Charlotte Baker: Sarah Ward on What Makes Crime Fiction so Compelling
“Good writers know that crime is an entrée into telling a greater story about character.”
– Karin Slaughter.
Crime fiction is inherently driven by curiosity, character, and emotion; there should always be that desire to read faster. This motivation to keep reading is driven by the determination of the writer to create a gripping story. To introduce the crime fiction blogs running over the next month, I’ve a guest author whose gripping debut crime novel was described by The Daily Mail as ‘ tense, well-told story of loss and family secrets’. Sarah Ward’s work includes the DC Childs series and she has written prolifically for various magazines and newspapers, including: The Guardian, Sunday Express magazine, Metro, Red Online, Big Issue, Traveller and others. Sarah’s new Gothic thriller, The Quickening, written under her middle name, Rhiannon Ward, was released in August 2020. It is available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Quickening-Rhiannon-Ward/dp/1409192172
I met Sarah at one of her workshops, ‘Editing Your Manuscript’ in January 2020. As someone who also runs writing workshops, I’m aware of the challenges attached to such teaching. I left Sarah’s workshop motivated and in awe of her ability to engage and entertain a room. Her workshop was informative and enabled me to finish a novel that had been on hold for about six months.
I asked Sarah to describe what she thinks makes crime fiction so compelling:
I read crime novels for the mystery. Of course I love character and setting. I have series I’ve returned to time and time again just to revisit my favourite fictional people and I love a vividly drawn landscape especially if it’s rural. If I’m honest, though, the reason I fell in love with crime fiction and the reason it’s kept me hooked is due to the plot. I love complicated, seemingly impossible mysteries, with ingenious solutions. I often feel a slight sense of disappointment at the end of a crime novel. The mystery is over, all the ends are neatly tied together. Time to move on. Plotting in a novel is seriously underrated. It’s difficult and time consuming but it’s what I think makes the genre so compelling.
I also think, at its best, we can use the tropes, structures and conventions of crime fiction to shine a spotlight on wider issues. Some of the best crime novels I’ve read have informed and inspired me.
As someone who is in the process of moving house, I’m finding little physical space to write – even my own knees are occupied by a cat most of the time! Do you have a dedicated writing (or reading) spot?
I like to write at a desk or table. I do have a desk in my study and it’s the best place for me to get into the zone. However, I do also write on the kitchen table and, very occasionally, on the bed if I’m tired. I can write more or less anywhere with my laptop but I’m most productive in my own space.
What would be your three top tips for aspiring crime writers?
Try to finish what you write. Endings are hard, especially in crime writing, and it takes practice.
Turning up is the key. We have good days when the words flow and we have bad days when it’s like squeezing blood from a stone. Either way, unless you turn up at your desk, you’ll never get anything written.
Don’t judge your success by others’. We’re all on different paths, we don’t know what’s around the corner. Celebrate your achievements so far.
As well as her novels, Sarah speaks regularly on panels, teaches crime fiction workshops and provides manuscript critiques/editing services. If you are interested in any of these, please do contact Sarah at The Creative Shed: www.thecreativeshed.co.uk or email on: email@example.com A huge thank you to Sarah for her fantastic contributions to this guest blog!
Charlotte Baker is the author of the Valor Diamond series. Book One: The Rhyme of Retribution Killer is available in paperback and as an ebook. Book Two: Let the Dust Fall is available for preorder.