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Monday, March 5, 2012

Write about what you know?

When I hear experts telling aspiring authors to write about what they know, I think “Yeah, right, and how many serial killers do you know?”.

Having said that…

It’s a well-known fact that I hate research. Hate it. I’m glad that, if I need to visit foreign shores, I can jump onto Google Earth and fly straight to the street, cathedral, house, park or whatever it is I’m describing. It’s not as good as actually being there, but it does help. On the whole though, I like to set my books locally so that if I need to describe a special place, I can whistle the dogs and set off with them to have a good look at it.

One advantage of this is that when I’m asked if there are any visual elements to the book that might help a cover artist, I can say “Why, yes…” and send a photo I’ve taken.

In Silent Witness for example, one scene takes place on a bleak hillside where the only signs of life are a few sheep and the Singing Ringing Tree. This a musical sculpture, designed to resemble a tree bending in the wind, that hums through specially designed pipes. For the story, I needed to hear it ‘sing‘ so I took the dogs for a walk and we had a good listen. I then needed to convey the impression of the sculpture to the cover artist so I sent her this:

The result was this - a fabulous cover showing one of my favourite places. 

This is from the back cover:

After his ex-wife bled to death in a bathtub covered in his fingerprints, the case against Aleksander Kaminski seemed open and shut. Though sentenced to life in prison, he swears he's innocent, a claim supported by his current wife.

Private investigator Dylan Scott finds himself drawn back to dreary Lancashire in a search for justice. The evidence against Kaminski is damning, but having been unjustly jailed himself, Dylan is compelled to pursue the case; if there's even a small chance the man is innocent, he has to help. The other obvious suspect--the victim's second husband--has a watertight alibi. But Dylan has a strong hunch that as usual, there's more going on than meets the eye in Dawson's Clough.

The deeper Dylan digs, the more secrets he unearths. The question remains: If Kaminski didn't murder his childhood sweetheart, who did?

Silent Witness releases today - yes, today! - and I'm busy celebrating. (Help yourself to virtual chocolates and champagne!) 

So while I’ve never had dinner with a killer (to my knowledge), perhaps being told to write about what you know isn’t quite as stupid as it sounds. What do you think?


Anne Marie Becker said...

Congratulations on the new release, Shirley! LOVE the cover! (And cyber chocolates and champagne? Don't mind if I do.) :)

I had to laugh at your comment about how many serial killers do you know... I don't know any (that I know of!), but I write them. Have researched them and seem to have a weird knack for getting into their heads (or so I've been told).

Marcelle Dubé said...

Congratulations on the new release, Shirley! I love Dylan and look forward to reading his latest adventure. As for writing what you know--how boring... I would much rather write what I *want* to know.

Have some champagne!

Toni Anderson said...

I think of it more as what you know emotionally. And we can all relate to those universal emotions of love and fear and failure.
I am so excited for Dylan's third book. I have to catch up!

Shirley Wells said...

Anne Marie - Thanks. Isn't that cover gorgeous? I have to keep pinching myself to make sure it's mine. :)

Marcelle - Thank you for your kind words about Dylan.
Yes - "write about what you *want* to know" would be much better advice.

Toni - We can all relate emotionally, can't we? And thanks - I've no idea how Dylan's 3rd book has come round so fast. :)

Cassam said...

Congratulations on your book release. I always wondered how crime writers write about murders. Would a crime writer make a good murderer? Present company exempt of course but if you can write about how it's done how do you know? Someone must have written a book about a crime writer being the criminal.

Elise Warner said...

Happy release day, Shirley. Fantastic cover. We all know about love, hate, adventure and fear--in that sense we write about what we know. Looking forward to reading your latest.

Maureen A. Miller said...

Wow, Shirley. I didn't know about the origins of your cover. I had just thought it was a riveting cover. Now it's extra special. See how productive those dog-walking treks are!

Shirley Wells said...

Cassam - lovely to see you here! I keep telling my husband that crime writers make the perfect murderers. ;)
Good point. I've seen several films where the writer is chief suspect because the murders mirror his/her plots but I can't think of one offhand where the writer is the killer. Anyone?

Elise - thank you! Yes, in that sense, we do write about what we know.

Maureen - that cover is extra-special. I have to take it to bed with me. ;)

Mike Keyton said...

Great cover, and good luck with the book. Ref the advice, I think it boils down to follow the voice and use your native wit. Oh, and I don't like this particular Captcha - even if I am helping to decipher an esoteric book!

Shirley Wells said...

Thanks, Mike. Yes, I agree re the advice.

I've been having terrible problems with the whole Captcha thing. I was wondering if it was an age thing.

Shelley Munro said...

Congrats on the new release, Shirley. I like the cover too. The sculpture is pretty unique.

Shirley Wells said...

Thanks, Shelley. That cover is certainly special to me. Mind you, I love all my covers. :)

Wendy Soliman said...

Absolutely! I hate research and store up every little thing that happens to me in my memory banks for use sometime in a book!

Shirley Wells said...

Wendy, I'm glad I'm not alone in hating research. :)

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