Only write the novel when you can solve the crime
When I first started as a Trainee Computer Forensic Analyst the sage advice I received from my manager was (as best as I can remember) "There are two types of people in this business: those that sit around figuring out how to commit a crime and the others that actually do it".
When Tracey Stretton first suggested that my 'creative' imagination ought to be used for a "CF Murder Mystery" event I reeled. Where do you start? How can I make it believable? What details are necessary for a mystery story?
By far the quote I found most helpful was from Andrew Hixson, of the James Bond short stories.
"I only write the novel when I can solve the crime".
After the initial shock had worn off I quickly realised that I had been given a free ticket. Without any billable time pressures I could finally, once and for all, take the time to work out from start to finish all aspects of a full 'crime'.
The core of the plot came about in our first brainstorming session. The event was to be limited both in time and, as alcohol was likely to be involved, complexity. We needed a goldilocks computer security incident which was 'just right'.
The simplest story is often the most believable, so it's no surprise that we went with good old fashioned larceny. After all, barring the consequences, we all can think of a way to steal data.
Between myself, Julian Sheppard and Tony Dearsley we collectively had enough stories about thieves and experience with thefts to provide a whole mini-series, not just one evening.
One of the more entertaining ideas we came up with was the discovery of a USB key found in the Channel Tunnel, equally laid on a rail across the Anglo-Franco border (The Discovery). Unfortunately Sky Atlantic beat us to it and unveiled The Tunnel. I still maintain that they took my idea and filmed an entire series in two weeks, just to throw me off!
Writing up the suspects and their backstory caused the most concern. Each time I mentioned the name of an obscure fictional British or American spy there would be worried looks between colleagues. "Is he day dreaming again?", "What has this got to do with The War Rooms?", "Why aren't you on billable work?" was often asked.
Working out the details was easy once we had realistic characters. Ultimately, for each of our suspects we laid out their motives and opportunities so as to leave a trail of clues to be picked out by our guests. The plot becomes something far more interesting when we cheat and use the imagination of others to fill in the gaps.
In the words of Tolkien "Good stories deserve embellishment", so it was decided that in order to describe a unique story we would need a unique visual guide. This was Dial D for Data Theft, not Death by Powerpoint!
With judicious use of motion sickness inducing Prezi we were able to develop an interesting, if quirky, set of 'slides'.
And then suddenly it was time for us to set out to the Cabinet War Rooms!
What a night it was! A perfect combination of story, location and audience. Indeed the audience participation was, as I expected, the most inventive part of the presentation.
When asked why they thought a particular culprit was guilty, some of the answers were not exactly scientific:
“Shifty Eyes” “He owns a Porsche.” “She reminds me of my ex-wife”
However, my favourite quote of the night goes to the guest who wrote on his guessing card:
"It was Felix [because] his shirt is far too tight and he's a liar! There's no way he's 6'10"! 5'11" at MOST".
Then, with a bottle of something nice to the winning entry from our audience (none of the above were winners, sadly) we wrapped up the evening with an exciting dénouement and final farewell.