Thank you to Rachel from Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to participate in the blog tour for Coldharbour, written by British author John Mead. I’ve always been fascinated by the process authors come up with their intriguing plots and they research they do to make their police procedurals both gripping and realistic. Today John has kindly agreed to offer us a fascinating insight into his writing process.
Guest post by John Mead
Looking for Inspiration: Themes, Plots and Characters.
I have no doubt there are as many ways to obtain inspiration, the spark that will give life to a new book, as there are authors. There are those who will undertake meticulous research: into demographics and trends in book sales, then, having gleaned a topic from this, further research to develop a plot and characters that will, hopefully, bring about a best seller. And then there are those who just jump in and start typing, and hope for the best, inspiration coming piecemeal or having been fully formed from the outset. In practice either can work. However, for myself the process is much more mundane.
Inspiration for my fist book – The Fourth Victim – in the current crime series, came from walking down Lehman Street, in Whitechapel, London. I was on my way to Wilton’s Music Hall, the oldest theatre in London, now restored and thriving. At the bottom of the street, almost under the railway viaduct, is the Jack the Ripper museum. Inevitably I started to think how the area had changed over the years and what a modern day Ripper would be like – perhaps Jack would be a Jill. Given, at the time, I was head of a unit supporting the educational needs of children unable to attend school as the result of physical and mental health issues, it wasn’t surprising that my thoughts also turned to the killer’s mental state. From those twin themes the plot and characters evolved.
I also learned, having bogged myself down in one or two dead ends, that it is always worth drawing up a brief outline before starting and, most importantly, being prepared to deviate from said plan. Perhaps more accurately it would be better to say the plan should be flexible and allow for adjustments. I soon discovered, when writing, that I am one of those authors whose characters take on a life of their own, so I constantly tweak things. Inevitably, therefore, my initial plan is very sketchy, a sentence or two on the contents of each chapter, just enough to convince me I have enough for a book and a plot that works.
By the end of the first book I knew I wanted to create a series, to continue using the main characters, to develop these further and to add a couple of new ones. Unfortunately I didn’t have a theme. For me the theme is what gives rise to the crime or crimes that my police team will investigate, and this creates the plot. The characters then interact, their actions allow the plot to change and develop, so usually the ending is different from what I thought it would be at the start. For my second book I wanted a different sort of crime story, a theme not normally considered. Inspiration came from two sources: Twitter and the BBC. On Twitter I noticed a post featuring an old black and white clip about drag artists performing in East End pubs, it rang a bell, I’d seen the original TV documentary as a youth. How things had changed I thought, or had they? A day or so later I watched a short BBC drama about two men, one young and one old, trying to come to grips with the fact they were cross-dressers. Motivations, sexuality and gender were all touched upon. My interest peaked, further online research, and Geraldine was born.
I now had a process and style that allowed me to continue the series, but I still needed inspiration for a third book. As with the first it came from a location. It came whilst visiting a bird sanctuary in Rainham, down on the Thames Estuary. As a boy I had played in Rainham Marshes – a desolate, wind swept place – ideal for dumping a body. However, a quick look at Google maps showed me that the marshes had been tamed and now container depots dotted its cheap to buy land. Containers made me think of smuggling and trafficking and out of this Coldharbour was born. Ironically, as the book was being published so a container full of dead Vietnamese migrants was discovered at a depot in Rainham. A terrible event that made the headlines but unfortunately, I knew from the research I’d undertaken, this was only one small part of a continuing global tragedy.
There is a fourth book in the pipeline, Skeletons, expected to be out later in the year. With three books preceding it, inspiration came from digging up Matthew Merry’s past.
The Met Police’s Major Investigation Team East has its hands full: a rash of tit for tat gang related stabbings, a strangled housewife, the decomposed remains of a woman found in a ditch and more to come. Adding to their woes is their boss, Chief Inspector Matthew Merry, being distracted by his problems at home.
For Matthew’s wife, Kathy, her only concern is dealing with the aftermath of being drugged and raped by a co-worker. Will the trial of the man responsible be enough to give her the justice she demands. Or, as her therapist states, is it revenge she really desires. She doesn’t know. As her emotions see-saw from elation to depression, her only certainty is that her husband seems more concerned about his work than her.
And Matthew is only too aware of his failings both at home and work. But the police machine grinds on, seeking information and sifting evidence — justice is not their concern.
John was born in the mid-fifties in Dagenham, London, on part of the largest council estate ever built, and was the first pupil from his local secondary modern school to attend university. He has now taken early retirement to write, having spent the first part of his life working in education and the public sector. He was the director of a college, a senior school inspector for a local authority, and was head of a unit for young people with physical and mental health needs. When he is not travelling, going to the theatre or the pub, he writes.
John is currently working on a seies of novels set in modern day London. These police procedurals examine the darker side of modern life in the East End of the city
Thank you to John for his fascinating post! Have a wonderful Sunday and Happy Reading!