As is traditional, Bristol was bathed in gorgeous sunshine just in time for its annual international crime fiction convention, CrimeFest: lovely weather for a bit of murder and mayhem!
I arrived on Saturday because of work, so I missed a few of the panels I’d been looking forward to, but I thought the ones I did manage to see on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning were fantastic. Many intriguing insights into crime writing partnerships emerged from Maxim Jakubowski‘s interview with Nicci French and Lars Keplar. “Ideas for our books come out of our marriage…sometimes literally,” said Sean French of Nicci French, “When collaboration works, it’s a bit like folie à deux.”
I thought this was a wonderfully evocative (if somewhat scary) description of the collaborative writing process! We’ve long been fans of Nicci French’s stand-alones and were excited to hear more details of her/their series detective novels as well as Stalker, the latest offering in Lars Keplar’s Joona Linna series.
Martyn Waites‘ interview with Mark Billingham was an entertaining event, full of banter between the two former roommates and lively discussion of everything from police procedurals to seafood slaughterers and dachshund detectives. There was a good deal more easygoing banter mixed in with quantities of hard liquor as the evening progressed and it was lovely to get a chance to catch up with old friends and chat to writers I’ve read or known on social media but never met in the flesh before.
As hangovers abounded on Sunday morning (causing some writers to don their sunglasses indoors), I went to watch Kevin Wignall interview special guest author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. Crimeculture are long-time fans of Kevin’s writing (both as a crime writer and as YA author K J Wignall), but neither of us had read Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s work before. I don’t know why, because it sounds brilliant and just our sort of thing. I hugely enjoyed this event – which careened from the bloodcurdling to the hilarious and back again – and was fascinated to hear about the influence of The Handbook of Infectious Tropical Diseases on Yrsa’s writing… not to mention Struwwelpeter, Father Christmas’s scary mother and “the charm of horrible things”.
I haven’t been to CrimeFest for a couple of years and was amazed at how much the convention has grown, with standing room only at many of the events. Despite the swell in numbers, I was happy to see that CrimeFest hadn’t lost the intimate, convivial atmosphere and easygoing vibe that made it such an enjoyable event when it first began.
We’ve entered a season of retro pulp nostalgia here at Crimeculture. Our three new series feature crime writers, reviewers, critics and publishers. If you’d like to take part, please drop us a line.
My Misspent Youth
A series of short reminiscences from crime writers based around a memento from their childhood – a favourite novel, photograph, poster, toy, baseball card and so on – that is connected to their writing life. Our featured writers will be talking about the memories associated with their memento, about how they first came to be a writer and about their current projects.
In this series, we’ll feature contributors’ favourite crime novel covers and their explanation of why it’s their favourite. If you would like to contribute a cover, please send us the name (and an image, if available) of your favourite pulp cover along with 150 words or so describing what it is you love about it.
Crimeculture contributors discuss their favourite bad girls, femmes fatales, female villains and noir heroines drawn from the annals of crime fiction, film, comics, graphic novels and true crime… If you are interested in contributing, send us the name (and an image, if available) of your favourite bad girl along with 300 words or so about her.
Summer 2014 offers some great conferences, festivals and crime-related events. There are, of course, two excellent annual events scheduled in Bristol and Harrogate, the Crimefest convention and the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. In addition Crimeculture particularly recommends the Manchester ‘True Crime’ Conference (Call for Papers deadline 18th April), an inventive ‘Crime Story’ weekend in Newcastle, and, in Ohio, the Crime Studies Network’s ‘Evil Incarnate’ conference.
Now established as one of the best annual crime events, the international crime fiction convention, Crimefest, has a Programme that includes panels on locked rooms, women as victims, the modern thriller, the paranormal, political thrillers, the hired gun, Euro noir, psychotherapists and psychiatrists, plus interviews with Nicci French, Lars Kepler, Yrsa Sigurdardottir – and much else.
Spend a weekend getting under the skin of a fictional crime with top crime writers, criminologists, lawyers, police and forensics experts. See also the link on this page to the Northern Crime Competition.
David Schmid is the keynote speaker at this fascinating interdisciplinary conference which will explore the genre in its myriad incarnations. The programme is now online at http://www.hic-dragones.co.uk/true-crime-programme/
David McWilliam, who is presenting at and co-running True Crime: Fact, Fiction, Ideology, is interviewing Jean Murley on the Twisted Tales site. Jean Murley’s first book was The Rise of True Crime: 20th Century Murder and American Popular Culture and she is currently working on a book about wrongful conviction in America, tentatively titled Collateral Damage: The Outrage of Wrongful Conviction: Eight Families’ Stories.
Since the 1920s, women have been among the most prolific and influential authors of crime fiction. Some of the best-known heroes and anti-heroes of fiction are also women. This conference will address the relationship of gender and genre, past and present, and the known and the unknown. Keynote speakers: Val McDermid and Dr Lee Horsley.
The Crime Studies Network is a group devoted to the interdisciplinary study of representations of crime. In 2014, it is holding its first conference outside the UK. With keynote speakers from the disciplines of Religious Studies, Justice Administration and Film Studies, the conference asks what defines villainy and how villains are represented.
“For one long, sultry, summer weekend the temperature in Harrogate rises whatever the weather as the world’s hottest celebration of crime writing swings into town.” This year’s festival has a stellar line-up, including Ann Cleeves, Robert Galbraith, Sophie Hannah, John Harvey, Lynda LaPlante, Laura Lippman, Peter May, Val McDermid, Denise Mina and S. J. Watson.
Increasing numbers of contemporary books, articles and conference papers have been devoted to analysing crime and detective fiction within a wide variety of cross-cultural contexts. Critics focus on the diversity of the genre and on the manifold ways in which generic tropes are being transformed as they take on different cultural and national identities. Studies such as these shed light on one of the main reasons for the genre’s durability: as Kate Horsley writes in “Contemporary African Crime Fiction”, “Detective fiction has remained a resilient and versatile genre because of its capacity to raise difficult questions about corruption and moral failure. It represents the investigation of individual crimes but can also work to expose the failures, traumas and brutalities of political and social life.”
This Autumn Crimeculture is featuring some of the best of the 2012-13 publications on cross-culture crime and detective fiction. The following books and articles are reviewed and highly recommended:
Berit Åström, Katarina Gregersdotter and Tanya Horeck (eds), Rape in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy and Beyond: Contemporary Scandinavian and Anglophone Crime Fiction, Palgrave Macmillan, October 2012
‘The Problem of the Overtired Undergrad’, Ari Scott-Zechlin
‘Iustitia’, Tara Coffin
‘A Study in Iron’, Thomas Pinder
‘Nuremberg’, Ros Ballinger
‘Golden Blaze’, Rhys Barter
‘The Undead Detective’, Rhys Barter
‘Paul Wallace’, Sarah Borroum
‘Desert Island Dicks’, Paul Chiswick
‘One-Way Sherlock’, Dennis Mombauer
‘Dear Mr Spade’, Charles Rzepka
‘Ideal Holmes’, Alex Watts
The Sherlock Holmes Flash-Fiction Competition received over a hundred entries. We greatly enjoyed reading all of the stories submitted. Our judge, Sean Cregan, writes:
There are some good ones there! I had a hard time picking between ‘Iustitia’, ‘A Study In Iron’, and ‘The Problem Of The Overtired Undergrad’. I’m going to say ‘Undergrad’ just about takes it though.
It was very, very tight, but ‘Undergrad’ just edged it for me on the style and quality of the writing – there’s a couple of lovely turns of phrase in there. The conceptual switch is a nice one too, like a modern (and more grown-up) update of ‘Young Sherlock’ minus the ambulatory cream cakes, told from an outside point of view (and you can’t go wrong with a sly Mrs Hudson reference). Very tight field, very hard to pick, but this one shaded it.
The Competition: Our Sherlock Holmes Flash Fiction Competition was part of an AudioGo promotion. We asked that stories be no longer than 400 words and that they should feature Holmes in another time and place or in a different genre, e.g. gothic, hardboiled, cyberpunk or sci-fi. The Crimeculture editorial team shortlisted a group of stories and Sean Cregan, author of explosive and brilliant cyberpunk novels The Levels and The Razor Gate, judged the overall winner and the runners-up. The shortlisted and winning writers will have their work published on the Crimeculture website during July. The winning writer will be interviewed, published on Crimeculture and presented with a set of BBC Sherlock Holmes audiobook CDs; our two runners-up will also receive AudioGo prizes.
In May – July, Crimeculture is featuring Sherlock Holmes and classic detective fiction. See our front page links to some of our past articles on detective fiction, and our new contributions: Aysegul Kesirli’s “Reading House M.D. as a Detective Drama,” which considers Gregory House in comparison to Holmes and to hard-boiled detectives; and Ashleigh Prosser’s ‘’The Genius Detective’ in classical detective fiction,” which discusses Poe’s Three Tales of Ratiocination and Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet.
About Roger Morris
Born in Manchester in 1960, R. N. Morris now lives in North London with his wife and two young children. His series of St. Petersburg novels revolving around the character of Porfiry Petrovich include A Gentle Axe, A Vengeful Longing, which was shortlisted for the 2008 CWA Duncan Lawrie Dagger for Best Novel and was Highly Commended in the CWA Ellis Peters Prize for Best Historical Crime Novel in 2008. A Razor Wrapped in Silk was publsihed in 2010, and his fourth book, The Cleansing Flames, was shortlisted for the CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger in 2011. He also wrote Taking Comfort which was published by Macmillan under the name Roger Morris in 2006. His latest novel, Summon Up The Blood, is published in April 2012. (see Faber and Faber Authors)
About Michael and Daniela Gregorio
Michael Jacob and Daniela De Gregorio write together as Michael Gregorio. Daniela teaches philosophy; Michael is interested in the history of photography. They live in Spoleto, a small town in central Italy. They have created a series of crime novels whose central charater is the Prussian magistrate, Hanno Stiffeniis. The series includes Critique of Criminal Reason, Days of Atonement, A Visible Darkness and Unholy Awakening. (Faber and Faber Authors)
Michael and Daniela: Did you always think that you would be a writer, Roger, and, if you did, what sort of a writer did you think that you would be?
Roger: Pretty much, yes. Writing stories was always my favourite activity at school. Even the way I played was story-based, making up convoluted scenarios for myself and my friends to act out. Telling stories is one of the ways we make sense of the world. We’re encouraged to do it as children and then at some point we switch to a more academic way of writing. Essays – based on facts. For me at least, at the school I went to, the imaginative, creative approach to writing – making stuff up – was discreetly put to one side. So it became something I pursued in private. For many years. Quite early on I took hold of the misguided idea that being a writer would be a great job. The misguided part was that it was a job at all, when actually it’s an obsession. You don’t turn up to work, work for a certain number of hours and get a pay cheque at the end of the month. In fact, you’re doing well if you’re getting paid at all. To answer the second part of your question, all I can say is that I didn’t particularly see myself as a crime writer. That came quite late on. If there is a spectrum with storyteller at one end and literary writer at the other, I have always thought of myself as being at the storyteller end. Fundamentally, that’s what it’s about for me, telling stories.
How about you two? Did you always see yourselves as writers, and if so what sort?
Michael: I was a kid who always wrote smart formulaic essays in school. English and History? No problem. I read English at university, and fell in love with long novels. They were more fun than Anglo-Saxon, which I also studied. I always fancied writing a novel, but I never had the time. When I came to Italy in 1980, I started worrying about forgetting my English – I was trying so hard to learn Italian – and I began writing short stories, then novels set in Italy as I got more ambitious. Pretty soon Daniela was at it, as well. She’d always been a scribbler. She still has pre-school notepads covered in incomprehensible hieroglyphs! By the mid-1990s, Dani was teaching philosophy and reading horror – Stephen King, James Herbert – and she tried her hand at the genre, too, while I was diddling about with the Victorians and crime. One day she came up with an intriguing idea for a short story set in Prussia featuring her favourite philosopher, Immanuel Kant, and our joint ambition took off. Could we write a novel set in Königsberg in 1804, and if so, what kind of novel would it be? Read more…
About Mark Billingham
Mark Billingham was born and brought up in Birmingham. Having worked for some years as an actor and more recently as a TV writer and stand-up comedian his first crime novel was published in 2001. Sleepyhead was an instant bestseller in the UK. It has been sold widely throughout the world and was published in the USA in the summer of 2002. The series of crime novels featuring London-based detective Tom Thorne continued with Scaredy Cat and was followed by Lazybones, The Burning Girl, Lifeless, Buried, Death Message, Bloodline and From The Dead. The latest in the series – Good As Dead – is published in August 2011. Mark is also the author of the standalone novel In The Dark as well as a series of children’s thrillers – Triskellion – written under the pseudonym Will Peterson. An acclaimed television series based on the Thorne novels was screened on Sky One in Autumn 2010, starring David Morrissey as Tom Thorne. The second series is now in production. Mark lives in London with his wife and two children. He is currently writing his next novel.
Visit his website: http://www.markbillingham.com/
About Paul Johnston
Paul Johnston was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1957. His father Ronald was a successful thriller writer. Paul attended state primary school in Berwickshire and private schools in Edinburgh. He subsequently studied ancient and modern Greek at the University of Oxford, then added an M.Phil in comparative literature to his M.A.. After leaving Oxford in 1982, Paul worked for shipping companies in London and Belgium. He moved to Greece in 1987, working on a newspaper, in shipping and then teaching English. His daughter Silje was born in 1988. He started writing seriously in 1989 when he went to live on the small Aegean island of Antiparos. Paul returned to Edinburgh to do another master’s degree in 1995 and then started studying for a doctorate. Paul remarried in 2005. His wife Roula is a Greek civil servant. Their daughter Maggie was born in Athens in January 2006 and their son Alexander in January 2008. Paul has come through (touch wood) two unconnected bouts of cancer in the last five years and underwent chemotherapy until November 2008. That hasn’t stopped him from writing or from studying for a PhD in creative writing.He still divides his time between Scotland and Greece – having left Athens, he and his family now live in the beautiful seaside town of Nafplio in the Peloponnese. His next project is The Green Lady, the fifth Alex Mavros novel.
Visit his website: http://www.paul-johnston.co.uk/
PJ -You worked in children’s TV and stand up before becoming a crime novelist? What nudge you towards the genre?
MB – I was really not enjoying the work I was doing for TV where scripts tend to be developed by committee. I’d taken my name off several projects before I finally decided I’d had enough, but even though I’d written all sorts of stuff before that (terrible poetry, bad plays, my own stand-up material) I was wary about trying my hand at a novel. Once I took the plunge, however, it was always going to be crime. Put simply, crime fiction had been my passion from a very early age. Once I’d discovered Sherlock Holmes, aged eleven (me, not him) I was hooked. I’ve talked in many interviews about how the work I’d done up to that point influenced and helped me. From TV writing I learned the discipline of deadlines and delivery and the importance of dialogue, which, as a TV writer is pretty much all you have to work with. Stand-up taught me about engaging with your audience quickly and keeping them engaged. A crime novel contains many similar elements to a stand-up routine. It is full of punchlines (though usually very dark ones) and, of course, timing is everything. I firmly believe that a novel is a performance…
What about you? Your background is rather more academic than mine. How does a classicist come to murder so many people on the page? Was it all that Greek tragedy?
PJ – No, I think it was Homer’s Odyssey, which I read in English when I was about seven (precocious, moi?) – plenty of crimes in there. Although I read classics for a couple of years at Oxford, I then changed to Modern Greek and did a Masters in comparative literature, much of which involved analysing that well known crime writer DH Lawrence. I’m really an academic manque, whence my studying for a PhD in creative writing at this advanced age. You mention Greek tragedy, which I read a lot of – no shortage of crime, murder etc in that either, but the biggest classical influence on my early writing was Plato. My Quint Dalrymple series, set in an independent Edinburgh in the 2020s, had more to do with the Republic than science fiction, though Orwell and Huxley are also presiding deities and there’s a hefty Blade Runner homage in the last book. I think I’d describe my approach to crime writing as intellectual rather than academic, actually, even though I know that will lead to endless mockery. I start a book with ideas – I don’t mean plot or character ideas, though they’re there too, but political or even philosophical concepts. Body Politic and its successors raise all sorts of issues about totalitarianism, education, the environment (especially the energy and water supplies), censorship, cloning and so on. I like a crime novel that asks the reader to think…..Read more.
The Tom Milne Popular Fiction Archive: 2012 Exhibition, Texts into Films
Starting on 17th January, Lancaster University Library will open its 2012 Exhibition of novels from the Tom Milne Archive, focusing on the influence of American crime fiction on film noir and neo-noir. Download the Exhibition poster
Crime Films, 1940 – 2000: A Free Film Festival Between Friday 20th and Friday 27th January, the Exhibition will be accompanied by a free film festival, open to all members of Lancaster University. It will show of a mixture of classic film noir and post-1960s neo-noir every evening in the Elizabeth Livingstone Lecture Theatre.
The festival will include films based on Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon (d. John Huston, 1941), Raymond Chandler’s Farewell My Lovely (Murder, My Sweet, d. Edward Dmytryk, 1944), James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity (d. Billy Wilder, 1944; paired with Lawrence Kasdan’s 1981 take on Cain’s plot, Body Heat), John D. MacDonald’s The Executioners (Cape Fear, d. J. Lee Thompson, 1962), Donald Westlake’s The Hunter (Point Blank, d. John Boorman, 1967), David Goodis’s Down There (Shoot the Piano Player, d. Francois Truffaut, 1960), Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train (d. Alfred Hitchcock, 1951), Elmore Leonard’s Rum Punch (Jackie Brown, d. Quentin Tarantino, 1997), William P. McGivern’s The Big Heat (d. Fritz Lang, 1953), and Jim Thompson’s The Grifters (d. Stephen Frears, 1990).
The fourth extract from Charles Rzepka’s interview with Elmore Leonard
Professor Charles Rzepka conducted a series of interviews with Elmore Leonard in 2009-10. Crimeculture is delighted to announce that the fourth extract from Professor’s Rzepka’s interviews is now available.
From Elmore Leonard Interview #4, conducted in Bloomfield Village, MI.
CR: I jumped ahead here and I want to go back to the hanging from the roof. I was not only fascinated by Maurice Murray but also I realized that after The Big Bounce hanging from heights, or dying from getting thrown off a building, or having a fear of looking down appears in nearly everything you’ve written.
EL: Is that right?
CR: Have you ever noticed that?
CR: Here, just off the top of my head, in Road Dogs is the scene on the roof with Tico and Jack playing roof ball. That made me go back and look at your other work. There’s Get Shorty, where Bo Catlett falls off his own deck to his death. I think it’s in Stick where Eddie Moke is being held off the balcony by Chuckie, who lets him go. There’s Glitz, where there’s a cab driver who gets thrown off the cliff and this prostitute from Puerto Rico who goes to Atlantic City and gets thrown off a roof.
EL: Right. Wow.
CR: That’s just for starters. And then in Killshot Lionel the ironworker is injured falling from a beam, and you have all of these really high-up perspectives. Take that great scene where they think Wayne is frozen, they think he’s scared. But he’s just in his head rehearsing these surprise scenarios, and he slides down the girder and walks away. But there’s also that great shot in the opening chapter, where Armand goes to Detroit to hit Papa. He walks into the room, and before he says or does anything he sees the scene out the window of the panorama of the cityscape and Canada. It’s like he’s looking at his whole life through the window, like how he got here, not just the other day driving from Toronto, but it’s like Walpole Island and the river and Canada and everything. I bet you in nearly every book you’ve written since The Big Bounce you have a scene where someone is fearful of heights or about to fall or falls to his death, or there’s something to do with great heights. And I don’t think it happens in any of your early westerns, for instance, where someone gets shoved off a mesa or a bluff? But even in an early crime novel like Mr. Majestyk, the climactic scene is where he outwits Renda and the other thugs by getting them to drive off a cliff, off a road on a mesa. Can you think of any earlier books before Big Bounce where that kind of thing happens?
EL: No, but when I was starting out writing I had a dream. I was always falling down these stairs.
CR: When you first started writing?
EL: Yeah, and they were steep and narrow and I’d fall down and you wait for yourself to hit the bottom and that never came. But it was that tightening up on the way down. Then I started to sell and I never had the dream again…. Read more.
Len Wanner, Dead Sharp: Scottish Crime Writers on Country and Craft (Two Ravens Press, 2011)
Review and Extracts
In these intelligent, perceptive, fascinating interviews, Len Wanner reveals both the diversity and the shared concerns of contemporary Scottish crime fiction. His questions probe writers’ creative processes and their views of the genre. On the one hand he focuses in on personal aims, quirks, opinions and writing habits; on the other, he broadens out to engage with such issues as the nature of noir, the turn towards dark crime fiction, the political and moral issues raised by the genre, the Scottishness of Scottish crime fiction.
The collection opens with an extended interview with “the King of Tartan Noir”, Ian Rankin, reflecting on the origins of the label (“Hah! ‘Tartan Noir’ is a term that I’m confident I invented but I gave it to James Ellroy…”) and on why it is so appropriate to the late twentieth-century emergence of some distinctively Scottish variants of crime fiction:
“Tartan Noir – well, there’s no tradition of crime fiction in Scotland but there is a great tradition of quite dark, psychological, Gothic horror stories. Specifically in the ‘70s, I think in Glasgow, there was a move towards a kind of realistic school of writing about working class life, writing about hard men, writing about hard lives, and writing about urban experience.
So it was a move away from the ‘kaleyard’, which was this romanticised view of Scotland. I think crime fiction tapped into that very nicely, and because there was no tradition of crime fiction in Scotland it meant a completely level playing field. Nobody had to be worried about writing in a certain tradition, and most of us weren’t influenced by the English.”
It is by no means a unified tradition, and Wanner astutely explores the variety apparent in the work of his nine chosen writers: Ian Rankin, Stuart MacBride, Karen Campbell, Neil Forsyth, Christopher Brookmyre, Paul Johnston, Alice Thompson, Allan Guthrie and Louise Welsh. As MacBride says, “Tartan Noir doesn’t exist…You can’t pick up a ‘Tartan Noir novel’ and expect to get the same thing every time. They are just going to be incredibly different” (interview extracts in our featured review).
With the author’s permission, Crimeculture is delighted to present extracts from three of Wanner’s interviews, which we hope will convey something of the liveliness and insightfulness of this excellent collection, available from Amazon. For extracts from numerous other reviews, see Len Wanner’s website, The Crime of it All.
…Do foreign readers expect every Scottish writer to write like Ian Rankin seeing as he’s exported a certain notion of Scottishness?
God bless him.
Sure, why not. But does his success mean that the rest of Scottish crime fiction is marketed according to the terms of ‘Tartan Noir’, whatever that may be?
Tartan Noir doesn’t exist. It’s a very convenient umbrella under which to promote crime fiction that is written in Scotland. It’s another “God bless” – this time James Ellroy for coming up with it. Scottish crime fiction is incredibly varied. You can’t look at it and say it’s all of a ‘type’, because it’s not. It’s all over the genre. It’s a huge spread from very gritty hardboiled stuff like Ray Banks and Allan Guthrie to much gentler styles of crime writing like Alexander McCall Smith and Aline Templeton. You can’t pick up a ‘Tartan Noir novel’ and expect to get the same thing every time. They are just going to be incredibly different. But it’s a wonderful marketing tool to sell the books outside Scotland.
If you read a novel that came without a cover, title or name, do you think you might be able to recognise the writer if he or she were Scottish?
Some writers yes, other writers no.
Well, there are some key parts of the Scottish psyche… They’re not universal, by any means, but there’s quite a black sense of humour that runs through a lot of Scottish life – possibly to do with the weather. We have an extremely healthy disrespect for authority, which probably comes down to our political nationhood over the past 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90 or 100 years, possible longer. We are incredibly “thrawn” as a culture. It’s a Scottish word that means that if you tell us to do something we will do exactly the opposite, given the opportunity. That is how we are….