# Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!
Hi, I’m Robert Crouch. I write the Kent Fisher murder mystery series. They’re a contemporary and irreverent homage to the classic whodunit by authors like Agatha Christie. So far I’ve written seven novels with plans for more.
The first, originally published in June 2016, sees environmental health officer Kent Fisher called out to investigate a fatal workplace accident, only to discover it’s a murder, which has consequences for him and those he’s closest to.
This establishes his credibility as an investigator and he goes on to solve another six murders, with the latest, No Going Back, published in May 2021.
Alongside the murder investigations there’s a strong backstory based around the animal sanctuary where he lives. With a colourful love life and conflicts at work, there’s always plenty going on alongside the murder investigations.
You can find out more at my
# What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?
I spent almost forty years as an environmental health officer (EHO). My main duties were upholding hygiene standards in food premises and health and safety in workplaces. Both of these feature in the novels in various ways. Some of the incidents I have investigated inform the plot or episodes within the stories.
As an officer who visited a wide variety of businesses, some of the more unusual or lesser known activities become great locations for the action and stories, allowing me to give readers an insight into EHO work alongside the murders.
This makes Kent Fisher ‘unique in crime fiction’ as one reviewer and blogger put it. Certainly, my knowledge and experience provides plenty of ideas for stories, plots and characters. As an EHO investigates in a different way from the police, this also allows me to offer a fresh approach to solving murders.
# What inspires/inspired your creativity?
I was taught to read at an early age and spent a lot of time with my head in books. Reading is one of the best ways to stimulate the imagination, and it’s as true today as it was when I was a child. As a result, I was always interested in anything I didn’t know. And I wanted to share what I’d learned, which led to me writing stories from the age of 11.
When I realised I wanted to write crime fiction, thanks to Inspector Morse and Miss Marple, I wanted to create something different from the usual police procedurals and world weary private eye novels.
I liked the idea of an ordinary person solving murders without the help of forensics, teams of officers and experts. I liked the idea of having a modern sleuth who wasn’t weighed down by personal traumas like most police officers in crime fiction today. My sleuth would be an environmentalist, an animal lover who enjoyed being the underdog, taking on the big guys, seeking justice and fair play.
These values and principles underpin every novel. They never change, though Kent grows and develops with each investigation. This aspect of his character and the backstory continually inspires me. It also means, the backstory often determines what happens in the next novel.
That’s why I describe my books as ‘more than a murder mystery’.
# What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?
I think the biggest mistake you can make as an author is to take your readers for granted. This can manifest itself in different ways. I can only tell you about the ones that make me anxious when a novel is published.
Credibility – though it’s fiction, the characters, the actions they take and what they can do must still be accurate and realistic. People are much more informed these days thanks to the media, Google, and especially TV programmes. This is especially true for crime fiction. Cutting corners for the sake of the plot is disrespectful to readers, in my opinion.
Insufficient research/inaccuracies – I’m always worried someone will find something I should have found in my research. These days with Google, you can find out almost anything. It’s never been easier to consult experts, talk to the police, or check out what a street looks like without visiting in person. I’m constantly dipping in an out of Google to check facts and details.
Description – I once read that description should help with characterisation. It should convey someone’s personality rather than simply what they look like. Or it can give an insight into the character doing the describing. Settings can also have a character.
I also believe less is more. Reading is meant to fire the imagination and emotions – give readers a chance by keeping description to a minimum, especially when it comes to people, allowing readers to create and visualise the characters as they see them. Cut out the waffle and the exposition – focus on what characters do, keep dialogue short and sharp.
# Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
I’m not sure I can add anything to the obvious – covers need to match the genre you write in. A quick look at the top 50 books in a genre on Amazon will give you a fair idea.
The same could be said for titles, but I think there’s more room for flexibility and creativity here. The title should always be relevant to the story as well as catchy, wherever possible.
With a series, you have the chance to create a theme, both in the titles and the covers. My books all have the same background. What’s in the foreground changes with each book. You can see this from my Amazon page – https://www.amazon.co.uk/-/e/B01HFPCYOM
My titles also have a pattern – No Accident, No Bodies, No Remorse. It all helps with branding and reader identification.
# How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
Like any author, I want everyone to like my book and heap 5 star reviews its way. But I’m not writing for everyone and I know I can’t please everyone. Hopefully, the books, description and covers will encourage the right readers. Even then, there’s no guarantee a reader will like the book.
But if they tell you why they didn’t like the book, either directly or through a review, they can often flag up something you hadn’t considered, which is useful feedback. As an indie author, I can update my books to correct any issue for future readers.
No one likes negative feedback, but it’s only one person’s opinion. Focus on the genuine positive feedback you get from readers. People out there want to read what you write – give them more to read.
# How has your creation process improved over time?
My first two novels, No Accident and No Bodies, were planned in detail. As I hadn’t written a murder mystery before, I wanted to get it right.
Some time elapsed before I sold No Accident to a publisher. My experiences working with an editor taught me a great deal. Despite all the planning I did, I needed to revise in great depth to improve issues with pacing, dialogue, description and so on.
But deep down, I’ve never enjoyed working within a detailed framework. I like to try something new, explore possibilities, be flexible. So I started book three, No Remorse, with only a location and an opening line. No more.
I wrote the first chapter, which dictated the direction of the second chapter and so on. At the end of each chapter I tossed in a complication to keep things exciting and interesting. About halfway through, my subconscious was working out what the story was about. I made some notes in a notebook so I knew where I wanted to end up, but with little idea of how I would get there.
When I’d finished revising and editing No Remorse, I’d learned several things about my writing. I was definitely a pantser. Not knowing what lay ahead made the story more exciting to write, which hopefully makes it more exciting to read. Working to a plan felt stifling by comparison.
I also learned I could write a convincing murder mystery without detailed plotting. And that’s how I’ve continued. It’s not for everyone. Sometimes I have moments where I have to grab a notebook and think about what’s going to happen next. Tea breaks are perfect for reviewing and considering what happens next.
The other advantage of this approach is that the characters always remain in charge, even if they want to do things in ways I hadn’t considered.
# What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?
The best thing was discovering I could write complex and baffling murder mysteries with little plotting. I’ve published seven so far and still have ideas for more. Each novel see the main characters develop, which means the back story is often as interesting as the murder investigation.
Knowing that readers enjoy my books is so gratifying.
The worst thing is the feeling I missed something or didn’t check details thoroughly enough. I do my best to check everything, and my Google search history would probably get me arrested should the police ever check it, but I don’t want to make silly mistakes.
The most surprising thing is how much I love the characters I’ve created. They’re like family and friends to me. When anything happens to them in the stories, I feel it too. Sometimes I have to make difficult decisions and it causes great anxiety.
# Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?
Both. I like to do something different, but keep within the general bounds of the genre so readers will be interested.
When I started, I wrote the kind of book I would enjoy reading. And for the sake of credibility, I needed to write about something I knew well. However, I’m trying to write a contemporary murder mystery that pays homage to authors like Agatha Christie, hoping it will appeal to her fans.
When it comes to making decisions within the story, I do what I feel is best, knowing sometimes my readers might not always like what I do.
I could have written a formulaic police procedural novel like the thousands that are already out there. There would have been a ready audience, but I thought readers should have a choice of something fresh and different, but familiar in format and structure.
# What role do emotions play in creativity?
Emotions have a huge role to play. Writing is an emotional experience. If it doesn’t engage your emotions, I’m not sure how it can engage a reader. Because I don’t plan, I’m often surprised and moved as I write. I’ve been known to cry when I write some scenes. I feel the tension my characters feel.
# What are your plans for future books?
I’m working on a new novel with new characters, but still in the traditional murder mystery arena with ordinary people solving the crimes. James Watson is a frustrated crime writer. He’s assisted by his housekeeper, Sheryl Holmes, who actually tells the story. So you can see who I’m giving a nod to. It’s also interesting to tell the story from a female character’s viewpoint.
I will then resume my Kent Fisher mysteries with #8. Book #7, No Going Back, ended on a cliff hanger, so readers want to know what will happen next. So do I.
# Tell us some quirky facts about yourself
I’m not sure if this is quirky, but I’m a huge fan of Scooby Doo, particularly the original series. While on holiday in Florida, we were at Universal Studios and there were Shaggy and Scooby Doo, posing for photographs. Despite the protests of my wife, I joined the long line of children, waiting for their turn, and had my photo taken with my heroes.