Thursday, 30 January 2020

Crime author Pauline Rowson on researching police procedure

I'm often asked how I research my crime novels, and in particular the police procedure and crime scene investigation side of things. I'm not married to a police officer, or a former police officer, so I didn't start off with any inside knowledge. I am married to a retired fire fighter though so when it comes to fires, burnt bodies and serious traffic and other incidents which fire fighters attend, including sadly bodies recovered from the sea, I have a wealth of information to draw on, which can be incorporated into a crime novel. Indeed I have done so.

There are crime writers who are former police officers but if that is not you and you have no idea how to obtain this kind of inside information, and are keen to get it right, then there are sources you can tap into.

Your local police constabulary, police and government websites

When I first created the flawed and rugged DI Andy Horton in TIDE OF DEATH in 2006 I approached Hampshire Police (the county in which my novels are set) and asked if they would help.  They were delighted to do so and have been of great assistance to me over the years.  However, not all police forces are so obliging, mainly because they are stretched to the limit and  do not have the time or manpower to spare to help authors. The police service websites, both the regional and national, can be a good source of information for writers and there is considerable information on the Crown Prosecution Services website. (UK)

Social Media

It's also worth following the police on Twitter to give you insights of their daily lives and challenges. There are many official feeds from the various police units as well as from individual police officers and ex police officers. There are also feeds from those involved in forensic science and other aspects of the law with links to some highly informative blogs written by these individuals. Linked In can also connect you with professionals. A search on the Internet or Twitter can help you find police officer blogs and articles.

Books and reference sources

Then there are some very handy guides. THE CRIME WRITER’S CASEBOOK and BEING A DETECTIVE are written by former UK detective Stuart Gibbon now a consultant and author and Stephen Wade.

Another well-thumbed book I consult is, “The Crime Writer's Handbook, 65 ways to kill your victim in print” by Douglas Wynn.

Events, courses and the Crime Readers Association

I have also run CSI events in various towns with one coming up in Winchester on 28 March 2020 where I bring crime authors, police and crime experts together to debate crime fiction and crime fact.

There are also courses for writers run by serving police officers and ex-coppers, the Crime Writers' Association, of which I am a member, have a very useful website called the Crime Readers Association for crime fiction fans along with useful blogs, articles and information for budding crime writers.

Consulting Cops for Writers

Another useful source of help is a service called Consulting Cops for Writers who provide expert advice for writers of all kinds whether that be fiction, fact, screenplays or plays. Consulting Cops boasts an expanded database of experts who have worked in the field and they are able to match the writer's enquiry to the relevant expert and supply them with the information they need to authenticate their project. You can check out their team of experts on their website and sign up for their regular newsletter.

There is also some very useful information on their website for writers including a comprehensive list of acronyms; rank and insignia; a list of all UK police forces; the phonetic alphabet; a very useful link to real crime related websites; a gallery of famous UK crimes, and crime writer websites and festivals.

Consulting Cops for Writers provides a number of services.  They can answer specific questions; provide a scene or chapter review and check it for authenticity; review the entire written project for accuracy;

In addition, if you need to check out an idea or bounce it off an expert then Consulting Cops also offers the writer the opportunity to discuss in person ideas or issues with the police expert of the writer's choosing about a future or ongoing project. The consultation can be on the phone, via Skype or in person, depending on the writer's location.  This allows the writer to talk directly to an expert to clarify any crime related matter in their project. 

And if you need ongoing advice then Consulting Cops will identify a crime expert relevant to your project to support you for a full 12 months. Communicating by email the writer can discuss their project with the crime expert for a full 12 month period, utilizing the large database of law enforcement professionals covering all aspects of police work.

They also offer an annual membership which includes a monthly Newsletter, 1 Personal Consultation (1 hour only), 1 Scene Review, 1 x 5 Questions Request, 1 Full 120 Page Feedback Review.

Check out their services and costs on their website.

Fiction and Fact

My crime novels cannot truly reflect real police procedure because if they did they would end up reading like a police manual and bore everyone to tears. So the basics are then spiced up and tweaked by my imagination.
One of the problems with writing contemporary crime novels though is that the police service in the UK is continually being re-organized by the government, which means that no sooner do I mention a department than its name changes or it merges with another. It is not possible to be a hundred percent correct on this but they were correct at the time of writing.

Historical crime fiction

There are advantages in writing an historical crime novel, my first in a new series set in 1950 introduces Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Alun Ryga, who is sent to the coast to investigate a complex murder in DEATH IN THE COVE.  In an historical crime novel I don't have to wrestle with the fact that the names of the police departments change, also the red tape that today surrounds serving police officers was practically non-existent. The challenge though is to get what procedure there was correct and to incorporate that and the way of thinking and investigating into the novel to ensure it is an entertaining and intriguing read. I hope I have done so.

DEATH IN THE COVE is available in paperback, as an ebook, on Amazon Kindle and Kobo and as an audio book narrated by Jonathan Rhodes and produced by B7Media. It can be downloaded on Audible.

'Don’t miss this first book in what is sure to be a first-class series. Whilst the murderer is unmasked there are left some tempting hooks for the next book.  Highly recommended.' Mystery People Magazine

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