I’m delighted to welcome Robert Crouch to the blog today! Robert is the author of a cosy crime mystery series featuring environmental health officer Kent Fisher. As book 5 in the series was published last week, I’ll be telling you a bit more about that below and it also seemed like a good time to ask Robert about the things he’s learned from writing a series.
Author : Robert Crouch
Title : No Mercy
Series : Kent Fisher Mysteries #5
Pages : 250
Publisher : n/a
Publication date : January 16, 2020
| ABOUT THE BOOK |
WOULD YOU KILL IF JUSTICE FAILED YOU?
Highways Inspector, Derek Forster, couldn’t go on after the death of his wife. Even though he had a secret lover, he took his own life. Or did he?
Samson Capote, the restaurateur from hell, brutally attacked and left to die in a deep freezer. Did he antagonise too many people? Was he sharing Forster’s secret lover?
Millionaire entrepreneur, Clive Chesterton, falls from his yacht and drowns in Sovereign Harbour. Why did he have Forster’s missing journals in his cabin?
When Kent Fisher becomes a murder suspect, he realises he could be the next victim of a killer who shows no mercy.
Can Kent connect the deaths and solve the mystery before the killer gets to him?
| GUEST POST |
Five things I’ve learned from writing a series
When I came up with the idea of Kent Fisher, an environmental health officer (EHO) who solves murders, it was fresh and different from everything else in crime fiction. As far as I know, it still is.
But would the idea work? Would readers be interested?
I hope so because the novels are rooted in the classic whodunit and traditional murder mysteries of authors like Agatha Christie, only modern and irreverent, dealing with today’s issues.
With the release of the fifth book in the series, No Mercy, I thought I’d catch my breath and look back at what I’ve learned along the way.
1. I can write more than one novel
It may sound obvious with the release of the fifth book, but publishers and agents weren’t interested in the first Kent Fisher novel. One agent read the whole story, but didn’t take me on. Rejections breed doubt, which drives you to analyse and find the faults rather than the things you need to work on.
I also realised that my environmental health officer went straight into solving murders. If you know the work EHOs do, protecting public health, making sure food and the places that serve food are safe and hygienic, and making sure employees are safe at work, it’s hardly murder.
You wouldn’t visit your local council and report a murder to the environmental health officer.
So, I wrote a prequel, where Kent Fisher investigated a fatal work accident, which was really a murder. It was more difficult to write as it had to dovetail into the novel I’d already written, but it showed me I could write more than one story – even if I wrote them back to front.
2. It’s not easy to keep things fresh
Somewhere on my computer I have a folder filled with story ideas. Most are subjects and themes I want to tackle or subjects that matter to me like injustice. Most of the ideas are about the motives for murder, the issues that drive people to kill.
From time to time, I check this folder. Any fresh ideas, which usually come to me when I’m shaving in the morning, are added to the folder.
Yet none of these ideas are in the third, fourth and fifth novels in the series.
Unlike the police, who solve murders as a matter of routine, EHOs like me inspect restaurant and pub kitchens. That restricts what I can do, meaning I have to find ways for Kent Fisher to be drawn into murders other than family or friends.
Then there’s the backstory – the characters and setting that form Kent’s life, his work, friends and problematic love life. All the novels have a strong backstory, which affects the murder investigations and the people close to him.
Before I can start a new novel, I need to know how much time has elapsed. What’s changed? What loose ends are there from the previous story? What’s happening at work, at the animal sanctuary he owns and runs?
The backstory presents a continuity challenge. It affects the next story. The relationships and conflicts of the support cast can be more absorbing than the murders, especially in the early stages. The backstory must also stay fresh and dynamic.
3. Readers love your characters as much as you do
Just like someone you meet, you get to learn more about the people in your novels with each book. Readers have grown to love this supporting cast, often making comments about them. Kent’s love life is the source of debate and discussion. Readers want him to fall in love with a particular character. Other readers want him to dump that character.
It’s music to my ears because readers are engaged. They care about the characters I’ve created, the situations they have to deal with. I have as much fun wondering what’s going to happen to these characters in each story. And as you’ll discover in a moment, they can surprise me as much as the readers.
And I couldn’t leave this section without mentioning the one character everyone seems to love. Columbo is Kent’s West Highland white terrier, inspired by my own Westie, Harvey. You can also work out who my favourite TV detective is, and how he inspires Kent Fisher to carry out his investigations.
[Hi, Harvey! Who’s a cute doggie? 😍]
4. Your characters will always surprise you
People who know me often look perplexed when I tell them my characters constantly surprise me, usually by behaving out of character.
How can that happen when I’m the one in control, writing the story?
The characters may be fictional products of my imagination, but they come alive when I write. They live and breathe. Readers feel like they know them. Like me, readers get to learn and understand more about the characters with each book.
That’s the beauty of having a series – you can watch the characters change and develop with each new book.
In the fourth novel, No More Lies, Kent Fisher surprised me twice. With the second surprise, his actions wrecked ideas I had for the next three novels in the series. I could have brought Kent into line, but it was more exciting to give him free rein and see where he went.
The story was much better as a result. I’ve had to come up with some new ideas for the sixth novel, but it’s a fair trade.
[The idea that characters do their own thing without an author’s say-so is absolutely fascinating to me.]
5. It’s so easy to forget details
I once had the privilege to have a conversation on Facebook Messenger with my favourite author, Sue Grafton, who wrote the Alphabet Murder series, featuring Kinsey Millhone. I think Sue had written 22 novels in the series at this point.
I asked her if it was difficult to keep track of everything that had happened over the years. Indeed it was. In one of the books, Kinsey’s neighbour and landlord, Henry, who was also a good friend, was married, even though he was single in all the rest.
There were plenty of other little discrepancies, despite the notes she kept. She was worried about repeating plots she’d used in previous books and kept detailed records to avoid this.
I use a spreadsheet to record the characters in my stories, usually in the chapters they first appear. Birthdays, relationships, places of work are also noted for future reference. Main events are noted in case I need to refer back, along with physical characteristics, such as hair and eye colour, or anything distinctive.
It doesn’t stop me having to check back many times as I’m writing. It’s easy to get names wrong. It’s easy to have similar sounding names like Jenny, Gemma and Emma or Adrian and Adam. In one novel, I had three female characters with names beginning with the same letter. Despite the spreadsheet I didn’t spot this until the third edit.
At some point I may need to write more detailed notes, but as I only look one book ahead now, never sure how Kent’s going to behave, I hope the stories will remain fresh, interesting and free from repetition and bloopers.
[I can’t even begin to imagine how to keep track of all these things, spreadsheets or not!]
Thank you so much, Robert, for stopping by and giving us this insight. I wish you continued success with the Kent Fisher Mysteries!
| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |
Robert Crouch writes the kind of books he loves to read. Books ranging from the classic whodunit by authors like Agatha Christie, the feisty private eye novels of Sue Grafton, thrillers by Dick Francis, and the modern crime fiction of Peter James and LJ Ross.
He created Kent Fisher as an ordinary person, drawn into solving murders. He’s an underdog battling superior forces and minds, seeking justice and fair play in a cruel world. These are the values and motivations that underpinned Robert’s long career as an environmental health officer.
He now writes full time from his home in East Sussex. When not writing, he’s often find walking on the South Downs with his West Highland white terrier, Harvey, taking photographs and researching the settings for future Kent Fisher mysteries.