It may surprise you to learn that, while my protagonist Amy Lane is an accomplished greyhat hacker with access to every surveillance camera in Cardiff, I am not an international criminal mastermind.
How do I go about convincing my readers that Amy is an expert when I am barely a novice?
Know what's possible
When I first started writing The Amy Lane Mysteries, my first research stop was cybercrime. I chose to start with the right side of the law and contacted university professors with expertise in digital forensics. They directed me towards textbook cases of how investigators had caught criminals using only their computers. I also looked at news stories involving grand hacking feats and what the fallout from these had been.
I didn't know how these feats had been accomplished, but I knew they were possible. That was the first step.
Learn the language
My British English nerdery was mostly formed in the early to late Noughties. The words and terms I think are common currency aren't used among the current tech-savvy crowd. Yet part of the illusion is using language that sounds authentic to the average reader.
One of the problems of writing for an international audience is that what “sounds authentic” can vary widely depending on the location of the reader and their basic knowledge. The only crucial thing is that the basic mechanics of what's being conveyed are understandable. Amy's assistant Jason has no specific tech knowledge, so he's a good sounding board for both me and Amy to check her words make sense.
Remember: it's not a tech manual
When creating a crime novel, you are not writing a how-to guide for every chancing criminal – or legal investigator – to emulate what you've done. Once you know it's possible and you've made it sound convincing, the only step left is to show your audience that it was done – but not necessarily precisely how.
For example, in Captcha Thief, Amy asks Jason to plant a computer programme on the National Museum of Wales' computer network in order to find out sensitive data, like browsing history and user passwords. He does this by sticking a USB stick in a computer tower for two minutes.
Is it possible? Yes. Does that sound like a good technique to the uneducated ear? Yup.
Did I tell you exactly how she achieved it? What programme she used or how it worked or what she did with raw data she received from her remote connection?
Nope. And I don't write it into the novel either.
The reader wants to know how the investigating team got their evidence so they can follow along with the mystery. They don't need three pages of programme code to accept that it happened.
Does this carry over to other knowledge spheres? Little bits of authentic detail will pass casual inspection. If your whole plot hinges on a technicality or the accuracy of your portrayal might affect a person's wellbeing (e.g. how a diabetic manages their insulin), you should bring in an expert to check your working.
But if your hacker is using Instagram to find a schoolgirl using only her friends' photographs, You might just get away with only smoke and mirrors.
Title: CAPTCHA Thief
Author: Rosie Claverton
Website: www.rosieclaverton.com www.amylanemysteries.com
Publisher: Crime Scene Books
Purchase on Amazon
About the Book:
Agoraphobic hacker Amy Lane and her sidekick Jason Carr are swept up in a tortuous and increasingly dangerous adventure following the murder of a security guard at the National Museum of Wales and the theft of a priceless Impressionist painting. As Amy seeks to help track an art thief and Jason seeks to impress the National Crime Agency investigator Frieda Haas sent to recover the missing painting – and its abductor—Jason and Amy become entangled in a perilous web. As the evidence leads Amy and the police in circles, Jason finds himself taking more and more risks in his hunt for the thief. Nothing is as it seems. Are Amy and Jason merely playthings for a vicious murderer? Can they survive the game? The stakes are high, and this game is serious. Dead serious….
About the Author:
Rosie Claverton grew up in Devon, daughter to a Sri Lankan father and a Norfolk mother, surrounded by folk mythology and surly sheep. She moved to Cardiff to study Medicine and adopted Wales as her home. She then moved to London to specialize in psychiatry. Her first short film Dragon Chasers aired on BBC Wales in Autumn 2012. She co-wrote the ground-breaking series of short films The Underwater Realm. Between writing and practicing medicine, she blogs about psychiatry and psychology for writers in her Freudian Script series.
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