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Writing a Crime Novel

Genre fiction has to meet certain reader expectations, but can this make the stories formulaic? We chat to debut author Richard Leatherdale about writing a crime novel. What does it take to finally get it done?

Writing a crime novel:

“The initial challenge was getting it out of my head and onto the paper. A blank word document is a daunting thing.”

Author Richard Leatherdale after writing a crime novel

Writing a Crime novel: Richard with his book In The Shadow of the Stump

Writing a crime novel: the book

Is In The Shadow of the Stump your first book? And can you tell us a bit about it?

Yes it is. It’s a murder mystery set in Lincolnshire in 1904. A young detective is sent to the fenland town of Boston to solve the gruesome murder of a local housemaid whose mutilated body is found at the foot of a church tower.

What was the driving force behind writing a crime novel?

I wanted to write a book set in my hometown. I also love books by PG Wodehouse and Jerome K Jerome so wanted to write it in that time period. Writing a crime novel on the one hand is a rather simple formula but on the other hand it’s very challenging. You have to engage the audience and keep them interested constantly.

I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone. I’d never written crime before but have always enjoyed reading it and wanted to add my voice to the genre.

Do you think writing a crime novel is different to other genres? Do you follow a specific formula?

In some ways it’s easier – there are prescribed characters and situations. You need a victim, an investigator and a murderer. You need a crime scene and a motive. But within that, you can have great fun making it into a compelling read. I find it challenging but stimulating to work within the traditional constraints. I try to come up with something original.

Free form fiction can be about anything, but crime audiences have certain expectations that you must deliver for them to enjoy it. I didn’t have a formula as such, I just knew I wanted a few red herrings and, most importantly, to give the reader all the tools and information for them to solve it but also keep them guessing.

With a crime, the audience plays detective – I don’t like crime books that introduce all the new information before the denouement so the audience have no way of guessing the outcome. I want to give the reader all the information they need to solve it. They just have to figure out what’s relevant and what’s not. That’s what I look for in crime.

What were your biggest obstacles, both in terms of writing and producing your book?

The initial challenge was getting it out of my head and onto the paper. A blank word document is a daunting thing. And then it was finding the time to dedicate to it, especially after becoming a father.

I found that to keep myself motivated, I’d always stop writing before a climax so that I had to go back to carry on – I couldn’t relax until I’d opened up the document and found out what was happening next. The biggest challenge was knowing when to stop but also making sure I filled in all the plot holes.

Production wise, it’s been great fun. The next challenge will be the sales and marketing, which I’ve never felt very comfortable with.

Writing a crime novel: self-publishing

“Self-publishing gave me the control to make it how I wanted.”

Why did you decide to self-publish the novel? How have you found the process?

I tried a few publishers and agents but to no avail. I left it alone for a while and then came back to it. After that reflection time, I reread it and actually really enjoyed it. I wanted to make it available and so I decided self-publishing gave me the control to make it how I wanted.

I’m an experienced publisher so the challenge of publishing my own work was one I really wanted to take. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the process. From the off, Hannah and the TJ staff have been really supportive and made what seemed like somewhat of an aspiration become a reality. It’s been a genuine pleasure identifying with TJ INK the shape my book will take.

Writing a crime novel: the end result

What advice would you give to people looking to write their own book?

I would say, just go for it! Get words down on paper and make a start. Don’t just think about your idea, write it down in words. You can always re-edit, but you need something to work with first.

 Do you plan on writing more books?

Yes, it’s been such an enjoyable process I’d love to see more of my stories in print.

And finally, what would be your desert island book?

It would have to be something big to keep me going – maybe The Count of Monte Cristo. Although my favourite book when I was a teenager was The Beach, which seems quite apt. However, something a bit lighter might be appropriate. Thinking about it, I would take the complete PG Wodehouse compendium, but with Three Men in a Boat slipped in.


If you would like to learn more about Richard’s book, pop over to his website to discover the story.

And if you’re writing a crime novel why not see where it could take you? Get in touch to ask any question big or small.