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A Day in the Life of British Crime Writer @JimNally #BritCrime

Dance with the Dead by James Nally
 by James Nally

They say life imitates art. Far be it from me to describe my gritty literary offerings as ‘art’, but I did make a welcome discovery while writing my second novel, Dance with the Dead, which certainly apes the book’s plot.

I started to dream up plotlines!

Just as my lead character Donal Lynch is visited by the ‘spirits’ of the recently murdered in the middle of the night, so I began to dream up fresh plotlines and character arcs while asleep. I know it sounds barking but I suspect it’s a product of an over-active sub-conscious and a rather unhealthy obsession with writing as riveting a book as possible.

So, first thing I do in the morning is grab my bedside notebook (yes, tragically I do keep one right there) and jot down everything that swirled around my plot-addled mind during the night. Some of it makes no sense, but I get it all down anyway, just in case…

Sure enough, over the course of the six months I spent writing Dance with the Dead, some of these dream-based plot developments became real. So, this book is actually brought to you by a bunch of mysterious story elves who live under my bed.

I’d like to say I wake early, Truth is, I get woken early… by Emma, my 15-month old insomniac. Happily, her nocturnal and early-morning antics have instilled in me and my partner Bridget a pretty rigid routine of tucking in early.

So whereas my working day writing book one would start at about 11am, inevitably following a wine-fuelled night, I now find myself sitting at my desk at 8am.

I’m easily distracted, which is why my desk faces a wall, plain save for plot-related post-it notes. By the end of a book, the room becomes so plastered with multi-coloured paper rectangles that it begins to resemble Robin Williams’ creepy lair in the movie One Hour Photo.

Generally, I rise only for coffee, lunch and Countdown – oh and horse racing if it’s on TV. I’m usually spent by 4pm, at which point my 12-year-old James gets back from school and helps to haul me out of whatever homicidal plotline I’m entrenched.

Of course, this leisurely routine goes out the window when a deadline looms. It must be human nature to always leave too much until the end, but that deadline infuses me with a sort of ‘dread energy’ that can power me through 18 hour days.

While completing ‘Dance with the Dead’, the family scarpered for a few days to give me a chance to complete the manuscript. Sometime during day three, I walked to the local shop to buy some essentials. I opened my mouth but no words came out, just a series of half-swallowed gurgles. Sadly, this line of work can sometimes mean not conversing with another human for days.

Thankfully, writing my books doesn’t just involve, well, writing. Back in the 1990s, I worked as a crime reporter for a Fleet Street news agency which covered the Old Bailey and all major trials in the south of England. So much of what I gathered back then never made it into the newspapers, which were turning away from crime in favour of celebrity-based ‘news’. I kept the material anyway, convinced that, one day, these blood-curdling cases and the characters I encountered while investigating them would come in useful. And so it has come to pass…

The cases and characters in Dance with the Dead and my debut, Alone with the Dead, are based on real murders and people I encountered as a crime reporter and, subsequently, a documentary maker. I hope this gives the books an authenticity that I found wanting in others. And, I can gleefully confirm that truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

So, if I’m not sat before a computer screen, you’ll find me scraping the dust off a 20-odd year-old notebook, salivating quietly at the contents.

As if my days aren’t already steeped in homicidal chaos, James and Bridget are massive fans of classic TV detectives like Marple and Poirot. I spend my evenings marvelling at their uncanny ability to spot the killer way before I can.

When I do get out these days, I like to meet up with old friends from those early days of crime reporting, like Ian Gallagher of the Mail on Sunday and freelancer Dennis Rice. Their anecdotes alone could fill a small library.

 @jimnally

Alone with the Dead by James Nally
Meet PC Donal Lynch.
Irish runaway. Insomniac. Functioning alcoholic.

Get Alone with the Dead for 99p from Amazon



Dance with the Dead by James Nally
Aspiring actress Elizabeth Smart lands her centre stage role: her mutilated body is found dumped in North London’s red light district. Clasped in her hand is a piece of human hair belonging to an unidentified body of a woman murdered two weeks ago...

Get Dance with the Dead for £1.99 from Amazon


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