Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Cast of The Reckless Engineer Celebrates Christmas the Year Before

The cast of The Reckless Engineer celebrates Christmas the year before while a storm is brewing that would explode less than ten months later.

Jac Wright, Author, The Reckless Engineer
Jeremy clutched his steering wheel in anger mixed with a kind of ache that had not lessened after all these months. He had pulled over outside Maggie’s house, having driven all the way to Southampton from London to surprise her, a wrapped present of diamond studded anklets forlorn on the seat next to him. Maggie had gorgeous feet with long French manicured toes and he had longed to latch the anklets around them. That, however, was Gregory’s SUV in her driveway.  Jeremy had been sure that Maggie and he were back together for good when she had driven over to his flat in London Kensington and stayed three nights with him just last week. The sex had been so intimate, powerful, and he had poured his heart out to her about his worries about his new company. Radio Silicon’s had finished its first engineering contract a month ago and, try as he might, Jeremy had not been able to land another one in this recession. He needed her now.  How could she be with him and then sleep with Gregory only a few days later as if she and he had never happened?
        He couldn’t go home to Mother. He had told his parents that he was spending Christmas with Maggie. They loved Maggie and were so proud of her, and he had never told them that she had broken up and moved out.
        He thought for a moment and pressed the fast-dial button on his mobile. ‘Hey, Harry. I’m coming over for Christmas after all. You still have a place open around your dinner table?’
        Thank god for Harry, his best friend––as far as Jeremy was concerned, almost his brother. Growing up on the same street together, Jeremy had defended Harry from the playground bullies through their school years and Harry had bailed him out of all the trouble he got into during their university days together at Stanford. With another glance at Maggie’s house, which sent something like an acidic lump burning its way from the back of his throat through his heart down to his gut, Jeremy put his car back into gear. The Fortnum & Mason hamper and the bottle of champagne on his back seat would go to Christmas dinner with him at Harry’s place.
* * *
        The Family was gathered in the Sitting Room of the McAllen mansion in Aberdeen. After a hearty Christmas dinner they were now enjoying an assortment of deserts in the Sitting Room. It was eerie how much this room reflected the Sitting Room in his own house in Guildford, Jack thought; but then Caitlin and Douglas McAllen had directed the designs and the build of that part of their house and Caitlin had wanted her own little bit of Scotland right in the heart of Hampshire.
        The men were in tartan kilts, a variation derived from the tartan of the MacAlister clan the family descended from. Douglas McAllen always insisted on it. Jack felt ridiculous in the skirt, but he would dare not show anything but enthusiasm to anyone in “The Family” even though he always privately complained about it to Caitlin (which she would answer by asking him to stop being so cross all the time). That morning he had had to follow the McAllen men and join a long procession of nearly fifty Scottish clans for a slow march around Aberdeen to the wail of bagpipes after which they had been served steaming bowls of soup and bread at the church-hall. He had to admit he had felt something primal and exhilarating about all that male tribal energy in the hall after the march, and the buttered bread soaked in the soup had tasted so good.
        Gillian was helping little one-year-old Kristie unwarp the presents around the brightly lit Christmas tree while the toddler’s proud parents, Ronnie and Elise, and grandma Leanna looked on, laughing and applauding. McAllen briefly stopped the discussion with Jack on the electromagnetic telemetry tool for detecting oil and gas reservoirs that was on Jack’s planning table at the McAllen Blackgold offices down south to look on at his granddaughters with a proud benevolent smile. Jack could sense he had McAllen all excited about this device, but why the hell the he kept probing him about the electro-mechanical details that only an electrical engineer could understand Jack didn't know.  Well, he had got used to humouring the old man, keeping his impatience in check.  Jack followed McAllen's gaze and glanced around the room. The McAllen women were all in tartan skirts but for Caitlin who had had a pair of trousers made out of her family tartan. Caitlin always liked to wear the trousers.
        A splash, splash of water drew Jack’s attention to the pool outside the large French patio doors.  As usual Peter had tagged along up to Scotland with everybody and, as usual, he was swimming his evening laps outside in the heated swimming pool. As he had promised Marianne, Jack would fly down to Portsmouth with Peter tomorrow morning, leaving the rest of his family behind, and have Boxing Day dinner with his own kids, Peter and Mark, and his mother at Marianne’s.
        A text vibrated the Blackberry in Jack’s hand. There wasn’t even a pocket to keep his phone in this bloody costume. Jesus, it was Michelle with one of those “sextexts” as she called them. It had been six months since he had got involved with Michelle and now he wanted out. He had broken up with her just before Christmas. A sudden tremor of fear ran through him like a chill. She had thrown a tantrum and threatened to tell Caitlin all about the affair, and here she was invading this respectable family scene with a brash, explicit message that had a hint of a threat in it. He had better stop by her house and pacify her before driving over to Marianne’s. Jack knew what pacifying her meant––wild, clothes tearing, sweat pouring, neck biting, back scraping, loud groaning sex. Jack took in a deep breath, puffed out his cheeks, and blew out the air slowly as if he were blowing into a bowl of hot butternut squash soup with bits of bacon in it.


Read more on THE RECKLESS ENGINEER, Jac Wright's much loved and highly reviewed classic mystery and legal thriller set in London and the beautiful coastal towns of South England and Scotland on Amazon.com.


Thursday, 19 December 2013

How To Go About Creating a Mystery & Suspense Book

In a previous post I discussed how to manage the tension in the 2 main underlying storylines in creating a series of suspense fiction.  In this post I shall try to discuss the stages one goes through in creating a Mystery and Suspense book.

Generally, for me, the core idea of the story for a book comes inextricably interwoven with the main characters in the story in a moment of sudden inspiration.  The story is very powerful when this happens.  I think for this to happen you have to be a long time reader of crime fiction and viewer of crime fiction on television and in the film media.  I have been a classics reader and a crime reader and viewer from early childhood because of the influence of my parents––my mother is an addicted reader of the classics, and my father not only reads crime fiction, but also got me addicted to crime production series like Tales of the Unexpected (based on Roald Dahl’s fiction), Perry Mason (Earle Stanley Gardner’s fiction), Mission Impossible (the TV series), and adventure series like MacGyver as a child.  I have read a lot of Agatha Christies among other crime writers I admire such as Patricia Highsmith, Benjamin Black, Ian Rankin, and Micahel Connelly.  It is never too late to start reading the leading mystery and suspense writers you admire––in fact I believe it is essential to be a voracious reader.  This acclimatizes you into thinking in Suspense subconsciously and increases the chance that a great plot idea will arise from somewhere at the back of your mind when you least expect it.

For example, I woke up late on a warm summer day last June with an image of a fugitive escaping and running away from an overturned van transporting him to court from prison that had met with an accident. Prisoners wear normal clothing in England, not orange jumpsuits, and they are not in chains.  He runs into the crowds and a bus parked behind a mall to hide among the people only to find that it is a film set.  The actor playing a main character of the movie and the director are having a fight. The actor suddenly punches the director in the face who falls backward. My protagonist fugitive hiding among the supporting film crew catches him and breaks the fall.  The director gets up, wipes the blood off his nose, fires the main actor loudly, and asks him to get out of his movie set.  He turns to my protagonist and asks: ‘You there, what’s your name?’  ‘Art Miller,’ he gives a fake name.  ‘Art, you are playing Michael Fallon. His trailer is yours now. Go with my crew and get dressed.’  And there I have the plot, the main characters, and the first chapter of my standalone book to come, In Plain Sight.

The core plot idea for The Reckless Engineer was derived as a complementary plot from the idea for The Closet that came to me in a moment of sudden inspiration––an image of my protagonist trapped in a closet overhearing the one he loves intensely saying things that break his heart.  The Closet is about the troubles my protagonist gets into because he acts blinded by passionate love for the female.  In it I am right inside my protagonist’s head, telling the reader how it feels for him––the joys, the angst, and the fears––from his point of view using a very close third person limited POV.  While thinking of coming up with a plot for The Reckless Engineer, I decided to explore this same idea, but this time I would explore the impact of the actions of my protagonist blinded by passion and romantic love from the viewpoints of the people around him; i.e. his family, friends, and people at work.

Hence, when you get an inspired idea you can think of different interesting angles of exploring it.

So, when it comes to a murder mystery, someone has to die.  Why would someone be driven to kill another person?  It has been said that the most common motive for murder is love, or rather the loss of it––many are crimes of passion.  Apparently the next most prolific motive is to prevent loss of wealth or to gain wealth.  A third common motive is self-preservation or preservation of some aspect of one’s lifestyle when one has done something seriously illegal or wrong and another person knows about it.  A fourth is for revenge for some great wrong someone has done; or to escape it if the wrongdoing is ongoing.

Great.  So we have a protagonist who is involved in a love affair blinded by romantic love. We immediately have his family around him who will have motives to kill the female for his love.  We make our protagonist very rich and there we have the motive for people around him to kill for the wealth involved.  We make our victim involved in doing some great wrong to some other characters and there they have motives to kill her for revenge or to escape this wrongdoing.  Hence, once you have the main plot idea, you build (generally 4 to 7) characters around the core characters and create a conflict each of the other characters is involved in with your victim. Along with a motive and a conflict you give each of your main characters an overriding psychology and keep each one true to his or her psychology, letting them then drive the story forward from the initial seed idea.

At this stage it helps to have studied drama and plays for the scene setting because each book is fifty or more dramatic scenes.  It also helps with your prose to have studied poetry.

Then we get down to how the victim is going to be killed.  It has been said that poison was Agatha Christie’s preferred technique, but one could have the victim pushed from a great height, suffocated while sleeping, strangled, bludgeoned with a fatal blow, drowned etc.  Since I was writing a story about electronics engineers I knew about the problem of potassium cyanide toxicity in the potassium auro cyanide (Auro or Au is the chemical name and sign for gold respectively) gold electroplating process used in electronics.  I had to do some research from this point on to actually find day-to-day used chemicals from which poisonous cyanide can be synthesised in order to give all my suspects (not just the electronics engineers) the means of accessing this murder weapon of choice.  You can replace the gold (Auro) in the compound with iron (Ferro) to have a very similar reaction with potassium ferrocynide, which is used as a normal fertilizer, and therefore I now had a murder weapon accessible to all my suspects.  (You can read a little more about this on Wikipedia.)

Then you have to select which one of the suspects you are going to make the culprit and think about how the culprit would go about concealing his or her crime.  However, he or she must make some mistakes and leave some discreet clues for our hero, the amateur sleuth, and our readers to find.

The above takes care of the Mystery or the Whodunnit, which is an intellectual process––that of detecting and analysing the clues and evidence and arriving at the clever conclusion of who did the deed.  You drive your reader through piquing his or her intellectual curiosity to uncover the crime.

Suspense, however, is an emotional process and you have to get your reader emotionally involved or the story is not strong enough.  You have to draw your reader in and get them emotionally involved with your characters––make your reader ache for your characters, anxious for them, fear for them, love and feel protective of them, or even hate some of them.  You raise the tension through the story primarily by making your reader anxious and fear for a core set of your characters while hating a few others.  At the end you relieve your readers’ anxiety and fear sustained through the book by delivering the good characters you make them love to safety and happiness.  You relieve the hatred and aversion you build for your bad characters by punishing the wrongdoers in some way.  And that I believe is what makes great Suspense Fiction.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Tension & Storylines in Writing a Series of Suspense Fiction

Writing a series of full-length suspense fiction is somewhat different from writing a standalone book. There are two storylines and two sets of characters that one needs to develop.

First you have the story of your particular book, which I shall call “the episode storyline.” In The Reckless Engineer this is Jack Connor’s story and the story about the murder. The main characters of this episode story are Jack Connor and the four beautiful but very different women that are in his life––his wife Caitlin McAllen, his ex-wife Marianne Connor, his ex-girlfriend Sally Trotter, and his latest but newly murdered squeeze, Michelle Williams.  Jack’s powerful father-in-law Douglas McAllen, his brother-in-law Ronnie McAllen, his two sons, his step-daughter, and his manager, Allan Walters, are all characters that belong to the Episode Storyline.

One needs to start the book at a point of significant tension in the Episode Storyline and develop the tension steadily and rapidly, weaving in the background information at strategic points. One also develops the Episode characters rapidly and forcefully in the foreground, with bold introductory paragraphs, such that the conflicts between them add to the mounting tension and suspense.

While this is going on, there is a series storyline that one cannot ignore. This storyline has a series lead who, in the case of a mystery, is one’s amateur sleuth, and he has some recurring characters in his life. Generally there is a sidekick or a partner.  In The Reckless Engineer series our lead Jeremy Stone has a sidekick, Otter, who will be developed further in this role in the next book. In this episode, his partner is the criminal defence attorney, Harry Stavers, who duals expertly with the police, the prosecution, and the media hounding his clients and leads the defence of the case in Crown Court while Jeremy blends in with the Episode characters and gets down to the business of solving the mystery of “who dunnit.”  There is also a second partner, Stephen Barratt, who is introduced at the very end of the story ready to be brought forth in the next book in the series.

Jac Wright, Author, British, Mystery, Legal, Thriller, Suspense, The Reckless Engineer

We introduce and develop the Series characters gently in the background throughout the story.  Their characters are revealed in discussion with the Episode characters gradually.  Jeremy, the Series lead, also has a personal life with characters Maggie Harris and Annie Wren in it. Their story develops on the slow boil on the back burner, ready to come to the foreground and play out in the next books in the series.

The Episode storyline starts at a high point of tension, rapidly develops, climaxes at the few paragraphs near the end, and drops to a satisfying ending of zero tension.  In the meantime the Series storyline develops with slowly mounting tension, peaks, and then drops a little to a level of intermediate tension at a level a little higher than at the start, ready to rise in tension again with the next book.

The two storylines, Episode and Series stories, merge where characters from the Episode storyline, if any, join the Series storyline as recurring characters in the future books. Whether and how this happens the reader would need to read The Reckless Engineer and find out.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Writing a Legal Thriller Set in the English Courts

Jac Wright, Author, British, Mystery, Legal, Thriller, Suspense, The Reckless Engineer
A Crown Court Courtroom
The Reckless Engineer is as much a legal thriller of a case through the English criminal courts as a traditional murder mystery. I thought this was fitting because the lawyers get involved the moment a suspect is taken into custody. The police get 48 hours to either charge the suspect or release him. To hold the suspect in custody for longer they must present their case to a Magistrate and get a court order showing good cause.

There are two criminal courts in the English system: the Magistrates’ Court and the Crown Court. All criminal cases start in the lower Magistrates’ Court, which continues to hear the cases of smaller crimes carrying community service or shorter custodial sentences. The cases in the Magistrates Court are usually heard by a less senior officer called a Magistrate. This lower court will pass on the hearings of more serious crimes carrying longer custodial sentences and generally requiring a jury over to the Crown Court.

Writing a legal thriller through the English courts is, however, a daunting task to take on. There are no legal thrillers set in the British courts that I am aware of.  I have read Earl Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason series in my late teens, but these stories are set in an American court. Even most of John Grisham’s cases are based in civil litigation. Michael Connelly's The Lincoln Lawyer series is the strongest contemporary criminal litigation stories I know. I decided to base no part of my book on past literature, not only because there were no past thrillers I could find based in English courts, but also because I wanted this work to be real, contemporary, and original. I decided to write it from real experience of the English courts system.


Fortunately I have a close friend who is a barrister to help me with my legal research and in whose image I have cast Harry Stavers. I followed my friend and his solicitors through months of criminal litigation, from the initial arrest and interview of suspects at police stations through to criminal appeals in the high court. I have spent many a day sitting in a courtroom, absorbing the environment and the proceedings. The rigorous and solemn Crown court hearings are a grand affair with wigged and cloaked judges and court officers.  I have also spent many hours reading my friend’s legal books searching for the right procedures and real case histories.

Behind the calm and solemn proceedings, the police station and the courtroom is arena of fierce duelling and battle. The police lie, the prosecutors lie; the witnesses and the lawyers lie at times. Unfortunately, the rich and the powerful do get away with crimes  or get light sentences while the poor get treated harshly unfairly in the British courts. I decided, however, not to explore that in the book. I decided to make the court system equally just and tough for the rich and poor alike in The Reckless Engineer.

Jac Wright, Author, British, Mystery, Legal, Thriller, Suspense, The Reckless EngineerThe result is something unique––a traditional murder mystery closely woven together with a realistic and contemporary legal thriller through the English courts.  We therefore fittingly have an English Magistrates’ courtroom in the cover art.


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