What is the perfect balance between fact and fiction? Why is Domestic Noir such a popular genre in 2016? Have we entered a second golden age of crime? These are just a few of the discussions enjoyed by our blogger-in-residence, Jamie Bernthal, at his second day of Noirwich Crime Writing Festival.
Saturday 17 September – All day celebration of crime writing at Writers’ Centre Norwich, Dragon Hall
I’m not sure if this is the done thing but I spent a lot of time cornering crime writers on Saturday. A while ago, Val McDermid told me (and she’s said this elsewhere too) that you’ll never find a kinder, more down to earth bunch than crime writers because they get all their aggression out on the page. And this was borne out in Norwich – generally, the grittiest fiction comes from the most benevolent authors.
The Guardian’s former crime correspondent Duncan Campbell kicked things off with Jane Corry and Kate Rhodes, discussing the market’s fascination with true crime and their personal stories of striking the balance between fact and fiction. Then Julia Crouch considered, with Sarah Hilary and Christobel Kent, a term she coined a few years ago: Domestic Noir. That is, the branch of crime fiction that explores the dangers and darkness of domesticity. Ably streamlined by UEA’s Laura Joyce, the conversation covered gender expectations, abuse and manipulation, and, of course the fragile idea of the nuclear family. The three authors all work in Domestic Noir, but their approaches – right down to how they plan (or don’t plan) a novel – couldn’t have been more different.
Barry Forshaw has published a book on Brit Noir, which is well worth reading, and his panel featuring Angela Clarke, Dreda Say Mitchell, and Steve Mosby was fantastic. Dreda Say Mitchell was on her best form, vocally defending the thriller as a critically neglected ‘sub-genre’ of crime fiction. When discussion moved to space and setting, especially given Mitchell’s unflinching looks at the East End, Angela Clarke, author of the Social Media Murders series, introduced the idea that the internet is a setting. Which steered things, inevitably, towards online abuse. And are we entering a second golden age of crime? Opinions were healthily divided.
At 4pm we got to meet some of the best new names in crime writing: those whose debuts have made a stir. Now you, too, can impress people on the train by being seen reading A.A. Dhand’s Streets of Darkness, which has been described as ‘Luther meets The Wire’, or Michelle Davies’ Gone Astray, which has its roots in the author’s fascinating journalism career, or Abir Mukherjee’s highly laudedA Rising Man.
Next, we heard from Grange Hill, Brookside, and Hollyoaks creator Phil Redmond, who has turned from television to crime writing, in conversation with author and screenwriter Tom Benn. Between panels, food and drink was served outside – including the most bacon I have ever experienced in a single sandwich!
What I found really interesting was that everyone kept mentioning The Archers! Seriously, it came up at nearly every panel. Unsurprising, perhaps, given the radio soap’s current storyline, but it interesting when you think about how keen many of the panellists were to get away from a cosy, Little England vision of crime fiction. About two thirds of speakers publicly denounced Miss Marple, and stated that that kind of book has nothing to do with them.
On the other hand, Agatha Christie was robustly defended by Sophie Hannah, in a conversation with Denise Mina that was a highlight for me. Hannah discussed her new Hercule Poirot novel, Closed Casket, while Mina read from The Long Drop, her novel inspired by real criminal events in 1950s Glasgow. It’s hard to imagine two detectives more different than Hercule Poirot and Alex Morrow, but both writers have mastered psychological suspense, and their conversation couldn’t have been richer. And half the time I couldn’t hear what they were saying, because their words were drowned by the audience laughter.
Even better, there was an awesome goody bag on my seat at the end of the day, courtesy of Dead Good Books. Not-yet-published books and promotional sticks of rock. Yes.
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