From the screen to the page. The Metamorphosis of Murder. #killerfest15

Category: Author Post

What’s the difference between writing a novel and writing a screenplay?  It’s a question I’m often asked, being someone who earns a living doing both.  The answer isn’t as easy to pin down as you’d think.

An Act of Mercy began as a screenplay – Pilgrim, a speculative pilot episode for a TV series, or ‘spec script’.  I first had the idea for the story after reading an article about Charles Dickens, who was a massive fan of the newly-created detectives, often writing about them in his journal Household Words.  Unfortunately, his enthusiasm wasn’t shared by the public–at-large, especially the middle- and upper-classes, who thought there was something ‘sneaking and un-English’ about the concept.  Even the Police Commissioners believed that crime prevention was the key to successful policing; detection after the fact was an admission of defeat.

I thought it was a great starting point for a story.

Shortly after finishing the screenplay for Pilgrim, Ripper Street hit our TV screens.  I was gutted.  No-one was going to commission another Victorian crime series now!  But I’d enjoyed the company of Detective Sergeant Harry Pilgrim so much that I really didn’t want to abandon him.  I decided to turn the screenplay into a novel.

I started out with the dialogue and action of the script, and gradually built setting and internal monologue around them.  What I also had, right from the start, was structure (as any TV writer will tell you, a sound story structure is crucial if you’re going to sustain an hour-long TV episode). The only problem was that I only had enough structure and story for half a novel.

Turning Pilgrim into An Act of Mercy was a fascinating and occasionally frustrating challenge.  But I’m so glad I stuck at it.  Thanks to HarperCollins Killer Reads I can now share Detective Sergeant Harry Pilgrim with other lovers of crime fiction. I can also answer that tricky question with some authority.  What’s the difference between a writing a novel and a writing a screenplay?  Six months hard work!

Blog by JJ Durham

Latest book: An Act of Mercy

Q&A with author J.J. Durham #killerfest15

Category: Author Post

Your name: J.J Durham

Tell us about yourself: I was born in a colliery village in the NE of England and grew up in a caravan stuffed full of books, cutting my literary teeth on the great storytellers of the 60’s and 70’s – Wilbur Smith, Frank Yerby, Mary Renault, and Sergeanne Golon.  A degree in English put paid to my literary ambitions for a decade or so, and my first published novels were distinctly un-literary, for the Virgin Books Black Lace series.  I live just outside Edinburgh with my husband, three kids, a skinny dog and a fat one.

Tell us about your latest book: An Act of Mercy follows the adventures of pioneering Victorian detective Harry Pilgrim as he investigates a series of baffling murders with the help of Charles Dickens. But when the only suspect is found murdered in his cell, the case turns into a deadly game of cat and mouse.

When did you start writing? I wrote my first novel – a historical romance – when I was 13. It was only 15,000 words long, and included illustrations! I guess I’ve written ever since.

Where do you write? Almost anywhere.  With three kids in the house I’ve had to develop the sensibilities of a police horse. As long as I have my laptop, I’m virtually bomb-proof.

Which other authors do you admire? I have a long list.  But if I had to choose one crime author it would be C. J. Sansom. His Shardlake books really capture the spirit of the Tudor age, without bludgeoning the reader with historical facts. And Shardlake is a subtle and engaging protagonist.

Book you wished you’d written? The Great Gatsby.  The most perfect novel in the English language.

Greatest fictional criminal: Professor Moriarty. A worthy nemesis for Sherlock Holmes.

Greatest crime or criminal from the real world: I wouldn’t call him the greatest – he could be inconsistent and was certainly unlucky – but I would have to say Harry the Valet. He was a real-life Raffles, who had a flamboyant and colourful career as a master jewel thief, until he was undone by a disastrous love affair. Duncan Hamilton has written a very enjoyable book about him.

Greatest fictional detective: C. J. Sansom’s Shardlake.

What scares you? The hostility in the world today. It seems to be going off the scale.

Are you ever disturbed by your own imagination? Only when I imagine what the world might be like in fifty years time.

Three crime books you would recommend to EVERYONE

Do you listen to music when you write? Not when I’m writing novels.  But when I’m writing screenplays I often have a particular piece of music I’ll listen to, to recapture the mood of a story.

Are you on social media? Yes, you can find me on Facebook, and I also have a blog

How can fans connect with you? As well as my Facebook page and my blog, I have a website: and an email address:  I’m always happy to hear what people think of my stories.