Crime Writing : A novel way of plotting

The Classic Cosy

‘How do you set about plotting a murder mystery?’ This is a question many crime writers have been asked, I’m sure. Not all of them will have tried this particular method…

The Fox is a delightful thatched stone pub in the North Bedfordshire village of Carlton. On Saturday evening (6th April) the talk in The Fox was of murder. It wasn’t entirely my fault, the landlady, also called Alison, has to take the blame in part. In a rash moment, fuelled by a dose or two of alcohol, I agreed to facilitate an evening of murder, plot and mayhem. ‘By way of a change…’

Thus the plotting experiment was born. Here was the question: Could a group of people in a Bedfordshire pub manage to devise a murder mystery worthy of a place in a book, or indeed a script for TV? Would the evening be entertaining enough to justify the ticket price? With cheese and wine included we – the landlady and I – found out by throwing ourselves into a ‘PLOT A MURDER EVENING’.

I don’t want to disclose too many of my secrets, but the plan was a simple one, the execution, however, was far more complex and required forethought. ‘It’ll be like herding cats,’ I was told. Still, given my background in mental health nursing I wasn’t fazed, although I knew that this slightly potty way of plotting would only work if the three groups of people, who bought tickets in good faith, could work together. I set the briefest of murder scenes, which involved a lady by the name of ‘Amy Cruikshank’ a youngish widow found dead in her kitchen … and then the Random Death Generator (top secret) was employed.

‘Electrocution!’. The means of murder was decided, but how exactly did she die? Why? Who killed her?

The inventiveness of the participants was a joy to behold. Sometimes completely whacky, sometimes unworkable, and then whoosh a brilliant aside would create a cacophony of excited chatter and much re-thinking of ideas. Two hours and a great deal of brain ache later and, by crikey, we had a workable plot.

Writers, if you ever get stuck for ideas, give this a try. Every single person enjoyed themselves, involved themselves and shared a lot of laughter. Great fun and I was happily exhausted by the end of it all. Do it again? Yes.

A big ‘thank you’ to Alison at the Fox, Carlton and to all the lovely people who came along. Alison – AB Morgan.

#WritingCommunity #CrimeFiction #Plotting #ABMorgan

Audiobook Review: ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine.’ by Gail Honeyman, narrated by Cathleen McCarron

What a treat.

The Book: What’s it about?

This extraordinary novel has won best seller awards and been praised for its literary originality and for being acutely perceptive,endearing and also funny. I cannot disagree.

This is what it says on the inside cover of the book:

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

An astonishing story that powerfully depicts the loneliness of life, and the simple power of a little kindness

The Audiobook: my review

A truly positive immersive experience: I loved it!

I chose to listen to this book on the recommendation of my daughter, and it’s been on my wish list for several months. Being a writer can sometimes take up most of my time, so listening to a wonderful story while I’m pottering around catching up with the mundane chores is always a treat.

Narrator Cathleen McCarron inhabits Eleanor, she is Eleanor Oliphant. The book is written in the first person and therefore we are treated to an intimate insight into Eleanor’s world.

Set in Glasgow the story takes you to work with Eleanor, into her home and her routines, and allows you to understand, to a degree, how much Eleanor’s understanding of human behaviour differs from what is broadly accepted as being the norm. How she deals with relationships, lack of them, and new experiences in an attempt to ‘fit in’, as well as learning about herself – is depicted with sensitivity and gentle humour.

What a superb job the narrator does and justice is truly done to the magnificent writing of Gail Honeyman. Not once did I drop out of the story or feel let down. Just the opposite in fact. This audiobook is a tonic.

As an added bonus there’s an interview between the narrator and the author at the end of the audio. Very enlightening.

I may have to listen to this particular audiobook several more times. Like a favourite film, this one will stay with me and be repeated.

Five stars without hesitation. Alison Morgan

Audiobook Review: The Murder of Harriet Monkton by Elizabeth Haynes

A Historical Murder Mystery

What is the book about?

The Murder of Harriet Monckton is based on a true story that shocked and fascinated the nation

‘On 7th November 1843, Harriet Monckton, 23 years old and a woman of respectable parentage and religious habits, was found murdered in the privy behind the dissenting chapel she had regularly attended in Bromley, Kent. The community was appalled by her death, apparently as a result of swallowing a fatal dose of prussic acid, and even more so when the autopsy revealed that Harriet was six months pregnant. 

Drawing on the coroner’s reports and witness testimonies, the novel unfolds from the viewpoints of each of the main characters, each of whom have a reason to want her dead. Harriet Monckton had at least three lovers and several people were suspected of her murder, including her close companion and fellow teacher, Miss Frances Williams. The scandal ripped through the community, the murderer was never found and for years the inhabitants of Bromley slept less soundly. 

This rich, robust novel is full of suggestion and suspicion, with the innocent looking guilty and the guilty hiding behind their piety. It is also a novel that exposes the perilous position of unmarried women, the scandal of sex out of wedlock and the hypocrisy of upstanding, church-going folk.’


The Audiobook: My Review

All credit to the publishers of this audiobook for having the foresight to use a number of different narrators for the production of this novel in audiobook format; it is undoubtedly what makes this such an enjoyable listening experience. Without the use of the very different voices to tell each character’s story this would not have done the book justice. It is a vital part of the experience to hear each point of view as there are so many possible suspects. The Narrators are:

Lisa Coleman  Joe Jameson  Richard Reed  David Thorpe  Becky Wright 

I thoroughly enjoyed this exploration of, what is in essence, a true story. Elizabeth Haynes has bravely sought to fully research the actual death of Harriet Monkton and then fictionalised it to generate her own interpretation of what might have happened. Harriet’s murder in 1843 was never solved, leaving it wide open to speculation and supposition.

I loved the writing style, the use of language, the twists and turns and how easily the listener can become fully immersed in the story, swinging allegiances as you go. The voices of the characters really make this story come alive and settle you comfortably into time and place. I still think about poor Harriet, so a round of applause to Elizabeth Haynes. Superb writing.

If you enjoy a historical mystery I highly recommend this one. Loved it.

Alison Morgan

The best suspense thriller this year so far…is not a book.

When I wasn’t on my feet shouting or singing, I sat in the Principality Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday and was swept away by the experience to such an extent that it’s taken until now to get my thoughts together. Wales v England in the Rugby Six Nations was the most astounding example of suspense, tension and emotional outpouring and I had no way of bottling it, because, unless you were there, it’s hard to capture. If I could write it I’d be a best selling thriller author – no question.

Alfred Hitchcock said about suspense as a genre that nothing much has changed ‘since Little Red Riding Hood met the Big Bad Wolf‘ and he’s right, to a point. However, sometimes in suspense novels it’s not always clear just who is the Big Bad Wolf. Take Saturday’s match for example: If you’re Welsh then it was the English and vice versa, and yet, like Holmes and Moriarty, each side had mutual respect for each others strengths and potential to undermine their determination to be victorious in the end. There’s no separation of fans either. We sat side by side, happy in each other’s company, knowing that the fearsome battle would happen in front of us.

Recently, with fellow author Morgen Bailey, I facilitated a basic crime writing workshop on the art of building suspense. There were several key areas or strategies that we hoped to get across to a group of avid writers and readers. We pulled together the most salient components of a suspense novel and enjoyed the whole morning.

That’s straightforward enough to do, but how did Saturday’s wonderful suspense drama fit with this? What could I learn from it as a writer?

The Setting: The Principality Stadium, Cardiff. Packed to the open roof with anticipation on a clear bright February day. The city streets teeming with jovial groups, street entertainers, colour, castle walls, song, drums, laughter, face painters and palpable excitement.

The Characters: This would require a whole day to describe, but suffice to say each and every member of the two opposing national rugby squads have strengths, flaws, and passion, buckets of passion. With fascinating backstories to explore, I had my favourites. The contrast between the two captains was intriguing and exploited well by the national media in the run up to the match. As for the spectators … merrily bonkers, most of them.

Foreshadowing: A writing term for ramping up the suspense with clues and hints about what is to come. Before every big international rugby match this is part of the process for building excitement. The media do a fine job, – ‘No doubt it will be a bloody confrontation,’- as do the fans themselves. What will happen? Who is playing and who is on the bench? How is this going to end? Come on!

What is at Stake?: This is the big one. In suspense novels and film we are shown the danger, the monster in the wardrobe, the kidnap victim in dire straits. On Saturday it wasn’t merely win or lose. National pride, meeting expectations, and victory, these were the prizes. For the Welsh they had one special record to uphold – the year of the nines – and one there to be broken, could they really make twelve consecutive test wins? This added unbearable tension for Welsh fans. (I feared for Mr Morgan’s health, let me tell you!)

Time Constraints: Watching that clock tick away… 80 minutes. Win or lose?

Pacing: As writers we talk about use of pace, in rugby it’s not a different meaning altogether and what I witnessed on Saturday was a battle, brutal and hard fought, fast, furious and yet sometimes measured, with play deliberately slowed to gather thoughts and reset. But my heart was hammering at the same rapid pulse throughout and this wasn’t a book, I couldn’t put it down even if I wanted to.

BUT: Here is where a writer cannot capture the feelings of the match. The sounds and sights, the smells, the emotions, yes … maybe we can give it a bash, trot out a string of elegant descriptions about hearts soaring, the shower of beer that landed on my head when the ecstatic crowd erupted. But nothing can hope to explain the physical force of the voices in chorus willing their teams on, beautiful harmonious Hymns and Arias, Swing Low, Bread of Heaven, Swing Low, Sosban Fach …

I’ve been to hundreds of rugby matches, – local, national, international – but this one tops them all. I will never forget it. Like that special book that you can’t shake off, it was ‘Magical’.

Now back to some writing:

A B Morgan

Suspense and Snowdrops: a weekend in the life of a crime writer.

As if the rugby wasn’t exciting enough on the opening weekend of the Six Nations, Morgen Bailey, author, editor, and all round good bod, joined me at Bedford Central Library to facilitate a two-hour Crime Writing Workshop on ”Suspense and How to Build it”. This was our second such ‘Morgan and Morgen’ interactive group for keen writers and readers. Given the positive response we received, it won’t be the last.

Busy in the children’s section of Bedford Library!

 Alfred Hitchcock once said of the suspense genre: ‘Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood met the Big Bad Wolf.’ However, I’m not sure he ever used a game of Giant Jenga to illustrate the meaning of the word suspense. I’m only sorry we were far too busy to take photographs of the moment the teetering tower toppled over.

Thanks go to the library for having us back and for allowing me a moment in the main library to promote my latest book, Fat Chance. It was heartening to see the place buzzing with activity and so many children selecting their next book. (None of mine, I should point out. That would be wrong on so many levels).

Snowdrops for Nurses

Then on Sunday there was a drastic change of tempo. A subtle shift in the level of intrigue.

I should explain.

As an ex-nurse, I was more than willing to volunteer to help out at a charity open garden event where I live. What an eye-opener…

Always willing to learn, I am now in possession of greater knowledge about the humble snowdrop and the underworld of the snowdrop collector – I kid you not.

There are around 2,500 different varieties of snowdrop (click for a BBC Countryfile article on the subject with astounding facts about Galanthus nivalis ‘milk flower of the snow’). I was amazed at how many Galanthophiles exist in the UK and what lengths these snowdrop fanciers will go to in order to possess a particular snowdrop variety. The village event raises a considerable sum for charity not only because of the hard work and dedication of the two snowdrop obsessives concerned, who, with help from friends, open their gardens to the public, but in large part as a result of galanthomaniacs purchasing for their collections.

Money? In Snowdrops?… Yes indeed, a single rare bulb can fetch hundreds of pounds and, most recently, well over a thousand pounds has been paid for a rare example.

As I was effectively the bouncer on the garden gate, I was asked to keep an eye out for sneak thieves making off with the more unusual snowdrops that were for sale, or worse, anyone attempting to help themselves from the garden. There were ‘observers’ in place, mingling with the crowds for that very reason.

On hearing this, my writer’s nose started twitching and my eyes widened at the realisation that the humble snowdrop may yet be central to a crime novel. There is a book called Snowdrops by A D Miller but the plant is not the main theme (‘Snowdrops’ refers to bodies that are found when snow melts, a Russian expression apparently).

I wonder… the snowdrop bulb is a source of galantamine, used in modern medicine. Of course the bulbs are poisonous too…

What’s a blog tour?


The sight and smell of a bookshop has drawn readers in for as long as books have been available to purchase, but these days online sales are central to publishing, both in paperback and eBook formats, Whatever long and arduous route your book has taken in order to be published, social media plays a part in the marketing of it, and in the world of fiction the marketplace for Crime Thrillers and Psychological Suspense is rammed. One way to let readers know your novel exists and to give them a flavour of it, is to be part of a book tour. Authors with larger publishing houses often tour bookshops and libraries because making personal appearances at literary events is part of the deal. For us minnows of the writing world there is the helpful option of the online tour, the blog tour.

Without fanatical – dare I say – obsessive readers who also blog and review the books they read, these tours could not happen. If, like me you are with a publisher, these will be organised for you, but there are bloggers who take on the organisation of tours, for a reasonable fee of course, and therefore this is a marketing strategy that is open to all authors.

Spare a thought for these incredible people who agree to read and review a book because they love reading. Generously, they then share their thoughts and book-love on a number of platforms as well as their own websites. You’ll find thousands of book reviews on FaceBook, Twitter, GoodReads, Amazon, Instagram etc. The sheer volume of reviews some bloggers carry out is quite staggering and, as a slow reader, I live in admiration of their productivity, many with full time occupations as well as family and children. How they do it I’m not entirely sure, but I thank them wholeheartedly for their time.

Bloggers, book reviewers and blog tour organisers, you are an amazing bunch!

Book Birthday: Fat Chance by A B Morgan

Fat Chance by A B Morgan, out today on Kindle at a criminally low 99p

I’m smiling because it’s publication day!

I have an irrepressible sense of humour and therefore, despite the thought provoking subject matter of the books I write, there is always something to make the reader grin and on occasion to laugh aloud. Suspense is all very well but readers need a break from the tension now and again.

So, as the country heads for uncertainty and Teresa May’s Brexit plan seems destined for the recycle bin of parliamentary history, grab a copy of Fat Chance (Kindle or paperback via Amazon) and snuggle up. Inside the shiny cover you will meet Ella Fitzwilliam, she’s about to get herself into a proper pickle.

What is the book about? here’s the blurb:

A missing barrister, a severed thumb and fat chance of finding out the truth.

Ella Fitzwilliam’s world is about to spiral out of control. She’s not cut out to be a private investigator. With little or no aptitude for the job, she’s been sent undercover to expose the hidden lives of two men who meet nearly every week at Buxham’s – a private members’ club where portions are large and secrets are held in strictest confidence. 

One of those men is Harry Drysdale, a defence barrister, and the other is Marcus Carver, an eminent surgeon with a tarnished past and much to lose. Ella knows he has unhealthy appetites, she’s sure he’s feeding his perverted habits and putting his female patients at risk but she has to prove it. 

When Harry Drysdale goes missing, Konrad Neale TV journalist tries to reveal the truth behind the lies, but some of the secrets start to reveal themselves… and they are big.

Thanks to all at Junction Publishing, #JunctionPublish for bringing the story to life. Happy Book Birthday.

Audiobook review: The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker narrated by Jot Davies

The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker 

Described as ‘a post apocalyptic thriller’ this book was originally published  over two years ago and was a best seller for it’s Australian born author who, raised in the UK, now lives in Scotland . I can see why the book did so well. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

What’s the book about?

One blurb says:

Do the impossible, or lose your family forever….

Edgar Hill, unsympathetic husband and halfhearted father, finds himself in a hopeless situation. Despite all his best efforts, he hasn’t managed to keep his family together. In fact they are further from him than ever – 550 miles, to be precise.

And in a world near annihilated by a terrible disaster, leaving the UK harsh and brutal, uncrossable by car or bike, his journey to find his loved ones will be fraught with challenges.

His best option is to run. But what if your best isn’t good enough?

Set initially in Edinburgh the story describes ‘the end of the world as we know it,’ to quote from R.E.M. But in the song, the line continues …’but I feel fine’. The main character this thriller certainly doesn’t feel fine. Anything but. Edgar Hill, Ed, is your ordinary man who has to learn to push himself to achieve extraordinary feats of endurance in order to stand any chance of seeing his young family again. What a premise.

My Review

The title appeared in the list of ‘recommendations for you’ on Amazon, and I’m glad it caught my eye because I wouldn’t normally seek out a post apocalyptic thriller as a rule. Having checked the sample – very important to me to have the right voice if they are going to be in my head for hours at a time –  I popped in my ear plugs and the poor dog ended up going for a much longer walk than originally planned because I was enjoying the change from my more usual crime thriller fare.

The story, told from Ed’s perspective, makes you consider just how you would react in the most extreme of circumstances. There is a strong supporting cast of other characters that feature throughout, and despite some having unsavoury habits and less than attractive character traits you really bond with them as a reader. I was willing them on, desperate for Ed to be reunited with his family and survive the most harrowing of experiences and physical endurance along the way. No, I’m not going to spoil it for you… suffice to say that I really enjoyed my little foray into survival fiction. Great escapist entertainment.

The audiobook

The story came alive through the excellent narration skills of Jot Davies with the delightful addition of some original music from the author too. Jot Davies brought the characters to life with consistently good use of accents and a sound delivery of the storyline with dramatic flare and comedy in the right places. He must have enjoyed the story to give such an enthusiastic performance. Top job and a lovely voice.

Well worth downloading.

Audiobook Review: Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear narrated by Jane Collingwood

 Sweet Little Lies was an Amazon Bestseller last year, and as usual I never quite got round to reading it at the time. However, there it sat on my TBR pile along with so many others – so many books , so little time. Aha!  Audiobook to the rescue. I’m so glad I picked this novel, it’s got all the ingredients of a good crime novel – whodunnit, why, and how. However this book is not a police procedural and not a psychological thriller but is in fact a mixture of the two. Refreshing, tense, warm and funny.

I have no idea why Audible have categorised it under Self Help and How To Guides, Parenting and Families (whaaaaaat?)  as well as Thrillers …It is a thriller.

About the book: here is the blurb from Amazon.

What I thought I knew: in 1998, Maryanne Doyle disappeared, and Dad knew something about it. Maryanne Doyle was never seen again.

What I actually know: in 1998, Dad lied about knowing Maryanne Doyle. Alice Lapaine has been found strangled near Dad’s pub. Dad was in the local area for both Maryanne Doyle’s disappearance and Alice Lapaine’s murder.

My Review:

Cat Kinsella is part of a murder investigation team and this immediately places her in a compromising position when her father could very easily become a suspect in a local murder and linked to the disappearance of Maryanne Doyle. Cat’s no angel and her father is/was a bad boy, in fact good or bad no one in this story is what they seem to be and this tests Cat’s loyalties to breaking point.

The story was well plotted and the characters very believable which is a sound basis for any decent book, which this is. It wasn’t at all difficult to find myself totally absorbed by the twists and turns of this debut novel and, because of the engaging writing style, the first person perspective worked extremely well. As did the settings for the story and the dynamics of Cat’s family. I say family, but she has two families really – one by virtue of her birth and the other her work ‘family’. The title says it all, it’s packed with secrets and lies and yet Caz Frear pulls all the threads together at the end. Neat and very satisfactory. I really enjoyed this one!

The Audiobook:

Congratulations to the narrator. What a fine job especially with the number of characters she had to find voices for. None of the male voices grated on me which can, I’m afraid to say, sometimes happen when females are narrating (A personal view). This is a top quality production.

If you haven’t read or plugged in to this book yet, give it a go.

 

Audiobook Review: The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

 

The Keeper of Lost Things (Click for link to Amazon) by Ruth Hogan. Narrated by Jane Collingwood, Sandra Duncan and a mystery man.

This book deserves all the accolades showered upon it and I know I’m late to the party, but goodness me it was well worth waiting for. Brava, Ruth Hogan! This book is a gem, utterly enchanting. Can’t recommend highly enough.

 

I’ve worked out why I waited so long to delve into this story and it’s not merely because I’m a slow reader and will never get through the pile of books yet to be read.

When I finished listening to the last words of The Keeper of Lost Things and sighed, it all made sense. Being read to as a child, tucked up in bed, was always the highlight of my day and a good audiobook brings the same sense of contentment. Staying with the wonder of childhood as an analogy, this book is also reminiscent of the special Christmas gift that calls to us from under the tree. We leave it until last before unwrapping it, in excited anticipation of what it may bring, because it should be savoured.

The Keeper of Lost Things has been calling to me for months, and yet I resisted. I think I desperately wanted it to be that special present; the one that makes your heart lurch. Having finished it, I can safely say it is just that. I’m ordering my own paperback copy to keep. Wouldn’t want to lose this one!

About the book:

Winner of the Richard and Judy autumn book club 2017.

One of the Mail on Sunday’s ‘Best books for the beach this summer’

Meet the Keeper of Lost Things….

Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.

Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.

But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters….

What are my thoughts?

This story was thoroughly captivating, in part because of Ruth Hogan’s ability to paint magical pictures with words, but also because the story itself, despite exploring dark subjects, is such an endearing one.

How do we categorise this book? ‘Up-lit’, is the favoured term, apparently. Uplifting literature it is indeed and is a wonderfully woven tale of love, loss, redress and reconciliation all anchored in a strong sense of place, Padua, the house where the lost things are carefully kept. The composition is cleverly thought through, intelligent, competent and so true to life. Classy.

The idea for the book arose from an opening line. The first paragraph had me hooked.

Charles Bramwell Brockley was travelling alone and without a ticket on the 14.42 from London Bridge to Brighton. The Huntley and Palmers biscuit tin in which he was travelling teetered precariously on the edge of the seat as the train juddered to a halt at Haywards Heath. But just as it toppled forward towards the carriage floor it was gathered up by a safe pair of hands.

 Although the story involves the perceptive exploration of loss, of death and of regret, the book is joyful in its humour and positivity.  Ruth Hogan’s optimistic soul shines from the pages. Well-rounded characters, who are hard not to become overly attached to, complete the component parts of what is a superb book.

The Performance: Writers and readers alike will have formed the voices of the characters and see them in their heads as they either write or absorb the words in any given book. However, experiencing an audiobook is somewhat different. We rely on the narrators to interpret the words for us and be true to the writing.  As an audiobook, the publishers/producers of The Keeper of Lost Things should be commended for taking the step of using a number of narrators. This is not an easy book to do audio justice to for the simple reason that there are intertwining stories and an important cast of characters, central to which is Anthony Peardew himself, and yet the male narrator has not been credited. Odd. He has a lovely voice, as have the other two narrators who have done a sterling job. I was completely lost in the story (pun intended).

Not wanting to spoil anything, but if you intend listening to this then I would suggest you plug your earphones in and settle down with ‘the lovely cup of tea’ to savour every moment of this story without too many interruptions. In the meantime I look forward to disappearing into Ruth’s next book, The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes, which was inspired by her walks in a local Victorian garden cemetery. (www.fosterhillroadcemetery.co.uk)

 

Enjoy.

Ali Morgan