'The Shaman Mysteries': a trilogy in the makingCrime writing is consistently one of the most popular genres in the best-seller lists. On 30 June the Crime Writers Association will be celebrating their annual Dagger Awards in London to honour their choice of the best crime writers.
I've never written a crime story myself but I've edited and appraised lots of them. In fact, I'd just finished editing a novel for a well-known crime writer when I was verbally and physically assaulted by an angry woman in a vegetarian café where I live in Didsbury, Manchester and I'm now trying to sleuth out her identity. Author, blogger and tutor, Nina Milton was a fellow creative writing tutor for the Open College of the Arts when I worked for them and she's an experienced crime writer, so I decided to find out how her mind works when she's creating her crime novels, as I now have my personal, terrifying experience as the seed of an idea for a plot.
Nina Milton's 'Shaman Mysteries'Here, she tells us about her latest novels, why she loves crime writing and where writers find their inspiration.
Nina is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. As a writer herself, she encourages other writers and would-be writers in her blog Kitchen Table Writers and teaches and assesses creative writing at degree standard for the Open College of the Arts.
Nina signs one of her books at Foyles
Where did it all begin?
When I was five, my infant school teacher, Mrs Marsden read a story to the class. It might have been the fable 'The Mouse and the Lion' but I can't really remember. Then she asked the class to write a story. It was a lightning bolt for my five-year-old self; the books I loved were actually written by real human beings. Before that, I believed they must have fallen from some sort of story heaven. It was a revelation - from then on I was scribbling down stories all the time and by the time I was an adult, I was writing short stories for magazines and children's books. But now, I am concentrating on crime thrillers.
I do love writing crime. I love the mystery aspect, trying to puzzle the reader while keeping them on the edge of their seat. I stay awake at night, trying to sort out all the permutations of each novel. I'm not sure I value that as much as the actual writing, though...the creating of strong characters, for instance, or the creation of a lyrical 'voice' for the narrative but perhaps I should.
A revelation has been writing a series; in my 'Shaman Mystery' series, the characters have become entirely real to me. I've had such fun writing my shaman 'sleuth', Sabbie Dare. She's like a younger sister to me now.
'In The Moors'
IN THE MOORS
'In the Moors' was the first of the 'Shaman Mysteries' published by Midnight Ink last year and available as a paperback, ebook and on Kindle in both the UK and the US.
The idea for my 'Shaman Mysteries' and 'In the Moors' in particular, came to me when Sabbie Dare swam right into my head and spoke directly to me - sort of - 'hi, Nina, I'm Sabbie. I'm 28 and I'm a Shaman, which means I walk in the spirit world to help my Shamanic clients. I love my job but sometimes very strange people come into my therapy room...'
Sabbie gains the strength to get through life with her pagan beliefs but still struggles over the memories of her difficult childhood, which left her as a very angry, young teenager. But she has an open heart and is adept at inviting trouble into her life.
'Unraveled Visions' continues to follow Sabbie's adventures as she runs a therapeutic Shamanic business in Bridgwater. She's still seeing Rey Buckley, the maverick cop she sparked with in book one. And she's still as cockeyed and gutsy as she was in the first book, even though, yet again, her investigations hurtle her towards a dark and menacing place.
Walking in your Imagination
Like most writers, I'm fascinated by the way ideas, characters and entire scenes drop into a writing place in our heads, which becomes increasingly real to us. Characters seem to appear from nowhere or from a muse, as the ancients would have it. They have conversations in houses that don't exist or stand gazing out from headlands, the salt spray on their lips, while the writer is actually under the shower.
I call it 'walking in your imagination', because you can travel to any place or time or the mind of any character you choose. In this slower state of thinking, you naturally enter the relaxed, twilight world where vivid imagery flashes into the mind's eye and we become receptive to information. To create this sort of trance state, hypnotists use a swaying crystal, therapists use a soothing voice and Shamans use the beat of a drum - Sabbie Dare uses a drum to enter her otherworld.
Writers, on the other hand, mostly use their legs. As far apart chronologically as Dickens and Drabble, writers are known to swear by the afternoon walk, disappearing after lunch to walk in the woods, allowing the beat of their stride and the beauty of the surroundings to let their minds drop into the world of story.
In my experience, it doesn't much matter where you walk (although scenery can be inspirational in the most surprising ways), but it's important to walk alone. I have beautiful Ceredigion countryside to walk through and I use that a lot when I'm creating new stories. Once the characters are talking to me, I start serious plotting, making charts and lists and timelines and investigating possibilities. I also spend time plotting carefully. I don't dry up nowadays half as often as I used to.
'The Shaman Mystery' series will continue to have a dark, atmospheric edge. The third book in the series is due out at the end of 2015 and its title and cover will be revealed very soon. Sabbie has a mysterious past herself, which she's only just beginning to unravel, a theme that links the trilogy.
How to find out more
Nina's blog, Kitchen Table Writers can be viewed at http://kitchentablewriters.blogspot.com
Her page on Amazon: