Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: Lesley Tither
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Lesley Tither but I write crime fiction as L M Krier, children's fiction with a crime twist as L M Kay and travel memoirs as Tottie Limejuice. I was born in Cheshire, grew up and went to school in Stockport, and have lived in various parts of the UK including Wales, Dorset and Lincolnshire.
After leaving school, I trained as a journalist and worked on local papers for about ten years,
covering a lot of court and coroner's court proceedings. I've done various jobs, including working as a case tracker for the Crown Prosecution Service. I've spent the last fifteen years working as a freelance copywriter and copy editor.
I'm now retired and live in Central France where I write pretty much full-time, or as the muse takes me.
How do you go about plotting your books?
I tend to write in my head when I'm walking my dogs. I'll play about with ideas, scenarios, dialogue and such while I'm walking. Then I come back and bash some ideas out on the computer. I keep an A4 notepad next to my computer where I write down chapters and notes of what happens in each. That way I can see if something needs to be switched around. Most of it just comes to me, often when snoozing before getting up, and I'm lucky in that the ideas just keep coming – so far.
Now that I'm up to Book 5 in the DI Ted Darling series, I've had to start up what I call my Ted Bible, to keep track of different characters, their likes and dislikes and other aspects of them. Readers get very involved with favourite characters so you can't suddenly change their music taste or favourite food, for example, from one book to another, without someone spotting it.
I do also have a pile of old envelopes with scribbled notes on, things which suddenly occur to me and have to be quickly captured for posterity. My desk tends to be a bit messy! It's in my kitchen, near to the kitchen range so it's cosy, and I always have the door open to the garden when it's warm enough. I need contact with nature to help me work.
How long does your first draft take you?
Probably because I've written professionally for a large part of my life, often to ridiculous deadlines, I write quickly, and I'm a fast typist. My first travel memoir, for instance, just under 80 thousand words, was written in a week. The first draft of my first DI Darling book took about three weeks, but of course, there is a lot of editing time to follow on from the first draft.
Research: do you find it fascinating or laborious? How do you go about your research?
Love it! I'm also a bit obsessed by it as I hate inaccurate details in books, if they are avoidable. We all make mistakes, despite our best efforts, but it's becoming less and less excusable with tools like Google at our fingertips. I spend a lot of time on the internet checking details, both through search engines and using the skills of various friends. For example, I am currently writing some complicated things to do with computers, which are not my strong point. But I'm lucky enough to have a good friend who's a systems analyst and another who knows all kinds of dodges with one, so a quick email to them got me most of the information I needed.
My own knowledge is somewhat dated, because of my age (I'm 63), so I read up a lot to try to keep current. I've just signed up online to do a Forensic Psychology - Witness Investigation course, with the Open University, which looks as if it will be very helpful. I also watch good, well researched crime on television, like Happy Valley, which really has been the benchmark recently.
My books are set in Stockport, where I grew up, but I haven't been there since 2006. I haven't actually set foot back in the UK since 2007. So a lot of the Stockport landmarks I knew have gone or changed beyond recognition, except for the iconic brick viaduct. I belong to some Stockport groups on Facebook, including one for my old school, Stockport High. In fact I probably spend as much time there virtually now than I did when I was a pupil there! But it helps me avoid making errors which locals will be quick to pounce on.
Has your writing style developed over time? And the way you approach writing?
It's definitely changed! For one thing I started out writing non-fiction and later switched to crime fiction in my 60s, which was a bit of a quantum leap. In some respects, my training as a journalist and writer has helped, in others, it has hindered. As a copywriter working in advertising, less is definitely more. Because of space constraints, especially for catalogue work, you sometimes have only 25 words in which to hard sell a product.
I'm not one for great long flowery descriptions, especially in crime. It makes me shout, 'get on with it!' but some crime writers love that and presumably their readers do, too. In the editing phase, I find myself far more likely to have to add words than to delete.
From the feedback by readers, and from my own gut feeling, I sense that I have grown in confidence with the crime books the more I write. It was not something I intentionally set out to write, although it has always been my preferred genre to read. It was just that one night, I had a dream – yes, really! - which was a great plot for a crime novel. My detective, DI Ted Darling, arrived in my head in the dream as a complete package. He's only short but he's very forceful. He just turned up and said, 'Here I am, this is me, take it or leave it.' Luckily, I like him.
My approach to writing hasn't changed. It's been my profession for much of my life and it's always been head down and get on with it until it's finished and the job's a good 'un.
What's the best writing tip you've ever been given, and how has it influenced you?
Two, really. When I was doing my indenture period on my first newspaper in Greater Manchester, we had a sub-editor called Wilf. Back in the days when there were such things. He'd been a night editor on The Sun and had a curious nocturnal look about him, like an opossum. He was an absolute stickler for detail. Heaven help any of us if we sent copy to him with errors in it. He was particularly obsessed with place-names and kept a copy of the British Gazetteer next to him all the time. Long before Google days! So I quickly learnt to check everything in detail before sending it his way to avoid a lot of grief.
Also, on the same newspaper, our editor was called Maurice Brown. I named a DC after him in the books. People would often ring up the paper with a story and lazy journalists might just take the details over the phone without going to visit or even sending the staff photographer. One journalist did just that when a man phoned in to say he'd just passed his first GCEs, as they were then, at the age of 80-plus. Great human interest story. Steve took all the details and the paper carried it.
Unfortunately, the local evening paper did send a photographer who learnt the best part of the story. The gentleman was also blind, in the days when exams were based around the written word with fewer provisions for disabled students, which made his achievement even greater. Maurice gave Steve such a roasting and dismissed his excuses of not knowing with 'you didn't ask.'
It made us laugh at the time. It was so improbable a question to ask someone over the phone. But I think it helps me a lot with writing witness interviews and working crime scenes. I make sure Ted and his team ask all the questions, not just the obvious ones.
What book do you wish you had written?
Massive question! Not sure I can give a single, definitive answer. I might perhaps have to pick The Lord of the Rings as it's the book I can and do keep dipping into again and again, finding something new in it every time. The use of language is sublime, some of the poetry is delightful and it is such a skilful blend of light and dark throughout. Fantasy is not of itself one of my preferred genres but I adore in Tolkien, C S Lewis and Alan Garner, who all, in equal measure, had a part in shaping my childhood. Especially Alan Garner, as I was privileged to meet him on several occasions through my father, who wrote articles about him when he was first published.
How much do your own life experiences appear in your writing?
People have asked me how much of me is in Ted. Well, I'm not a gay man! We do have things in common – we both grow lilies and like Queen. But I've deliberately made him different from me in many other ways. I'm a dog person. Ted loves cats and is nervous of dogs. I draw on a lot of experiences as a journalist and as a case tracker for CPS in what I write. I also like to mention places I know to add character to the book, and readers, especially from Stockport, like those little references. Some of the characters are loosely based on people I have met in my life, but I'm not saying which ones in case of legal action!
Do you ever surprise yourself with what you have written?
All the time! Funnily enough, especially from my copwriting days. There are still catalogues and websites out there with my golden words exhorting people to buy. I have, on occasion, found myself looking at a product and thinking, wow, that sounds absolutely marvellous, I simply must buy one of those, then realising, oops, I wrote that. It may not necessarily be true!
With the first crime fiction book, I had a scary moment when it felt as if the killer was taking over and I was no longer in control of my writing. I always send early work, chapter by chapter, to my Alpha beta reader for comment. She could see the way it was going and said I couldn't let the killer do what they had in mind. But I really did feel out of control and they did it.
Which book or character are you most proud of creating and why?
I think Book 2 in the DI Ted Darling series, Two Little Boys. It was such a sensitive issue to tackle, paedophile rings. I had been following the news stories on what was going on and had several theories of my own which I wanted to put out there as possibilities. I didn't in any way want to exploit a horrible crime, nor to write gratuitous detail about it. I deliberately made the ending ambiguous and I am quietly pleased with how it turned out and how it was received.
Describe your current work in progress in five words...
Gripping, realistic, topical, complex, different.
Baby's Got Blue Eyes, the first book in the DI Ted Darling series, is currently just 99p/99c!
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