Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Sharing a Head With Fiona Griffiths

Today’s guest blog is by Harry Bingham,  an ex-City trader who has worked for major British, American and Japanese firms but who now writes full-time.  He has written a number of novels prior to Talking to the Dead including two financial thrillers. Talking to the Dead is the first in a series of police procedurals featuring Detective Constable  Fiona Griffiths of the South Wales Police. 

I get home sometime after two. I walk up to my front door with kitten heels and ammo boxes in one hand, gun in the other.  For the first time in what feels like an eternity, I don’t feel frightened at all.”

I have been writing for my living for more than ten years now. Fiction, non-fiction, how-to books. Anything that pays the heating bills. And I love writing. I don’t think of it as work, but more like fell walking: arduous at times, but my goodness how rewarding!

But when I came to write Talking to the Dead, I found myself so completely possessed by my character that I – literally – dreamed her story. I don’t mean I had one flash of inspiration. The inspiration took perhaps two years to come together. Rather, I mean that as I wrote the book, I found myself dreaming each night the scene I would write the next day. Since plotting is usually a challenging process for me, I wrote this book at light speed: about two months, start to finish. (There was plenty of editing after that, of course: it’s the first draft I’m talking about here.)

Even now, I find it hard to explain to people why my character – a young detective constable, Fiona Griffiths – is so compelling to me. Indeed, part of the problem is that I can’t say much about either her or the book at all. Obviously all crime novels have a whodunit at their heart. And obviously, there are plenty of flawed, maverick detectives with troubled pasts. Only Talking to the Dead is two mystery stories in one. There’s the whodunit? And then there’s the whotheheckisthisdetective? Fiona Griffiths (who narrates the story) has a LOT of secrets and she isn’t particularly keen to share them with the reader.

Indeed, my US publisher suggested that I do a little fact sheet about Fiona on my blog. I did it, but a typical chunk of it reads like this:

Occupation: Detective Constable, South Wales Police

Interests: murder & anything relating to murder
Nationality: Welsh
Relationship status: single
Height: About 5' 2"
Hair colour: dark
Eye colour: don't know

You don't know her eye colour?  Well, sorry, no I don't. I'm just her author.  I write down whatever she does, says or thinks. But she hasn't yet made a big deal about her eyes, so I don't know what colour they are.  She might look something like the photo but she might not. I only know what she tells me. Any case, why are you concerned about her eyes?  There are WAY bigger issues to worry about.
Like what? Well, her health for one thing.
Health status: OK, this is where it starts to get complicated. She's technically fine.  No health issues at all. Only, you know, she was ill for a couple of years as a teenager, and those things leave their scars.
Nature of illness: Yeah, OK, I know the answer to that, but Fiona doesn't talk about it much.  In fact, she's never told anyone at all.  So, sorry, but I can't
really say.  It's kind of weird though.
Family background: Two parents, two sisters, the whole family is united, loving, alive and well. Only ...
Yes? Well, her Dad.  What he does for a living.  What he used to do.
Which is? And was? Shucks, sorry.  Can't say.  It's another one of those areas where Fiona's a little bit less than open.

And the thing is, Fiona is a very strange person indeed.  Lisbeth Salander famously comes over as a bit of a disturbed young woman.  Yet while Fiona presents a bit more normal on the whole, if it came to a weirdness competition, Fiona would win hands down.  (I also think she’d win a fight, by the way.  I’d certainly pay to see one.)  I should also say that the particular form of Fiona’s oddness isn’t something I’ve made up.  The condition genuinely exists and it is much, much weirder than anything you could invent. Who needs fiction when you’ve got reality?

I’ve said all this and I realise that I haven’t told you much about the book at all. Well, here goes. A young woman and occasional drug-user is found dead in a Cardiff squat.  Her young daughter lies dead beside her, her skull smashed in by a large belfast sink. Fiona Griffiths is part of the investigative team, but she’s also working on another, apparently routine, case, which starts to intersect disturbingly with this one.  Oh, and although I said the book has two mysteries embedded inside it, there are actually three. The last one explodes out at you in the final chapter and you won’t have seen it coming.  And if you guess the secret to the whotheheckisthisdetective?  Mystery – well, I’ll send you a personal message of congratulations.  But you won’t.  The twist is so strange (yet true), it’s unguessable.

The book was published last week and it’s already getting lovely reviews on Amazon.  Unsurprisingly, those reviews tend to focus hard on Fiona herself. Although (I hope!) I’ve dealt with the crimey aspects of the novel with proper professionalism, the book is ultimately memorable because of its protagonist.  As one lovely Amazon reviewer commented, ‘This is the most compelling and unusual crime novel I've read in a very long time (and I read a LOT). I felt like Fiona Griffiths was talking to me, too. I almost didn't care about the crime; such was the pull of her personality.’

Well – I hope you do care about the crime (Fiona does), but mostly I hope that Fiona invades your head as she invaded mine. She’s not a particularly easy house-sitter, if I’m honest.  She’s not one to follow rules.  She’s a little prone to violence.  She has some naughty habits and she can be hopelessly unpredictable. But will you like her?  I hope so. Me: I love her.

Harry Bingham is the author of Talking to the Dead, available on Amazon here. He also runs The Writers’ Workshop, a consultancy for new writers.

No comments: