Tuesday, 1 April 2014


Plotting. Planning. Researching. This must be how a lot of criminals are caught. Because it wasn't until I'd done a fair amount of prep work on a crime of my own that I noticed just how incriminating my actions were. And the murder I had in mind wasn't even a real one.

I'd been mulling over some ideas for a new novella. The subject had come up during a meeting at Hodder, and my initial thought was to use one of the novel concepts I'd been making notes on for a while. But the more I considered this, the less suitable it seemed. My books always seem to give a lot of narrative (sometimes most of it) to the villain. This is okay for a full-length novel, where there's enough time to develop satisfying emotional links with multiple protagonists, but in a shorter story I felt it could prove difficult to connect with my detective and another principle character. I needed to come up with something different.

So I got a new idea. And, because I always try to base my stories in reality wherever possible, I started doing my research. As usual, there was plenty to do – articles to read, things to check on Google, a day in Bristol to walk the routes and visit the scenes…

…and that's when I started to get that eerie, uncomfortable feeling. Much of what I was doing was what my villain might do in preparation for their crime. If a real investigation were launched, my own internet history would have left an obvious digital trail for the police to follow. My movements around the city would have been extremely suspicious, and I'm sure I must have been caught loitering on any number of CCTV cameras. I could just imagine a grey-haired solicitor peering at me over his glasses and sighing, "I believe you, Mr McNeill, but I'm afraid it doesn't look good."

Of course, I'm not a criminal. But I couldn't help wondering, how long would it be before circumstances aligned to drop some poor writer in it? How long before some unhappy coincidence led to an author being detained by the police for a real crime, similar to the one they were researching? In that position, how would you counter the dreadful burden of circumstantial evidence?

I suppose you just have to make sure you always have an alibi… and maybe write a blog-post like this one, to undermine the prosecution's case!

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