Inside the Mind of a Crime Fiction Author
Imagine my brain as a jigsaw of ill-fitting pieces. Each one carrying an image of, perhaps, a childhood memory, a newspaper report, a real-life event, a personal experience, an overheard conversation, an actual conversation, a smell … the list could be endless. These pieces all float around haphazardly inside my creative mind for a long time … sometimes from my childhood (and that is a long time ago) and sometimes more recently; flashes of conversations, snapshots of scenes, visions of historic events, news headlines that have grabbed me … they all remain in my mind.
Sometimes these images remain shadowy … just out of reach… in my peripheral vision. These ones are not fully formed, they have an almost ghostlike translucent quality to them. They are frustratingly close, yet, just out of reach.
However, sometimes the images are vivid, virtually blinding in their intensity. Their neon, almost fluorescent, light forces me to acknowledge them, to look at them, study them, consider where they might take me. Most infuriatingly, they keep me awake at night and often steal my daylight hours too – seeping into my thoughts, distracting me from other things, making me day dream and … generally annoying me. They follow me wherever I go and then, after weeks, or months or even years, they start to speak to me, until one day, usually at the most inconvenient time, one of the vivid ones jumps right to the front of the cue, preening and strutting like a horny peacock vying for a mate … and that’s when I know I’ve got a starting point. But, it doesn’t stop there … oh no. I still need my sub plots so …
All the jigsaw pieces continue to bump against each other, knocking sharp edges off here, smoothing corners there, losing extraneous stuff, embellishing things and, gradually, they form a clear picture of plot lines and ideas that interweave to create a cohesive narrative. That is, in essence, how my creative mind works.
Then comes the darkness! Well, I write crime fiction, don’t I? – here’s how that happens.
With Uncommon Cruelty a very normal event that, no doubt, happens throughout the world on a fairly regular basis, captured my imagination and formed a jigsaw piece that loitered in the shadows for a while before emerging into the light. This particular jigsaw piece was inspired, in part, by personal experience and in part by hearsay and various news stories over the years. It was the Out Of Control Teen House Party jigsaw piece. My own teen (at the time) son hosted one such party that got mildly (in retrospect) out of control with a few older kids gate-crashing and a bit of damage to the house. This combined with hazy memories of a party I had hosted as teen when my parents were away (the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, it seems). Thankfully most of these parties end with only minimal damage to property and a sound telling off for the guilty teen party host.
However, as any crime fiction author will tell you, when you bring in that most essential of all writers’ tools the big “WHAT IF … ?” question, then things can take a very, very dark turn … and, that’s basically what happens with my writing.
Drugs, alcohol, gate-crashers and a group of silly teenagers out of control and with their senses impaired, leads to chaos … and death. By the end of the Uncommon Cruelty teen house party, in a fairly affluent area, of Bradford, DI Gus McGuire and his team have two dead bodies and a missing teen to investigate… and of course things only get darker from there on in, as I let my demons out to play and think of the worst-case scenarios.
So, we have that house party as the largest jigsaw piece; the one the other pieces are jostling around trying to fit into … that’s my starting point and the contents of my mind will determine where it goes.
The next jigsaw piece to emerge from the shadows and slot into position was the memory of a huge biker and quad bike gathering in the Kirkstall area of Leeds in 2016. The bikers basically took over a huge part of Kirkstall during rush hour and caused considerable disruption.
When I asked myself the “WHAT IF … ?” question, I came up with an illicit, newly formed, biker gang involved in criminal activity in the Bradford area.
Another jigsaw piece that erupted from the shadows, was an article I’d read about Prayer Chairs on a website, about how some churches were taking Prayer Chairs to the city centre streets to encourage people to meet Jesus. The “WHAT IF … ?” question for me this time, was, what if, instead of being an altruistic gesture, it was more cultish and not part of main stream Christianity and much less tolerant?
I had one other main jigsaw piece to explore, and that was the idea of Jihad. A long-ago conversation with a Muslim friend about the true meaning of the word Jihad, worked its way loose and slotted nicely into place in Uncommon Cruelty. The idea of a Jihad being, not about violence and destruction and terrorism, but rather about a conversation with God and a Muslim’s personal journey through life, navigating every challenge that is faced made me consider how young Muslim’s in the UK today navigate the line between faith and western society.
So, those are the jigsaw pieces that make up Uncommon Cruelty.
Inside the Mind of a Crime Fiction Author