From Detective Constable to Crime Writer

I’ve struggled to write this post for the past couple of weeks because of the emotions that are raging through me as I transition through the changes that are happening in my life. I feel as though I am slowly, but gradually losing parts of myself to a disorder that is taking over my body. Not only is it affecting how I live generally but it has now taken a massive part of my life that I suppose I identified myself by, that I loved to do and that I felt I made a real difference doing.

Rigid cuffs and asp before returning.
Rigid cuffs and asp before returning.

Two weeks ago I was medically retired  from the police where I was a detective  constable and had been for the past 8  years. It was a job I loved, but I’m no  longer able to do. Prior to that, I spent  many a year enjoying my role in uniform.  I’m telling you, that is such a great role to  do and yet, so under-valued. In total, I had  just over 15 years service. I have seen  many things you would believe and  wouldn’t want to see. I have to tell myself  that in that time I did make a difference, to people who will have noticed and will remember and those who won’t have.

Now though, now I have to move forward and take what I know into my writing and let myself focus on that, as I need to focus my mind somewhere. My body might be flaking away, but my mind is very much intact (well, most of the time!) so being a writer is the new career goal I have.

It has been hard though. There have been tears. Being a cop, is a strong identity to just leave behind. It’s something I’m still working through. You may have noticed less activity from me on social media some days and these are the days I struggle, but I do have something else and I’m holding onto it. I will keep writing, you can expect to see me continue to produce work. Life just has to be adapted to, no matter what it throws at you. I’m lucky I suppose. I already had my love of writing to fall back on. And I do love it.

This month is also Ehlers-Danlos Awareness month and I think losing a job to the disorder is awareness raising in itself. You can find more information about the disorder on the UK charity website Here.

What’s Your First Draft Like? – Ragnar Jonasson (Blog Tour Special!)

Today is a special What’s Your First Draft Like? Q&A as it is the starting post of Ragnar Jonasson’s blog tour to launch his debut English language release of Snowblind by Orenda Books. See below for further stops in the tour.

Snowbling blog tour (2)

 

32B9843or (1)Ragnar Jónasson is the Icelandic writer of the Northern Iceland Crime Series set around the northernmost town in Iceland, Siglufjord. The series is currently published in Iceland and Germany. Leading Icelandic TV production company Saga Film and award nominated actor Thor Kristjansson are developing a TV series based on the Northern Iceland Crime Series. The books in the series are Snjóblinda (2010) (DE: Schneebraut, 2011),Myrknætti (2011) (DE: Todesnacht, 2013) and Rof (2012). Ragnar’s short story Death of a Sunflower is to be published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in the US in the September/October Issue 2013.

Ragnar is a lawyer and also currently teaches copyright law at Reykjavik University. He has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. In addition to writing crime novels, Ragnar has translated fourteen novels by Agatha Christie from English into Icelandic.

Ragnar is a member of the Board of the Icelandic Association of Crime Writers and has also recently set up the Icelandic branch of the UK Crime Writers’ Association (CWA), where he is a member. Ragnar has taken part in panels on crime writing at Crimefest in the UK and Left Coast Crime in the US. Ragnar lives in Reykjavik with his wife and daughter.

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

Most books have started with an idea for a setting, a character or a plot twist, and at that point I would make a note of it in one of my notebooks.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

No, not particularly, just a matter of finding peace and quiet to sit down with the computer.

FullSizeRenderPen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

Notes are usually made in my notebooks, but when I start writing the book it’s on my computer. 

How important is research to you?

It’s important in relation to getting main points on plot, setting or history correct. The plot and characters are of course fictional but I write about real places and settings, which readers can visit, such as the small town of Siglufjordur, often places with an interesting history, which I do want to get rights.

How do you go about researching?

Research for Snowblind was relatively easy, as I’ve spent so much time in that town, and when it came to the history of the place I could consult my father, who grew up there, or my grandfather’s books, but he wrote a series of books about the history of Siglufjordur. For other books, I’ve had to visit places again and again, and read up on history and facts.

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

Everything is kept in my notebooks. 

Tell us how that first draft takes shape?

I usually discuss the idea with my Icelandic editior and send him chapters while it is being written, perhaps 1/4 of the book at a time, and then he can make comments while the book is being written.

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

No, not really. Well, I must have a computer, but that’s for purely practical reasons! 

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

The outside world exists, and indeed if the weather is nice in the summer (or if we have northern lights out in my backyard in winter), I would usually be too distracted to write. 

What does your workspace look like?

It’s basically wherever my computer is, but my office is filled with books; my own novels and translations, English language golden age books, such as Christie, Queen and Van Dine, and my collection of Icelandic Agatha Christie translations. I have some paintings and drawings on the walls, including two portraits by Icelandic artist Ragnar Páll, one of me as a boy and one of my grandfather and namesake. the artwork on the table, is a miniature bookshelf with miniature copies of my novels and translations. This was given to me by my wife for Christmas and the artist is Gudlaugur Arason, and it so happens that Gudlaugur is also a writer and we share an English language translator, Quentin Bates.

IMG_3661

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

It depends, but edits usually happen later on.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

I think the word count is a nice feature to have to keep track. 

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

I have published one book each year for the past six years, so the whole process takes about a year, from the first chapter until the final edited version.

In what format do you like to read it through, e-reader, paper or the computer screen?

Definitely not the computer screen. Paper can be nice to make notes onto, butIMG_3660 (1) usually I would read it on an e-reader and keep a notebook for edits and comments.

What happens now that first draft is done?

My editor reads it through and sends me back to work! 

 

 

Snowblind

25067569Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose. Taut and terrifying, Snowblind is a startling debut from an extraordinary new talent, taking Nordic Noir to soaring new heights. ‘Is King Arnaldur looking to his laurels? There is a young pretender beavering away, his eye on the crown: Ragnar Jónasson’ Barry Forshaw

Lindsay Wagner – #ThisIsNormal

The day is here when I blog out the final episode of the podcast version of Graeme Cameron’s novel Normal. The novel itself has been the highlight of my year and I am also an avid podcast listener so I was thrilled when Cara at Mira Books asked me to blog these. I hope you have enjoyed them as much as I have. If this is the first time you have come across the podcast episode, you can find all previous episodes Here.

Enjoy Lindsay Wagner!


 

This was brought to you courtesy of Mira Books and BooksOnAir.

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What’s Your First Draft Like? – Quentin Bates

Today I’m excited to have Quentin Bates on the blog talking about his first draft process.

Q-(Tony)9733Quentin escaped English suburbia as a teenager and found himself working in Iceland, where his gap year eventually became a gap decade, along with a new language, a new profession and a new family acquired in the process.

He trained as a ship’s officer before unexpectedly side-stepping into an obscure branch of journalism and from there into fiction. The Gunnhildur novels were born of his intimate knowledge and fondness for Iceland and its people, plus a fascination with the turmoil of the country’s recent history.

The Gunnhildur novels are Frozen Out, Cold Comfort, Chilled to the Bone, Winterlude (e-book novella), Cold Steal (e-book only), Summerchill (e-book novella) and Thin Ice (2016)

He is also translating the novels of Ragnar Jónasson, Snowblind and Nightblind, into English, published by Orenda Books.

When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?

Normally I either think about it for far too long or not long enough. It tends to start with a particular incident or situation that might not even become part of the finished book, but which kicks it all off. Mostly it’s a character or a group of characters that set the ball rolling, and once I have a clear picture of them in my mind, I can start typing.

Do you have a set routine approaching it?

I don’t have a set routine, although the laptop on the kitchen table seems to be the most productive place to work.

Pen and paper or straight to the keyboard?

Keyboard every time. A few years ago I injured my right hand, sprained my thumb (yes, a thumb can be sprained, and it’s not pleasant) so now I can only write half a dozen sentences in longhand before I have to stop.

How important is research to you?

This is an awkward one. Research is important, but I don’t set out beforehand to do much research. At the moment I’m in the early stages of working on something very different to what I’ve written so far, and I’m not sure yet if it’ll ever be finished.  As it’s historical, it’s going to call for a lot more research than I’m used to doing and I hope I can find the time to do all the reading and poking around in obscure museums that it’s going to need.

How do you go about researching?

If there’s anything specific that comes up, then I’ll find out what I need to, but it’s not something I do at the start of the process. I have a few regular sources of information I can call on for technical details. As my books are set in Iceland, research is more about being there and taking in the atmosphere for a week or two at a time, listening to the radio, reading the papers, talking to people and getting a feeling for what’s happening and what people are really thinking.

How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?

I’m not great at this… Things get scribbled down on the backs of envelopes and stuffed into pockets. I normally have a notebook with me and am trying to discipline myself to use it. I gave up using a heavy SLR camera quite a while ago and switched to a compact, which I found I actually use more like a notebook than a camera. I generally store everything in one folder on the computer and pull stuff out when needed, but still find myself searching for those elusive envelopes.

Tell us how that first draft takes shape? Do you have a set routine to approaching it?

I seem to have two or three stories on the go any one time and the rough theory is that one will become a novella, one will have enough meat on the bones to become a full-length book and one will probably be abandoned. I like the novella format, as my publisher is less concerned about what I can do or can’t do, so it provides opportunities for bending the rules that I wouldn’t otherwise get away with.

I’ve noticed that the last couple of books centre initially more on the bad guys than on my rotund heroine, so their parts have generally been written before she appears on the scene, so two or three narratives develop independently until they start to mesh together.

So there’ll be a few opening chapters, which might well eventually end up in the middle of the book. That’ll get tinkered with and thought about a lot, before I finally think there’s enough to get working on it. After that the first draft generally takes shape fairly rapidly, with some rough editing as I go. Once I’m more or less happy with it, I’ll print it all out and hack away at it with the red pen, then back to the computer to make the big changes until it’s a second draft that’s in good enough shape to be shown to my editor or my agent. Then there might be major changes asked for, or none at all.

Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?

No rituals or special items other than a table and a chair. When things get sticky, then an hour spent clearing the decks of distractions is a big help.

Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?

The outside world can disappear for a couple of hours, but it’s rare to get longer than that without an interruption of some kind. I wish I could turn off emails, phones, etc, but it can’t be done. But I will vanish from social media for a week or two, which is an indicator that things are going well.

What does your workspace look like?

My main workspace is in the shed, which is in fact a pretty posh shed, and it’s also cluttered with piles of day job stuff, hence the need for periodically clearing the decks. The other workspace is the kitchen table and that’s a better place for writing fiction, with the added advantage of being closer to the kettle and the fridge.

Shed1060

Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?

I’ll rough edit as I go, and then come back for a more comprehensive edit at intervals.

I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?

If I forget about the clock and the word count, then I know I’m doing something good. I don’t follow word counts slavishly, just try to be sure of making progress every day. I’m Mr Thousand Words. I seem to write in chunks of 900-1200 words, whatever I’m writing, an article for a magazine, a chapter of a book or a blog post. 1000 words seems to be my natural habitat.

So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?

The first draft of the e-book novella that has just been published was written in three or four bursts of activity over a couple of months in between other work. Then it lay dormant for a long time until I had time to look at it again, plus the publisher wasn’t sure if they wanted it or not, so there was no great urgency and I toyed with the idea of publishing it myself until they decided they wanted it after all. It came together quite quickly when I took a second good look at it and it needed some tidying up, but in general it was a fairly smooth process to get the first draft  into an acceptable state.


Draft0640In what format do you like to read it through, ereader, paper or the computer screen?

Paper, always paper. There’s nothing like the brutal red biro for hacking at a first draft, or a second or third draft.

What happens now that first draft is done?

This time a couple of people read the draft and made comments on items that needed attention. So what went to my editor and then the copy editor saw a second draft. The copy editor did her stuff, but asked for no major changes, so it was a remarkably stress-free process this time. It’s much the same as the process I’m used to for a full-length book, except that while there’s more leeway for bending the rules, there’s also less space to do so.

Thanks for digging into the depths of the first draft Quentin. It’s been a pleasure having you.


You can find Quentin on his website, Amazon author page,  and the website for the Icelandic crime festival, Iceland Noir, he organises.

Summerchill

25304943It’s the tail end of a hot summer when half of Reykjavík is on holiday and the other half wishes it was. Things are quiet when a man is reported missing from his home in the suburbs. As Gunna and Helgi investigate, it becomes clear that the missing man had secrets of his own that lead to a sinister set of friends, and to someone with little to lose who is a fugitive from both justice and the underworld. It becomes a challenge for Gunna to tail both the victim and his would-be executioner, racing to catch up with at least one of them before they finally meet.

Jane Isaac on Writing From A Different Gender Point Of View

The bite-sized interviews are back! And this is something I’m really pleased about. They’re short and snappy and they’re not written format, they’re video, so they’re great fun to do and hopefully great to view.

Today we have crime author Jane Isaac talking to us about what it is like writing from the opposing gender point of view as her upcoming novel, Before It’s Too Late has a male detective inspector as a protagonist.

It’s an interesting interview and comes in at under 10 minutes so definitely worth a watch.

Can you tell the difference when you read a written by an author of the opposite gender to the protagonist or is it something you never notice?

A Rare And Fortunate Man – #ThisIsNormal

Today we are on episode 7 of 9 of the podcasting of Graeme Cameron’s novel Normal, though with the last one, I apologise as I made an error with the title of the blog post. You still had the correct podcast, but the wrong title listed. Today I am back on track!

I hope you enjoy it.


 This was brought to you courtesy of Mira Books and BooksOnAir Podcasts.

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Recently Read – Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths

Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths

Genre; Crime

17321657Ruth’s old friend Dan Golding thinks he has made a discovery that will change archaeology forever – but he needs Ruth’s help. Then, Dan is killed in a fire, leaving Ruth with one clue: the tomb of the Raven King. 

DCI Nelson is also rediscovering the past. He meets his friend Sandy Macleod, now at Blackpool CID, who tells him there are mysterious circumstances surrounding Dan’s death. A Neo-Nazi group at Dan’s University has been making threats and could be involved.

Many of Dan’s colleagues seem fearful and have secrets to hide. Ruth is drawn into the mystery, and where she goes, so does her daughter, Kate. This time, it’s not just Ruth’s life at risk.

My Thoughts:

First of all, I’m confused by the change in title of the book. On this cover, which is the cover I read, it’s simply Dying Fall and on a later version, it’s The Dying Fall, but let’s get past that and know we’re all talking about the same book and I haven’t just made an error in my blog post title.

I love the Ruth Galloway series. I love that the crime genre is coming from a different direction than just a detective investigating a case, that Ruth is a forensic archaeologist and I also love that Ruth is very human as a female character. She is overweight, she worries somewhat about that weight but doesn’t do much about it and she is generally insecure. I think many woman can identify with her no matter what front they put on to the outside world and this is refreshing to read. She has a wonderful mix of friends who all love her for who she is, and she in return accepts them for who they are.

In this novel, the same themes I love run through. I ended the book having loved it. There were lots of bone talk and history around them, the tension was ratcheted up wonderfully towards the end where I had to keep turning the pages and turning as quickly as I could. Ruth’s relationship with Nelson is continually explored and the difficulties this causes both parties. Ruth’s relationship with Cathbad is a mainstay of the book this time around as well, as the novel is set in Nelson’s home county of Lancashire and Cathbad goes with Ruth and Kate as Ruth needs to go there to look at some bones her friends found. Cathbad does a lot for her with Kate while she does her own stuff.

The only problem I had with this novel was how slowly I felt it started. There was little talk of bones, history around them or murder in the first part of the book where most of it was focused on Ruth herself. Though Griffiths’ writing is flawless and as I’ve said, I do love Ruth, I love her in the context as an archaeologist in action, not just meandering about.

But saying that, this novel has to have one of the best opening prologues I’ve read in a long time. The last line of it sent shivers down my spine!

It is a great read and one definitely worth picking up if you are a Ruth Galloway/Elly Griffiths fan.

So Last Season – #ThisIsNormal

Welcome to episode 5 of the Normal, by Graeme Cameron, podcasts. I hope you are enjoying them as much as I am. I do love audio because you can listen to it on the go and generally doing whatever it is you are doing – though that is a bit different when it’s attached to a blog post, granted!

There will be a future post on some of the podcasts I listen to and love, but as you can see, this is a great podcast for book lovers.

So here’s today’s episode.

Are you an audio person or do you prefer to read text?


 

This podcast was brought to you courtesy of Mira Books and BooksOnAir

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