Writing Crime, Reporting Crime; Story Telling Is Innate In All Of Us.

“Being a writer is wonderful – it gives us carte blanche to get away with everything.” Simon Hall, seven times published novelist, former BBC News Correspondent of twenty years and tutor at the University of Cambridge, tells the gathered members and guests at Hampshire Writers’ Society’s Tuesday night meeting.

Simon loves to ‘people watch’; often from a spot in the pub in his beloved Cambridge. It is characters that drive his writing. Adam Breen and Dan Groves, even Rutherford the dog, the characters that he created for his TV Detective novels work together, not only literally, but together they form a crucial ‘relationship’.

Dan Groves, the TV reporter half of the duo appears to have everything. He also suffers with depression which he calls “the swamp”. Simon tells us that he has received many emails from men suffering the same affliction, saying thank you for giving the illness this coverage; it is good to know that they are not the only ones, the character of Dan is one that they can relate to.

Story telling is innate in all of us, he says. There’s no secret to writing a story, there may even be a formulaic way to do it and plenty of stories start at the end – reverse chronology. Simon once killed off a character; something for which he, his editor and publisher received much criticism – in reality, the character would have survived. But Simon argued the necessity that she be “killed off” – Dan, having had three successes, was in danger of succumbing to delusions of grandeur; he had to be taught a valuable life lesson.

So, here Simon imparts a piece of advice – “Let the story find you. Use your characters and your experiences.”

Research is done on-the-job. Simon recognises that it is important and suggests a researcher try to get as close to the original source as possible, because there you’ll often find an interesting fact to support your research. For his new book which is out in September this year (as yet it has no name – The Editor is a popular choice – although, Simon likes to have at least three words in the titles of his novels) he spent much time researching the city of Cambridge, which of course he greatly enjoyed.

“Writers are a species apart.” he says. It is a relationship, which is possible why everyone has their favourite authors – they can be relied on the to give ‘value for money’. As such, Simon follows four unbreakable rules which he calls the Four S’s

1                 He steers clear of science. Except for on the peripherals – a crime novel will always need a little of science.

2                 He skips on what he calls “slop”, we would understand slop as gore. The reason for this is that he feels he could not write anything worse than the reader can imagine. Most people will say that their favourite scene in Hitchcock’s Psycho is the shower scene. “You don’t actually see the murder.” Simon points out. The mind bridges the gap, your imagination does the rest.

3                 He avoids swearing, using it only to keep the dialogue real.

4                 He doesn’t do sex. His first attempt at writing a sex scene was laughed out of the draft by his editor.

“Humour is ubiquitous in our society”. he says. Humour is what keeps us going, it forms a bond between us. It is therefore omnipresent in Simon’s writing. “Everyone seems to think that the past is terrible and that the future is scary,” he tells us. Horrible things do go on and, as a reporter for the BBC, he has seen some of the worst. But, he truly believes that the majority of people are good.

Report by Lisa Nightingale

Crime at Winchester

Whether you write police procedurals, psychological thrillers, classic murder mystery or gritty crime noir, this year’s festival can help you twist the knife.


Friday 16 June

‘How to Thrill and How to Kill’ – a highly practical all-day course with William Ryan, author of the Captain Korolev novels, shortlisted three times for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year. Learn the technical aspects of crime writing, the role of ‘the format’ and how not to underestimate your audience, with plenty of hands-on exercises.

Saturday 17 June

‘Learning the Language of Crime’ with novelist Helen Fields, author of Perfect Remains.

‘Whodunnit: How It’s Done’ with Linda Bennett, commissioning editor for crime fiction at Salt Publishing.

‘How to Get Published in a Global Market’ with literary agent Lorella Belli from LBLA.

‘The Agent’s Eye View’ with literary agent Diana Beaumont from Marjacq.

Then listen as novelist Helen Fields reveals how she drew upon her experience as a criminal barrister to write her thrilling debut novel Perfect Remains during the Saturday Festival Dinner.

Sunday 18 June

‘Tightening the Noose’ – an all-day workshop with novelist and BBC crime correspondent Simon Hall, author of the TV Detective novels. Explore how to use jeopardy and suspense to make your story compelling, and learn how to raise the stakes by creating characters who have everything to win or lose.

PLUS over a dozen agents and editors seeking to acquire debut crime fiction.

Interested in investigating further?

View the programme at http://www.writersfestival.co.uk

M.J.Arlidge, James Marrison and John Hayes speak at HWS 8th September

A Night of Crime and Darkness…

Two purveyors of crime and mystery talked about how they weave dark and compelling tales.

Report by Lisa Nightingale


Special Guest – John Hayes

Sep 15 John Hayes_0234John Hayes is Smug! Winchester’s first satirical magazine Remember Viz, Mad and Punch? Well, it’s a bit like those. Smug is a mix of humour and investigative journalism backed up by in-depth research – people watching!

Hoping to launch in December 2015, Smug needs input. Spoof news stories, reports, short-stories, anything relevant to the prevention of Winchester disappearing up its own bottom! The deadline is ASAP. Even if it’s just a crazy idea, let John know at john@wfa.uk.com You should be able to find Smug in the Art Café on Jury Street – John owns it!

Also the very first announcement of the Winchester Short Film festival 2015. John is keen to pair up screenplay writers with directors so if you have an idea for a film of under 15 minutes contact him through the Winchester Short Film festival website http://www.winchestershortfilmfestival.com/submit by 15 October 2015.

In 2016 Winchester Short Film festival is going international! Next year films will can be up to but no longer than double the length of this years. There is also a new category for 2016 – Write a Short Script for any Genre. Entries need to be submitted by December 2015


Speaker:  Crime Writer, M.J. Arlidge

‘I am not a woman,’ says Matt Arlidge. One and a half years ago, it was his agent’s idea to submit the plan for DI Helen Grace as gender neutral. Four books later, the name has stuck.  Unfortunately for Matt, it is common misconception among his readers that as the main protagonist is a woman then so must the writer be.

It has become apparent to Matt that women are infinitely more interesting than men and that life for a woman is fraught with difficulty. He fully accepts that this is tragic for women. But, not so at all for fiction writers. Plus, it seems to be the time of the female crime solver. So, a female DI with a fetish for leather and motorbikes cannot fail to sell.

Matt admits to finding a story’s baddy more intriguing and so the characters of his serial killers come fairly easily. In a crime novel the denouement is the most important element. So Matt works backwards, meticulously planning and reworking the chapters as he goes. Then the fun part – playing with the characters.

Matt started out a junior story-liner working at the BBC on East Enders  before moving onto many happy years writing for Monarch of the Glen, he then moved into writing crime for independent television. This is when Eeny Meeny was born into a society controlled by reality TV. What if a serial killer was to ask the question – who should be evicted next?

MJ Arlidge is a writer of thrillers not police procedure, so he does not have deep contact with the police, in fact he confessed to making some of it up! The come-down after the action of the denouement is important to the reader – they need to ‘come back up for air’. It can also be used to lead into the next instalment.

It is important to remember that writing might be a craft, but publishing is a business. A publishing house is almost guaranteed to like a genre. They will also want to ensnare those readers for a long time, so a series is much more likely to grab their attention. ‘Don’t be shy.’ he says, ‘Think Big.’

A secret – Little Boy Blue, the prequel to DI Helen Grace, will be launched over the twelve days of Christmas in chunks. It will only be available in e-book and on Kindle.

Liar Liar by MJ Alridge was published on 10th September 2015 by Penguin.

James Marrison & M.J.Arlidge
James Marrison & M.J.Arlidge

Speaker: Crime Writer, James Marrison

Scary music, downloaded photographs, banging a tennis ball on the wall and strict routine all go into James Marrison’s writing day at his home in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

He sets himself targets as most writers do. But, not word-count. He uses time. Rigidly! Have a break or a time when you ‘call it a day.’ And switch off; it is so important.

Plotting is James’ nemesis. He does it in his head which can mean that sometimes, he has precious little in the way of tangible evidence of work. But plotting is work and he has to remind himself that he has actually done a lot today. Agatha Christie, one of his favourite authors was a plotter. And she often hid her killer in the open – a friend or a colleague.

Characters definitely do lead the plot. He fell back on his own emotional experiences of living away from his home for the answers to his main protagonist DCI Guillermo Downes. Once Downes had been given a backstory, he burst into life.

James agrees, it is the unveiling of the killer that is the reader’s reason for choosing crime. But, the day-to-day frustrations of police investigations are pivotal to the plot. Essential information dumps must be handled with care. So, James weaves in the character’s traits, keeping the text interesting. He also has no continual contact with the police but their procedures are not difficult to discover – the internet can give you all the information you need.

In crime writing, pace is imperative. Steer clear of over-describing. Sweep everything along for the ride. Keep working up to that key action scene.

It wasn’t until he started doing it that he actually realised that writing was what he wanted to do. He became a journalist. He collected details of strange and grisly murders carried out by the most demented serial killers and published his findings.

Writing is a lonely job, but James is keen to stress that at times it is also crowded. His agent and editor are vocal and blunt, and he is able to rely on them. Doubt, however can be a destroyer if it is allowed to creep in. Until your work is finished – put publishing out of your mind.

The Drowning Ground  by James Marrison was published on 27th August 2015 by Penguin.

September Competition Winners 2013

By Celia Livesey

The new season of the HWS had a fantastic start with 19 competition entries from members and guests. An evening of unbridled gore and crime was promised, and delivered with the choice of crime weapon ranging from death by breast milk to a grapefruit knife. Truly a recipe for murder…

We were very fortunate to have Lindsay Ashford to adjudicate, eminently qualified as the first woman to graduate from Queens’ College, Cambridge in its 550 year history where she gained a degree in criminology. Don’t miss a great opportunity – Lindsay’s latest book Where Death Lies is available as an e-book on Amazon for 98p – a terrific introductory offer for a limited period.

And follow the link to Lindsay’s blog for her top tips on writer’s block

Lindsay said the winning entry hooked her from the very first sentence, and as a reader, she felt immediate empathy with the protagonist. She thought it had the feel of a very promising crime novel. The second prize winner’s entry was atmospheric with a good sense of pace, and Lindsay liked the writer’s use of ‘smell’ to create this. The third prize winner’s entry turns a scene of domesticity between a brother and sister on its head. The very ordinariness of the setting makes what happens feel very sinister.

The three prize winners were thrilled to receive the adjudication from Lindsay, and Barbara Large said that to a writer, this kind of feedback is like gold dust, and very much appreciated.

The winners are as follows:

1st Prize – Susan Piper – Death by Pin

She’d thought that she couldn’t possibly be any more scared. Surely after months of dreading every ring, flash and beep, she’d reached the limit of how frightened she could be. But they’d found her again. It turned out that until now she had only dipped her toe in the acid bath of insinuation, ridicule and hatred that she honestly had no idea what she had done to create. Why? she had asked the policewoman who had taken her old ‘phone. The woman had only been able to shake her head. Sweetheart, there are bullies out there – cowardly bullies – and the answer is probably just because you’re there. We’re going to try and find them and help sort this out. Now her new ‘phone was flashing cheerily in its friendly pink case; her new ‘phone with its new sim, new pin and new number. But they’d still found good old her. Keeping the traitor at arm’s length and holding her breath, she pressed ‘read’. The actual words were quick and clever and pretty. No matter the actual words, the meaning was clear, ‘Gotcha’, ‘Hate ya’, and ‘This will never stop.’ She let the ‘phone slip from her hand back onto the bedside table and her fingers moved a few inches to curl around the small bottle that should be safe in her mother’s handbag. The tablets will help you keep calm, love, just until we get to the bottom of this – we’ll keep you safe. But they couldn’t. Only she could keep herself safe now. The top of the bottle was tricky but she did it in the end. LOL.

©Susan Piper 2013

Susan & Dorothy
Susan & Dorothy

2nd Prize – Griselda Grimm (Dorothy Collard) – Dying for Love

Someone had thrown a buckled bike wheel into the garden. It was a sign – a gift. Grace picked it up and took it indoors.

Each night that week she shut the blinds in her bedsit, locked the door and checked the tracery of her own rib cage. Then she would switch on the television and do her crafting.

By Saturday she was ready.

Strolling with no obvious purpose after their restaurant date, she led him towards the riverside path. The air was exhilarating, warmed by pungent aromas from Stave Hill brewery. They ambled, beguiled by gloom at the end of the walkway. It was so quiet they could hear the breeze rustling through trees and the river rippling and swirling below. Stars dotted the sky. Lights sparkled on the full-tide Thames. Their dark, secluded corner was a place for lovers.

He nestled against the railings and drew her to him. She reached in under his shirt. His skin was soft and smooth. He giggled with pleasure to feel her fingers exploring. She counted ribs, put her other hand behind his head and enticed him down in an anticipated kiss of blinding passion.

“Oh, Grace,” he murmured, “stay with me tonight.”

She uncurled her middle finger, ringed with a curious strip of metal that drew, unseen, a skewer concealed up her sleeve. She drove the spoke home.

He wheezed as his lung contracted and the sharpened point burst through the pericardium and into his heart. His dark eyes stared at her in disbelief, his mouth open, as if trying to frame a question. He collapsed forward onto her. She staggered under his weight but held him up, like a drunken dance. Then she kicked his feet from under him and pushed him backwards over the railing.

The river closed over him.

©Dorothy Collard 2013

3rd Prize – Paul Beattie – Smoking Kills

another 3rdDerek’s eyes followed Sally as she walked through the beaded curtain that separated the lounge-diner from the cramped and slightly squalid kitchen beyond. The beads swayed and clacked marking her passage. As Sally started to clatter about filling the kettle and trying to find a couple of semi-clean mugs Derek knew he only had a few moments. He picked up her bag from the coffee table. He was always astonished at the weight of his sister’s handbag, she must have a gun or brick in there to weigh so much. He paused briefly but he could still hear Sally in the kitchen. The craving for tobacco and a complete absence of cash clearly meant it was okay to filch a few cigarettes from your sister. Carefully he unzipped the bag watching for any signs of his sister’s return. Glancing down at the contents of the bag he could see a disorganised mass of half-opened packets of tissues, an over-stuffed purse, old rail tickets, gloves and God only knew what else. He couldn’t risk trying to empty the bag so thrust his hand in hoping for the familiar feel of an open packet of fags. His hand brushed against something cold, metal and solid. Curiosity got the better of him and his fingers curled around the object as he pulled it out. Derek sat back in surprise at the sight of the large grey automatic pistol that he was now holding by the barrel. His surprise turned to fear as he looked up into the impassive flinty stare of his sister watching him from the kitchen.

©Paul Beattie 2013


Highly Commended

Gwen Hobbis – A Bit of Stick

Robert Brydges – Recipe for a Murder


Finally, a surprising connection between the winner of our competition, Susan Piper and Andrew Taylor.

‘Last evening was particularly important to me as Andrew Taylor presented me with a book prize for work I had done in his workshop at Writers’ Conference in 2001!! I took the book along that he gave me then and he signed it a second time. What a treasure. I told him that if I was ever lucky enough to be nominated for something, I had better have him there – he obviously brings me luck!’ Susan Piper.

Crime writer, Andrew Taylor speaks at the Hampshire Writers’ Society

Report by Carole Hastings 

Barbara Large welcomed members and guests to the start of the new season of exciting HWS talks with acclaimed authors Andrew Taylor as the main speaker and Lindsay Ashford as special guest and adjudicator for the September competition.

Lindsay is an internationally published crime writer whose book The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen will be dramatised on Radio 4 in February 2014.LindsayAshford She shared her top tip for writer’s block. When she is developing her characters for a novel, she studies photos from papers and a plethora of magazines for people who have features that match those of her characters. She sticks these images on index cards creating a box of faces for each novel. When she’s stuck, she stares at a card and lets the face take on a life of its own. She lets any idea come into her head to unlock her creativity. The Gothic face of the antagonist in her book Where Death Lies came for a teen music magazine. The book is available from September on Kindle for 98p for a limited period only.

Andrew Taylor, author of 40 crime novels, won the Creasey Dagger Award in 1982 with his first book Caroline Miniscule written whilst he worked in a library. It was the first in his eight book Dougal series and he hasn’t looked back.   He has won a number of awards including the prestigious Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2009 for his outstanding contribution to the genre. Most recently in 2013 he won the CWA Ellis Peter Historical Dagger for the third time, this time for The Scent of Death, which was set in Manhattan during the American War of Independence and explored the relativity of loyalty.

Andrew TaylorAndrew writes organically with no defined plot or structure, just some fragments that he wants to feature. He likened it to having a packet of seeds but no idea of how the plant will look when it’s fully grown. He said when faced with writer’s block he forces himself to write, even if he’s not sure where it will go. He stressed the importance of creating a hook at the end of each chapter to keep attention high. His first novel developed into a crime novel but the intention at the outset was purely to write a page turning story that was authentic. His publishers made the point that crime is always popular so this would secure a place on the booksellers’ shelves which is more difficult for mainstream novels. However they asked him to edit it by a third, an act that he said felt like sawing off the legs of his first born, but one that he eventually saw made the book a success. He made the point that professional writers take advice that amateurs won’t…

Crime fiction has had a renaissance over the past thirty years and the market has gone from simple “who dunnit’s” to complex psychological thrillers set in any time. Barbara Vine’s novels that explored moral dilemmas in the 90’s marked a turning point for the genre. The importance of a corpse and a real story that entertains the reader are of paramount importance to Andrew, as is thorough research rather than relying on memory for period fiction. He watches film, listens to music, reads the papers, checks social history records of any era he writes about. His Lydmouth series about a policeman and female journalist in the 1950’s was his first testament to that. There is a final book in the series waiting in the wings. Most of his work includes issues relevant to the day e.g. worries about the Cold War, social mores, class and sexism.

As well as generating his work from scratch, he novelised the TV drama Bergerac on the invitation of Penguin and created four novels in eight months. Some years later The Roth Trilogy, three psychological thrillers inspired by Fred West, were televised as Fallen Angel and starred Charles Dance and Emilia Fox.

Andrew advised everyone to keep their writing simple, not to over-complicate the plot and to avoid too many characters in too many settings.

For more information on Andrew and his books see: http://www.andrew-taylor.co.uk

June Competition Winners 2012

Lindsay Ashford presented the prizes to the competition winners. The first prize, a signed copy of The Mysterious Death of Miss Austen.

1st prize – Gill Hollands for Murder at the Palace.

2nd prize – Honey Stavonhagen.

Joint 3rd prize – Liz Wald and Paul Alexander Ayres.


Gill Hollands – Murder at the Palace  1st prize

Sitting back in the flickering firelight, James Cooper unclipped the chinstrap. He removed the heavy helmet, wishing he had never heard the word ‘Peeler’. The sight of all that blood had left his stomach churning, a sour taste in his mouth. Warming darned feet by the fire, he sucked a nip of scotch from the bottle, hoping for oblivion.
The scene replayed in his mind, the scattered limbs, the gibbering woman who had found them, the gruesome crimson sprays up the curtains. Something niggled. Why had the servants not heard a sound? How could everyone at Jezebel’s Palace have amotive?

© Gill Hollands 2012


Honey Stavonhagen – 2nd prize

Elsie screamed as she came stumbling into the parlour. I thought she was asleep. Last year she began walking at night; mumbling garbled sentences as she wandered aimlessly through the narrow attic corridors. This however, was different; it was early morning, the sun was streaming through the windows and landing in little puddles by her feet, Elsie was awake. Her usually calm pretty face was now contorted, pained even and I could sense fear, true terror. Her eyes bulging with tears, she pointed at the middle of the empty flagstone
floor. “He’s dead – look, there on the floor – he’s dead!”

© Honey Stavonhagen 2012


Liz Wald – joint 3rd prize

No one knew why Guy de Lucy left the warmth of his hall and wandered out into the icy night, but everyone knew he was dead the next morning.
The new spread quickly. Even men who had scorned his company in life were drawn by a morbid fascination to see him in death. Mauled by wolves, the gossips said.
Strange, then, that no one stopped to ask why his disfigured body was still intact – as if even the hungry beasts knew to avoid the tyrant’s company. Strange too that why, of all his body, only his ear was missing.

© Liz Wald 2012


Paul Alexander Ayres – joint 3rd prize

Isaac belted his oilskin and watched the villagers going downhill along the drove-way. ‘So, it’s over,’ he muttered, then continued to climb, kicking through the gorse, and cursing the thorns that drew blood below his cuffs. The horizon crept towards him. And there, on top of the downs, a silhouette appeared, as if some giant esoteric symbol had been sketched upon the skyline. As he approached it, Isaac saw the gentle sway of the body, and heard the soft creaking of the rope that was tied around his brother’s neck. He grinned lasciviously, and looked out over the valley. ‘Joshua,’ he murmured, ‘I can see your wife from here.’

© Paul Alexander Ayres 2012