Working with others…

Last year, our local writing group, the Lichfield Writers, decided to create a joint project for the second successive year and and The Lichfield Jigsaw Murders is now available. This book proved to be very interesting, not just in the writing stage, but also in the editing phases of production. I learned quite a lot about editing from this exercise.

LichfieldWriters_23July_Page_1In 2017 we produced a short anthology of prose and poetry, entitled Reflections. We all contributed pieces – some were poems and short pieces by members of the group. I put in an extract from Leo’s Luck, and Jim McGrath added some of his “police non-procedural” A Death in Winter: 1963.

This little volume has no ISBN, and is not available on Amazon, but you can find copies for sale in various places around Lichfield, including the Samuel Johnson Birthplace Museum.

However, we decided to go public with the second joint project, and we decided to make it a murder mystery. Since Jim and I have already have experience in writing murder mysteries, we decided that Jim would kick things off and set the scene, everyone else would add a chapter, and I was to help finish things off and tie up all the loose ends when everyone else had finished. As we wrote, we had no real idea of how the book would end, or who the murderer was, which made life more than a little exciting.

Keeping things straight turned out to be much more of a problem than we had imagined it would be, and we ended up with a list of characters and plot that far exceeded the number we first thought of. In the end, we came up with a story which, while not an Agatha Christie, or even an Inspector Morse, still managed to provide a few interesting twists and turns, and came up with a relatively coherent and plausible plot.

Along the way, we learned some interesting facts about police procedures and related information. For example, I went into the local undertaker’s to discover where a post-mortem would be carried out on a body discovered in Lichfield (the answer is Cannock, by the way), and The Lichfield Jigsaw Murders hit the Amazon shelves just before Christmas.

Editing

We were faced with a number of challenges in the production of this multi-author book:

  • Consistency of style – while we had no wish to cramp the individual styles of the writers who contributed, we had to impose some standards – for example, “Ok”, “OK” or “Okay” – and the story had to flow neatly. We’d decided to allow “adult” language, so that wasn’t an issue.
  • Consistency of characters – we wanted to make sure that the characters stayed in character, not just in their actions, but in the way they spoke.
  • Plot holes – when different people contribute to a story, dates and times go awry, conversations that have already taken place get forgotten and repeated (and vice versa), and names change (originally we had a Marie and a Mary – so one of them had to be changed).
  • Accuracy – we needed to make all the procedures and details credible (see above regarding undertakers and mortuaries), and to keep the timeframe as realistic as possible – no overnight DNA analysis. Since we are all residents of Lichfield, we had no problems with the geography of the piece.

Overall, I think we did a pretty good job, and David Brown, Jim’s friend, kindly provided a painting for the cover, which captures the crime scene by Stowe Pool, with St. Chad’s church in the background, as it is first described in the book.

Here’s an extract from later in the story:

Before leaving home, Mason put a call in to Rugeley Police Station and was told that Detective Sergeant Hughes was not on duty that day. After asking the desk Sergeant, who she’d trained with twenty years earlier, for Hughes’ mobile number, she rang him and asked him for a favour before picking up Kramer and driving over to Tipton nick.

As they reached their destination, Mason’s phone rang. ‘Take it for me, Michael. I’m driving and I hate the sodding roads round here.’ She passed her phone over and listened to Kramer’s non-committal side of the conversation. Eventually he hung up.

‘Well?’

‘That was the DNA boys. They weren’t happy about doing a rush job for you.’

‘Surprise. Are they ever?’

‘But they’ve got the father of Nicola’s baby. He’s a certain Damien Hunter.’ He smiled.

She thought a bit, biting her lip as she negotiated a roundabout. ‘We know Mr Damien Hunter, don’t we?’

‘Yep. He got three years a few months back for fraud and embezzlement, and he’s still inside, as far as we know. His DNA’s on file – it was part of the evidence that convicted him, remember – his saliva on the papers he’d taken.’

Mason did some calculations in her head. ‘It fits with the timing. Just. Must have been when he was on bail awaiting trial. Bloody hell.’

‘Didn’t you say Nicola had been the PA to a dodgy lawyer?’

‘I did. Hmmm.’

There was silence until they reached the Tipton police station.

Mason quite often had gut feelings about people, and the first time she saw David Wrekin was one of those occasions. He didn’t even have to say anything – his eyes said it all as they lingered on certain parts of her body, making her flesh crawl.

When Mason and Kramer entered the room, Wrekin was sitting in a hard-backed chair behind the table, seemingly sulking. The look on his face changed to a leer as he saw Mason and Kramer enter the room.

‘I’ll have two sugars in my tea, darlin’ – and while you’re at it, piss off and get your boss? I don’t talk to no cleaners,’ sneered Wrekin.

Mason ostentatiously switched on the recording system and gave the date, time and name of all present in the room, stressing her rank, before asking, ‘Mr Wrekin, can you please confirm your name and your relationship to the deceased Nicola Toomey.’

‘No comment – you’ve got nothing on me on this one. I know my rights. I could just leave this room now and walk back to me cell.’

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