By Jane Isaac*
No matter what genre you write, every book carries some element of research and, for crime fiction, the weight is a heavy one.
There’s not only police procedure, plotlines, areas and events to study, but also people.
What’s the secret formula behind the great characters in fiction? Research. Investment into creating and layering our characters gives them the depth to become ‘real’.
As writers we are great people watchers. Aside from interviewing people in our chosen genre, we observe the world around us and pick up little traits: the man in the cafe with the six o’clock shadow, the perfectly manicured mum at the school gates, the child with the tuft of hair that sticks up around his crown – all quirks that help us to build the characters in our fiction.
I’ve always been a great fan of studying, a perennial student in many respects, undertaking courses in a plethora of different subjects over the years including law, pottery, even sign language. Consequently, research is one of my favourite aspects of novel writing – a labour of love, one might say.
It’s interesting what directions book research takes. For An Unfamiliar Murder, fire research led me to a wonderful meeting with the former Chief of Northants Fire Service who explained how the structure of our old terraced properties work in the UK, the role of accelerants, and fire procedures.
I also spoke to endless police officers about their role, their aspirations, the politics of the organisation. Then there are all the books about serial killers and psychopaths – the real case studies that kept me awake at night and haunted my dreams.
For my second book, The Truth Will Out, I met up with a former Detective Superintendent, who managed murder squads all over the UK during his 30 year career, for some in-depth research into some of the cases he has managed. Boy, did he have some tales to tell…
The internet can provide a great resource model but, when considering settings, I prefer the hands on approach. I like to visit a scene, if possible, to see what it really looks like, how it smells, what noises I can hear in the background.
There are times when you can’t beat touching the cold stone, breathing the air around you. I spent hours trudging over fields examining disused mine shafts, old pump houses, railway cabins, derelict cottages, in pursuit of deposition sites for a body for my first novel. Something my Labrador, Bollo, found particularly enjoyable!
Often such information provides background material which never appears in the novel, or only converts to a couple of lines. Sometimes it’s edited out. But the details we learn provide more depth to our work, allowing us to describe scenes and people from an informed viewpoint. This not only enables the words to flow, but makes it feel more real, which is particularly important for a psychological thriller.
Ever read a book when you’ve questioned an event, a character, a place because it isn’t quite right? Failing to do your research will show. And with the internet these days, it’s easier than ever to make sure we check our information. I’d never claim for my work to be completely factually correct, but it’s certainly not for the want of trying.
Released on March 1st, 2016, An Unfamiliart Murder, was my first book, originally published in the US, and it’s almost four years to the day that this title was originally published, so it feels very special to be able to share the ‘all new’ version again. Here’s a blurb taster for you:
“Arriving home from a routine day at work, Anna Cottrell has no idea that her life is about to change forever. But discovering the stabbed body of a stranger in her flat, then becoming prime suspect in a murder inquiry is only the beginning. Her persistent claims of innocence start to crumble when new evidence links her irrevocably with the victim…
Leading her first murder investigation, DCI Helen Lavery unravels a trail of deception, family secrets and betrayal. When people close to the Cottrell family start to disappear, Lavery is forced into a race against time. Can she catch the killer before he executes his ultimate victim?”
*Jane Isaac lives writes detective novels with a psychological edge. She lives with her husband and daughter in rural Northamptonshire, UK where she can often be found trudging over the fields with her Labrador, Bollo. On 1st March 2016 she re-released her first novel, An Unfamiliar Murder, originally published in the US in 2012, which was nominated as best mystery in the ‘eFestival of Words Best of the Independent eBook awards 2013.’ Later in the year her fourth book, Beneath the Ashes, will be published by Legend Press. www.janeisaac.co.uk