Friday, 18 July 2014

From Writing Crime to Child’s Play

by Lorraine Mace and Frances di Plino

 I was a children’s writer long before I started writing crime as Frances di Plino, but it was my Detective Inspector Paolo Storey novels which attracted the attention of a publisher first. As a result, I became known as a crime writer, so when my first children’s book, Vlad the Inhaler, came out earlier this year, the question people started asking was: how do you move between writing crime and writing for children?

Until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to the differences in my two writing personas. Lorraine Mace writes non-fiction and children’s novels. Frances di Plino writes hardboiled crime. However, I’ve now been asked the question so often that it has made me stop and think about it. How does a children’s writer flip over to writing crime and vice versa.

From the characterisation point of view, there is no conflict. My novels tend to be character driven, so the same process applies to both genres – get inside the characters’ heads and write as if I were the people on the page. But when it comes to planning and structure, it came as a bit of a shock to realise I follow very different approaches.

My crime novels are planned from start to finish. I know who dunnit, why they dunnit, how they dunnit, which innocent characters will appear to have dunnit, which not so innocent characters will be red-herring could-have-dunnits and so on. I’ll have a list of victims and a timeline for their torture or murder (usually both). I’ll know how, when and in what fashion Paolo Storey will solve the crime, apprehend the perpetrator and how the story will ultimately end. I generally even know how the final paragraph will read.

The structure will be worked out well in advance so that I can feed in all the subplots and layers to bring the supporting cast to life and also show Paolo’s personal story. In short, I will know where I want to get to and how I’m going to get there.

If new characters appear midway through the book, as always happens, because I have a well-defined outline, I can go back to insert the necessary clues and dialogue in the right places.

As you can see, that Frances di Plino is one very organised woman!

Let’s turn our attention to Lorraine Mace, children’s author. Unlike the crime novels of my other persona, I often have no preconceived ideas about the plot whatsoever at the start. I always begin with a character who has taken up residence in my mind and refuses to leave. The only way to get rid of the intruder is play what if.

I have a children’s novel currently with my agent called Jonas Fry - Demon Hunter. When Jonas first arrived I knew very little about him, other than that he was aged twelve, badly bullied and had one blue and one hazel eye. I didn’t know where he lived, what his problems were or why, for that matter, he’d come to life in my head. But, what if he could see ghosts? That’s been done before many times, but what if the ghost he can see is the spirit of the boy who’d been bullying him only the day before? What if the ghost refuses to move on until Jonas finds out who murdered him and why? What if in doing so Jonas discovers he is the only person who can stop a portal opening which will release demons from the underworld?

With just those thoughts in mind, I start writing. The only thing I know for sure is how the novel will end. Getting from the beginning to that ending is a journey of discovery for me, the characters and, ultimately, the readers.

Vlad the Inhaler started life as a character in my head. He is now the eponymous title of a trilogy.

As you can see, writing for children is great fun, but so is writing crime. After all, it’s not everyone who can honestly answer, when asked about occupation: I kill people for a living!

Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer's ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.

Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, was published in the USA on 2nd April 2014.

Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of the crime/thriller series featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending.

Writing Critique Service

Frances di Plino


  1. Thank you so much for hosting me on this wonderful resource for writers. I am in high company indeed.

  2. Thanks for giving us a little glimpse into how Lorraine Mace does it - writing for children and being a crime novelist at the same time. I've written, but not published yet, a series of children's stories, but in between I've been working, writing and researching a historical crime novel (I thought till now only for fun, which it is), but thought that I must have some kind of split personality writing from two opposite poles. So thank you for hosting Lorraine Mace. I always enjoy her comments and blog.

    1. Thank you for commenting, Maretha. I suspect we split personality writing types are more common than is generally known. It's just that we've come out and admitted how odd we are!

      Good luck with your crime novel - I'm at the editing stage of the fourth in my crime series.