No, silly. Not my rules for you to write crime fiction. It’s simply my rules for me to write crime fiction. This is the slightly longer version of a piece I wrote today for Writing.ie‘s series on “Writing and me”. Here goes…
My writing goals? Whether baking a Victoria sponge, writing a series of novels or robbing a bank, you need a decent plan (and possibly a damn good getaway driver – see pic). Here’s mine.
1. It’s a crime series. So Amazon already has half a million crime titles? Who cares. I love crime fiction.
2. But let’s not make it yet another “maverick” cop series. Make him a private eye, outside the system. He (and OK, I’m male too, it’s best that way, trust me) hates cops. And bureaucrats.
3. Give him a flexible name: Moss Reid. As in Moss, Mossie, Maurice, Reidy, Mr Reid…
And (cunning plan) doesn’t “a Moss Reid Mystery” sound like “a must-read mystery”?
4. Make him a foodie. Who happens to be a PI, with a dozen recipes per book and a bit of a whodunnit. Give him the right priorities in life – “Eat, drink and investigate, in that order.” This is hardcore “chip lit”, remember?
5. He’s no saint or superhero though – he’s a PI, not flippin’ Spiderman or Mother Teresa. From employee thefts to adultery chases, Moss Reid’s cases will be everyday, messy and mundane.
Actually, make everything around the cases as unmundane (possible new word?) as possible. Because if you’re his client, trying to trace your birth mother or a missing person – or a missing cat while we’re at it – is always going to be far from “mundane”.
6. Moss Reid is no genius either, no Holmes or Poirot. We’ll make him rely on others for his information deficits, from his iBook virus to how to navigate the criminal underworld.
Regular readers will recognise these helpers: Maggie Dardis for the IT, Colley and Harry Street for the crim stuff, Moss’s solicitor Alan Brennan for the legals and his best mate Arnaud for the cookery…
7. As for the subgenre? Avoid wisecracking smartarse PIs. What? Yet another boring would-be stand-up comedian? With an imitation .375 Magnum in the bottom drawer and a proclivity to uppercut some poor sod from Kraków? Feck off. Keep it real.
Give our man a sense of humour, but avoid cosy crime capers, car chases, Garda vampires, psychokillers and excess gore (mind you, Book #3 compares an autopsy to a butcher’s counter). So. Less of the violence, more of the social fissures.
8. Respect Ryanair. That means minimising Moss Reid’s emotional baggage. So no wives / girlfriends / kids. And definitely no shagging the victim’s bereaved either. As if. And no blonde bombshell secretaries.
Our modest hero happens to be single. With a maximum ten kilos of carry-on baggage plus “one small bag”. So get over it. Save his emotions and anger for giving out about how banjaxed the country is.
9. Try to make each story happen in real time. My first novel was set in Ireland’s summer 2013 heatwave. The second, Black Marigolds spans twelve days around Christmas 2013 (hence early provisional title The Twelve Days of Cowtown). And so on.
10. Set most of each story around Stoneybatter. And Smithfield, Grangegorman, Capel Street etc.
Why Stoneybatter? Well, Oxford has its Morse, Rebus his Edinburgh, and Wallander his – er – Wallanderland. High time Stoneybatter had its very own Moss Reid.
Because Stoneybatter is a brilliantly mixed up (in the really good sense) neighbourhood, and steeped in history.
11. Have the Irish characters talk our talk: Hiberno-English. I want to break the Guinness Record for “Most Ways To Spell ‘Bollix’ In A Crime Series”.
12. Make this series of mine span exactly 20 novels over 10 years. Or five novels every two years, approx. I know, it sounds hard, but doable. And if I come up with a viable idea for a novel outside the crime series, my rule is to publish it after at least every third ‘Moss Reid’ novel. Spread ’em out.
13. Oh yeah, and use Microsoft Excel. So that’s what spreadsheets are for. For fancy rows and columns about your ongoing plan of themes, cases and characters. I mean to plan at least two to three novels in advance, to have delicately unfolding themes and back stories.
14. Oops! Oh sugar. Flip. Allow for serendipity.
15. And never start by writing the ending, despite what some fancy courses might tell you. Begin with the beginning or at least the middle. Let the very end unfurl as you strip everything back. Rewrite, remodel, let the nuances and conclusions emerge.
16. Give your readers spoilers online. To read these, your readers must use the password provided on the back page of your print edition.
17. Keep your titles short. Call Book #3 Ghost Flight. Because that’s what it’s about, isn’t it? A ghost feckin’ flight with three Irish businessmen in a light aircraft? But then that bollocks Bear Grylls decides to become a crime writer, with his 2015 bestseller that also happens to be called Ghost Flight.
To avoid confusion – who wants to attract yucky Bear Grylls fans anyway? – Book #3 will henceforth be known as The Body Language Of The Living And The Dead. Snappy, what? Or – on the blog at least – The Bod for short.
18. Your cover’s main colours. These will be yellow and black. Always.
19. And stop doing interviews with anyone whose publication hasn’t bothered to review at least one of your previous books already.
20. As for readings? For just five minutes (plus a mere six hours’ travel time)? And out of context from a delicately woven whatsit? No way. Anything that eats into your writing time and non-working time better be damn well worth it.
So no more public appearances, panel games and monkey stuff for the media. The one main exception is for a very good cause. Or a very large cheque.
Right. That’s my secret formula. I’ve told you everything. So now I suppose I better kill you…