Why do I write crime?

Just why15020912313713_l does a nice girl (ahem) like me write dark, gritty crime and noir?  It’s a question I often ask myself – and it’s a question I was recently asked by Simona, of Simona’s Corner of Dreams book blog.

I thought about the answers quite carefully and realised it dates back not just to when I started writing, but all the way to my childhood – the flames stoked by crime novels and series on TV.

You can read about those early influences, and a whole lot more besides, at Simona’s blog today.  I hope you enjoy it, and that it stirs a few memories for others as well.

Oh – and mea culpa.  I accidentally said ‘Cuthbert’s Law’ when I obviously meant ‘Sutherland’s Law’.  This was a series set in Scotland, featuring the work of a Procurator Fiscal, and starring the late, lamented Iain Cuthbertson.  Hence my stupid slip…

Serial Killers review

Flu at this time of year is a pain, but I’ve made good use of some of the enforced sofa-time by catching up on a few recorded tv programmes, including ‘Serial Killers: The Women Who Write Crime Fiction’.

Part of the long-running ‘Imagine’ strand of cultural programming on BBC, this examined the current popularity of reading and particularly writing crime amongst women.  I say ‘current’, but as the programme itself made clear, many of the best known crime writers of the last hundred years have been women, so this is really nothing new.

The content of the programme was fascinating.  There was lots of detail about forensic science, from the amazing scale models of crime scenes made in the 19th century as teaching aids for detectives right through to modern, state of the art forensic laboratories and new ways of preserving evidence and bodies.  There were also lots of interviews with scientists, criminologists and, of course, the (mostly) female crime writers themselves, including Patricia Cornwell, Val McDermid, Martina Cole, and even (via archive footage) P D James and Ruth Rendell.  All were well spoken, and all shed considerable light on their own particular reasons and methods for writing about crime.

Where ‘Serial Killers’ fell down was in its direction, or lack of it.  It didn’t seem to have a clear-cut message, but wandered from one writer to another, one anecdote to another.  The only underlying question it set itself was why women are so interested in crime fiction, and that’s where I really started to have problems.  Because my own immediate response is, why shouldn’t they be interested?  Is there something about crime that should only appeal to men?  Should women be sensitive, easily shocked little flowers better entertained by recipes and the latest lipstick colours?  Surely the real question is why anyone enjoys crime fiction.  The answer to that, I firmly believe, has nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with an interest in the human psyche, a fascination with characters who by definition have removed themselves from the norms of human society, and a love of solving puzzles.

In the hands of the rather old-fashioned male presenter Alan Yentob, the whole thing felt uneasily patronising.  The writers who took part weren’t quite asked ‘what’s a nice girl like you doing writing stuff like this?’ but at times it came painfully close.  The approach missed a wonderful opportunity to examine the real, deep-seated reasons people like crime fiction.  It also short-changed the many excellent male crime writers out there, and reinforced old stereotypes by implying that there’s a difference between male and female writers.  The beauty of crime fiction is that it’s one of the few genres that has mass appeal, that sucks in every gender, race, colour and creed in a shared love of mystery, thrill and detection.  What a shame the programme did so little to celebrate, or even mention, that.

Shelfie of the Week #6

A bit of a cheat this week: one, it’s me.  And two, I don’t actually have a photo of my shelf.  There’s a good reason for that, though – the shelf I have in mind no longer exists.  It was hidden away in a cupboard in the spare room in my grandparents’ house, and sadly went the way of all things when they died many years ago.

I have fond memories of that shelf, though.  As a kid I read voraciously, often finishing a book in two or three days.  I needed a lot of reading matter to keep the fire stoked, and that shelf provided some of it.  The books on it weren’t just any old books, but pile after pile of crime classics by some of the biggest names in the genre.  Agatha Christie of course, but also Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L Sayers, Georgette Heyer, and one or two other gems I can’t now remember.  Something about Dead of Winter, for instance, by an author whose name might have been Nigel something.  I’ve tried searching for that one but never been able to track it down.

The books weren’t stacked neatly on the shelf, but piled in haphazardly one on top of the other, so rooting through the heap quite often revealed new, as-yet-unseen treasure, which I would grab and dash off to consume, rather like a squirrel with a particularly luscious acorn.

Although the shelf is long gone, my love of crime fiction has survived the decades and influenced both what I read, and what I write.  I’ve a lot to thank my grandparents for.