Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

Daily Word Count

Successful writer, murder your darlingsI began taking a daily word count after I sold my first book and was working on its successor. It was – and is – one of the easiest ways to calculate my progress, especially if I’m writing with Word or Pages. Oh, the joy of hitting my target and then overshooting!

But it is also a bit of a blunt instrument. It’s all too easy to use it to beat yourself up. And there are other risks attached, too.

There is more to writing a novel than volume of wordage, after all. A book needs a beginning, a middle and an end. Above all it needs a point. If you lose sight of that, watching the words pile up gives you an entirely false picture of your progress.

Unexpected Risk of a Daily Word Count

Writing Energy exhaustedConfession time here. This is something I did myself, when I was in my first few years of writing for Harlequin Mills and Boon. I was on my fourth or fifth story and thought I’d got the process sussed. I’d recovered from the illness which set me off writing so hard in the first place and I had a full time job.

I had moved into a flat that was pretty much next door to St  James’s Park Underground Station. On a bad morning-after-the-night-before, it was pillow to desk in 35 minutes.

So there I was, writing my books in a regular early morning slot before I left for work. A standard contemporary Harlequin Mills and Boon was a maximum of 55,000 words. My plotting had improved immensely with editorial guidance, as my then agent had prophesied. I turned in Book No Whatever at 54,500 words on the nose and skipped along to meet my lovely editor, positive that I was on roll.

Um. No. Continue reading

Romantic Novelists in Wodehouse and Christie

resolution by letterA couple of weeks ago I gave a talk about romantic novelists in fiction and how they compared with the real thing. To be more precise, it was PG Wodehouse’s romantic novelists. Regular readers of this blog will remember that I have blogged about them before. (I am a huge fan of Rosie M Banks, before you ask.)

Two interesting things emerged from my researches. First, while PGW exaggerated some aspects for comic effect, in general he was pretty respectful of their work ethic – and success!

The second was – those exaggerations. I assumed they had sprung, new-minted, from the Master’s imagination. But just a bit of digging found that PGW had sources on which he might well have modelled even the most egregious. Glug. Continue reading

Mousetrap, Superman and Posterity

This blog contains two main stories – what The Mousetrap did to Hamlet and how Superman distorted an Edwardian hero. For me, anyway.

For some weeks now I’ve been engaged in editing a book that I have re-visited over several years. It has made me think about references which may shift with time.

Something that seemed set in stone in 2008 may have become seriously misleading in 2021. Even downright counter-productive. As, I hope, my two stories will show.

Hamlet’s Dilemma

I love Shakespeare. I saw my first Hamlet when I was fourteen and I have seen it countless times since. There’s usually something new to discover and always special moments of power that stop me dead in my tracks. These depend on the production, of course. But generally one of them is the play within a play in Act 3 Scene 2.

Murdoch's Tower at Caerlaverock Castle ScotlandHamlet is obsessing about his mother’s remarriage. His father, the King, died only four months ago and Hamlet suspects his uncle of murdering him. Not only has the Queen married him, Uncle is now King. Hamlet started with a vague suspicion, but then he encounters his father’s ghost walking the battlements. He confirms it. Continue reading

Lies, Damned Lies and the Unreliable Narrator

Lies seem to be flavour of the month, don’t they? [Can’t think what made me light on that, can you?] I can’t match Dame Isadora on lies, but I found myself thinking about lies in fiction and what they say about the characters. And, sometimes, the readers, too.

Lies and Integrity?

Don’t know about you, but the heroes and heroines I write have to be people of integrity. Does that mean they can’t tell lies, though?

Um. Well, no. Not exactly.
It depends… Continue reading

Cosy Crime Novel, the Continuum

Lockdown seems to bring out the frustrated book clubber in loads of people. Over the last few weeks people keep asking me if I’ve read this cosy crime novel which is:

  • a murder mystery
  • a phenomenal success
  • in spite of being “only a cosy”.

Well, of course, say to a romantic novelist that a book is “only” anything and we’re onto our skate board and off to the nearest bookshop, out of sheer fellow feeling.

So, yes, I’ve read it. Now.

Of which more later*.

Cozy as a Term of Art

woman walking away, rose, cosy crimeBut that made me realise that I’ve always wondered about “Cozy Crime”. [US spelling because, at least in origin, it seems to be a US term.] I mean, what’s cosy [British spelling because this is me talking now] about crime?

By definition, crime is antisocial, the antithesis of cosy. Crime hurts people, sometimes terminally. It deprives them of something or someone they value and may well make them reassess their whole lives.

What’s more, crime can throw whole groups of family, friends and neighbours into turmoil. 

Maybe that’s why “crime” is often modified to  “mystery” when used in this sort of  label. Continue reading

Writer’s Clues

This week I have been considering – no, make that marvelling at – writer’s clues we novelists leave sprinkled about our stories. The clue is always a key to unlock some crucial element of plot or character when it becomes important. In other words, later. A breath from the future.

Some are for the readers, especially if we’re writing some sort of whodunnit, whether the crime is murder or stealing a pig.

But some are for ourselves. And some come as a complete surprise to us when we get to the crucial moment. Continue reading

Wanna Wallow, Dear Reader?

Georgette Heyer’s endings

Re-reading some of my favourite Georgette Heyer novels recently — Dame Isadora snagged me as the minion to do the research for her blogs because she, being a Very Important Personage, had Better Things To Do — I was struck by how often Heyer brings her lovers together at the very end of her novels, sometimes on the very last page.

bride and groom pre wallow
Heyer might give us a chaste embrace. She might even give us a fierce kiss or two. And she often adds a shared joke.
But that’s about it.

What we don’t get in Heyer is a lovers’ wallow.

What’s a wallow?

I’d describe the wallow as a shortish section at the end of a love story where the reader sees the lovers together and passionately in love — both of them trusting and relaxed and happy. Sometimes the lovers are married, sometimes they have had children, sometimes they are simply enjoying each other.

wallow on tropical beach

 

 

It’s the Happy Ever After ending shown right there on the page for the reader to savour.

 

 

Some readers love a wallow. Some readers even feel shortchanged if a novel doesn’t have one at the end. But readers still love all those Heyer novels that don’t have the merest hint of a wallow. So…

Does a love story need a wallow?

Continue reading

The Amateur Sleuth: Guest Blog by Lesley Cookman

crime writer Lesley Cookman on the amateur sleuth

Lesley Cookman
creator of amateur sleuth Libby Sarjeant

Today our guest blogger is Lesley Cookman, an author who is probably most widely known for murder mysteries featuring her amateur sleuth, Libby Sarjeant.

But Lesley also writes in lots of other genres.

Lesley is the author of seven pantomimes, a Music Hall Musical, two romances and sixteen books in the Libby Sarjeant series. She has also written the first in what she hopes will become a new series about an Edwardian Concert Party. In describing her professional life, Lesley says she “writes a lot, reads a lot and occasionally acts a bit.” Sounds like a typically tongue-in-cheek description!

Libertà hive members know what it’s like to keep trying to find new plots for romantic entanglements, but Lesley’s challenge is probably even greater. Her sleuth is established, but how do you find yet another scenario for an unexplained death that your amateur sleuth can solve?

Over to Lesley…

frustrated crime writer seeks plotNew Ideas for the Amateur Sleuth

 

New ideas for the amateur sleuth?

“If only,” says the beleaguered writer.
“Can’t wait,” says the eager reader.

Suspension of Disbelief

murder will out

I sometimes think that, apart from Fantasy Fiction, the amateur sleuth mystery is the one genre in which readers are the most determined to suspend disbelief. Take my own Libby Sarjeant. How could one middle-aged woman actually fall over murders in sixteen novels, one novella and a short story? That’s eighteen crimes she has managed to investigate. Continue reading