On Friday we reviewed Isabelle Grey’s first novel to feature DS Grace Fisher. Good Girls Don’t Die is the first of a projected series about Grace and her colleagues in the Murder Investigation Team in Colchester, and I do believe we liked it very much.
Isabelle is an experienced television writer — her credits include Accused, The Bill and Midsomer Murders — and when she was given the opportunity to start a new procedural series, she found herself facing a whole new set of challenges.
I’m thrilled to say that Isabelle has written a guest post for Crime Thriller Fella about her experience of creating a new series from scratch:
If I’d been asked to consider writing a series of crime novels a few years back, before I’d written two stand-alone novels, I probably would have declined. Not out of ingratitude but because I didn’t think I’d be up to it. Too many words! Too many descriptions of places and clothes and what people look like! Writing for television has its own challenges, but I had become accustomed to location managers, production, costume and hair & make-up designers, and of course actors, doing all that stuff, so I’d never had to consider how to go about create, maintain people and an entire world.
I’ve written dozens of crime dramas for television, so coming up with dramatic plots and suspense hooks is not the problem. And the way in which TV – Happy Valley, Line of Duty, True Detective – has been re-inventing series drama is incredibly exciting; the opportunity my publisher, Quercus, has given me to create my own series in fiction is a real adventure.
However, I admit that my first two novels were a steep learning curve in writing character. Although writing novels of psychological suspense gave me the chance to go inside my characters’ heads in a way that a script never can, I initially forgot that I wouldn’t have a charismatic or much-loved actor to play the roles. But I learned quickly from my readers that, in fiction, I had to make my protagonist much more fundamentally appealing, admirable and redeemable than I necessarily would in a screenplay, and I kept this lesson firmly in mind when creating Grace Fisher, the central character of my new crime series.
She’s got to be a clever detective. She’s got to be that little bit different, to stand slightly apart from her colleagues. She – like any noir hero – has to be wounded in some way. And she’s a woman, which means she’s not actually a noir hero at all.
I was helped by my best friend from far-off school days – the school to which, as we did not forget, Emmeline Pankhurst had sent her daughters. My friend said simply that Grace Fisher had to be a High School girl. And, with that, Grace became someone I recognised. Not a role for an actor to play, but one of the women I grew up with, someone who isn’t me – a distance that’s vital – but with whom I share traits, a woman who is vulnerable but has been taught nevertheless to get on with it and do the best she can – a fine attitude, but one about which I feel an occasional ambivalence.
The next question became what kind of rocks was I going to throw at her? What kind of world would Grace have to react to and accommodate? I already knew that I wanted to write about the relationship between the police and the media in a major murder enquiry, about shame and exposure and double standards, so I needed a crime story that would dramatize those ideas. Because I believe that all crime stories essentially reflect current concerns and unease, I didn’t have to look far to find some really interesting rocks to throw, rocks that might make even a High School girl twist in the wind.
If any one of the characters is ‘me’, then it’s the tabloid crime reporter, Ivo Sweatman. I gave him my own romantic early love of Fleet Street, which meant that, however despicable his methods or his past, he can’t be all bad. The more I enjoy writing him, the worse he can behave. And not only does the reader get to see Grace through his eyes, but so do I, which enabled me to view her and her world in a way I then found easier to describe.
Now, writing the second book in the series, it’s a joy to bring these familiar people into a new situation and chuck a fresh set of rocks that they will find hard to dodge. Rocks that, I hope, will hurt their hearts and souls. And, finally, I’m now also getting the hang of how very different writing fiction is to writing screenplays: I realise that, in fiction, I also have to articulate the work of an actor playing the part and interpreting the role.
I now have even more respect for actors.
Good Girls Don’t Die, the first in a series of crime novels featuring detective Grace Fisher, is published by Quercus.