Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Jaguar and my excellent dad

Here are some pictures of my dad and his friends and their cars.
Dad and a friend restored his Jag over a year or two.
It's been something he's wanted to do for ages - his dad was a good mechanic and he knows so much about cars (he fixed mine last night when some dope crunched my front fender) and I'm so proud of him for doing something he's always wanted to do. I love old cars but Stuart is car mad so he gets up unnaturally early to go on drives with Dad sometimes and talks about it for days afterwards. He (quite rightly) says my dad is very cool. The car is amazing. When you travel in it, it's like being a rock star because people stop and stare. The bonnet is huge and the interior is gorgeous. Even the cigarette lighter says 'Cigar'. It's from a very stylish time. Dad drives around with his pals on the weekend and has a great time. These photos were taken by Stuart, who takes photos of everything... Stuart has a MINI Cooper (see picture below). He loves this car. He used to have an old Triumph and still looks at them wistfully on the road, but I know he loves his new car because he washes it so often... In this final photo, I'm sinning against car enthusiasts around the globe, by sitting on the bonnet. I had no idea this was such a heinous crime until I did it, and got horrified looks from both Stuart and my dad, so I had to get a photo taken to prove I was once such a dare-devil. I'm not even allowed to put my feet up on the dash of the Mini Cooper when I'm in the suicide seat but it's worth it because it's such a gorgeous car.
Some people might know that I gave Cassidy Blair a silver MINI Cooper in 'The Millionaire Float', so it was fun research and, for once, easy... I could actually practice some scenes from the book (such as being tied up in the back seat) to see how they'd play out.

Anyway, enough about cars. Drive carefully and as my mum would say 'There are madmen on the roads'

Thursday, October 26, 2006

KB storms Moscow

Hello, just a quick post to let you know my dear friend and incredible writer, Eva Sallis, found my book in Moscow recently. Here is the picture she very kindly took. (this is not Eva, by the way. I think it's some lovely person in the Moscow bookshop). It made my day. Thank goodness for friends with more exciting lives than mine...


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Bookcrossing - Books in the city

The following is a small article I wrote (mostly for my own enjoyment) about the excellent work of Bookcrossing.com. It's very cool (the website, not the article, which if anything, is slightly manically enthusiastic). I’ve finally found the perfect hobby.

As a fan of lists, feeling different (in this case, a grand literary benefactor), hiding things, and the use of stickers in general, the website www.BookCrossing.com is as close to being a secret agent or member of the Secret Seven as a thirty-four year old girl can get without using the phrase ‘intel’ or hunting down smugglers in her spare time.

Back in the day, I had two great hobbies: reading (The Famous Five, Trixie Belden) and writing (wistful rhyming poems) and doing both in the library, where everyone knows only the cool kids hang.

My sad little hobbies kept me absorbed and delighted to the point of social non-existence throughout school and most of uni, until I discovered boys who used beer as hair gel and put me ‘on the door’ to see bands so loud I can still hear a distant drum solo.

After the beer hair boys came and went – six to eight years with good behaviour, known as The Years of Love Gone Wrong – I turned my hobby into my career. Reading still lurks about, only it’s now called research.

Since then I’ve been fishing around for a replacement hobby so I wouldn’t fall back on bad habits and start believing in Satan just because I saw him on stage with a bass guitar.

Then mere seconds before I called the WEA for a place on the scrapbooking workshop I found BookCrossing.com – some might say just in time. It’s a website set up with the aim of turning the whole world into a library.

Clearly this is something anyone with any sense would want to be involved in. And since joining, I’ve discovered about 1,700 very sensible, and some might say lovely, people in Adelaide have done just that.

As part of my research for the books I write, I’ve been alarmed by the various dodgy communities that have grown via the internet. People have embraced everything from dressing up like furry animals to a shared fascination with the texture of balloons or the TV show FarScape.

I gleefully wrote about them from my lofty heights of mirth until I too joined their merry band.

To get involved you simply order (or download and print yourself) stickers to identity it as a BookCrossing book, give each book a number pulled from the site once you’ve keyed in the details, and then ‘release’ it for someone to find. Then hopefully that person will log on with the identifying number, and so on, creating a travel diary for that book.

I admit I didn’t find the website by searching for ways to make the world a better place. I actually just Googled myself like a dork. Instead of finding my own website and the fact that my first novel is now selling second hand on eBay, I found that some of the books I’d written had already been ‘released’ around the world.

Initially I got myself into quite the to-do thinking some German lady had dumped my searing tale of lap-dancing and misadventure. But then I realised that the books you ‘release’ are ones you’d like to share with others because you liked them. Or felt guilty for having them in the ‘to read’ pile for too long.

There was even a bunch of book reviews: some good, some ice cold. But happily, one of the skills of being a writer, even before you’ve written your first poem of dysfunction, is to learn patience, merciless determination, and how to deal with rejection and bad feedback.

The fact that these skills also became very useful in The Years of Love Gone Wrong was just a happy coincidence.

The other bonus is that now I’m also part of a gang. We don’t fight on the streets or set fire to cars but we do read a lot and that can be a bit scary, especially if, like me, you turn down the corners of a friend’s favourite copy of Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One.

I walked about town weighed down with books which was good for two reasons: I got to exercise the equivalent of an Olsen twin from each leg and I’ve discovered parts of Adelaide I never knew about.

I dropped off books at hole 7 of the North Adelaide golf course (a tremendous view of the city and opportunity to plot the abduction of a golf buggy from those golf wags), the bus stop outside the op shop on Magill Road (where I spotted a set of great files for my office), the bench by the River Torrens in Walkerville (where the handrails were so warped by the recent water overflow and rubbish that I was forced to do a superhero hurdle to the path).

I left books in a phone booths in Walkerville, outside the Perryman’s Bakery in North Adelaide (unbeatable pies and pasties), on benches dotted between Richard’s Park and Sir Edmund Smith Walk in Norwood and on the path leading down to the little scultpures on the River Torrens (see pic).

Along the way I found a tiny playground tucked between side streets, helped a woman with her baby stroller, tripped over and grazed both knees (what am I, six?) and discovered that wearing sneakers with normal clothes makes me look like Melanie Griffiths in Working Girl.

I’ve since ‘released’ 26 books and more than two million books have been released worldwide and BookCrossing has even been added to the Oxford English Dictionary as a new word.

But if you’re the type to worry (another of those basic ‘must haves’ for any writer) that this ‘world as a library’ just reeks of world domination and that before you can say Orbital Mind-Control Laser, it’ll be illegal to talk over a whisper in a public place or take a book into the bathroom, just think about how nice it would be if there were helpful and smart librarian-types, like Katharine Hepburn’s character in Desk Set, wandering the world,

So check your suspicions – and large bags - at the door and help turn the world into a library.

For me, the choice was easy and not just because I can see the appeal of a well placed librarian-style ‘Shhh!’ thanks to living in an apartment squashed between a rowdy football pub and a building site, where daily conversation is peppered with the sort of words I wouldn’t even use in a fight to the death.

It’s just a nice idea and there should be more of those.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Speculative Fiction in Australia - 2001 article

This is an article I wrote back in 2001 regarding SF (Science fiction and Fantasy – Speculative fiction) for the Australian Bookseller and Publisher – the best Australian publishing industry trade magazine around.

Science fiction is not dead: it just smells funny. The opinion of some booksellers and publishers in Australia is that sales of speculative fiction to mainstream readers has not always been strong, but that fantasy is appealing to an ever-broadening marketplace, increasingly represented by women readers. Science fiction (SF), on the other hand, is successfully maintaining and even expanding its readership, primarily through media spin-offs and military fiction series.

Epic fantasy by Terry Brooks, David Eddings, Robert Jordan, Raymond E. Feist, Australian author Sara Douglass and others is popular because of old fashioned quests, lashings of romance, and historical drama, even if that history is entirely fictional. And as Jonathan Strahan, contributing editor for US-based magazine Locus, notes, the quality of these books is only improving. 'The traditional view of post-Tolkien epic fantasy is that it sells well, but that the books are lousy. That’s beginning to change. Books like Mary Gentle's Ash, China Mieville's Perdido Street Station, Guy Gavriel Kay's Lord of Emperors, and George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series are heralding the appearance of well-written, intelligent "fat fantasy" that is applauded by critics and loved by readers ,' he says.

Strahan goes on to say that, 'While it’s true that cookie cutter fantasy written to fill shopping centre rack space is mostly about escapism, the best fantasy is not. It’s about the lessons a moral person needs to learn to exist in a civilised world'. Escapism is strong drawcard, and, as says PanMacmillan Fiction Publisher Cate Paterson notes, this is a common goal among readers, no matter the genre. 'I think everybody, regardless of age, likes a quest story or someone overcoming the odds. One of the purposes of fiction is escape, to surrender reality, and the reasons people are attracted to fiction are the same, regardless of age.'

'One interesting thing about best selling authors like Robert Jordan is that the books sell extremely well for the first few weeks and then drop right off,' says Dymocks National and International Sales Manager Jeff Higgins. 'What that says to me is that people go in and buy the new Jordan or Raymond E. Feist and then that's it. Those people are kept informed by the Internet and magazines and they just get the books when they come in. I don't see that happen with any other category.'

Paterson suggests that this actually make it easier to sell to genre audiences. 'The appeal of the genre to publishers is that they are interconnected. You do get a real community of fans. (Speculative fiction) is a very connected genre and you can target a lot of people. There is no magazine that general readers will buy, but there is one for genre fiction readers, especially science fiction, fantasy and romance.'

Kaye Wright, Marketing Manager at HarperCollins Australia, publisher of the Voyager science fiction and fantasy imprint, believes that fantasy is a growing market because of its essential avoidance of a technological world, whereas SF celebrates that world. 'I read somewhere that the essential SF question nowadays is no longer "What if?" but "What now?"' Fantasy author and agent with Curtis Brown, Garth Nix agrees: 'Now we are really living in a science fictional world and it's of less interest to us. Fantasy offers a haven from all that.'

If this is really the case, then the marketing decisions that have led to the success of such technologically driven, best-selling escapist titles by authors such as Michael Crichton and Matthew Reilly could be employed to raise the profile of speculative fiction in the mainstream. This has, however, proven to be difficult. 'If we knew what was going to make a Harry Potter we'd just bottle it,' laughs Paterson. Best-sellers are phenomena whose outrageous popularity causes them to outsell other similar titles. They cannot be explained and are therefore, impossible to emulate, but that hasn't stopped people trying. 'I don't know if it's conscious that writers are trying to emulate Harry Potter’, Paterson continues, 'but I do see agents and writers saying, "following the success of Harry Potter, you may see similar things in my manuscript." There is a huge degree of luck involved in publishing, some indefinable thing.'

And while booksellers missed out on profits due to heavy discounting of the Potter books by chain stores, it has helped boost sales of some good quality fiction that has languished on shelves. 'Young adult has a market and people are starting to realise it,' says Galaxy bookstore's Stephanie Tall. 'In America, when everyone was waiting for the next Harry Potter, some booksellers got together to make "While you're waiting for Harry Potter Survival Guide" lists and on it were authors like Philip Pullman and the Narnia series. The sales for those titles skyrocketed and that's got to be good. It got people reading and talking about books.'

Higgins agrees. 'Peer pressure can force people into buying a book and reading it. All age groups were buying Harry Potter and among those were some reluctant reading kids.' But did marketing have much to do with it, or was it, as Stephanie Smith from HarperCollins Australia suggests, a classic case of word of mouth? 'I don't think they put much behind (the first book),' she says. 'But word really just spread. Sometimes there's a bit of magic and certain things just hit a cord with people.'

Combating a prevailing negative attitude toward speculative fiction will possibly require publishers to either accept its limited market, change the way they promote the genre, or increasingly remove genre tags from individual titles. A new title from Pan Macmillan, The Ill-Made Mute by Cecilia Dart-Thornton, is one Paterson hopes will become a successful 'cross-over' novel. Book One in the Bitterbynde Trilogy, The Ill-Made Mute is unusual for the absence of any reference on its cover to fantasy; and like Juliet Marillier’s recent Daughter of the Forest, is clearly aimed at a romance market as well.

One problem with getting mainstream readers to read science fiction is that publishers are reluctant to label current bestsellers as science fiction, probably because they fear harming sales. 'No one's going to tell you that Jurassic Park is an SF novel, but it is,' says Strahan. 'Crichton can write science fiction, sell millions of books, but no one wants to say it's SF because it's right off the radar in terms of sales.'

Depending on what store you go to, sales of literary SF, military SF and media spin-offs appear quite different. 'I try to push everything', says the owner and manager of Slow Glass bookstore in Melbourne, Justin Ackroyd, 'but I do better with the literary side of SF like Ian Banks and Ken McLeod sales wise than the general stuff because we have a reputation for stocking the literary material. I maintain that by keeping things like the complete Philip K. Dick on the shelves.'

'There are science fiction authors who continue to sell strongly,' says Nix. 'Space operas have gone through a resurgence and that is international.' And writers of epic-scale science fiction adventures like Peter Hamilton or Stephen Baxter do sell well. But Jez Newton, the Sydney Dymocks store speculative fiction specialist, believes that military SF sales figures are not indicative of the SF market as a whole. 'It all sells consistently because there is such a huge range,' he says. 'There are about a hundred (SF) books coming out every year but I have no best sellers at all compared to what else is in the shop. Nothing here gets up there, and I sell at least a thousand different titles a week.'

Strahan says the number of SF books published each year is much larger. 'Science fiction is probably selling better than it ever has before.' he says. 'Writers like David Weber or Lois McMaster Bujold have large dedicated audiences, as do Baxter, Hamilton, Scott Card and others. The perception that it doesn’t sell as well as epic fantasy is accurate, but it doesn’t recognise that it’s improving.'

'Unlike general fiction writers, who we promote as Australians, I'm not that sure that any science fiction or fantasy authors who are Australian ever get promoted as Australians,' says Higgins. 'Perhaps it's a hang-up of the media, which can't see that fantasy is more mainstream than it's ever been.' Of Nix, Higgins says: 'He's making more money in the States than he'd ever make here.'

Australian SF author Sean Williams is in a similar situation. With co-writer Shane Dix, he has recently been contracted by Del Rey to write three Star Wars novels, and has faced more mainstream media attention for these than any of his other books. The recognition factor of a known brand outscores on every level.

The mainstream also appears to be more comfortable with SF on the big screen, especially when it involves popular stars, than on the page. SF movies do very well at the box office, even though they are often thirty years behind what is appearing in the publishing world. 'Star Wars, says Newton, 'is nothing more than a pseudo fantasy wrapped up in a science fictional cover and was regarded by most people in literary science fiction as sending SF back twenty years.' Curiously, fantasy-based movies are notoriously poorly received. 'Any fantasy movie you care to mention has not done well.' says Nix. 'I think that might change with The Lord of the Rings, though.' Newton agrees. 'The Lord of the Rings will do better than any movie any time.'

Media spin-offs, such as Star Trek, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Star Wars, are often regarded with derision from within the SF field, despite their relatively strong sales. The success of these books indicates that SF readers are no different to mainstream audiences. They are looking for something familiar, an area of interest, yet perceptions of speculative fiction continue to be distorted: while the mainstream audience will happily go to a SF movie, the books are a different story.

Some publishers of SF are hoping to change that perception by employing editors and sales staff with familiarity in the field, but outside specialty bookstores, on the other hand, this is rare. 'You really need to read it to be able to sell it,' says Tall, and Strahan agrees. 'Science fiction is a specialty field, and I think publishers in this country have found it difficult to bring themselves up to speed on what makes SF or fantasy work and how it should be published. '

'Fantasy just sells a lot better,' says Smith at HarperCollins. 'It's hard sometimes to get science fiction off the ground. I'll read everything that comes in for the science fiction range and definitely read with a hopeful eye.'

Cover design is one area perhaps deserving reassessment. 'The biggest problem with Sean Williams' first books was that the covers were so dark that they disappeared into the background' says Ackroyd. 'Inheritance by Simon Brown has done okay but in the past he suffered from dark covers too. I liked those covers but the public isn't going to notice them when they scan the shelves. With fantasy the publishers seem to think "Oh yes, that's nice and bright, we'll chose that."'

'Experience shows that if you package a book well, it sells well, says Strahan. 'The Potter books and the Philip Pullman books in the US are handsome, well-made illustrated hardcovers, and they sell. Younger readers are particularly responsive to a magical package. And a bad package can kill a book. One recent award-winning SF title did well in hardcover, but struggled in paperback except in one store. The publisher looked into what had happened. The bookstore owner has wrapped all of his copies in brown paper and written the name of the book on it. Sales went up markedly.'

Other publishers, instead of looking for new ways to market speculative fiction, are increasingly looking to broaden the genre markets. 'Booksellers like categorising things,' Nix says. 'James Bradley is essentially a SF writer, but because he writes literary SF he and his publishers would prefer him to be (marketed) as literary fiction than science fiction. It's an Australian thing. I think there's a bit of a cringe about genre writing.'

Categorising books makes things easier for booksellers, but can limit choices for readers, and ultimately effect sales. 'The upside of genre classification is people in bookshops are directed to the sections where they know they will find something to suit their particular taste' says Paterson. 'The down side is that if a reader merely wants a good read and buys on impulse, they probably won't be looking through the genre shelves. One way round this is to place all the best new fiction, regardless of genre, on the new release shelves before they get relegated to their natural resting place in bookshops.'

Regarding sub genres, Nix explains the enormous hybrid fantasy titles available on the shelves. 'If you had a genre category map that covered everything from pulp fantasy to literary magic realism, you could have pulp fantasy on the X-axis and literary magic realism fantasy on the Y-axis and plot everything from there, but you can argue that SF is just a subset of fantasy. In fact all fiction is fantasy by definition.'

'Within science fiction, the sub genres consist of everything from cyberpunk and military SF to alternate history and feminist utopian fiction,' says Williams. 'SF is a great mixer; you can add it to anything. There is romance SF, thriller SF, crime SF; I've even read western SF. It's almost impossible to name all the varieties.'

And these hybrids are having an increasing effect on the way these books are being marketed. 'Here Be Dragons,' Nix says, 'an historical romance by Sharon Kay Penman, had a cover that looked like a fantasy novel. Fantasy fans would pick it up, see that it was an historical novel and put it back. Fans of historical romance wouldn't even pick it up because it didn't look like something they would read.'

Wright sees attempts to bend genre classification abroad as well as at home. '(Hugo Award-winning SF author) Greg Bear is being pushed into the mainstream in the UK now and I think that is interesting. We had a book by West Australian author Tess Williams which was a crossover novel and we were trying to get that broader audience, which wasn't hard to do.'

The mainstream market often buys speculative fiction when it's marketed to them as non-genre and we're still seeing this with authors such as Tom Clancy, Terry Pratchett and Douglass Adams. It's also worked with more challenging science fiction by the likes of Mary Doria Russell, William Gibson and Doris Lessing. Some of the success publishers and booksellers may find more success with science fiction titles if that cross-over market can be found, or the quality of the marketing and packaging improved. 'Speculative fiction encompasses everything from magic realism to Michael Crichton,' says Williams, 'and the need for that sort of story, whatever it's called, is not going away in a hurry.'

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Writing crime fiction - a couple of ideas and some advice

Writing Crime Fiction

This post looks at the writing of crime fiction, which is based on various panels and workshops I've been involved in. I also talk about writing romance fiction at writing and reading festivals. While my novels are described as crime.comedy.romance, chick lit, screwball comedies, light crime, or popular fiction, they have elements or romance, crime and chick lit in them, so I hope you'll forgive the fact thtat my advice comes from many years writing light crime, rather than the hard crime work of such excellent wrtiers as Patricia Cornwall or Kathy Reichs. I don't have the stomach to write such work and I can't seem to avoid being a little sarcastic and light-hearted about both crime and romance, which is ironic really, seeing as both of those things can really be pretty dangerous.... Possibly it's a defensive move, but I enjoy writing "screwball crime comedy capers" and enjoyment means I write better, and more, so as long as I have readers, i'll keep doing it. For anyone interested in writing hard crime, i hope this this article is also of use...

Crime fiction is very popular with publishers and readers. If you love reading crime fiction, you’d probably enjoy writing your own. Read your favourite writers, and work out how they ‘did it’. Plot it backwards and see where and when and how the clues, issues and instincts of the main character have come into play. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was not to write what you know, but to write what you love. If you love writing a certain genre then inevitably you should end up spending more time writing, the quality of the work is sure to improve and the likelihood of others reading it (i.e. getting published) is higher.

In crime fiction you certainly want to write and read, a page-turner but also something that is convincing. Loving the situation, genre and at least a few of the characters will enable both you and your reader to engage with the story and the manuscript will be more successful. Many crime readers have favourite authors and with the name branding that is so common in this genre, new, prolific authors in this genre are always being sought. In crime fiction there might be a certain basic couple of requests (death, action, suspense, drama, twists and turns, good conquering evil, etc) but you can also apply your own ideas, characters and style within that structure. And that’s really where the fun starts.

As a genre, it deals with the psychology of characters, and exploring the human condition intrigues both reader and writer. The reasons why people act in certain ways, how they can be so cruel or brave or capable in a crisis can be fascinating. Our notions of safety and danger, both personal and social, can be studied in stories about police procedure or private eye investigations. There is an element of wish fulfilment in writing crime fiction also. It's worthwhile to think about what you like to read yourself. Writing in like vein, and then rewriting and editing makes the process more enjoyable.

Many sub-genres exist, such as:

• amateur sleuthing
• semi-professional/ professional private eye
• an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances
• stumbling across a body
• police procedural
• hard-boiled gumshoe
• humour.

Points to note in writing a good crime novel:

Pace and action

Most of the pace and action arises from someone getting killed or threatened with death, or the central character having to solve a case related to one or the other. By reading a good crime novel and solving its structure, you can learn to plot- backwards. Map out exactly what happened and see how the author has created intrigue.


Readers need to be able to identify with your protagonist and thus with the perils and successes s/he experiences; so s/he must have intelligence, certain skills, honed intuition. An unsympathetic leading character is a challenge for both reader and writer. Strong characters give substance to the plot, which itself only works if you care about what happens next. Keep your main character active and involved. Being always central, s/he creates the excitement, so things stay thrilling and enticing, consistently moving and driving the plot.


There must be conflict, both internal and external.

Internal (within characters): What do they want? What are their goals and motivations? What makes you want to read about them and want them to succeed-or not, as in the case of the perpetrator of the crime or the enemy?

External: What drives the plot to make it so exciting? Obstacles in the way of both perpetrator and hero/ine have to be legitimate, believable and logical. Effective conflict puts your likeable characters in seemingly impossible situations and forces them to find a solution to such problems as saving themselves or the world or someone else, or solving the crime, or finding they are in a race against time. Ask yourself what is at stake: a reputation, people's lives, the world, those close to the main character, or the protagonist him/herself.


Motivation, like conflict, needs to be established early in the story. How do you get your readers on the edge of their seats? You must put them inside the heads of your characters and yearning for resolution of conflict/s. You-the writer-must know what they-the characters-want, but also what you want them to get. To this end, introduce the central and supporting characters early and ensure you determine their relationships with each other.


The setting must be established as soon as possible. Rather than tell your readers the house was ugly - describe it, using as many senses as you can. It is important to create the background to the story so the reader can picture it. Use the principle that less is better than more; don't overload the reader with superfluous detail.


You have to write as though you believe in your characters so the reader feels the same way. They have to change along the way; their development is important. What is their psychological profile, their makeup, background and view of the world? Do they ring true? What sort of relationships do they have with those around them? Are they in genuine conflict with someone as motivated as they are? At the end, a character will have made some discovery about her/ himself, thus adding to the reader's satisfaction and enjoyment. The change could be professional in nature, or psychological, or romantic. Allow an intimate understanding of at least one character, then focus on his/her personal development - always slightly larger than life in fiction.


Suspense needs to be created and maintained throughout, for it feeds on character development. Without knowing- and thus caring- about the characters, it is very difficult to create suspense with conviction.

A victim

A victim needs to be more than just a body; make him/her a human being. When you know what this person and her/his family have lost, you will have a much more powerful motivation for the central character. Allow your reader to empathise with the victim. Death, violence and injury must be shown effectively, even if TV and the movies have numbed us to them. The writer must therefore work harder to make them seem real for the reader.

Bad guys

Are your bad guys as real as your good guys? There is always some aspect of reality about the best villains. If you can recognise the humanity in them and can see what they were or could be (e.g. Anakin Skywalker turning into Darth Vader), then you can see what has been lost, why they are evil, what changed them. Think of a real crime that stuck in your mind. Often it is a study of why and how people do illegal, immoral or otherwise evil deeds. No-one knows what s/he is capable of under certain conditions. Films like ‘A Simple Plan’ or ‘Alive’ exemplify this.

Point of view

Point of view needs to be established, as well as understanding the demands of it.

Who sees and/or knows what is essential to the plot? It is necessary to get it right to ensure the investigation happens as it should, along with any red herrings.


A plot only works if you care about what happens next. A great plot, however, can seem empty without strong characters to give it substance. Write what you enjoy and what enhances your own development, but keep in mind your limitations. Research can be fun to find out what you are not sure about. Your subplot should link to the main plot, involve secondary characters and, to a lesser extent, main characters. It should interweave with the central plot.


Establish back-story so that it has an effect on the present story. Allow coincidences, but only when they advance the plot, not when they solve the crime completely or make the central character appear merely lucky rather than clever. Any back-story introduced separately needs to have been a powerful event in the main character's life to affect him/her in the present; it must be believable and have impact. It may well involve a villain or other secondary characters. Establish early such things as one character knowing something, such as a security code, where the villain lives, how to pick a lock etc. During dialogue and action scenes, readers are paying peak attention and absorbing information. Use that opportunity to distribute important data that will be needed later, for instance, perpetrator's background, villain's phobia, victim's psychological profile etc.


Dialogue reveals characters, situations and nuances- both in the characters themselves and the plot. The reader can get a lot of information from conversations. Study dialogue. Its usage always discloses much about motivations of characters, their secret feelings towards other characters, their backgrounds and verbal habits. Effective dialogue is a very powerful way to show character instead of merely telling the reader. Speech patterns, once established, will enable the reader to distinguish one character from another without the use of too much attribution.

The ending

Though the ending may have been anticipated by the readers, make sure there is always something they didn't see coming, such as romance, action, betrayal etc. Leave the reader satisfied. The ending has to be consistent with the rest of the book, but also surprising, credible and unique. A complex, thrilling plot that suddenly ties up neatly in the final ten minutes can seem unreal. Some things can be left unresolved, but tie up all the central threads.

General hints:

It's your interpretation of the story that is the attraction. Make the story and the characters exciting for yourself and for the reader through your vision, your unique interpretation of the world.

Try to keep the action moving, the intrigue alive and the characters active, so that the reader keeps on reading. There must be places (built on the inherent suspense and excitement) where the reader can take a break and catch his/her breath between the action sequences to see the personal side of the characters.

Throw in a curveball whenever things get slow. I tend to know when to do this because, as a writer, I’m feeling things are too cosy. There’s a market for cosy novels but very little room or patience for this in crime fiction . What would make things really difficult for the protagonist? How will s/he get out of the present situation? Challenge both yourself and the reader. Admiration for a central character builds the connection between reader and author.

Be very wary of trying to promote an idea or a philosophy. Don't preach to your readers; instead, just plunge them right in, and let the story and the characters reveal themselves rather than telling the reader outright.

Romantic interests and friendships are important as human elements bring characters to life. Unresolved sexual tension (as in 'X-Files', 'Moonlighting') help to maintain reader interest.

Writing tips:

# 1. Try to end each writing session at a juicy point. If you stop and abandon it when you are stuck, or at the end of a chapter, it's much harder to return and take up where you left off. This helps you to look forward to your writing.

#2. Have a note pad nearby, both when writing and editing. Note down places where you have to go back to re-emphasise a clue or a character nuance, but keep going. Read the story as the reader might.

#3. Observe industry guidelines; find out what an editor or agent wants from you. An average manuscript is 300 to 400 double-spaced A4 pages (or around 80,000 words). Many are longer, but rarely shorter.

#4. Keep your story to yourself until you have written it.

#5. Enjoy writing it, set yourself goals and reward yourself. Remember, if you are not being entertained by your story, your readers probably won't be either.

Kirsty Brooks is the author of five crime/comedy/romance novels. She is the director of Driftwood Manuscripts, an assessment service for writers. This article appears in slightly different format in the South Australian Writers' Handbook