Writing Crime Mysteries: Guest Blog by Christina James


Well, I’m honoured indeed to have been asked to Lisette’s Writers’ Chateau, where the dishy gardener is only too keen to show me his beds. Lisette also has a Bentley: he has the most amazing eyes and barks a formidable welcome, whilst Le Chat, the resident feline, takes her eau with delicacy and purrs as if I’ve been a lifelong friend. The châtelaine herself, of course, presides over all guests with the genteel refinement of the hostess of a superior literary salon, but then, you knew that!

She has asked me to talk about my writing of crime mysteries and I hope that what I have to say will be of interest to all visitors to the Chateau.

First, may I say that there are horses for courses and crime novels for crime addicts; I’ve read enough gruesome gore and nasty noir to confirm me in my belief that there is a limit to how much of that I and others can take and I set out to write for an audience which, like myself, prefers depiction of the psychology of the criminal mind to the painting of horror and the painstaking attention to police procedures. I wanted to develop character and use dialogue to point up the interest of interactions between people and, most of all, I sought to avoid stereotyping both detectives and villains.

In the world of my books, things are not cut and dried, nor necessarily tidily rounded off with everything sorted and satisfying. Life just isn’t like that. In a series, there are definitely some aspects that will be pursued in subsequent stories, but I still aim to make the books stand alone and have their own individuality, regardless of the presence of the same police personnel. So, readers of DI Yates know that I’ve used first person as well as third person narratives in two of the books, whilst in the other I’ve ‘got inside’ the head of one central character. I’ve also depicted different kinds of people to provide at least a sense of the human tapestry of the society of South Lincolnshire. As for the police themselves, I like to focus on different members of Tim Yates’ team; it’s interesting that Juliet has an enthusiastic following amongst my readership, some of whom were disappointed that I did not develop her much in the first novel, In the Family. Sausage Hall may go some way to address that.

Sausage Hall

I’m often asked about how I plot my books and this is a matter of huge importance to me, as my early unpublished work definitely needed the rigour of tight plotting. I try to fit plot design into our annual holiday, when I can escape from the interruptions, non-stop emails and telephone calls that my work-a-day existence always throws up. I have to spend time on clear thinking and working out how the layers of action will be interleaved and how to prevent the reader from guessing the outcome too soon. I’ve said many times that I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to writing, as, so far, I haven’t written chronologically and that has meant it’s all been much harder to control the detail and the connections. However, I’m always very much aware of the total concept, to deviate from which would of necessity mean significant changes to the entire narrative.


Readers seem to like my use of language and to enjoy the dialogue, so I try to include plenty of that, enjoying the cut and thrust of conversation, especially when I can create humour in the relationships between the police officers, for I know that what one reader has described as ‘zesty banter’ is often the way by which those hard-pressed men and women cope with the stresses of their jobs. Character voice is always important and quite a challenge when it is to be sustained from one book to the next – I’m acutely aware that readers pick up on inconsistencies and I have to revisit previous stories to check up on my accuracy.

I can’t avoid giving my work what some readers have remarked on as a ‘literary’ quality. As long as it doesn’t lead me into dense passages of purple prose, my style does lend itself to touches of irony, subtleties of meaning and elements of theme and symbol that help to tie the narrative together. I don’t want to have the sequence of events dictate the terms of the books, for events themselves, though of course important, are not my prime concern.


I’ve been delighted to have built up an enthusiastic following. I started out as an author and, although most people now know that I am the commissioning crime editor for Salt Publishing, I wanted to be read for my writing alone, not because I might be ‘useful’! For one thing, I think it’s vital that an editor has credibility; after all, making judgements on others’ work is difficult enough as everyone is sensitive to criticism. Having myself ‘been through’ the harsh experiences of those who try to get published is very helpful in handling difficult moments with authors… and there are plenty of those. I also wanted to establish relationships with virtual friends on the social networks as a writer, not an editor, and I’m so lucky to have formed many of those with people around the world. They are an enduring and reliable support; I enjoy interacting with them and doing my best with what time allows to support them in their writing endeavours. I’m thrilled when they achieve success. And my blog is my writer’s showcase; I aim to make every post as perfect as I can, as well as to convey aspects of my own character and opinions. Though I’ve never said this before, there’s a reference on the blog’s author page to those see-through police boards that appear on TV crime programmes and I set out from the beginning to provide over the entirety of the posts little clues to me and my real life that regular readers could, if they bothered to do so, use to form a complete picture of Linda Bennett, as well as Christina James.






Amazon Author Page (U.K.)

Amazon Author Page (U.S.)

Salt Publishing

Chat with Christina James (original writers’ chateau interview)

Email: christina.james.writer@gmail.com


AnnSwannAnn lives in West Texas with her handsome hubby and three rescue pets.  All For Love is Ann’s first Contemporary Romance novel.  She is the author of the Middle Grade/Young Adult books: The Phantom Pilot, and The Phantom Student.  She is hard at work on Book Three, The Phantom of Crybaby Bridge. Though published by a small press, The Phantom Series is currently available only through the author.

Time to chat with Ann!

What is your latest book?

My latest is a contemporary romance/family drama called All For Love. It’s the story of a woman who will do anything for the man of her dreams. Even after she discovers that he just may be the worst thing that ever happened to her. It was published by 5 Prince Publishing.


What else have you written?

I’ve also written The Phantom Pilot, and The Phantom Student. These two books are part of a series for Middle Grade/Young Adult readers. I recently reacquired the rights from the company who first published them. Now, I am trying to decide whether to go with another small press, or simply publish them myself. At this time, they are available only through me. I’m almost finished with the third book in the series, The Phantom of Crybaby Bridge. When it is finished, I will have to decide how I want them to be republished.

How often do your characters surprise you by doing or saying something totally unexpected?

My characters do surprise me sometimes. I love it when that happens!

Is it important for you to know the ending of a book before you write it? The title?

Yes! I have to know the ending or I get completely bogged down. I think I just have to have that goal to work toward. Titles are actually the fun part.

Some writers edit excessively as they write; others wait until a novel is finished to do the bulk of the editing. How about you?

I write as much in the rough draft as I can, but when I start anew each day, I usually go back and edit some things just to get my brain back on track. It sort of jump-starts my thinking.

Do you have any advice for first-time authors?

Pay attention to your point-of-view from the very beginning. I have a lovely novel in my “ugh” file that needs to be completely rewritten because I thought I could do 3rd person omniscient. Come to find out, I can’t. In my version, it simply devolved into whiplash-inducing head-hopping.

Can you tell us about your road to publication?

I’ve always loved making up characters. I took a fiction elective in high school, and I was hooked. In college, I won a few short-story contests and that gave me the confidence to enter other contests. Locally, I won quite a few (plus one in The Alfred Hitchcock Magazine).  Then I met an editor through my writer’s group, and she steered me toward small press publishing.

What do you like best about the books you read? What do you like least?

All I will say is that life is too short to read bad fiction. If it doesn’t grab me within the first few pages, I put it down and move on.

Do you allow others to read your work in progress, or do you keep it a secret until you’ve finished your first draft? Can you elaborate?

I do allow my critique group to read it, especially things I’m not sure about. They give awesome feedback.

Do you write anything besides novels? Care to share?

I write short stories and dabble in poetry (doesn’t everyone?). You can read a couple of each on my blog. I also tried my hand at self-pubbing a short story, Chems. It’s the tale of a chemically altered soldier who was given some of the characteristics of a zombie. I love that story, but I think it needs a better cover. I also don’t promote it like I should. It was sort of an experiment on my part.

Do you dread writing a synopsis for your novel as much as most writers do? Do you think writing a synopsis is inherently evil? Why?

I used to dread it. Then someone told me about this One-Sentence Pitch that made it so much easier. Once you fill in these blanks, then you can write the synopsis.

My novel is about ________ who must ________ in order to___


Where do you live now? If you had to move to another city/state/country, where might that be?

I live in West Texas alongside coyotes, rattlesnakes, and scorpions.

If I could afford to live anywhere in the world, I would choose a beach house on a bluff somewhere in the good old USA. In fact, I love Texas, but I wouldn’t mind a vacation home for eight or ten months a year.

What’s the coolest surprise you’ve ever had?

My husband surprised me on my birthday once by renting our entire community pool for the party—we lived in a small town at the time—and inviting everyone we knew. And somehow, he kept it all a secret!

What are the most important traits you look for in a friend?

Acceptance and an open pocketbook. Er, I meant to say an open mind!

Care to brag about your family?

Yes I would! My dear hubby is very supportive—he is my backbone. And my lovely daughter is also an author. She writes under the name Sara Barnard. You can find her work on the 5 Prince website, too.

If you could have one skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be?

I would love to have the gift of gab. I am terrible at socializing.

What makes you angry?

Abuse of innocents—human or animal.


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Amazon Author Page



Email Ann at: swannann76@yahoo.com