It was all a dream…..

Creatives have long held that some of their best ideas come to them in dreams.

After all, one of my favourite short film ideas (I’m also a scriptwriter) came to me in a fevered dream, although it has yet to be filmed. Perhaps because it was so wacky? (Read on till the end when I’ll tell you what my crazy idea was!)  🙂

So, the other week, out of nowhere I had a dream about my 4th DC Dominic Strider crime novel. Yes, the one I’m halfway through writing. The one based in the historic surroundings of Chester Cathedral. The one with the evil opera singer. Called ‘Till The Fat Lady Sings’.

The plot already centres on antiques fraud. Strider investigates the suspicious death (later confirmed as murder) of the Cathedral Verger. This leads him to discover that the Verger was part of a nationwide scam to steal antiques from every venue the opera singer performs at. Strider works with the Met Police’s Antiques Squad (yes, they actually have one) to follow the singer down to Covent Garden for the final confrontation.

So with that buried in my subconscious, and the thought already rattling around my head that the plot needed a little extra ‘something’ to spice things up, I had this dream….

Strider hears that the fraudsters want to find and steal the most amazing treasure from the Cathedral – the mythical Cheshire Cross of Christ. Legend has it the Cross is hidden somewhere within the Cathedral’s ancient walls, but no-one has ever been able to find it. The crooks start following the clues – like a treasure hunt – to unearth this priceless jewel-encrusted gold effigy.

Playing them at their own game, Strider follows the clues himself, outsmarts the villains, and manages to (eventually) uncover this hidden treasure. It was such a terrific idea (even if I say so myself) that I immediately awoke, leapt out of bed – OK, crawled out of the bed – and grabbed a notepad to scribble it down.

The idea will now be incorporated slowly and surely into the second half of the novel, and I’m presently working out the best way to do that. But what a terrific way to jazz up an already-exciting crime novel.

I just hope my subconscious mind will now rustle up some more tremendous plots while I’m asleep – and maybe even help me find a literary agent into the bargain.

All I need is a name, beamed into my brain. Just one name of an agent who’ll get my books and love the concept of DC Strider. Not that I’ll tell him where I get my ideas from, of course…..  🙂

 

NB My fever dream many years ago, which ended up as an (as yet unfilmed) short film script saw four middle-aged friends reuniting in a country pub after several years. After a lot of laddish banter and much catching up with each others’ lives, one reveals he has terminal cancer.

He then asks the other three to help him with his dying wish: to shock people in the most outrageous way possible. It ends with him hand-gliding over the countryside stark naked – to the open-mouthed surprise of the locals!

It was meant to be heartwarming and life-affirming, as well as very fumy. I pictured Ian McShane (Lovejoy himself!) as the dying man. Sadly, to date, it’s never been made for the screen. The crowd-funding campaign to get this made starts here!! 😀

 

 

Picture perfect

It was wonderful to visit Chester in Easter week, returning to those hallowed grounds I trod all those years ago when I was a local journalist and resident in the city. These are also, of course, the grounds being currently trod by Detective Constable Dominic Strider of Chester CID, hero of my four (and counting!) detective thriller novels.

I took the opportunity of the bright, sunny weather on one of those days to carry out a long, enjoyable self-guided history tour of the Cathedral (it has opened up its quadrangle garden and water feature to the public, and has redeveloped its outer gardens and built a falconry centre in its grounds).

I also explored the City Walls around the Cathedral and revisited the four main shopping streets lined with the glorious Black & White Tudor buildings which form part of The Rows – a unique two-tiered medieval shopping complex that’s the only one of its kind in the world.

I took photos of all these glorious locations, which I present to you today in this blog. They add to the rich tapestry I hope I’ve been weaving over these past months – and are a visual treat for the eyes.

With each step, I was able to point out different locations used in my books to my wife. As my fourth novel, Till the Fat Lady Sings, is actually set in and around the Cathedral anyway, this was perfect timing. So I showed my wife the Verger’s house where he is killed; the back door to the Cathedral where the killer sneaks him in, in order to dump his body; where the car bombing will take place, and such like.

The Cathedral also played a small but important role in my very first DC Strider novel, as one of the benches in its courtyard is where Strider starts falling in love with visiting New York journalist Kate Laughton, who becomes the love of his life! He later shows her round the Cathedral when he gives her a tour of the city, though that’s just mentioned in passing.

Having these real-life locations in my mind when writing my books really helps bring the story evocatively to life. Especially as they are told in the first-person, so everything that Strider sees, touches and senses, I already have done so myself!

So it was superb to be back there, in my home town, back on familiar turf and walking the very steps, paths and passageways that Strider is treading.

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I HEART Chester!!

It was Valentine’s Day this week, and it’s cemented in my mind how one of the loves of my life is actually…. something that’s not even living! Well, not in the usual sense!

I first fell in love with Chester when I was in my late teens, having visited for the day  with my aunt. Walking under the archway of the magnificent Eastgate Clock, taking me from Foregate Street to Eastgate Street, a sudden shiver went down my spine.

I was home!!! 🙂

That was the bizarre yet joyous feeling I had, that somehow this city would play an important part of my life. And so it would come to pass…..

I wrote many of the first drafts of my debut crime novel No More Lonely Nights while living elsewhere. I relied on an A-Z street map purchased from Chester’s local tourist information office to find the best locations for the story: Rowlands Heights flats in Newtown where the body is found; Bridge Street for the jewellery robbery; a pub by the canal, the Blacon estate, the MP’s house in Upton and the old police station.

I finally moved to Chester in the summer of 1995, having completed my year-long journalism course, and started work immediately at the Chester Chronicle as a general reporter, as well as police, courts and health correspondent.

My love affair with my adopted home city continued over the years, as Chester played host to numerous important life events. It’s where I met my first girlfriend, where I met and married my wife, and where we got our first house, in Handbridge overlooking the River Dee.

We moved down to London in November 2009 for work and social reasons, and consider ourselves fully-fledged Londoners now, albeit Northerners in London!

However, we still have family in Chester and relish visiting them a couple of times a year as we get to see the old town once more. As former residents, we see the place with fresh eyes and can be very critical about new buildings, closed businesses, and other changes we don’t agree with.

But I wouldn’t miss these visits for the world. My three other books – Long & Winding Road, written while still living in Chester; Strider Begins: Road to Nowhere and Till The Fat Lady Sings, both written in London – are all set there. My main character, DS Dominic Strider, works for Chester CID. He’s Chester through-and-through!

As much as I love my new home in London, and it IS a fantastic city with a wealth of opportunity, Chester is and will remain my first love. Well, when we’re talking cities of course. Other types of love are a whole new topic in itself!!!!

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Scouting your locations

Happy New Year everyone!

For my first blog about my novels of 2018…. I’m gonna have to wind the clock back a whole month. And yes, I will have to mention the C-word – unavoidably! 🙂

In early December, I returned to my old home of Chester for a week. It is of course the very city in which my crime novels are based, and the stomping ground of my lead character Detective Constable Dominic Strider of Chester CID.

I was there to see family and celebrate my birthday (I turned 36 once again!!!). The weather was dry and crisp: perfect for taking long leisurely walks around the historic shopping streets and ancient City Walls.

My wife and I also dropped into the gorgeous medieval Chester Cathedral to see the annual Christmas Tree Festival (told you I had to use the C-word – Christmas!!)

I’m halfway through writing my fourth novel – Till The Fat Lady Sings. It’s set in and around the Cathedral, and focuses on an evil opera singer who’s holding a concert there, and who brings a wake of death, destruction and thievery with her. And if you think I’m giving the game away here, just consider this book as a Columbo-esque mystery. It’s not so much WHODUNNIT but HOW they’re caught!

This seemed an ideal opportunity to visit some of the locations I use in the book, to walk down the cold flagstones in the quadrangle that Strider will walk down, to check out all the little characterful nooks, crannies and hidden rooms, and gaze in awe at the architectural majesty of the building’s inner sanctum.

It truly is a superb building and totally worth a visit. It confirmed in my mind that I’d chosen the perfect location to focus this fourth story on (the Cathedral received mere passing mentions in my previous books).

And it proves once again the importance of always visiting real-life locations you’re writing about, if you can. It gives your writing the pervading air of authenticity and – hopefully – has the power to transport readers there.

If I can evoke the feeling that you’re actually there inside the Cathedral – seeing what Strider sees, hearing what he hears and feeling what he feels – then I’ll have done my job and done it well! 🙂

 

Stop and start writing

Today (Friday 24 November) is my last day in work before a well-deserved fortnight’s holiday. And will I be resting? Heck no! 🙂

Next week I have earmarked for more work on my fourth Detective Constable Dominic Strider novel, ‘Till the Fat Lady Sings’, about the evil opera singer. And if you think the title gives the ending away, just think of this novel as a Columbo-esque mystery. Not so much whodunnit but how’s Strider gonna solve it??

The problem with having a full-time day job (in government communications) is that I have little spare time left for my books. Weeknights sometimes are OK to do a chapter. Weekends much better – you can blast through a good few of them.

But taking annual leave is, to me, still be very best way to do it. I can devote a specific amount of time to the story, settle down in complete silence, undisturbed by anyone else (my wife will be at work then), and blast through it.

I was fortunate enough to have loads of annual leave accruing this year; so much in fact that it was actually one of my job’s objectives for 2017 to get rid of it all!! What an objective to have to meet, eh??  🙂

So I took the first two weeks in October off and made a cracking start on the novel. I’m now 15 chapters in, so about half way.

This is especially a good achievement in my eyes as the opening chapter took me many weeks to get right. It’s set at Chester Races and had originally been a one-off action scene, never to be mentioned again afterwards. It’s now been changed so it’s the start of a sub-plot which runs throughout the novel till the very end. This of course requires new chapters to accommodate it.

I also deviated massively off my initial chapter plan in order to prolong the murder investigation, introduce new characters, new scenarios and new clues, and create from scratch a romance for Strider with one of the main witnesses.

Over the next week, I plan to take the writing very slowly and carefully, and not rush to the end. This is a marathon, not a sprint. So I fully anticipate reaching the 2/3 point of the book, where Strider pursues the villain down to London to finally prove her guilt and apprehend her.

It will be an intense week, but it will artistically fulfilling, and I know I’ll have fun too seeing where the characters take me next. After all, it’s ‘their’ story. Who knows where we’ll end up this time next week?? 🙂

Chester

In two weeks time I will be visiting Chester itself – the setting for my DC Strider crime novels.

Please look out for further pictures of this beautifully historic city and details of a new video blog I’m planning, about my intense efforts to find a literary agent for my work.

 

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