The Dorset Book Detective – Interview

Hannah, aka The Dorset Book Detective, has just been kind enough to interview me by e-mail for her blog.  I thought the questions were very good.  I hope some people will like the answers.  Here is the interview, showing her questions and my answers in case you are interested.

  1. Tell me about how the books you write. Why do you have such a passion for crime fiction in particular?

I am working on a story about an accountant who is looking into some financial goings-on and that leads on into investigating a murder.  I hope this will be the beginning of a series, Accounting for Murder.  This first one should be out by Easter.

  • Money is often the motive for all sorts of crimes and an accountant’s skills are often very similar to a detective’s.
  • I am trying to make him a fairly ordinary man whom readers will be able to relate to. It is set in Cardiff, a place where I lived for several years.  Like me, he is an Englishman who loves Wales and the Welsh.  We both love animals too.

I have always had an enquiring mind.  Also, crime fiction has to have a structure.  The murder.  The investigation.  The solution.  Some other fiction writers can ramble a bit.  I think I would, if I did not have that structure to help me.  Within that, there is plenty of scope for variety and innovation.

2. What was the first crime fiction novel you read and how did it draw you into seeking out more books of this genre?

Probably an early Dick Francis one.  I love horses, although I do not follow racing.  I have now read most of his works.  I like the combination of mystery and thriller as well as the background detail.

  1. What is your career background and how did you get into writing full time?

I worked as an accountant in local government for most of my career.  Before you all go to sleep or leave this site, let me say that, although everyone thinks accountancy is boring, most people like talking about money, and it was a good preparation for writing crime fiction.

  • For years, I did a lot of auditing, investigating wrongdoing as well as sorting out mistakes, which made a change from making them.
  • I spent most of my later career dealing with insurances. That involved looking into claims against the Council, most of which were… dubious.  If they had all been genuine, you should have seen someone fall on the pavement every time you looked out of the window.
  • I have always done a lot of writing: reports, memos, letters. We accountants do use words as well as numbers.
  • For the last few years, I have been self-employed, meeting a lot of people in business, which has taught me a lot.
  • It was to help grow my business that I started a blog and then wrote a few non-fiction books. I enjoyed that a lot and discovered self-publishing.  Some people enjoyed my writing.  That made me think writing fiction might be possible.

4. Are there any particular mediums or narrative troupes you like to use in your writing and why?

I am not sure.  Perhaps my readers will spot some that I was not aware of.

5. What books/ authors do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing?

I am sure everything you read affects your writing in some way.  These are the ones whose influence I am most conscious of.

  • Val McDermid explains a lot about the psychology of murder, but I have enjoyed some of her earlier works which were more basic whodunits.
  • Ruth Rendell, especially in her Reg Wexford stories, makes her hero credible and normal. Not all detectives have to have damaged personalities and dysfunctional relationships.  I also love some of Wexford’s passing observations about life and how things have changed.
  • Reginald Hill, apart from writing great stories, has a marvellous way with words. He writes most eruditely, but his characters speak in earthy Yorkshire or Cumbrian.  There is humour in the way he expresses himself, without detracting from the seriousness of the story.  He also evokes the feeling of the places where his stories are set.
  • Speaking of words, PG Wodehouse could really use them and could create lots of plot strands, which he would bring together brilliantly in the end. A must-read for any writer.
  • Most recently, I have been enjoying some of the works of Peter James. His knowledge of police procedures and of the location, Brighton, is great.  His hero is another normal person, although one with an issue in his private life.
  • Finally, all crime writers owe a huge debt to Arthur Conan Doyle. Everything can be traced back to him.

Well, I hope there’s enough writers, but I know I am missing a lot out.  I do not claim to bear comparison with any of these, but have learnt something from each of them.

Apart from novels and stuff on the Internet, I read the Bible quite a lot, for many reasons.  As a writer, I commend it, because:

  • It is full of great stories and also contains some memorable quotes.
  • Reading different versions shows how you can say the same thing in different ways.
  • It is interesting to see how Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell the same story but with different styles and emphases and they all include and exclude different bits.

6. If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why?

Any of the above.  However, I would be too in awe of them to collaborate much.  Perhaps writers are better on their own anyway.  You need to be yourself.  Great writing is seldom achieved by committees.  Meeting any of them would be a privilege.

7. Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?

  • I hope Accounting for Murder will become a series. I have several ideas for more stories involving the same hero and his family.
  • I am likely to produce another non-fiction book next year, either about business or something to do with faith. Perhaps Things the Devil Doesn’t Want You to Know or A Sceptical Look at Atheism.

8. Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to later in the year/ early in 2017?

I have received several suggestions but I would like to wait until I have read the books in question.  I would not want to say anything rash.

9. Do you have anything to add?

There are four things I want to say.

  • My faith affects all my writing, and probably most things I do, but I try not to ram it down your throat. It is part of who I am.
  • I chose to make my hero an accountant because I would be writing about something I know and because I think it is time for another amateur detective. There seem to be so many police detectives around.
  • I also write historical crime fiction under a pseudonym. Let me know if the Dorset Detectives are interested in that.  I could do an interview in my other name.
  • If anyone has not got enough of me, there’s more at johnharveymurray.co.uk and for my professional life, see www.jhmriskmanagementservices.co.uk

Want to know more about The Dorset Book Detective?  Go to https://dorsetbookdetective.wordpress.com

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What do you remember on 5th November?

Although it might seem a bit pointless, or at best a bit of harmless fun, celebrating the 5th of November has become a part of our British way of life.  Here’s why I think it is worth it.  Read this article I wrote a few years ago.  It is at least as relevant now as it was then.

http://ezinearticles.com/?Why-Celebrate-a-Failed-Terrorist?&id=8749994

Have fun tonight.  Don’t catch fire!

What kind of crime-fiction writer am I?

Some people say that there are two kinds of crime-fiction writer:

  1. mystery writers
  2. thriller writers

What’s the difference?

  1. Mystery novels are also called ‘whodunits’ as the main interest is in working out who did the crime or possibly in seeing how the detective goes about working it out.  The purest form of mystery is rather like a crossword puzzle or a game of chess: cerebral and dispassionate.  They are often slow-moving.
  2. Thrillers are emotional.  They involve violence, suspense, tension and shocks.  You might know who did the crime, or who is going to do it, but are interested in the chase.  They are usually fast-paced.

 

JHM Claims

Which do I prefer?

  • I think the distinction is a bit artificial.  A lot of crime-fiction stories contain elements of both.  There is something of a spectrum.  Some are undoubtedly nearer one end than the other but few are at either extremity.
  • On the whole, I tend to prefer the ones that contain an intellectual puzzle to the all-action adventures with little mystery in them.
  • However, it depends on my mood and on the quality of the particular writer.

What of my own crime-fiction writing?

  • My first novel will be largely a ‘whodunit’ but there will be plenty of action, violence, suspense, and probably shocks along the way.
  • I hope it will arouse your emotions at times as well as your intellect.
  • You will have to decide for yourself whether it should be classed as a thriller, a mystery-thriller or just a mystery with a few thrills.  In the end the reader is my judge.

Some people have other ways of classifying crime-fiction novels.  I will say something about those in another blog soon.

Whatever you call it, I hope you like it. 

 

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What’s unique about me and my books?

Many writers of non-fiction, including myself, suffer from a certain doubt.  It may come from inside our heads or be suggested by other people.

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This is the question of not being different enough from other writers to be considered unique.  What I mean is that there are lots of books about, say, statistics, risk or Christianity. Why does the World need another one?  The same is true of books on almost any subject from gardening to starting a business to healthy lifestyles.  Nothing is truly new, unless you are reading the findings of the latest scientific research.

 

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I have been reassured recently by the unanimous views of experienced writers participating in a webinar.  They all say that each person brings a unique contribution.

  • It may be a particular insight or experience.
  • It may be a story that illustrates a point in a new way.
  • Or it may simply be that the latest author has a certain unique way of expressing things that will communicate with some readers who had never quite got it from reading other books, similar as they might have been.

The other writers would all encourage me to keep at it.  If I have something to say, there are probably people who need to hear it.  I hope there are enough of them and I really hope some of you will find you get the message from my writings that you never got before.  Of course, if you do not, I hope you find the right writer for you.  Good luck!

What is a Christian book?

I have now written four works of non-fiction and am working on a detective novel.  As my last book How to Cope with the Church is an expression of my Christian faith, I have been asked:

  1. Whether it is a departure from my usual theme(s)
  2. Whether my novel will be a Christian book.

The answers are not simple.

  • I do refer to God, faith and the Bible in my three secular books, although the proportion of the books taken up by such things is so small that you would have to have a strong phobia of all things Christian to be unable to benefit from the books as a whole. And enjoy them.  The references are, I hope, relevant to the subjects I am writing about, rather than interruptions.
  • As a Christian, I hope all my books will help readers replace error and falsehood with truth. I hope too they will all help readers deal with various problems in their lives.
  • My understanding of life is influenced by my faith, as everyone’s understanding is affected by his or her beliefs and values, whether religious or secular. I do not claim that all my understanding comes from my Christian faith.  Like anyone else, my education, experience and environment play their parts too.
  • My fictitious heroes will not be committed Christians, neither will religion be a major topic in the novel. It is possible that in one of the sequels they will encounter Christianity in some way and be obliged to consider certain aspects of their beliefs.  I intend to make them consider many issues in due course.
  • I do not intend to let religion, politics or social concern get in the way of the story. I am writing whodunits not treatises.
  • If I am to be real, my beliefs will almost certainly come out in my writing, fiction and non-fiction, as is the case for most writers.

Finally, I do intend to write another book or two on specifically religious topics, but fear not: the titles and publicity will give sufficient warning to enable the more sensitive of you to steer clear of them.

Soap Box

 

Are you interested in the Occult?

As Halloween approaches, I observe that there are four kinds of people.

  1. Some people begin to think about the Occult.
  2. For others it is just a time to dress up and have a party.
  3.  Some are hostile to it.
  4. Then there are those who do not pay it any attention.

If you are in categories 1. or 3. you might like to look at an article I wrote two years ago on this subject.

http://ezinearticles.com/?What-Do-Christians-Have-Against-the-Occult?&id=8749853

Otherwise, enjoy the fancy dress and the parties.  Or just ignore it.

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What do my books have in common?

I have now written four books.

  1. How to Avoid Being Misled by Statistics
  2. Be Victorious!
  3. Load the Dice
  4. How to Cope with the Church

I set out more details later in this article.

Some people find it hard to detect a common theme.  This applies to my blogs and Ezine articles as well as to my books.  Do I lack a plan?

Well, to be honest, I do tend to write about all sorts of things.  You could say I do not have a one-track mind.  Or you could say I lack direction.  I am being myself.  But I do think there are some unifying elements, the most significant being myself.  All my writings reflect my thoughts, feelings and personality.  For better or worse.  Here are a few other common features.

  • Most of my books are short.  They are intended for people who do not have a lot of time for reading.  There are plenty of bigger books that cover the same topics in more detail.  OK if that is what you want.
  • I write in my own voice.  I do not try to put on a more literary style.  I want you to feel we are having a chat.
  • I draw on my experience of life.  Of course that includes things I have read or been taught, but I major on things I know are true and relevant for me.
  • I try to address issues I come across and that I know other people do too, so that I hope what I write will be helpful, whether in business, church or everyday life.

Fuller details of my books are:

  1. How to avoid being misled by statistics: don’t be one of the 60% who are below average.

https://www.createspace.com/4767398

ISBN/EAN13: 1499190484 / 9781499190489 Kindle ASIN: B00LPG8VUE

Price GBP 4.77 Kindle price  $3.40

2. Be Victorious!  Lessons from World War I for Business and Everyday Life.

https://www.createspace.com/4875614

ISBN/EAN13: 1500327905 / 9781500327903 Kindle ASIN: B00LPG913U

Price GBP 4.70  Kindle price $4.23

3. Load the Dice.  A simple guide to managing risks in small businesses          https://www.createspace.com/5163656

ISBN/EAN13: 1505480345 / 9781505480344  Kindle ASIN: B00R58W9NQ  Price GBP 5.76 Kindle price $5.55

4. How to cope with the Church. Practical help for would-be Christians.

https://tsw.createspace.com/title/6534903

ISBN-13: 978-1537365039 (CreateSpace-Assigned)  ISBN-10: 1537365037 Kindle ASIN: B01LZ53GBS

Price GBP 3.00 Kindle price $1.28

 I am now working on a detective story.  That will be longer than any of my other books and is intended to be interesting and entertaining rather than instructive.  It will, however, be in my style and will be drawn to some extent on my experience as well as my imagination.  I will not tell you which parts come from which.

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Another useful little book

Bible for Dummies : Bible Journaling Made Easy

I have just read this little book and highly recommend it.  It is easy to read, humorous yet intelligent.  It explains not only the Bible’s contents but its origins and other issues around it.

 Speedy Publishing LLC  also on Amazon and Kindle

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Bible-Dummies-Jeffrey-Geoghegan/dp/0764552961

For those who are doing extensive studies on bible scriptures to enrich their lives as a christian, The Bible For Dummies: Bible Journaling Made Easy Book, is a wonderful companion book to have in making entries about the scriptures and their thoughts as they read the bible. A great journaling book to have!
  • 1681275724
  • 9781681275727

What have I missed out in ‘How to cope with the Church’?

There are a lot of things I have not included in this book.  You could probably think of several.  The reason for that is that I wanted to keep it short, simple and cheap.  I tried to concentrate on things I think people need to know.  Things that will help them overcome the most ‘popular’ difficulties in Church life.  If you have a few different ones, I am sorry.  If you let me know I will try to say something on my blog to help.  If I find there are enough, I will include them in my next book.

  • I have not said anything about other religions.  That is because I am trying to help people who are Christians or at least thinking of going to a Christian Church.
  • I have not dealt with any of the big intellectual difficulties some people have with the faith.  That is because most people I know are not worried about them.  I have tried to concentrate on the issues I think matter to most people.  If I am wrong, well, wait for the sequel.  Or get a book that does deal with your problem.
  • One thing I forgot to put on my last blog was the web address where you can order the book.  https://tsw.createspace.com/title/6534903

https://tsw.createspace.com/title/6534903

Have you seen the elephant?

No, I have not lost one.

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No! That’s not an elephant!

I recently heard someone saying that children these days do not seem to show as much awe and wonder at the marvelous creatures that they see in the zoo as ‘we’ did.  I am not sure who ‘we’ included, but never mind.

I can think of two reasons why this remark may contain some truth.

  1. Children these days do not want to show too much ‘awe and wonder’ at anything as it is not cool, so they say.
  2. Children have seen lots of wildlife documentaries and are better prepared than some previous generations for the sight of amazing animals.

At one time, most adults, let alone children, would not have seen foreign animals in the flesh.  At best they might have seen a picture in a book or a painting in a gallery.

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No, that’s not one either!

During the American Civil War there was an expression ‘To See the Elephant’, meaning to experience a battle.  The point of the metaphor was that anyone who had not been in a battle could not know what it was like.  No description did it justice.  [Sorry if you are a War Poet or even a War Correspondent: I did not invent the expression!]  In the same way, if you had never seen an elephant, no description quite conveyed what one was like, but once you had seen one you knew.

Thinking of this, I can understand the difficulty people have when trying to talk about a religious experience.  Their descriptions either make it sound banal, or seem so bizarre as to be incredible.  That is because God is not like us.  He is different.  All you can do is to try to liken him to something else.  Nothing quite works.  That is why the Bible is full of imagery.  Much of it contradictory.  The writers were struggling to convey something they had experienced that was like nothing else.

I may be wrong, but the people I am most willing to believe concerning their religious experiences are those who have greatest difficulty in describing them.  Those who sound too glib make me suspicious.

There is a similar problem for us authors.  We want our writing to be credible.  We want readers to be able to relate to our characters.  Yet we want to make the reader feel something extraordinary is happening, or else the story seems too mundane.  Great writers manage to bridge the gap.  They use words to convey the unusual, perhaps the near-incredible, in a way that readers can understand and relate to.

Am I a great writer?  Wait and see.  I know I have a challenge.