Horror in Crime Fiction
Crimeculture and Crimewave present a new Twisted Tales event: “The Killer Inside You: Horror in Crime Fiction”
19th May 2011, 6 – 8pm at Waterstone’s Liverpool One
Twisted Tales collaborated with TTA Press’s Crimewave magazine and Crimeculture to host the literary event “The Killer Inside You”, which fused Twisted Tales’s interest in horror with its close cousin, crime writing. This was the seventh Twisted Tales event organised by founders David McWilliam and Glyn Morgan, a series that combines public author readings with Q&A sessions and book signings. “The Killer Inside You”, hosted at Waterstone’s Liverpool One, brought together writers John Connolly, Steve Mosby and Charlie Williams for a unique and entertaining foray into the literary worlds of these crossover horror / crime writers. Roy Gray from TTA press, which publishes the horror magazine Black Static, Crimewave and the science fiction magazine Interzone, was also in attendance to promote and answer questions about these titles and the contemporary UK genre scene.
Charlie Williams broke the ice with a chapter from his novella, Graven Image, in which its protagonist (Leon) pursues and eventually assaults his quarry. This chapter, as a fragment of a larger story, underscores the easy violence of Williams’s dark setting, where hoodies and churches commingle and a certain warped sense of respect dominates the moral horizon of Leon’s world. Shedding light on his particular code of ethics, Leon incidentally trashes a shop in his attempt to drag his victim out, ironically philosophising that ‘it’s about respecting boundaries – making sure your bad “crap” doesn’t hurt innocents’. Williams attempted to censor, in McWilliam’s words, the ‘great creative swearing’ in the book (hence “crap” in the quote above) but was not always successful; far from resulting in an awkward reading Williams used this as an opportunity to engage the crowd, noting in one of his charismatic asides that, like the protagonist of Graven Image, ‘this isn’t going like I imagined either’. Williams’s reading may not have gone according to his plan, but it opened the event in style and established a rapport between speaker and audience that only helped to make his reading more entertaining.
“The Killer Inside You” was Steve Mosby’s first public reading, and his performance of an excerpt that never made it into his novel Still Bleeding shows how good a performer of his own works he is and promises to be. In his powerful reading he describes how a suicide victim’s husband logs onto a members-only website that specialises in voyeurism of the dead. Mosby’s prose lingers over the horror and humiliation that the site’s visitors revel in; photos and videos with shockingly inappropriate comments of approval – including a video his own wife’s suicide, filmed by a passerby who considers it a once in a lifetime opportunity for entertainment. The narrator’s assessment of the video’s maker as ‘a really committed collector of other peoples’ suffering’ sums up the tone of this extract. Mosby’s excerpt, which his publisher advised him to cut due to its explicit horror, suited Twisted Tales and shows how this event offers something extra for the public, a behind the scenes glimpse at these compelling writers’ works.
Both these extracts were sections of larger pieces. The format of Twisted Tales presents the attendee with a tantalising puzzle, an opportunity to imagine how these snippets fit in to the context of the whole. Connolly’s chosen piece was quite different: a short story originally published in The Irish Times called ‘On “The Anatomisation of an Unknown Man” (1637) by Frans Mier”. This short story echoes Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue “My Last Duchess” (1842) and reminded this listener of a Poe-esque hoax or of the slipperiness of some of Borges’s works. Connolly began his accomplished reading with an anecdote, the case of Leigh Crowe reported in The Irish Times who, when told he had been identified for a murder protested “that’s bullshit. Nobody saw me. I had a balaclava and gloves”: the point Connolly draws from this is that most criminals, those who get caught anyhow, are ‘deeply uninteresting and stupid’, while those who do not are highly intelligent. The mystery writer’s task of plotting unique stories and portraying criminal psychology is therefore a difficult one. Connolly prefaced his reading with a short but illuminating discussion that contextualised his use of the supernatural alongside James Lee Burke’s use of the grotesque in his works and noted that much mystery writing has its roots in scientific rationalism. Irish writers, however, have long had a streak of anti-rationalism in their literary tradition, an investment in the fantastic that informs Connolly’s own novels. ‘On “The Anatomisation of an Unknown Man” (1637) by Frans Mier’ is a compact and profoundly disturbing piece of work that revolves, in Borgesian fashion, around a painting of an anatomist at work that, like its artist, may or may not exist. Drawing on Poe’s implicit connection between the imagination and mystery, the denouement of this story turns on an observation made early on by the narrator: that ‘surgeons and scientists do not torture in this way’. This story was truly impressive and, delivered in Connolly’s masterful style, had a real impact that, at its roots, drew from both sides of the anti-rational horror / rational crime divide.
Speaking of this apparent divide, McWilliam chaired a Q&A session in which all three authors tackled the question of the crossover between horror and crime, the work of writing and their experience in the publishing industry. This session was both insightful and entertaining, and this listener received the impression that all three authors were inspired by each other’s responses throughout the discussion. It should perhaps be no surprise that all three authors, although published as crime writers, read extensively in the horror genre before they began publishing. Nevertheless, this assessment is perhaps misleading: all three writers see an essential connection between horror and crime writing, or as Connolly prefers, the wider “mystery” genre. Connolly pointed out that the notion of genre was in fact a recent invention and did not exist for writers such as Poe, who made no distinction between them. This fascinating deconstruction of genre as a marketing category used by publishers to aid promotion and sales challenged what it means to write. Williams suggested that works of horror often utilise intrusive external threats while crime (and here Williams nods toward Jim Thompson’s novel that gives this event its name) focuses on the threat from within, but cautioned that even as he speaks he was aware of the holes in this theory. Mosby, on the other hand (but Williams and Connolly expressed their agreement) argued that both horror and crime actually cover the same territory, but employ different methods, whether literal or metaphorical, to achieve their aims.
There was much in this thought-provoking discussion that could fuel extensive debate about genre writing and the bleeding together of horror and crime. The authors responded encouragingly and with obvious interest to questions from the public, including one from horror writer Ramsey Campbell regarding Connolly’s preferred choice of the term “mystery” over “crime”. All the authors continued to answer questions from the public during the following book signing, during which the energy and excitement that the attendees and writers had fanned throughout the reading and Q&A session found greater expression. “The Killer Inside You” was a thoroughly enjoyable event that offered an evening of entertaining and inspiring readings and ideas, along with the opportunity to interact with writers and others interested in both horror and crime.
Something special is happening in Liverpool… log onto the Twisted Tales blog at http://twistedtalesevents.blogspot.com/ for interviews with writers and details of past and upcoming events.
Links used in this event review:
Twisted Tales Events Page, http://twistedtalesevents.blogspot.com/.
David McWilliam interviews John Connolly, http://twistedtalesevents.blogspot.com/2011/05/john-connolly-interviewed-by-david.html.
David McWilliam interviews Steve Mosby, http://twistedtalesevents.blogspot.com/2011/05/steve-mosby-interviewed-by-david.html.
David McWilliam interviews Charlie Williams, http://twistedtalesevents.blogspot.com/2011/05/charlie-williams-interviewed-by-david.html.
‘On “The Anatomisation of an Unknown Man” (1637) by Frans Mier’, http://www.irishtimes.com/indepth/amnesty/article-11.html.