This week I’ve been doing a lot of thinking rather than a lot of writing. Being stuck in traffic is like that. And I’ve been thinking about my victim. Well one of them. A chap by the name of Sir Martin Hamblebee. In my head he’s a nasty piece of work. A bully. A pompous boar of a man who deserves to die.
But he’s not coming across like that on the written page . Yes he’s short tempered. His family don’t like him. But so far there’s no evidence of brutality. No evidence of ruthlessness. No reason to fist pump the air on discovering him face down in his Times.
My gut tells me he needs to threaten some of the house guests but not about their private lives. He doesn’t have enough interest in them as human beings to do that. So, if I may, let me work through my thoughts, dear reader…
Both Sir Martin Hamblebee and his brother are bankers. They are new money and the baronetcy was earned by their father for services rendered. Probably murky. Definitely underhand. So I can see Hambleebee senior threatening to call in a loan, or the like. It’s also true that threatening someone with financial ruin is a good motive for murder. But doing it in a way that doesn’t seem contrived is the difficult bit. Miss Marple always overhead such threats because people thought she was asleep in a chair, or didn’t see her in a chair. Byrd can’t do that. His legs are too long. They’d be seen. And everyone knows he hears in his sleep. Poirot would just walk down a corridor, or step out from behind a curtain after a threat had been issued. He’s small enough to get away with such things. The rest of Byrd is like his legs. Tall and lanky. Besides if Byrd’s the only one to witness such outrages, his reactions are going to be private. And that’s not going to help the plot at all. No. Any threats of financial ruin must be seen and heard – by a lot of people including Byrd. Which means one of the business meetings must be the venue for such a thing. That could then lead to long simmering hatred. Though plotting long term revenge is surely more a woman’s weapon than a man. And Hamblebee doesn’t believe women have a business brain. So there won’t be any of them involved in his financial dealings. Good God no!
Which leads to the second area I need to elaborate on. Hamblebee isn’t just a banker. He’s a bully. So how to bring that out? Physical and emotional abuse are his weapons of choice. His youngest sister in law – Leticia – is the victim of his emotional outrages. Something Hamblebee can get away with because Fortinbras Hamblebee doesn’t have the cajones to stand up to his older brother. There’s a tale there, and one – you’ll forgive me if I keep close to my chest.
But while Fortinbras will say nothing to the verbal abuse. Surely, if Hamblebee , his brother will do something? Especially if it’s a public thing. Purse strings or no purse strings. There’s male pride at stake… No. I think I need to rule out Hamblebee hitting Leticia. But he needs to hit someone. Byrd would just laugh. CC might deck him back. And if he hit a servant, Sampson would have something to say about it. So I need to look closer to Hambleebee’s home.
The wife – Georgette – is an obvious route for long term physical abuse. But given Hamblebee is a social climber, he can’t risk public condemnation for such things. This is Symington Byrd’s world not Eastenders. He needs the approbation of the King and his set. But a bruise, a broken wrist – that’s a possibility. A hint of violence. It could be easily explained away as an accident. But would it really be a a motive for murder?
I suppose Georgette herself might kill him, driven beyond reason like Ruth Ellis. But it’s 1901. A wife has some rights in a marriage. And through her sister in law, she has access to a king who would help her achieve a divorce in return for a kiss or two and a bit of how’s your father… And there are no children to tie her to the brute…so she does have an alternative to murder. Though I’m not sure sleeping with the King of England to achieve it would be every woman’s idea of a way forward. So unless she had a lover waiting in the wings… or a knight in shining armour determined to avenge her… or there’s someone who overhears such things and adds it to the list of crimes Hamblebee’s committed, we’re no futher forward. How do I contrive a beating behind closed doors that can be witnessed/overheard by all the suspects? And how do I make it believeable?
I think I need another traffic jam…
Talking to other writers is always disconcerting. They are, by their very nature, a knowledgeable bunch. Especially about the craft of writing. Brentwood Writer’s Circle is some 40 members strong. A wide-ranging bunch: newbies to the craft. oldies (in terms of writing); those with and without a publisher. I was invited by Colin – a fellow SALAD member, who has been very supportive of my work.
I paid them a visit on Saturday 4th February,at their Bardeswell Social Club venue. Very easy to find. Good parking. Lovely sized room. I was nervous. I needn’t have been. They were very welcoming. Asked loads of questions: about Symington Byrd; about Lucy and Mark; about writing history. I did some readings. And they were very gracious. Some going so far as to buy some books.
They asked two very interesting questions. one was how do I plan? I told them I used scapple. I tried to explain that it’s a mind mapping tool. Just on the computer. I’m not sure I explained that for a scattergun mind like mine, Scapple is wonderful. It lets my mind go wandering. It turns chaos into order; and when I print it out and stick it on my wall for future reference, it makes me look like the most organised person in the world.
I also told them about Claroread. Brilliant for discovering the basic punctuation errors, and with a range of voices – so you can choose the one perfect for you. Bizarrely American works best for me – which is strange as Symington is so quintessentially English. It’s a bit more expensive than I remember. I thought it was a one off payment. Seems not. But it’s amazing – and for me – worth the cost as I can send something to the editor that doesn’t look like a bag of bones. If you want to see what I mean. Here’s a small extract of the opening of the next book as delivered by Claroread:
The other question was about costs of self publishing. I didn’t explain too much was that I self edited the first book and was so glad Kenny wafted into my life with an offer I coudn’t refuse. Because I so need a proper editor. So what I touched on was the image finding and the basics of DIY. Perhaps I should have said was that I design my own covers to start with and then the publisher has final say. I do that because I need an image in my head as to what the final product has to look like. Otherwise, it’s a nebulous unreachable goal. I should have said that once I’ve found my images, I use Powerpoint to do this creativity. It’s nice and easy. And I can say that as someone who took to Photoshop like a stone takes to water. Someone who still has to revisit the tutorials to remember something she did last time. Someone who still does the final compiling of the cover in Powerpoint.
OH asked me if it was worth doing a tutorial on how to use powerpoint. I shrugged. No need. Here’s the link to the brilliant tutorial I used by William King.
I’d like to thank Colin for inviting me and the circle for making me so welcome. I’d also like to thank OH for the techie support and Kelli for coming to hear me. I hope you had as good a time as I did.
A gentleman’s gentleman:
Is up before his master, and goes to bed after him; even when told “not to wait up”.
Is fastidiously neat and tidy in his appearance and habits. He ensures his employer is immaculately turned out – at all times. Even if His Lordship desires to look like a sack of potatoes. He must be a sack of potatoes Fortnum and Masons would stock.
Never gets involved in an argument – however tempting. A raise eyebrow, a stare, even a cough should be sufficient communication when His Lordship oversteps the mark.
Is the soul of discretion. He never comments on any aspect of His Lordship’s personal life; even if the latest fancy piece is a lying, manipulative tart out to break hearts. It is not a gentleman’s gentlemn’s place to say: “I told you so.” Even if he is dying to stick his oar in.
To learn more about William Sampson and his Lordship click here
Having moved into the realm of crime fiction, I thought I’d put down a few things that made plotting A Cowardice of Crows easier than it could have been. Because – to be honest – murder is harder to keep an eye on than time travel…
- Work backwards. I.E know how it was done, who did it, where and why and then seed the rest of the story from there. I wrote the reveal before the last few chapters, as I needed to work out exactly who did what to whom.
- Let the audience work it out for themselves/ or give them the opportunity to realise who the murderer has to be. Even if they don’t get it at the same time as the detective, they should be able to go AHH not omfg. I tried to make one of my murderers obvious, and the other less so… hopefully it’s worked.
- Ensure you have clues – subtly worked into the story. These clues can be red herrings. In Crows the red herrings went in before the real clues.
- Ensure you have a flawed detective. They have to be very intelligent, very eccentric and the murderer has to underestimate them. Byrd’s flaw is … ahh now, that would be telling; let’s just say he’s got an eye for a pretty face.
- Every good detective needs a side kick. Solid reliable, dependable and all the things our hero is not. In Sampson Byrd has loyalty and in his cousin he has solidity. Both the perfect foils to Byrd’s whimsical nature.
- Oh and of course! Suspects! You’ve got to have suspect
Not met Byrd yet? click here to go to amazon and see if I’ve taken my own advice