Fact versus fantasy

by | Sep 2, 2022 | Newsletter

Last week I went to an event at the Auckland Writers Festival – a fantastic annual event that attracts national and international stars –  to listen to three Kiwi writers speak. All three are either serving or ex-police officers. Of course due to their experience they know the ins and outs of a murder investigation. A strong theme was authors getting their facts straight in books. These guys admitted if they read a detective/police-centered book where the author got procedure wrong they were willing, perhaps, to ignore one mistake, but frustration set in if there were several inconsistencies.

I started writing a contemporary novel with a character who is a detective about six years ago,and have worked on it in between the Hennessey novels. The other day, when I learned a detective would be assigned to a specific part of the investigation, not go to the scene of the crime, then the morgue, then interview witnesses – unlike what TV regularly shows as normal –  I thought, ‘I have an enormous amount of revision to do!’ Strangely I was energised, not traumatised by the amount of work that will involve.

Do inconsistencies bother you? I remember reading a book where the protagonist took the afternoon train from the east coast to the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. At that time we’d have been lucky to have one train taking that particular route daily, let alone two. I had a bit of a laugh then moved on. Then there’s the TV programs where the detective and their offsider arrive at a murder scene and maybe don a pair of gloves, but that is the limit to protective gear that stops them contaminating the scene.

If the story is a good one, do we tend to forgive straying from the facts more readily?

The stray/wild cat named Tennessee (after Tennessee Williams) currently residing in our garage. I was reading a Fred Vargas book to him. I think he enjoyed it.
P.S. There is a very strong suspicion around the place he will not be a ‘stray’ for long.

Did you know . . .

  • Charles Darwin was born on the same day as Abraham Lincoln: February 12th, 1809.
  • In 1862, Jack Slade and his wife Virginia built a new station for the Overland Trail in Northern Colorado where, when his bad deeds caught up with him, Jack was hanged. Virginia collected his body, took it home to their ranch, pickled him (in alcohol) and put him under her bed. You couldn’t make this stuff up! Several months later she transported Jack in his pickled state to Salt Lake City, where he is buried.
  • 1888, north of Priest River (Idaho), a prospector called Zak Stoneman was headed to civilisation to cash up his haul of gold. Disaster struck when his three mules died after eating a poisonous plant, so he buried his cache and went on his way. On returning to collect the large stash, the poor sod couldn’t find the location (and never did).

Take care and happy reading,

P.S. Feel free to send a message. I’d love to hear from you.

On my bedside table at the moment is Nightcrawling, by Leila Mottley.

The threat of a rent increase hangs over her head, so, with her mother in a halfway house and expecting no help from her useless brother, seventeen-year-old Kiara Johnson has no choice but to work the streets. One night she is approached by police and offered a deal – be a witness at a grand jury trial to help expose corruption within the police department in return for her freedom. But by doing so Kiara conceivably opens her family to retaliation and places everyone she loves in danger.

I am only a little way into this story, but can see why this debut novel has already been long-listed for the Man Booker, its twenty-year-old author the youngest person to do so.

Leila Mottley

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”

Isaac Asimonv

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