Writers’ Workshop: Researching and Writing the Perfect Murder

“Researching and Writing the Perfect Murder”

On Saturday I attended a crime writing workshop in Nottingham.

The course was called “Researching and Writing the Perfect Murder”, and it was being led by Stuart Gibbon and Stephen Booth. This is a workshop the two of them do together several times throughout the year – or it is at the moment.

The workshop was being held at West Bridgford Library, which isn’t far from Trent Bridge or either of the two football grounds in Nottingham.  There’s a lovely big car park next to the library, which I thought was perfect … However, that was before I realised it would cost £20 (apx $27) to park there for the day.

Stuart Gibbon, Gib Consultancy, our course leader for the morning.

Twenty pounds.

Brief aside: Now, most town centres have free car parking on a Saturday in order to encourage more customers to visit the retailers, without whom there wouldn’t really be a town centre. I realise the Christmas market was on in West Bridgford at the time. But how does a parking fee like £20 encourage shoppers?

Anyway, back to the course, which was an early Christmas present to me from the poet. But for anyone else considering it if you see it, the fee for the course was just £40 (apx $54), which is much more reasonable than the car parking!

It started at 9:15am and finished at around 3:45pm. Tea and coffee were available in the room, but attendees could either bring their own food or buy it from across the road.

A representative from the library opened the course, welcoming us all and telling us the usual house-keeping stuff. And then Stuart Gibbon, of Gib Consultancy, gave us a crash course in what happens when a murder is discovered.

Paying attention to the speaker.

Stuart used to be a senior detective, having worked his way up the ranks. Today he’s a crime consultant for writers. He was able to refer to some real life cases to illustrate his point, but he also gave us a generic scenario to work on:

The body of a man has been found on some waste ground with a number of injuries, and a weapon has already been recovered.

A scene suit.

This was our “investigation” for the morning and, as you can imagine, we had a lot to pack into those few hours.

We were put into two different groups at first, not to do a “meet and greet”, or a “tell us one thing about one person in your group”, which I’m not overly fond of anyway, but to get us thinking and talking about the crime. Each group had a specific question to consider.

We returned to our places, and while we waited for new information to come in for our own investigation, Stuart started to explain the sequence of events and the roles and ranks of the people involved in solving the crime.

Each time some new information came in, everything stopped and we had to attend an investigation update. The suspect had been identified, the suspect had been found.

The topics we covered throughout the morning included:

Working together in groups … apart from those two at the back …

Stephen Booth, crime author, our speaker for the afternoon.

  • a generic murder investigation
  • roles and ranks of officials involved
  • the “golden hour” principle
  • securing and preserving evidence
  • the post mortem
  • the victim
  • the MIT (murder investigation team)
  • the SIO (senior investigating officer)
  • suspect enquiries
  • forensic evidence
  • Locard’s Exchange Principle
  • custody procedure
  • a crash course in acronyms
  • a real case, including video

By the end of the morning, our crime had been solved and our suspect was off to court. Great result everyone. Well done! And many thanks to Stuart Gibbon for making it all so much clearer.

After a very quick lunch break, Stephen Booth took over the platform for the afternoon session. Stephen was a newspaper and magazine journalist for many years before he turned his hand to novel-writing. In 2000, Ben Cooper and Diane Fry, with the help of Black Dog, enabled him to “give up the day job” and write full time. They changed his life. He and Cooper and Fry are all now on book 18, which may or may not have been the one that should have been in on Saturday!

Stephen kicked off with why he always starts a novel – “by the seat of his pants”, no less – with the character(s). He likes to use police officers as he personally doesn’t see why any amateur should get involved with solving a crime. He thinks the police should be left to do their jobs, and he wonders why anyone else (motorbike riding female rock DJs included!) would even want to be involved, unless, of course, they have the right motivation.

He also explained how the structure of the police solving a crime pretty much provides a structure for the book too. And with no outline or plan before him, he’s finding out the exact same things his characters are finding out at the exact same times. This all made perfectly good sense.

Working on our writing … apart from those two at the back!

Stephen started to make his way into his structure for the workshop too, but he was very keen to take questions from the floor and take the workshop in whatever direction it needed to go for those present. And as it happened, we did digress from his usual order of things. Yet he still provided writing exercises for us to have a go at as well as handouts to take away. By the end of the session, we’d all done a new piece of writing to take away with us too, including a pantster attempt by yours truly, who can usually plot and plan for England.

Thank you, Stephen, for a thoroughly enjoyable insight into how you work!

I found the whole workshop both interesting and informative and I’m sure I learned a lot as well as revised much of what I learned when I interviewed a DCI back in 1996 for Night Crawler. I thought the course itself was very good value and just the right length.

Stuart and Stephen exchanging stories while everyone else works.

I thought the car parking was a bit of a rip off, but the venue was very pleasant. I’m not sure I’d come back to West Bridgford, but I’d certainly go to see both Stuart and Stephen again. Thank you, gentlemen, and thanks to the poet for making it possible for me to attend.

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