Monday, January 29, 2018

Partners in Crime: Marriage Can Be Murder: Guest post by Robert Ryan

Today, I revive our Partners in Crime Feature here on Mystery Fanfare and welcome Robert Ryan, half of the writing partnership known as R.J. Bailey. Safe from Harm has been nominated for a BARRY Award. Writing with a partner can be tricky, and Robert Ryan shares info today on how he and Deborah Ryan have gone about it. Robert Ryan was born in Liverpool. He was a travel journalist on The Sunday Times until his first novel, Underdogs (set in Seattle), was published, when he left to become a freelance author and journalist. Since then he has published twenty novels, including two co-written with his wife Deborah as R J Bailey. His first produced screenplay, Hurricane, about Polish pilots in the Battle of Britain, is scheduled for release in 2019. 


Robert Ryan:
Marriage Can Be Murder

Double acts are notoriously fractious. Writing books is famously difficult. Marriage is obviously a weighty, tricky undertaking. Who on earth would combine these three things by writing a novel with their wife or husband? Well, we would. We are hardly the first, I know, but it took some serious soul-searching before we agreed that Robert and Deborah Ryan should join forces to become R J Bailey.

First of all, some background. The idea was initially mooted by Deborah when I was writing the final book in my quartet about Dr Watson (yes, that one) working at a medic in World War One, as Arthur Conan Doyle had suggested he would in His Last Bow. The novel, The Sign of Fear, was set in London during the air raids carried out by German Gotha bombers. It was research-heavy because I had to juggle the historical context and era-appropriate medicine for Watson to practice with making sure not to upset the legion of Sherlock Holmes fans. I might have mentioned this in passing once. Maybe twice. Either way, Deborah suggested that for the next book I should write a contemporary novel, something I hadn’t done for quite a time. “You wouldn’t have to spend so much time in libraries then.”

I mulled this over. Crime and thrillers are my area. Does the world really need another damaged detective? Or a hard-drinking PI? A serial killer? Deborah came up with the solution. She found an ad online that began:

“We are looking for an experienced Female CPO/PPO/Driver OR an experienced Driver with a knowledge of security for our clients in Westminster. (The candidate gender restriction is due to cultural reasons.) You will be driving the new Rolls Royce Ghost and MUST have previous experience driving luxury cars.”

A female Close or Personal Protection Officer? (They don’t like the word “bodyguard”.) Had there been one in fiction? Well, yes, but not many and none I could find set in the UK. And London was the centre for female bodyguards, due to the large influx of Middle Eastern families in the summer who don’t want their wives and children to be supervised by a man.

While I did a polish on Sign of Fear, Deborah set about creating a backstory for Samantha Wylde, as we named our embryonic PPO. Most of those in the security industry (“The Circuit”, as they call it) have police or army background, so she made Sam a battlefield medic who had done time in Iraq. She was a single mother, because her husband had been shot and killed by assailants unknown. Her daughter would be thirteen/fourteen and a bit of a handful (we had one of those ourselves, although she is now studying neuroscience at college). There would also be a first husband, the father of the child, who would be trying to get access/custody. Best girlfriends were sketched in (a fellow PPO and a journalist friend of her late husband) and a love interest (who lives on one of London’s canals, an aspect of the city we really enjoy).

Then we went to Dublin, to interview Lisa Baldwin, a friendly female PPO, who shared the highs and lows of the job as well as some funny and not-so-funny incidents with clients. By that time two months had passed and I felt we were ready to go. Enough with the research.

So, we sat down at opposite desks in the same office and typed out various sections of the story. But we couldn’t get the styles to meld. We soon realised that the novel had to be written as first person female. And by one person. Eventually we decided I would write and Deborah would edit each chapter as it came along and suggest re-writes, scenarios, plot points as well as giving me make-up and underwear tips. And the odd wisecrack.

There was one chapter, though, where I passed over a virtually blank page. It said: This is a sex scene. There is only one in the book. Make it a good ‘un.

Because although I felt comfortable describing Sam running, shooting, arguing with her daughter and fighting with Russian mobsters, I wasn’t sure I was ready to get into (or claim to understand) the female psyche for sex.

Anyway, it worked (the book I mean; readers will have to judge for themselves about Deborah’s sex scene). The book – Safe From Harm - was sold on a “partial” (i.e. we had only written half of it) and when Simon & Schuster road tested those pages around the office and asked if the author was a man or a woman, about 70% of people were sure the writer was female.

We repeated the process with the sequel, Nobody Gets Hurt, which came out this month, and have just completed the first draft of Winner Kills All for 2019 release. All three have been optioned by a well-known TV production company in the UK. Will there be a fourth? We’re still married, so there could be. But first, I have an idea for a historical spy novel, narrated by a man. It might be back to the libraries for a while. At least I won’t have to worry about make-up.

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