Daily Archives: August 28, 2011

VICE SOCIETY – Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

Chaired by author and journalist SJ Parrish, this panel was set to discuss the depiction of sex and violence in crime fiction and whether it is an exploitation of those who have already been exploited.

The panel was made up of authors James McCreet, Val McDermid, Adam Creed and former senior police officer and the inspiration for Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennyson, Jackie Malton.

Jackie kicked off by saying that part of a detective’s strategy is to feed the media, the Jill Dando case being a good example – but it can lead to multiple inputs and things to follow up on. Personally her crime fiction preferences are for more psychological thrillers with her favourite being Val McDermid’s ‘The Mermaids Singing’.

Adam Creed said that in his own books he tends to use a reoccurring theme; people taking the law into their own hands.

Val MCDermid then asked if, as a group, they should be known as ‘Depravity R Us?’ and commented that they all deal with two very powerful forces in their books, lust and love.

James McCreet spoke of vice in Victorian times and that society as a whole was worried that prostitution would affect, contaminate and eventually destroy society. When asked if he though that the historical setting of his books enabled him to distance himself he agreed that it did but added that crime fiction does provide all writers with the vicarious distance needed.

Jackie Malton spoke candidly about her own drink addiction – she now works as a therapist and addiction counsellor in prison and it was quite a strange experience to hear the woman who inspired the hard drinking copper Jane Tennyson on tv talking of her own battles. The fact that she was former ‘flying squad’ does gain her a lot of respect with inmates though.

An interesting point raised by Val McDermid was whether as a society we have in fact created crimes, such as the desire to have items of personal property has led to the desire in others to want to steal it. Certainly in the case of items such as mobile phones this could be strongly argued. She went on to express anger at the growth of Eastern Europeans as the villains and the prostitutes in so many recent novels – a very current racism that seems to have sprung up. Val said that she often wishes that the world of crime fiction was much further removed from the real world violence that we now see so much of (she cited the news that very week of the nurse killing patients through saline drips).

The conversation then turned to gender and violence against women in crime novels with Val saying that women grow up with the worry and fear of being victims because they have grown up in a world that constantly warns them.

James McCreet said that crime fiction is, in a way, like a sexual tension, with red herrings along the way until finally you reach the ‘big pay off’ at the end.

And the session closed with Val commenting on the times when the writing and real life just get a little too close for comfort. She once had a stalker write to her to say he was ‘crap at it, but just read a Kate Brannigan, and when I get out I’m gonna get it right!’


Leave a comment

Filed under Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Harrogate 2011

LEGAL EAGLES – Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

Unfortunately I had to miss the next event on the schedule (the Readers’ Book Group with Martyn Waites discussing novels by Cathi Unsworth and Christa Faust) – a real shame as it was Christa’s only event other than the dinner event that I knew I was also having to miss (more of that later).

So, after a much needed break and another great lunch, it was back to the main hall for ‘Legal Eagles’.

Chaired by the hilarious Peter McCormick (Senior Partner of McCormick’s Solicitor, who sponsored the panel) this was an insightful discussion between MR Hall, Frances Fyfield, Martin Edwards and Helen Black concerning how much of their professional legal careers they now bring to bear on the pages of their novels.

Peter’s opening was first class and a pleasant surprise from a speaker who would not have been known to pretty much anybody in the room.  He managed to get his office’s telephone number into the opening presentation several times over, introduced MR Hall as ‘Mr Hall’ – as that was how his secretary had typed his notes.  He also had a few pops at Martin Edwards just to get the ball rolling, saying he’s best described as a man locked in the music of the 60’s – often taking his titles from album or song titles. 

Starting with MR (or Matthew) Hall.  His next book ‘The Flight’ is due out early 2012.  He works a lot with juvenile prisoners – often with very tragic backgrounds – which often move him.  He once wrote a thriller about a youngster dying in the cells as a television drama – he was never made, but he re-used the idea to a certain extent in his novel ‘The Coroner’.

Francis Fyfield was a prosecutor and strongly believes there is no black and white, just various shades of grey.  Her work enabled her to look at people’s lives, to pity their lives.  It entered her bloodstream.  She said she’d love to write a romance with jokes, a book with angels and fairies and true love – but, as a lawyer, she feels conditioned to only put forward the truth.

Martin Edwards always wanted to be a crime writer but continues to write legal books and articles too.  As his legal expertise grows, so does the list of disclaimers in the back of his novels !

Helen Black has photos from when she was younger, outside 10 Downing Street and the National Theatre, so must have originally wanted to be Prime Minister or a famous actor.  She never imagined she’d become a writer, but she never imagined she’d become a solicitor either, so maybe she’d still in with a chance of becoming Prime Minister after all.  She only gives her character one case to work on  – so that’s not too close to the truth!

Martin chipped in with the fact that everyone has bad days at the office but, as crime novelists, they get to go home and kill someone.

They all then spoke about their series characters and the routes/developments of the stories over those series.

Martin spoke of the art of the modern crime writer having to be able to write for continuing readers and new readers – just how much backstory is enough/too much?

And, what’s coming up next from the four authors?

MR Hall – ‘The Flight’ – a tale of the Airbus (piloted by computer) – set to fly London to New York, but it never arrives!

Francis Fyfield – Currently working on Radio Four music programmes – and easy distraction from her writing.  She’s also just finished a standalone novel ‘Gold Digger’ about a collector of paintings.

Martin Edwards – ‘The Hanging Wood’ – just published – another in his Lake District series.  He describes it as a book where ‘something terrible and dark happens’ at the beginning and at the end.

Helen Black – working on a standalone book called ‘2012’ – featuring a politician in an ‘all singing all dancing thriller – bombs going off (during the Olympics) and people saving the world.’

Francis Fyfield asked if perhaps they are all living vicariously through their books, giving their characters attributes and possessions that they’d want to have themselves?

Martin Edwards said ‘It’s all about making stuff up!’

And Francis dispelled myths about plotting by saying she simply writes scenes she wants to write.  Hers are ‘True novels of suspense, as even the author doesn’t know how they are going to end.’   🙂


Leave a comment

Filed under Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Harrogate 2011

NEW BLOOD – Harrogate Crime Writing Festival

Bounding onto stage sporting a headset mic set and doing the first line of ‘Like a Virgin’ before admitting that Martina Cole beat her to it with her ‘Britney’ the day before, festival favourite Val McDermid took to the stage to introduce the ‘New Blood’ event.

This has been a very popular panel since first being put on at Harrogate as it gives readers a chance to hear debut crime novelists describe their route to publication and provides a chance to get started reading new crime authors from their very first book and see how they then develop over, hopefully, years to come.

But it also serves to give those established authors a reason to keep upping their own game, seeing these bright young things rising up as potential threats on the bestseller charts. McDermid announced that she was dealing with this by ‘ritually murdering the panel afterwards’, but she has also got her first children’s book ‘My Granny is a Pirate’ coming out – just in case she needs to change tack.

She introduced the panel, starting with Gordon Ferris, who has had great ebook sales and now in print with 1946 set West of Scotland books including ‘Truth Dare Kill’ – McDermid advising the audience ‘Don’t start any of these (books) if you have to be somewhere in half an hour.’

Julia Crouch, who has written the fantastic psychological thriller ‘Cuckoo’ described how she’s a big Nick Cave fan and loves to run in her home town of Brighton, so often runs along listening to Cave’s ‘The Boatman’s Call’ hoping she may bump into him.

Next up was Melanie (MJ) McGrath, whose ‘White Heat’ has been one of my favourite reads this year. Her book was inspired by a trip to the North Pole which was the followed up by witnessing an attempted murder when she got back home. Much has been made of the food detailed within her book, but she laughed it off by saying that after a few weeks in the region where the book is set ‘the body takes over and you wake up and say “Yay! Whale blubber!”’

Gordon said that he has to set his books in the past as he doesn’t like all the csi and police procedurals. Val McDermid said she did think that ‘CSI Kilmarnock somehow doesn’t have the same ring to it.’

When talking about their style of book or the terms used to describe them, Julia Crouch said she thought her book was a ‘crime of passion’ novel – which essentially meant she could then join the Crime Writers Association and the Romantic Novelist Societies.

The fourth member of the panel was SJ Watson, who has had amazing success with his great debut ‘Before I Go to Sleep’, who simply stated that ‘at the age of 40, I have discovered what I should be doing.’

Gordon Ferris said that what authors do is ‘a craft – not a God-given right.’

Melanie McGrath added that she is often ‘surprised by how profoundly you need to know your characters.’ ‘Only by really knowing them allows them to tell you what they are going to do next.’

Julia Crouch, who wrote the first draft of what was to become ‘Cuckoo’ as a NaNoWrimo (National Novel Writing Month) project said that she ‘Hadn’t realised how many times you can re-write a novel. She continued to speak of her publishing experience and clearly had a lot of respect for readers and for library events.

Before going to the Q&A section of the discussion, there was time for each of the authors to mention what was next for them:

SJ Watson – A novel currently titled ‘Nine Lives’ (although subject to change). He is fascinated by identity and its fluidity – the masks we wear at different times – and there’ll be more sex in this one.

Melanie McGrath – Book 2 is about a month away from being finished – will feature more sex (and possibly more whale blubber) with sexual and political skulduggery in the same region as ‘White Heat’.

Gordon Ferris – ‘Bitter Water’ – a sequel to ‘The Hanging Shed’, in the first person again and set 2-3 months on from the previous book in high summer. He promised an outbreak of violence, a pattern being formed and metered out to the bad guys – rapists/thieves – in the form of vigilantism. Mean streets, Mean city, Mean people.

Julia Crouch – ‘Every Vow you Break’ – Set in upstate New York (she knows the area and the them very well as her husband works there a lot as an actor). The story centres around a family who go there, where the husband is an actor. There’s a stalker in it, and it doesn’t end very well…..

And then it was time for the Q&A section, kicking off by asking about each author’s oute to publication and whether their published book was their first novel.

SJ Watson – Not a typical route to publication at all. It wasn’t his first novel, but it was the first one he’d managed to finish.

Melanie McGrath – ‘White Heat’ was her first fiction book, but she had several non-fiction books already published. It took her a couple of years to find a suitable route into fiction publication.

Gordon Ferris – Has a large back catalogue. He shot to fame overnight, after 12 years. His kindle published download had an ‘invisible’ rise on amazon to the top of the charts with 120,000 ebooks sold. Now his work is available in paperback, he feels he’ll be able to better judge if writing is his career.

Julia Crouch – Described her route as fairly ‘cushy’ – after redrafting her NaNoWriMo entry until ready, she submitted a synopsis and 5000 words and was sold within 3 weeks to Headline.

Were there any changes in the books?

Julia Crouch – Yes, in the first NaNo draft they all died – just to get the thing finished!

SJ Watson – Couldn’t recall any changes.

Gordon Ferris – No major changes to the plot. ‘Kenny’ became ‘Douglas’ but that was the only change he could recall. Comments on their writing processes: SJ Watson – has early starts and writes whilst half asleep.

Melanie McGrath – Likes to be writing fairly early, starting with getting up at 7.30am

Gordon Ferris – Starts at 8.30am and rewrites until he throws it away!

Julia Crouch – Using the NaNoWriMo concept for first draft meant it was done very quickly. She uses post-it notes and colour coding – don’t all authors love their stationary!

And all agreed that they use [ ] brackets for all the unknown parts of their novels as they go along.

[Insert BIG bit of plot here ! ]


Leave a comment

Filed under Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Harrogate 2011

Flipbackbooks – The new additions.





Regular readers might have already seen my comment on the lovely little flipbackbook edition of Stephen King’s MISERY that formed part of the original launch titles range of this exciting and collectable new format.



Now, there are six more bright young things to look forward to and to add to your miniature pocket-sized small but perfectly formed collection of flipbackbooks.

All are published at £9.99 each on 15th September.

This crime fan’s particularly pleased that within the six are a Sophie Hannah, a John Connolly and my favourite of all of Jeffrey Deaver’s novels – with the Bone Collector introducing the world to Lincoln Rhyme.

Go get ‘em, and don’t forget to get a half size bookmark and build yourself another teeny-tiny shelf to house them on at home.


Leave a comment

Filed under Book news