Crime writers are weird folk – I know, I am one! I’m often asked how I come up with hard-boiled story ideas and I always give the same response: I have an evil mind. Apparently, I look like someone who should be writing romance, so this answer tends to make people laugh (sometimes), shuffle away nervously (more often), or ask my partner how he sleeps at night (the most frequent). The knowledge that I know more ways to kill people and cover up the crime than the average woman doesn’t help him to a restful night. I think he’s worried I might one day help him to a permanent rest.
This fear was reinforced when I tried to record dialogue in the middle of the night. I often wake with the words of characters ringing in my head, but find I’ve lost the vibrancy of the voices by the time morning comes. Rather than switch the light on and wake him, I thought I’d be considerate and whisper the conversation between my killer and his victim into my phone to replay the next day.
I was well into my stride when the light suddenly went on. “What on earth are you doing?” he demanded. “Have you any idea how creepy it is to wake up to hear you threaten to cut off body parts and fry them?” “But I was whispering,” I said, annoyed that he hadn’t appreciated my consideration. “And that was supposed to make it better?” he asked, switching the light off again with more force than I thought necessary.
Chris is one of the few people I know who has no ambition to appear in one of my D.I. Sterling books. Unlike some family members, local traders and neighbours, who have begged for their names to be used. My nephew’s wife, Dianne, is a petite, attractive blonde with a lovely sunny personality, perfect for a heroine, but the moment I said yes to using her name, she floored me by asking if she could be a prostitute!
My local butcher wants to feature as a drug lord, while his apprentice says I should use his name for a rent boy. When I told the young lad I thought he had the perfect name for my next murderer he was overjoyed.
George, who lives next door, says he’d like to be a con artist and rip off the vulnerable. Josie, his wife, would rather be a modern-day Bonnie, but doesn’t want George to feature as Clyde. “If I’m going to have a fantasy come true, I don’t want him in it,” she whispered while the poor man was in the kitchen making tea.
Apart from using real life names, I also carry out a great deal of online research to make sure my criminals’ actions are credible. I am constantly appalled at the sadistic auto fill options that come up – far more frightening than many of my own ideas. My internet history must read like an encyclopaedia of depravity. I’ve researched child abuse and people trafficking (Children in Chains), building secret dungeons (book five in the series – working title Petals of Pain), ways to torture people, how to kill with bare hands, what degree of pain people can survive, and what would happen if someone peeled skin from a victim layer by layer.
The best research, though, comes when I am able to ask questions of experts. I was in a hospital waiting room one day, having walked past the sign for the morgue, when I wondered if it was possible to kill by injecting someone with embalming fluid. Fortunately, I knew a doctor who would be able to answer that question – sadly, the answer was no because it would have to go in the femoral artery and that wasn’t feasible if the person was still alive.
“What about warfarin?” I asked the lovely man I call Doctor Death. No go there either, because it has to be taken orally and I needed something to inject for the killer in book three, Injections of Insanity. Doctor Death came to my rescue. “The easiest injectable drug for a murderer would be insulin. It’s difficult to spot unless the forensic pathologist is specifically looking for it in overdose and you can buy it on the internet.”
I told my partner about it and said I’d have to make sure my killer drew attention to what he’d used because he wanted the police to know what he was doing. When I followed this up with insulin being almost impossible to detect and easy to acquire, he looked terrified. “Stop being such a wimp,” I said. “If I was going to murder you, I wouldn’t tell you in advance about the method I’d use.” For some reason that didn’t put his mind at rest. He shook his head and said I needed professional help. I don’t think he means the Doctor Death kind!
Oh well, I did say at the start of this that crime writers are weird folk. I guess I fit right in.