“DON’T KILL THE DOG!”

Have you got that? Trust me, it’s important. We’ll come back to it later.

CrimeFest, the international crime fiction convention, is staged every year in Bristol. Here are a few tips I learned/unlearned at the prestigious gathering of writers, readers, journalists, bloggers and publishers last weekend:

1. Buddy up with a cop. Your police procedural needs an authentic feel – only an insider can provide that. Of course, dramatic licence means that your book won’t have anything like real police work in it, it’s too dull and bureaucratic. Ring your local police station and see if anyone is interested in becoming your source. Policemen love to talk about their work. A few bottles of beer will grease the wheels, but never call on a quiet day or you may wind up taking the whole station for a curry! [Q: Do police officers who become writers consult writers for advice?]

2. Know everything about your subject. Some readers see tackling books as guerrilla warfare. They lie in wait for new books to be published. The moment they spot a mistake they dance around the living room in ecstasy and then sit down to dash off a letter to the author: ‘Dear Sir/or Madam, or may I call you Robin, I wish to bring to your attention the following…’ Essential knowledge includes sixteenth century Estonian flowers and when wing mirrors were introduced in the USA. Woe betide you if you get it wrong!

3. It can take half a lifetime to get published. Persevere, struggle, don’t give up. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule who get a fat advance for their first book, which goes on to be a bestseller. Writers have a name for these lucky individuals – bastards!

4. Barry Forshaw is the Statto of the crime fiction world (natty black shirt instead of the pyjamas and dressing gown). If you’re a writer and Mr Forshaw hasn’t put you in one of his books, and you’re not a debut author, maybe you should ask yourself this question: Do I exist? Crime Fiction: A Reader’s Guide will be published in November for those who want to check!

5. The darkness on the edge of town (sorry Bruce) is actually more likely to be in your own bedroom (look behind you, or underneath you, or even next to you). This doesn’t apply to Will Dean, writer and mushroom hunter. In Dark Pines and Red Snow, everything happens in the middle of nowhere (AKA a big forest in Sweden).

6. Authors hate researching their novels in exotic locations. Top locations of loathing include Paris, Andalusia, Russia, New York and anywhere that involves jet-setting around the world. Festivals can be a drag too, dreary locations identified from the CrimeFest brochure include Dallas, London, Indianapolis, Bethesda (Maryland), Oxford and Sacramento. What a drag!

7. Authors have to make things up. Whatever you do, keep encouraging your children’s imaginations to run riot. The next E.L. James has to out there somewhere!

8. Readers know authors better than they know themselves. I’m not talking about the stalkers, but rather the ones who can identify your hidden prejudices: ‘You hate the English!’ [angry reader], ‘I thought I was English?’ [Confused author], ‘Shows how much you know!’ [angry reader].

9. Modern policing doesn’t allow a police officer, not even an inspector, or a forensic scientist for that matter, to find the body, work the crime scene, run the investigation, and go on to catch the killer after placing themselves in life-threatening isolation. Who’d have thought the telly could get it so wrong?!

10. There’s a cabal out there deliberately putting fake details into books in order to screw with readers. At least, that’s what one guy told me! He also said there is no needs, to dubble cheek the manuscripe before dashing it ov to the publisher, they have people to fix all “that kind of stuff”. And they’re apparently happyto do it!

11. Plotters and pantsers. Some authors compile copious notes, roughly the length of War and Peace, before writing their novel. Others just wing it, with no idea who killed who or why, but it all comes out right in the end, mostly anyway!

Finally and most importantly,

12. Never kill an animal in your book, especially a dog. Don’t even shout at a pet, or a wild beast. Your readers will forgive mass murder and human brutality, but if you injure one of our furry friends – look out, they will get you!

“Don’t kill the dog!”

Paul Burke
May 2019