I didn’t get as much work done this week as I had planned to, as life kept finding ways of interrupting. First off, my accountant called on Tuesday to remind me my tax return needed completing (cue Homer Simpson quote: ‘My tax return? But I completed that over a year ago’) which prompted hours of sifting through the jumble of receipts at the foot of my bed. Then on Thursday I received news that my third novel, Broken Arrow, had been accepted for publication, an event which required a small celebration. In total, I managed to write just over 6,500 words of the 10,000 I had planned to write.
However, those 6,500 have seen the birth of two major new characters, and I have begun writing scenes from their perspectives. In my books, I always try to include enough information so that a perceptive reader can work out 75 per cent of what is going on before getting to the end of the book, as I know that when I have read books that employ this type of narrative structure, they have always really engaged my imagination. Telling the story from multiple viewpoints helps me to achieve this effect.
I have also decided on a structure for the first part of the book, which will follow Danny as he investigates the gruesome murder of a young woman, interspersed with sections told from the point of view of a Spanish character named Ramoncito, who will become the new book’s principal antagonist.
One of the most interesting parts of being a novelist is the chance it gives you to converse with experts on a wide variety of subjects. When writing Broken Arrow, for example, I had a great deal of correspondence with scientists and research lab technicians in order to get the scientific details spot on. Over the years I have built up a small network of men and women I can approach to ensure that police procedure and forensic science are accurately depicted in my books. With this in mind, I will be contacting my forensic expert, a professor at a UK university, in order to check on how to describe the victim’s remains.
When approaching experts, I have found it best to do most of the legwork myself as most are extremely busy people and are not likely to bother answering vague enquiries such as “What can you tell me about X?” However, when questions are put to them in such a way as to show that the person asking has at least made an effort to understand, I have found most experts to be extremely generous with their time.
Here is a sample taken from the email I have sent to my forensic expert so that you can see the sort of straight-to-the-point language I have found works best.
WARNING: The following section does contain a spoiler or two which may detract from the enjoyment of the final book. Having said that, though, there’s no guarantee the bloody thing will even get published, or that I might not completely change my mind and drop this section, so you might as well plough ahead.
Two utterly incompetent men are forced to kill a woman. One of the men is a swineherd and decides to kill the woman the only way he knows how, so he hangs her upside down via ropes around the ankles and bleeds her to death via a cut to the neck just above the collarbone. Her remains are then bundled up in black plastic bags and dumped into a refuse container. Four days later, her body is discovered among the rubbish at a landfill site. It is October in Spain, and the weather has been a steady 17 degrees Centigrade.
– What state would her body be in after four days? Would it be bloated from gases? Would the skin be a marbled blue colour?
– Would the absence of blood in her body have caused any special factors in the decomposition?
– Would evidence of her having been tied up and hung from the ankles still be evident?
– Could semen samples for DNA testing still be taken from her body?
On that gruesome note, I will bid you all goodbye until next week.