, our lecturer was nothing like Aunt Jessica.

Although I had made no notes, I did have literally hundreds of photos to help me when I came to write. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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

The Novelist and Depression – Dealing with the Downside

DepressionWe fiction writers are sensitive people – we live on our emotions. We create characters and, if we want to make them to be real for our readers, we see the world through their eyes. We put our protagonist through all kinds of misery. One problem after another. If we didn’t there would be no story. The more we experience our character’s pain, the better the writing will be. We train ourselves to feel the grief, the despair, the anguish. Is it any wonder that we fall victim to a certain level of despondency when life hands us a bad deal? Life is never fair. I like to claim that I’m a glass half full person, trying to see the best side and count my many blessings, but there are times when I don’t succeed.

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Inspired to Write

inspirationIdeas

Writers are frequently asked where they get their ideas. It’s the question many of us dread when the floor is thrown open at the end of a talk or presentation. I’ve heard authors joke about buying them from a little shop around the corner near where they live, but the real answer is prosaic. LIFE.

The truth is most of us writers are never short of ideas – life is full of them. Things happen and from a small, possibly insignificant event or observation, an idea begins to grow. Whether that initial idea will flower into a full-blown plot is another matter, but the more you write the more you begin to see the potential in everyday events.

To quote Neil Gaiman – “You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it.” Continue reading

Keep Motivated – Attend a Conference

Fishguard Bay Hotel

Fishguard Bay Hotel – location of the Writers’ Holiday

I’ve just come back from a great weekend at the Writers’ Holiday in Fishguard. I confess I am something of a junkie when it comes to writing conferences and festivals. Why? Because they are FUN! They may provide an excellent learning experience, the opportunity to network with other writers even agents and to rub shoulders with favourite authors and some of the big names in the literary world, but I love them because I always have such a great time.

Over the years, I have attended writers’ get-togethers at the Winchester Conference and the Writers’ Holiday plus a couple of Avon courses. I’m lucky that my home town of Swindon runs what has now become a two week literature festival, and the Cheltenham Festival is also within easy reach.

Fire your enthusiasm

I first went to Winchester some fifteen years ago and when I got back home, I told my non-writing husband what a great time I’d had. When I eventually stopped gushing and he managed to get a word in, he asked if I planned to go again the following year. I thought for a second or two and then replied only if I could earn the money to pay from it by selling my writing. That was the beginning of my determination to be a real writer. To produce something that people who didn’t know me would be prepared to actually pay for. Continue reading

Finding Inspiration – Pictures tell Stories.

Leading Writing Workshops on board a cruise is nothing like teaching Creative Writing courses back home. For a start, I used to limit my course groups for the University of Bath, Swindon College or the WEA to 12 people. On board ship, you never know how many passengers will turn up. It can be a whole roomful of people ranging from those who have never written before to experienced writers. Several years ago, I had a published author from California who joined the workshops and I know at least one of the people who came to my workshops on the Black Watch Mystery Cruise at the end of November had won a Writing Magazine short story competition and been highly commended in two others! The majority of passengers who opt to try my workshops would probably never consider attending classes back home so my main task, as with any Cruise Lecturer, is to entertain by providing the vital stimulus to help them start writing.

How do I do that?

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