Crime Writing: Author Interview with Nigel Shinner

Photo of Niger Shinner
Cover of Cog in the Machine

Crime Writer Nigel Shinner

Today’s interview is with Nigel Shinner. Nigel is a crime writer who hails from the UK.
Tell us a little about yourself, Nigel.
Describe your writing routine.
I tend to get in five two-three hour writing sessions a week. In some respects, I treat my writing as another job and schedule the time as though I'm putting in a shift. Establishing a routine or habit is incredibly important, in my opinion, if you have the desire to write something as daunting as a novel.

The importance of knowing your subject

What makes a good crime novel, in your opinion?
Plausible plot, believable characters, suspense and intrigue. Crime is happening right at this moment, everywhere and anywhere, and closer to home than you might think. I find inspiration from true crime. In the best crime novels, the crime is usually very simple to understand, but it's the execution of that crime where the intrigue often lies. People like to read about innovation, even in criminal behaviour. And if the crime is to be believable, the characters need to be as well. I try to write characters you could pass on the street: they eat, they sleep, they breathe and I give them traits and idiosyncrasies I see in real people. As one of my readers told me once, 'You make them (the characters) seem so real but I'd never want to meet them,' and that's the kind of thing I aim for. Once you have all the elements in place they can be delivered to the reader at just the appropriate time to keep them reading but not giving the game away too easy.
How long have you been writing?
I've been creative writing for about twenty-five years, on and off, but novel writing seriously over the last six years. I've self published five books in that time, and have two more manuscripts completed but still in progress.

What started it all

When was that spark that made you think (about becoming a writer) : I can do this?
I love telling stories, I always have done. I've met a lot of people in my life and they notice it pretty quickly and share their stories with me in return: It's an excellent rapport builder. But I also love to read and, one time, I was stuck on holiday with nothing to read. I found a trashy novel to tide me over but it was so bad I thought to myself 'I could do better than this' and I've been trying prove it ever since. Plus, I get the bonus building a rapport with people I haven't met when they read my work.
What’s your favorite part of writing a book?
The first draft is author telling themselves the story for the first time. It is in the first draft where I believe the story is realised. That's my favourite part.

Difficulties with writing

Which part would you rather set your hair on fire than have to do? How do you overcome that and do it, in the end.
The second developmental draft. This is where you find all the mistakes of the first draft and have to start plugging plot holes without ruining the aesthetic of the story you thought you were writing. It's a necessary evil, it has to be done to advance the project to completion.
What recommendations would you give to newer writers?
Read lots, write lots, repeat until successful. Someone told me once, 'You've got to write a million words before you're half decent.' But I have my own saying for new writers or casual enquirers: "You need to have read a hundred book before you're ready to write one." I truly believe that establishing a writing/reading habit is the most important thing a new writer can do for themselves.
What’s the most important tool in your arsenal, in your opinion?
Determination. Regardless of the endeavour - learning to walk, writing a book or scaling a mountain - the desire and drive to succeed is fundamental. I keep it at the top of my toolbox so it's easy to reach.
That, and a laptop with the correct software.

Great recommendations

Who are some of your favorite authors, and why?
Peter James - because he writes complex stories in an easy style. You feel smart when reading his work but his writing isn't intimidating to read.
John Grisham - for much the same reason as Peter James. You don't need a law degree to read Grisham but you feel you've earned one by the time you've finished one of his books, and without much effort.
Harlan Coben - he's a master of misdirection. You're looking one way for the answer and he reveals the plot from a dark corner you dare not explore.
Linwood Barclay - he similar to Coben and writes brilliantly sophisticated stories that'll tie you up and spit you out. Although he writes for the American market, he's Canadian and it shows in the humour he injects into the darkest of plots.
Mo Hayder - even if crime isn't your genre, I recommend every would-be author should read a Mo Hayder book. The emotion she laces into the narrative is palpable. You feel every page as though it is your life laid out before you.
What would be your dream writing getaway?
I've found it. I just need to be able to buy it. I live in the heart of Pembrokeshire, west Wales, and it is impossible not to be more than a few minutes from the coast. On Newgale, my favourite beach - two and a half miles of golden sand, flanked by cliffs at either end - there is a cottage sitting in the centre of the coast road. You can throw a pebble from the front door and hit the beach, it's that close. That would be my ideal writing spot.

Methods of improvement

What sort of exercises have helped you improve your writing?
Reading is the best exercise there is for a writer but, when I used to be part of a writers circle, we would conduct short exercises to work our writer's muscles. Try writing a descriptive piece of no more than 300 words but you cannot use the following words:- AND, WAS, THEN, BUT, THAT. It's tricky to start but anything you do write seems to flow better. I'm not saying you shouldn't use these words but if you can limit the usage the writing appears cleaner.
In your opinion: Self publication or traditional? Why?
That's the million dollar question! Ideally, I'd like to be traditionally published because I think that is the standard to aim for. Every man, woman, gender-neutral person and their dogs can self publish these days and it floods the already crowded market with dross, burying the quality books available. I self published because I wanted to be read but, going forward, I will be trying to acquire representation from an agent and a publisher with each new project.
Thank you very much for your time. You can find Nigel Shinner’s books on Amazon. Please click the following link to be taken to Mr. Shinner’s latest thriller.
USA link:

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