Omnimystery News is pleased to welcome back crime novelist Shirley Wells, author of the Dylan Scott mysteries. The third in the series is Silent Witness (Carina Press, March 2012 ebook).
Today Shirley talks about research, an effort that produced the striking photographc you see below that was incorporated into the cover design of her new book
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If there's one word that makes my heart sink, it's research. I could happily read about serial killers, criminal profiling and exotic poisons all day long but when it comes to the nuts and bolts of research, I hate it. It's a distraction. It halts the flow of my writing.
When I'm working on the first draft of a novel, my desk will be covered with Post-It notes in all shapes, sizes and colours. On these will be scribbled such things as "How long does it take to get from Carlisle to Ipswich by car?", "How often do the trains run between Birmingham and Sheffield?", "How heavy is the average Rottweiler?".
Photo provided courtesy of
When that first draft is written and I can put it off no longer, I spend hours getting rid of those Post-It notes one by one. It's then I discover that the distance between Carlisle and Ipswich is much greater than I thought (309.7 miles if ever you need to know) and takes 6 hours and 4 minutes. Much cursing follows as I realise my killer can't possibly check into a hotel in Carlisle, enjoy afternoon tea, drive to Ipswich, slash my victim's artery, and be back in Carlisle in time for a drink before bed.
I'm a Brit (you Americans will have guessed that from the funny spelling) and I live amid the Pennine Hills in Lancashire in the north-west of England. As I'm so averse to research, I set my books in the same area. I know exactly what the weather's like (usually raining), what time the sun rises and sets, how bleak the hills are when covered in mist and when the first daffodil appears.
In my latest Dylan Scott mystery, Silent Witness, a scene takes place on a lonely, windswept hill where the only signs of life are a few sheep and a panopticon called the Singing, Ringing Tree. The "tree" is a 3-metre high structure constructed of steel pipes designed to "sing" when the wind blows. I needed to know what this musical sculpture sounded like when the wind was howling around it. Easy. I simply called the dogs and took them for a walk so we could listen to it.
Photo credit: Shirley Wells
When the novel was written and the edits done, it was time for my publisher's cover artist to get to work. When asked if there were any interesting visual aspects that might convey the mood of the book, I called the dogs again, picked up my camera and set off for the hills. We had a lovely walk and I was able to send the cover artist this photo (right).
The result is the cover below.
I love this cover. The hill, with the Singing, Ringing Tree, is one of my favourite spots so it's extra-special for me to see it on my book cover. What do you think? Do you find it suitably mysterious? I'd love to know.
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Multi-published author Shirley Wells was born in the Cotswolds and lived in Cyprus and Orkney before settling in Lancashire, the UK, where the spectacular Pennine Hills provide the inspiration for her popular mystery novels. She and her husband share their home with two dogs, two cats and any other strays who fancy a pampered life. Learn more about Shirley and her books by visiting her website, ShirleyWells.com.
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About Silent Witness:
After his ex-wife bled to death in a bathtub covered in his fingerprints, the case against Aleksander Kaminski seemed open and shut. Though sentenced to life in prison, he swears he's innocent, a claim supported by his current wife.
Private investigator Dylan Scott finds himself drawn back to dreary Lancashire in a search for justice. The evidence against Kaminski is damning, but having been unjustly jailed himself, Dylan is compelled to pursue the case; if there's even a small chance the man is innocent, he has to help. The other obvious suspect — the victim's second husband—has a watertight alibi. But Dylan has a strong hunch that as usual, there's more going on than meets the eye in Dawson's Clough.
The deeper Dylan digs, the more secrets he unearths. The question remains: If Kaminski didn't murder his childhood sweetheart, who did?