Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Crime Writing Tips from Leigh Russell

Reviewed by Wendy H. Jones

Today on Bookaholic I am honoured to welcome crime writer Leigh Russell to the blog. Leigh, the author of the DI Geraldine Steel Mysteries, has very kindly agreed to give us some crime writing tips. I am also excited to have been given a copy of Fatal Act to review.

My Crime Writing Tips

As well as writing a bestselling series of crime novels, I teach creative writing for the Society of Authors in London, and for the Writers Lab on an idyllic Greek island. In addition, I write monthly Writing Tips for the CWA website. So I have a few ideas about writing fiction, both as a full-time author and as an occasional writing tutor. In fact, there's so much to say, it's hard to know where to begin. Since I only have one post here, I'm going to try and condense my advice into a few main points.

1) Be brave

This might sound facetious. Believe me, it isn't. Every time I finish a book, I worry. What will my editor say? Will my publisher be pleased? And then there are reviewers, and readers. While you are writing a book, it's yours. You can do what you want with it. You can even abandon it for a different idea. You have that freedom. The story, and its characters, belong to you. But once the book is published, it is public property. Other people wade in. A work that may have taken you months, or even years, to perfect, can be dismissed with a one star review from a disgruntled reviewer. So you need to develop self-belief that is modest enough to take criticism seriously, yet robust enough to resist self-doubt. If you are fortunate enough to be published, or even if you take the plunge and self-publish, you are sticking your head above the parapet. Other people may shoot you down. So you need to be brave.

2) Work hard

Having a creative outlet is fantastic. We writers love writing. That is what makes us writers. Why else would we spend every hour of the day writing, or thinking about plot and character? Eugene Ionesco said, 'A writer never has a vacation. For a writer life consists of writing, or thinking about writing.' As with all the arts, we are fortunate to be passionate about what we do. It doesn't feel like work most of the time. But there are days when it seems hard going. Even being a successful author isn't all fun and glamour! Writing a book can take weeks or months of research, and hour after hour of meticulous rewriting. But it's important to put in the effort, whether you are under contract to a publisher, or just writing for yourself. Because you never know. The likelihood is that no one but your friends and family will ever read what you've written. But there's a chance your book may one day be read by millions of people. So work hard to make sure your manuscript is as good as it possibly can be, before you submit it to agents, or publish it yourself.

3) Writing crime fiction

Writing crime poses particular challenges. The genre has recognised conventions and parameters which make it difficult to be original and yet remain authentic. It's always fun to flout rules, and rules themselves change over time. The modern detective started out as a superhero in whom the reader has absolute confidence. Sherlock Holmes is always right. Recently the genre gave us a spate of flawed detectives, who struggled with their personal relationships. Having, to coin a phrase, done that to death, authors moved on to explore the area of dodgy 'bent coppers.' I am very conscious when writing that many of my readers are very sophisticated fans of the genre. They have seen all the previous metamorphoses detectives have undergone, whether they are private sleuths or police officers following procedure. I think one of the reasons Geraldine Steel has such a wide appeal is because she is relatively normal! She enjoys a drink without being an alcoholic, she is single without being embittered by heartbreak. As well as engaging with the protagonist, fans of crime fiction enjoy suspense and tension, so my books are frequently described as 'page turners'. Structure is key to achieving this tension. Structure isn't what happens in a book, in other words the plot. Structure looks at where episodes are placed in the narrative. The pace in a book needs variety. You can't put all the excitement in one place, leaving long lulls where nothing exciting happens. Getting the structure right is a delicate balancing act that is crucial to the success of any book.

4) Be lucky

This is the final essential key to success as an author. If you're very lucky you may one day find yourself, like me, earning your living writing fiction. It's not all fun and glamour - but I wouldn't change it for anything!

Whatever you do, I wish you the very best of luck in all your endeavours.

As well as being a highly talented writer Leigh is also a genuinely nice person. She is always willing to help other writers, and crime writers in particular. I feel privileged that she has dropped by to give us some very welcome advice.

Review: Fatal Act

A glamorous young TV soap star dies in a car crash. Returning for her sixth case, Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel is baffled as the driver of the second vehicle miraculously survives - and vanishes. Another young actress is murdered and, once again, the killer mysteriously disappears. Geraldine unwittingly risks her sergeant's life in their struggle to track down a serial killer who leaves no clues.

So says the blurb on the back of the book. This hooked me form the get go. When I started to read the book I was then reeled in, hook, line and sinker. The characters in this book are superb, especially DI Geraldine Steel who is the lead Detective and the star of the show. She is feisty and strong and yet funny and vulnerable. I like her and will certainly be looking forward to finding out more about her in future books. Her Sergeant, and Sidekick, Sam is also a likeable character. They play well off each other and this leads to some laugh out loud moments. The characters are real and that is what endears them to me. 

In this book Geraldine finds herself knee deep in lovies, from a local Television Network and Stage School. Each one of them seems to have things that they are hiding and, of course, being actors no ever knows whether they are telling the truth or merely acting. I have to admit that I could have quite cheerfully bumped off a few lovies myself. This is the sign of a truly great author. One who makes you feel you are a part of the whole thing. There is enough mystery and drama for the most ardent of mystery fans and I found I and to keep reading. I would highly recommend this book and any other of Leigh's novels. 

Connect with leigh on:

Amazon UK author page 
Amazon US author page

Thank you Leigh for taking the time to stop by the blog today. It has been a pleasure meeting you and thank you once again for all your help and advice. 


  1. Great advice as always and, yes, Leigh IS a thoroughly nice person. She is also very communicative with her readers, which goes a long way and adds to her charm.

  2. Thank you, Gordon and Wendy! I'm thrilled to be interviewed here.

    1. It was a pleasure to have you Leigh. Thank you for taking the time to spend time with us