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.
Write a Scene in which the Victim of the Crime is Found
Our adjudicator was Carl Major, of Waterstones, West Quay, Southampton, and although Carl was unable to be with us he said he thoroughly enjoyed reading all the entries. Carl’s criteria and adjudications follow:
“Firstly, I was very grateful for being asked to judge this competition. Booksellers – like book browsers – see a lot of books and read a lot of first pages. If a reader has got as far as reading the first few sentences of a book or scene it is worth considering the things they might be subconsciously weighing up about the writing and the writer. The main one must be ‘Is this a story or writer I am intrigued enough to commit money and (more importantly) time to reading?’ The temptation is to grab at the reader with a ‘hooking’ sensational opening or the imagined vividness of the first person. But often – for this reader, at least – it is a kind of confidence in the grasp of the writer and that could be a nice touch of humour, a willingness to trust the reader with a gradual revelation, a telling and interesting detail or simply some small grace of language or observation. I think the reader always wants to know that whatever horrors or twists the story may contain that they are in good hands and often it is the small detail of the writing rather than the sensational content that provides the reassurance. I felt the three winners here all absolutely knew that and put it firmly into practice. It is no small skill. In the case of these three writers I was disappointed that I only had 300 words and would happily have trusted them to lead me on into the world behind this scene.”
1st Place: David Eadsforth, (pseudonym Alec Russell) The Artist
“Extremely well-crafted. The unsensational language heightened the gruesome revelation. Much information about the place and personnel conveyed in passing – and a welcome levening of dark humour! My feeling was that I was in the safe hands of a writer fully in charge of their subject and style. I immediately wanted to know more and read on.”
2nd Place: David Lea, Home to Roost
“Conjured the protagonist’s world in a few deft strokes. The mix of humour and grim detail of Jason’s job set up a scenario in which the discovery of a body was somehow of a piece with the violence of industrial farming. I valued the detail of this writing and the skill of the writer in allowing the content rather than the language to provide the sensational effect”.
3rd Place: Anne Eckersley, Too Soon to Die
“This piece intrigued me from the first mention of the missing street lights. I believed the scene I was seeing had a real social context. I felt certain that in this writer’s world murder victims, murderers and police would have a wider context of family, friends, society. The plausible weariness of our protagonist and the deft use of ironic humour sealed the deal. I wanted to read on.”
Highly Commended: Louise Morrish, Dogsbody
Highly Commended: Avril Stephenson, Untitled
Prizes and Awards:
The lucky winners each received two signed books by our main speakers, James Marrison and MJ Arlidge as well as certificates of adjudication by Carl Major.
Detective Inspector Ian Chambers stepped out of his car and stared at the blank wall that comprised the front of the industrial unit. Of all of the crime scenes he had been called to in his career, this would probably have been the least likely candidate. Detective Sergeant Terman, who had been waiting by the entrance, now approached him.
“Good morning, Sir; sorry it was such an early call, but the shift here starts early…”
Chambers nodded and waved his subordinate to silence.
“Okay, okay; what have we got?”
“Um, I think you just better see for yourself, Sir.”
Chambers shot him a dubious look.
“The last time you said that it was a naked curate with a plastic bag over his head and a noose around his neck…”
“This is a bit different, Sir.”
Terman led the way through the entrance and on to a series of huge doors, around which stood a number of men in white overalls. Chambers nodded to the chief of the forensic team, a man in his fifties who wore a somewhat grim expression.
“Morning, Alfred; well, what have you got for me?”
Alfred Bingham did not reply, but instead grasped the huge lever that was placed on the front of the door and swung it open. A gust of bitterly cold air hit Chambers’s face and Bingham indicated that Chambers should enter. Chambers entered the huge refrigerator and stared at the vision before him. In the centre of the chamber stood a huge block of ice, two meters square, and inside it was the naked form of a man, his arms and legs stretched out in an ‘X’. Chambers was silent for a few seconds, then he turned to Bingham.
Jason had started at 6:30, as he did every day during the holidays: out of bed by 5:45, cup of coffee, cereal, on his bike and away. No need of a wash because he had bathed very thoroughly the night before. He bathed very thoroughly every night, lying in the suds, knackered and dreaming while his mum and his sister watched the tele down stairs. He dreamed of a future when he wouldn’t have to work on Guy Featherstone’s farm, a future when he could afford a motorbike, or even a car. When he could afford some decent clothes.
When he could afford a girlfriend.
Girlfriends are costly.
Anyway, he smelled.
By 8 0’ clock he had almost finished the cleaning. The electric lights were on eighteen hours a day to give maximum laying time, so it was already hot. The hens were housed in rows of metal cages three tiers high, with three or four birds to a cage. Four long alleyways of birds, all shrieking and squalling and pecking. And shitting. But Jason’s first job before the shit shifting was to remove the bodies – five or six a day. They were so bored and cramped and demented that they pecked each other to death. It usually started when one bird was laying an egg and the other birds pecked around the hole as the egg squeezed out. Jason wondered how they decided which one to attack. Perhaps they chose the weakest, like at school.
Although Jason was a loner, nobody messed with him.
He trundled the awkward, overloaded shit- machine to the trapdoor and pulled the lever to release its load onto the pile below.
This tax year council savings and vandalism had turned off all street lights in Woodley, so just before midnight Longmoor Road was as dull as a dead man’s eyes. But death in Jonas’ world rarely occurred in broad daylight.
The rain had stopped. Puddles the size of lakes and the stench of sewage its legacy.
Jonas shivered. He wasn’t cold, thick jumpers, waterproof trousers and heavy boots made sure of that. Parking between two police cars he headed towards the motorway flyover. The noise of cars passing overhead amplified by the silence of the night.
Signs warned of danger of death from the electricity substation or the risk of prosecution from trespass although missing sections of fence provided easy access. The area had always attracted graffiti artists and the homeless who clearly ignored the signs too, but then rising water levels over the winter should have worried them more.
The police hadn’t bothered to open the gate and Jonas opted for the shorter route too. His phone’s torch helped him pick his way through floating debris to the blue and white tape stretched round the scene.
A tent had been erected at the river’s edge. A number of silhouetted figures were moving around. Jonas sighed. He would have liked to be alone to assess the scene before anyone demanded answers or foisted information on him. Those first few minutes were crucial. The position of the body. The arrangement of the clothes. Seventeen series of Silent Witness had a lot to answer for. Nowadays everyone in the country was qualified to express an opinion.
A noise on his left made him spin. Suddenly he was face to face with four bundles huddled round a shopping trolley and several cardboard boxes who were watching his progress with evident interest.
The competition secretary, Jim Livesey, thanked everyone who had entered. Crime proved very popular as 18 entries were received, a good start to our new season.
The competition for October is to write a ghost story – 300 words and the adjudicator will be Carolin Esser-Miles, Medievalist, and Senior Lecturer, English Language, University of Winchester.
Please email your entries to the Competition Secretary, Jim Livesey competitions.hwsAThotmail.com by noon (BST) 1st October 2015. (Please replace AT with @)
Perfect for fans of Jo Nesbo and Mo Hayder, Liar Liar showcases all the hallmarks of Arlidge’s taut and rapid-fire writing including his protagonist DI Helen Grace and the Southampton-based team. Faced with yet another ruthless serial killer, one with a penchant for pyromania, DI Helen Grace is an unwilling participant in a race against this new sadistic combatant.
A tantalizing follow-up to Eeny Meeny, Pop Goes the Weasel, and The Doll’s House which sees the return of series heroine DI Helen Grace
M.J. Arlidge sold in 28 territories and counting
M.J. Arlidge is one of Penguin’s most successful crime writers and, delivering a book every six months, neither his books not his sales show signs of slowing down
Sales for the series so far in the UK are 384k since Eeny Meeny published in May 2014.
DI Helen Grace series is in development for TV at the BBC.
M.J. Arlidge has worked in television for the last fifteen years specializing in high-end drama production, including prime-time crime serials Torn, The Little House and, most recently, Undeniable. Currently writing for the hit BBC series Silent Witness, Arlidge is also piloting original crime series for both UK and US networks. In 2015 his audio exclusive Six Degrees of Assassination was a number one bestseller. His debut thriller, Eeny Meeny was the UK’s bestselling crime debut of 2014. It was followed by the bestselling Pop Goes the Weasel and The Doll’s House. Liar Liar is the fourth DI Helen Grace thriller.
REVIEWS FOR M.J. ARLIDGE:
‘This is going to be as big as Jo Nesbo’ Judy Finnigan
‘Detective Inspector Helen Grace is one of the greatest heroes to come along in years’ Jeffery Deaver
‘Taut, fast-paced, truly excellent’ The Sun
‘DI Helen Grace is a genuinely fresh heroine … Arlidge weaves together a tapestry that chills to the bone’ Daily Mail
‘Chilling stuff’ Fabulous, Sun on Sunday
‘A chilling read’ My Weekly
‘Page-turningly chilling’ The Times
‘A grisly, gripping thriller’ Sunday Mirror
‘Gruesomely realistic, intriguing and relentless. Arlidge’s fledgling army of fans is about to grow’ Sunday Sport
‘Eeny Meeny debuts one of the best new series detectives, Helen Grace. Determined, tough and damaged, she must unravel a terrifying riddle of a killer kidnapping victims in pairs. Mesmerizing!’ Lisa Gardner
‘Expertly pulled off. It has a devious premise. DI Helen Grace is fiendishly awesome. It’s scary as all hell. And it has a full cast of realistically drawn, interesting characters that make the thing read like a bullet’ Will Lavender
A man is found dead near his home, a pitchfork through his neck. When DCI Guillermo Downes is called to the scene he realizes he knows the victim.
A decade earlier, Downes promised the families of two missing girls that he would find their daughters. Although cleared of any involvement, the dead man had been a suspect. As the ripples from his death spread through the local community Downes hopes he might make good on his promise.
But as Downes pursues the case he soon finds a darkness at the heart of this investigation more dreadful than he ever imagined.
The Drowning Ground is James Marrison’s chilling fiction debut and marks the arrival of an exceptional crime writer
Introduces an intriguing new series characters, DCI Guillermo Downes and Sergeant Graves
Perfect for fans of Broadchurch and The Missing
James Marrison is a journalist whose writing has appeared in a number of national newspapers. Marrison now lives in Buenos Aires, which provides the inspiration for his lead character, Argentinian born detective Guillermo Downes, in his debut novel The Drowning Ground. James is originally from the Cotswolds and will be in the UK for publication.
There are two elements to a successful Detective Story:
Mystery with plenty of clues to be solved;
It has to stand alone as a good novel.
The golden age for Detective Novels was between the great wars; we are now in another golden age. That said, there is never a convenient time to write any novel. You have to decide ot get on with it – then get on with it!
All fiction is autobiography (and a lot of autobiography is fiction!). While we stay within the constraints of a detective novel, we tell truths about men and woman. Our ambition must be to be a good writer and for this we are lucky to have such a colourful and expressive language. English is the most beautiful language in the world and it is a privilege for us to be able to work in this language.
Who am I writing about – a professional or an amateur? There are dis/advantages to amateurs:
they can have your own interests and hobbies;
they can’t keep falling over bodies (except in Midsomer);
the police won’t really welcome the interference;
they can’t be more clever than the police;
they have to know which policeman to call!
There are dis/advantages to professionals:
they’ve got all the resources;
you need to be accurate – talk to pc’s;
being accurate can slow down the action.
Characters like retired couples are great – they have time, and possibly money, to snoop around and the dynamics of their relationship adds interest.
Currently, there are no famous detective teenagers – opening for a writer there.
Once you have the detective, you need to get the idea, the new method of murder! You need to research forensic pathologists, new ways to poison, new instruments to hammer blows on the victim. You need to think of a suitable setting – an old house; a stretch of beach; a community of people; a nuclear power plant; a nursing home.
The setting must come alive but it must not hold up the story so you must practise your descriptive writing. Get into the habit of writing down the description when you see something useful and choose carefully. Setting, character, plot and theme have to hold together so be careful when the setting is very distinct. Currently – nobody had written a crime novel set on an oil rig because it is too hard to get access/first-hand accounts (*except that I can!!).
Character have to come alive. Some writers, like Agatha Christie had stereotypical characters – the canny spinster, the vicar, the wealthy cad, the suspect man from abroad, the apparently (but not really) innocent secretary, the ne’re-do-well brother.
All your characters come from real life but are subtly changed by imagination. We must look to ourselves for our characters, use our own emotions and reactions. For a writer, no experience or emotion is ever lost but you must find the right words to convey that emotion so that it is real for the reader.
The construction of a novel is important – the excitement must be distributed evenly. The beginning isn’t always written first. Ngaio Marsh had great beginnings then wheeled the characters in for interview. Different characters had different reactions and she chose the best. The characters set the tone of the novel, a sinister portent that the calm will soon be shattered. In the end, the truth must come out. One way to approach it is to write everything that happens in order then divide it up so that there’s excitement in every chapter.
It is good for the story to be about something, not just death and discovery.
Respect the language, respect the words you use and use simple words in new ways. Be sensitive to devices and desires. Make sure your opening sentence is a good one – “Brenda was the fifth victim of the murderer because she missed the bus…” suggests a whole back story that has to be fed in so it works well as an opener.
The writer is in a strange position. S/He has to be both the character and the creative artist. You are in the scene, so work out what will frighten the character and transfer/recreate that fear for the reader. Graham Greene said that you must have “…a splinter of ice in your heart.” You are both within and out with the action so you must “…feel the emotion but be the writer.”
P.D.James is particularly proud of a line in Death comes to Pemberley which she wrote in the style of Jane Austen – “Elizabeth knew that she was not formed for the sad contrivances of poverty.” When asked who her favourite writers were, Austen was top of the list, with Evelyn Waugh and Hilary Mantel. When asked why ‘P.D’ she said it was simply for speed if there was a long signing!
Make a list of your own hobbies and interests.
From that list, draw out skills that are required to pursue the interest.
How might those skills be useful for a) a criminal; b) a detective?
Make a list of character traits.
Make a list of everyday situations – a traffic jam; a school run; preparing a meal…
How do those traits dictate how a person might react in the various situations? For example, an impatient person will not suit a traffic jam but a dreamer might welcome to opportunity to tune in to Classic fm.
What makes a person appear innocuous – consider looks, mannerisms, occupations (this should be a comprehensive list!).
For each of your characters, choose a name. How does the name affect how we respond instantly to the character (think of Uriah Heep).
Make a list of distinctive settings.
Again, draw out from those settings the elements that make that it a suitable venue for a crime to take place.
Make a list of crimes and briefly outline their method of execution.
Marry the crime with a setting and a character and think about what theme your story might have.
Barbara Large, HWS Chairman, opened the first evening of the new season by introducing Simon Eden, Chief Executive of Winchester City Council who described himself as a cross between Sir Humphrey in Yes, Prime Minister and a translator for politician and local people. He then introduced PD James – Baroness James of Holland Park – who held the room for over an hour, without the use of any notes, on the craft of mystery writing.
PD James told us that there is never a convenient time to write that first novel and what drove her personally was the thought of telling her grandchildren she would have liked to have been a writer but had failed. She wrote Cover Her Facewhilst caring for a sick husband and bringing up two small children. She set her standards high and, enjoying the richness of the English language, continues to use all twelve volumes of her dictionary when she writes today.
The audience’s appreciation of Lady James’s talk was heartfelt and deafening. There could have been no better start to the HWS’s second year. Barbara Large gave Lady James a copy of Winchester, by Chris Caldicott, a photographic celebration of the city as a special thank you gift.
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?
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!”
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.
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.’