The Dome Press 15th November 2018
West Wales, 1850. When an old tree root is dug up, the remains of a young woman are found. Harry Probert-Lloyd, a young barrister forced home from London by encroaching blindness, has been dreading this discovery. He knows exactly whose bones they are.
Working with his clerk, John Davis, Harry is determined to expose the guilty. But the investigation turns up more questions than answers. The search for the truth will prove costly. But will Harry and John pay the highest price?
Not a long review today folks, because Alis Hawkins has so kindly written a great guest post about Plotting and Pantsing – read on if like me you don’t know what ‘pantsing’ is – I know now but seriously Alis – is it a thing?? Either way, this post was certainly enlightening for me and having read the book it came as surprise to me to learn that Alis is a ‘pantser’ not a plotter!
A classic crime story – we have the body we just need to find out what happened. Enter unique investigators Harry Probert-Lloyd and John Davies, who tirelessly seek truth and justice for the deceased. The detail in this novel is splendid, capturing the time and location as well as the vulnerability of Harry whose encroaching blindness is not common knowledge. The mystery is strong – I was certain I had worked it out mid way through, only to be proved wrong as the novel progressed.
Told in the first person point of view of both John and Harry, Harry is reliant on John for all the visual clues he misses, while from John we sometimes get a fuller picture. That said both men are local and have their own knowledge about the death which neither are keen to share with the other. With class dividing the two men, what they ask and what they can do differs substantially.
Set in Wales in the mid 1800s the strength of historical fiction, is really its power to educate in an engaging way and this book absolutely did that. I knew very little about the Rebecca Riots and I enjoyed how this was told in the story but also through further explanation as a note at the end of the book. Inherent in the text is the role of women as well as class and power, which was a significant factor in the Rebecca Riots. Any historical fiction that leaves the reader wanting to know more about the time and place has succeeded and this book certainly did that.
As the first book in a series I am interested to know what comes next for this investigating team – The Teifi Valley Coroner. Tell me in the comments will you be reading this series?
Guest Post by Alis Hawkins
Plotting and Pantsing
Do you know what a ‘pantser’ is?
If I give you some context and tell you that it’s generally used in opposition to ‘plotter’…?
Exactly – somebody who writes by the seat of their pants.
Before I started writing crime fiction I’d always assumed that crime writers had to be plotters. I mean, all those twists, all those red herrings and real clues that had to line up perfectly…
So, much though I’d always loved reading crime fiction, I’d steered clear of writing it until I heard an interview with Ian Rankin in which he said that he doesn’t plot and never knows who the murderer is when he starts a book.
It was a eureka moment.
The world of crime fiction opened out before me.
Just to be clear, I’m not claiming that I do absolutely no plotting. It would be daunting to sit in front of my laptop to start a new book with literally no idea of what I was going to say. I always know who’s dead, where the body will be found and I’ll have a rough idea of the corpse’s pre-mortem circumstances. But that’s about it. Not only will I not know who’s done it, I won’t yet have imagined most of the suspects. They just turn up as my protagonists, blind ex-barrister Harry Probert-Lloyd and his ambitious assistant John Davies, go through their investigation. I meet the suspects as they do. I notice how they speak and get a general impression of them from Harry’s remaining peripheral vision, while John gives me a more detailed version of what they look like; particularly detailed in the case of young women or people who he thinks might be trying to imply that they’re better than him.
This is in stark contrast to crime authors like Sophie Hannah who writes extremely detailed plans that can run into dozens of pages – almost a short book by itself. She plots out exactly what will happen in each chapter, right down to the conversations her characters will have. It’s like a blueprint. Then she follows it, step by step, to build the book.
I’ve tried that. It doesn’t work for me.
I always plan a tiny bit – but not usually more than the next chapter and always pretty sketchily. A vague, blurry sketch of a corner rather than a blueprint of the whole thing. I’ve learned the hard way that, if I’ve scheduled a conversation between two of my characters, when I get to writing it, it won’t go as I’d envisaged. My characters always have other ideas. And they’re always better, more surprising ideas, more dynamically in keeping with who they are and what they’re currently thinking. So I go with those.
I just walk into a scene with my characters and see where it goes. And things simply occur: characters say things I hadn’t expected and turn from minor walk-ons into major players; a door suddenly opens when I need a break in dialogue and a new character appears without warning; a chance question will change the whole dynamic of a scene which then alters the rest of the book. In other words, one thing leads to another and soon I have a plot that I couldn’t possibly have foreseen.
It’s nerve-wracking because you never quite know what’s going to happen and there’s always the very real worry that nothing will. But, in general, finding the story as I tell it feels like the way life works, and I like that.
As Stephen King says in ‘On Writing’ ‘if you’re not surprised by your book, nobody else will be.’
I hope readers enjoy the surprises in None So Blind.
Alis Hawkins grew up on a dairy farm in Cardiganshire. She left to read English at Oxford and has done various things with her life, including bringing up two amazing sons, selling burgers, working with homeless people and helping families to understand their autistic children. And writing, always.
She enjoys radio plays (unloved by anybody but her), nonfiction (autism related), plays (commissioned by heritage projects) and of course, novels.
Her current historical crime series featuring blind investigator Harry Probert-Lloyd and his chippy assistant John Davies, is set in her childhood home, the Teifi Valley. As a side effect instead of making research trips to sunny climes, like some of her writer friends, she just drives up the M4 to see her folks.
Alis speaks Welsh, collects rucksacks and can’t resist an interesting fact.
This is a blog tour so please do support the tour by lots of sharing across social media!
Thanks to Emily at Dome Press for organising the Blog Tour and providing me with a copy of the book and thanks as always everyone who has taken the time to read this and share it.