Women in peril

Occasionally someone complains that young women are disproportionately the victims in crime fiction. I’ve never stopped to count, but it may well be so. In any event, it gave me pause to consider how I represent women in my books and do a quick body count.

It would obviously be unrealistic never to have young women as victims. At the time of writing one-third of my victims have been women. On the other hand, I hate the trope you see in movies which begins with the news that a violent stalker is in the neighbourhood, at which point one of the young women strips down to her underwear and walks past an uncurtained window.

This leads me to a couple of rules I have fashioned for myself. So far as possible, violence takes place off screen. It is discovered, rarely witnessed. And I try not to have the women do anything that contributes to what happens to them. They do not, for example, taunt men about their relationships or lack of them.

I think it’s also important that the police force contains some women detectives and that these women are clearly ordinary women with ordinary lives and dreams. Their male colleagues can be eccentric but I hope the women aren’t.

I can’t say that none of my female characters will ever decide to walk home drunk down a dark lane late at night, but I can promise that if it happens I will have thought long and hard about whether the story could develop in another way.

Book clubs, festivals, fairs and fun

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to address a couple of book clubs. I hope those who attended enjoyed them; I certainly did, because I get to do most of the talking and it’s all about me, me, me.

Well, actually it isn’t. It’s about Slonský, who isn’t me. No, the books are in no way autobiographical. I share his partiality for beer and sausages, but that’s about where the resemblance ends.

Mercurius is a little more like me, or at least me as I was when I was his age; but I’m not a priest and I don’t teach (or know much about) moral philosophy.

Anyway, if you want me to give you an interview, blog, appearance or speak to your club, please ask. If I can fit it in I’d love to meet you. I manage my own diary, which is to say that I ask my wife what I’ve already promised to do and she puts me right.

An acknowledgement due

Every author writes and then has to edit. It’s a painful process. Whole sentences that were lovingly selected have to go. Some of my funniest lines have been cast into the outer darkness during this culling.

Not only must the writing be polished, but the plot must be rigorously tested, and this is where I pay tribute to my brother. My books are subjected to a two-way test upon completion. My wife reads them (but she’s far too nice to say anything very critical) and then my brother is let loose. He is nice too, but that won’t stop him sending a sheaf of suggested changes, notes of solecisms and plot deficiencies.

I must be improving because he had about 125 for my first Mercurius book and he only had forty-something for the latest. But he’s good – really good!

He spotted, for example, that on page 113 I said something that appeared to contradict something at the foot of page 48. He was right. He noticed that a character spoke to Mercurius on page 70 as if Mercurius does not know who he is, whereas around page 25 he is directly addressed by someone to whom Mercurius is speaking. I don’t slavishly adopt all his ideas – I am not sure of his soundness on the implications of the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination, for example, so I left my text alone – but every writer needs someone like him, that trusted person who will tell them what they really think.

It makes editing much less lonely, and much more successful. So, thank you, Ian, once again.

The Uninvited Guest

I have remarked in the past that my characters don’t always do what I planned when we actually get to writing the text out. One example, which will only mean something when people have read Slonský 3, is how Slonský rescues Navrátil when Navrátil is detected while sneaking up from behind on some bad people. I will say no more, but it surprised me.

However, Slonský 4 has produced a whole new level of intrusion in the form of Major Rajka. I will not describe him in detail, except to say that he was nowhere to be found in the synopsis and I’m not quite sure what he thinks he’s doing in the book in progress, but he turned up uninvited on Saturday and has refused any requests to leave.

Rajka has an interesting back story but his presence cannot be justified on the strength of that alone. I watched as he described what he intends to do, and then suddenly realised that this resolved a problem three chapters ahead that I’d been puzzling about without ever answering satisfactorily.

Students of the writing art may have a view on this. Was it serendipity writ large? Was it my subconscious suddenly erupting with the answer to my question? Who knows? But the difficulty I face is how to persuade him that he is no longer needed. I have a feeling that, like Klinger of the fraud squad, Rajka is planning to insinuate himself into the regular cast of characters. He will need careful handling or he may start to demand storylines of his own.

All about No. 5

No, it’s not a Chanel advert. I’ve just completed the first draft of my fifth book, Mercurius 2 (it’ll get a proper title later, though I’ve had a working title throughout).

The next step is to put it aside for a week or so before I start editing. The difficulty with editing at once is that I can’t forget what’s coming, so I don’t read it in the same way as a reader coming fresh to it would. I might know, for example, that character X is actually secretly married to Y, or that A and B are half-brothers, but if I leave it a little while I can go back and read it as if it’s new to me.

I’m fortunate in having a couple of family members who will also read it and comment. There hasn’t been a time when those comments didn’t improve what I’d written.

That doesn’t mean all work stops, but writing takes a back seat for a few days to things like painting the dining room, packing up old books and talking to my wife.

Then it’s full steam ahead on Slonský 4!


Slonský rides again!

The Book of Slaughter and Forgetting

This is now my latest book! You’ll find it here (UK) or here (USA).

Slonský is asked to investigate a cold case in which a retired policeman knows there was a miscarriage of justice. But it’s thirty years later, and the witnesses are ageing, their present day memories unreliable. What are the chances that he can find the real killer and earn a conviction?

If you’re unsure whether to risk your hard-earned money on something you may not like, why not download my free Christmas Slonský short story? It’s also a little thank you for those who have bought my books.

Away in a manger

Away in a Manger free book – just click on the link

A little parental help

St Ignatius

Sometimes children drive their parents to fantasise about sending them to boarding school. They don’t actually have to do it, of course, and the threat may be sufficient – hence the attached bogus prospectus, which parents are welcome to print out and leave around for their children to find. I hope they will appreciate home more once they have read it.