How to Plot a Murder: A Workshop with “MorgAn and MorgEn”

  On Saturday 6th October #BedfordLibraries boldly kick-started #LibrariesWeek with a creative workshop entitled ‘How to Plot a Murder’. Now, considering that the theme of this year’s Libraries Week is “wellbeing” this seemed a little contradictory, unless you were there at the time. If you were, you would have spent most of the morning with a smile on your face.

The aim of the workshop was to have creative fun exploring the basics of planning out a cosy mystery, a whodunnit. We weren’t sure quite how many people would take the time to buy a £1 ticket (to cover the cost of refreshments), let alone who would turn up on the day, but the response was overwhelming. An additional few tickets were made available at the last minute to account for the demand. Extra chairs were found and late arrivals were squeezed in at the back.

With support from librarian Ben Woodfine, as well as editor, author, competition judge and all-round dynamo creative writing tutor Morgen Bailey, we entertained the packed room with an ambitious programme and enticed attendees to explore the hidden depths of their imagination to come up with inventive ways of committing the ultimate crime. We challenged them to consider motive and opportunity, setting, a cast of possible suspects and the need for research. Before doing that, however, we set the tone of the morning by giving out a recipe to work to, as follows:

Recipe for The Cosy Murder Mystery

Place 2lbs of ‘death-in-mysterious-circumstances’ and one tiny pinch of gory into a well-defined setting.

Add 6 – 8 possible suspects.

Stir well.

Check time of death.

Fold in a detective with experience and half a pint of detective sergeant. (If unavailable, can be substituted by a sleuth with high IQ)

Place under spotlight for several chapters exploring possible means, motive and opportunity.

Melt together, several splashes of humorous banter, community reaction and revelations about suspects.

Season with a sprinkling of red herring – to taste. (Note: can cause intolerance if overused).

Pour this into the other ingredients and mix well.

(Note: Never add profanity, sex or extreme violence.)

When baked, the story should be realistic and all loose ends tied up.

If the mystery has not been satisfactorily solved, start again/tweak/revise/ or seek advice from an editor.

Judging by the round of applause, the thanks we received, and the comments, it seems we achieved what we set out to:

“Thank you ladies – Morgen and Morgan- great team. It was an informative and fun workshop. I met some lovely writers and also got inspiration for a character to kill off!”

“Really interesting morning , loved it . Thank you both.”

“Amazing content. Great atmosphere and opportunity to participate in discussions. Good hand-outs.  £1? Would have paid £5.” 

“More please, more, more, more. Been looking for a group for ages, would love some regular crime writing workshops and a writing group.”

What did Morgen and I learn?

One: There are keen readers and writers out there who are desperate to absorb as much as possible about the art of writing.

Two: Some people may look sweet and innocent but they have twisted minds. 

    Three:  Humour is a great tool for teaching.
    Four:  Being an author is as much about giving back as it is about selling books.

A big thank you to Ben for organising,

 and especially to Morgen for giving her free time to join me:

The Serial Dater's Shopping List: a laugh out loud comedy about the highs and lows of dating by [Bailey, Morgen]

Click here for her latest book

 

 

 

Fictional Character begs for his life.

 ‘My name is Barney Ribble, my given name is Kevin but no one ever calls me that. I exist only inside the imagination of Alison Morgan and on the pages of two books, so far. I’m not the main character, but I still matter and if you don’t open those books then I fade away into the distant memory of everyone who once read about me.

Not only do I cease to live, but my mates, and my sense of humour all lie hidden, waiting for you to breathe life into us again. Fair enough I swear a bit, but apart from that there’s nothing to dislike. Now my old mucka Konrad Neale, he’s a different case in point. The flash git has got himself into a spot of bother a time or two and no mistake. Check out The Camera Lies, you’ll see what I mean. Bloody hell. Psychopath central. What she wasn’t capable of isn’t worth mentioning!

Then get your nose into a copy of Stench. When I try to help young Rory Norton because everyone thinks he’s killed the woman they found under his floorboards,  I ask for Konrad’s help but no … he manages to make matters worse.

Next? You’ll have to wait until January. Of course I know what happens in Fat Chance, but I’m not telling you. I’ll remind you nearer the time, how about that?

The Importance of the Blurb

  Once the cover catches the potential reader’s eye they check the blurb on the back cover of the book. I do. And in the first sentence or two I have to be hooked or I’m off to check out another book.

Tricky. Tricky for the reader looking for that next escape into a story, tricky for the author and publisher trying to promote their book.

The word “blurb” seems quite modern but apparently it derives from back in the early 1900’s. An American writer by the name of Gelet Burgess wrote a comic book to be given away at a book festival. On the cover he featured a Miss Belinda Blurb as a spoof, mocking the type of cover design popular with publishers of serious novels at the time.  A marketing ploy, the name Blurb caught the attention of the press who asked what it meant. Burgess apparently said it described ‘self praise and making a noise like a publisher’.

Belinda Blurb, queen of promotion.

Without the blurb how do we know, at a glance, what a book is about?

What constitutes a good blurb? It’s more than a brief description. The opening must be precise and captivating. Who and what is this story about? Sounds simple until you have to write one. Try creating an opening blurb line for ‘Robinson Crusoe’.  Robinson Crusoe a headstrong young man In the year … or Based on the true story of Alexander Selkirk …. or … Robinson Crusoe survived the shipwreck only to find himself on a deserted island…

We want to hear more, but then there’s the question of how much more ? What is the hook? Will he find a way off the island? How will he endure the loneliness? 

A good blurb entices the reader further by ensuring this is the book they are looking for. A story of adventure, of human determination and ingenuity.

The final shove towards the till or that BUY button is to compare your book to one that already sells millions. If you enjoyed Treasure Island then this book is for you. Or words to that effect, without being patronising, or sounding like a second hand car dealer. This is difficult.

Get it right and it can increase book sales. I’m no expert, but I suggest checking out people who are if you are an author and especially if you self-publish.

The blurb, not just a load of blah blah blah.

Book Review

A.B. Morgan’s Reviews > White Chrysanthemum

White Chrysanthemum
by

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A.B. Morgan‘s review

Sep 10, 2018  ·  edit


White Chrysanthemum

Goodness me! It is a long time since a book has haunted me emotionally in the way this one has done. I cannot stop thinking about it.

White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht is a beautifully written book which is set to the backdrop of a little known part of recent history. Until I read this book and was fortunate enough to listen to the author speak at a summer literary festival, I knew nothing of the “comfort women” – young girls wrenched from their homes and families in Korea to be used as commodities by the Japanese army to service their soldiers during the second world war. Indeed I had only vague knowledge of Korea’s troubled past.

The author uses the power of fiction to tell the story of two sisters whose lives are forever changed by war and cultural devastation. The language used is simple yet somehow poetic and completely draws the reader into the determined struggle of the two main characters. It is told in the third person present and alternates between time periods with such ease that the reader is driven to turn the pages and follow the path the two sisters take.

There were times when my heart ached, tears welled up and when I sought a quiet place not to be disturbed in order to disappear into the book. If Mary Lynn Bracht never writes another novel she can rest easy,this one is an immense credit to her writing ability and her commitment to tell the story of the women so badly wronged. Highly recommended.

 

Confessions of a Writer: part 1

I shouted at the radio in my car yesterday. Depeche Mode were playing and I was singing along as I drove to the nearest supermarket, forced into a shopping trip because of severely depleted supplies.

‘Words are very unnecessary. They can only do harm …’

I hadn’t paid much attention to the lyrics of this particular song before and I was cross at the insinuation. ‘What crap,’ I said to the windscreen. Then I took the time to listen to the full chorus and, all at once, felt a sense of deep shame at having misunderstood. Taken out of context, the words I had focussed on sent a negative message, but listen to the full lyrics of Enjoy the Silence and it is a beautiful song about the power of touch.

When I reached the supermarket the song was firmly stuck in my head as I wheeled the trolley through to the checkout. I was humming away as I packed the bags, only stopping to laugh aloud as I read another set of words which I immediately took out of context because of the way they were written.

A piece of cardboard had been attached to the security posts at the exit. It had been handwritten in bold, black, marker-pen with the words-

BASKETS ARE NOT ALLOWED OUTSIDE

My strange writing brain engaged gear and,  as I finished reading, was already wondering at the inequality between being a basket and being a trolley. Trolleys had it good. They could go outside. Obviously a couple of baskets had decided to make a run for it and the basket police had taken remedial action without waiting for head office approval.

I sang as I walked back to my car, ‘Words are very unnecessary. They can only do harm.’ Especially if you happen to be a basket in a supermarket.

What lesson did I learn?     For writers and readers alike, context is important.

Experiment time: A little audio snippet, does it tempt you?

Here is my confession. I have only recently become acquainted with the work of Philip Pullman and I downloaded The Ruby in the Smoke as an audiobook. The narration by Anton Lesser was sublime and, without doubt, contributed to my decision to read more books by Mr Pullman.

I do enjoy a good audiobook, but nothing irritates more than a bad one. Rather sadly I’ve come across too many examples of badly read stories – some beautifully written –  and I do wonder how much negative influence a poor audio experience can have on future book sales.

In a risky experiment I have created a short audio sample, a reading from part of a chapter of Stench, (written and narrated by me).

My question is this: Would a short audio sample tempt you to buy the book? Or would you be more influenced by a written sample?

 

When you are a writer, thinking is working.

 I dragged my poor unsuspecting mother along to her first literary festival on Saturday, and she loved it! BeaconLit Festival  has been running since 2013 and this year attracted such authors as Carole Matthews, Louise Jensen, Tony Klinger and the highly entertaining double act of Mark Billingham in conversation with Martyn Waites – both of whom also have a background in stand up comedy and goodness me did it show. My sense of humour too …

The author panels were lively, informative and positive, giving voice to newer authors as well as seasoned bestsellers. What made it all the more enjoyable was being able to chat to other authors, writers and avid readers in a relaxed atmosphere and to join in a creative writing workshop run by Morgen Bailey, editor, author, literary judge and a woman with more energy than the Duracell bunny.

What golden nugget of wisdom did I glean from the day?

That I am not as mad as I thought. “Hurrah!”

Lousie Jensen admitted to having no idea where her plots would take her – me too. Mark Billingham asserted that, like me, he is constantly thinking of ideas for the next book and will vacuum up interesting anecdotes pocketing them for later use. His sidekick Martyn Waites confirmed that it’s perfectly reasonable to consider musings and imaginings as working, as long as the ideas make it to the page in one way or another.  So going to the pub is research.

As well as accepting that we all seem to be kings and queens of procrastination at times, I  also learnt that those of us who write crime thrillers are untrustworthy and devious people watchers always on the lookout for a story, a juicy tale, an unusual titbit or a twisted perspective on a simple situation. Perfectly normal.

I’m just polishing the manuscript for book number five and the good news is that today I have also been working on the next idea for a story. I did this while cleaning the bathroom. I was talking to myself a lot, pretending to be in conversation with the dog, of course. Yes … I am working.

 

Can fiction really help raise awareness of mental health issues?

A true story:

I met a young man out with a group of his friends on Saturday. He was leading from the front as they walked on a public footpath enjoying the sunshine. Like many herds of young teenagers, who had ventured recently into adolescence, they were chatty and loud. I heard them before I saw them. Swear words rang out. “F***’, ‘F***ing ni****s*. It was a bit shocking to hear such appalling racism but as I turned in anticipation of giving the culprit a slice of condemnation,  I witnessed the anguish on the face of the youngster who had uttered those words. His head shot back, his whole body stiffened and more expletives burst from his lips as he tensed.’F***, give us a blow job!’ he bellowed at me and crumpled in exhaustion.

He immediately apologised as did his friends.

What excellent friends they were. What a tortured lad, bravely trying to be as normal as he could.

I looked him in the eye and reassured him. ‘No problem young man. I completely understand.’ He thanked me, relief evident in his eyes and his friends all smiled. As they walked away I heard one say, ‘I wish everyone understood like that.’

I haven’t stopped thinking about him since. What will his future hold? Who is helping him?

It’s #Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK. How many of us understand Tourettes? How many of us recognise it when we see it? How many times has that young person been misunderstood?

Maybe we have become desensitised to the facts and figures? Or simply do not really comprehend what the fuss is all about?

Where does fiction fit in?:

Having worked at the front line of mental health services in this country for several decades, I now write crime thrillers. Within the pages of those books are observations, evidence and thought provoking storylines relating to a variety of aspects of mental health. I don’t evangelise. I try to provoke consideration and understanding.

#Stench, as an integral part of the story, takes the reader on a journey of relapse into psychosis. If you like a psychological thriller to read …

‘It is a side to the Mental Health Service that we are aware of, the under-funding, the out of hours service and general inadequacies. Now I do mention this as it plays a part in the story, but the author has got the balance spot on for me, incorporating a problem into a story without going over the top and coming across as preaching.’ Me and My Books – book review.

 

Amazon link.

‘Stench is a brilliant read. It left me feeling shaken and unnerved. Within the thriller genre it fits into a niche of its own, not just because of the authority behind the writing but the brutal honesty in which mental health is dealt with. Actions have consequences and those consequences can have a lasting effect. AB Morgan weaves this into her story with great skill. The twist and turns are balanced perfectly and I never saw them coming!’ Books Are My Cwtches – book review

The Chalk Man : by C J Tudor – audiobook review

The Chalk Man: 'If you like my stuff, you'll like this' STEPHEN KING I’ve taken to listening to books these days, because, to be honest, I have little opportunity to sit, guilt free, and read a book. Although I write crime novels, I live with a non-reader  – which in Harry Potter terms is like saying I live with a muggle.

However …

Plugging into my bluetooth headphones I can multitask by doing the gardening, the ironing, the boring housework and be entertained while walking the dog. I can tune in and drop out.

I’d like to share my personal thoughts on this audiobook: The Chalk Man

  1. The story. A terrible accident, an unsolved murdermysterious chalk drawings, decisions, lies and betrayalsHow cleverly thought through this storyline was and it flowed so well. We are treated to two timelines of events from the perspective of a young  Eddie in the 1980’s and from the adult Ed who is the product of events in his childhood. With him on his journey are a group of lively friends; Fat Gav, Metal Mickey, Hoppo and Nicky through whom the book comes alive because of the author’s ability use the language of the young, to enter their mindset and remind us readers (listeners) how confusing the world can appear to be from the perspective of a child. The mystery weaves from the past to the present adult world that Ed inhabits as he attempts to find elusive answers to the puzzles and events that unfold.
  2. The narration. The two male narrators are both easy to listen to, there are no jarring tones or peculiarly unnecessary extremes of accent, and, most importantly, the young Eddie is distinguishable from the adult Ed. I wondered at first why the adult Ed had a soft Irish brogue, but it’s an irrelevancy because both narrators make the story come alive and enable the listener to quickly tune in to the timelines. There is admirable use of the pause and of dramatic inflection that help to paint visual imagery, enhancing the words on the page.
  3. Overall: Great Entertainment. My mind didn’t wander off anywhere other than into the story and I was fully absorbed in the lives of Eddie and his friends. Bravo to all involved.

Coming soon

A dead body, a hidden past, whispers and accusations, motorbikes, unsavoury neighbours and a decent into mental illness. All that for only 99p on Amazon. Available for preorder.