Guest Post: Tammy Cohen on Writing Crime (and Dying For Christmas Giveaway! x3)

Monday 24 November 2014

I recently read and loved Dying for Christmas, it was gripping, absolutely twisted and just a really thrilling read. Thanks to Transworld I have three copies to giveaway along with an exclusive guest post from Tammy Cohen about writing crime (which is very funny and original so give it a read!)

You can read my review of Dying for Christmas here and good luck if you enter!

Tammy Cohen on Writing Crime

“What kind of books do you write?”
     Until recently that ranked as my third least favourite author question (behind ‘have you written anything I’ve heard of?’ and ‘Why haven’t any of your books been made into films?’). Because the fact is, I never knew how to answer it. My first three books - The Mistress’s Revenge, The War of the Wives and Someone Else’s Wedding – are about the dark side of relationships and family dynamics with a bit of psychological suspense and the odd thriller-type twist thrown in as well. Oh, and a bit of infidelity and bigamy. See what I mean? It doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.
     My fourth book The Broken is slightly easier to pigeonhole. Psychological thriller, I say when asked. But the truth is it could also be dark family drama or psychological suspense meets social commentary meets relationships meltdown meets… well, you get the picture.
     So when my editor at Transworld asked if I’d be interested in writing a crime novel, I bit her hand off – well not literally as that really would have been biting the hand that feeds me. Crime. A proper genre. At last. Now I’d be able to do all those things that proper genre writers did – sit on panels, join associations, go to conventions. WEAR BADGES! Plus it’s a genre I absolutely love and read a lot. So, win-win!
     What I hadn’t quite anticipated was that writing in a new genre would require learning a new set of rules. More things happen in crime novels, and the things that happen tend to be more dramatic. It’s not about nuance and internal monologue, it’s about one action leading onto the next and the next, each one a surprise. This requires detailed plotting, which is something I hadn’t really done before. I bought lots of different coloured pens, and post it pads (I’d read other writers talking about using post its to plot out scenes, but in the end I just used them for doodling and scrawling ‘need biscuits’ notes to my family).
     So the pace was different. That was the first thing. But far trickier for me, was the idea of getting used to a certain degree of suspension of disbelief. When I’d been writing my first four books, which were about how people react in times of personal crisis, I spent a lot of time asking myself ‘is this emotionally credible?’ ‘is this how I would behave, or my friends?’. With crime, you’re already, by its very nature, dealing with situations that are outside of the norm. So you’re not looking at how most people would act or feel. What you’re actually looking at is how one, necessarily warped, individual might act. You’re not asking ‘is this likely to happen?’, you’re asking ‘could this ever happen?’ And that took a long time to sink in. Sometimes I’d be writing a scene in Dying For Christmas and I’d think ‘but this is preposterous’. Then I’d look at the newspaper and read about some of the bizarre, twisted or downright sick things people do to each other, and I’d think: ‘no it isn’t’.


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