The line-up for this year’s Noirwich Crime Writing Festival has been announced, marking the return of Val McDermid alongside an incredible collection of genre heavyweights including Martina Cole, Arne Dahl and Anthony Horowitz. As the festival enters its fourth year, co-director and UEA senior lecturer Henry Sutton reveals the motivations behind creating the festival.
Crime fiction is a particularly broad and dynamic genre. Its parameters are so wide and varied, it can be hard to conceptualise it as a single genre – certainly to describe its characteristics, its purpose and intent, in a brief line or two. Which is perhaps why there are so many sub-genres – everything from the police procedural to the psychological thriller, the noir to the cosy. Yet interestingly, if it has one big commonality it is speed and fluency. The work has to move forward with pace. The world of crime fiction does not stand still.
Invariably it’s of the moment, it’s pertinent, often prescient; it’s socially aware, purposeful and important; it can be challenging, and also, perhaps strangely, comforting. It says something about the world we live in now, and our own personal and political journey, the high drama. If it has any key aim, it is to engage and entertain. Yet thematically and stylistically it could not be more varied.
This spirit has informed the programming of the Noirwich Crime Writing Festival in 2017. The headliners, launching with Val McDermid and followed swiftly by Arne Dahl and then Martina Cole, suggest this breadth and vitality. McDermid originated the fictional criminal psychological profiler; Cole brought us right into the heart of the English gangland; and Dahl went global with his fictional fight against organised crime and terrorism. Heading into the festival’s weekend, Anthony Horowitz brings a wealth of filmic and genre experience to his hugely enjoyable and playful murder mysteries. Mark Billingham will always stand up and be counted, with both his series, featuring Met cop Tom Thorne, and his zeitgeisty standalones. And Stuart MacBride is never shy to say it how it is in the granite bastion of tartan noir that is Aberdeen.
Noirwich has come a long way in a short time, firmly cementing itself in the crime writing calendar. Sharp ideas are crime fiction’s speciality and our festival always includes the brightest talent and latest thinking. This year we have the Killer Women initiative tackling gender in the new Trump world order, a chance to meet the three most significant debut authors of the year and a journey to the dark edges of crime fiction as defined by writers from the borders of the North Sea. The emerging trend of North Sea noir is the beginning of network and creative movement which will be every bit as significant as Scandi noir.
In a first for Noirwich, this year we have the unique experience of a crime fiction musical interpretation, with saxophonist Terry Edwards bringing his band’s musical interpretation of Derek Raymond’s chilling I Was Dora Suarez to the Norwich Arts Centre for an evening of murderous jazz riffs. It promises to illustrate how the crime genre is continually influencing other art forms.
The festival’s finale on the Sunday starts with the resurgence of historical crime fiction in our Grime Noir panel, descending into the diseased and dirtier ages of Britain, beset by plague and soot-heavy skies. Metropolitan swagger visits the city in the especially outward looking Global View panel presented by the London-based First Monday Crime team.
Partnering with the genre’s most forward-thinking collectives – Dead Good Books, The Times / The Sunday Times Crime Club, Killer Women, First Monday Crime – ensures that the expertise and insight brought to each Noirwich festival increases with every year.
When we create the festival programme we aim to change and enhance the cultural landscape through celebrating this most exciting of literary genres. Crime writing, in its brightest and darkest moments, is not about death but life.