Author of the Week, Helen Christmas
Thriller author, Helen Christmas, has written a series of books spanning the decades. A combination of romantic suspense and organised crime, her debut novel, Beginnings, took her to places she never imagined she would find herself when research became an essential part of the writing process.
“Ever since I embarked on writing a series, I discovered how much fun it was to dig deeper, to immerse myself in the world of my characters and give the stories a sense of authenticity.”
What must it have been like growing up in the heart of the 1970s criminal underworld? Early inspiration came from reading books by Leslie Pearce and Martina Cole. I felt I knew enough about organised crime to pull together an exciting yarn of my own. After watching videos on YouTube about the Kray brothers, I also found inspiration from a film from 1971, titled ‘the Bank Job’. But what about the sort of ‘every day characters’ who would have been around? Not just gangsters, but real, grass roots city folk?
It took one fascinating exhibition in Whitechapel, by photographer Ian Berry, to step into their world. He portrayed life so well in his series of black and white photos, I couldn’t have found better inspiration if I’d travelled back in time. This was the most enjoyable piece of research and one that really set me off on a trail.
With a clearer picture of the setting, architecture, cars and people, it was time to start plotting out the scenes. My geography of London wasn’t great, so when I embarked on writing the first chase scene in the story, I used Google Earth to work out a route. Starting from Shadwell in the East End, the characters needed to run through a public park in order to reach a busy main road, before hiding themselves the backstreets. Google Earth provided enough information and take a virtual ‘walk though’.
Then a few months later, I actually visited the park, to take photos and video.
Beginnings was first published in 2012 by which time I was well on the way to starting the 2nd book in the series, Visions.
Visions begins a decade later and filled with 80s nostalgia. I already had plenty of inspiration to draw on but could not resist visiting a few Kentish villages and towns to create my setting. The nearest town where this all takes in place is Orpington, south of London but one detail I really wanted to get right was a train journey London followed another chase scene, this time across the London Underground.
Once again, I plotted out my ideas, but needed to check them out in real life; important details such stairs, escalators, tunnels, which stations are two levels down, whilst some on the Circle Line are above ground.
The Internet too has been a Godsend and a gift to the modern author.
‘Visions’ contains scenes around the restoration of an old country house. So by discovering internet sites like the ‘Period Property’ forum I found lots of expert advice.
When it comes to researching history, there are websites, blogs and Wikipedia. One of the most interesting articles I found was ‘The Fall of Scotland Yard,’ which furnished me with valuable nuggets of information on how the corruption between senior police officers and organised crime was exposed and I was able to use this in my later book.
So the internet is there, a valuable resource, but the most enjoyable research has always involved visiting real places. I will never forget the road to Shoreham village in Kent, which I revisited in 2015, a winding country road filled with twists, a tunnel of dense woodland, which makes it is impossible to drive fast.
These details added extra tension to a scene involving a sharp getaway from the Country Estate featured throughout the series.
To conclude, I cannot emphasis the importance of research. It is fun, interesting and at times, very inspiring. It throws up new ideas you might never have thought of and has been a key ingredient for injecting my stories with a sense of realism.
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 C thatched cottage by the sea with her husband, Peter, their Border Collie and a fluffy white cat. Helen has now completed her 5 Book series, Same Place Different Place so here are the links to her social networks:
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