Undertaking research for a crime thriller: some useful tips

I am joined on my blog today by crime thriller suspense author, Helen Christmas, who is going to share some fascinating stories about some of the research she has undertaken for her decade-spanning series ‘Same Face Different Place.’ Following on from her first article, on the Chindi Authors website, where she described her journeys into research for Books 1 and 2, let’s hear about the time when she started Book 3 ‘Pleasures’, and things started to get really exciting… 

helen-arundel

Helen explains: “By the time I started writing ‘Pleasures’ the gloves were off. Readers of the early books were familiar with Eleanor, (heroine of the series) and knew who the bad guys were. Simply put, ‘Pleasures’ is a race against time to gather the evidence Eleanor needs to bring her arch enemy to justice, whilst protecting her loved ones from harm. Approaching the decade of the 90s, the younger generation are growing up fast, about to be swept into a culture of raves and designer drugs, where danger is imminent.

“I remember this era and was well into the music. I never went to a rave but there was plenty about them in the news, so this is where my research began. I wanted to depict my setting and to capture the environment of a rave.  No better place than YouTube to do just that. I found loads of useful stuff, including video footage of a rave, not just the music, but the fashion, haircuts and the dancing. There was a very interesting movie that displayed the fliers for the raves too, lots of computer generated art and fractals, which I loved.

YouTube

“But at the same time, I needed to delve deeper into the crime mystery of this series and was lucky enough to secure an afternoon with Andy Kille, (Ops Controller of Sussex Police for thirty years). Andy has advised many a crime writer, including Peter James. Being a friend of his wife, Marion, (author of the dark and gripping ‘Suburban Mystery’ series) I was extremely thankful to get his advice. Talking to him for an afternoon gave me a better insight into police procedures, forensics, linking a bullet to a crime and last of all, court procedures (from conviction to life on a remand wing.) He even suggested that given the nature of the murder trial in my story, it would most likely be held at the Old Bailey.

“Delighted with the notes I came away with, his suggestion inspired me to visit the Old Bailey. We’ve all seen it on the TV but let me tell you, being there is very different! You can’t describe the feeling… I even listened in on a trial or two, though the details left me slightly queasy. The building features eerie Gothic architecture on the outside but has a tangible sense of menace inside.

“All this research was vital in depicting the mood behind the trial in Pleasures, as portrayed in this small extract:

A taxi cruised into the curb outside the forbidding grey walls of the Old Bailey. Eleanor shuffled into the back seat and David followed, his intention to escort her to a hotel in High Holborn.

She stole a final glance at the imposing archway where a cast iron grill protected the entrance. An Ionic column towered above – a cloaked statue crouching between the two which reminded her of the Grim Reaper and as her eyes travelled upwards, they scanned the motto: ‘Defend the Children of the Poor and Punish the Wrongdoer.’ Eleanor turned away, unable to fend off a shiver.

old bailey

 The Final Chapter 

“I am not going give anything away, but  I continued my research along a similar vein for Book 4 Retribution (now in two parts).

“For anyone considering research, I cannot emphasis enough the value of talking to people in actual professions, such as my interview with Andy Kille, of Sussex Police.

“Here is another example.  Having served in the Territorial Army (TA), I decided that one of my characters would be an army officer. The TA nearly drew me towards a military career; but my own experience was nothing like life in the regular army. After an initial enquiry to the Army Recruitment service, they put me in touch with a colonel from the Royal Engineers Regiment. A few emails later, we enjoyed a forty-five minute chat on the phone. This was so helpful. He gave me a really good understanding, from postings to living in barracks, where much of army life revolves around training exercises.

“A huge section of ‘Retribution’ also concerns a crime where a different character is left in a coma. I needed to gain a better understanding of the aftercare of coma victims and when I asked my GP, she suggested getting in touch with a neurological unit.

“This was a much harder subject to get help so I put out an appeal on Facebook. Fortunately, a researcher from The Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability in Putney got in touch and I succeeded in my request for another telephone interview. She gave me some vital facts about the care of such patients, eg, when they show signs of consciousness, auditory processing and eye movement. She even suggested a book.

“Further sleuthing on Amazon, using the same key words as the book she suggested, brought up other titles, where the novel, ‘Try Not to Breathe’, by Holly Sedan, enabled me to understand even more about the unconscious mind. Her book, a mystery suspense about a young woman left in a coma for fifteen years (and a journalist who finds a way of communicating with her, thus finding her attacker) was utterly compelling.

This is just some of the research I have been immersed in whilst writing ‘Retribution’ but there was so much more…

So in summary, here are my top five tips for research:

  • YouTube
  • visiting real places
  • interviews with people
  • telephone and internet enquiries
  • books on Amazon.

“A little detective work can go a long way but I really recommend the benefit of talking to people and get a first-hand ‘tell it like it is’ story to portray the reality.”

About the author

Helen has been writing her series of British mystery thrillers since 2011. A busy web designer (and creator of the Chindi Authors website,) Helen lives in a 17th century thatched cottage by the sea with her husband, Peter, their Border Collie and a fluffy white cat.

Helen has now completed her five book series, ‘Same Place Different Place’ and here are the links to her social networks:

 Social networks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/author.helenchristmas/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/SFDPBeginnings

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.co.uk/helenxmas/same-face-different-place-beginnings-book-1-by-hel/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/helenchristmas7/

You can read more about her research on her blog: https://samefacedifferentplace.wordpress.com/

For information about her books visit her website: https://www.samefacedifferentplace.com/

You can download her first book, ‘Beginnings’ here: http://apn.to/prod/B0078L8858 

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