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Friday, 24 June 2016



Writing is writing, whether it is about crime or romance. Everything I have been saying applies. But maybe there are one or two other things I might mention.

But first, let me make a confession. When I started my first crime novel, The Doom Murders   I had no idea what I was doing. Any connection I had to crime and criminality boiled down to the one occasion when I had to explain to a cop on the Warrenpoint Road why I was doing 76 miles per hour. Other than that, my connection with crime was nil. I had no idea how to go about writing a murder mystery or how the book should be plotted. I didn’t know how I should leave clues, how to drop in red herrings. I knew nothing of police procedure, police ranks, police stations, investigation procedures, or anything about the kinds of briefings that go on in what are called ‘Incident Rooms’. Yet….The Doom Murders has, to date, garnered over 55 reviews in the USA (most of them 4 and 5 stars), and has won three awards, and I have a number of communications from screen writers and novelists on the USA side, congratulating me on the accuracy and detail of my detective’s investigation procedures. For example, a review from American female crime writer contained this sentence: "The author knows the methodology of a police investigation, as I understand it to be handled in the UK. While I am no expert in law and procedure on the other side of the Atlantic, I am something of an expert on American police procedure, and I found the procedures here believable and enjoyable to read."

As the Americans would say, “Go figure!”

Now all of this might sound like bragging…uh…well...that’s probably because it is bragging. But I need to make an important point. How did all this happen? How could I have gone from abysmal ignorance to this … apparent ... level of expertise? I think you’ll find my answer encouraging. I did only two things and was able to rely heavily on a third.

1.I BOUGHT A LITTLE BOOK barely 150 pages, by Michael O’Byrne (an ex-police officer) called, ‘The Crime Writer’s Guide to Police Practice and Procedure’

2. I PHONED A VERY PLEASANT AND INFORMATIVE WOMAN DETECTIVE SERGEANT at the Newry Police Station who was on duty during a quiet and uneventful evening and who happy to spend an hour on the phone with me answering every question I could think of.

Armed with her answers and O’Byrne’s book, I set off into the unknown with only my imagination, my annoyance at certain religious anomalies that were afflicting the society in which I live, and whatever there was in my head after years of reading crime and thriller novels and watching murder shows on television.


I think there’s never been a better time to become a crime writer. With the world of the internet at your beck and call, you can find the answer to hundreds of issues and ensure complete authenticity in all that you write…provided that you check your sources and don’t start making stuff up.


Crime is one of the most popular genres and thus a good area to be writing in…except that the competition is fierce. I have just time to make a couple of points from what I have learned through actually writing a few novels.

1. READ AS MANY CRIME NOVELS AS YOU CAN. Reading bestsellers is the best way to understand what makes a good crime novel. You’ll see how to introduce seeming random groups of events and people who finally come together as part of a coherent whole.

Know and understand his every thought, feeling, motives for killing, how he would go about it. He has to be a real person if he is to be a convincing killer. Be the killer. Live in his head. Otherwise you won’t know what he’s going to do next. It would help if you are psychopathic, a person who nurses all kinds of grievances and animosities, hates everybody around you, and are constantly devising horrible ways to kill half the people you work with. But, most of us will simply have to extrapolate these feelings from our imagination or from tv and books we read.

and make each one of them a real living person. This will also help with plotting because the characters can only behave in accordance with the traits you give them and so much of the action will have to run along lines that are natural for the characters. Plot will develop to a very large degree out of this interaction. So, you need to know all of your characters intimately, how they think and feel. Know their every thought. That will help to ensure real interaction between them and will also ensure that what happens follows logically from the type of people who are involved in the action. Most of the reviews of my books refer to the characters. Norma Miles, a reviewer, said recently about Thje 11.05 Murders   "This is only the second of Brian O'Hare's Belfast set detective mysteries, but already Chief Inspector Sheehan and his team are becoming old friends as they investigate another murder in their city, so well does the author portray his characters." And Max Tomlinson, an American writer, says, "But it’s the richness of the characters that really gives this book its authenticity."


Try to add something to the murders that lifts them out of the mundane…check out the biblically inspired killings in The Doom Murders

5.DON'T CHEAT THE READER; plant plenty of red herrings but also plant genuine clues. (I read a mybook recently in which a character who spoke briefly with the investigator at the very beginning of the book, who was never mentioned again, but who turned out to be the killer. No one could ever have guessed that and, of course, there would have plenty of annoyed readers throwing that book down.

6.ENSURE THAT THERE ARE AT LEAST THREE OR FOUR VIABLE SUSPECTS. It’s a mystery book; you have to keep your readers guessing

If you choose a contemporary setting for your novel there are high-tech detection procedures and forensic techniques to get your head around. Fortunately, the internet makes researching the facts of crime detection relatively easy. There are lots of websites you can use to find out the basics of how an investigation works and how a forensic investigation proceeds.

Make sure you keep careful notes on who has done what and when so that your writing doesn’t suffer from continuity errors. Some people use a detailed plan to do this, something they can keep referring back to. Others, including myself, are not great about plans. But the very least you should do is have a calendar of events so that there is a very clear progression When you say something like the following morning, you should be sure that this follows exactly from the Saturday night of the 21st of May or whatever and not actually a week later, a week during which three other important events have taken place.. One of the early drafts of my first novel was full of errors of this kind. I was lucky to spot one…and that led me to check the whole thing for general continuity of dates, times and events. I couldn’t believe how far out I was with a whole lot of them. I am now a great advocate of the event calendar…with each event slotted into its time and date.. This way you can refer back to the calendar if you become unsure of when a particular event is actually taking place in the novel.

... to ensure that the early part of the book has enough information in it to justify additional stuff that you want to bring in later. I always have. I had to keep going back to the murders to add in extra stuff as I progress through the writing. For example, there were times when I needed certain things to happen later in the story but they would not have made sense unless the seeds for them had been sown earlier on and that meant, often, that I had to go back and change, or add to, what I had written before, to plant those seeds. There was a lot of that backing and fro-ing…indeed, it continues to be a significant feature of my writing, even today.

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