Monthly Archives: May 2011

DEAD BEFORE MORNING HITS TOP TEN IN POLICE PROCEDURALS BESTSELLERS!

It’s happened! DeadBbefore Morning has come in at Number 10 on Amazon Kindle UK Police Procedurals Bestsellers!

In fact, all four of the books I have up on kindle are in the Top 100 and come in at Numbers 38 (Down Among the Dead Men), Number 51 (The Hanging Tree) and Number 68 (Death Line), respectively.

Rreason to celelbrate!

I have also discovered the secret to getting your books to show up in their correct listing. I assumed before, that books automatically showed up in order of highest sales. Not that simple. You have to click on kindle Store (lefthanfdside, directly under Shop all Departments), then Kindle Bestsellers (lhs down a bit, under Special Features) for them to show up that way. Otherwise they just seem to show up in any order at all. Which explains why amazon had me scratching my head about my listings.

I mean, I know that Dead Before Morning is my bestseller. What I didn’t understand was why it didn’t always get listed that way. Now I know why. I wasn’t inputting the information required to get the correct answers out. Duh!

Here it is!

Looking good!

CRIME FICTION: CREATING A CRIME SERIES 3 OF 3

When I left you last time I was about to reveal what location I had chosen for my Rafferty and Llewellyn mystery series and why I chose it. I’ll start off by saying that I felt there was only one place I could use as a setting for such a character as working-class DI Joe Rafferty and his ‘bargain’ loving family. Essex. Anyone reading this who isn’t British will understand why it should seem his natural habitat after reading the following.
The Brits out there will all have heard of the ‘ Essex Man’ euphemism as a term for people who are stupid and common with criminal tendencies. Politically incorrect it may be, yet it’s stuck.
You may recall some of the ‘Essex’ jokes that were popular some years ago. Jokes like:
Q         what’s the difference between Essex and Mars?
A          there might be intelligent life on Mars
Or
Q         what is an Essex girl’s idea of a really classy meal?
A          a wooden chip fork with her takeaway.
Get the picture?
But, unlike the stereotyped depiction of the working classes in ‘Essex’ jokes and many of the older British crime novels, as chip-eating, adenoidal and terminally stupid, I wanted to show that there is intelligent life, Not only in Essex, but among the working classes themselves.
As far removed from the intellectual, Sherlock Holmes type of sleuth as it’s possible to be, Rafferty is a typical down-to-earth British copper. Okay, he’s not exactly deeply intellectual or highbrow, but intelligence, like most things, comes in different guises. His working-class background has given him a street-wisdom of a kind that’s often far more valuable in police work than the more academic intelligence. And with a family attuned to picking up ‘bargains’ of the dubious sort or to getting into bother of the criminal sort, he’s often thankful for this street-wisdom which helps get him out from under.
Anyway, all this furious thinking produced Dead Before Morning, a crime novel which features a prostitute bludgeoned beyond recognition, a suave, social-climbing doctor and an idle hospital porter who had, like Del Boy Trotter from Only Fools and Horses fame,  a few ‘nice little earners’ of his own.
In this first novel, Rafferty has just been promoted to the rank of inspector in the CID (Criminal Investigation Department, the plain clothes branch). His beat is Elmhurst, a fictitious town based on Colchester in Essex, the old Roman town where that original ‘Essex Girl’, Boadicea, used to hang out and harry the centurions.
Apart from Rafferty’s working-class background and his family’s teeny weeny tendency to dishonesty, there was another reason why I chose to locate him in Essex.And that was that Essex has lots of interesting historical connections. Many of the towns and villages in Essex are associated with the early settlers in America. And, because of its port links, the entire area Has always been close to the religious dissent stemming from Europe.
A bit of a dissenter himself, having been force-fed Catholicism from the cradle, Rafferty is against religion of any persuasion as a matter of principle. So it’s no wonder he feels at home in an area with such strong dissenting traditions.
Whatever the critics made of it, I must have done something right, because on only its second outing, that first Rafferty and Llewellyn crime novel was taken from Macmillan’s slush pile and published. It was also published in hardback and paperback in the States. In December, I also published it as an ebook.
I took a chance and did it my way when I created that first Rafferty and Llewellyn novel but it paid off. I’m now an established author from being a no-nope nobody whose formal education ended at the age of sixteen. It just shows what a bit of determination can do.
You can see now, I hope, how one decision about a character helps you make other decisions, not only about the lead character himself, but also about the other characters who will populate your series. And about where in the world they’re going to play out their roles.
To help me keep details of streets, pubs, etc, I drew my own detailed map. Which is something you might perhaps consider doing. It certainly saves a feverish hunt through an entire previous book or typescript trying to find where such and such a pub was situated. Or even what it was called. You can base it on somewhere real if you like. As I have said, my fictitious town, Elmhurst, is roughly based on Colchester in Essex. I have taken some elements of the town, like the castle and made up others. Now I’m not even sure what is real and what is made up! It’s all got so woven together.
You will understand from all this that my Rafferty books have a strong vein of humour running through them.
Now, strongly humorous crime novels are not to everyone’s taste. This sort of crime novel isn’t always highly regarded by critics.
But this was my book and this was how I wanted to write it. And given the perennial difficulties in the publishing world, it’s something to say that rather than making thecommon mistake of following either the herd or a fading trend – I did it my way – and actually got published.
The choice is yours. Do you want to be ‘original’ and do your own thing? Or do you want to be the same as what has gone before?
One of the reasons I write the kind of crime novel I do is that my mind has a natural tendency to see the humour in a situation. Especially a situation that contains a large dollop of Sod’s Law’. In Rafferty’s – and my- experience – Sod’s Law really does Rool OK.
Maybe your experiences are the same. If so, why fight it? In the end you have to be true to yourself.
Dead Before Morning, that first novel in the Rafferty and Llewellyn mystery series, was published in 1993. Altogether, I’ve had eighteen novels published with another just finished, seventeen of them crime, fourteen in my Rafferty & Llewellyn series and two in my Casey & Catt series.
Yes, there have been disappointments along the way, but that’s part of the life of the average writer. And the disappointments make the good times so much sweeter.
Who knows, if I hadn’t done it ‘My Way’ back when I created my first Rafferty novel, the publication of all my other novels might never have happened
I wrote the kind of book I liked to read. The kind where the writer makes me laugh, makes me cry, makes me wait, even, but most of all makes me care about the characters. Admittedly, that’s just my preference. You might prefer your crime novels to concentrate firmly on stimulating the brain rather than the funny bone. But i didn’t see any reason not to try to do both.
This approach provided the bonus that I had far more fun with Rafferty than I imagine the more high-minded writers have with their characters.
And writing is meant to be fun, isn’t it? It’s meant to be enjoyable. If it isn’t why do it?  After all those dead-end jobs I mentioned in my first post I was determined that I would end up doing something I liked.
There’s no reason why, just like me, you shouldn’t ‘do your own thing’ and attract a publisher who goes ‘mm. This is different.’
So, go and have fun. And give me another crime novel that provides the occasional chuckle. If you do you’ll be guaranteed one fan.
Oh. I forgot to tell you how to commit the perfect murder as I promised in the first post of this three-parter. First you –
Oh! Darn it.  Look at the time. I must fly! Till next time.

CRIME WRITING: CREATING A CRIME SERIES 2 OF 3 POSTS

I said this post would be about sidekicks, so here goes. It’s also about this sidekick’s effect on my main character.
As I said in my last post, my main character, Detective Inspector Joseph Rafferty, is an Irish Catholic, working-class man who comes from a large family. A family who are into buying bargains of dubious origin and other pursuits of questionable legality. And Rafferty’s ma, Kitty Rafferty, often leads the field in these pursuits. So, as a sidekick, I wanted someone who was Rafferty’s polar opposite. Opposites always provide conflict. A genuine conflict, stemming from character and upbringing.
So Dafyd Llewellyn was born. The intellectual, university-educated, only child of a welsh Methodist minister who thought the law should apply to everyone – even the mothers of detective inspectors!
Llewellyn is a sidekick preordained from birth to look with a jaundiced eye on Rafferty’s outlook on life, his theories and conduct of cases, and his less than law-abiding family. Thank god i spend all my time in Rafferty’s head!
Dafyd Llewellyn is an upright man, with morals as high as an elephant’s eye. Certainly he’s not the type to turn a blind eye to ma Rafferty’s love of illicit bargains should it ever come to light. Which gives Rafferty something else to worry about.
The words duty and responsibility feature strongly in Llewellyn’s life, though his character is leavened with a sense of humour so dry Rafferty isn’t sure it exists at all.
Unlike Rafferty, Llewellyn likes to examine the facts of a case immediately rather than going off on flights of fancy.
Llewellyn has a tendency to run a coach and horses through Rafferty’s favourite theories, which are often outlandish, outrageous and tend to indulge his various prejudices to the full. Rafferty, of course, thinks the more politically correct Llewellyn takes all the fun out of police work. What’s the point, he thinks, of having the usual working-class prejudices, if you don’t occasionally indulge them. Besides, it’s amusing to tease Llewellyn, who needs taking down a peg or two.
You could say the pairing epitomises the famous George Bernard Shaw saying, with which i shall take a bit of artistic licence. You know the one:
‘it is impossible for a Brit to open his mouth without making some other Brit despise him.’
Yet before the end of Dead Before Morning, the first book in my fifteen-strong mystery series, they have learned to more or less rub along together, helped by both Rafferty’s overactive Catholic conscience, and Llewellyn’s stern, Methodist moral code. As the series and the cases progress, so does their relationship.
Once i had the basics of Rafferty, his family and his sidekick sorted out, I had to place Rafferty in his environment. And after all I’ve said about his background, Ii felt there was only one place i could use as a setting for such a character.
But this, Location, is the subject for the third and last part of this three-parter.

CRIME WRITING: THE CREATION A CRIME SERIES 1 OF 3 POSTS

Psst! Do you want a few tips on how to commit the perfect murder? You do? Ok. But, before asking my advice on planning the despatch of your mother-in-law, you’ll probably want to know why I can help you avoid having your collar felt. Stick with me till I’ve outlined the background to how I acquired such esoteric skills.
I come from an Irish Catholic working-class background and I suppose you could say I was one of life’s late developers in the area of personal ambition. I certainly had no idea what a criminal direction I would end up in. Killing people – and getting away with it, was far in the future.
When I took my the examination, at the age of eleven, which would decide my educational future, I confess, I was far more interested in winning Jimmy Smith’s prize 4-er marble than I was in taking tests. Darlings –I won the marble… but failed the 11+. Examination.
So it was off to secondary modern for me.  For those who don’t know, secondary modern existed to teach people the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic and then send them out in the world at fifteen or sixteen to have jobs rather than careers. So I wasn’t off to a good start in my life.
Unsurprisingly, after I left school at 16, a long list of dead-end jobs followed. I won’t bore you with a litany of them. But, somewhere along the way, i found ambition. I realised that i wanted to do something with my life, rather than fritter it away.
I’d always been a keen reader, so trying to become a published writer seemed a natural step on the road. Oh boy! Was I in for a shock!
I first started writing in my early twenties, but I never finished anything. I was an amateur. A rank amateur. I knew nothing about research. Nothing about creating characters or plot. I hadn’t a clue, basically.
But hitting the age of thirty concentrated the mind wonderfully and gradually, I learned how to write novels and finish them. It was a long apprenticeship. Apart from what had gone before, from the age of thirty I wrote a book a year for six years before I achieved publication.  That book was a romance called Land of Dreams and set in the Canadian Arctic (don’t ask!). But after that brief brush with success, it was back to rejection alley.
By then i was pretty fed up. Nobody likes being repeatedly rejected. My ‘stuff you’ mentality came into play. I felt like murdering someone. So I did.
I turned to crime. I’ve done them all. Stabbings, poisonings, smotherings, bludgeonings. You name it and I ’ve done it. I’ve even hanged someone, but that was after they were dead.
The first book in a crime series is, I believe, the most difficult and demanding. You not only have to master the problems of plotting, clue laying and red-herring scattering and learn about police and forensic procedures, at the same time you have to create a cast of characters who are capable of supporting a series. A pretty tall order for a first effort in a genre I think you’ll agree.
There must be many neophyte writers who have fallen by the wayside in attempting to write crime novels. I might have been one of them if I hadn’t decided to do my own thing rather than follow the crowd.
Maybe the word originality explains why so many fail. That single word strikes terror into the hearts of a lot of new crime writers. I know it did mine.
After a writing history of five rejected romantic novels followed by the publication of the sixth, as well as the publication of various articles, the writing of a crime novel seemed not only much more demanding than anything I’d tackled before, but also extremely intimidating.
Just thinking of all those crime writers who are regularly praised for their devilish ingenuity, god-like intellect and masterly characterisation was enough to have more ordinary mortals, like me, quaking in their boots at the thought of trying to emulate them.
So, how on earth do you set about creating an original crime series? All I can tell you is how I went about it.
I suppose you could describe the Rafferty and Llewellyn mystery novels, which form my first series, as Inspector Frost meets Del Boy Trotter and family. For those who don’t watch British TV, Inspector Frost is something of a bumbler who’s anti-authority, but he’s smart enough to get his man. And Del Boy Trotter is a market trader (market stall not the stock market), who’s into buying dodgy gear. He’s working-class and a bit of a ducker and diver, but witty with it. So if you’re looking for the intellectual, Sherlock Holmes, type of crime novel – steer well clear! Though, having said that, I had one reviewer who likened me to Holmes.
 In short, the Rafferty family has more than their share of ‘Del Boy Trotter types’ whose leisure-time activities are far from Adam Dalgliesh and his poetry writing or Morse and his Wagner. The Rafferty family pursuits are nothing so refined. They’re into back-of-a-lorry bargains and other diversions of equally questionable legality.
And Rafferty’s ma ,Kitty Rafferty, often leads the field in such pursuits, using emotional blackmail to make Rafferty feel guilty when he upbraids her. Having far more than her share of blarney stone baloney, she always wins these little arguments.
Given the above, don’t restrict yourself to what you  think are the usual sort of police characters if something else would come more naturally to you.  Like me with Detective Inspector Joseph Rafferty and his back of a lorry family – try to find the main character that’s right for you.
To get back to this business of originality for a moment, I think we can all agree that being original is a tricky business. A book that one person considers a true original might be thought of as over the top by another. While a third person might consider your hard won originality is nothing more than a poor copy of a well-known writer’s style that’s been given a bit of a twist.
So, originality’s a pretty moveable feast. Publishers themselves are often a bit vague when they try to define what they’re looking for. But, even if they can’t tell you what they want, they find it easier to tell you what they don’t want.
No editor is going to be impressed by a writer who’s a copycat. For one thing, it’ll put the publisher in danger of being sued. So – no second rate plagiarism.
Okay, so where do you start? You start by asking
yourself a few pertinent questions.  About yourself, your background, your family, warts and all and then maybe oomph it up a bit.
Maybe, like British Prime Minister John Major, your family has a circus or funfair background? Maybe you could have a sort of Gypsy Rose Lee type in there somewhere? A travelling crook detector with her crystal ball ever at the ready! Outlandish, perhaps, but then wacky might be just your thing.
Or maybe your working background’s a little more conservative? In insurance, for instance.
An insurance investigator could get to look into a lot of suspicious deaths. And he doesn’t have to be your average stereotypical insurance worker, whatever that is.
Maybe he desperately wants to get out of the insurance business and into the world of entertainment. An insurance investigator as comedian, perhaps, given to cracking tasteless jokes at the crime scene. A man who’s learned to judge the witnesses as he would judge an audience.
They’re just a couple of ideas to get you thinking. Feel free to use them. Or not!
To get back to me, and the choices I made when I was creating my crime series. I decided on the surname Rafferty because I wanted his name to suggest someone who was a bit of a scruff – a rough Rafferty, in fact.  I chose the name Llewellyn for his sidekick because i wanted to give the suggestion of royalty.
In Dead Before Morning, the first in tis fifteen-strong mystery series, alongside the main story runs a humorous sub-plot, in which Rafferty is ensnared in the first of the series’ many family-induced problems. I’ve just finished Kith and Kill, my fifteenth in the series, and, like the previous fourteen, it has Rafferty embroiled in more trouble than a Victorian lady of the night sans the morning after pill.
To return to similarities, I thought if Rafferty shared class and education with me he might as well have other elements of similarity. Why not? Other writers do. Would a non—classical music lover have created Morse? Would someone who knows little and cares less about poetry have created the poetry writing Adam Dalgliesh? Well, possibly, i suppose. But it’s far more sensible to make use of elements from your own life.
I wanted a character I could empathise with. One who was as near me as I could get. Believe me, it helps! (even though I’m not a man, I made Rafferty male because I felt the relationship with his ma was important and I felt, rightly or wrongly, that there would be more scope for humour with a male main character).
And with that first crime novel you’ll have enough trouble creating a plot that conceals as it reveals, with coming up with clues, red herrings, a satisfying denouement and the rest. You won’t need to increase your difficulties by having a lead character from a totally different social background from yourself as well.
My background is Irish-Catholic working-class. So is Rafferty’s. I was educated (sic) in a Roman Catholic secondary modern. So was Rafferty. I come from a large family. So does Rafferty.
There are a few differences, of course. Apart from the differences in gender. But the basic elements of similarity are there, which all help to give the writer a ‘feel’ for a character and their background, something I regarded as essential when I hoped to carry him through a series of novels.
There are a lot of working class policemen out there – just like Rafferty – who have risen up the ranks, perhaps leaving behind them the less savoury habits of youth and family. Often, they’ll have had to shed or at least conceal, certain aspects of their character: prejudices of one sort or another, for instance. Or, like Rafferty, a family with a love of dubious ‘bargains’.
But just because our policeman character has found it necessary to change doesn’t mean to say his family would be so obliging as to do likewise. He would have parents, siblings, nephews, nieces and so on, all with their own ideas of what constitutes right and wrong. And all beyond the lead character’s influence or control.
Imagine such a family. They’d be only too likely to embarrass your lead character.
Now, i know we’re talking fictional policemen here, but just think again for a moment, of John Major and his family. Of Terry and Pat and the trapeze-artist, gnome-loving father. Nothing criminal there, of course. But still, what ammunition they provided his enemies – of whatever political persuasion. He must have often wished he had been an only, lonely orphan. Rafferty often wishes the same!
It doesn’t take a major (go on – groan!) Leap of the imagination to see that a policeman, in a position of authority, with the need to be seen to uphold the law can easily be embarrassed by a less than honest family. He could even have his career put at risk by them.
I was well into my stride now and decided that if Rafferty was going to be working class like me he might as well have other elements of ‘me’ – it not only makes life easier, it also helps me relate to the main character and to the past which has helped to shape him
But in order to have a ‘past’, he’s got to have memories. And the best memories, from the point of view of believability, are one’s own memories.
Which is something else you might perhaps care to bear in mind if and when you start creating your own mystery series.
I’ll give you an example.
In Down Among The Dead Men, the second in the series, I had Rafferty reveal – just as I remember doing – that as a schoolchild he and his classmates would attend Friday afternoon Benediction at the local Catholic Church and sing Latin hymns without – as they had never been taught any Latin – having a clue what they were singing about.
Not much, perhaps, in the broad sweep of a novel, but it’s little touches like that which help to bring a character to life. Which perhaps helps a reader to identify with them, to the point of saying, ‘yes. I remember doing that.’ it helps to make it all more real.
Once i had Rafferty down on paper, i gave a lot of thought to his sidekick. But that’s for the second in my three-parter posts. So tune in next time!

WRITING WORKSHOP FROM AMERICAN SUSPENSE AUTHOR MICHAEL MURPHY

American suspense author Michael Murphy is back today for a second guest post. He is going to give a writing workshop, based on his class You Too Can Write a Nove. Here’s Michael:

Six tips to get you started, keep you going and finish a novel.
What’s the most common statement I get when people learn I’ve had seven novels published?   “I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but I could never do it.”

People who love to write often conclude they don’t have what it takes to write a seventy-thousand word (or more) novel.  I tell them what I’ve learned from becoming a novelist.

The basic component of a novel is not a sentence or paragraph. The basic component is a scene.  In school teachers often gave assignments to write a five-hundred word theme. We got through it right?  If you can write a five hundred-word theme, you can write a five hundred word scene. If you can write three or four scenes, you can write a chapter. If you can write a chapter, you can write twenty or more.  If you can write twenty chapters, you can write a seventy thousand word novel!

What else have I learned?  I learned six tips that work for me and many others I’ve met, W-R-I-T-E-S.  If you keep these tips posted somewhere near your computer, they’ll help you get started and keep going until you finish a novel.
W- Write your novel with an end in mind, but give your characters room to grow. 
R-   Rake your characters over the coals of extreme personal and professional conflict.
I-   Ignore advice to write what you know.  Write the type of novel you love to read.
T- Take your reader to exotic locations or scary places you’d never go yourself.
E-  Edit later, outline later, take writing classes later. Just get started.
S-  Start with a bang.  Grab the reader in the beginning and don’t let go. The most important line of your novel is the first. Make it memorable.  Librarian Nancy Pearl once said, “I think when you read a good first line, it’s like falling in love.
 These six steps will help you get started.  But often a novel will sag a third of the way through.  The writer might get stuck wondering what direction the story should go. Some writers give up and never finish. How do you keep going?  There are two things to remember that will keep you going, every scene needs conflict and emotion. 
Conflict and emotion drive plot. Emotion will occur if your characters have to deal with conflict. If your scene lacks conflict it will lack sufficient emotion to keep your reader reading.  If your scene lacks conflict, throw it out and write a new scene.
 If your manuscript sags at any point in your novel, analyze the source of the conflict then add to your main character’s personal and professional conflict.  Conflict and emotion, they will keep you going until the end.
 You can do it. Get started. Until you write the following two words, you’ll never write a novel:
Chapter One.
Michael’s Bio:
In addition to being a full time writer, Michael Murphy is a part time urban chicken rancher. He and his wife make their home in Arizona with their two cats, four dogs and five chickens. He enjoys writing mystery and suspense novels with twists and turns and splashes of humor.  Scorpion Bay is his seventh novel.  
Here are Michael’s links again. Two Amazon links, for paperback and Kindle:
Michael’s website: www.mjmurphy.com
Here are a couple of reviews of Scorpion Bay
‘Strap yourself in and get ready for plenty of action, suspense, crime, corruption, a touch of romance and comedy. Include a high tech motorcycle, our hero in a black disguise to hide his identity along with designer drugs, intrigue and danger on a luxury yacht on Scorpion Bay. Michael Murphy shares the map to fast paced intrigue with three dimensional characters and a great story line that will keep you involved and wanting more until the last page.’
Nikki Leigh, award winning fiction and non fiction author.
“Part thriller, part romance, part comedy, part mystery and all satisfying; Scorpion Bay is an impossible book to put down. Prepare to burn the midnight oil with this one, rooting for Parker Knight as Murphy carefully unravels the plot on the very last word.”
Alisha Paige, author of Circle City: Lord of the Wolfen–coming soon.
Thank you Michael. I’m sure your readers will have found your advice helpful and it will prod them to actually get started, go on and finish that book.