Crime Writer Bill Kitson, Author of the Mike Nash Series, on Becoming a Serial Killer

Credit: J. Brian Beadle

Bill Kitson, a retired finance executive, was born in West Yorkshire. He is an avid fan of cricket and cryptic crosswords and is also the former chairman of the Scarborough Writers’ Circle. Identity Crisis is the sixth instalment in the Mike Nash series, following Kitson’s gripping thrillers Depth of Despair, Chosen, Minds That Hate, Altered Egos and Back-Slash. Here, Kitson talks about creating a serial killer and keeping up interest for a book series.

With the sixth book in the Mike Nash series, Identity Crisis, due for release at the end of May, I’ve had time to reflect on the advantages and disadvantages that surround writing a series. There has always been a great demand for detective series, from Conan Doyle, Dorothy L Sayers, Agatha Christie and John Creasey to Ian Rankin and Val McDermid. Nor is it solely a British trait. American, Italian and, most recently, Scandinavian crime writers have all been highly successful. They also transfer well to film and TV – increasing their popularity.

I joked once that my advantage was in not having to invent as many characters, but I found there are risks attached to maintaining the same ones. An obvious one is to make the regular characters mere observers. Unless the characters’ life experience is reflected in the books, they become two-dimensional, caricatures, and ultimately, unsatisfying. I have a life outside the books, why shouldn’t my detective? Events should touch them just as they touch the writer. They should age, get married – or divorced, have children, lose family and friends. Anything less, and the books become little more than an extremely wordy cryptic crossword. A well-known novelist once told me, ‘Your characters should be so believable you would recognize them if they knocked at your door’. However, if they did – I’d have a problem!

Identity Crisis by Bill Kitson

Naming characters is very important, in several ways. The name should ‘fit’ the part. I’ve changed several names, usually in my first draft, because they didn’t feel right. They should also be right for their origin. To help with that, I use which gives origin and meaning of first names from anywhere in the world, and from different religions and ethnic groups. This has to be correct, or the author loses credibility. I once heard a TV detective asking a Muslim what his Christian name was. Woops!

I also avoid similar sounding or looking first or last names. If a reader has to stop every time they see the names Michael Roberts or Martin Robins to decide which character I’m referring to they will eventually lose patience. This is particularly so with thrillers, where I’m striving for pace. If a reader has to stop, it takes several pages for them to pick up speed again. A chart is probably the safest way to prevent this happening, especially the longer the series goes on. When I get a minute I WILL do one!

Along with reflecting changes in the characters’ lives, fashions dictate the subject matter of books set in any particular era. Unless the story is set before the war – the days when the detective gathered all the suspects together in the library to unmask the killer are long gone. Many small towns are without libraries nowadays, let alone most houses! Writing present day crime books and striving for realism can be uncomfortable, particularly when real life imitates fiction. Only three days before I wrote this article, a tragic event locally mirrored something I wrote a few months ago. This is by no means the first time I’ve written about crimes that later became headline news.

Having the same detectives throughout enables me to indulge in a little office banter, humour that lightens what are sometimes fairly grim scenes. The humour, sometimes black, is a natural reaction to some of the horrors that police and forensic officers, plus pathologists encounter. Once more, it reflects real-life reaction along with realism and accuracy from my research into the subject matter of the plot.

The setting for a series is almost like having an extra character in the books. I borrow scenes from real locations adapting them to my fiction world, amending them to fit the plot. In Depth of Despair, the template for Desolation Tarn is in fact two lakes that are fifty miles apart. Similarly, in Minds That Hate, one of the characters walks out of a house (in Northallerton), down a ginnel (in Thirsk) and fifteen minutes later is in woods alongside a river (near Ilkley). In real life that is about a seventy mile journey.

Using real places can have disadvantages. At a speaking engagement last year I let slip the true location of the alley where the victim was abducted in Chosen. One member of the audience reacted with horror. ‘I’m never going to walk down there again,’ she told me. Fact and fiction had collided.

The beautiful and diverse scenery of North Yorkshire is the greatest inspiration for me, and I hope it provides scope to describe settings that the reader will enjoy. Sadly, I know I will never be able to do them complete justice. But then, I doubt if there are many authors who could.

Above all, with both the challenges and disadvantages, I’m pleased I decided on a series. It’s been a lot of fun – and it isn’t over yet, by a long chalk.

Identity Crisis by Bill Kitson is scheduled for publication on 31 May 2012 and is available to pre-order now.

Author Interview with Jacquie Walton (Joyce Cato / Maxine Barry / Faith Martin)

A Narrow Return by Faith MartinJacquie Walton was born in Oxford. She began her working life as a secretary but left to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. Here she tells us what drew her to crime writing, what it’s like working under different pseudonyms and why she loves her characters.

What drew you to writing Crime Fiction?

I’ve always read crime novels for preference, right from my early teens. Like most, I started off with Agatha Christie, but soon discovered all the greats from the classic British era – Dorothy L. Sayers, Patricia Wentworth, Margery Allingham et al. And now we have all the great modern thriller/crime writers, like Lee Child, Harlan Coben and Robert Crais. So it was only natural for me to want to write crime.

What do you think is required for a great story to work?

I’ve always liked pace in my reading, and so I try to keep all my novels, be they romance, crime or classic whodunits, really zipping along. I also think a strong central character is absolutely essential. And my favourite character (if I really had to choose one) would be Jenny Starling, with Hillary Greene running a close second. I like Jenny’s humour, competence and humanity, and I really admire Hillary’s strength and intelligence mixed with human fallibility.

You’ve done work under numerous pseudonyms. How is it writing as different people?

I chose my pseudonyms from family members names – thus I have a niece called Maxine and a nephew called Barry (my pen name for romances) another set of the same called Faith and Martin (the Hillary Greene series) and my grandmothers’ maiden names of (Alice) Joyce and (Winifred) Cato for the Jenny Starling series. But all three genres are very different, and I don’t find it all confusing juggling all three. I enjoy writing them all – but the classic whodunits with Jenny Starling are both the most difficult to plot and write, but also, I find, the most enjoyable.

Your Hillary Greene series is set in Oxford. Why did you choose this particular location for this crime series?

I set the Hillary Greene series in Oxford because I’ve lived within twenty miles of the city for all my life, and it’s the only city I know! Plus, I don’t see why Morse should have had all the fun and pleasure of solving crimes within sight of the dreaming spires.

Dying for a Cruise by Joyce CatoWith the digital age upon us and some of your books now out in ebook format, how have you found the transition? Are you an e-convert?

Whilst I am very glad that a lot of my books are going out in ebook format, I don’t own a device that would allow me to ever read them that way, and being a total Luddite when it comes to modern technology, I doubt I ever shall. I think I will always prefer to have the real thing in my hand.

You’ve written romance and crime fiction – which do you find more enjoyable and which do you read in your spare time?

I enjoyed writing the bigger, more glamorous and action-packed romances that really weren’t suitable for the classic Mills & Boon genre, and whilst they were fun to write, (sexy scenes included!) I prefer to stick to crime nowadays. I never read romance in my spare time, only crime – but not the gory or grisly forensic/serial killer type. I prefer escapism in my reading literature.

What do you love to do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not writing, I have a dog that needs walking a lot, and living in some of the most beautiful scenery in the country (I’m on the edge of the Cotswolds) walking and wildlife watching are my main pastimes.

What can we expect from you in the future?

In the future, I would certainly like to concentrate more on classic whodunits – maybe do a few other titles for the Jenny Starling series, and maybe even create a second character and series, but still keeping to the classic country-house, cosy, twisting-plot, red-herring formula that I know so many readers like as much as I do. I think the ever-popular television series of Agatha Christie and Midsomer Murders-type programmes show just how much-loved they are.

Jacquie Walton writes under the pseudonyms Joyce Cato, Maxine Barry and Faith Martin. Her books can be found on the Robert Hale Ltd website and many of her ebooks – including Beside a Narrow Stream and By a Narrow Margin by Faith Martin – are available to buy at all good ebook retailers.

Out now: A Narrow Return by Faith Martin

Coming soon: Dying for a Cruise by Joyce Cato (available to pre-order now)