Sep 22, 2011

Research your criminals

Last night I attended a talk by Peter James, "Britain's #1 bestselling crime author," at the offices of HarperCollins Canada. It was, appropriately, a dark and stormy night, which we had a great view of from the floor-to-ceiling windows in HCC's fabulous 20th-storey offices.

James spoke to an intimate audience of crime writers and fans about his writing process, his sources of inspiration, and the effect on his psyche of writing about gory murders all day. (Apparently the antidote is vodka martinis.)

To add realism to his stories, James has been cultivating relationships with police, criminals, and victims for decades. He goes out on patrol, witnesses arrests, hangs out in jails...the whole bit.

While not all authors have the luxury of totally immersing themselves in the world of their stories, I think any author could benefit from the general lesson of seeking inspiration through research. So often in manuscripts I find that the very best writing comes from what the author knows best, that the most developed characters and settings are the ones that are clear stand-ins from the author's life experience, and that the characters and plot points that are the most "made up" are the haziest, even if the author means them to be interesting and important.

The best thing about this is that it's an infallible excuse for field trips! So go feed into that author stereotype thing where you get to do all kinds of weird, fun things because it's "research for your book." I think I am going to start researching a book about a horseback-riding ballerina who hangs out in tea shops reading her brand-new stack of British crime thrillers now.

Also, he's totally talking to me in this picture. I am Britain's #1 crime author by association.

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