Today I’m hosting fellow author Jane Risdon who has dropped in to chat about her work. I pitched a series of questions to her and these are Jane’s responses…
Hi Jo, thanks for asking me back on to your fab blog. I really enjoy visiting and discovering what you will ask me next. A challenge is always such fun. I do hope your readers enjoy my latest offering.
What attracts me to writing crime?
Well, for starters it is not the blood and guts or the horror of crime, whether it is a murder, fraud, or some other law breaking. I’ve had to think hard about this question but I think it is the puzzle at the heart of most crimes: who did it, how, why, and sometimes even when and where? They’re all questions I like to be asked as a reader, and which I endeavour to ask and eventually answer in my own writing.
I don’t write police procedures and I don’t get into the psychological why and wherefores with my characters. I lay a series of clues and red-herrings often, as the crime unfolds, and I try to keep the reader guessing, engaged and trying to solve it themselves right until the end.
I also read a lot of espionage thrillers for the very same reasons I love reading crime stories.
When I read crime stories or I watch crime series on television I like to be entertained and challenged. I want to ask myself the same questions I want my readers to ask of my writing. I want to be led through a series of questions and situations which make me think, make me try to get inside the head of the criminal and the crime-fighter, but I do not want is spelled out for me and I don’t want to be lectured to or have a just ending where everyone lives happily ever after, the criminal behind bars and all is well with the world – unless it suits the story.
I cannot abide the PC content of some books and TV series. Life is horrid at times and I don’t want it wrapped up nicely with everyone being placated and for it all to end tidily and with explanations as to what drove the Fred Wests or Myra Hindleys of this world to do what they did. There is evil in people. At the end of the day knowing why isn’t really going to change a thing – in my humble opinion.
Prevention is another matter, but sadly we cannot monitor every psychopath in case they commit a murder or another type of crime, just in case they offend. We cannot know in advance who will become a murderer or criminal from the time of their birth. There may be clues, but as I said we can hardly go around locking people up in-case they offend at some point in the future because they might or might not have a wonky gene, or their parents beat them, or were divorced or whatever. This begs the question nature or nurture, and we cannot categorically answer that one as far as I am aware.
I write about the crime, the commission of it and the detection (sometimes), and the final consequences. But, I don’t feel the need for the criminal to be caught and punished for the crime, or for the reader to have things tied things up nicely at the end of a story. When I read I like to think, do my own investigation as I read and come to my own conclusions. This is what attracts me to crime. I also love General Knowledge quizzes and wonder if that is another manifestation of this quirk of mine!
I love a challenge and to pit my wits. I’d like my readers to enjoy this too. I absolutely love trying to devise the crime, the clues, and the twists and turns in my stories, leading my readers one way and then another. It gives me brain-ache when plotting, but so much fun and satisfaction too.
Have I attended any professional courses to help with my writing?
My answer in short is yes. But you know I can’t leave it there.
Anyone writing about crime cannot fail to realise at some point that their knowledge of crime detection and investigation is somewhat limited and unless you’ve had a career in Criminal Justice or Forensic Science information is possibly based upon what you’ve have already read – other crime writers – or from what you’ve have seen on TV in series such as CSI – which, by the way, is nothing like the reality of Crime Scene Investigation. So much so, that juries have been thought to be suffering from the ‘CSI effect,’ when considering evidence in real life cases and that they believe what they’ve seen in such series to be accurate and truthful and this is thought to be impacting the workings of the Criminal Justice System.
I realised several years ago that my knowledge was possibly inaccurate or outdated and based on fictional series and books I’d read. I also realised from reading authors such as Kathy Reichs – a real life Forensic Anthropologist – I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself writing about things of which I knew little. Also, with constant strides in technology it was obvious to me that what was fact and the ‘norm,’ many years ago, was now out-dated because of the latest technology and thinking about detection and the latest forensic advances. I don’t write what I call ‘blood and guts’ descriptions or ‘police procedurals,’ but for my own satisfaction I wanted to know, to be as accurate as I can be. Knowing what, why, and how, helps my writing, especially plotting; what is and isn’t possible, believable and so on.
In 2015 I decided I needed to update my knowledge. I didn’t have time to become a full-time student, although I’d have loved to have studied Forensic Science and Criminal Justice in more depth had I been years younger and not had a career in the international music business, but sometimes we discover these interests many years too late. After doing a lot of research I discovered I could study these topics in my own time and with universities who offered courses to people like me. Not only did top universities welcome older students but I also got the benefit of the tutorship of lecturers at the top of their profession and acknowledged experts in their field.
I enrolled with several universities to study Forensic Science, Criminal Justice and Archaeology designed for those who required basic and thorough knowledge without taking exams. Having said that I was tested weekly and graded and these grades could be used towards any full university courses taken in the future. I studied for almost three years at my own pace during which time I had access to the tutors for advice and help at any time, should I require it.
The courses I have taken – chosen for my particular interests – are:
Introduction to Forensic Science (the background to the science and methods/technology available).
Forensic Science and Human Identification (this meant identifying the dead from nothing more than a collection of bones in a shallow grave) taking things through to a conviction for murder having investigated the body, the cause of death, ethnicity, sex, age and so on of a real life victim. It covered so many areas of forensics including cut and saw marks etc., gunshot and ballistic identification, blood splatter, DNA, fingerprints and so on. Not for the squeamish as there were dead bodies and body parts involved as well as a post mortem video and photos.
Forensic Science and Criminal Justice (how forensics is used in crime detection and conviction). We investigated real cases as well as miscarriages of justice, including famous cases such as Jill Dando’s murder.
Forensic Psychology and Witness Investigations (how to interrogate witnesses under PACE regulations, take statements and evidence from witnesses, and how to investigate their statements and evidence: what is allowed during interviews and how time can alter eye-witness testimony).
Forensic Science: Facial Reconstruction – Finding Mr X (real life identification of a victim) building a face from a skull.
Forensic Science and Criminal Justice – From Crime to Punishment (another real life investigation)
Archaeology: From Dig to Lab and Beyond (Vale of Pewsey Dig).
Many hours of study and lots of tests later I received an average of 98% overall in my marks. Considering I haven’t really studied since leaving school in the 1960s I still pinch myself in disbelief. The cases we studied were real and some well-known. I loved it.
I’m so glad I studied all this because when I wrote the stories for Undercover: Crime Shorts (Plaisted Publishing), I was so pleased to be able to use various everyday devices to kill my victims – in believable, quite mundane ways – and to work out how to enable the perpetrators to be far away from the scenes of the sudden deaths without coming under suspicion.
Who is my favourite crime writer and why?
Oh cripes, I wish I could answer this one with just one name. I don’t think I have one in particular, I like so many for such different reasons.
I mentioned Kathy Reichs. I love her books because she is a professional, a Forensic Anthropologist who knows her stuff and she is still working in that field. She can also tell a great tale and often her stories are based on her cases – heavily disguised I am sure – and she is not gory in her detail as some writers are and I don’t like that. I try not to have blood and guts all over my writing, I like to leave it to the reader to fill in the gaps. She does this brilliantly, for me.
I love the English writers such as Peter May, Peter James and Peter Robinson (what is with all these Peters?) and recent favourites and Facebook friends are Roger A Price, R C Bridgestock, and David Videcette.
I love these writers because they have a series of characters who appear in their books and I like getting to know them, they feel like old friends, and so when I read their stories I know their backgrounds, their likes, and idiosyncrasies. It is like getting back into a favourite item of clothing when I open their books.
Of course, I love Agatha Christie and she is the reason I adore crime stories. I began reading her as a youngster aged about 10, I think.
I could list dozens more including Michael Connolly and David Baldacci, and of course don’t get me started on espionage thriller writers, we’d be here all day, but let me mention Stella Rimington, who was the first female director of MI5 and a fab writer.
Who is my favourite crime solver?
Ye Gods! I’m not sure I have one. I love Poirot and Miss Marple. They are amazing characters and I wish I’d written them. But seriously there are so many I just adore.
I am going to be cheeky and say my own (not yet published) Ms Birdsong is my favourite. She is not a detective but a former MI5 Intelligence Officer who is forced into ‘voluntary’ retirement when a joint operation with MI6 goes belly up. Her colleague in MI6 is also her lover which does not help matters when he is sent to Moscow to continue their mission. Bored out of her skull in the village she has moved to in an attempt to put the past behind her, she is over-joyed when she gets the chance to investigate the disappearance of a local mother when the woman’s teenage son asks for her help.
Lavinia Birdsong has the skills of a detective and more. She is a black belt in several Martial arts, can speak six languages and is an expert in surveillance, and is highly intelligent. She is soon hot on the trail of the missing woman and as a result finds herself up to her neck in Russian Mafia people traffickers, Ukrainian drug and gun smugglers, and murder. Just what she needs to ingratiate her way back into the Security Services, she hopes. She is sure they’d quickly realise what they are missing without her back in the fold. Oh! But then her old flame turns up right when she is getting interested in the local DCI, and life gets even more complicated for her and her ambitions.
I love Ms B. because she is feisty yet kind hearted, quirky and modern with a love of men, good wine and hard rock music. She loves nice things, expensive things, and she is a good looking woman who knows it and isn’t scared to use her looks if she needs to. She has a naughty sense humour and fun, and she would give you the Manolo Blahniks off her feet if – with a huge wince of pain – you were in dire need. But never cross her; never cause her inner warrior to come to the surface. She kicks ass with the best of the men, and then some.
So she is by far my favourite detective/investigator – sorry! I have written three novels featuring her and book one is ready to go. I cannot wait to unleash her.
What sort of preparations do I need to make before beginning to write?
I usually make a huge mug of tea and I stare at the computer screen for a while and then off I go. I don’t mind if there is someone with me, if the radio, TV is on, or if there’s music playing in the background – often it is my husband on his guitar which I love to hear. I can shut them all out. I often – more than often, actually – don’t have a clue what I’m going to write, even what the topic is going to be. Something will set me off, such as a name, a recalled experience, or even a News item and after a few minutes I start to write without any idea what is going to come out until it is in front on me on the screen. I’m what is known as a pantser.
If I’m feeling particularly naughty I might indulge in a bag of liquorice to help me in my quest for a story. I am refuelled throughout by giant mugs of tea and endless trips to the smallest room, as you can imagine.
If I decided in a change of writing direction, where would it take me?
I guess I’d already taken a small change in direction when I co-wrote Only One Woman (Headline Accent) with Christina Jones. She is a romance author so it came easily for her, yet I had not even read a romance when I started writing the novel. I thought it would be a crime story with a love interest which I could gloss over quickly but it soon became clear there wasn’t room for a crime and it was becoming a love story. I was shocked to be writing about love, I admit it, but it seemed to come quite naturally. Whether I’d want to carry on writing romance (Women’s Fiction) I’m not sure. I’m writing the sequel to Only One Woman (untitled as yet) taking the story from 1969 to the present day, but that may well be the extent of Women’s Fiction for me.
I’ve turned my hand to ghost stories for several Ghostly Writes anthologies (Plaisted Publishing), and adventure/crime – featuring 17th century pirates and 21st century smugglers – I think the genre is called Time-shift, because the story goes back and forth in time. You can find it in an anthology I’m included in called Shiver (Headline Accent) and there’s another ghost/crime story in Wishing on a Star (Headline Accent). Also, I’ve written a couple of novels which are in the genre of what I call, observational humour. They are still lurking on my computer hard-drive – waiting. But a complete change from crime and thrillers – I don’t think so. I love writing it so much – pitting my wits against myself and hoping my readers will rise to the challenge and pit theirs’ against mine! But who knows? I never thought I’d write anything but crime and I have.
Undercover: Crime Shorts is published by Plaisted Publishing House and is available in paperback from Waterstones branches (order it) and in paperback and eBook on Amazon and various digital platforms.
ISBN: 978 0 359 39783 9 ASIN: BO7RFRVL4P
JANE’S SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS
Author page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Risdon/e/B00I3GJ2Y8
Many thanks Jane for coming along and giving such a fab interview…