Spreading Her Wings

A murder mystery in the making.

As readers will know, a popular kind of story is our long read, one which is about 9500 words long. The setting can be either contemporary or period and the storyline features a mystery, often tied in with “cosy crime”, in which tension is realistically sustained without overt descriptions of bloodshed and the like. It’s all designed to keep readers on the edge of their seats!

Writer Jennifer Copeland has already enjoyed short story success in the “Friend”, and one day while exchanging e-mails I suggested that she might like to think about creating something a bit longer for us. The fiction team is always keen to expand writers’ skills and point them in different directions which will complement their proven strengths.

Jennifer recalls how she began to think about the new challenge and how it took shape.

“When Alison asked if I would consider writing a long read mystery, I was excited and also a little nervous. I was rather in awe of mystery writers and their ability to create storylines with twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. My favourite genre to write is romance, but as many mysteries have a romantic storyline woven throughout, I set out from the start to combine these two elements in my plot.

“I soon discovered that this would need a different approach. The fiction team requested an outline of the story, a synopsis, to evaluate its plot and characters first. This is a valuable part of the process, but it’s challenging for someone like me who doesn’t tend to plan stories in detail ahead of time!

“My first long-length mystery for the ‘Friend,’ was called ‘Keeping Secrets’ and it was, in fact, to appear in the ‘Friend’ as a two-part serial. The title referred to decades’-old secrets written in a diary found under the floorboards of an old house.

“Alison replied to my first outline with several feedback points from the fiction team, including the necessity of introducing the ‘culprit’ earlier in the story, although keeping the reader guessing about identity, of course, as well as making the ending less abrupt.

“Writing the story itself was a further challenge, as I was writing from an outline rather than the spontaneous direction of my imagination! When I sent the first draft of the full story, Alison’s advice was that more tension and drama were needed. For starters, I made a certain character more menacing and unpredictable.

“Then in order to make the reader feel a clearer sense of impending danger, it was important to convey stronger emotions and the reactions felt by the heroine throughout. I also added a new opening scene set in the past, giving a glimpse of the murder that would be the focus of the story.

“You can imagine my excitement when I received the news that my submission had been successful! Seeing ‘Keeping Secrets’ in print (December 19/26 and January 2) a few weeks later was wonderful. It had felt like a huge challenge, and I don’t think I could have done it without the encouragement, patience and advice from Alison. Now it seems that I can’t stop writing mysteries, and I’ve sent her an outline for another. I’m excited about this new one and can’t wait to make further progress!”

We know how much readers enjoy long reads. One wrote to me recently saying,”With the longer stories the writer’s distinctive voice comes through. I always get the sense that the writers love creating these and that means I love reading them all the more.”

Giving writers the confidence to branch out and try something new is always mutually satisfying. I had an instinct based on Jennifer’s short story success record that she would be well suited to adding a new string to her bow. She hasn’t left short story writing behind but has simply added to her skills. And that’s what we aim for here in the fiction team, helping our writers to attain the highest success level possible.

Alison Cook