The Crime Fiction Lab and our tutors’ crime writing processes

Want to know just how practical The Crime Fiction Lab is for real crime writers? We asked our tutors R.W.R. McDonald and Katherine Kovacic.

FWA: R.W.R. McDonald, you’ve been working on a sequel to The Nancys called Nancy Business which comes out 1 June this year. Is writing a sequel harder than creating the original? Or is it actually a bit easier because you’re working with some established characters and settings?

R.W.R: In some sense writing a sequel is easier because you know the characters, how they act/react and Nancy Business is set in the same small town again so you can focus more on plot and their emotional journey. Though as a writer you are still learning about your characters as they continue to grow and develop and explore new places in your setting.

When I first came up with The Nancys I realised there was a larger story arc at play which could span a trilogy, so I went into writing Nancy Business with that blueprint in mind. This meant I was already set up for what I wanted to happen in the sequel and didn’t have to scramble to think of what was next.

Also I was very lucky to work with excellent editors at Allen and Unwin on the structural and copy edit and proof stage. They guided me, especially around how much backstory from the first book, The Nancys, was required. It is a balancing act as I wanted to ensure a deeper experience for those readers who had already read The Nancys, yet also have a book that could be read as a standalone and make sense for those readers who haven’t read The Nancys.

FWA: … And, which elements of The Crime Fiction Lab have come into play as you work through the process?

R.W.R: Running the first Crime Fiction Lab while I was working on Nancy Business was an invaluable refresher, everything from how to hide and reveal clues, as well as key learning from our excellent guest speakers Craig Sisterson, Sarah Bailey and Chris Hammer. Craig’s talk on setting pinged off some new ideas that went into the book and both Sarah and Chris have written series with reoccurring characters, so getting to hear from them how that works was great!

FWA: Katherine Kovacic your latest book is The Schoolgirl Strangler which is actually historical true crime rather than crime fiction. Which elements of The Crime Fiction Lab were most relevant in creating a historical account of a terrible series of crimes?

KK: Writing true crime was a very different process to writing crime fiction, but elements we teach in The Crime Fiction Lab were still paramount when I wrote The Schoolgirl Strangler. It was important to maintain a narrative drive – sometimes a difficult balancing act when there were a lot of significant details to include – but most relevant was paying attention to the victims. In The Crime Fiction Lab, Rob and I talk about giving the victims a story, some depth, and not simply having ‘a body’. This was crucial to my telling of the true crime story; I wanted my readers to come away remembering the names of the victims as much as they remembered the name of the killer

FWA: …And, which have you found is harder to write? True crime or crime fiction, and why?

KK: I don’t think I can say that writing crime fiction is harder than writing true crime or vice versa as each genre has its advantages and challenges. The challenge of crime fiction is to craft a story that is both entertaining and provides the reader with a good mystery, but on the plus side that means you can let your imagination run wild (within the realms of plausibility!) and let the story take you to unexpected places. In true crime the story is already there, which can make things seem simpler. However it requires a lot of research, and as a writer you then have to try to condense a vast quantity of material into a narrative that engages the reader and doesn’t become dry, yet without leaving out any of the important details. The knowledge that you are researching and writing about the deaths of real people is always a constant.

The Crime Fiction Lab
with R.W.R. McDonald and Katherine Kovacic
21 April – 19 May 2021

This five-week course dives into the elements of Crime Fiction.
Guests include Chris Hammer, Sarah Bailey and Craig Sisterson.

Bookings and more information here.