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White Murder - Background to the Book

White Murder is the seventh Corvinus book, with a chariot-racing background. It wasn’t the original title: I wanted to call the book Dead Heat, but Hodder decided otherwise; perhaps - I don’t know for sure - because it clashed with a Dick Francis title or something similar. Publishers know these things, I don’t, and it’s always best to listen to the experts. Besides, to me the title of a book - generally speaking - isn’t all that important. Blue Murder would’ve been more satisfying and made more sense (although that might well have clashed with something, too) but despite the fact that there was a Blue chariot-racing faction at Rome it didn’t fit in terms of the plot and I couldn’t use it. So there we are; White Murder it is. //// The chariot-racing background came first, as the trigger for the book, because it offered the opportunity to bring in all sorts of scams readily recognisable today: horse-nobbling, fixing races, running ringers and the rest. It also - because chariot-racing, together with the gladiatorial games was virtually the Romans’ national sport, on a par with modern football - involved big business. There was, then, plenty of scope. //// One question I’m often asked is why White Murder is longer than the other books. The simple answer is that I’m an idiot. All the previous books had been written on my steam-driven Amstrad PCW 8256, which didn’t have a hard-drive and operated on 720-kilobite floppies. I’ve never used a straightforward word count when I’m writing and I’d found that a natural length for me - and for the books - was roughly two-and-a-half of these Amstrad discs: I didn’t plan it that way, it just seemed to happen in every case. Then - just before I started writing White Murder - my Amstrad died and I upgraded to a laptop with a different word processing package. Halfway through the book (in terms of the plot) I discovered that I’d only written about a hundred pages... //// Panic. One fundamental rule of writing is that you never, ever pad, and I’ve always been sensitive to the fact that if you kill the pace (by, for example, introducing too much irrelevant background flab at the expense of the plot) you lose your reader. So I didn’t. Instead, I introduced new sub-plot strands and a few more twists to the plot itself. I finished the book, printed it off and sent it in. A few days later I got a very tactful phone call from my editor, a lovely lady called Sue Fletcher. She had, she said, enjoyed the book but wondered if next time I might possibly use the customary double spacing... /// Oh, shit. I thought I had, but I hadn’t; and that is the only reason why White Murder is as long as it is. The embarrassing thing was that the book is in audio and runs to twelve cassettes. /// On the plus side, I very recently went to Prague on holiday and took the opportunity to meet my Czech publisher (four of the Corvinus books have or will be published in Czech). He asked me if I’d written a ‘fatter’ Corvinus book, because he’d be really, really interested in that one. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘White Murder’. Oh, good. //// I hope, if you haven’t yet read it, that you will, and that you enjoy it. And I promise you that there really isn’t any surplus padding. / /// David Wishart (May 2006)

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