Competition News

Today I’m sharing some news about a new writing competition.

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It’s not exactly hard to find out that I’m a proud member of Crime Cymru.  The aims of the organisation are:

  • To support crime writers with a real and present relationship with Wales
  • To help in the development of new writing talent
  • To promote Wales, Welsh culture and Welsh crime writing in particular, to the wider world.

In support of these goal, the Gwobr Nofel Gyntaf Crime Cymru First Novel Prize has been created to identify, support and promote new crime writing talent from Wales. The Prize Committee consists of Katherine Stansfield, Alison Layland, Alis Hawkins and Jacky Collins. 

The prize has a similar structure to the Welsh Book of the Year, with two categories: Welsh language entries and English language entries. There will be two winners, one in each language category. For each language category there are separate judges and individual prizes. The competition is free to enter and has some fantastic prizes on offer:

  • There will be a Welsh-language winner and an English-language winner. Each winner will receive a four-night stay at Literature Wales’ Nant Writers’ Retreat Cottage, located within the grounds of Tŷ Newydd Writing Centre in Llanystumdwy, Gwynedd. The two winning writers will also be offered mentoring from Crime Cymru writers, to be undertaken in their choice of Welsh or English.
  • There will be two shortlisted writers in each language category. The prize for the shortlisted authors is a ‘book bundle’ comprising work by Crime Cymru authors, the titles of which will be determined by Crime Cymru. In addition, we hope that being shortlisting in a prestigious new prize will be useful in seeking publication in the future.
  • Both our winners and shortlisted writers will be awarded a complimentary festival pass to our in-person crime writing festival in Aberystwyth in 2022 where they’ll have the opportunity to meet a host of the UK’s top crime writers as well as industry professionals from the world of publishing.

Here are the key details you need to know:

  • The competition opened on 23 April 2021
  • The competition closes on 3 September 2021
  • The prize is open to writers currently living in Wales.
  • This is a first novel prize. To enter, you must not have previously published a novel, either traditionally or self-published. Writers who have published a book in forms other than novels (e.g. a poetry or short story collection, creative non-fiction) can enter.
  • The submitted novels do not have to have a Welsh setting or theme but they do have to be crime novels. For the purposes of the competition this definition is broad, including (but not limited to) detective novels, mysteries, thrillers, psychological thrillers. For a guide to the expansiveness of the genre, take a look at the scope of crime writing produced by members of Crime Cymru.
  • Entries should be the first 5,000 words of a crime novel plus a one-page synopsis which outlines the full plot of the novel. The novel does not have to be complete at the time of entry.

The people you need to impress are:

Top row, left to right: Jon Gower, Sian Northey, Gwen Davies. Bottom row, left to right: Clare Mackintosh, Awais Khan, Peter Buckman. Image credits: Gwen Davies’ photograph – Jessica Raby; Clare Mackintosh’s photograph – Charlie Hopkinson.

Useful Links
Crime Cymru
Wales Arts Review Article on the prize

So if you want to be one of the first winners of this new prize, get writing and I wish you all the best of luck.

Save Her

Abigail Osbourne shares her inspiration and faces some hard and uncomfortable factors and philosophies in this discussion and in her book.

Save Her: a gripping psychological thriller full of twists by [Abigail Osborne]

The idea for the book came from my own experiences of friendship. I have always been fascinated by friendship. Moving around a lot when I was younger meant I’ve never had a friend that I’ve known most of my life. I have always wanted that bond. That one person you can absolutely rely on and know will always be there for you. The one you can share in-jokes with and a long history with. That person you can communicate with by just looking at them. Someone who knows what you’re feeling before you do.

It wasn’t until I got to University that I got a glimpse of this type of friendship. I made friends with a girl in my halls and the connection was instantaneous. I’d never experienced anything like it. For months we had a deep and profound friendship and I honestly thought I’d found the best friend I was always meant to have. We did everything together and my world revolved around our friendship and I was blissfully happy. But then we fell out and the sun fell out of my sky. I realised that I had no other friends. No one at all. I’d put all my eggs in one basket and was completely alone. The friendship, whilst amazing, was not healthy because I did not have room for anyone else. I didn’t want anyone else. It was this that has always stayed with me and was the initially idea that prompted the book.

But then it grew into so much more. I began to explore the difference between a marriage and a best friend. All those things I described as wanting in a best friend, I now have with my husband. This got me thinking, what defines friendship? What should friendship be? What are the boundaries in a friendship?  I am lucky enough to be happily married and I started to ask myself, who would I choose? If I was still friends with that girl from University, could I honestly say I would choose my husband over her if push came to shove? I don’t think that the intensity of our friendship would have allowed it. This what I explore in the book and I loved taking this journey with Sophie and Flora. From the reviews I’ve had so far, the friendship between the girls is something other people have enjoyed.

Another theme in this book is the issue of wealth. Sophie and Flora have married into a vastly wealthy family and throughout the book, I tried to examine the difference that money makes to people and the choices that they have. I have even attempted to convey different points of view on wealth through the opposing views that Sophie and Flora hold. Sophie is steadfastly ambitious. Having come from poverty, her mother spending all their money on drink, she is resolute that she will better herself and be as wealthy as she possibly can. She wants only the finest things in life and feels that she works hard, so she should enjoy reaping what she has sowed. Flora works hard to try and be financially independent and tries to devote her time to helping people. Flora doesn’t spend money on herself and tries to avoid using the ‘family’ money. She is embarrassed at the wealth that she has married into and reluctantly accepts the improvement in her quality of life. Flora ignores her moral compass and her real feelings about the sort of wealth she has married into because it would make her marriage untenable.  But nearly every day she is reminded that people are struggling whilst her in-laws are rolling around in a pit of money and doing nothing good with it. This is something she has to live with, and I think it is something that I think about a lot. I constantly feel like I should be doing more to help those less fortunate.

I personally find the unequal distribution of wealth in our country something hard to think about. Flora’s debate about having access to money and feeling guilty about it is something that I have felt myself. For instance, my mother and a close friend both work in the NHS as nurses. Throughout the pandemic, they have put their lives at risk and saved lives. But I am aware that I earn more money than them in my day job (without having to do 12-hour shifts) and this is a difficult pill for me to swallow. I know that they love their jobs and are not in it for the money but to help people. But still, I can’t help but feel guilty as they are making a difference in the world, but their contribution is not recognised in what they are paid. My job is important and worthwhile, but I don’t have the same tangible impact the way that they do. This was in my mind as I was writing the book and creating a family of incredible wealth.

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Abigail is originally from the Lake District but moved to the West Midlands for University where she completed an English Literature & History degree. She lives in Worcestershire with her husband and is a board game fanatic, owning over 70 games. She has a huge collection of books, plays the violin, and used to play the piano until her husband sold it because it was too heavy to keep moving.

Find Abigail on:
Facebook: https: //www.facebook.com/abigailosborneauthor
Twitter: @Abigail_Author
Instagram: @abigailosborneauthor

Click here for book details. Save Her.


I have to say, I totally understand the points you’ve made and am right there with you.  Thank you so much for sharing this with us, I really appreciate it.

The Irregulars

The Irregulars Poster
Image from IMDB

Not something I do a lot of, but this blog is about a TV show with a crime underbelly.

There are some tropes going around fiction and TV, here are a few:

  • Teenagers running around solving crimes.
  • Victorian ragamuffins being more than ragamuffins.
  • Adding a bit of fantasy/magic or general steampunk.
  • Stealing ideas from other writers.

Knowing that this are tropes, you’d think that one entity that included all would be off the interest list, however “The Irregulars” caught my eye and I decided to watch.  I should admit that the steampunk elements appeal to me because my other author persona (Abi Barden) writes steampunk.

IMDB blurb for the Netflix series is:

“Set in Victorian London, the series follows a gang of troubled street teens who are manipulated into solving crimes for the sinister Doctor Watson and his mysterious business partner, the elusive Sherlock Holmes.”

So as I said, every cliché has been thrown into this one. When approaching stuff like this, I try to forget what I know about the original, so forget what Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about Sherlock. Also forget the particulars of history and the fashion of history, and you’ll have to ignore the fact that none of the characters are dirty enough.  Though the one bit of history they did get right is that there was an upswell of interest in spiritualism in the 1800s not exactly hindered by Queen Victoria wanting to contact her own beloved Albert.

I wasn’t expecting much from the series, but I was pleasantly surprised. One of the things that I like most about this series is that it shows history in all its colour – and yes I am talking about the colours of the characters skins. The UK and especially London have always been places of diversity, so the mix of race and colour, rather than looking odd added a touch of realism to my point of view of London.  Just to be clear, this was not an ‘in your face’ attempt at political correctness, it was just an acceptance of what things would have been.  That John Watson is black – so what? That he was acted well is surely the more important factor. Played by Royce Pierson of “The Witcher”. The only character I think they got completely wrong was that of Mycroft Holmes, who was neither strong enough not intelligent enough.

The lead actor, Thaddea Graham, was brilliant as Bea who led the team of street kids like a general, or mother, she’s excellent. Oddly reminded me of a young Julia Styles, no idea why. In fact, I would have to congratulate all the younger actors in this series, they each did an absolutely cracking job.

Having said forget Sherlock – that’s not really possible.  And I’ve seen some rampant complaints about how Sherlocks personality was written wrongly.  When he does turn up, several episodes in, he’s a total druggie. How is that in any way different from what Conan Doyle wrote? Even if you watch the much-sanitised Cumberbatch version of the character, he took drugs and was totally uninterested in relationships. The Sherlock in The Irregulars was left responsible for young children, and he passed them over to an orphanage – that strikes me as very Sherlock. The only thing I consider totally wrong for the character is that he loved someone, he even sacrificed for that someone.  So not the self-centred Sherlock of canon.

The crime does take the backseat a little, but it is there, and it is solved by deduction and reasoning. It also leads smoothly into the more mystical elements of the series. Each story stands alone, but links beautifully meaning that the overall story hangs together with sense. While there are a lot of liberties taken with mysticism and magic, the flash backs and logic of this side of things rounds out the characters and perfects the storytelling inherent in the piece. 

In short, I’d fully and happily recommend the series, it is delightful.

Accidental Hero

Here Philip Gwynne Jones introduces us to Nathan Sutherland, an accidental hero.

I’ve always had a soft spot for the accidental hero. I realised many years ago that I was never going to be Sherlock Holmes let alone James Bond, and all I had in common with Philip Marlowe was my first name and a similar taste in headwear.

So when I began writing my series of Venice-based thrillers I knew that my protagonist, Nathan Sutherland, was not going to be a cop, a spy or a private eye. He’d just be a regular guy, an Englishman abroad, trying to do his best in extraordinary circumstances in an extraordinary city. He’s the British Honorary Consul in Venice, a position that, being effectively unpaid, is less glamorous than you might expect. And – in Nathan’s world – it’s also rather more dangerous than you might expect.

In previous novels he’s tackled art crime, the case of a missing manuscript by Claudio Monteverdi and an empty grave on the cemetery island of San Michele. In “The Venetian Legacy”, however, he finds himself confronted with the Mala del Brenta. The Venetian Mafia.

Yes, they really do exist.  And the more I discovered about them, the more I realised that these are people who you really, really do not want to mess with. Most of the senior members are either dead or in prison. There are also some who are not. I chose, of course, not to mention them…

I also decided that, after four novels, it was time to move Nathan out of his comfort zone. Much of the action, this time, takes place on the island of Pellestrina, a thin strip of land perhaps ten kilometres in length that serves as a barrier between the Venetian lagoon and the Adriatic Sea. Populated by perhaps three thousand people, making their living from the sea, it’s a world away from the hustle and bustle of Venice itself. Away from his usual haunts in the centro storico, with a friendly face in every bar and cicheteria, Pellestrina was a place where Nathan really would feel like an outsider.

Oh, and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that I married off Nathan and Federica this time. I’ve never really liked the whole ‘will they – won’t they?’ thing, and decided that four books was quite long enough for Nathan to make his mind up.  Besides, I’ve always admired Nick and Nora Charles from Hammett’s The Thin Man, a husband and wife team who fight crime with the aid of far too many cocktails. Gramsci, the stroppy Marxist cat is, of course, also along for the ride.

So Nathan and Fede find themselves on honeymoon on an island where the sunsets are magnificent, the seafood is the best in Venice and some very nasty family secrets are about to be uncovered. Pellestrina, as Dorothy L Sayers might have said, is going to be something of a busman’s honeymoon…



To get your copy click below:

The Venetian Legacy (from Waterstones)

The Venetian Legacy (from Amazon)








Thanks for sharing Phil, and I look forward to meeting Nathan on the page.

New Crime Writing Festival

The UK has many parts, and it has many literature festivals.  Many, many of these are crime festivals.  They’re everywhere right?

Wrong.

Wales hasn’t had a festival devoted to crime literature – until now.

Crime Cymru was founded in 2017 by Alis Hawkins, Matt Johnson and Rosie Claverton. The group is all about supporting and promoting Welsh crime writing and Welsh crime writers.

I joined Crime Cymru in 2018 and the group is growing all the time and right now, we are working on putting together Wales’ first international crime fiction festival Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival. The inaugural three-day festival will take place on the early May Bank Holiday weekend (29th April – 2nd May) in the lovely West Wales coastal resort and university town of Aberystwyth.

But in the mean time we’re running the Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival, we’ll be holding a free, digital festival this year – Virtual CRIME CYMRU Digidol. This live Zoom-based festival (April 26th – May 3rd) will introduce people from all over the UK/the world to the brilliant crime writing talent we have in Wales, as well as showcasing some of UK crime fiction’s household names. And, during our digi-fest, we’ll be doing our bit to support those who support us – booksellers. Each of Virtual CRIME CYMRU Digidol’s events will be partnered by a bookshop from which we’ll be encouraging audience members to order panel members’ books if they’ve been excited by what they’ve heard.

Gwyl Crime Cymru Festival

But in the mean time we’re running the Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU Festival, we’ll be holding a free, digital festival this year – Virtual CRIME CYMRU Digidol. This live Zoom-based festival (April 26th – May 3rd) will introduce people from all over the UK/the world to the brilliant crime writing talent we have in Wales, as well as showcasing some of UK crime fiction’s household names. And, during our digi-fest, we’ll be doing our bit to support those who support us – booksellers. Each of Virtual CRIME CYMRU Digidol’s events will be partnered by a bookshop from which we’ll be encouraging audience members to order panel members’ books if they’ve been excited by what they’ve heard.

I’m honoured to be part of this, more so to be in event number 1 inn which Crime Cymru associate member, Amy Williams interviews CWA Diamond Dagger winner, Martin Edwards, award-winning Swansea author, Cathy Ace and me about our very different approaches to crime fiction. The event is supported by Swansea based bookshop Cover to Cover.

More importantly – the events are FREE!

All you have to do is register via Eventbrite and you’ll be able to join these events live.

For more information here are some links that you may want to check out:
Crime Cymru
Gŵyl CRIME CYMRU
Eventbrite
Cover to Cover Bookshop

Ten Inside

I’ve been talking to Ross Greenwood again, and picking up more unusual and unexpected tips on what life is like inside a prison.  This is a distillation of the things he’s said, and it makes for interesting and in places uncomfortable reading.  But if you want to portray a life inside, working in one or two of these points may help bring a new level of realism to your story.

  1. New inmates often arrive hungry. Having been in court all day and then stuck in transport van, they haven’t had the appetite or opportunity to eat. Newspapers make out that all prisoners are hardened brutes who sneered at the system, but all except the insane fear the courts. Hunger isn’t a concern until the verdict is in.
  2. Some new inmates will arrive in the clothes they were arrested in on the Friday night, even though it was then Monday.
  3. New inmates may be afraid to shower, having watched too many prison movies. So you’d give them a faded stiff towel and a bar of plain soap, and tell them to use the sink.
  4. A significant proportion of prisoners (of both genders) have mental health problems. Many were victims before they were villains.
  5. Prisons are not holiday camps, but they could be more spartan.  However, locking people up with nothing to do and no TV when they already have mental health illnesses is inhumane. If they’re struggling with life before jail, that is not going to help.
  6. Most murders are clear cut. The perpetrator normally knows the victim. Often, it was their partner.
  7. Most of those accused of murder plead guilty when put in front of the Crown judge, but it is rare for them to be sentenced on the spot. They usually have to return to court to be sentenced; often about two weeks later.
  8. Those two weeks will be spent in jail and the reaction of the prisoners to the wait is fascinating, the weight could be seen falling off them. The nights are long as they wait for the axe to fall. People age years.
  9. Hygiene is not high on inmate priorities. Brushing teeth is not, for many, a regular occurrence.  Toothache affects a significant portion of prisoners. The stench of their breath is indescribable.  See point 3, some don’t shower for their entire stay.
  10. Gob watch (Ross’ term not an official one).  When prisoners are on medications, these have to be passed out and someone has to check that they are taken, but prisoners are adept at hiding pills for a later buzz, suicide attempt or to sell, so an officer has to check their mouths. It’s easier to hide pill in teeth with holes, see point 8, so they have to be checked, try not to imagine the stench.

One other thing that Ross did add was this: 

The Coronavirus has given us a glimpse into that world. It feels surreal, unnatural, claustrophobic, stressful and boring, and we’re only under house arrest. All our plans have gone to pot. We don’t know if we’ll have a job when all this is over. How will we pay the mortgage? We’ll miss weddings and funerals. Will life be the same afterwards? Could we lose hope?

This is a point on which I total agree with him, see my blog “New Year, Old Lockdown.”

An image posted by the author.

Why not take a look at Ross’s Amazon Page for more information on him and his fabulous books.  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ross-Greenwood/e/B019JRK0AY/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_book_1

Or follow his page on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/RossGreenwoodAuthor/

I hope these general pointers help others with their writing, and want to say a big thank you to Ross for being so open and honest with all he’s had to say on the topic. 

Michelle Salter

I’ve been talking to debut historical crime writer Michelle Salter about her work, here’s what she had to share with us all.

What motivates you to write?

I write historical crime mysteries as I love the research as much as the writing. I find it fascinating to take modern day situations and place them 100 years ago.I’m particularly interested in showing how a woman’s role in society has changed in the twentieth century. My debut novel, The Suffragette’s Daughter, is set in 1920 and is the first in a series of mysteries that focus on crimes and social issues affecting women during this era.

Which do you like to write, series or standalones?  If you write both, what do you find the difference?

I’m currently busy with the Iris Woodmore Mysteries series. However, I would like to write a standalone gothic novel, possibly switching between two timeframes.

What do you like to do to relax when not writing?

I’ve been a volunteer at my local nature reserve, Fleet Pond, for nearly fifteen years now. At 52 acres, Fleet Pond is the largest freshwater lake in Hampshire and is surrounded by an extensive nature reserve made up of wetlands, woodlands, and dry heathland.
Many local locations feature in my books, and the fictional lake Waldenmere, which plays a prominent role in my next novel, is inspired by Fleet Pond.

The Suffragette's Daughter : a gripping historical crime mystery by [Michelle Salter]

Who is your favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

Percy Baverstock is a favourite of mine and my readers. He’s enjoyable to write because he doesn’t always think before he speaks. He has a grasshopper mind and hops from subject to subject – his mood can change as quickly as his conversation.

He loves to go dancing in the jazz clubs that are springing up in London in 1920. He makes his first appearance in The Suffragette’s Daughter and was only going to feature briefly, but he’s very lovable. He’s become a recurring character and returns in the second Iris Woodmore mystery due out later this year.

Who is your least favourite of your characters, why and in which books do they appear?

Sir Nigel Bostock is a particularly obnoxious character who appears in The Suffragette’s Daughter. He’s a snob and a chauvinist. He takes his privileged life for granted and shows little empathy for others. I’m sure most readers will have come across someone in their lives who shares a few of Sir Nigel’s boorish traits!

Tell us about your last book…

The Suffragette’s Daughter is a historical crime mystery set in 1920. It’s a period of rapid social change, but even in these progressive times, it can still be deadly for a woman to show too much strength.

Rather than the stylised world of the flapper girl, I wanted to explore the reality of Britain in the aftermath of the Great War and the suffragist movement. It was a period of empowerment and greater independence for some women, but the reality for many others was that their lives were the same as they had been a decade earlier.

Inspiration for the novel struck in the summer of 2018 on a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. Westminster Hall was hosting an exhibition to mark the centenary of the Representation of the People Act of 1918 – a significant milestone in the suffrage movement.
Despite introduction of the Act, a third of the adult female population in this country still didn’t have the right to vote. The fight for equal representation was far from over – and the seeds for The Suffragette’s Daughter were sown.

What’s coming next…

I hope the second book in the Iris Woodmore Mysteries series will be out later this year, and I’m currently working on a third.
I’m enjoying exploring the maturation of my lead character. Iris is a young woman who’s stepped outside of social convention, and while some doors have opened, others have been slammed firmly in her face.

I hope younger readers of my novels will appreciate the challenges their predecessors faced and how much we owe to the suffrage movement.

Anything else you want to share?

The Suffragette’s Daughter is now available from Amazon.




Michelle Salter is a historical crime fiction writer based in north east Hampshire, UK.

Michelle works as a copywriter and has written features for national magazines. Her love of social history influences her writing, and her novels explore how events from 100 years ago reflect the world we live in today.
When she’s not writing, Michelle can be found knee-deep in mud at her local nature reserve. She enjoys working with a team of volunteers undertaking conservation activities on land and in water, repairing riverbanks, sloshing around in the marshes and driving a tractor badly.

If you’d like to be the first to hear the latest news on novel releases and works in progress, visit https://www.michellesalter.com to subscribe to Michelle’s newsletter.

You can also find Michelle on:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/MichelleASalter
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MichelleSalterWriter

Thank you, Michelle for sharing with us, and best of luck with the debut.

Mistakes Not To Make

I first met Ross Greenwood shortly after Locked Up was published – but out long enough for Ross to have read it.  Having been a prison officer, he pointed out that I got one thing wrong in the book, I’ll tell you what at the end of the article.  But in the meantime, here are some tips from the author with the direct prison experience, of what not to get wrong.

Ten popular misconceptions for fiction writers.

  1. Prison is a combination of The Shawshank Redemption and Porridge. Really?
  2. Prison is cool. No. Brad Pitt is cool. Prison is shit. It’s bad breath and everyone you hated at school x 1000 locked up in the same place.
  3. You’ll get raped in prison. Erm, nope. Trust me, the chances of this happening are virtually zero. Despite this, many men will not have a single shower the entire time they are inside. Even if that is years.
  4. Prisons are cool. True. In the winter they are freezing, and you won’t have suitable attire. In the summer, they are boiling. And what do you think a place that holds 1000 men in the middle of August is going to be like when the windows don’t open? If you earn £8 a week for dismantling washing machines you aren’t going to spend it on Right Guard.
  5. Your cell mate is going to be an axe murderer. Consecutive prison ministers may have been seemingly intent on ruining the system, but even they can see the logic in not padding anyone up with Charles Bronson. How’s your new pad mate, Charles? Quiet. Unsurprisingly, the same applies to arsonists.
  6. Prisons are fun. Wrong, prisons are boredom and toothache. They are tension and despair. They are small narrow rooms without your family, friends, fridges, futures or freedom. They contain only fear. Chances are, it will break you.
  7. If you’ve done something dodgy, you can get away with saying you’re inside for fraud. Prisoners aren’t stupid. If you say that, they’ll think you’re a pervert or worse. It won’t matter if you aren’t. Otherwise they’ll ring their mums, and they’ll put your name into Google.
  8. Prisoners are at the gyms all day long. Wrong! They get an hour to work out, three times a week. All prisoners have time to focus on is their top half to get big guns. That’s right. They all look ridiculous.
  9. Prisoners have to sit a parole board to get out. No, only lifers do. Everyone else gets out at exactly the half way point of their sentence, or two-thirds now with violent crimes. Even if they’ve refused to do a day’s work or change their underpants for their entire sentence, they will still leave on their Automatic Release Date.
  10. Violence is cool. There are many dangerous men in prison, who believe violence is their right. They bully and fight. When the adrenalin drops and they are bent double and marched to the block, humiliated by a strip search, and left for days on end with only their thoughts for company, they cry like babies.

So which one did I get wrong? Actually it was none of the above, so it’s kind of a number 11.  I said that all the prisoners claim to be innocent men, apparently the opposite is true, they often try to big up their conviction, but as number 7 says, it’s not that hard to find out the truth. 

More information on the reality of prison life from Ross will be featured on this blog next month.

Still, prison is one area of life I’m glad that I don’t know enough about and happy for men like Ross to do the incredibly hard work that they do in there.

Thank you, Ross.

If you’d like to know more about Ross, check out his wonderful books, the DI Barton series is now available on Audible, the first is The Snow Killer

Four Thoughts on Research for Writing

Writing historical fiction requires a lot of research, but it’s not just historical authors that need to think about research, it’s all of us. This is an area that Chris Lloyd knows a great deal about, as and “The Unwanted Dead” releases today, he’s here with his advice on research.

I write novels set in Paris under the Nazi Occupation. Inevitably, this calls for large amounts of time and planning spent on research, which can be immensely frustrating – for example, when you’re trying to find what colour ration tickets for wine were in June 1941 – but it can also be extremely rewarding. This is especially the case when the research turns up a whole story or character – or simply vignettes and small details of everyday life – that I would otherwise never have dreamt of. It can provide the central theme of the novel, or simply background that adds colour and authenticity to the story. And that’s when all the frustrations reduce to nothing and the hours spent tracking an isolated fact down becomes instantly forgotten. Along the way, I’ve come to a few conclusions about research that have helped me and that I hope might be useful to others.

1 Research, Research, Research

You can never do too much research.

I begin with a sort of immersive research. History books, films, documentaries, novels, anything that gives me a sense of the time and the place. This starts with the ‘big’ history – what was going on with the war elsewhere, major events in France, political machinations and so on – and then moves on to the fine detail. How my characters would have dressed, what they would have seen as they walked through the streets of Paris. Were the cafes and restaurants open? How many cars were there? How frequently would ordinary people have seen German soldiers or been stopped by them? How afraid were they? And how much did they simply try to get by despite the soldiers’ presence?

The next stop is to narrow the research down. My stories are set over a specific time period – The Unwanted Dead covers the first ten days of the Occupation, the second book (which I’m currently writing) takes place between September and November 1940. That’s actually extremely helpful and quite a relief. Whereas the immersive research can leave your head reeling with an information overload, the focused research not only pins the story down, it offers all sorts of opportunities for extra threads and characters thanks to the odd snippet of detail here and there that it throws up. This is where the research really helps the story start to gel.

2 Then stop researching

You can do too much research.

I know I’ve contradicted myself, but that’s research for you. Once the story starts to gel, that’s the time to stop researching. And for me, it’s important to know the exact moment. That’s partly because it’s much too easy to send yourself down a rabbit-hole, finding out all sorts of things you don’t need and confusing the issue. It’s all very well knowing what colour ration tickets for wine were in June 1941, but it’s a massive distraction if your story’s set in autumn 1940. There’s nothing like it for taking you off the boil. The main reason, though, is because it’s time to start exploring, time to start getting the story down on screen while it’s still fresh and exciting in your own mind. That’s when you can allow your characters to react to the research you’ve learned and do something with it.

3 Then do a bit more research

This is where it gets frustrating. You’ve got your story, the characters are lined up and waiting in the wings, they’ve already made their first moves, the streets are populated with your extras, and foul and bloody murder has already been committed. And that’s when you find you want Eddie, your protagonist, to go to a café for a glass of pastis with another cop to calm their nerves after the foul and bloody murder. But for them to do that, I have to know if that would have been possible under the Occupation. And it’s that moment of trying to find a very specific and very small piece of research that determines whether a scene can happen or not, or if it has to be adapted. And there’s nothing like it for slowing your writing down, as it can take hours and even days to find out that one minor piece of information. The sad news is you have no choice. If you want your story to be as authentic and accurate as possible, you just have to roll your sleeves up and dive into the deep research. That’s when you learn patience.

And in case you’re wondering – no, they couldn’t have a glass of pastis. The Vichy government had banned all drinks over sixteen per cent proof, so they had to drink wine instead, and use up a ration ticket each. Ration tickets, by the way, whose colour was changed from one month to the next to prevent forgeries being made and sold on the black market.

4 Forget the research

There’s a famous photo of Adolf Hitler taken the one time he visited Paris, in June 1940. In it, he’s standing in the Trocadéro with the Eiffel Tower behind him, on the opposite bank of the Seine. He’s flanked by architect Albert Speer and sculptor Arno Breker. Albert Speer claims the photograph was taken on 28th June, Arno Breker says it was 23rd June. They can’t both be right. My dilemma is which date do I choose.

I’ve got a similar problem with the second book. For the purposes of the story, I need Eddie to go to a specific opera on a specific day. I know the opera was staged in Paris – Fidelio, a story of political prisoners and freedom, a strange choice for the Nazis to have made – and I know it was in the autumn. The problem is I can only find one source for the actual date… and it contradicts itself. It first says Fidelio was staged at the end of October, and a few chapters later, it says it was in December. Again, I have to make my choice.

In both cases, I’ve driven myself up the wall trying to find a definitive date, but it’s impossible. And that’s when you have to forget the research and remember what it is you’re doing. You’re writing fiction. My own research in both cases has led me to a specific date for each of the two events, and I’ve made every effort possible to be accurate, but I also have to realise that this is when another element becomes important – the story. As I said, I write fiction. The history has to be accurate, the research has to be true, but it also has to contribute to the story I’m telling. Faced with contradictions in the research, and there are many, your choice has to come down to one fact. You’re a story-teller. You have to be authentic, you have to respect the past, but your story has to come first.


Chris Lloyd grew up in Cardiff and, after graduating in Spanish and French, spent twenty-four years in Catalonia, where he taught English and worked in educational publishing and as a travel writer and translator. Besides this, he also lived in Grenoble for six months, researching the French Resistance movement, and in the Basque Country and Madrid. He now lives in his native Wales where he works as a writer and translator.

He writes the Eddie Giral crime thriller series, the result of his lifelong interest in resistance and collaboration in Occupied France. Living under the shadow cast by his experiences in World War One, Eddie Giral is a Paris police detective forced to come to terms with the Nazi Occupation of the city. Seeking to negotiate a path between the occupier and the occupied, Eddie struggles to retain some semblance of humanity while walking a fine line between resistance and collaboration. However, his greatest challenge possibly lies in overcoming his own inner struggle in asking what justice is when the notion of justice itself becomes as dangerous, blurred and confused as the times. The first book in the series, The Unwanted Dead, is published by Orion and comes out in paperback on 18 March 2021.

Chris is also the author of the Elisenda Domènech crime series, published by Canelo, featuring a police officer with the devolved Catalan police force.