Reviews

Invisible’s got an excellent, tense plot, shifting between the two main characters, with a good number of surprises along the way. Poulson always has great, strong women characters, with real lives and feelings . . .  I liked the fact that the depictions of violence and injury were realistic without being over-detailed or gloating . . . It was a pleasure to find a book that did the excitement, the jeopardy and the thrills without putting off this reader . . .  a very good read for anyone.’

- CLOTHES IN BOOKS

Twelve photographs in search of an author: The Starlings and Other Stories

Last Saturday I was at the launch of The Starlings and Other Stories at Waterstones in Wrexham. Nine of the twelve authors were there along with David Wilson, the photographer whose work inspired our stories. I did wonder if we would outnumber the audience (it’s been known to happen with smaller groups of writers than this!), but there was a good turn-out and the audience was responsive.

It is rare that publication of a collection of short stories is marked in this way, but truly there is something special about this book. I don’t know of any other that combines images and texts in quite this way. These aren’t illustrations: as I’ve explained in an earlier blog, the photographs came first. And what photographs! As Chris Simms writes in the introduction ‘these weren’t the cosy compositions of tourist shop tea-towels. By his own admission David’s photographs – beautiful as they are –  often carry “a sense of eerie foreboding.” Brooding woods emerge from pale mist. Lonely farmsteads are threatened by stormy skies. An abandoned building leaves you wondering what happened to those who once lived there.’ Perfect starting points for a crime-writer and it was fascinating to see what everyone had made of it.

It was lovely to meet the team at Graffeg who are responsible for a beautifully produced book along with the other writers, and – especially – David Wilson. The photograph shows from left to right in the front row, myself, Margaret Murphy, Kate Ellis, Helena Edwards; in the second row Toby Forward, Ann Cleeves, David Wilson, Martin Edwards, Cath Staincliffe, Chris Simms.

 

Crime-writer Margaret Murphy: Truth, Lies, and Creative Collaboration

Crime-writer Margaret Murphy: Truth, Lies, and Creative Collaboration

Every now and then I like to invite one of my crime-writing friends to be a guest on my blog. This time it’s the turn of Margaret Murphy. I really wanted to know more about Margaret’s colloboration with forensic scientist, Dave Barclay, and how that works. This is what I learned:

A.D. Garrett is the pen name for Margaret Murphy and Professor Dave Barclay’s writing collaboration. Margaret is a Dagger Award-winning novelist, RLF Writing Fellow, and past Chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. As head of Physical Evidence at the UK National Crime and Operations Faculty for 10 years, Dave undertook physical evidence reviews in 233 murders.
Their debut novel, EVERYONE LIES, has had rave reviews and reached the top ten in Amazon Kindle last autumn. Margaret has penned 9 novels under her own name, so how did the writing collaboration happen?
‘During Liverpool’s year as Capital of Culture in 2008, the city hosted the BA Science Festival,’ Margaret explains. ‘The Macaulay (now the Hutton) Institute wanted to organize a panel discussion, open to the general public, examining the science behind crime fiction. Did I know three writers brave (or foolhardy) enough to have their work scrutinized, explained, and potentially ridiculed by a panel of six (yes, six!) scientists? The first “Murder, Mystery & Microscopes” featured me, Val McDermid and Peter James. In the event, the scientists let us off lightly, the event was a double sell-out, and has since become a staple of public science lectures.
            ‘Fast forward to the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival 2010. My agent, Felicity Blunt, and I watched Ann Cleeves and Mark Billingham getting the MMM treatment; the forensics expert was Dave Barclay, whom I’d met in 2008,’ Margaret says. ‘I am a scientist by training, and Felicity said she’d love to get the two of us together on a project. We met over gin & tonic and Dave and I later agreed our respective contributions.’
So how did the partnership work? ‘Dave came up with three ten-point plots and we chose one that had the potential to build into a satisfying thriller. From there, we exchanged ideas, and talked about the characters, with Dave advising on scientific and procedural elements.  The writing is my job, so when we felt we had enough background, I got to work. We had the main protagonists: forensic scientist, Professor Nick Fennimore, and DCI Kate Simms. We had also worked out the central plot – an unexplained blip in the number of overdoses among north Manchester’s heroin addicts, which Simms suspects is something more sinister. Being science trained, I could do some forensic research myself; when a question arose that was beyond my experience, Dave would provide briefing notes or a PowerPoint presentation – or we would Skype.’
Are there any CSI-style cheats or inventions in the novel? ‘Fennimore is a forensic scientist, which means the science has to be right. That said, EVERYONE LIES is a work of fiction, so the characters had to have depth and complexity to engage the readers, and as a thriller, the story needed both tension and pace. The writing process is organic – characters will do unpredictable things against the better judgment of the writer – and I added in storylines and characters and scratched out others along the way. In these instances, Dave would deal with the scientific consequences of my untidy creative mind.’
Will the collaboration continue? ‘Happily, the second novel is completed and is due out in July,’ Margaret says. ‘Fennimore and Simms go Stateside, on the trail of a serial killer. That was fun to research. In May 2012, we spent three weeks in Tulsa and St Louis, talking to experts covering a range of aspects of the US Criminal Justice System. Highlights included being guided around the Homicide Department in Tulsa, and talking to detectives, Cold Case Investigators, and CSIs. They’d had 19 homicides between January and May – and said it had been unusually quiet. We also talked to District Attorneys, a forensic anthropologist, and a judge in Oklahoma. Our guide and facilitator, Mike Nance, was formerly a homicide detective, and is now a Team Adam consultant. Mike is also a co-founder of the International Association of Cold Case Investigators. Please check out their Facebook page and like it – these guys do important work. In St Louis, we met with just-retired head of the Major Case Squad, Bill Baker, and the Godfather of Homicide, Joe Burgoon, and listened to a fund of stories that impressed on me both the humour and compassion of the men and women who stand between ordinary people and those who would do us harm. It’s impossible in a short blog to do justice to everyone who helped and guided us, but I will be blogging the research trip, day by day, on the A.D. Garrett website from 30thApril to 17th May, so I hope you’ll drop by.
EVERYONE LIES, published by Constable Crime, is now out in paperback and in e-format. The sequel, BELIEVE NO ONE, will be published on 3rd July.
For information on the books (including foreign publications), events, writing and forensic science, visit the A.D. Garrett website at www.adgarrett.com or follow @adgarrett1 on Twitter.