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Crime Writing Advice

I’m a strong believer in karma and think that when you work hard and gain some success, you should be also working on giving something back. It is the cycle of giving and receiving while being grateful for every day that creates abundance.

However, when you’re on a tight writing or editing deadline and your editor is tapping their watch waiting for your next piece of work, it can become a struggle. The trick is helping as many people as you can while freeing up precious time to work. As a former police detective with nine years experience under my belt, I receive a lot of emails from aspiring authors requesting advice on police procedure. Instead of individually replying to each one (which would take up all my writing time) I direct them to this blog which offers tips and advice. If you plan on making a career on writing crime, you should know this stuff anyway and owe it to your readers to carry out some real research and get a feel for it.

Books

A simple search on Amazon will give you a list of books as long as your arm. Alternatively, start with the books I’ve listed below:

The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure by Michael O’Byrne

Crime and Thriller Writing: A Writers’ & Artists’ Companion (Writers’ and Artists’ Companions) Michelle Spring

Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime (Wellcome) Val McDermid

I can also heartily recommend this excellent blog by author Rebecca Bradley, who is also an ex-police officer with many years experience under her belt. She covers many aspects of police procedure and writes in the same genre.

http://www.rebeccabradleycrime.com

Garry Rodgers has a wealth of information on his blog. Now retired as a Royal Canadian Mounted Police homicide detective and forensic coroner, Garry served as a sniper on British SAS-trained Emergency Response Teams and is a recognised expert-witness on firearms. http://dyingwords.net

Reading

As well as writing crime, you should be reading about it. I heartily recommend author Lisa Cutts, a serving police detective with the murder investigation team. Her writing carries a sense of realism that will place you firmly at the scene.

http://www.lisacutts.co.uk

Of course, you could really go for it and read the same manuals that I studied during my police probation:

Blackstone’s Police Manuals 2017: Four Volume Set Paul Connor

However, I don’t advise that you do. I’ve seen authors go down this road and without the proper guidance to back it up, your writing may end up reading like an instructional manual. I’m not a lover of writing straightforward police procedural books myself. I find writing them a bit of a busman’s holiday. I like to spice the story up with something extra to keep it interesting, and if this is something you would like to do then check out my thriller series below.

Detective Jennifer Knight Crime Thriller Series (3 Book Series) Caroline Mitchell

This series features DC Jennifer Knight who is based in the fictional town of Haven. She starts off working in a regular police station aside her team. Nothing out of the ordinary there, until something sinister creeps in, and Jennifer realises she must access the darkest recesses of her nature in order to solve the crimes. This series carries an element of the supernatural which is weaved through the story. Not werewolves or vampires, but something dark amongst everyday settings. 

Love You to Death: An Absolutely Gripping Thriller With a Killer Twist: Volume 1 (Detective Ruby Preston Crime Thriller Series) Caroline Mitchell

This new series features DS Ruby Preston who works in Shoreditch serious crime team. The twist to this series is DS Preston’s personal connections with the criminal underworld and the lengths she has to go to in order to keep them hidden. 

You may notice that I’ve written about a DC and DS, not a DI as my lead character as most novels feature these days. This is because the troops on the ground are the ones that do the work. DI’s are too overburdened with statistics and paperwork to have a lot of direct contact with their victims. You need to decide how closely you want to write to the truth. We are all allowed some creative licence. Read lots of books in the genre and go with what rings true for you. 

Consultancy Firms

 If you want specific answers to questions there are several consultancy firms in the UK, run by ex-police officers. Please note I have not used them, therefore these are not personal recommendations. However, given their years of experience in the police, they are very knowledgeable in this field.

https://crimewritingsolutions.wordpress.com

http://gibconsultancy.co.uk/crime-writing-consultant/

Social Media

You could put a shout out on social media to ask if any police officers/detectives would like to assist with your novel for free. Do bear in mind that they work very long hours and may not have the time to put in. It may be preferable to chat to a retired officer who would be happy to help, just don’t forget to thank them in the acknowledgements. Keep it in mind police officers tend to specialise, which means we are not the font of all knowledge. Police procedures are constantly changing, and each force handles things differently. Do a Google search first. If you can’t find the answer to your question online, then ask your willing volunteer.

I hope this has sign posted you in the right direction. Please feel free to share any useful sites or books which have helped with your research in the comments field. Please give me a ‘like’ if you have enjoyed this post.

Picture creative commons, courtesy of Flickr Brandon Anderson with thanks.

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. This is all great advice, but as an aspiring crime author myself I feel you’ve left out two great valuable resources.

    The first is DP Lyle MD. As his name suggests he’s American but being a specialist is forensics his advice can easily cross contents. He can be followed on twitter (@DPLyle) but his greatest aid to authors is his website https://writersforensicsblog.wordpress.com. Here he regularly posts on forensics. He also has a Q&A feature where an author can contact him for advice on an aspect of forensics and he will answer via email. He often posts these on his blog. Finally, he has published a whole series of books on forensics, as well as novels. If you scroll down on the page the link opens to, you will find his non-fiction forensics books for writers. (http://www.dplylemd.com/books.html)

    The second resource is for those writers of a more violent bent. Benjamin Sobieck is a firearms specialist and was commissioned by the Writer’s Digest to pen a manual on firearms and knives. One of his tasks was to slay certain myths which writers regularly make (example: don’t write the smell of cordite in the air. Cordite hasn’t been in ammunition for years. Modern firearms use smokeless propellent. More on that here: https://crimefictionbook.com/2015/04/30/whats-the-smell-cordite-vs-gunpowder-vs-propellant/).
    The result of his efforts was the Writers guide to Weapons. You can buy it on Amazon or on his website: https://crimefictionbook.com.
    Again, Ben is happy to answer questions from writers. For example I myself wanted to know how long someone could survive in a gunfight while hiding behind a wall of corpses wearing body armour! Ben contacted various buddies in law enforcement, the military, forensics, came back to me with an answer and posted it on his blog.
    In case your wondering, here’s the link:
    https://crimefictionbook.com/2015/06/06/could-a-wall-of-corpses-wearing-body-armor-offer-protection-during-a-gunfight/

    1. Yes there are a fair few, hence why I tend to read few crime books these days. I included a note in my recent thriller to apologise for the amount of freedom my DS is allowed in the story, as this certainly isn’t always the case in real life. Then again, if we stuck completely to the truth it might not be quite as exciting.

  2. Hi Caroline,
    Thanks for the informative blog post and for making people aware of my consultancy service. I am more than happy to advise writers on police procedure, whether the odd question or more detailed advice. Quite often I don’t actually charge a fee unless the advice is particularly lengthy and/or complex. Happy New Year to all.
    Stuart Gibbon
    http://www.gibconsultancy.co.uk

  3. Thank you Caroline for the advice and for directing me here from Twitter – I’m in the middle of writing a crime novel and want to make sure it’s a real to life as possible. I will check out the references you mention and I’ve also previously added your books to my read list on Goodreads.

  4. I am a serving CSI with 15 years experience and the author of The Real CSI: A Forensic Handbook for Crime Writers which is due out in August 2017. I also provide courses and advice to crime writers. My email is Contact@Katebendelow.co.uk I am also a writer / performance poet and tweet @katiebumpz

  5. I am a retired police officer having served 30 years in Sussex mostly as a detective but latterly as commander of Brighton and Hove police. I am now a principle police advisor to internationally best selling author Peter James, Robert Bryndza, Susan Wilkins and William Shaw. I have co written Death Comes Knocking – Policing Roy Graces Brighton which was published in July and a Sunday Times Best seller. I am happy to help other authors or TV film writers. You can see more re my work and testimonials etc at http://www.policeadvisor.co.uk

    1. Hi Graham, you have fantastic credentials. I’m with the same publisher as Rob Brynzda and he speaks very highly of you. Thanks for adding your details to my site.

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