In our last crime fiction blog of this series, the focus of the piece is Patricia Cornwell. Cornwell, most famous for her best-selling novels featuring the medical examiner, Kay Scarpetta, has sold more than 100 million copies of her work. Cornwell also wrote Portrait of a Killer: Jack The Ripper – Case Closed in 2002. While controversial, it certainly got critics and Ripperologists alike discussing her claims of the killer’s identity.
“I do a lot of research. I started out as a journalist, so I go out and meet people and do things…All of this creates the colors on my palette for painting this picture, so when you see it, hopefully you feel like you were there.” – Cornwell in an interview with Vice (Oyler, 2015).
Cornwell’s Scarpetta series focuses on the practical aspects of forensic investigation. Unless you are an active professional within such an area, research is vital to ensuring realism and reader believability. Her books were so well researched, in fact, that they were used to help translate the police procedural aspects to television. Research is a vital part of a novel; it doesn’t always have to be complicated, research can involve checking that the old farm you lived next to thirty years ago that you’ve used in your modern-day novel still exists.
“Take Jack the Ripper. When I started doing research, I just put myself in the mindset that nobody has really ever dug into this before. I'm going to jump into this case as if it's never been investigated.” – Cornwell in a 2015 interview with Vice.
Personally, this is one of the most fascinating quotes I have come across in my researching of this blog. Jack the Ripper is one of the most infamously investigated true crime cases – ever. To take on such a task, seems overwhelming to me. Yet, as Cornwell suggests, you have to start writing from a position that this topic has never been covered by anyone before. In the instances when you can’t start from a blank canvas, make the canvas from scratch!
“I always try to stay in motion. I'm always doing something because it keeps a forward momentum going. You keep moving forward.” – Cornwell in her Vice interview.
Perhaps one of the lasting impressions I’d want to create from these blogs is that writing, while difficult, is a process. A process of drafts, edits, a string of successes and mistakes. While you can feel elated at finishing a book, you can feel disheartened at all the work in gaining a publisher. But ultimately, as Cornwell states, “You keep moving forward.”
Feel free to visit the previous blogs in this series: a guest blog with Sarah Ward on writing compelling crime fiction, the mysterious life of Agatha Christie, the curious methods of Arthur Conan Doyle and the success of Ann Cleeves.