What’s in a name – part two!

New Name!
a new name for Gregory Charles!

If I haven’t said it before, let me say it now: I have an amazing publisher in Fierce Ink Press.

Last week they asked me to flesh-out my synopsis for book 2 in the Portia Adams Adventures, and I have to tell you, I find writing synopses MUCH harder than writing casebooks.

They were super-patient and helpful, teasing out the bits that really draw a reader in, and teaching me a lot about how to ‘sell’ your story.

But the most interesting thing that came up was the paragraph about Portia’s new boyfriend – the brilliant coroner I named Gregory Charles. They were as unimpressed with his name as I have been through the course of writing about him (here’s my post from last year about my issues with his name) and in talking out what his significance will be to Portia’s story arc over the next few books, we all decided he needed a new name.

He has that kind of dark-cool-sexiness that reminds me of Mr. Darcy or Spock or Sylar from Heroes.  I started by listing out some words that describe him: dark, cool, sexy, mysterious, brilliant, restrained, closed-off, intimidating.

After going back and forth about his character and how he develops over the casebooks, and using some baby name sites to brainstorm we settled on Dr. Gavin Douglas Whitaker (no more Gregory Charles!).

What do you all think of that?

Department of Forensic Science at Guy’s Hospital

Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospitals from 1833 Schmollinger map

As I flesh out this new scene where Portia needs to do some research on forensic science, I intend to use the Forensic Department at Guy’s Hospital (part of the University of London) as one of her sources.

She is going to use the library there to do her research on corpse decomposition.

The early history of the Contax Camera

Zeiss Contax I Rangefinder 1932-1936Portia receives a camera as a Christmas Gift in 1931, so I had to do some research into what brands would have been available at the time. The Contax seems to fit the bill nicely.

Also, there is some accompanying data about the issues with the shutter this model was known to have on this website.

What is the plural for Bobby?

a British Bobby
a British Bobby

Ah ha, the things you will learn on this blog my friends!

The plural for Bobby (slang for an English police officer, named after the man who first organized the British police force – Sir Robert Peel) is Bobbies. “Bobbys” is not a word in the English dictionary.

I’d love to tell you where this image on the left came from and give credit where credit is due, but I have been unable to chase it down further than here.

Also of interest in this subject line is that the Constables were also called Peelers (the name obviously coming from the same man) and that Peel established several principles of policing that are still very relevant today. You can read his nine principles here at the New Westminister Police Department website.

The uniforms for the Bobbies varied, but you should see how the helmets changed! There’s thankfully an entire site dedicated to archiving images of historical helmets of our favourite British Constables here.

Racetracks in Britain

Go Greased Lightning!

For my latest casebook No Matter how Improbable I need Portia to detect that someone has recently been at a racetrack, therefore the morning has been spent learning all about racing in England.

I knew before I started that the Romans loved to race, and with their expansion into Brittania centuries ago, racing might have come with them, but I didn’t know how much modern-day racehorses owed to England.

Did you know that “All modern thoroughbred racehorses can trace a line back to three foundation sires which were imported to Britain in the late 17th/early 18th centuries[3]” ? That is crazy to me. It’s like the stat about Genghis Khan being the progenitor of 0.5 percent of the male population in the world.

Anyway, back to my storyline, I needed a racetrack that existed in 1930, was close enough to London to be traveled to without staying the night and had the potential to have a type of earth/soil that could be distinguishable.

UK Soil Types
UK Soil Types

I believe Kempton Park Racetrack satisfies these requirements, and at the time, one could take the tube to London Waterloo Station to partake in a day of horse-racing. Kempton is in Sunbury-on-Thames, a town 21km southwest of central London and flanked on its south side by the River Thames. Now to figure out if there is a specific kind of loam or soil I can identify from the area – take a look for example at this map of UK soils from this online forum.


Researching a cop killer’s psychology

The very saddest image that I would use for this post (some of the others were too offensive — not that this one isn’t)

It’s weird, but I’ve had the honour of reading my friend Rami’s developing book lately, and because it is so descriptive in the violence of a few scenes (I hope I’m not spoiling anything Rami!) I feel like researching cop killers is no big deal.

Odd that violence so quickly becomes ‘normal’ to us.

Regardless, I have been reading up on Mr. Lawrence DeVol, a well-known murderer and cop-killer from the era (if not the area, he committed his crimes in America). I think that is the direction this latest casebook is taking me, so I am willing to walk down that dark path for a little while.

I’ve also been reading about Ned Kelly (who some identify as a cop-killer, and some a folk-hero) and his crimes.

The psychology of cop killers (well of most pre-meditated murders) is complex to say the least. I am trying to avoid some of the obvious linkages (I hate cops because cops killed my father/mother/brother) and make this a more nuanced story. I’m going to try to link the death of Chief Inspector Dillon Breen Archer to this cop-killer, so stay with me, more to come as I get further into Casebook 9: No Matter How Improbable.

What kind of death is this?

The second brother from the animation of the Deathly Hallows from Harry Potter
The second brother from the animation of the Deathly Hallows from Harry Potter

Doing some more research on suicide tonight (my first post about it was back in January, you can read it here)… this time with a focus on how to tell the difference forensically between a suicide and, well, not a suicide.

First: the method (jumping off a building)

According to a really interesting site I found called ‘Lost all Hope’:

The most important factor in suicide by jumping is height. Stone2 states that jumping from 150 feet (46 metres) or higher on land, and 250 feet (76 metres) or more on water, is 95% to 98% fatal. 150 feet/46 metres, equates to roughly 10 to 15 stories in a building, depending on the height of one story. 250 feet is the height of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

The LAH author got his information from a book by Geo Stone called Attempted Suicide: Methods and Consequences, and you can read more about that here:

So interestingly, for a 95% chance that you will actually be killed by your attempt, you need to fall 10 to 15 stories from a building.

Second: the body (what is the injury pattern)

Without getting into too much gruesome detail, I looked around for some data that would help me with the physical forensic evidence from a suicide-by-jumping and found this article from the US National Library of Medicine.

The most common injuries were fractures of the thoracic and lumbar spine (83.0%) with a preference for the thoracolumbar junction. Fracture of the lower limbs occurred in 45%. The most frequent injuries were fractures of the os calcis (64.4%) and the ankle joint (26.6%). Twenty-five percent of all patients suffered from fractures in the upper limbs with a preference for the distal radius (56.6%) and the elbow (44.0%).

The article goes on to say that only 27% of the people they studied for their report died from head injuries… which of course begs the question if that didn’t kill them, what did?

Another interesting article about this kind of data is: The Study of Pattern of Injuries in Fatal Cases of fall from height

Third: the after-effects (legally and religiously) of suicide

I’m not a member of a christian religion, but I believe in 1930s London, most of the population was, so I am going to make this character a Catholic. Catholics seem to have very clear beliefs when it comes to suicide, so if this death is ruled a suicide, the character will not be allowed to have a burial with a priest at his church.

Legally, I cannot find evidence in British Law that changes how the heirs to inherit from someone who committed suicide VS someone who died by some other cause. What is clear that suicide and natural causes will fast-track the fulfillment of the will, while any suspicion of foul play will delay everything as the truth is worked out.

Boxing Day win: “Lost London”

Happy Holidays friends, I hope you are celebrating this time of year exactly the way you like to – whether you actually celebrate Christmas or Hanukah, or just celebrate a few days off from work to gather with the people you love (like me!)

One of the things I do love about this time of year (other than the presents, which yes, despite the lack of religious/cultural tradition, I partake in) is Boxing Day shopping.

Well, Chapters was having a 30% off hardcover sale, and look at what I brought home!

Cover of "Lost London" by Philip Davies
Cover of “Lost London” by Philip Davies

If you know a little about this series I am writing, you know it is based in 1930s London, England, making this book an awesome research resource for both my facts and imagination.

In my head, Portia Adams has walked these streets for over a year now (when I started writing about her) and the internet and the library have been my primary sources for her world. This is a beautiful book, with over 500 images from the former London County Council archive of photographs, many of which were unpublished until now.

I will be posting images from the book from time to time and for sure quoting from it in this blog (all credit to Philip Davies, and I hope he sells lots of books – Amazon.com link here!)

I’m 25 pages in and I have some fantastic ideas for the setting of my next crime-scene – so stay tuned my friends, and let me know about your great Boxing Day finds in the comments below!

How to write an effective ‘flashback’ (and bring your reader with you!)

I promised my friend Rami over at ramiungarthewriter.wordpress.com a post about writing effective flashback scenes (something I don’t think I’ve nailed), so after some research, here are my findings.

First a wikipedia definition in case not everyone uses the same term:

Flashback (narrative), in literature and dramatic media, an interjected scene that takes the narrative back in time from the current point

The Writers Digest has a great post about this issue in which they offer 3 tips:

  1. Your flashback should follow a strong scene. (so the flashback should not be your FIRST scene, though lots of TV shows start that way, with a scene from the future that makes no sense, and then a black screen that says ’72 hours earlier’ or something like that)
  2. Orient us at the start of the flashback in time and space (in other words, don’t just give a time reference for the flash back, also set the scene in terms of characters and where they are).
  3. Use verb tense conventions to guide your reader in and out of the flashback (tricky, but it depends on what tense your ‘current’ timeline is written in and from what voice)

In case ‘past perfect’ is only known to you because you studied French in school, Hallie Ephron has written a useful table to use for tenses and flashbacks:


If the main story is written in… Write the flashback in…
Present Tense Past Tense
He runs He ran
Past Tense Past Perfect Tense
He ran He had run

On Quora, where there is a question open on this subject, Mark Hughes (Screenwriter, Forbes Blogger) had an interesting suggestion:

In novel or other literary form, I personally believe the best flashback method is to alternate chapters/sections of the writing, so that (just for example) Chapter One is set in the present, and ends by leading us into a scene that links to the past. Then Chapter Two is all flashback, related to the concept/theme/actual events of the final scene in the previous chapter. And so on.

I also liked Dan Goodswen’s answer in the same Quora question where he says he writes flashbacks in a different voice, so no one is confused.
Read Quote of Dan Goodswen’s answer to Writing: What are the best ways to write flashback scenes? on Quora

For example, my main story is often written in the first person. To borrow the opening line from the novel I’m currently writing;

I’m carrying her in my arms when I feel the first blow.

But if I wanted to make this a flashback, I might use the second person, to differentiate the voice between chapters, and help the reader understand that this isn’t part of the main story.

A second person flashback might look like this;

You’re carrying her in your arms when you feel the first blow.

The same sentence, but given an immediate difference by the change from first to second person.

I’m going to apply most of this (the past-perfect stuff I still find confusing but I’m game to try) on my flashback scene in Principessa.

Let me know if you find this useful, and please, let me know if you have other ideas on this!