Bill kindly provided the following post about writing in different genres. But first, here’s the blurb for his new novel.
An offshore platform in the turbulent North Sea is a dangerous place…
…there’s the isolation, the machinery and the constant battle with the whims of nature. For Ally Baxter, a safety officer on Falcon Alpha, those whims take a deadly turn. When his workmates decide he’s gay, an evening ashore turns ugly as they indulge in some drunken queer-bashing. Later his body is found along the route the group followed.
For DCI Jack Carston, the case seems simple enough until a second murder is discovered. This time it’s the prostitute Ally always visited - a young mother with a baby son. Complications mount as Carston, in addition to his investigations, has to deal with an inexperienced officer under his command and a disciplinary charge brought against Carston himself by a vindictive superior officer.
The obstacles keep piling up, but more is to come when he finds evidence of a plot to wreck the platform itself.
Unsafe Acts is available from Amazon (UK) and Amazon (US)
You can find more information about Bill on his website and blog.
Chasing the unexpected
Writing’s a pleasure. Even if you can organise your time so that you can give regular slots, even whole days to it, it never feels as if it’s a routine. The great French novelist Stendhal always preferred l’imprévu, the unexpected. His heroes and heroines sought and revelled in surprises, unpredictable experiences, accidental meetings and the like. So even if, every day, you sit at the same desk, adjust the same keyboard, switch on the same monitor (or, if you’re a real writer, lick the tip of your stubby pencil and pull the sheet of paper towards you), you’re confident that your characters will take you to unsuspected places.
The same is true of readers, but with a slight difference. They know they’ll be taken out of their world but, quite often, they like the feeling of drifting into one with which they’re familiar, and which is peopled by weel-kent individuals. They want to revisit Harry Potter and his friends, or read yet another Dick Francis adventure featuring horses and jockeys. And this can pose a problem because, in a way, it condemns you to meet their expectations. If they’re used to you telling them about Chief Inspector Bloggs and his team in Auchtermuchty, they don’t want to pick up one of your books and find themselves in a spaceship crewed by Klingons on its way to the radioactive outskirts of the Crab nebula. But what if that’s where you fancy going? Do you indulge yourself and just sit watching the airlocks hiss open and shut? Or do you wave goodbye to the astronauts and trudge back into the Auchtermuchty nick?
I can’t really say it’s been a problem but I do feel the need to warn readers of the differences between my books. I’ve written five in my modern Scottish crime series, all featuring the same central characters. But I’ve also written a spoof crime/mystery, a historical crime which became a romance too, a fantasy novella about online role-playing games, a novel for children and plays and short stories about all sorts of other things. There are also the non-fiction books, but I don’t think my fiction readers are likely to be fooled into straying into a series whose titles all begin with the word ‘Brilliant’.
It’s true that most of my books are crime-based, but that’s because I’m fascinated by people and the bad – and good – things they’re capable of. For me, the human psyche is far more mysterious than any geographical or extra-terrestrial setting. So, whether I’m writing about murders in today’s Scotland, or figurehead carving in 1840, or following the absurdly extreme sociopathic antics of a policeman and a group of individuals who call themselves Eagle, Sparrow, Kestrel and the like, the process is the same. What’s happening to these people as I write may make me laugh, admire or love them, feel distressed, be disgusted – in fact contribute in many different ways to that all-important surprise factor.
So am I saying there’s no difference between writing romance, historical or modern crime, fantasy or satire? Well, yes. I always quote Isla Dewar’s response to a question from an audience, ‘You’ve got to give your characters room to dance’. If your characters dance for you, it doesn’t matter who or where they are – they draw you to them, make you part of their world, however alien, and demand that you tell their stories. With a genre such as satire, it’s maybe a little different because you’re using them to make points about other things, so you’re dealing with two levels of meaning, but I think that’s true of all good writing anyway. Underneath the main story, there are always so many others to be told.
The really nice feeling comes when readers ask you when you’re going to a write a sequel to a stand-alone book. It means they’ve entered its world and want to experience more of it. It’s perhaps the biggest compliment you can get.
OK, that’s enough for today. I wonder where I’ll be taken tomorrow.
Thanks for that very interesting post, Bill.
Bill Kirton was born in Plymouth, England but has lived in Aberdeen, Scotland for most of his life. He’s been a university lecturer, presented TV programmes, written and performed songs and sketches at the Edinburgh Festival, and had many radio plays broadcast by the BBC and the Australian BC. He’s written four books on study, writing and workplace skills in Pearson’s ‘Brilliant’ series and his crime novels, Material Evidence, Rough Justice, The Darkness, Shadow Selves and the historical novel The Figurehead, set in Aberdeen in 1840, have been published in the UK and USA. His short stories have appeared in several anthologies and Love Hurts was chosen for the Mammoth Book of Best British Crime 2010.
Photo by Sara Bain