Each week, we invite our Crime Cymru authors to tell us a bit about themselves and their writing. This week, Nigel Williams takes a fascinating look at how we write something that hasn’t already been written and talks about ‘quiet scenes’ and why he can’t set foot inside a police house.
It’s always a pleasure to write something for the Crime Cymru blog, but it’s also a daunting prospect. I kept asking myself; what on earth can I write that hasn’t already been written, and how can I make it interesting? But the more I thought about these questions, the more it dawned on me that these are also the crucial questions all writers ask themselves when they sit before the blank page to write the first words of a new book.
Book nine in the Terry McGuire crime thriller series; Raven, was released in time for the Porthcawl Elvis Festival. As a crime – police procedural story, it would be fair to say it was difficult to come up with a story that offered the reader something new. Practically everything within the warped minds of our species has been written. But every story has its own unique characters, a different location, and a different (if not unique) crime scenario. Those three things ensure the story will be unique in its own right. We all know, from our own experience, no two people react in the same way to things that happen. For characters to be believable, the backstory created for them should dictate the way they react too. Getting into the head of different characters can be difficult but the crucial thing to remember is to keep them pretty much consistent. Don’t make them do something they would never do. We all do something out of character occasionally, but thankfully, for the most part, we are pretty consistent and our characters have to be dependable – dependably good or dependably bad. It’s particularly shocking when those rules are broken and, if the clues to the impending bombshell are not planted somewhere in the story beforehand, it becomes unbelievable.
Raven is set on the weekend of the now world famous festival. The streets are full of Elvis lookalikes dancing to the sounds of the King’s back catalogue. A body discovered on the pier triggers a series of bizarre events that test Terry and his team once more.
As I write this, I’m also working on another draft of the first book in another crime series set in South Wales. This time, our new protagonist is American born Abraham Quince. Abe brings a fresh face and a new accent to the South Wales Police. Quince’s character has to have certain traits that are common to most police officers. A sense of humour is essential for a ‘functioning’ police officer. It’s the ability to find something funny somewhere, even in the grimmest of circumstances, that separates the horror of the job from the normality of home. But the empathy for victims and their families should always come first. We would all like to think that our police officers act as we expect them to do at all times. But recent crimes committed by officers remind us that the weaknesses and perversions of those antagonists in our stories sometimes appear in those sworn to protect us too.
It’s often difficult to write ‘the quiet scenes’ of a crime novel if you don’t have experience of being in the company of coppers. The ‘banter’ between officers is often unrelenting. Times have changed and the merciless ribbing and teasing of the past would not be tolerated today. But working closely with others, at scenes no one should ever witness, brings an understanding and informality that extends up through the ranks. It’s often annoying for any police officer reading crime stories to hear the formality written into informal conversations between officers. It makes it clear to anyone who has been there and done it that the writer has not. Sergeants and Inspectors I worked with always called me by my first name – unless I had done something stupid and then anything was fair game. No one ever called me PC Williams after I completed my two year probationary period. Sorry, there was an occasion when my rank and name was used with patronising venom – I’ve never told anyone else this. Keep it to yourself: I was called up to ‘the big house’ (Headquarters in Bridgend) to receive an almighty rollicking from the Deputy Chief Constable for allowing the pipes to freeze in my police house and flooding the said property when it thawed. I have to say it was a fair cop. I had been away from the house for a few days during the freeze and left the central heating off. When I returned, it was like entering a rain forest. It was the first time a police house had a dozen internal water features. The matter was taken seriously – it was tax payers money after all – and, although it was simply a stupid oversight on my part, I was investigated for neglect of a police house and eventually banned from ever stepping foot inside one again. Oops!
Although I write most of the crime novels with another author; Arthur Cole – a retired Detective Sergeant, I also write crime under my own name and horror under the pseudonym of Russ Geraghty. “Dead Legacy” is the first book in this spooky series. I felt it helped to change my name on the cover to clearly distinguish between the genres. There’s nothing worse than following an author for a particular kind of story and then discovering a read that perhaps does not rank highly on your personal taste meter.
Crime has always been a major part of my life – not committing it, I hasten to add – as a former police firearms and traffic officer. Although my police career was cut short at fourteen years after being hit by a stolen vehicle and fracturing my spine, I managed to keep in touch with many of my former colleagues via social networking. It was on one such site that I first ‘met’ Arthur. Although we had worked as contemporaries in the same police force, we didn’t meet face-to-face until the first book “Unethical Conduct” was published.
Writing with another author is surprisingly easy. Even before the dreaded lockdown, Arthur and I chose to use the wonders of email to write the stories. Perhaps it’s appropriate then that this short blog post is also winging its way to you through the digital ether and I hope I am afforded another opportunity to perhaps let some more secrets out of the bag sometime soon.
Read more about Nigel Williams on his Crime Cymru page.