Blending Genres by S.A. Dunphy | Resources | Better Fiction Guides | Developing Your Craft | Plotting and Planning
S.A. Dunphy

S.A. Dunphy

Author S.A. Dunphy on how to bring differing worlds together without clashing . . .

When I made the move from writing non-fiction accounts of my experiences working in child protection to writing crime fiction, I (rather naively) expected my loyal readers would simply follow me in my new venture.  I made sure to let them know the new books would deal with many of the same themes, that even though I was writing as S. A. Dunphy, it was still me, that the style would be the same, and that they should feel right at home.

These reassurances were met with a flurry of messages on my social media informing me that many, many of my non-fiction readers only read inspirational memoirs (misery lit, as my publishers called it) and would most certainly not be purchasing my new crime novel.

I was a bit perplexed by this.  My reading tastes are quite eclectic, and I’ve never been put off by a book’s genre – I’ve read and enjoyed everything from sports biographies to hard sci-fi, food writing to travel memoirs.  I read fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, poetry… whatever appeals to me on a given day.

So this was a new one on me – some of my readers were not open to change.

However there was little I could do but accept it, and get on with the new writing direction my publishers at Hachette wanted me to explore.

Little WitnessIt turned out to be a long-term engagement.  The Dunnigan series proved to be very successful, and I went on to write 4 books with those characters, leaving the final one in such a way the series could be continued if we ever felt inclined to do so.  I went on to write a second series set in the same world, featuring a team of specialists dealing with ‘unusual’ cases in rural Ireland.  This series, the Boyle and Keneally books, ran for three titles and topped several Amazon charts.  They’re still selling well.

Each time I published a new book, however, I would receive quite a few messages asking when my next non-fiction title would be coming out.

I tried to satisfy my non-fiction readers with an Audible Only series, Stories From the Margins, which picked up exactly where my last child protection book left off.  However while these books were all Number 1 Audible bestsellers, they didn’t make my hard-core fans happy either – a large number of them, I discovered, only read print books and were loathe to dabble in the new technology of audio.

So it was back to square one.

The issue wasn’t really resolved until a lengthy Zoom call between myself, my agent, the fabulous Ivan Mulcahy, and Susannah Hamilton, my editor at Bookouture, in advance of my signing a new contract.  During this discussion the issue of bringing my non-fiction readers on board for this new project came up.  We batted around the issue for about twenty minutes, coming up with a variety of ideas, and finally hit on the concept of writing a series featuring a new team of detectives who specialized in cases involving children.

Each of these new characters would have a a history of being raised in the care system, and while this has left them all slightly wounded and vulnerable, it also makes them particularly empathic to the children they encounter in their work.

It was finally agreed that this was how we would proceed, and Susannah asked me to go away and write up a pitch, including character sketches, the overall feel of the books, how we might balance the challenges of writing child protection stories that rang true with the rigours of a police procedural, which has its own rules and pitfalls.

‘Oh, and if you could find a way to include a dog in the story, that would be great,’ Susannah said as we were signing off.  ‘Readers like dogs.’

I wrote the outline, complete with basic plot ideas for the first three novels as well as detailed character sketches, in a single morning.  When I sent the document to Susannah, the only change she made was to the names – she felt they weren’t ‘Irish’ enough.  I had no issue changing them – I’ve never been precious about the names of my characters.

Bookouture signed on for the series, and I went to work.

We launched the first two books in the DI Tessa Burns series on February 12th of 2024.  I was really nervous – here was a new series, featuring mostly new characters (these books are set in the same literary universe as the Dunnigan series and the Boyle and Keneally trilogy, so a few characters do cross over) and with an untested concept.  I was terrified they’d go down like a lead balloon.

I needn’t have worried.  It became clear to me pretty quickly that there was a huge amount of support out there for this new team.  People warmed to Tessa, Danny and Maggie, but particularly to Maggie’s service dog, Pavlov (thanks, Susannah, for the suggestion!)

Over the next few days I watched the first book in the series, Little Witness, climb several Amazon charts – Police Procedural, Women Sleuths and (to my surprise and, I’ll admit, delight) Cosy Animal mysteries – although I don’t think there’s anything cosy about these novels!

And my non-fiction readers, for the first time, made the transition.  I received messages telling me that they’d read Little Witness and loved it, and would be reading the second in the series, Only the Children, too.

What happened?  Why did this blending of disparate genres work?  I think it worked because it was honest.  I wrote a series rooted in fact.  The laws mentioned are all real, the situations are all things I have encountered in my own work or heard about from other professionals.  And the team are detailed enough in their character details to seem like living, breathing people.

One reader told me that, if one of her kids was ever in trouble, Tessa, Danny, Maggie and Pavlov would be the exact type of professionals she’d want on her side, ready to do battle for her kids’ safety and wellbeing.

And that was the greatest compliment I could have been paid.

(c) S.A. Dunphy

Author website:
Facebook: Shane Dunphy – S. A. Dunphy
Instagram: shanewritesbooks
Twitter: @dunphyshane1

About Little Witness by S.A. Dunphy:

Little WitnessThey took her parents.

When Detective Tessa Burns was a little girl, she hid, terrified, as her father was murdered. The face of the man who killed him is lost in her memory – but from that moment she vowed to protect the innocent, just like her father had done. Now, when she hears that seven-year-old Aisling Connolly has been found hiding all alone on an isolated farm, she’s determined to help her.

They came in the dark.

Tessa and her child-centred team are the best in Ireland. It’s not long before red-haired Aisling trusts them enough to reveal the terrifying truth: two days ago, the men came. Aisling’s mammy told her to run like she’d never run before, to not look back. Alone and petrified, she hasn’t seen her parents since.

And now she is the only one who can save them.

As Tessa uncovers more about Aisling’s parents, she realises details of the case mirror her own father’s death. Desperate that Aisling won’t end up orphaned like her, Tessa throws everything at the investigation. But just as she thinks she’s cracked it wide open, Aisling’s neighbours – a young family – are murdered, in a horrific warning to Aisling not to speak. And to Tessa, to let the case go.

But time is running out, and any hope of finding Aisling’s parents alive is rapidly fading. Tessa must do everything in her power to ensure the little girl isn’t next…

An utterly gripping Irish police procedural filled with unexpected twists. Perfect for fans of Peter May, Lisa Regan, and Patricia Gibney.

Order your copy online here.

About the author

Childcare expert, author, teacher, journalist, broadcaster, musician, nerd, husband, Dad, Grandad.

Shane Dunphy (S. A. Dunphy) was born in Brighton in 1973, but grew up in Ireland, where he has spent most of his life. A child protection worker for 15 years, he is the number one bestselling author of 20 books. His first nine titles dealt with his time on the frontline of social care work, and include the number one bestseller Wednesday’s Child. His bestselling series of crime novels (written under the name S. A. Dunphy) feature the emotionally damaged criminologist David Dunnigan. Stories From the Margins, his series of True Crime books written for Audible, has been critically acclaimed as well as being an audio-bestseller. He has also ghost written two biographies. Writing as S. A. Dunphy his exciting new series of crime novels, set in Ireland, feature Criminal Behaviourist Jessie Boyle and detective Seamus Keneally.

Author website:
Facebook: Shane Dunphy – S. A. Dunphy
Instagram: shanewritesbooks
Twitter: @dunphyshane1

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