Crime and creativity
From pleasing her friends with playground stories to creating best-selling crime thrillers, author Elizabeth Haynes tells RACHEL BULLER why everyone should have a go at writing a novel
EVER SINCE buying a typewriter from the free ads of her local newspaper, Elizabeth Haynes has been writing stories. While some have never been read by anyone other than her and some still remain very much works in progress, she is now a best-selling author of six crime novels which are devoured by fans all over the world.
She moved to Norfolk with her family two years ago and is already firmly ensconced in county life. This month she will be talking about her latest thriller, Never Alone, at Briarfields in Titchwell for the first Bookfest event of the year; she was a judge in the 2016 East Anglian Book Awards and is starting to use the county’s landscape and rich history as creative inspiration.
“We lived in Kent but wanted to find somewhere with an annex so my mum could live with us – and because my husband and I both worked from home, it meant we could pretty much live anywhere,” she says.
“Quite by accident, we came on holiday to Norfolk and completely fell in love with it. We found the perfect house in a little village near North Walsham. My son goes to school in Cromer and gets to enjoy things he would never have experienced back in Kent and we just love living here. It is a county full of surprises and unusual things to discover. There is nowhere like it in England. It’s like it has got permission to be every so slightly mad and as a county it seems to absolutely relish that,” she laughs.
Her writing career began while at school, creating magical tales for her own enjoyment and then stories to share with classmates.
“I was about 13 when I got my typewriter and used it to write my first novel around that time - The Year Book. Not the best title, it was a wintry, Christmassy story about a mystical book a girl has discovered in an attic. It has never seen the light of day,” she says.
“But I also wrote serialised romances in my notebook like you would see in girl’s magazines. I would pass them round my friends at school and then they would get me to write another chapter to bring in the next day. That’s where I learned the importance of creating a good hook for my ending, how important it was to keep people wanting more.”
Her writing remained largely under wraps and an occasional hobby until she was persuaded by a friend to take part in National Novel Writing Month - and she is now a passionate advocate of its benefits.
“It is an annual challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. It doesn’t have to be awardwinning, it doesn’t mean you have to carry it on and send it off to a publisher, it is just a great reason to sit down and write. It is for all those people who have always said, just like I did, ‘I have got a novel in me.’ It is very liberating. It takes away the pressure to produce a masterpiece, it is about learning the discipline of writing.”
Elizabeth has done ‘nanowrimo’, as it is affectionately known, every year since 2005. In 2008 her project was the start of her first novel – Into the Darkest Corner - and she has produced a book a year ever since.
“I always wrote for fun but it enabled me to really expand my writing muscles. Writing at speed can sometimes generate some really great ideas. You have to put it out of your head that anyone is going to see it. I would encourage anyone to join in.”
Elizabeth was working as a police intelligence analyst in Kent when she began to take part in ‘nanowrimo’ and, she says, the two things combined perfectly, giving her the confidence to write about crime.
“I always read crime novels growing up, starting with Agatha Christie. But I never had the confidence to approach anyone to research my own crime story. I think saying it out loud, actually asking ‘experts’, would have meant admitting to myself I was researching a book and therefore trying to be a serious crime novelist. I wasn’t ready for that,” she laughs.
“But after working with the police I felt I could start to write about it with some authenticity. I had the jargon and acronyms to make it realistic and, most importantly, the banter.”