A moment with Wendy H. Jones…
Wendy H Jones is a prolific writer of fast-paced crime mysteries set in Scotland as well as a children’s author. She also hosts the Writing and Market Show podcast, is President of the Scottish Association of Writers and has recently completed a three-year term as Secretary for the Society of Authors in Scotland. We’ve been following each other on Instagram for a couple of years now and I thought it high time I learned a little bit more about Wendy the writer.
Thanks for taking the time to share your writer's life with us, Wendy. You have quite the backlist of novels, an interesting mix of crime mysteries and children’s stories. Do you ever find elements of one genre creeping into the other?
In some ways, yes, and in some ways, no. I appreciate that may not seem the clearest answer in the world but what can I say, I’m a crime writer. I earn my living by obfuscation. Let me explain. I write adult crime novels, adult humorous novels, and young adult mysteries. These all feed into each other genre wise, although they are totally different in terms of the way in which they are written. The crime novels are gritty, the humorous mysteries are more cozy than gritty, and the young adult mysteries not only involve a mystery but codes and puzzle solving. There are, by default, less dead bodies, and more mysteries in these books. Then, there are the children’s picture books. There is no crossover between these and my other books in any way, it doesn’t even creep in by stealth.
I’m a big fan of crime mysteries, but not sure if it’s something I could write. How (why) did you first start out in this genre?
When I decided to write my first book seven years ago, it was a no-brainer that I would write crime. I have been reading since the age of three and worked my way through all the children’s mystery books – Famous Five, Secret Seven, Hard Boys, Nancy Drew. By the age of ten I was reading adult crime novels and have continued my love affair with the crime/mystery genre ever since. Therefore, I had absorbed all the tropes of crime writing pretty much by osmosis. I started with a crime book because I had an idea for one firmly in my brain. When I think of writing other genres, the basic premise in my brain is always a mystery. However, I have started a new series of novels based on the life of a real life Naval Surgeon from the early Nineteenth century, so I’m turning my hand to historical fiction.
I imagine there’s lots of plotting involved when writing crime mysteries. Would you like to share your techniques?
I’m pretty much a "pantser" but I do a certain amount of plotting as well. As my books are from both the police and the killer’s point of view, I plot out the chapters which belong to each. I also plot out the killer’s journey as this shapes what happens in the police investigation. I then need to work out where the red herrings should be but these often just come as I am writing the story. I like pantsing as it gives the characters freedom to shape the story and if I think of something that moves the plot forward, then I write it. That gives the story a richer flavour. For example, I had a couple of Russian thugs tip up in book two of my DI Shona McKenzie Mysteries. They strolled in bold as brass and without a by your leave and are still there in book seven. Seriously. Yet they are great characters and cause DI Shona McKenzie no end of headaches. This would not have happened if I had carried out meticulous plotting.
Do your children’s stories require a lot of plotting as well or are you able to write more by the ‘seat of your pants’?
They need a bit of plotting as I need to think in illustrations in addition to words. Although I do not do the illustrations, I need to write a story that the illustrator can visualise and bring to life. Also, the story needs to move forward fast enough that the child is entertained and engaged, with enough repetition that they recognise and learn words. They also have to have themes that the parents can discuss with the child and will help them to develop.
Finally, there are some really good crime mystery/fantasy stories around. Do you think you might be tempted to introduce a little fantasy into your writing in the future?
The likelihood of that happening is not high as my brain does not compute with fantasy. I don’t read it, although I have tried, but I genuinely do not get it. I’m more a real-world sort of girl. However, I would never say never as I didn’t think I would ever write children’s picture books, but I did. I’m willing to try anything even if it never gets published.