For this post, I interviewed Jo Smedley, Managing Director of Red Herring Murder Mystery Games, the largest international company in their field. Described as a “not so serious serial killer”, Jo is the author of more whodunnits than you can shake a stick at; below, we talk about writing and reading crime fiction, amongst other things.
So, Jo, given that you write murder plots for a living, what genre of books do you choose to read in your downtime?
I have quite an eclectic reading pattern, as I belong to a reading group locally. Every six weeks I’m introduced to a new author and new genre I might not otherwise have picked up, which means I read quite a wide selection.
I like to have a stack of books and hate running out, but at the moment, none of my reading material in the next four reads is what I would call my ‘preferred genre’ (which, if anyone asks me, is Sci Fi. I’ve only recently started to read crime fiction. It’s not my preferred choice, but my husband keeps buying me books, now I run a murder mystery company; he assumes, given that’s what I do for a living, that that is also what I’d like to read. He’s wrong!)
Do you think crime fiction is overpopulated as a genre?
I think just about every genre is overpopulated these days. You only have to look on Amazon to see a plethora of books in any genre. There are several distinctive sections within crime fiction: cosies, hard boiled, etc. etc., and I’m sure if you drilled down through them all, you’ll find a niche that isn’t overpopulated (yet).
What ingredients must a good crime plot have? For example, do they have to finish with an unexpected twist?
I’m not a big crime reader, as I’ve said. But I’ve always thought any book needs a good story to be a good read. Good character development, good pace, and if the plot lends itself to it a good twist. But there’s a lot to be said for predictability too – I like a happy ending. A lot of authors these days add twists, and not just in crime; you only have to pick up a Jodi Piccoult to find a twist at the end. It’s true, the last few crime novels I’ve read have contrived one. But there’s a difference between an unexpected twist that’s GOOD and an unexpected plot twist that’s BAD.
Nothing should come out of ‘left field’. There should be hints all the way through that the reader can pick up on if they’re paying attention. The test comes if they get to the end, understand the twist, and can then read the plot again to see how that twist came in.
Have you encountered decent crime novels penned by self-publishing authors?
No, as I don’t read crime fiction as a rule, so I don’t know any names of well known authors, apart from the regulars everyone would know. So working out who is self-published or published, I wouldn’t’ stand a chance.
What advice would you give someone looking to write crime?
It’s no different to any fictional work. You need to have a plot, good character development and an idea of where you’re going with the story.
It’s a myth that crime writing is any different to regular writing. All that makes you a crime writer is that you have a body or something missing thrown into the story. Some crime writers I’ve been introduced to are actually quite annoyed they’ve been called crime writers, as they thought they were writing romances!
Don’t be put off by thinking you don’t know enough ‘police stuff’ to pen one. I had a tip from a thriller writer recently who said, “It doesn’t matter if what you’re writing isn’t strictly accurate, just make it plausible to the reader. If it’s well written, the reader will believe you.”
What are you currently working on, Jo?
A crime novel. I’ve written several books (none published) and the last piece of feedback I had from an agent was that my writing was good, but I (me, not the book) wasn’t sellable, though they’re interested in taking something else I write in a different genre. I thought, what the hell, everyone expects me to write crime… so, I’ll write crime!
She has written bespoke plots for hotels, multi-national corporations, private parties and fundraising events in the UK, USA, Australia, and Russia, and her games and scripts are sold and performed worldwide.
Developmental editor and publishing consultant Diane Hall is the author of three books; she has also ghost-written books for others and created a plethora of content, on more subjects than you could care to imagine, for numerous clients since the beginning of her career. She is proud to have fundamentally shaped series of books and more than a hundred individual titles over the last decade with various authors, nationally and internationally.
Among her editing qualifications, she holds a linguistics diploma, which involves the study of language and speech. Diane employs this knowledge in the forensic linguistic work she sometimes undertakes.
Diane has seen the introduction and subsequent rise of self-publishing, and passionately keeps abreast of its disruption of the publishing industry. She is a thought leader when it comes to the future of book marketing, fuelled by the poor results authors see when employing traditional techniques.
Thanks to Simon Howden at freedigitalphotos.net for use of the main image.