Wednesday 28 June 2023

Out and about

 June was National Crime Reading Month and Cardiff Library staged a number of events, including a whole day of talks last Saturday, arranged in conjunction with Crime Cymru and Diamond Crime. I was one of the authors and it was a fabulous day. Lots of talent on show - all with connections to Wales, even if not all the books are set there.  We had a great audience, most of whom managed to stay with us for the whole day. I was the last session, discussing Psychological Thrillers with the lovely Louise Mumford who has a brand new book out The Hotel - which sounds like it is major creepy.  Although my genre is romantic suspense there is a lot of overlap - the importance  of place, the sense of menace, the personalities of the characters ...

It was fun, we laughed and I hope the audience enjoyed it. I hope we can do it again next year. 

Confession - I snaffled the picture from the library twitter feed - so fingers crossed no one minds. 

Thursday 22 June 2023

No - I didn't forget!

 A day late and a dollar short. Sadly because of events beyond my control. My Internet connection and landline phone went down on Saturday and has only just been fixed. So no blog on Wednesday. The isolation and panic have given me a strong prompt to do something about a smart phone that would at least help with some of the problems - but I don't think I could have written a blog on one! 

Anyway. I am here now. Waiting for the builders to arrive to investigate just how bad the crumbling of the wall between my house and next door is - I pulled off some ivy and it didn't look good. It's the wall in the pic that is header for the blog, by the way. It seems as if my summer are spent on restoring expensive walls - last year it was the retaining wall that kept the back of the garden from becoming the front of the garden. We won't mention the pile of rubble that the builders next door - other way - have made of that adjoining wall. Not sure why it was knocked down when they were not ready to re-build it - but that's not my problem, thankfully. .

The lack of communication facilities made me think about the issue in relation to writers. I've been reading quite a bit of cosy crime lately, a lot of it period stuff. (Would I like to write one? Hmm. Maybe?) Time periods well before everyone (except me) had a magic phone in their pocket/handbag. In relation to crime that is a two edged sword. Research and following clues is much easier for sleuths - amateur and professional - with the internet available but it has its downside Those of us who read period stuff have probably often come across a plot that would have been settled in a few moments, and so ended the book, if someone/anyone had had a mobile phone. And how often have you heard an author complain at the lengths they have had to go to make sure their characters can't get a phone signal at a crucial moment. That always seem contrived - although if you are a regular listener to the Radio 4 Today programme you will know just how often a connection is poor or fails completely - and not just when talking to someone overseas. The presenters probably squirm, but it cheers me up - See it does happen, often. 

Anyway I am back now and life is a lot easier. I hope it stays that way!!!

Wednesday 14 June 2023

Killer tropes?

 The existence of tropes - a recurring theme or plot element -  is an accepted thing and often discussed in romance writing. Lists are made and favourites declared - friends to lovers, enemies to lovers, secret baby, marriage of convenience, fake relationship, runaway bride, only one bed ... They are an excellent shorthand to describe a book and much loved and appreciated in the romance reading community. You know what you are getting and can chose to suit mood or preference - or avoid if that doesn't happen to be your thing.

I have found some Internet discussion about whether tropes apply to crime/thrillers/mysteries and what they are, but it doesn't seem to be so often explored as is the case with romance. Or so much agreement over what the tropes might be. 

This idea of crime tropes occurred to me as I was beginning to read the latest thriller by Harlen Coben - I Will Find You. Apparently it is a story involving a prison break - and I reckon this can be called a thriller trope.  

This got me going on a few others - 

Heists -  Ocean's Eleven type plotting

Gaslighting,/coercive relationships-  domestic noir territory

Mysterious disappearances and ambiguous strangers - Are they who they say they are?   

'Treasure hunts' - tracking down everything from Nazi gold to undiscovered manuscripts written by Shakespeare. With clues!

Secrets from the past - often popularly linked to events in the two World Wars. Can involve journals, diaries, letters ...

Serial Killers - these are are so ubiquitous I'm not sure they would count 

Enclosed settings - mostly islands, with a killer lurking. Or a snowed-in house party. I'm sure I also remember reading a British Library crime classic with a snowed-in train. 

Revenge - a favourite with Jacobean playwrights. I love those plays (Yes, you already know I'm bitter and twisted) I've always wanted to write one, but I haven't yet figured out how I would do it in a romantic suspense setting. One day, maybe. 

I'm sure there are a lot more - an interesting exercise to keep an eye out for new ones. 

Wednesday 7 June 2023

The Value of Money

Reading books written as contemporary even 20 years ago can show how much the world has changed. Communications, especially mobile phones and social media are the most obvious changes, but reading an early book by one of my favourite crime writers produced a  different focus  - money. 

The classic advice for authors is to avoid mentioning specific sums. The reader can fill in the detail, with whatever amount seems reasonable to them. One woman's fortune is another woman's pin money. But sometimes it's not that easy to leave the space blank. When writing Masquerade on the Riviera I knew I had to decide on a price that would be asked for the famous Cleopatra Necklace. There was no way around it. After some long and careful thought, I settled on five million. It might be considered rather on the low side, when compared with some of the lottery wins that happen nowadays, but I thought about the character of the person making the request, what they thought they could get away with and what they thought they would need to set themselves up in a new life. Five million seemed about right, so that's the sum I chose. 

The book that prompted these reflections was Past Caring, by Robert Goddard. As I have said, he has been a favourite over the years and this was his first book. I assumed that I had already read it, so it was a pleasant surprise to find that I hadn't. The time lines of the book were interesting. Published in 1986, it was set mainly in the 1970s - understandable as the action stretched back to 1910, with characters who have seen action in the Boer War. The constraints of writing about suffragettes and First World War soldiers who were still alive but very elderly is similar to those of us who currently write about survivors from World War Two.

But I digress.

The sum of money that brought me up short was the mention of £210,000 as sufficient to ensure the continued solvency of a middle aged character at the end of the book. It was fascinating to reflect on the value then of a sum that would now barely cover the cost of a modest terraced house in an area outside London.  We'd have to be talking around a million these days, I guess, but in the early 1980s, when the book finishes, that sum must have seemed like the equivalent. It makes you think, which is always good. Genre novels often get overlooked as social history, but they've got a part to play just as much as literary and non fiction.