I took part three times so far, and even though I’m currently putting the finishing touches onto a Shattered Empire double release (both the long awaited Debts to Pay and a short story called Seedlings will be coming out in September) I still decided that I didn’t want to miss the first anniversary of the eight hour challenge.
After two false starts, a historical romance short and a piece of puply retro science fiction respectively, both of which turned out too complex for the scope of this challenge, I finally settled on writing another crime short. This one even turned out to be a mystery in the narrower US sense rather than crime fiction in the looser European sense – for in the whole crime/mystery/suspense/thriller supergenre, subgenre borders and definitions vary quite widely between the US and Europe (which would be a whole blogpost in itself).
However, The Cork and the Bottle, my eight hour fiction challenge story for August, actually features an investigator, Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd, who finds herself faced with a crime and resolves it by the end of the story, putting together several clues. And if you’ve read some of my other crime fiction, you’ll know that’s not always the case with my crime shorts. So hurray, I have a proper mystery, at last.
I also found that I quite like the characters of DI Helen Shepherd, PC Walker and Dr. Rajiv and may well revisit them for future mysteries.
The inspiration for The Cork and the Bottle came via one of those crime shorts still found in the backpages of many German magazines, which inspired me to start writing short crime fiction in the first place, assuming it would be easy to sell, since there obviously was a market (alas, only in German).
Around the time, I figured out that my attempt at retro style pulp science fiction wouldn’t work within the framework of an eight hour challenge, I chanced to read a short crime story in one of my Mom’s gossip mags. I’m usually pretty good at predicting mystery plots – the drawbacks of being a writer – but I expected this particular crime short to go in a completely different direction than it did. I also thought the solution I had come up with was pretty good. So I thought, “What the hell? Why don’t I write that story?”
I changed setting and details, from Germany to Britain and from a café to a pub, and of course the “whodunnit” and wrote my story straight through. Research for this one was fairly minimal. I had to look up some of the UK police terms and ranks. Now I watch a lot of British crime drama and know most of the ranks, but for example I did not know what the official term for a medical examiner in the UK was. I also had to look up the exact wording of the rights reading in England and Wales. I also had to check whether Old Spreckled Hen really comes in brown bottles. Finally, I checked with an elderly relative whether hearing aids – after all, a hearing aid or rather the absence of one is the vital clue – were really taken out at night.
Regarding the name of the pub, there are several generator for tavern names online (here is a good one), though they’re mostly intended for fantasy writers and gamers. But while generator sites like Seventh Sanctum, Choatic Shiny, the Generator Blog or Generator Land are a godsend, particularly for eight hour fiction challenges, I chose to go another route and instead consulted a list of cool or interesting names for shops, restaurants, pubs and the like that I keep. Basically, whenever I run across an interesting shop or restaurant name, I write it down and go through the list when I need something. And somewhere on that list, I came across The Cork and the Bottle, which struck me as very fitting, because not only is it a great name for a pub, it also matches the story perfectly, since the murder weapon is a bottle. And so it eventually became the title of the story as well.
For the cover, I searched the free stock image sites as well as my own holiday photos from the UK and finally found a great photo of a pub by night on one of the free stock image sites. I altered the image a bit to blank out the name of the pub, added title and author name, was ready to go. Then some editing and formatting and I was finally ready to hit “publish”.
Now Amazon’s recent publishing delays also hit The Cork and the Bottle and so the story took almost 48 hours to go live, six times as long as it took to write, proofread and format, but now it’s finally here:
The Cork and the Bottle
When the landlord of The Cork and the Bottle ends up dead in a puddle of blood on the floor of his own pub, the case seems clear. The teen burglars who broke into the pub to steal the contents of the till are the culprits.
But there are things about the case that just don’t add up. And eventually, Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd begins to suspect that the killers are to be found much closer to home…
For more information, visit the The Cork and the Bottle page.
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