The assumptions people make about crime novelists (and why they are wrong) – By Sabine Durrant

Crime writers love a party – that’s one of the first things you discover when you publish a thriller. The Crime Writers Association holds a bi-annual do for its members in the Goldsboro bookshop in central London. Note – not annual. Bi-annual. I turned up to my first, expecting to meet a few other awkward keen-ies sipping warm wine over a couple of celery sticks and a pot of hummus. Oh no. The party had been going for all of ten minutes and crowds spilled and sloshed on to the pavement. Wine flowed. Electric cigarettes glowed. Laughter bounced off buildings.

Posted on July 30, 2014 in Behind the Scenes

It was winter. Mid-week. And it was raining.

The common misconception about crime writers is that they are all, somehow, odd. This may be because the average reader, no matter how often persuaded to the contrary, tends to assume fiction is autobiographical. (I once wrote a book about a young mother who has an adulterous affair with a gardener and I got funny looks at the school gate for months.) So if a novel involves a brutal murder, or nasty goings on in the toolshed, then the person who wrote it must have either been involved in that themselves – ee-ugh – or wanted to – just ugh. Crime writers in the popular imagination become their characters: a busy-body spinster (Agatha Christie, despite her real-life complicated marriages), a hard-boiled semi-gangster (family man Elmore Leonard), or psychopath (loveable Stephen King). The crime writer with a genuinely odd life I can think of is Patricia Cornwall – with all those Scarpetta-esque helicopters and bodyguards and plots against her life – but that is probably less to do with the fact that she writes about crime and more to do with the stratospheric success she has had doing so.

In reality, crime novelists are as diverse, as complicated or straightforward, as the next person. Last year at the Theakstons Crime Writing Festival, an annual event at the Old Swan in Harrogate, I met, along with Nicci French (actually a married couple) and Alex Marwood (a woman!): a young academic, a former worker for the Red Cross, a well-known television presenter and several working mothers, like me, who juggle crime writing with the demands of family life. It was the best jolly ever. The panel discussions may have been about the violent underbelly of Glasgow or the best way to dissect a corpse, but people seemed to spend most of their time sitting on a lawn, telling jokes and drinking Pimms. Everyone was friendly. When I told one of my new compatriots that I had to come up with newspaper features to “promote” my novel, she emailed me some ideas. Several later read my book and gave me quotes.

The story in the trade is that crime novelists are likely to be the nicest, most supportive writers. I can’t argue with that.

More from the Crime Files blog


Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *