Am I a ‘dark’ or ‘light’ crime-writer? ‘Hard’ or ‘soft’?

I have written previously about the division of crime-writers into those who write ‘whodunits’ and those who write thrillers.  Well, I have heard that, for some people, the important distinction is between a ‘dark’, also called ‘hard’, and ‘light’ or a ‘soft’ crime-writer.


What does it all mean?

  • ‘Dark’ or ‘hard’ novels contain a explicit, detailed descriptions of violence and a sense of looming, possibly supernatural, evil.
  • ‘Light’ or ‘soft’ novels tend to include more humour and have a more cheerful atmosphere.

Which do I prefer?

  • As I said about the distinction between the ‘whodunit’ and the thriller, I think you can be overanalytical.  There is a spectrum.  I tend to prefer those novels at the lighter end, but not exclusively.
  • I think there is a need for realism and real-life crime is not usually pretty.
  • However, our sense of humour is one the things we British are proud of and a writer, or a hero, without a sense of humour is not going to appeal to me.
  • If you think I have just contradicted myself, bear in mind that humour is also a part of real life.

What sort of crime-writer am I?  What about my forthcoming novel?

  • It will lean on the ‘light’ side.
  • I have allowed my hero to show a sense of humour.
  • However, there are moments of violence and fear.  It is far from being a comedy.
  • I want it to seem real enough for you to  feel for the victim as well as for my amateur detective hero and his sidekick.
  • The above points indicate the kind of crime-writer I intend to be.

Of course, different readers will gain different perceptions from reading it.  I hope they will mostly be favourable, whether they consider it ‘dark’ or ‘light’.

JHM Risk Management


Are my characters politically correct?

I have been warned that a lot of modern readers are sensitive to expressions of politically incorrect sentiments.  Even the villain should not say anything too offensive on certain subjects.  I have also been warned to choose my words carefully.  What was acceptable a decade or two ago would be considered out of place today.

I do not want to offend anyone unnecessarily and every author needs to choose words carefully.  So I should have no problem then?  If only.

I want to make my characters realistic.  Some will have to have attitudes and opinions that I do not agree with.  Some will have unfortunate ways of expressing themselves.

I myself find it hard to keep up with changes in acceptable terminology.  ‘Coloured’  is apparently unacceptable, despite the fact that there is still an organisation called The American Association for the Advancement of Coloured People.  Its leader was once Martin Luther King.

I said I do not want to offend anyone unnecessarily.  There are, however, people whom it is necessary to offend.  I do not intend to be so bland that I give no inkling as to my own beliefs or values.

Finally, although I believe words are important (!) I also believe you can make them too important.  You can worry too much  about what to call something rather than what to do about it.  Derek Hatton once said that some of his colleagues argued longer about whether you could call a manhole a personhole, than on whether one was needed in a certain location.

Jesus once accused his critics of “straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel”.


Is everybody happy? This should cheer us up.

There has been a report by the London School of Economics on happiness.

It says, among other things, that people who are married or in long term relationships tend to be happier and live longer than other people.  This will surprise anyone who has listened to too many old-fashioned jokes about “the wife” and “the mother-in-law”.  Who is laughing now?


What else is important?

The Report also mentions depression and stress as major reasons why many people are not happy.  I have written about my contribution to stress on my Risk Management blog.  See:

Has anyone else been studying happiness?

I am aware of a lot of other research in the last decade or so, which began in the University of Mexico, into what makes us happy, which made a change from all the studies in the Twentieth Century into neuroses, psychoses, manias etc.  In other words, they used to study only people who were far from happy.

When I read some of the findings, I could not help being struck by the similarity with a lot of the advice given in the Bible.  Perhaps it was to do with following the Maker’s instructions.  They are just as valid, whatever your religion or other philosophy.

I will say something about each of the main findings in separate blogs starting soon.  I hope this will get us all off to a good start for a Happy New Year.

Is there a lot of social comment in my books?

There seem to be two kinds of reader.  Some like a mystery novel to concentrate on the whodunit and not stray into social or political issues.  Others are interested in digging deeper into the characters and the setting.  Agatha Christie or Ian Rankin?


What about me?  I believe in making my characters and settings realistic and credible.  I intend to set most of my books in Wales in the Twenty-first Century.  I hope you will identify with some of my characters and situations.    Even if you are English.

Does this mean that I will always be writing about poverty and ‘gritty realism’?  No!  The middle classes are just as real as the rest.  The suburbs are as interesting to me as the inner city.  I will be drawing on people and places I know.  Not all my acquaintances live in poverty.  Neither do they live in big country houses or on remote islands.

The Cardiff I know has a castle and a cathedral.  It also has its Marina and the Millenium Stadium.  I know farmers and coal miners.  I also know website designers and mobile ’phone salesmen.  I know people who claim to be descended from old Welsh heroes and can recite poetry in Welsh.  I also know people of Irish, Italian, Polish, Asian and Afro-Caribbean descent.  Even some English people.  I know a few words of Welsh and a lot of Wenglish, especially the Cardiff variety.

In Wales today there are problems of poverty, unemployment, social and individual injustice, race, class, gender and religion as much as in the rest of Britain.  None of these issues are the principal themes in my books but, if none of my characters were to encounter any of these things, it would be very strange.  I am not writing about a fantasy world or completely imaginary people.

I may yet set one of my stories in a country mansion or a barely-inhabited island.  But they will not be isolated from the problems and the opportunities of the modern world.

Do not forget, however, that I am writing mysteries, whodunits, thrillers.  Not political treatises.  I hope the settings will not get in the way of the stories but will enhance them.  My hero will be more concerned with finding the villain than with reforming Society.