Honing my Writing Craft: Force of Hate by Graham Bartlett

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Force of Hate

By Graham Bartlett

Graham Bartlett was a police officer for thirty years and is now a bestselling writer. As well as writing, Bartlett is a police procedural and crime advisor helping scores of authors and TV writers achieve authenticity in their drama.

When I last wrote an article for Writing.ie, I set out how, as a jobbing cop, I managed to find myself a full-time crime writer and police procedural advisor. In that article, I hinted at the fact that it was not exactly an easy transition. In fact, attentive readers will have picked up that it took me a full seven years to write Bad for Good. You will be pleased to know that things have progressed. As I eagerly await the publication of my second novel, Force of Hate in paperback and next year the third Jo Howe thriller, City on Fire, I can proudly announce that my writing routine is now infinitely more refined and efficient.

The reason Bad for Good took me so long (although I did write two non-fiction books in the meantime), was that when I started I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. No clue how to structure stories, create characters, develop tension, payoff readers nor indeed what my writing routine should be. I knew that I could not continue that way and would require professional input if the joy of seeing my name on the spine of a book in shops up and down the country would be a more frequent experience.

My main struggle was being able to understand that the first draft is effectively me telling the story to myself. It doesn’t really matter how good my prose, punctuation, even the spelling and tenses are in this very early ‘vomit draft.’ Its purpose is for me to learn for myself what I’m going to put my character through, how they are going get out of it, and all points in between. I couldn’t continue editing and polishing every line, every paragraph before I moved on with the story. That must come later when I know what it is I am writing.

Graham Bartlett

I’m not a ‘pantser’ in the traditional sense of the word as I do plot my books in a five-act structure (thanks John Yorke Story for Screenwriters course for that). That taught me to understand how to open, when all the highs and lows of the story should come and how my characters – antagonist protagonists and supporting cast – will progress along their journeys. Once I have that sketched out, it’s just a case of getting down and writing it, beginning to end.

Force of Hate was a thrilling book to write and deals with some terrifyingly close-to home issues ably summarised by my wonderful publishers, Allison and Busby thus:

When a firebomb attack at a Brighton travellers’ site kills women and children, Chief Superintendent Jo Howe has strong reason to believe the new, far-right council leader is behind the murders. Howe digs deeper into the case and uncovers a criminal ring of human trafficking and euthanasia leading to a devastating plot threatening thousands of lives and from which the murderous politician will walk away scot-free.

When writing this book, unlike last time, I was regimented in developing Jo. In Bad for Good, she was a reluctant Divisional Commander of Brighton and Hove police, thrust into the role at just the worst time in terms of the cuts but also while trying to investigate her predecessor’s son’s murder.

I needed to cultivate her as a character so spoke to Drs Chris Merritt and Philippa East, both clinical psychologists and incredible crime writers, who gently guided me on how she’d be scarred by all trauma I threw at her and how that would present itself to the world. I wanted to introduce new characters to pit her against and, using selected supporting cast from the previous book, I found new challenges that might help and hinder Jo. I was loyal to the teachings of the John Yorke Story for Screenwriters course, hence my writing seemed to flow much quicker. I was delighted to bring the writing of that book down from seven years to one. I also learnt from Bad for Good how to be kinder to the reader, particularly in terms of how, and when I introduce new characters and their differentiation.

Of course, I’m blessed too to be surrounded by a huge number of talented authors in the advisory work that I do, and through the courses I run with the Professional Writing Academy. Whilst I might be teaching authors how to write authentic and credible crime scenes and police officers, they in return lend me their expertise so that my character development and overall storytelling just goes from strength to strength. This, together with my brilliant editors at Allison and Busby and superb agent, David Headley, means that I have world class mentors and tutors around me.

I do hope that you love reading the Jo Howe books as much as I love writing them. I was delighted with a reaction to Bad for Good. In fact, in some cases I could not quite believe it was my book people were talking about. But, since the hardback of Force of Hate came out in March 2023, I have been overwhelmed with the kind comments and the significant number of people who can see the improvement both of my writing and my storytelling. It is so pleasing that recognising my flaws and seeking help has worked so well in Force of Hate, but I have never suffered from complacency. I am a slave to self-development (probably underpinned by my imposter syndrome) so I hope that I developed my skills even further so that I continue to refine my craft. Oh, and this one only took me seven months to write so something must be working!

This is an ongoing journey of adventure that I never thought I’d be on when I left the police ten years ago. I am blessed to have the opportunity to do something more creative than slap up wallpaper in my police retirement and long may it continue.

(c) Graham Bartlett

Force of Hate, Book 2 in the Jo Howe Series, is published in paperback by Allison and Busby.

About Force of Hate:
Force of Hate

AN EXPLOSIVE ASSAULT

When a firebomb attack at a Brighton travellers’ site kills women and children, Chief Superintendent Jo Howe has strong reason to believe the new, far-right council leader is behind the murders.

A CORRUPT LEADER

Howe digs deeper into the case and uncovers a criminal ring of human trafficking and euthanasia leading to a devastating plot threatening thousands of lives and from which the murderous politician will walk away scot-free.

A DETECTIVE AT BREAKING POINT

Unflinching, brutal and disturbingly plausible. Graham Bartlett is one of the most authoritative voices in crime fiction. –Kia Abdullah

As an ex-cop, Graham Bartlett knows what he’s talking about and he certainly knows how to tell a good story/ –Mark Billingham

Dark, brutal and laced with violence. –Daily Mail

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Graham Bartlett was a police officer for thirty years and is now a bestselling writer. He rose to become chief superintendent and the divisional commander of Brighton and Hove police. He entered the Sunday Times Top Ten with his first non-fiction book, Death Comes Knocking, which he later followed with Babes in the Wood. Both these books he co-wrote with international bestseller, Peter James. As well as writing, Bartlett is a police procedural and crime advisor helping scores of authors and TV writers achieve authenticity in their drama.

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