About this blog

This is a window into the weird world of Anglicanism, as experienced on a Cathedral Close. Has anything much happened since Trollope's Barchester Chronicles? You will still see the 'canon in residence' hurrying across to choral Evensong, robes flapping, as the late bell chimes. But look carefully and you will notice he is checking the football score on his iPhone as he runs. This is also a writer's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the novelist's life. And it's a fighter's blog. It charts the agony and ecstasy of the judo mat. Well, the agony, anyway.

Wednesday 13 July 2011

The Novel I'm Writing

It's a fantasy detective novel.  I've always wanted to write detective novels, but the thought of all that research has always put me off.  Police procedure.  Forensics.  The legal system.  Then having to set it somewhere plausible. Write what you know.  A chilling psychological thriller, set in the grim underbelly of Lichfield.  Hmm.

I read quite a lot of detective fiction, and part of the thrill is reading about places I know next to nothing about.  Southern Louisiana.  California.  New York.  I love not getting the cultural references.  What's a twinkie bar?  What's dirty rice?  What's naugahide?  What are cordovan loafers?  I have no idea--but that's all part of it.  It's the crunchy textural detail that makes this other world vivid.  It's alien and exotic, but I absolutely believe in it.

Maybe this is why it occurred to me one day that I could sidestep all the forensic research if I invented a fantasy setting for my detective.  I still have to convince the reader that this actually happened, of course, that this is how people behave, what they believe, eat, drink, how this society functions.  But nobody is going to sit there harrumphing about my ignorance of the Crown Prosecution Service.  I'm heartened that Word seems to have been fooled.  It keeps underlining my made-up place names and giving me smart tag options.  Palatine Square--add to Contacts?  display Map? display Driving Directions?

I'm in the home straight now.  My wondrous narrative arc and chapter-by-chapter plan has crumbled to dust, I'm sorry to say.  It bore so little resemblance to what I ended up writing that I've abandoned it.  It crossed my mind halfway through that it would be helpful to know who the baddie was.  Genre convention says you can't just pull your villain out of the hat in the penultimate chapter.  You have to put him or her in early on, then cunningly fool your readers into trusting them.  If your fiction is essentially character driven, as mine is, then plotting is always going to be a challenge.  The subconscious knows (you tell yourself).  Unfortunately, the subconscious is not very articulate.  There's a lot of staring blankly at the wall involved.

Here are some of my favourite detective novel writers: Janet Evanovich, Robert B Parker, Harlen Coben (especially the Myron Bolitar books), James Lee Burke, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Carl Hiaasen.  See?  Furriners, every one of 'em.

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