Plenty of crime reporters become genre writers, perhaps because they get to see the effects of crime and violence on a day-to-day basis. Kevin Murray worked on The Star, Johannesburg’s biggest daily newspaper, and became Chief Crime Reporter in what was considered to be the crime capital of the world.
Since then, his varied career has spanned magazine publishing, public relations and strategic communications, and he’s written two bestselling business books on leadership. Kevin’s novel Blood Of The Rose is available from Urbane Publications, so check that out.
Kevin gives us the lowdown on journalism, his writing process and one spectacular month of Crime…
Tell us about Blood Of The Rose…
Having started my career as a crime reporter, and having been passionate about reading crime novels all my life, I had long dreamed of writing my own thriller. But, how could you write something different? That was what drove me – the search for a new and different angle on a page turning thriller, when I had read so many brilliant crime stories from true masters of the genre.
One night, driving home from work, I wondered how you would tell a story that enabled a reader to be in the mind of a killer, but without knowing who he was. I had already been trying to think of a plot that involved forensic crime detection, when a breakthrough thought struck me. If you were able to read excerpts from a killer’s diary, interspersed with the narrative, how would that work? That is the construct of Blood of the Rose. You get to know what the killer is thinking and planning, through his diary, but you still have to try and work out who he is. His own dreadful back story unfolds in the diary and compels his actions throughout the main narrative. Both his own story and the main plot have terrifying conclusions. But I’ll say no more…
Blood Of The Rose features investigative journalist Jennifer Chapman – why do journalists often make such compelling protagonists?
Like police detectives, journalists are trying to discover the truth, albeit without the same tools and powers of the police. They are often rebellious, brave, and driven – all of which attributes make for interesting characters. In the case of Jennifer, she is even more driven than normal, because one of the victims is her own father. Any mystery novel is about a search for the truth, and my idea was about how two different philosophies – that of journalists and the police – would clash or aid each other if in pursuit of the same truth, Especially where one persons desire for the truth was even more overwhelming than normal.
There tend to be less journalist heroes and heroines, these days — why have journalists fallen out of favour with crime writers, do you think?
I’m not sure they have fallen out of favour with writers – there are plenty of TV series involving journalists, such as House of Cards, or The Newsroom – but perhaps so with crime writers. I am thinking about using a journalist as the main character in my next novel – unless Detective Alan Winters become so popular I’m asked to write a sequel to Blood of the Rose…
In real life perhaps, but I can see all sorts of interesting dimensions to fiction that would involve journalists and the police in light of all of these scandals. Modern social media has often been behind these scandals and hasbrought about the advent of what is called citizen journalists. You could see some terrific plot elements involving the use of social media to uncover crimes and secrets.
While working in Johannesburg, you once achieved a record of more than 30 consecutive days of front-page crime stories, including an aircraft hijacking, several murders, numerous armed robberies and drug-related gang wars. It must have been like attending crime writing finishing school…
I have kept many of the newspaper clippings of the stories I wrote during my time as a crime reporter, and even today I still find it hard to believe that some of those stories actually happened. All of them have potential for novels, though some of them would seem a little far-fetched if you were to try and write them as a crime story. They often say the truth is stranger than fiction, and I saw more than my fair share of that as a crime reporter.
Take us through a typical writing day for you?
I really don’t have a typical writing day – most of my writing is done at night. This is because I still hold down a day job, and have to indulge my passion for writing outside of normal office hours. I have recently also written two management books on leadership and communication, both of which became bestsellers and are now being translated into languages around the world. Very different, I know, but all of them took absolute discipline to complete.
No matter what, I would always sit down and around 8 o’clock and write until midnight to get the book out of my head and onto the page. Rather like a hunter proudly brings back food for his family, I would proudly bring my wife whatever pages I had managed to complete that night and we would devour them together before going to sleep.
What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?
I work really hard to keep my writing style from getting in the way of telling the story. I was trained to keep it simple as a journalist, and that is still in my blood. I see myself as a storyteller, not a writer. My whole design, even in my management books, was to try to keep the reader turning the pages. The best feedback I have been getting on Blood of the Rose is that it kept people up at night! I love that they found themselves unable to put the book down until they had managed to read all the way to the shattering conclusion.
How do you deal with feedback?
I welcome it, both good and bad. The good feedback fuels my desire to keep writing, and the bad opens my eyes to mistakes but I won’t make again if I can help it. Sometimes you get bad feedback that is just plain nasty, and I’m able to laugh at it. But when readers have genuine points to make, I know there are bothering because they care, and I try to give them a darn good listening to.
Who are the authors you admire, and why?
Many. I am a voracious reader, especially on holiday, but I really do tend to concentrate on crime thrillers. Everything from South African crime writer Deon Meyer, to Lee Child, Michael Connelly and John Grisham. I love them all.
Give me some advice about writing…
All my life I dreamt of writing a book and walking into a bookstore one day to find my offering on a shelf, on the top shelf where the bestselling books are kept. I’ve been a writer now for more than 40 years, and it is only in the last three years that my works have been published and made it onto the shelves. I now often talk with people who tell me about the book they are planning. I give them all the same advice: “Sit down and write it. The only difference between you and me is that I sat down and wrote mine. You probably have more talent than me and your stories could do much better than mine. But you’ll never get there if you don’t sit down and write.
When you are writing, don’t allow the search for perfection to bog you down. Get the story out – all of it.You can polish it and edit it later, but don’t slow yourself up by trying to make every sentence perfect. That will happen after you’ve got your story on to a page. That search for perfection, sentence by sentence, could result In your book suffering and dying in translation from head to paper.
What’s next for you?
At the moment I am busy with two book projects. I have a third leadership book underway. And I am one chapter into a next novel. Which one gets finished first will depend on what deadlines my publishers give me. And then there’s also the day job…