Precocious Prodigy

Precocious prodigy, genius gem, or crazy contrivance?

Yes, I’m questioning the age of my detective Sparkle Anwyl. Acorns of doubt were understandably planted by some comments on my Café Terrace piece for the WEP/IWSG Challenge. All were uplifting and inspire more writing.

For instance, Nilanjana Bose ended an encouraging comment of great value by writing, “…Oh, I’d just like to mention that ’20th birthday meal’ threw me for a minute, because 20 seemed too young for Sparkle to have the experience/gut instinct she has. 🙂” Likewise, Donna Hole heartened me and helped motivate me, and added, “…An intuitive detective at 20? Hmm, I’m not buying it, but I think it plays well to today’s young readers…”

Nancy Drew or Mary Sue?

Anyway, those are valid points which made me look at my timeline for Sparkle and her backstory.

Precocious Prodigy?

Not in the sense of greats like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, John Stuart Mills, Marie Curie, or Stevie Wonder. There are less well-known examples in other disciplines and countries if you want to learn more at https://247wallst.com/special-report/2020/01/24/31-famous-child-prodigies/ Or visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_child_prodigies

And then there are the Fictional ones like Dexter in Dexter’s Laboratory and the talented child geniuses in Ender’s Game.

However, Sparkle Anwyl was never in the child prodigy category – not from what I know. However, as I replied to Nilanjana, “I agree Sparkle may seem young, but she has the background to give her experience – father a copper, farming family, deaf sister, vigilante at 16, met Kama at 18 just before police college so has learnt from her too…”

Note that I mentioned Stevie Wonder as a prodigy. He overcame his blindness with music, an art form which has also helped the deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie. Sparkle’s sister Gwawr is deaf from birth so I envisage that means as the older sister by six years, Sparkle must be responsible around her sister, and even learns British Sign Language and lip-reading.

From my observations of farmers, when I worked in the organic movement, the kids were growing up with more responsibility, caring for animals and plants, handling and driving machinery, and tasked with crucial chores. Sparkle’s family have a sheep farm and she would have had obligations as a kid, like looking after lambs and learning to work a sheepdog.  

Other occupations place similar demands on kids. Teenagers too. Think of all those young people who fight for their country – and many have died. Other services too. As a dad, policeman Marc Anwyl would be a role-model, even if his work creates domestic problems so initially his actions deter Sparkle.  

But observation might encourage her own gut instinct to kick in. Events at school – bullied as a weirdo – take her down a darker path as a vigilante, yet her fate leads her back to the police.

I reveal some formative incidents in the novel I’m editing now – Fevered Fuse, the one needing beta-readers. However, I may tweak the timeline to make Sparkle’s age fit better. I can’t change the age when she’s at secondary school (11-16) and sixth-form college (16-18), nor when she can start at police college (18), but beyond that there’s leeway.

Sparkle is still a police constable in my Café Terrace piece. But she’s only aged 21 when she qualifies as a detective, while Kama is 25 when she first appears as a Detective Sergeant. Detectives in the United Kingdom are older according to recent surveys. In most UK police forces, the youngest DC is 27 and youngest DS is 29. But there have been a few younger ones, according to my research, so they confirmed my ‘dynamic duo’ were not far-fetched.

Or are they?

Should I age my characters to add maturity, experience, and realism?

Develop their backstories?

More cases and more criminals while trudging Welsh streets means more tales and more settings.

Ffestiniog & West Highland Railway departure from Porthmadog.https://www.festrail.co.uk/gallery.htm

How long was that novel?

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Which novel you ask? That bestseller? My novel? Well, in some ways that’s a general question, but today it’s personal, and my monthly post for Insecure Writer’s Support Group day – and my weekly post combined.

As November approached, I was wondering if reaching the NaNoWriMo winning tape was possible, and how I would managed to keep blogging. But now, 70,186 words later and a ‘Winner’, my worry/insecurity is different.

I haven’t finished this re-write of the first draft [Draft 1 Mark 2] of “Fates Maelstrom”, and, looking at where I am in relation to Draft 1 Mark I, there are another 32,000 words to write. Maybe more if I play out my new crazed idea and kill another character.

A crime novel with over 100,000 words, in a highly competitive market, felt wrong. Surely, Agatha Christie had been able to tackle far cleverer mysteries in less words.

It didn’t take me long to find truth in that fear. Agatha Christie’s novels range from 54,000 to 70,000. And looking at two more recent authors that I admire, Ellis Peters and Dick Francis, their books are shorter than some of the current writers that I read, like Linwood Barclay.

But then I looked at Famous Novels and saw the huge range, well-illustrated in word count order, from small gems to mammoth tomes, in this article, and in alphabetical order here.

However, my novel has to fit in with the norm, and current publishing requirements – even if I self-publish, somehow. I began to feel better when I found out that in the genre of ‘Mysteries and Crime Fiction’, the suggested figures are: Cozies 60,000-70,000; all others 80,000-100,000.

For those of you that want more detail, I found the following figures in posts by various people, including Jacqui Murray – Word Count by Genre. The posts also tackle all the key genres. For crime, the figures are:

  • cozy mysteries = 65k to 90k
  • mysteries, thrillers and crime fiction = A newer category of light paranormal mysteries and hobby mysteries clock in at about 75k to 90k. Historical mysteries and noir can be a bit shorter, at 80k to 100k. Most other mystery/thriller/crime fiction falls right around the 90k to 100k mark.

That gives me some leeway, at this stage, as I sense my mystery is veering away from a ‘cozy’, although it isn’t going to be an action-driven thriller.

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Last stop on the research bus was Writers Workshop, and a post by Harry Bingham, a crime novelist and founder of the WW. (I’m slightly apprehensive now, as Harry has written a successful crime series, featuring a strange young female Welsh detective, Fiona Griffiths. And my series features a strange young female Welsh detective, Sparkle Anwyl. Uffern gwaedlyd – the bar has been raised.)

Anyway, Harry Bingham says, “Crime novels usually run a bit longer than women’s fiction, so although 75,000 words is fine as a lower limit, anything up to 130,000 words is pretty standard. Don’t go below 75,000 though.”

His post, not only looks at other genres, but also has links on what to do if your novel is too long. I will be using those suggestions come revision time – even just to remove the weasel words and the padding.

By any of the above measures, my debut novel “Spiral of Hooves” fell just inside the lower limit, coming in at 75,400 words. “Fates Maelstrom” may be nearer the upper end, around 90,000.

Insecurity postponed.

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The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. We post our thoughts on our own blogs. We talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. We discuss our struggles and triumphs. We offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling.

Please visit others in the group and connect with other writers – aim for a dozen new people each time.

Purpose: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter hashtag is #IWSG

And be sure to check out our Facebook group –https://www.facebook.com/groups/IWSG13/

The awesome co-hosts for the December 2 posting of the IWSG are Sandra Hoover,Mark Koopmans, Doreen McGettigan, Megan Morgan, and Melodie Campbell! 

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