Graham Smith is married with a young son. A time served joiner he has built bridges, houses, dug drains and slated roofs to make ends meet. For the last fourteen years he has been manager of a busy hotel and wedding venue near Gretna Green, Scotland.
An avid fan of crime fiction since being given one of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books at the age of eight, he has also been a regular reviewer and interviewer for the well-respected website Crimesquad.com for over six years.
What the Hell do I Know?
Every guide I’ve ever seen on writing has a variation on the phrase “write what you know”. As I only read crime fiction and crime thrillers it is only logical that I write about crime. Sounds simple doesn’t it?
Here’s the rub. I’ve been lucky enough to never be the victim of crime, have never been involved in any kind of law enforcement beyond milk monitor and have generally lived a law-abiding life. (Other than perhaps an overly heavy right foot)
So with that experience or lack of it, I found myself wondering how to get inside the heads of my characters and how to create genuine realism when I had no practical experience to draw on.
That’s when I had a career saving epiphany. I might not have the first-hand experience of crime but I’ve read enough good and bad books to teach me what works in terms of pacing, tension, creating drama and engaging characters. My day job brings me into contact with a varied cross-section of the general public which allows me to observe interactions and find the basis for characters. Ergo, I know the framework which makes for a great story and I get to meet lots of interesting characters.
My wife and son were watching one of those reality shows / contests recently and there was a person who came onto the stage. They were cowed, timid and looked to my writer’s mind as if they’d been bullied and made to feel worthless. I found myself cheering this person on and hoping they’d qualify for the next round. I knew when I felt such empathy for this stranger competing in a show I don’t care about, there’s no way I’m not going to use those traits to create a character I want my readers to care about.
From there it was a simple matter of creating situations and putting the characters into them and seeing how they reacted. After that, I kept throwing obstacles at them and generally being horrible so the situations I created were filled with drama, conflict and either suspense or tension.
One situation in particular is the driver of my novel Snatched from Home. Without giving spoilers, I had a middle-class man amass such large gambling debts his children were kidnapped to force him to pay up. My son was the same age as one of his children which made research easy. The interplay between the man and his furious wife was garnered by me putting myself and my wife into their situation and imagining what she’d say to me and do to protect our son.
Other elements I included were all little bits of things I’ve heard or seen people discussing. Like the general feeling cops are bound by too many rules and it was better in the old days when they’d dish out a quick spot of justice down a dark alley.
So to sum up, I guess I know what keeps me turning pages, people and what my wife is like when she’s angry.
Links to Graham and his work …
The Major Crimes Team Vol 1: Lines of Enquiry
Snatched from Home