How to profit from crime without being arrested, explained by Ruby Barnes


In order to jazz up my blog, I decided to invite some  fellow writers to share their journeys to publication. Today’s guest blogger is new and exciting crime writer Ruby Barnes, author of Peril, a crime novel with a very unusual hero, set in Dublin. This is his take on writing crime:


Crime pays

A truism, whatever way you look at it.

Real crime pays. If there’s financial gain. Getting caught is the problem. That’s the hair in the ointment. Plus the old dilemma of social conscience.

Fictional crime, on the other hand, is another matter. Writing a crime novel, a good crime novel, can pay – if the work is worthy, if the author has a following and can gain exposure, if the author’s slice of the profit is healthy enough. A lot of ‘ifs’. But here are the facts: crime and romance are the two dominant fiction genres in Amazon’s kindle charts, US and UK. That’s not why I chose to write crime, however. If people buy and enjoy my work then of course it makes a little birdhouse in my soul, but the choice of genre isn’t commercially driven. It evolved. Honest.

When I started writing novels, the process of writing delighted me. The novelist, like the entrepreneur, had been buried deep within me for forty years and I had looked for a catalyst to liberate that author from my compound being. A day job had dragged me around the globe, from one factory to another, all cast from the same mould, an exercise in globalisation that MacDonald’s would have been proud of. What I brought back with me wasn’t that a widget inMalaysia was built the same as one in Brazil or Norway. My souvenirs were observations. The roll-mop herring of Scandinavia, the Churasco meat grill of South America, the exotic sea food of the Far East. Okay, I like my food. But there were other things. People, places, events, theories, poverty, disease, crime, death, music, relationships. Beer.

Liam at tea break in theWaterford factory said ‘All them stories! You should write a book, so you should. Like yer man over there on the production line. Wrote one about Exeter City Football Club. Lovely, ‘tis.’

This, and other comments were perhaps the catalyst, the final push, that got me started. After three years of carbon negative jet set life I took my tea break muse at face value. And I found I couldn’t stop. The result was a novel like no other, an action adventure extravaganza of international blockbusting intrigue. Innovative energy technology, European Union corruption, African AIDS conspiracy and US evangelical apocalypse. Tom Clancy and Leon Uris eat your hearts out. Apart from a plot that contained enough material for a trilogy, and the likely target market consisting mostly of male electrical engineers, I had it sussed. Literary agents across the UK and Ireland endured my first fifty pages, enclosed in folders with pictures of puppies and kittens, covering letters fragranced with Fahrenheit by Christian Dior (a delicate hint of summer cucumber). How could they resist? They did.

Unperturbed by rejection letters, I threw myself into the sequel and migrated the European populace into a newly fertile African continent as they fled an encroaching ice age. It was highly derivative in parts, but I experienced the full emotions of each scene, shedding tears of anguish, happiness, sadness. A lot of tears.

I knew that these two novels were an exorcism. Well, I didn’t know that at the start but towards the end of the first it became clear. Both books would have pride of place in that under-the-bed archive. I threw myself at book number three with a conscious decision to pull plot, characters and settings into something more manageable. More focused. It would be around a central character, an anti-hero.

A perfect premise for the novel presented itself. I’d just started a new job in Dublin, commuting daily from Kilkenny. The crowds, sights and smells were alien and evocative. I came across a crippled beggar on Heuston bridge, and his twin. Women in Eastern European garb making the sign of the cross at car windows for small change. Criminal gangs and an addict beggar found beaten to death in the city. It all came together. I still had no idea what narrative voice was, how to write natural dialogue, that the senses must be titillated and in all these things a modern stylistic minimalism and far, far, fewer commas, were en vogue. Half way through what had become a crime novel, my wife spotted a college course run by the National University of Ireland Maynooth, Kilkenny Campus, and I took my middle-aged- married twice- ragtime blues- guitar playing-masters in business- ass down to Hogwarts.

This penchant for crime has an organic origin. My family have always had a problem with authority. Team player is a phrase that I use at job interviews with fingers crossed behind my back. I’m a loner who breaks whatever rules he dares to on a sliding scale of seriousness and dreams of being an outcast. First the written felony through misuse of commas, colons, semicolons and sentence structure in general. Then the righteous beating of offenders who hang toilet paper with the dangly bit towards the wall (should be away from it). Defending the honour of ladies by extracting lethal vengeance against insults (fisticuffs with gypsies). Waging poison vendettas against perceived slights. Burying troublesome in-laws under the patio. Delivering a coup de grace to end the suffering of perpetrators and victims alike. This is my natural mode of thought. Writing PERIL provided the first avenue of real release. It was a painful road. I had to drop the Dickensian delivery, bring it up to the present in tone and tense, and draw in the reader with an alternating first person narrative. The result is Marmite, love it or hate it, but undeniably savoury. It’s quirky. I’ve committed a quirky crime.

What next? THE BAPTIST. More crime, of course. This time even more claustrophobic. First person but an unreliable narrator. Mentally ill, committing a lifetime of extreme crime against society. Cleansing the world of evil in preparation for the One. Pursued by the same detective that brought about the downfall in PERIL. There’s still a place for humour but it’s that of the gallows.

If I crawl under the bed and resurrect those early works from the dust and spiders then it will be to address the huge crimes committed by nations and allies. But crime on that scale is too large for me, it belongs to those who would preach. I want a smaller sphere within which individuals break rules and pay the price. If caught. I need to sense the victims’ despair, recoil from the sweat of a perpetrator trying to avoid capture, see the destruction of relationships betrayed by ill deeds and feel the touch of justice, the rod of retribution.

The future is clear for Ruby Barnes. There’s a world of misbehaviour to be committed. Taboos, laws of man and nature. Society must be rendered, its constituent parts ripped by a catalyst. The sinister chemistry of crime.

Meet Ruby Barnes on his highly entertaining blog and look him up on his Facebook page


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Helen Smith
    Apr 17, 2011 @ 13:12:03

    Interesting, post – thanks Susanne and Ruby. Good luck with the book, Ruby.


  2. Ruby Barnes
    Apr 17, 2011 @ 15:15:27

    Thanks Helen. Glad you enjoyed it. And thanks Susanne for the opportunity to bare the little birdhouse in my soul.


  3. Ginger Dehlinger
    Apr 19, 2011 @ 20:52:24

    Hi Suzanne,
    Would you welcome an article on self-publishing?
    Ginger Dehlinger
    Author of Brute Heart
    (not a romance novel)


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