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!’


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

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