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Monday, 9 June 2014

Writing anatomy lesson: Know the secret of our hearts

My latest crime thriller from Crooked Cat is Sudden Vengeance. For a couple of blog posts I thought I’d provide a little autopsy of a few scenes. So, here goes:

Once the Prologue has established a rather unpleasant nameless villain, Sudden Vengeance moves to a cemetery, where the Knight family is burying Gran, who died while being burgled. The Knight family comprises Paul, a policeman, Mark, Stuart, Lisa, Mum (Cathy) and Dad (David). The narrative is sometimes omniscient, the better to view the whole picture, then at particularly emotional moments it drops into the point of view of the main character in any scene. We’ve seen Paul described here and there follows David and Cathy.

Treating the descriptions and character studies in a similar fashion to a film director, the camera lingers on their appearance and then delves into their thoughts – and hearts. Each character sequence then segues into another in the family, so the ending of Cathy, the Mum’s sequence runs: ‘Standing next to Paul was Mark, the young rebel who, surprisingly to most people but not to her, was taking Gran’s death hardest of all the family.’


Mark was almost Paul’s height, with the same though considerably longer dark hair, partly covering his left earring. He also had his older brother’s sharp penetrating brown eyes. There the similarities ended, for where Paul was heavily built and big-boned, Mark was lithe, narrow-shouldered and possessed a lighter frame; an inheritance from his mother. His crooked nose was the result of a childhood accident – Paul had fished him out of the harbour after he fell off the Alverbank ferry pontoon.

Mark’s face was grim, a cast of features unusual for him, as he tended to be happy and carefree, with the beginnings of laughter grooves at the corners of his mouth and eyes.

He was bitterly angry. For all his seventeen years, his life had been wound up with the family and especially with Gran. She’d nursed him when Mum went off to work. She’d shared his interest in books and nurtured a deep-rooted love of reading.

He felt cast adrift, without a sea anchor – a term he’d picked up from Hornblower. Gran had wanted him to become a writer, but it seemed to him to be a bit precarious as a profession – even if your name wasn’t Salman Rushdie – as was acting, the career he really wanted to follow. Maybe Gran’s prejudices against the stage were due to her interpretation of J.B. Priestley’s The Good Companions? He didn’t think it strange to be mulling over these subjects. Gran had always said, “Enjoy reading, my boy, and you have the world at your fingertips!” How right she was. Though now his fingertips itched to get round the neck of the bastard who had murdered her!

He glanced away guiltily as the vicar’s words impinged, “...deliver us from the bitter pains of eternal death. You know the secrets of our hearts: in your mercy hear our prayer, forgive us our sins, and at our last hour let us not fall away from you.” 

Oh, Gran, Mark thought, I’m sorry, but I can’t forgive him, whoever he is.

For all his rebellious attempts to break away from parental expectations – such as long hair, an earring, and studying arts instead of “proper useful technical subjects” – Mark was conservative deep down, and Gran had sensed this all along. “You may fool all your pals, and even your sister and brothers, Mark,” she said, “but you don’t fool me!”

Mark’s fingers tensed into knuckles at his side.

God, he was so angry – with everyone, especially those he loved, including Gran for getting herself robbed and killed in the first place!

He let his tears run freely, and blinked to see Lisa standing next to Paul. Why can’t you get the bastard, you’re the oldest, the cleverest, and the best? What are you doing about it, Paul?

Mark stared down into the dark grave, feeling amidst his family alone with his anger and his grief.
Legs suddenly feeling weak, Lisa linked her left arm through Paul’s as Reverend Dorner said, “We have entrusted our sister, Dorothy, to God’s merciful keeping, and we now commit her body to the ground: earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust: in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died, was buried, and rose again for us...”
Through a mist of tears, she watched the coffin being lowered into the ground. She tried telling herself, without conviction, that Gran wasn’t in the ground, her soul had left her shell; now she was with Grandad.

Soil scrabbled down and made an awful resonant thudding sound on the coffin. There was also the damp smell of freshly-turned earth. Dimly she could hear sobbing and hiccoughs of grief.
It didn’t seem right. Barely a month ago, she’d celebrated her nineteenth birthday, with Gran in attendance – “let out for the day and for good behaviour,” Gran had remarked, winking.

Gran had been proud of Lisa’s offer of a place at Sussex University. “You take full advantage of this women’s liberation, my girl!” Lisa had refrained from saying that phrase was passé; now it was feminism. “I had to make do – very well, mind you – with reading about the world beyond Hampshire, but if you get good marks at your studies, the world can be yours!” Lisa hadn’t the heart to mention the many unemployed graduates, or the large debts most students built up while on campus. Think positive, that’s what Gran always advocated.

For the few days around the funeral, Lisa had left her friend, Viv, to take notes at their lectures.

For most of her young life Lisa had resented being endowed with similar genes to Paul. She wanted to be feminine and petite, but being big-boned and tall – five-ten – with a full figure – (Warren said he liked proper curves in a woman), Lisa resigned herself to becoming the best Human Sciences student the university had ever had. She was also a good sportswoman, being successful at swimming, discus, fencing and javelin. Right now, she would dearly love to hurl a javelin at the junkie freak who’d murdered Gran!
Again, Gran had said, “Think positively, my girl! Think what you can do, not what you can’t!” Lisa smiled without humour and wondered what Gran would have said about her sleeping with Warren, a fellow student. Probably applaud it, but hand out useful advice as well. She’d taken Aunt Sarah’s sexual preference in her stride, after all, which had surprised even Mum and Dad.

Lisa’s long auburn hair blew in the wind, even though swept back under a black bandeau. The freckles she detested over her nose were finally starting to fade. Her big blue eyes, which usually sparkled, were now awash with tears. She thought her full mouth was a little on the large size, but Warren disagreed completely and enjoyed what she could do to him with it.

She shook herself guiltily, dismissing erotic thoughts of Warren just as Stu on her right linked her free arm.
… which leads on to Stuart – and the end of the first chapter.

Each family member is important to the story-line in a number of ways. This method of revelation helps establish them at the outset, and hopefully provides enough insight and emotion to draw the reader into empathising with some if not all.

There are many ways to start a book. This felt the right way for me. Creating atmosphere, suppressed anger, and grief and showing a family unit being strong together in adversity. 


Sudden Vengeance published by Crooked Cat - here

Amazon UK here 

Amazon COM here 

Smashwords here

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