I’d like to welcome J. A. Marley to the blog, with a special guest post all about crime writing. Expect my review of ‘Stand Still’ very soon….
Crime Writing…it’s Not Normal!
One thing I wasn’t prepared for when it came to writing my debut novel Standstill was that crime writing turns you into a psycho.
Well…sort of. Standstill is set in contemporary London and I really wanted to make the city act almost like a character in the book. I wanted to be as accurate as I could with locations, atmosphere and attitude. Sense of place was, I believe, going to be crucial in making this story work.
But this caused me to develop a new habit. Everywhere I went in the city I started to look around me with the eyes of a criminal. There is a huge robbery at the heart of the book, and suddenly, every time I commuted into town I was on the look out for the perfect heist location. I started to imagine shoot outs up Shooters Hill, brawls in Bayswater and knifings down Knightsbridge.
I started to take random photos on my iPhone of places I thought a car chase might work or a bomb might be well placed. One game I particularly enjoyed was travelling on the Underground and trying to get away from commuters who had alighted a train at the same time as me. In my head I was playing out scenarios in which you might lose a follow, which stations would be good for their chaos, the relentless shuffle of passengers to disappear into, so that a copper would struggle to keep their eyes on you. I am sure my fellow travellers must have thought that I was odd at best, nuts at worst.
Another habit you pick up is eavesdropping. I was aware that I wanted my characters to sound genuine. Dialogue is hard enough to write at the best of times, but injecting authenticity into the rhythms and slang of my cockney crims was going to be vital. So now you are listening into other people’s conversations. Snippets of chat are just fabulous things to get hold of, especially as their lack of context can make them hilarious to behold. Some of my favourite overheard gems included on young girl telling her friend on Oxford Street “He’s just obsessed with this thingy…can’t stop touching it” or the business man on his mobile in Shepherd’s Bush asking in a cut glass Surrey accent “And exactly what size is the bouncy castle?”.
I eventually found my perfect heist location one evening during a drive through Battersea with my brother-in-law, who also happens to be a retired flying squad officer and my technical adviser on this book. Mark was, by this stage, used to answering my myriad questions about his former job and would do most things for the small price of a pint of real ale. So we set off in search of where I thought my robbery might actually occur.
You’ll have to read the book to discover where we ended up, but needless to say when we got there, Mark patiently listened as I talked him through how the job would go down and then offered his considered opinion on what might work or not. There was one delicious coincidence. We came across a street called Smuggler’s Way. It was just too good to resist, so a part of the blag does happen there. Once again, anyone who clocked me walking around that street with my video camera out, using my strides to measure distance must have thought I was at least a little touched.
So there you have it. Crime thriller writing makes you act very strange. To all my fellow London commuters, I apologise if I A) scared you with my craziness or B) stole snatches of your private conversations. Trust me if you read Standstill, you will see I did it all for very good reason.
Standstill by J.A. Marley is out now, published by Avocado Books, price £6.99 in paperback and £1.99 in eBook
J.A. Marley Sept ‘16
Amazon UK link to Standstill
J. A. Marley can also be found here: http://www.jamarley.com/