Write what you know, they say. If I did that it’s safe to say my life would be in a right old two-and-eight.

In my series of novels (Dust and Desire out now, Sonata of the Dead and Hell is Empty scheduled for 2016), PI Joel Sorrell is a heavy drinker (well, okay, I can knock back the occasional martini now and then), and a man who is no stranger to extreme violence. More often than not he’s on the receiving end of it. I study karate, but only with a view to putting myself in a better position to run away at high speed should I should ever find myself under threat.

Joel’s wife was violently murdered (I can’t put a tick in that box, thank heavens), and his daughter ran away from home aged 13 (ditto). So how can we write what we know in such circumstances? I’m not so ‘method’ that I’ll put a contract out on my wife and kick son #1 out the door.

I think you have to trust your instincts, and mine that little black seam we all carry, to a greater or lesser degree. Everybody is touched by tragedy or grief. It’s okay to use that, if you’re creative. In fact, it’s pretty much essential. How you parlay such material into fiction without resorting to cliché, without trowelling on the pathos – treating such heavy subject matter with subtlety and tact – will help a reader’s suspension of disbelief.

So yes, write what you know. But if you don’t know… feel free to make it up.

Dust and Desire by Conrad Wlliams is published by Titan

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