The panel talked at length about the importance of setting in crime fiction. Liam uses Glasgow, the crime capital of Western Europe, as his backdrop and believes Scotland’s history of dour Calvinism has developed into a dark obsession with sin. Scotland’s complex relationship with England particularly prior to devolved power has also allowed crime writers to pose politicised questions about wider society without the necessity of providing answers.
Yrsa acknowledged Iceland’s unforgiving climate lends itself to the idea, if not the reality, of murder. With no real crime to speak of in the Iceland she has to work hard to make her fictional crimes seem authentic and uses social and political context “to add meat to the bone”. Yrsa also plunders Iceland’s long-standing fascination with the supernatural to great and creepy affect.
Asked about memorable early reading experiences, Yrsa admitted to being fascinated by her father’s textbook on gruesome infectious diseases. Horrific but enthralling. Liam’s rather more pedestrian fare included Ray Bradbury and Robert Louis Stevenson. Current crime reading included Sophie Hannah for Yrsa while Liam mentioned David Whish-Wilson and Peter Temple, who he credited as the best crime writer in the English language.
Both Liam and Yrsa hold down day jobs; Yrsa is an engineer working in hydro-electric generation while Liam holds the Stuart Chair in Scottish Studies at Otago University, an academic occupation which could be viewed as “boring and nerdy” but which allows him time to write about evil and achieve cathartic release.
Not particularly dark or chilling but instead a rather cosy and engaging peek at the craft of crime writing.
Was anyone else frustrated that the ghost was always really just the Janitor in Scooby-Doo? Diane Setterfield, author of gothic suspense books The Thirteenth Tale and Bellman & Black was. Today in her own writing she feels that she is doing injustice to real human experience if she explains all the spooky stuff away in the end.
Real-life events inspired Rosetta and Coral to tackle historical subjects. Coral grew up surrounded by her father’s collection of historic swords and today feels that things from the past help her to write about it. She gathers photos, archival sources and objects from the era she is writing to illuminate scenes and eras, sometimes basing scenes from her novels on old photographs. Coral is ever trying to avoid the ‘rock in the river’ when it comes to using all this historical detail though. All the authors agreed that historical accuracy shouldn’t take readers out of the story, but needs to be seamlessly worked in.
Rosetta’s novel, Purgatory, was based on a piece of family history she first heard from her father, notorious for his tall-tales. When she found out the story was true, Rosetta was inspired to start work on Purgatory. During a visit to the site of the murders, Rosetta felt he presence of John and so he became the ‘hero’ of the story.
Condensing significant historical events into personal stories was a challenge that faced all the authors. Diane finds it helpful to come at big events “slightly slant-ways” and Rosetta always wants to “find the personal story” in larger things. Coral is mindful that her characters “represent hundreds of thousands of other people” and wanted to show that things “go on and on” with disasters and tragedies, they are not just forgotten once the era has ended.
The authors finished by citing some influential writers:
Diane Setterfield has loved The Woman in White ever since her older sister bought it home from the school library and always measures her writing against it, “even his bad books are good.”
Duh, not a real crime wave but oodles of mystery and thriller writers from all across the globe, here in Christchurch … yes … really … woo-hoo. I’ll be at The Press Christchurch Writers Festival to marvel at the twisted, tortured minds of these crime-peddling scribes.
The line-up includes: Simon Kernick, specialising in high-octane thriller, his latest bestseller The last ten seconds is some crazy voodoo, believe me. I read it in only two sittings without blinking, barely breathing and compulsively turning page after page. Could be mind-control or maybe darn good writing? I need to know, and blog-readers I will find out.
Neil Cross, now living here in Godzone, this British ex-pat excels at twisty-turney, dark psychological novels. Neil’s thriller Burial is in the running for the inaugural Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel and he is also promoting his latest title Captured. Mr Cross is nothing if not versatile; having written an exquisite memoir Heartland, a Man Booker long-listed novel Always the sun and scriptwriting the BBC’s Spooks series. Someone told me he is funny too, so c’mon Neil make me laugh.
Liam McIlvanney holds the Stuart Chair in Scottish Studies at Otago University and spends most of his time introducing youthful kiwis to the extremely dubious pleasures of Rabbie Burns, James Hogg and Sir Walter Scott. Liam is also the author of All the colours of the town, a richly textured thriller exploring the long shadow of Scots-Irish sectarianism. Ayrshire born, he is appearing in conversation with Iggy McGovern and will be chatting about something close to my own heart: the boozy, conflicted and violent Scots.