Turning a Crime into a Story

A few years ago, I attended a crime writers conference where one of the speakers told us true crime stories were less interesting than crime fiction.

Although true crime stories hold a certain fascination for some – there will always be people who want to know all the gory details about who was having sex with whom and how that led to murder or whatever – the point the speaker was making was that, in the main, most real crime is committed for very banal reasons by fairly stupid people. A straight retelling of such stories generally does not make for a good reading experience.

So, what’s a crime writer to do with all that true crime material the world delivers each day? 

You select a crime and turn it into a story using your imagination. You rewrite the boring bits into a story with a few unexpected twists. You transform the fairly stupid people into interesting characters and give them some less banal motivations for their criminal activities. And, you add in the dimension of seeing it through the eyes of the investigators, which allows the story to unfold and draw you into sorting out the mystery of how the crime came into being.

Let’s consider an example from the Stella Bruno Investigates series: A Gun of Many Parts. This story is based on the facts of a true crime committed in Australia.

The basic facts of the crime are:

A man fired a pistol in a suburban street after an argument with a woman and drove off in his car.

The incident was reported to police, along with the registration number of the car of the shooter.

The police pulled over the car and discovered the driver in possession of a Glock pistol, a prohibited import in Australia.

The shooter wouldn’t divulge details of how he’d come into possession of the pistol.

At this point, we’re dealing with a crime committed for a banal reason – an argument – and a stupid act by someone smart enough to keep his mouth shut. But the story took a twist when the police examined the pistol – the three main components of the Glock had different serial numbers.

To most of us, that little fact doesn’t mean much, but to a police ballistics expert it was a red flag, because when a Glock leaves the factory in Austria, those component have the same serial number.

This led to the uncovering of another crime, one committed by three men with a brilliant idea that unravelled thanks to the stupid act of one of their customers, their own lack of foresight, and meticulous record keeping by Glock.

So, what did I do with those facts? First, I shifted the scene of the crime into South Australia, where Stella Bruno does her thing. Then, I invented the characters I needed and wove their story around the bare bones of the real crime.

You can see how it turned out in A Gun of Many Parts.

A World of Ideas to Keep a Crime Writer Busy

Crime writers will not have to worry about a lack of source material for their story ideas any time soon.

Now that the pandemic and the protests are slipping down in the news headlines, we’re seeing the normal run of everyday crimes getting some media attention again.

Despite the lockdown, we still seem to be murdering each other and stealing other people’s stuff, while our political and corporate leaders continue playing their corrupt power games. 

While most of us have been happily surfing the web to distract ourselves from or to follow the pandemic and protests, several state actors have been actively engaged in cybercrime, espionage, and the dissemination of false information across social media. And, that’s without mentioning the antics of that man in the White House.

There are story ideas everywhere you look. 

Guess I’ll be writing a few more books like the Stella Bruno Investigates story I’m currently working on.

Books to read while social distancing

If you’re looking for something to read while staying at home, I’ve written a few books you might want to consider.

Looking for some crime fiction? Check out my Inspector West and Stella Bruno Investigates series.

How about a few ideas on Living Alone?

Or maybe you want to brush up on a few skills while you have the time. Check out my Everyday Business Skills series.

Thinking about writing a book? Take a look at Field Notes for Writers.

Maybe you’re looking for something light and contemporary. The New Girlfriend might be just what you need.

Perhaps you’ve reached that point where you need something a little more introspective, something a little more deep and meaningful. I’ve got a selection of books from my writings as a Mystic that might be just what you need.

None of them will cost you much. They’re all reasonably priced.

Reading The East Park Syndicate

The East Park Syndicate, like any good murder mystery, starts with the discovery of a body. In this case, the body of the mayor of East Park – businessman and political insider – Doug Clarke. 

The story is driven by several questions:

  • Who killed Doug Clarke?
  • Why was he killed?
  • Will Inspector West and his team solve the mystery and arrest the killer?

As you’d expect, I’ve also thrown in a few curveballs to make solving the crime just that little bit more of a challenge for Carl West and his team.

Continue reading “Reading The East Park Syndicate”

Writing Mystical Journey

The initial working title for this book, when it was still an idea, was Field Notes for Pilgrims. At that stage, I thought I’d be taking a similar approach to sharing information as I’d followed in Field Notes for Writers. 

But, as the idea transformed into the book and the content started to fall into place, the title morphed into A Mystic’s Toolkit before finally becoming Mystical Journey: A Handbook for Modern Mystics.

By the time I’d finished writing, the book was more than a collection of tools for modern mystics. It told the story of how I became a mystic and explained how being a modern mystic was different to how mystics were in the past. That required a few reflections and a modern definition for the mystical journey.

When I first started looking into mysticism, I was under the misapprehension that mysticism was a special kind of calling to devote your life to God. That’s how the ancients saw it, and they often removed themselves from the world and retired into seclusion in monasteries, ashrams or the hills.

Continue reading “Writing Mystical Journey”

Reading Twisted Justice

There are times when it feels like taking the law into your own hands is the only option you have for obtaining justice. Fortunately, most of us resist the temptation to act on that impulse and put our trust in the justice system. Sometimes, though, people take the other option.

The opening story in Twisted Justice explores what happens when Trent Mitchell takes that option and administers the justice the system refused to give him. 

I’m sure very few people take that option lightly, and Trent is no different. He’s agonised over his decision for years but there are only so many sleepless nights and tormented dreams a man can endure.

Continue reading “Reading Twisted Justice”

Computers and Crime

Have you noticed that every time a device comes along to make life easier someone always finds a way to us it against us? 

Electronic banking was supposed to make moving money around easier and more secure. Now there’s more theft – and it’s not only money they’re stealing. Although, ultimately, it’s always money they’re after. It might not be your money but it could be your identity they want to use to get someone else’s money.

Relax. It’s not my intention to deter you from shopping online. There are plenty of safeguards in place. You know the drill – keep your internet security software up to date, shop on secure sites, and don’t click on links or open attachments from suspicious emails.

What I want to share, from a crime writing perspective, is an insight into the impact of computers on police work – an entry from the other side of the ledger.

Continue reading “Computers and Crime”

Reading Whistleblower

Whistleblower: someone who informs on a person or organisation engaging in unlawful or immoral acts. 

We hear about the more sensational whistleblowers, like Edward Snowden, who take their stories to the media. Most public service whistleblowing is nothing like that. It’s routine and done behind closed doors far away from the media spotlight.

Whistleblower starts with the routine reporting of a suspicion that something is not quite right in the Office of State Supply. However, the whistleblower makes a mistake that alerts those involved and puts him in harm’s way.

The story explores a simple premise: the whistleblower has his own secret that leads to his death after he lifts the lid on the secret dealings of the Office of State Supply.

But, as anyone who’s read the other books in this series will know, it won’t be that simple. You will find several stories wrapped together in this tale of murder and intrigue. Continue reading “Reading Whistleblower”

Reading Holy Death

The initial thought behind the writing of Holy Death was imagining a victim of child sex abuse taking the law into his own hands and dealing out retribution, and wondering what would happen after that.

One complicating factor I decided to include was having two victims of the same perpetrator take action independently on the same night, using very different methodologies.

One takes direct action and murders the abuser priest. The other takes a more indirect approach and kills the abuser’s closest friend, another priest, hoping to inflict a sense of the loss he has suffered. Continue reading “Reading Holy Death”

Reading The Holiday

The Holiday came from me wondering what would happen if an old man and a young boy took off for the weekend without telling anyone, in the hope that their action would bring the boy’s parents back together, and then everything goes wrong.

To help things go wrong, I gave the old man, Kieran Moore, a dark history that puts his great-grandson, Toby, in danger through being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kieran gets killed. Toby gets kidnapped because he’s a kid and Kieran’s killers can’t bring themselves to kill a ten-year-old boy. This storyline ultimately leads to Clare’s story, which we will come back to in a minute.

Continue reading “Reading The Holiday”