Event Review: Murder Most Modern

Written for Noirwich by UEA Graduate Helen Marsden

Julianne Pachico (top), Bella Mackie (bottom left), Scarlett Brade (bottom right)

Bella Mackie and Scarlett Brade were the Noirwich panellists for: Murder Most Modern which was brilliantly facilitated by UEA’s Julianne Pachico, who is a lecturer in creative writing.

Mackie is a writer and freelance journalist. She is the author of the Sunday Times bestseller Jog On: How Running Saved My Life, a candid account of how she ran herself to better mental health. How to Kill Your Family, her first novel, is a number one Sunday Times bestseller and the biggest selling debut fiction hardback of 2021.

Brade is the daughter of parents who migrated from the Caribbean to England in the early 1970s. She was born and educated in London. The Hive, Brade’s first psychological thriller novel, is a disturbingly prescient and terrifically suspenseful revenge thriller for the social media generation.

Scarlett Brade

The panel discussed their contemporary revenge thrillers and the intersections with social media, mental health, and identity. Julianne opened the discussion by asking Mackie and Brade about their first experiences with writing and how they came to write novels in the crime genre.

In The Hive, the protagonist Charlotte, kills her boyfriend’s new girlfriend and live streams it from a hotel. The reader is actively involved, as viewers can vote as to whether her boyfriend should live or die.

Mackie’s novel is a black satire of a dysfunctional family and the media’s obsession with murder as the protagonist and anti-hero Grace Bernard reveals the extent of her murderous spree.

Both novels have a brilliant premise, and most readers would be able to relate to the characters experience.

Mackie stated that growing up she read lots of old-fashioned murder mysteries. By the age of eight she had read the entire Agatha Christie crime collection. Her Dad would buy her crime magazines. All summer long she would read. She loved true crime. She loved the idea of an unreliable narrator, and that the reader doesn’t know the truth until the end. The fact that Christie had the power to surprise her reader at the end of a novel, for Mackie, was fantastic. As an adult she has read fiction that is much more gritty, gruesome, and violent. She feels like we’ve gone a bit too far with the exploitation of real stories and disliked the fact that every protagonist was a gruff detective and victims were nameless girls. She always knew that if she wrote something it would have the light touch of an Agatha Christie novel and the plot and twists and intrigue versus the gore and sadistic nature of some modern crime novels.

Bella Mackie

Brade stated that she is interested in the story of what leads a character to crime. What were their motivations? She addresses everyday struggles in her novel and how social media and leading such a public life can lead to some dangerous things. Writing about things that are dark, usually stems from everyday life. Brade said she wanted to play with that and bring it to life. She likes the tight bonds of her characters, backstories, and the unusual lengths the narrator goes to protect her friends.

One of the most distinctive things about The Hive is the way that Brade has reproduced comments from social media. Through this narrative technique the reader gets to see the thoughts of different characters posting online, commenting on key events in the novel.

Brade said that writing some of the social media posts were the hardest parts of the novel. In terms of writing such cruel things about a person she had to get into a troll like mentality. She stated that it was hard to see why someone would sit behind a screen and write terrible things about another person’s life. She feels that she has a good relationship with social media now. It is tough but it can be rewarding. Some things are beneficial and others not so and it’s a fine line that we all need to navigate.

One of the striking things about How to Kill Your Family is the ways in which people die in the novel. Mackie said she wanted to write a book that wasn’t deep on gore or sadism. She knew that the murders would be slightly unrealistic, comedic and a little bit caricature of a murder scene, but they had to believable enough that a reader wouldn’t roll eyes and say that would never happen. She had a lot of fun deciding how people would die and she tried to focus it around the characters personalities.  There’s a person that dies in a specific type of private members club (no plot spoilers!) and she did some research to ask if it was realistic, would this happen? Grace, her protagonist is a very thoughtful and deliberate narrator. The reader is on board and at times cheering for her as well as being gripped waiting to discover how she is going to pull off these complicated murders.

Both Mackie and Brade’s novels have very strong and distinctive first-person female voices and personalities. Julianne asked the panellists whether they thought characters needed to be likeable and what makes a dislikeable character likeable. There was a fascinating discussion around the controversy over the years of writing likeable narrators.

Mackie stated that she didn’t mean to write a book where you would root for a villain, but you do have to like them a bit as otherwise you can’t draw the reader in. She said that as women we are conditioned to be likeable, nice, quiet, and not to make people uncomfortable as otherwise you will be a bitch and that’s a terrible thing for a woman to be. She observed that whilst people can root for her protagonist, they know she is a bad person and that we all have nasty inner thoughts, but we don’t feel safe to reveal them. Perhaps this is what makes Mackie and Brade’s novels so appealing?

Both authors said that their characters have a refreshing honesty. Julianne pointed out that the reader doesn’t have to morally agree with what a character is doing to be interested in what they’re going to do next. She gave the examples of Fleabag and Killing Eve.

Brade stated that historically crime fiction has often denied women a voice. She wanted her characters to be real. Not everyone is likable. Life isn’t a bed of roses. What makes these stories so unique is that the characters are not supposed to be likable. The audacity of the characters is appealing to the reader.

Julianne Pachico and Scarlett Brade

Both authors talked about their process of writing and how their novels came about.

Brade stated that she had a bad breakup with someone that had a big online following. Through this, she saw the dark side of social media. The breakup was quite public, and she had complete strangers messaging her and speculating about what had happened and this is where she got her inspiration from. She wanted to take advantage of something that hasn’t been done before and embody what we live through on a daily basis. The Hive has rightly been described as feminist revenge. She said that writing it was cathartic and it was nice to be able to let her feelings out and show people that mental health is important, and social media can affect that if we let it into our everyday lives.

Mackie talked about her process of writing and described revenge as an evergreen classic.

Where she grew up in North London, she came across a difficult, bullying guy and thought that it would be amazing if this character got his comeuppance; someone incredibly wealthy and powerful and an adversary secretly trying to bring him down.

Both authors clearly really enjoyed writing their novels. They went on to talk about their experiences of getting published and hint of what is coming next; both writers have novels coming out next year.  It was a fantastic discussion. A must for any crime writer.

You can purchase a watch back link for this event here for just £6!

Copies of How to Kill Your Family and The Hive are available from Waterstones now.

Helen Marsden has just completed the MA in Creative Writing: Crime Fiction at the UEA and has written a novel entitled True Things About You. An extract from her work can be found in the UEA MA Anthology: Crime Fiction 2022 available here.  

You can find her on twitter @CriminalHelen

Written for Noirwich by UEA Graduate Helen Marsden

Photo Credit: Beth Moseley

This year’s annual Noirwich festival lecture: “It’s Terrible to be Terrible and Still Want Love,” was delivered by Yelena Moskovich.

Moskovich is an acclaimed author, playwright and artist born in the Ukraine. She emigrated to Wisconsin with family as Jewish refugees in 1991 (aged seven), then alone to Paris in 2007. She is the author of three impressive novels: A Door Behind a Door, Virtuoso, and The Natashas which was long listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize. She also won the 2017 Galley Beggar Press short story prize. She has written for Vogue, Frieze, Times Literary Supplement, Paris Review and Dyke On Magazine.

I was lucky enough to attend the lecture and hear about Moskovich’s work and her intentions as a writer. It was a powerful keynote address and one of the most potent, insightful and thought-provoking discussions I have heard for some time.

The lecture focused on her most recent novel, A Door Behind a Door, which has been described as “an exploration of the post-Soviet diaspora, through a mesmeric blending of past and present, desire and violence.” Moskovich discussed her work and stated that she hadn’t really considered herself to be a crime writer despite many familiar tropes of noir running through her visceral writing.

‘A Door Behind a Door,’ opens with a phone call to Olga from a convicted murderer Nikolai, who used to live in the same apartment block as her in the former Soviet Union. She is now living in Wisconsin and is in a relationship with a nurse named Angelina. The call provides a catalyst for mysteries and intriguing encounters. An underground Midwestern Russian mafia, and a murder and a string of stabbings, are all connected to her past and pose a threat to her future and the stability of her new life.

The story moves between multiple narrators and the plot centres around an eclectic line-up of fascinating characters: A female prisoner, two teenage girls in a shopping mall, Olga’s brother Moshe, a penniless vagrant and a café waitress. The reader is left to piece together how the characters fates are related.

Photo Credit: Beth Moseley

Moskovich has told stories by going against the grain of storytelling and said she had never thought of herself as a crime writer because the world of her writing is lawless by nature – those that inhabit it are trespassers of form. In her stories no one dies because they are already dead. No-one breaks the law because the laws are already broken.

A Door Behind a Door is focused on exploring a state of mind rather than solving a crime.  Moskovich’s narrative technique has been described as experimental. The timeline is fractured which I personally liked. For Moskovich, language feels intuitively multidimensional. She held it both in fragments and in its entirety and had no need for linear organisation of narrative. Her writing style is as unsettling as the plot.

Moskovich informed the audience that she didn’t have a plan when she started to write, just a firm idea and a keen sense of what might happen. When she writes, she knows exactly how it will feel when it’s written down. One of the most striking things for me was the evocative, visceral nature of her narrative style and technique and the way she plays with the form.

The novel presents as a set of paragraphs; like poetry stanzas or a film script. Her style is innovative and striking. I felt the influence of theatre in A Door Behind a Door, it was dramatic and pacey; a page turner.

Moskovich noted that her novel has been described as a crime novel in verse. This is not just for the way the story unfolds in lyrical episodes almost like a succession of poems but also in the lyricism she employs to advance the plot.

Her work is often described as experimental. She has no qualms with the label itself but she does think it’s important to look at the reputation of this category. The term is seen as a reaction to so called ‘traditional literature’, as if it cannot exist on its own terms but in relation to the norm.  Moskovich observed that this echoes societal perception of those with a difference in mental, emotional, and physical abilities. They are often defined and categorised in relationship to a majority or a norm. A norm that has been constructed within a system that functions and profits from the existence and measure of this normality.

Moskovich is troubled by the reputation of experimental writing as reactionary. She said that it’s as if the implication is that it lacks the sophistication of traditional literature.  She observed that literature happens in what is not said. Crime is precisely about darkness. It happens in the dark – even if it’s daylight.” Moskovich stated that most fiction – regardless of genre, is focused on the thought, feeling and action contoured in the subtextual darkness. But what would the contour look like if it wasn’t revealed through the characters relationships to themselves, the other or to the world around them but the relationship between the text and the story.

In the novel, we discover Nikolai’s violent upbringing and the grief that destroyed the family of the murdered woman. With a focus on trauma, it is inevitable that a writer would touch on crime. Moskovich’s writing evokes a sense of alienation that survivors of trauma often experience, especially in terms of insight into the effects of trauma on the human psyche. She said that she was particularly interested in the construction and sense of reality of those who have experienced trauma as well as those with mental health neurodivergence. This touches on the inherent link between trauma and crime. I personally really liked the subversive nature of her work. Nikolai is imprisoned: “He was a bad boy, and he went to prison to become a bad man.” She also observed that: “To be dead there is no need to die,” and “It is not the body that carries the voice but the voice that carries the body.”

Photo Credit: Beth Moseley

Tom Benn who chaired the audience Q&A after the lecture, and posed a few questions to Yelena, described A Door Behind a Door, as “a crime novel like no other.” He observed that it does everything that the crime novel can and should do but entirely on its own terms. He noted that whilst there are elements of the genre in Moskovich’s other novels, he felt that A Door Behind a Door was her most ‘crimeiest’ novel and Moskovich revealed that although it was news to her that she was a crime writer, she agreed with his assertion. Tom asked her if it was a conscious decision to wade deeper into the waters of crime fiction.

With A Door Behind a Door, Moskovich wanted to go wild. She had always written about violence in the most tender way that she could, and she wanted to go as far as she could go with this dynamic – how tender and how violent could she be in one book. She talked about the link between violence and tenderness and posed the question: Can something tender be violent? She suggested that the most opposite of things are often the closest. If tenderness is given the full space to exist there wouldn’t be space for violence and vice versa. Moskovich observed that violence doesn’t come from nowhere – it comes from a lack of tenderness at a point in someone’s life.

Tom commented that all Moskovich’s characters are stuck and trapped in a dance of repetition and darkness on their way to hell. For him, the novel feels very noir. He noted that sometimes the characters swap roles where victims become instigators, murderers become amateur detectives. Tom asked her if she saw her characters as being responsible for their own transgressions. Tom also asked her if the protagonist in her work was crime itself. Moskovich stated that she would reflect on this.

In all her work, Moskovich writes about immigration as a kind of death. Moskovich invited the audience to consider the metaphysical sense of immigration: the journey of dying, of killing and being killed. She noted that there are many dimensions of borders. She mentioned puberty as an immigration that we all share – a border that one has to cross from childhood towards adulthood. Loving someone is also a kind of immigration across the border of the self towards the other. People are most familiar with refugee and asylum seekers escaping mental and emotional and physical persecution. There is much to say about their experience and the relationship to language and form.

Moskovich posed the question: What if crime wasn’t a story being told but a language being spoken?

Tom mentioned that in Russia the word for authority is sometimes used interchangeably with the word for gangster. He asked Yelena if she sees that the language for authority is also the language of transgression.  Moskovich agreed and went on to discuss the concept of morality and the different cultural representations of this. She noted that Anglo-Saxon culture is consumed with morality. In American culture, morality was focused on: “I will die for justice.” French literature: “I will die for love.” Russian culture, simply: “I will die.” Moskovich observed that Anglo-Saxon culture was also focused on creating the perfect innocent character and a criminal who does horrible things to them. You don’t find this structure in Russian literature. There is an acceptance that life is hard. The reader is not looking for a human or structural explanation. Moskovich observed that there was flexibility in imagination and in truth. Truth, she noted was not a fixed position. Whilst she has always loved novels where people go to hell, the Soviet Union was built upon the communist rejection of religion. She said that “our hell is a bit different.” It’s not a moral hell but a place of transgression and truth. It is a social and political code; an opportunity for truth, to contemplate, to face and to integrate the spectrum of human conscience, unconscious, and intention. Free of right and wrong. It doesn’t mean that there are no consequences and no structure.

Photo Credit: Beth Moseley

Moskovich is interested in the phenomena of a subject; Its language, its movement and its way of coming into life and dying out. She referred to the cultural guilt inherent in language.  Rules of grammar, punctuation, sentence structure and gender allotment to nouns come from the way its voice, its purpose and expression have been sanctioned throughout history.

The building blocks of language are a product of the socio-political regime. A regime that is heavily governed by religious and moral code. Language existed to spread the guidelines of holy text and in turn to keep people in line and to create empires, fortunes, military and profit.  The writer is left in a peculiar position  – how to use a guilty language.

Moskovich has been consistently urged to make her writing more accessible and coherent. She has been nudged to iron out her fractured prose. It has been alluded to her that if she did so, she could sell more books, be nominated for more prizes, and get more funding. I am glad that she has resisted.

It was a truly fascinating discussion. I would urge anyone to read her work (and Tom’s).

You can purchase copies of Yelena and Tom’s books from Waterstones.

Helen Marsden has just completed the MA in Creative Writing: Crime Fiction at UEA and has written a novel entitled True Things About You. An extract from her work can be found in the UEA MA Anthology: Crime Fiction 2022 available here.  

You can find her on twitter @CriminalHelen


Written for Noirwich by UEA Graduate Helen Marsden

Photo Credit: Beth Moseley

Creator and star of the hugely successful comedy series, The Fast Show, author of the bestselling Young Bond books, and the incredibly successful horror series, The Enemy, and four stand-alone crime novels, Charlie Higson was at Noirwich to discuss his latest adult crime novel Whatever Gets You Through the Night, in conversation with the UEA’s Professor of Creative Writing and Crime Fiction, Henry Sutton. 

Higson started writing when he was ten years old and studied English and American Literature with Film Studies at UEA. He was a singer and painter and decorator before he started writing for television. Henry noted that there are fifty-three boxes of Higson’s work in the British Archive for Contemporary Writing at UEA. I would imagine that is well worth a look.  

Whatever Gets You Through the Night is a crime novel with a thrilling sense of humour about dark truths that lurk beneath the surface. The central character is a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, Lauren Human, who needs rescuing from Julian Hepworth, a good-looking narcissist and sociopath tech-billionaire who is running a tennis training camp in Corfu for the girls tennis team that Lauren is part of. However, he is a suspected paedophile who has set up an abusive cult. The novel treads on Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell ground.  Higson is known for his ability to write satire and Whatever Gets You Through the Night does not disappoint. Despite the dark topics it explores, it is laced with humour and wit and pokes fun at modern life. The novel illustrates how technology intrudes into our lives and dominates. It also touches on the male gaze and how the rich and powerful like to spread conspiracy theories.

What I personally like about Higson’s work is that he is not afraid to confront controversial topics. In Whatever Gets You Through the Night, his characters are the vehicle for this.

In creating Hepworth, Higson stated that he wanted to make him properly villainous and intended to construct a villain doing something upsetting and to get into the mind of Epstein and the nasty, evil at the heart of it. He also wanted to explore the dynamic between Epstein and Maxwell and did so by creating Pixie – a female character introduced in the prologue who enables Hepworth. He wanted to highlight how these poor teenage girls are at the mercy of these men and women.

Photo Credit: Beth Moseley

The discussion between Higson and Sutton was like Higson’s work; hugely entertaining and a lot of fun – humorous and at times hilarious.

Higson talked with Henry about his love for noir, hard-boiled and pulp fiction and great crime writers such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Elmore Leonard. He said he likes writing where everything is stripped down and direct. Higson’s love of Ian Fleming’s work was clear, and his novel contains nods to James Bond.

The secret of Higson’s success is perhaps in the way he approaches his writing. He has mastered the components of a good novel: character, setting and plot. He stated that his work with Harry Enfield really helped in terms of learning how to make writing come alive very quickly by creating vivid characters. Higson’s strength is undoubtedly constructing visual and satirical characters and scenes. He stated that he isn’t really interested in police procedurals and solving crimes, but in characters. He likes multicharacter story lines and exploring views from different perspectives. Whatever Gets You Through the Night is told from multiple points of view. Higson described how important it was for the reader to understand other people’s feelings and care about them.

Higson talked about how he likes to explore the twisted mind in his writing and understand the criminal perspective. He finds it fascinating how these characters believe they are doing the right thing, in their own minds. Higson noted that to himself and his friends, Epstein was not evil and was not a paedophile. All his characters are unpleasant yet none of them see themselves like that. He particularly likes novels where narratives are told from the perspective of criminals. His favourite was Jim Thompson, noting that there is often elevation and humour in dark and disturbing themes. He observed that Elmore Leonard put comedy into his books. Higson stated that he felt that it was realistic to have comedy in a novel, even if you are writing about dark subjects. He sees humour as a way to cope with depressing topics. His characters are sadistic, and this makes them nasty and upsetting but he contrasts this by putting humour in everything he does.

The discussion moved onto the significance of place. Picture-postcard Corfu is the setting for Julian Hepworth’s tennis academy, and it is here that he also builds a drugs empire. There are breath-taking views and eccentric locals, but this is contrasted with corruption, crime and abuse. When asked about why he chose Corfu for the setting, Higson talked about the contrast between the coastline of Albania and Greece. Most of Albania at the Greek side is dry and brown. He talked about the damage and pollution that wealth and power create and how it seeps out. On the Corfu side the Rothschilds have an estate. He said that they bought part of Albania to protect their view so that nothing else could be placed there. For him, it was a case of the brighter the sunshine, the darker the shadows.

Photo Credit: Beth Moseley

Higson discussed his love of music, and this also comes through in the text and the title of the novel, which is of course the name of a John Lennon song.  When he writes he puts together a Spotify list. He noted that the soundtrack to Bond was roughly the length of a working day.

I won’t provide any plot spoilers except to say that the denouement converges on a grand finale showbiz party at Hepworth’s villa, and everything kicks off from there.

Higson was asked for his best advice for creative writing students. He disclosed that he gets most of his ideas in the bath. It was best not to write the boring bits in books that everyone skips through, and he always tries to write something that he would want to read. You must have a strong idea of what your novel is about and always know how a novel will end. He doesn’t have a detailed plan but does have a destination and to get there he can go off on any diversions. He writes his first draft quickly and then loves rewriting, shaping, cutting, and pulling it all together.

It was a very entertaining discussion. You can never have too much fun and humour. Whatever Gets You Through the Night is well worth a read.

Helen Marsden has just completed the MA in Creative Writing: Crime Fiction at the UEA and has written a novel entitled True Things About You. An extract from her work can be found in the Crime Fiction UEA MA Anthology 2022 available here.

You can find her on twitter @CriminalHelen

Written for Noirwich by Finley Little

Norwich's Fye Bridge
Credit: David Drake

For his tenth novel The Hard Way — having all the world to choose from as a final setting for their readers — Lee Child sent Jack Reacher to an isolate farm in the county of Norfolk. Agatha Christie’s Poirot could find adventure in the rivers of Egypt or on a railway through Euro-Asia, but Alan Hunter’s master detective vacationed in East Anglia. Following bombing raids over wartime London, frequent executions in Tudor duchies and a destructive 11-year rule of an English Republic; C.J. Sampson based their own historical crime novel, Tombland, in Norwich.

Norwich, to the eye of its beholders, doesn’t present as much grandeur as the rues of Paris, or feel like the imperial-modern goliath of central London. It is quiet, some might see it as peaceful, but doesn’t conceive the same Iberian fairness as Catalonia or the Algarve. It’s elegant, but only hints at the scenes of a pristine Dutch village with some of their pastel-coloured river houses besides the Wensum. Its temperature can rise, but not to the same heights of the Neapolitan coast. Its winters can be cold but can’t compare to the dark that clouds Reykjavik or Stockholm. It is a stereotypical rural county, and so, what have the open eyes of crime writers found that beckons them to its main city?

Credit: Steve Wright

For his first historical crime novel, Martyr, the author Rory Clements connected to his home and history, lifting names from graves in Norwich Cathedral to title his cast of Shakespearian spies. That is how the working women of his fictional Tudor London became a homage to the old merchant traders that built up the city’s industry.

Francis Beeding (a pen name of two writers) found the county’s connection to the rest of the country so interesting, he wrote two great bestsellers — Death Walks in Eastrepps and The Norwich Victim — that combined the simplicity of the Norfolk lifestyle with the wild adventures of serial killers.

In broader scopes of design, S.T Haymon wrote and plotted the fictional city of Angleby based on her knowledge of Norwich. Having already written several books on East Anglian history, Haymon navigates through a map of fictional landmarks, such as the village of Mauthen Barbary in The Death of a Pregnant Virgin and the Brutalist fixtures of Bullen Hall in Stately Homicide. One could see the fixtures of the real city hall, newly built by the time of the books publishing, escaping the prose before curator Chaz Shelden is pushed from its Lion-mounted windows into a moat of eels.

Evidently there is an appeal to the city’s quaintness and isolation from Britain’s major capitals. From the historical past to the early-modern United Kingdom, we can see the deathly allure. It falls in line with Cabot Cove from Murder She Wrote, the county Midsomer from Midsomer Murders, and (a personal favourite) Amity Island from Jaws. It fits perfectly as the ancient foundation turned to havoc by one interloping act.

Norwich could be classified as a ‘nowhere’ land which amplifies the scale of one’s crime. Whilst being a city with so much rich potential to explore, it has been reckoned as an intellectual niche for crime writers. Read these aforementioned stories and you will see no greater testament to how Norwich is a gem for the crime writer to mine.

Finley Little was born in Worcester, England and is currently living in Norwich. He is a graduate of the University of East Anglia with a degree in English Literature with Creative Writing and is working on self-publishing several short stories. You can find him on his Instagram account @Fictioncanbestranger

Written for Noirwich by Nina Bhadreshwar

Mo Hayder’s Tokyo (aka The Devil in Nanking) was the novel that made me sit up and want to write crime fiction. A random purchase from W H Smiths in 2005 while studying in Falmouth changed all that. I inhaled the novel in a weekend; it crawled under my nails and never left. On the Monday, I went into class and said, ‘I want to write like Mo Hayder.’ ‘Who?’ I showed my tutor the book at which she sniffed dismissively. ‘Ohhhh. Genre fiction.’

I didn’t care what it was – it was the kind of writing I wanted to do, the stories I wanted to tell and read. Mo was elusive but her writing was not. She fearlessly presented some of the ugliest parts of human nature – not as deviant but latent, in all of us. 

An early precocity drove her, a school-leaver at 15, to get into fights, an early disparate marriage, stints as a Page 3 model, actress, barmaid, security guard, a TEFL teacher and filmmaker. The logical conclusion, if not the expectation, of such a trajectory was crime fiction. She duly exploded onto the scene with Birdman in 2000, a tautly structured tale of unravelling horror. Far from repelling, Birdman became an instant bestseller, Jack Caffery a favourite flawed detective.

Mo said crime writing was a way of ‘getting rid of ghosts’, her style the opposite of cosy crime. She had a fascination with death and violence against women – interesting as most of her TV roles were based on the objectification of women. As a filmmaker, she made films where couples who went to bed together resulted in the woman pulling the man’s head off and casually eating it before throwing the skull out the window like chicken bones. Some might say that’s the healthy reaction of a former Page 3 model. But, instead of taking the most expedient route of writing novels about seedy men in TV and media, Mo crafted dark, subversive page-turners set in worlds at once familiar and exotic, with the confidence to compete with the sharpest thrillers in a male-dominated genre. While an elliptic biography hints at plenty, it also indicates a sharp wit, a woman who knows her own worth and escapes just in the nick of time. Ultimately, the blonde bombshell outshone all the headline acts she was asked to play the object in, trod on Benny Hill’s and Cannon’s balls, serving up the goods to a ringing cash register. Five may have gone mad on mescalin but Mo kept mum.  Crime fiction is indebted to a woman who chose a different route, her true intellect blazing through intricate plots, leaving corpses of her tormentors in undignified places. She tugs at the reader, charming you into accompanying her down alleys and hovels no rational self would ever go. But, afterwards, far from feeling violated, there is a sense of exhilaration. It’s empowering to read narratives where the protagonist walks directly into his or her fears.

Although known for graphic gore, the elements that made Mo a bestseller are to do with craft: impeccable suspense writing and weaving themes, subtle as ghosts and gossamer, throughout pages of intense dialogue or sharply observed places. The detail of the lives of hostess or show-women is so intimate you can smell the hairspray, the cigarettes and diesel fumes. She plays with the expectation that pretty women are built to please, not to be smart, and this combination creates anticipation of the inevitable violence. Hayder uses this as her leverage for suspense, inverting the femme fatale and creating something entirely different.

Delicacy and violence proved a winning combination, riveting readers on the page. Mo was ultimately a storyteller of the highest calibre, her commerciality preventing her from being savoured critically. She is still both inspiration and muse to many. Her early departure is speculative fiction’s loss. Thankfully, crime will always have her true and golden legacy: ten terrifying novels.

Nina Bhadreshwar is a writer and illustrator, usually doing beauty and music editorials on both sides of the Atlantic. She has been writing crime fiction in secret for decades and has just finished her first crime fiction novel for publishing at UEA. 

@ninabhadreshwar (Instagram)

Website: www.bhadpublicity.com

Soviet-Ukrainian novelist and Fast Show comedian take centre stage at Noirwich Crime Writing Festival

The ninth Noirwich Crime Writing Festival returns in September, with a special line-up announced featuring an award-winning Soviet-Ukrainian novelist, a well-loved comedian and a host of leading and cutting-edge international writers.

The festival is being run by University of East Anglia (UEA) and is taking place between Thursday 8 and Saturday 10 September with events both in-person on UEA campus and online. 

Charlie Higson, Yelena Moskovich, Vaseem Khan and Bella Mackie lead the discussions, which explore new directions in cosy crime, the contemporary revenge thriller and paradise lost. Emma Bamford and Emma Styles mark their debuts, while graduating students of UEA’s Creative Writing MA Crime Fiction provide a window into the future.

UEA now leads the Noirwich programming and production, having previously worked in conjunction with the National Centre for Writing. Known for its innovative programming and contemporary critical debates, Noirwich aims to take readers and writers of the genre to vibrant new places.

Award-winning Soviet-Ukrainian born novelist and artist Yelena Moskovich will deliver the 2022 Noirwich Lecture. Moskovich’s timely intervention will reflect on the volatility and mutability of the written word – and the world – and why ‘Every Russian literary work is a crime novel’. Previous Noirwich lectures have included Megan Abbott on adaptation and crime writing in the era of Netflix, Attica Locke on colonialism and theft, George Alagiah on environmental destruction, Val McDermid on gender and violence, and Arne Dahl on organised crime and class.

Joining Moskovich at the top of the bill is UEA alumnus and creator and star of the hugely successful comedy series The Fast Show, Charlie Higson. Author of the bestselling Young Bond books and the incredibly successful horror series, The Enemy, Higson will discuss Whatever Gets You Through the Night – a sun-soaked thriller and his first adult crime novel in 25 years.

Emerging crime sensations Emma Bamford and Emma Styles, both graduates of UEA’s Creative Writing programme, will explain how to write an attention-grabbing debut, what gave them their big break, and how they found inspiration for their thrilling debut novels.

With wildly new approaches to Cosy Crime booming in the last few years, as readers return to escapism, Sunday Times bestselling author, Janice Hallett, and CWA Historical Dagger 2021 winner Vaseem Khan, explore the revival and the precedents.

#1 Sunday Times bestselling author Bella Mackie (How to Kill Your Family) and sensational debut crime writer Scarlett Brade (The Hive) consider the most recent innovations in the thriller form, reflecting on how Domestic Noir has already turned a chilling corner.

Henry Sutton, Professor of Creative Writing and Crime Fiction at the UEA, said: “Noirwich has always been at the forefront of the key conversations and debates framing the wonderfully dynamic crime writing world. We’ve always strived to give a platform to the voices that demand and deserve to be heard.

“2022 marks a new chapter and determination in our ambitions to be the foremost global centre for the study and creation of crime narratives. Please join us once again on our urgent, necessary, engaging and entertaining journey.”

Noirwich 2022 line-up:


6.30pm, Drama Studio, UEA

The Price of Paradise | Emma Bamford and Emma Styles: Noirwich launches with two of the best debut novelists in crime writing – Emma Bamford and Emma Styles.

8pm, Drama Studio, UEA, free event

UEA MA Anthologies: Crime Fiction 2022 Launch: Meet the freshest new voices in crime writing at this year’s UEA MA Anthologies: Crime Fiction (featuring an introduction by Lee Child) launch, with live readings and a drinks reception.


6.30pm, The Enterprise Centre, UEA

The Noirwich Lecture | Yelena Moskovich: Award-winning Ukrainian-born artist and writer Yelena Moskovich delivers the annual Noirwich lecture: It’s Terrible to be Terrible and Still Want Love. Presented in partnership with the National Centre for Writing

8pm, The Enterprise Centre, UEA

Whatever Gets You Through the Night | Charlie Higson: Writer, actor and comedian Charlie Higson will discuss Whatever Gets You Through the Night, his first adult crime novel in 25 years, following the phenomenal success of his Young Bond and The Enemy series for younger readers.


Online event

New Directions in Cosy Crime | Vaseem Khan and Janice Hallett: CWA Historical Dagger 2021 winner Vaseem Khan and Sunday Times bestselling author Janice Hallett, will discuss the revival of cosy crime writing.

Online event

Murder Most Modern | Bella Mackie and Scarlett Brade: #1Sunday Times bestselling author Bella Mackie and debut crime writer Scarlett Brade, dissect their compulsive contemporary revenge thrillers.

Recommended by Paul Willetts

Paul Willetts, the critically acclaimed author of King Con and Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms,  is a master of non-fiction storytelling – spinning true-life accounts of con artists, spies and gangsters into gripping stories steeped in detail and atmosphere. 

To prepare you for Paul’s upcoming true crime writing workshop on Saturday 11 September, we asked him which essential true crime reads he would recommend to likeminded readers and writers of non-fiction.

The Case of the Murderous Dr Cream (2021) by Dean Jobb

The Canadian doctor turned serial killing poisoner, Dr Neill Cream, was among the late nineteenth-century’s most notorious criminals, his notoriety spanning both sides of the Atlantic. But he’d drifted into obscurity by the time Dean Jobb began researching this sparely written and brilliantly structured account of his life and monstrous crimes. I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy of it, so I wasn’t in the least surprised by its huge critical and commercial success in America.

The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova

I don’t usually read books from the pop psychology genre spawned by Malcolm Gladwell. I only read this example of the genre because it came out while I was researching the escapades of a compulsive Jazz Age conman and imposter. He pulled off a series of stings so implausible that I was curious to discover the latest scientific analysis of why we fall for con tricks. As Marina Konnikova (a young psychologist turned staff writer at The New Yorker)reveals, our vulnerability is rooted in our sense of invulnerability, our sense that it’s other people who get conned.

The True Story of Titanic Thompson (2012) by Kevin Cook

I must admit I’d never heard of Titanic Thompson until I picked up this book. He turns out to have been a famous mid-twentieth-century ‘proposition gambler’, who made a fortune by wagering enormous sums of money, usually on his ability to perform some improbable task. One of his most celebrated coups involved betting Al Capone that he could throw a lemon onto the roof of a five-storey building. Read this book and you’ll find yourself with a month’s supply of comic anecdotes.

Years of the Locust (2009) by Jon Hotten

When it was first released more than a decade ago, there was talk of Hotten’s book being turned into a movie. Like so many film projects, though, the mooted film never materialized, which is a shame because this is an immensely cinematic book, written with the swagger and brio of mid-period James Ellroy. It’s set in American South during the 1990s, which plays host to the tragic business relationship between an aspiring champion boxer and his psychopathic manager.

I’ve come across few true-crime books that have such a brilliant opening: ’28 April 1995. So here he comes. Fat Rick Parker, rocking and rolling through Orlando International Airport on this, the last day of his life.’

A Very English Scandal (2016) by John Preston

Entertaining though the TV adaptation was, it’s nowhere near as good as the book, which provides an addictive and blackly amusing account of the plot by the Liberal Party leader, Jeremy Thorpe, to murder his gay lover, Norman Scott. Never has the clichéd ‘reads like a thriller’ tag been more appropriate. Unsurprisingly, Preston has a parallel career as a novelist, best-known for his fictionalized account of the archaeological discoveries at Sutton Hoo—a novel that has recently spawned a touching and understated Netflix movie.

Midnight in Peking (2011) by Paul French

With this true-crime debut, its Shanghai-based author Paul French established himself as one of the world’s leading true-crime writers. The book chronicles of his re-investigation of a long-forgotten murder of a young English woman living in 1930s Peking. As well as being a murder mystery, it’s a vivid portrait of the vanished world of expats living in British colonial China—a world on the brink of being swept away by the Japanese invasion of that country.  

Don’t miss…


Saturday 11 September, 10am – 12noon or 2 – 4pm BST, National Centre for Writing, Dragon Hall, Norwich, £35

Join Paul Willetts, the critically acclaimed author of King Con and Rendezvous at the Russian Tea Rooms, for a friendly writing workshop packed with practical tips and advice on how to research, structure and write your non-fiction story.

In this two-hour session, you will explore:

  • How to research your story and use true life details to enhance atmosphere and characterisation
  • Approaches to structuring your story
  • Possible routes to publication, including how to pitch your story to an agent

Whether you are new to the genre or have some writing experience, this workshop offers an essential snapshot of how to approach your non-fiction project.

All the events from Noirwich 2020 and 2021 are available online and can be watched below.

Noirwich 2021







Noirwich 2020









Thank you!

2020 was a challenging year for everyone and we’re very grateful to the artists and audiences who helped make this year’s online festival such a success.

Mark Aldridge and Sophie Hannah in conversation on The Writing Life podcast

Bringing together two of Hercule Poirot’s biggest fans for a conversation spanning the 100-year history of one of Agatha Christie’s most beloved creations. From the original novels, short stories and plays through to adaptations for stage, screen and radio – how has Poirot changed over the years, what makes him so compelling, and what will he look like in another century’s time?

Mark Aldridge is a lecturer, film historian and author of the definitive book about Agatha Christie’s book adaptations on film and television, Agatha Christie on Screen. His upcoming book Agatha Christie’s Poirot: The Greatest Detective in the World (released October 2020) is a lively and accessible history of the world’s favourite fictional detective. Sophie Hannah is an internationally bestselling crime author and has written a series of ‘continuation novels’ based on Hercule Poirot: The Monogram Murders, Closed Casket, The Mystery of Three Quarters and the upcoming The Killings at Kingfisher Hill.

Hosted by Steph McKenna and Simon Jones.

You can go direct to the RSS feed here.

About the speakers

Mark Aldridge is a senior lecturer and film historian at Solent University, Southampton. He previously wrote the definitive book about Agatha Christie’s book adaptations on film and television, Agatha Christie on Screen, published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2016. Twitter @DrMarkAldridge

Sophie Hannah is an internationally bestselling crime fiction writer whose books have sold millions of copies worldwide. Her crime novels have been translated into 49 languages and published in 51 countries. Her psychological thriller The Carrier won the Crime Thriller of the Year Award at the 2013 UK National Book Awards. In 2014 and 2016, Sophie published The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket, the first new Hercule Poirot mysteries since Agatha Christie’s death, both of which were national and international bestsellers. She went on to publish a third, The Mystery of Three Quarters in 2018 which was an instant bestseller, and her fourth Poirot novel, The Killings at Kingfisher Hill will be published in August 2020. Sophie helped to create a Master’s Degree in Crime and Thriller Writing at the University of Cambridge, for which she is the main teacher and Course Director. She is also the founder of the Dream Author Coaching Programme for writers which launched in September 2019.

Sophie is also an award-winning, bestselling poet, and her poetry is studied at GCSE level across the UK. She has co-written two murder mystery musicals with composer Annette Armitage: The Mystery of Mr. E and Work Experience. She has written a self-help book called How To Hold a Grudge: From Resentment to Contentment – The Power of Grudges to Transform Your Life, and hosts the How to Hold a Grudge podcast. Website

We are delighted to welcome award-winning US author and screenwriter Attica Locke for the annual Noirwich Lecture, in which she explores the ways that crime writing can challenge the distribution of power and authority at a structural and individual level. Drawing on examples from her own career and writing, including the Highway 59 novels, she reflects on how stories and characters can pull back the veil on some forms of hidden power.

Attica’s most recent novel, Heaven, My Home, is an expertly-crafted thriller mystery, but also a sharp examination of ‘Trump-era’ America and issues of race, power, prejudice and white supremacy which still exist today. Her recent work as a television writer and producer includes When They See Us (Netflix); a portrayal of the 1990 wrongful conviction of five teenage boys from Harlem for a brutal attack in Central Park; and Little Fires Everywhere (Amazon Prime).

The lecture is followed by a live Q&A with Attica and Nathan Ashman, Lecturer in Crime Writing at the University of East Anglia.

‘The Love Boat’ is a short story by novelist and Noirwich UNESCO Virtual Writer in Residence, Anita Terpstra. It has been translated by Danny Guinan.

Julia drank her glass of wine down in one, the alcohol helping to erase the words that were burning liked acid on her tongue. They were out on the open sea and the rolling of the yacht was making her feel seasick.

At the stern, Robert, her husband, and her best friend, Fenna, were deep in conversation. Julia and Fenna had come up with the name ‘The Love Boat’ for the yacht. A tongue-in-cheek reference to the institution of marriage. 

Fenna laughed at something Robert said.

‘Slut’, Julia thought to herself. It wasn’t just the wine that had left a bitter taste in her mouth.

This little sailing trip had been organised to celebrate the twenty-first birthday of their son, Victor. They were on their way back to port. The light was fading fast. Tomorrow Victor would be celebrating his birthday with his friends, but tonight it was the turn of family and those they regarded as family. Like Fenna.

Fenna had become an object of ridicule within their circle of friends and beyond. Her husband – or ex-husband to be precise – was a successful businessman. She had divorced him a few months ago. Everyone knew about the succession of lovers he had kept in his expensive apartment while Fenna was marooned in their house in the country. Julia was the only one who had stood by her when things began to fall apart.  

And this was Fenna’s way of thanking her.

Robert disappeared below deck to join the rest of the party and escape the cold. Fenna was standing alone and Julia saw her opportunity.

‘What a fabulous evening,’ said Fenna when Julia came and stood next to her. Fenna was clearly a bit tipsy.

Julia wrapped her hands around the railing. ‘I know, I know about you and…’

‘Oh my god,’ said Fenna, shocked. ‘I…’

‘I don’t need to hear your excuses. It’s just got to stop.’

‘I had been meaning to tell you, honest, but he…’

‘Please, spare me, before you make an even bigger fool of yourself. If you had the slightest bit of respect for me or our friendship, you would never have started it.’

‘I love him.’

‘What?’ said Julia, looking at her friend in astonishment. ‘How could you do this? After everything I’ve done for you? I was the only one there when everyone else abandoned you after the divorce. Have you any idea how much shit I had to deal with just because I stuck up for you? And now this… Why him? Of all the men in the world, why him?’

‘We just fell in love.’

‘I won’t let this go on any longer, do you hear me?’

‘You can’t stop us from seeing each other.’

Fenna stared at her defiantly. She meant what she said, Julia realised. She took a quick look over her shoulder. No one around. Instinctively, Julia pushed her friend and watched with satisfaction as Fenna tumbled over the railing into the dark water. That’ll teach her not to start an affair with Victor.

She let out a deep sigh of contentment and walked over to join her son in the wheelhouse. Julia lay her head on his shoulder.

‘Mum, have you seen Fenna?’ asked Victor.

‘No, dear, I’ve no idea where she is.’

Anita Terpstra

Anita Terpstra
(c) Harry Cock

Anita Terpstra (1974) graduated in journalism and art history. Her successful debut thriller Nachtvlucht (Night Flight) was nominated for the Shadow Prize and the Crimezone Thriller Award. Samen (Together) was nominated for the Golden Gallows. Her books have been translated into German and French.

Anita is a UNESCO Virtual Writer in Residence at the 2020 Festival.

Danny Guinan

Danny Guinan is a translator of fiction and non-fiction from Dutch into English. Born and raised in Ireland, he now lives and works in the Netherlands. His translated works include the books Attention and Concentration by Stefan van der Stigchel for MIT Press, as well as a number of short stories by Sanneke van Hassel that are due for publication in the autumn by Strangers Press as part of the New Dutch Writing series.

‘Solstice’ is a short story by novelist and Noirwich UNESCO Virtual Writer in Residence, Anita Terpstra. It has been translated by Sarah Timmer Harvey.

“Hello? Team? I’m lost! Help me!” Nynke cried as she returned to the last clue, which was in Princentuin park. She must have taken a wrong turn.

A ghost tour of Leeuwarden, even if it was to be followed by dinner in a restaurant, wasn’t exactly her idea of a fun company outing. Nynke hated horror films and was afraid of haunted houses, so this really wasn’t her scene. And certainly not in this kind of weather. It was pitch-dark, cold, windy, and raining cats and dogs. She was soaking wet, chilled to the bone.

At the Weighhouse, formerly the marketplace, a headless “Simon Lunia” had scared her senseless. Simon had been beheaded two centuries earlier during a public execution at the Weighhouse, and now the internet was teeming with stories about people being accosted by a man seeking his head. And at Oldehove, the crooked tower on Wilhelmina square, which had once been a cemetery, she’d been followed by “Red Frouk.”  Long ago, she had committed suicide, jumping off the tower because of a broken heart, and her spirit had been haunting the square ever since.

In Prinsentuin park, Nynke was on her guard, but nothing had happened. According to legend, on June 21—the day of the summer solstice in 1888—a young woman had entered the park, then disappeared without a trace. Ever since then, the young woman’s ghost had been trying to lure walkers into following her. And, just like her, they were never seen again.

With enormous reluctance, she walked through the park’s main entrance. Just ahead of her, a young woman emerged from a thicket. Nynke screamed. The woman wore a tattered brown dress and a white apron that was stained around the waist. No shoes, dirty feet. Two braids falling over her shoulders. Her face was as white as a sheet, and she was staring intensely at Nynke.

“Okay, I’m completely fed up with all this scary business. Can you please just take me to the restaurant?” Nynke said angrily. She had no idea where they were dining because it was supposed to be a surprise.

The woman beckoned, and Nynke quickly followed, but after a few minutes, she was struck by doubts. They weren’t walking to the town center. Instead, they were moving away from it, toward the water bordering the park, which was always full of boats when the weather was fine.

“Are you sure we’re going in the right direction?” Nynke asked.

The woman didn’t answer and continued walking until they found themselves at the edge of the water.

“Hello? Can you please answer me?”

Abruptly, Nynke stopped.  Was this woman actually part of the ghost tour? Or was she…? Fear flashed through her like lightning.

When the woman noticed that Nynke was no longer following her, she walked back and grabbed her by the wrist. The coldness of her hand startled Nynke.

“Let me go!”

The woman’s fingers tightened.

“Ow, you’re hurting me.”

Nynke gave her a shove, and the woman fell, hitting her head on the corner of a stone bench. She remained motionless, lying on the waterfront with her eyes wide open. Nynke made a run for it. Barely half a minute later, she almost crashed into a colleague.

“What happened to you?” He asked.

“Oh! I can’t tell you how happy I am to see you. I got lost and…”

“Didn’t my wife come and get you?”

“Your wife?”

“Yes, she’s wearing a brown dress and has braids in her hair. She’s part of the ghost tour. We thought it would be fun if the tour suddenly ended, you’d all get lost, then she’d pop up and lead you to the restaurant. My wife is really very good, isn’t she?” He said proudly. “That dimwit from the admin department almost peed her pants.” He laughed. Nynke swallowed hard. 

“No,” she managed to say, “I didn’t see her.”

Anita Terpstra

Anita Terpstra
(c) Harry Cock

Anita Terpstra (1974) graduated in journalism and art history. Her successful debut thriller Nachtvlucht (Night Flight) was nominated for the Shadow Prize and the Crimezone Thriller Award. Samen (Together) was nominated for the Golden Gallows. Her books have been translated into German and French.

Anita is a UNESCO Virtual Writer in Residence at the 2020 Festival.

Sarah Timmer Harvey

Sarah Timmer Harvey is writer and translator currently based in Brooklyn. Sarah holds an MFA in writing and translation from Columbia University. Sarah’s translations, interviews, and writing has appeared in several publications including Modern Poetry in Translation, Cagibi, Asymptote, and Gulf Coast Journal. Reconstruction, a chapbook of Sarah’s translations of stories by the Dutch-Surinamese writer, Karin Amatmoekrim will be published by Strangers Press (UK) in September 2020.

Below is an extract from Swimming in the Dark (Upstart Press, 2014) by Paddy Richardson, which was shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Crime Fiction Award. You can order a copy of the novel here.

She can see the river now, a blue-green snake beneath the road.

Always there was the river. Rushing in after school, hauling on togs and running, leaping off the rocks, churning through the water. They’d be down there hours in the summer. The smell of thyme, like eucalyptus except fainter, sweeter. The grey-blue colour of it, the feel of it scratching her bare legs. The way the soles of their feet toughened up, turned into leather in the summer months. Sometimes Mum came down to find them, baby Serena under one arm, a packet of fish and chips under the other.  Thursday was Benefit Day. Fish and chips, maybe ice cream. Mum’s box of wine.

If it hadn’t been for the men, it could’ve been all right.

It could’ve been all right but it wasn’t.

Did you ever wonder why? Ever wonder why I left the way I did? Ever wonder how I was getting on in Dunedin with no one to help me, no one that I knew? Did you ever wonder if I was scared?

She’s tired but she’ll keep on driving.  Not long to go. Roxburgh, now. The wide main street with the churches, the pubs. Not long. It’s getting towards the end of the day and the sun’s lowering, bright and glaring on the windscreen. Past the dam, and she’s climbing now, taking the corners gently. She’s winding downwards. On the last stretch.

When she lived here Alex was the world. Everyone knew who was important, who owned the businesses on the main street, who lived in the big houses. Alex was the world and if you were important you could do what you liked. If you were important you could take someone little and stamp them out flat.

 Nearly there and she’s still scared. Scared of going back. When she left she wasn’t going back. No matter what happened, she wasn’t ever going back. Now she has to. No choice.

Still, there’s nowhere else like this; the burnt, golden land, the rocks like great looming ruins glinting silver in the evening sun. Fruitlands, with the crumbling stone buildings beside the road, the pine trees jutting out of sand and rock, the houses dotted up on the rise of hill and there, at last, the bridge.

That bridge was her last memory of the place. Getting up in the early morning,  pulling on her jeans and T-shirt, grabbing her jacket. Taking her bag and moving slowly and silently through the house, turning the door-handle, slipping through and easing the door shut behind her. She pulled the hood of her jacket up over her head, wove her way through town, keeping away from the main streets. Along the river, then up onto the bridge. She walked across it, her head down, too afraid to look up.

She was over the bridge, walking to the top of the rise when she heard the whine of a truck easing into a lower gear. She put out her thumb.

Paddy Richardson

Paddy Richardson is the author of two collections of short stories, Choices and If We Were Lebanese and seven novels, The Company of a DaughterA Year to Learn a Woman, Hunting Blind, Traces of Red, Cross Fingers, Swimming in the Dark and Through the Lonesome DarkTraces of Red and Cross Fingers were long-listed for the Ngaio Marsh Crime Fiction Award and Hunting Blind and Swimming in the Dark were short listed. Four of her novels have been published overseas, A Year to Learn a Woman, Hunting Blind and Traces of Reds have been translated and published by Droemer Publishing, Germany, and Swimming in the Dark by Macmillan, Australia. Through the Lonesome Dark was shortlisted for the New Zealand Historical Novel Award and longlisted for The Dublin International Literature Award.

Paddy has been awarded Creative New Zealand Awards, the University of Otago Burns Fellowship, the Beatson Fellowship and the James Wallace Arts Trust Residency Award. She has been a guest at many writing festivals and was one of the New Zealand writer representatives at both the Leipzig and Frankfurt Book Fairs in 2012 when New Zealand was the guest of honour. In 2019, she was awarded the Randell Cottage residency in Wellington where she spent six months writing and researching her latest novel to be published in 2021.

Paddy lives in a beautiful part of our world, on the Otago Peninsula in Dunedin, New Zealand, where she swims, walks, reads and works as a full-time writer.

Paddy is a UNESCO Virtual Writer in Residence at the 2020 Festival.

Here, Noirwich UNESCO Virtual Writer in Residence Paddy Richardson reflects on her home city of Dunedin in New Zealand, and its relationship with writing and crime fiction.

On the globe, our little country, New Zealand; three narrow islands at the end of the world and Dunedin, there, right down the end.

Dunedin is a place of hills, trees and harbour, the central city spreading towards the enclosing hills, the houses tucked in amongst them. Out on the peninsula, the albatross soar, the seals bask on rocks. On clear days the sea sparkles, on others the mist comes in, a soft flowing veil of grey. Our buildings are a mix of grand Victorian and semi-modern, the beautiful stone buildings beside the Leith River which form the oldest part of the university, the grand railway station, the now disused prison buildings, gothic and harsh, once the scene of the only hanging of a woman in New Zealand.

Dunedin, at one time the wealthiest city in the country after gold was discovered nearby, has a chequered history of grandeur, wealth and lofty hopes.  We are the only city to have castles, two of them in fact, now serving as shrines to the men who wanted to implant European opulence in this land. One is now a crumbling ruin whereas the other has been coaxed over years into its past splendour.  But while it has been made beautiful again, Larnach Castle is a place of bygone scandals, secrets, deaths and ruin. If you slide past the black curtain into the third wife, Constance’s, boudoir, you feel a shiver in the atmosphere; rigid respectability mixed with disappointment, loss and heartbreak.

Dunedin is a writers’ city. The Octagon, placed in the centre of our main streets, is presided over by Robbie Burns’ statue and many of the paving stones are embossed with writing from our most famous writers, Janet Frame, Charles Brasch, Dan Davin, James K. Baxter.  The University of Otago Burns Fellowship, a year’s residency for writers, means that poets, playwrights, novelists come and go in this city leaving their mark.

There is atmosphere and inspiration in our history, our buildings, our breathtakingly beautiful landscape and mood-changing climate. Over the past years, crime fiction has flourished in New Zealand. Here in Dunedin, Vanda Symon’s Sam Shephard series gives us a sassy young female Dunedin police officer who takes the reader into what Vanda sees as ‘a wonderful mix of moody, gothic architecture and happily grubby and tired modern buildings amongst a diverse and off-beat population.’  Writer, Jane Woodham says ‘it was easy to set my first novel Twister in Dunedin as the city’s gothic architecture and sometimes morose weather helps to create the grim atmosphere we have come to expect in a crime novel’. Finn Bell also uses Dunedin and the far south as settings for his award-winning crime fiction novels whereas Liam McIlvanney recalls his home, Scotland, for inspiration-entirely fitting within a city often referred to as the Edinburgh of the South. Maxine Alterio, one of Dunedin’s best-known writers, has also veered into suspense fiction with her latest novel The Gulf  Between set in and near Dunedin and in Italy.

As for me, Dunedin, continues to be the city where I love to write. My windows look across the harbour. I watch as the words take shape.

Paddy Richardson

Paddy Richardson is the author of two collections of short stories, Choices and If We Were Lebanese and seven novels, The Company of a DaughterA Year to Learn a Woman, Hunting Blind, Traces of Red, Cross Fingers, Swimming in the Dark and Through the Lonesome DarkTraces of Red and Cross Fingers were long-listed for the Ngaio Marsh Crime Fiction Award and Hunting Blind and Swimming in the Dark were short listed. Four of her novels have been published overseas, A Year to Learn a Woman, Hunting Blind and Traces of Reds have been translated and published by Droemer Publishing, Germany, and Swimming in the Dark by Macmillan, Australia. Through the Lonesome Dark was shortlisted for the New Zealand Historical Novel Award and longlisted for The Dublin International Literature Award.

Paddy has been awarded Creative New Zealand Awards, the University of Otago Burns Fellowship, the Beatson Fellowship and the James Wallace Arts Trust Residency Award. She has been a guest at many writing festivals and was one of the New Zealand writer representatives at both the Leipzig and Frankfurt Book Fairs in 2012 when New Zealand was the guest of honour. In 2019, she was awarded the Randell Cottage residency in Wellington where she spent six months writing and researching her latest novel to be published in 2021.

Paddy lives in a beautiful part of our world, on the Otago Peninsula in Dunedin, New Zealand, where she swims, walks, reads and works as a full-time writer.

Paddy is a UNESCO Virtual Writer in Residence at the 2020 Festival.

From leading drugs raids to rescuing hostages and preventing attempted homicides, Olivier Norek has experienced first-hand the dark underbelly of the criminal world. His latest suspenseful police procedural The Lost and the Damned without a doubt draws on the author’s own experience as a police officer.

To celebrate our upcoming event with Olivier on Saturday 12 September, we asked him which books have influenced the lieutenant-turned-crime-writer over the years and first inspired him to put pen to paper…

Les Pilliers de la Terre / The Pillars of Earth by Ken Follett

1135 and civil war, famine and religious strife abound. With his family on the verge of starvation, mason Tom Builder dreams of the day that he can use his talents to create and build a cathedral like no other. Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, is resourceful, but with money scarce he knows that for his town to survive it must find a way to thrive, and so he makes the decision to build within it the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.

A spellbinding epic tale of ambition, anarchy, and absolute power set against the sprawling medieval canvas of twelfth-century England, The Pillars of the Earth is Ken Follett’s classic historical masterpiece.

Les Oiseaux / The Birds and Others Stories by Daphné Du Maurier

‘How long he fought with them in the darkness he could not tell, but at last the beating of the wings about him lessened and then withdrew…’

A classic of alienation and horror, The Birds was immortalised by Hitchcock in his celebrated film. The five other chilling stories in this collection echo a sense of dislocation and mock man’s sense of dominance over the natural world. The mountain paradise of ‘Monte Verità’ promises immortality, but at a terrible price; a neglected wife haunts her husband in the form of an apple tree; a professional photographer steps out from behind the camera and into his subject’s life; a date with a cinema usherette leads to a walk in the cemetery; and a jealous father finds a remedy when three’s a crowd…

L’attrape-coeurs / The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Sallinger

‘If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.’

The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caufield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days.

Mon chien stupide / West of Rome by John Fante

West of Rome’s two novellas, “My Dog Stupid” and “The Orgy,” fulfill the promise of their rousing titles. The latter novella opens with virtuoso description: “His name was Frank Gagliano, and he did not believe in God. He was that most singular and startling craftsman of the building trade-a left-handed bricklayer. Like my father, Frank came from Torcella Peligna, a cliff-hugging town in the Abruzzi. Lean as a spider, he wore a leather cap and puttees the year around, and he was so bowlegged a dog could lope between his knees without touching them.”

The Dumas Club by Arturo Perez Reverte

Lucas Corso is a book detective, a middle-aged mercenary hired to hunt down rare editions for wealthy and unscrupulous clients. When a well-known bibliophile is found dead, leaving behind part of the original manuscript of Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers, Corso is brought in to authenticate the fragment. Across Madrid, Spain’s wealthiest book dealer has finally laid his hands on a 17th-century manual for summoning the devil.

But the further Corso follows the trail of devil worship, the more it leads him back to Dumas. He’s the unwitting protagonist in someone’s evil plot, but is he sleuth or hero, Sherlock Holmes or d’Artagnan?

Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane

U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels has come to Shutter Island, home of Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Along with his partner, Chuck Aule, he sets out to find an escaped patient, a murderess named Rachel Solando, as a hurricane bears down upon them. But nothing at Ashecliffe Hospital is what it seems. And neither is Teddy Daniels. Is he there to find a missing patient? Or has he been sent to look into rumors of Ashecliffe’s radical approach to psychiatry? An approach that may include drug experimentation, hideous surgical trials, and lethal countermoves in the shadow war against Soviet brainwashing…

Don’t miss…


12 September, 5.30pm, online (Youtube)

Join Olivier Norek and his translator Nick Caistor for a fascinating discussion about his new novel, the French justice system, the process of being translated and why France is producing some of the highest calibre crime writing in the world. 

Free to sign up and watch – all are welcome. Sign up here

By Duncan Campbell

Has there ever been a time when True Crime – as opposed to the fictional version – has had such a high profile? Whether in television documentaries or podcasts, accounts of famous murders or heists are never absent from the airwaves. True Crime books, meanwhile, tend to fall into two different categories. There are the memoirs of the protagonists – criminals, detectives, victims, lawyers – and there are the works of writers, reporters and historians. It’s hard – very hard – to say what the best ones are in two such crowded fields.

Of the latter category, two of the deservedly best-known are, of course, In Cold Blood by Truman Capote and Somebody’s Husband, Somebody’s Son by Gordon Burn. The former explores the story behind the murders of the Clutter family in Kansas in 1959 by two ex-cons, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. The latter is about Peter Sutcliffe, the ‘Yorkshire Ripper’ and an examination both of his character and of the bungled police investigation that allowed him to carry on killing. Of the more than fifty books about or by the Kray twins, John Pearson’s The Profession of Violence remains the best, not least because of the remarkable access he had to the twins at the time when they were still busy posing for David Bailey photos.

Putting our fascination with killers into context is Judith Flanders’s wonderful book, The Invention of Murder, which explains how Britain as a nation became intrigued by criminality and gore in Victorian times. And the potential pitfalls of the true crime genre are brilliantly highlighted by Janet Malcolm in her book, The Journalist and the Murderer. It opens with a famously provocative sentence: ‘Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible.’

Most professional criminals are men but Gone Shopping by Lorraine Gamman tells the story of  Shirley Pitts, a shoplifter who operated in the 1950s and 1960s. When she died in 1992, she was buried in a £5,000 Zandra Rhodes dress that she did not buy over the counter. Above her grave was a floral tribute in the shape of a Harrods shopping bag and the legend ‘Gone Shopping’, hence the title.

Of books by protagonists, these by former criminals stand out: Gentleman Thief by the late cat burglar, Peter Scott, who stole Sophia Loren’s diamonds in the 1960s. Scott ruefully admits that although he was described as a ‘master-criminal’ in fact ‘a master idiot would have been a better description.’ A Few Kind Words and a Loaded Gun by Noel ‘Razor’ Smith is, unlike too many memoirs of professional criminals, remarkably candid about the pointlessness of choosing bank robbery as a career. He recounts one occasion when he tried to hold up a newsagent’s with a Luger pistol and was told by its Ugandan-Asian proprietor, with commendable sang-froid, ‘Your gun is unloaded – you are minus the magazine. And you swear far too much for such a young man.’ Smith bought a Mars Bar instead and told him to keep the change.

Of other memoirs, I would add two thoughtful books: Jimmy Boyle’s A Sense of Freedom and Erwin James’s Redeemable. The former is by the ex-Glasgow-hardman-turned-artist, the latter by Erwin James, who was jailed for life for two murders in 1984 and tells his remarkable story with commendable frankness and introspection.

Police memoirs – like criminal memoirs – can sometimes be rather unreflective and self-aggrandising. Two recent books that are neither of those things, are Good Cop, Bad War by Neil Woods and Graham Satchwell’s An Inspector Recalls. The former is an account of the life of an undercover drugs squad cop who is now an advocate of changing the drugs laws. As he puts it: ‘fighting to end the War on Drugs will do more to harm the gangsters than anything I ever accomplished as a cop.’ An Inspector Recalls is a very honest account of life as a detective with the British Transport Police.

Books by those who have been victims of crime are much rarer; we remember the names of the murderers but rarely of those murdered or attacked. The serial killers, Fred and Rose West, prompted many interesting books, including Gordon Burn’s Happy Like Murderers, Andrew O’Hagan’s The Missing, Howard Sounes’s Fred & Rose and Brian Masters’s She Must Have Known. But one of the most revealing is by Caroline Roberts, who was 16 when she was attacked by the Wests but managed to escape. Years later in the trial of Rose West, she bravely gave evidence on behalf of ‘all those girls who didn’t make it”. Her account of what she suffered and her sometimes grim experiences at the hands of the press is equally poignant.

Photo: Linda Nylind

Duncan Campbell has been writing about crime for nearly half a century. He was the crime correspondent of the Guardian and chairman of the Crime Reporters’ Association. He has written extensively on the subject of crime for various publications, including Guardian, Observer, Esquire, New Statesman, London Review of Books, Radio Times and Oldie. He has written four other books on crime: That Was Business, This Is Personal; A Stranger and Afraid; If It Bleeds and We’ll All Be Murdered in Our Beds! The Shocking History of Crime Reporting in Britain. Duncan was the first presenter of BBC Radio Five Live’s Crime Desk and the winner of the Bar Council newspaper journalist of the year award. He has appeared in numerous documentaries about crime and was the consultant on the 2018 film about the Hatton Garden burglary, which was partly based on an article he wrote about the case for the Guardian. Underworld, the definitive history of Britain’s organised crime is published by Penguin.

Duncan is leading an online true crime writing workshop on Saturday 12 September at 10am and 2pm BST. Find out more below.

Noirwich 2019 has come and gone, with hundreds of crime fans arriving in the city for a weekend of crime fiction indulgence. Across four days at Jarrold, the University of East Anglia and Dragon Hall, writers and readers celebrated and explored the genre.

Today we have the first of several highlights from the festival, courtesy of the National Centre for Writing’s podcast. George Alagiah delivered the 2019 Noirwich Lecture, focusing on the relationship between fiction and fact. His first work of fiction, The Burning Land, explores many of the issues he has encountered as a BBC journalist in his career but from an entirely new perspective.

Crime lovers rejoice! The sixth Noirwich Crime Writing Festival begins tomorrow with James Runcie at Jarrold…but to get the party started early, why not pop along to The Ivy Brasserie on London St for a crime-themed cocktail or two?

In honour of Noirwich, The Ivy Norwich have created six limited-edition cocktails; each more devilishly delicious than the last and inspired by popular murder mystery board game, Cluedo, which celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.

Created by the brasserie’s talented bar team, each cocktail is named after characters from the famous game and will be available for guests to enjoy until Sunday 15 September. Bespoke cocktails include ‘Miss Scarlett’, a delicious blend of Maker’s Mark whisky, Cointreau Blood Orange, grenadine & ginger ale; ‘Colonel Mustard’, a spicy blend of Ketel One Citroen Vodka and Bloody Mary spice mix; and ‘Mrs Peacock’, incorporating Beefeater Gin, Créme de Violet, lemon and Maraschino liqueur.

Why not book a table in advance and treat yourself to dinner? Visit The Ivy website for further information.

Melanie Cook, PR & Marketing Manager, VisitNorwich

It’s curious that even in the 18th century, coffee houses were as popular as ever. Though in those days, they were packed out with men whilst the women did the service.

Today, if you visit the Museum of Norwich at The Bridewell, there is a recreated coffee house exhibit, particularly memorable for the historically-accurate wig you can try on while you’re here.

While the hairpiece may have gone out of fashion, the places we hold dear for our oat milk favourite flat white are as important to us as ever. Whether you want a bit of peace and quiet, a chat, a chinwag or a break with a book, these are my top five favourite places to grab a coffee and drink in the history of this wonderful city.

1. The Britons Arms, Elm Hill

This beautiful 14th century thatched building is a hidden gem in Norwich, even though it sits proudly on Norwich’s most complete medieval street. Close your eyes and picture a cobbled street with ancient, leaning buildings and you’ll summon a picture pretty close to how Elm Hill looks today. And The Britons Arms is truly inviting. It’s cosy and quaint with a quintessentially English offering of savouries and cakes, all homemade daily. Don’t miss the lush private courtyard garden in good weather.

2. Norwich Market, Gentlemen’s walk

This is the largest open-air market in the country, and has been in its current space for over 900 years. Recently it has seen an influx of artisan food makers and producers, meaning the hungry (or thirsty!) visitor is never stuck for choice. It’s the place for breakfast or lunch from around the world and a quick stop coffee, especially if you love people watching.

3. Bread Source, Upper St. Giles

Scandi style chic plus a bakery equals Bread Source. On the cusp of opening its third cafe in Norwich – surely that says it all. And you can’t have a coffee here without trying their signature Cinnamon Bun! Like making the most of your breakfast or brunch experience? You won’t be able to resist the coffee and unlimited toast offer, with at least 6 types of bread which you toast yourself.

4. Strangers Coffee House, Pottergate, Norwich Lanes

The Strangers were a group of Protestant refugee weavers who fled the low countries in the 16th century as a result of religious persecution. They were welcomed in Norwich where they helped create a prosperous textile industry, and where their influence is still felt today. Right in the heart of the Norwich Lanes, sit at the window in Strangers Coffee House – named after neighbouring Strangers Court – and take it easy with an espresso and pecan pie.

5. The Ivy Brasserie, London Street

Situated in a beautiful building designed by architect George Skipper – a leading Norwich architect of the late Victorian and Edwardian period. This is French style coffee, served in a beautiful brasserie styled by Martin Brudnizki design studio. Order breakfast al fresco and enjoy your hot drink served in a silver coffee pot with complimentary refills. Wear your best Insta outfit here.

Please note, these events took place in 2019.

Indulge in some crime-themed cinema this September with the Film Noir season of Vintage Sundays at Picturehouse Cinemas!

Each Sunday, Cinema City brings classic films back on the big screen where they belong. Starting on 8 September, you can dive into the dark heart of Hollywood with five classics from the likes of Orson Welles and Billy Wilder.

In a Lonely Place

Double Indemnity – Sun 8 Sep, 1pm

Billy Wilder’s paradigmatic film set the template for the genre when first released in 1944. Insurance man Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) schemes the perfect murder with the beautiful wife of one of his clients (Barbara Stanwyck): kill her husband and make off with the insurance money. But Walter’s colleague (Edward G. Robinson) – a shrewd insurance investigator – has a feeling that not all is as it seems with the widow’s claim.

In a Lonely Place – Sun 15 Sep, 1pm

Humphrey Bogart delivers one of his best performances in Nicholas Ray’s hard-boiled, LA-set thriller. Dixon Steele (Bogart), a moody, volatile Hollywood screenwriter who’s had his heyday, is accused of murdering a coat check girl from a showbiz restaurant. Laurel (Gloria Grahame), an actress who lives in Dixon’s apartment complex, provides an alibi for her neighbour when questioned by the police, and the pair start a relationship. But the chief of police is unconvinced of Dixon’s innocence and, after learning of his violent past, Laurel begins to question if she is putting herself in danger by staying with him.

The Killers – Sun 22 Sep, 1pm

Director Robert Siodmak brings Ernest Hemingway’s gripping short story of robbery and betrayal to the big screen. Two hit men walk into a diner asking for a man called “the Swede” (Burt Lancaster). When the killers find the Swede, he’s expecting them and doesn’t put up a fight. Since the Swede had a life insurance policy, an investigator (Edmond O’Brien), on a hunch, decides to look into the murder. As the Swede’s past is laid bare, it comes to light that he was in love with a beautiful woman (Ava Gardner) who may have lured him into pulling off a bank robbery overseen by another man (Albert Dekker).

Touch of Evil – Sun 29 Sep, 1pm

Beginning with perhaps the most celebrated tracking shot in history, Orson Welles’s bravura film noir is a shadowy tale of murder, malevolence and police corruption. When a car bomb explodes on the US-Mexican border, Mike Vargas (Heston), a Mexican official investigating drug trafficking, is drawn into the case. Vargas is convinced that American cop Hank Quinlan (Welles) is planting evidence to incriminate the prime suspect, and he becomes obsessed with exposing Quinlan as a rotten apple. Quinlan then seeks revenge by conspiring with gangsters, who terrorise Vargas’s wife Susan (Leigh). Welles gives a stunning performance as a man increasingly depleted of humanity, and his deliriously daring thriller with a dark emotional core is one of the greatest of its genre.

This week we have an interview with author Winnie M Li, writer of the novel Dark Chapter which was described by the Guardian as “a defiant retelling of personal trauma.” Winnie also wrote an article for us about activism and literature – keep scrolling to read it!

Please note that this episode discusses assault, which some listeners may find distressing.

Asking the questions this week is Elspeth Latimer, a UEA postgraduate researcher in crime fiction who worked on the Noirwich Crime Writing Festival with us, courtesy of a CHASE (Consortium of the Humanities and Arts South-East England) placement.

Hosted by Simon Jones, writer and Digital Marketing Manager at the National Centre for Writing.

Activism and literature

Winnie M Li discusses whether novels can be a creative and effective way of exploring and drawing attention to important issues – and is fiction better at doing this than non-fiction?

When you live through a trauma, and that trauma changes your life — And when you realise that trauma is actually part of a much larger societal problem, then as a writer, it becomes vital to write about it. Or at least that’s how it was for me.

My debut novel Dark Chapter is a fictional retelling of something that happened to me ten years ago: I was followed by a stranger in a park outside of Belfast, and I was violently assaulted and raped. At the time, it was very much a matter of survival for me — not just during the attack itself, but in the months and years that followed. I felt isolated, cast adrift, often hopeless I would ever recover.

Along the way, I learned that sexual violence is actually something many people suffer: approximately one in five women become victims. And as I gradually became an activist around this issue, I realised how much readers need a novel that truly testifies to the survivor’s experience — the horror and the injustice of it all — while also showing a path towards recovery. I wanted to show how ill-equipped the criminal justice system can be for victims.  And If I could tell this story in the form of a compelling crime novel, then I could not only engage readers through the twists and turns of a plot, but also place them in the shoes of both the victim and the perpetrator of a crime. Through my characters, I could do justice to the experience of injustice.

Writing as a means of demonstrating injustice has long been an impetus for many a novelist. From Charles Dickens’ exposé of debtors’ prisons and the urban poor in Victorian London, to Harper Lee’s child-framed view of racism in the American South, novels have always been an important way of exploring societal inequalities.  Would we call this writing a form of activism? I suppose it’s up to the individual writer which word they want to use. But I’d say yes, these types of novels very much have activism at their root.

However, we often picture activism as being very in-your-face: protestors brandishing signs, shouting collective chants, chaining themselves to gates. Novels are more subtle. Instead of yelling angrily at you, novels win you over by investing you emotionally into the life of a character who might be suffering through injustice. They dramatise the human experience behind a larger problem, render that experience lived-in and relatable for readers.

This is why fiction, with its immersion into the mind of a character, can have an edge over non-fiction, which carries a duty to presenting actual, proven fact. Fiction also has a plot which can keep readers riveted. And it’s more likely to appeal to the general public. Not many people would want to pick up a treatise about squalor in Victorian debtors’ prisons. But peopled with Dickens’ colourful characters and an intriguing plot, that unjust, dangerous world can come alive in a novel. So by writing fiction around a form of injustice, we can reach a wider audience, and raise a greater awareness about what needs to change.

I’m really looking forward to discussing this in greater depth with two fantastic crime writers Eva Dolan and Mari Hannah at Noirwich this year. Through our novels, we all touch on ways in which society could be better at handling issues like violence, mental health, inequality, gender. Come along on September 15th to ‘Writing Wrongs’ and join in the conversation — after all, change can’t happen without a dialogue first.

Matt Wesolowski is the author of Six Stories and was at Noirwich 2018 on the Books, Box Sets, Big Screens panel alongside Jane Lythell and Nicola Upson. Here he discusses the term ‘hybrid writer’ and how he incorporates new forms into his storytelling.

I often get described as a hybrid writer. That’s an apt description; stylistically I’m like any writer. I’m a semblance of bits, a crucible of influences. I’m more jumble sale in a village hall than high end fusion cookery but there you have it. I’m not really a crime writer. Not a proper horror writer either. I’m a hybrid.

When I was young I read everything and anything I liked the look of. I remember feeling bemused by a girl in school who asked me (rather witheringly) why I always read ‘girls’ books’. We were in year eight. I never understood what she meant; I still don’t. Mind you, she was the same girl who wished me a ‘terrible future’ in my end of year book. I get the feeling she’s probably not a fan.

Limiting yourself to books that are only of a certain label or genre makes little sense. I often hear people say they like to read ‘trash’ on holiday. I don’t know what that means either. Why would you go and read a book that isn’t good? That didn’t do something to you emotionally? I don’t get it.

It’s the same with the ways of storytelling. I’ve always loved the idea of different formats within the same book. That’s when hybrids start to form; odd shapes shambling out of our brains and into the world. I studied Linguistics at university and have always been fascinated by how our language evolves; how patois and dialect find their way into our lexicon, become standard, forcing older words into archaisms. I feel that fiction does the same thing. I love it when an author slips in some form from the modern era. It feels almost taboo; a strange hybrid brought to life. I remember seeing Lauren Beukes use Reddit threads in Broken Monsters, Paul Tremblay using blogs in A Head Full of Ghosts – the thrill it gave me, how relevant it was. How perfect. I loved it.

Technology gives us new ways to tell stories. As a species, we have always told stories. Podcasts are a new way we tell stories and that’s why I wanted to use this form, to make this hybrid of audio and literature. Writing a book in the form of a podcast wasn’t difficult, it felt new, it felt exciting, it felt taboo. I didn’t even know if it would work. My own hybrid creature unleashed from the lab.

I’m sure there are some who hate literature being tainted by new formats, who see fiction as a sacred cow, an untouchable art form that should not be sullied by the frivolity of modernity. I feel like the emergence of new ways of storytelling will always play a huge part in what I write. So long as a story is being told effectively, so long as it’s relevant, for me it’s valid.

But there will always be people who will shun a hybrid, will drive the monster from their village. I imagine they’re the same types that tell boys they can’t read ‘girls’ books’ and read ‘trash’ on holiday.

Or maybe I’m a weird creature with a terrible future…

Val McDermid delivered the annual lecture at the 2018 Noirwich Crime Writing Festival, on the subject of “What we really talk about when we talk about crime fiction”.

As well as being a legendary crime author, Val is also one of this year’s Man Booker Prize judges, and her lecture examines where crime fiction sits in the wider literature scene and how it relates to society and the real world.

The Noirwich Lecture is presented by The Times and Sunday Times Crime Club.

Hosted by Simon Jones, writer and Digital Marketing Manager at the National Centre for Writing.

Leo Benedictus was at the Noirwich Crime Writing Festival in 2018 to talk about breaking rules and pushing boundaries alongside Jacob Ross and Louise Welsh. Here he muses on the importance of genre definitions – or the lack thereof.

There is a little speech I find myself giving, when someone asks what kind of books I write. “Publishers call it literary fiction,” I say. “It basically means novels that aren’t thrillers, or romances, or sci-fi, or something else. It’s the stuff that doesn’t sell.” I spare us both the embarrassment of what “literary fiction” really means. It means I think I’m an artist.

So when my second novel, Consent, went out to publishers, I was surprised that people started calling it “a thriller”. In retrospect, I am surprised I was surprised. The book tells the story of a stalker and his victim. I meant it to be very frightening. I’ve not read many thrillers, but the resemblance should not have been hard to see. Nor was it unwelcome, altogether. If Consent could be called a thriller, it seemed I might be better paid for it, so I kept my surprise to myself. Now I’m booked to speak at a crime writing festival. These things get quickly out of hand.

Some people say that only snobbery preserves a distinction between literary fiction and the rest. I don’t agree. I think the distinction is clear. It just isn’t very useful – and is frequently misused – because it describes something you can’t see on the page. Literariness is an intention. It exists only in the minds of authors, a mysterious place, especially for authors themselves.

Because when writing a novel, you face one question above all others. Why am I doing this? Is it for readers, or for myself? Both, may be the answer you want to give. But in practice, over and over, you are forced to decide. Do you use an unusual word that delights you, or find a better known alternative? Do you want people to consider your ideas and admire your craftsmanship, or would you rather not distract them from the story? Should the book be easy to read, with a hook at the beginning, a twist in the middle, and a satisfying end? Or can it have longueurs, moments of strangeness, that release their pleasures slowly, if at all?

Every novel is made from choices like these, and if it were possible to list and study them, we would see whether most faced out or in. If you write mainly for yourself, it is a literary novel. It may please others, but that isn’t what you wrote it for. Novels written to please other people are non-literary. They naturally tend to repeat what has been popular before, and as a result they mingle into streams, which we call “thrillers”, “romances”, “space operas” and so on.

In practice, the distinction muddies easily. Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy uses the pattern of detective fiction, but was made with literary choices, it seems to me. And let’s not kid ourselves. It is more prestigious to be an artist than an artisan, and some novelists write with that in mind. Their books resemble literary novels, but aren’t, because of course they too are trying to please an audience. As a result, their novels often form new streams. Right now, quasi-memoirs, some of them excellent, are enjoying much commercial and critical success. But if you write one because you know this, it isn’t literary. You are not writing for yourself.

At first glance, challenging avant-garde novels seem to guarantee their author’s literary intentions, because nobody would write one to be popular. On the other hand, for the same reason, this is the genre you would expect to attract people who yearn for literary prestige. Not caring what readers think and trying to look that way are – obviously – quite hard to tell apart.

Which is why it’s best not to worry about the word literary. Yes, it is a badge that means something, but we can’t pin it anywhere. Not even on ourselves.

BBC One’s Death in Paradise is one of the top three most popular programmes on British Television, enjoyed on screen as well as in a series of novels: we asked its creator, Robert Thorogood – how does writing the novels compare to writing the screenplays?

Although the genre, style and tone of the books and TV shows are broadly the same, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the process of writing for both of them is wildly different.

The first and most obvious difference is that the TV series really is a gang show: from original idea through to finished script, each writer on the TV show is helped by the input of the other writers, a script editor, story producer and other execs on the show. It means the writers are constantly supported, and the entirely natural crippling fear, doubt and panic any writer feels trying to get a story to ‘land’ is shared among the whole group.

Whereas when you write a novel, you’re on your own. And not just for a few days or weeks. For months. This can be hugely liberating (up to a point), as you can make and implement decisions in the story as quickly as you can think of them, but I have to confess that I really miss that feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ that a TV show gives you.

Having said that, it’s surprising how much more freedom there is when you’re writing a novel rather than a TV show.

This is mainly because novels don’t have any budget restrictions, problems with hiring locations, actors’ availability, or sudden tropical downpours (or hurricanes) to contend with. In a TV show you’re always limited by what you can actually shoot, whereas with a novel you only have to write a sentence and you can conjure anything into existence.

For example, both of the stories for books one and two in the Death in Paradise series were ideas I’d first pitched as TV episodes, but we’d not been able to make them ‘work’. This was because the murder in A Meditation on Murder required a Japanese style paper tea house we couldn’t afford to build; and The Killing of Polly Carter required a cliff from which to throw a supermodel – and there’s no such cliff anywhere on Guadeloupe (where we film the TV show).

What’s more, we tend to have only limited locations in the TV show, because it’s already so very expensive to make each episode, whereas in a novel it’s possible for the police to go anywhere on the island for free. (This was something it actually took me quite a while to realize, and I’ve tried to make this a feature of Book 4 – Murder in the Caribbean, published in December 2018 – where I’ve purposely come up with a story that takes us on a tour of the whole of the island of Saint Marie).

But perhaps the greatest joy of writing the novels rather than the TV show is that a novelist gets to access his or her characters’ internal thoughts. Rather than rely on an actor as brilliant as Ben Miller to show the audience what my hero might be thinking, it really is liberating finally being able to access his misanthropic internal monologue and actually commit it to paper.

In summary, it’s hard to say which format I prefer writing, and perhaps the only conclusion I can come to is that while TV and books are both so very different, I’m extremely grateful that I get to do both.

Elodie Harper shares her impressions of a certain place in Norfolk that inspired her novels…

The first time I got a sense of the true menace of the Norfolk landscape was after I moved to the county to work for ITV News Anglia. I was assigned a reporting job in Great Yarmouth and set off in the car with David Bush, the company’s longstanding cameraman.

We reached the Acle Straight – or ‘new road’ as David called it, in typical Norfolk fashion given it’s almost 200 years old – and entered the marshes. It was early morning and the ground mist rose like smoke. On either side of us, the land rolled out, seemingly forever, and through the fog stood the blue outlines of what looked like windmills. The odd cow or sheep loomed up close to the road, separated from the cars by nothing more than a ditch. I felt like we had driven into the middle of a 16th century painting by an old Dutch Master.

“Where are we?” I asked.

“This is Halvergate.”

“Bit eerie isn’t it?”

“People get mesmerized staring out at the marshes,” he said, looking straight ahead. “End up in the ditch. Drowned, mostly.”

I didn’t know David too well at this point, so it was a relief after we got to Yarmouth, finished filming, and he became less gloomy over a helping of chips, but Halvergate never became less strange. I later learned it had originally been called ‘Hellfire Gate’, which seemed appropriate for a landscape that’s literally smoking from the flames beneath. It was where I built my fictional prison, HMP Halvergate in The Binding Song, but the marshes are also the place that I picture in my mind’s eye whenever I am writing and want to draw on the peculiar menace of the landscape. For me it’s the soul of Norfolk Noir.

Noirwich festival co-director Henry Sutton also writes under the name Harry Brett; here he reveals how Norfolk pervades his work.

There’s the Norfolk Noir of Henry Sutton and the Norfolk Noir of Harry Brett: both begin and end in Great Yarmouth, but Sutton’s stretches further, while Brett’s goes darker. From the beginning Sutton explored domestic dysfunction, driven as much by character, as place. North Norfolk – the eerie marshes, the fast-flowing tides, the vast skies, the unstable land – provided not just the backdrop but the tone and the hints of menace that my early novels, particularly Bank Holiday Monday, were packed with.

Then came the novel Kid’s Stuff, which had the landscapes and big, doom-laden skies – along with what I’ll call a Norwich Noir setting and theme. The novel’s centred on a white, working-class bloke, living in a place very like Norwich. He’s struggling to modernise, and the people closest to him suffer most from his frustration. The most chilling scene I think I’ve ever written takes place in this novel, on the Acle Straight, as he drives to Great Yarmouth.

Yarmouth features in all but name in My Criminal World. As does Norwich – again in all but name. The novel revolves around a crime writer dealing with block and outdated, bourgeois notions of genre. The work he’s trying to finish is a crime novel set in Kingsmouth – my amalgamation of King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth, though really it’s much more Yarmouth than Lynn, even down to the use of real street names. The point was to explore Norfolk’s most diverse and challenged communities.

This work and focus has continued with my Harry Brett novels, which are firmly rooted in Great Yarmouth, and combine, I like to think, the extraordinary physical vistas – both natural and manmade – with a tension derived from a town on the edge in every sense. While I’ve long believed that character and plot are intrinsic, I’d also like to add place to the mix, in equal measure. The Sutton and Brett novels are defined by character, plot and place. None could have happened elsewhere.

Nicci French is the hugely successful writing partnership created by married couple Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Here they discuss what it’s been like to live and write with the characters in their thrilling Frieda Klein series.

One of the surprises of writing fiction is that when you finish your book, when it’s published and sent out into the world, it’s still not really finished. As people start to read the book, the characters develop and slip out of your control. We had become used to that. Sometimes it’s disconcerting. Readers may not love a character as much as you do. Even more strangely, you create a villain, a violent criminal, and you meet readers who wish you had let him end up with the heroine. But he was a murderer, we protested, uselessly.

It didn’t matter. He was out of our hands now and he belonged to readers as much as he did to us.

Even so, we weren’t prepared for the entirely different experience when we began writing about the psychoanalyst, Frieda Klein, in Blue Monday and then followed her dark course over eight books and almost a decade of our life and of hers.  Previously we had finished a book and sent the characters out into the world and we were done with them. Now we sent them out into the world, we talked to readers, we heard what they thought of them. And then they came back out of the world and we followed them in the next book and the next, as they changed and life changed them.

To take one example, in Blue Monday a Ukrainian builder called Josef Morozov literally falls through Frieda’s ceiling into her consulting room while she is conducting a session. Josef was invented to perform a specific role in this one book.

But he just wouldn’t go away. He refused. And readers were asking after him. They wanted to meet him again and we wanted to meet him again.

We came to discover that creating characters in a series of novels is like inviting people to a party. You invited friends, some family members, a couple of people from work, a few neighbours. Some of the people know each other, most of them don’t, but you never know who will get on with who. One of your best friends leaves early while two people you barely know and don’t know each other, get on uproariously and keep the party going until midnight.

Creating the characters for the series was rather like that, except if someone is sulking in the corner at your party, you can’t kill them off. Some characters appeared, did the job they were meant to do and then left. Or if they didn’t leave, they were killed. Others wouldn’t leave. Karlsson was a detective involved in the kidnapping case at the heart of Blue Monday. We weren’t sure how much he would be involved in later novels. But readers kept asking whether he was going to get together with Frieda. We had to keep him. Characters in the background – Chloe, her niece; Sasha, a one-time patient; Reuben, her mentor – gradually moved to the foreground as our solitary heroine gradually accumulated a family around her.

And all that attention still affects us. We’ve finished Frieda’s story but people still ask us about the characters. Where are they now? Where is she? We don’t know what to say. They’ve gone. She has gone. Out there somewhere, but beyond our control.

Cathi Unsworth introduces the real-life people and events behind her latest novel, That Old Black Magic. As Cathi reveals, the truth can be strange indeed, and very inspiring…

Portrait of Helen Duncan

When it comes to writing noir fiction, I have found that the most bizarre characters and plotlines are ones you just couldn’t invent. Which is why my books are based on real cases that have either remained unresolved or contentious to this day. In That Old Black Magic I combine one of each, intertwining stories of witchcraft from the darkest days of World War II, with a cast drawn from reality that even the most imaginative of scribes would be hard-pressed to invent. Mediums, Ghost Hunters, music hall managers, Suffragettes-turned-Fascists and the corporeal spooks of British Intelligence haunt these pages. Please allow me to introduce you to some of them.

I first wrote about HELEN DUNCAN, the Highland-born medium who was the last woman to be prosecuted under the 1735 Witchcraft Act in March 1944, in my last novel Without The Moon. My interest piqued about this still-controversial case by Tony Robinson’s BBC documentary The Blitz Witch, in the course of research, I discovered two more fascinating characters. Her ally, HANNEN SWAFFER was Britain’s most popular and trusted journalist – despite being a self-professed Spiritualist and Socialist, neither of which would gain you much Fleet Street traction now. Her nemesis, HARRY PRICE was the founder of the National Laboratory for Psychical Research, who investigated the phenomena of mediumship as Spiritualism reached its peak of popularity between the Wars, was a member of the Magic Circle and President of The Ghost Club. While Swaffer, along with scores of distinguished witnesses, testified to Helen’s veracity at The Old Bailey, Price provided the prosecution with photographs of the medium projecting ectoplasm that looked suspiciously similar to cheesecloth.

Portrait of Hannen Swaffer

Price, alongside the remarkable MI5 spymaster MAXWELL KNIGHT weave together my two central stories. Knight ran a circle of agents throughout WWII who infiltrated the many strange, mystic cults with allegiances to the Nazis. His most infamous recruit was the traitor propagandist William Joyce, aka LORD HAW HAW, and his most famous friend the novelist DENNIS WHEATLEY, who also worked in Wartime counter-intelligence. In my fiction, Knight assumes the enigmatic form of The Chief. The case that binds them harks back to the April of 1943, when four young boys illicitly foraging in the grounds of Hagley Hall in Worcestershire made a grisly discovery inside a tree. Itself resembling a thing of nightmare, ‘the Wych Elm’, as it was locally known, was acting as coffin for the body of a woman, apparently ritually murdered and hidden there two years previously. Though no one came forward to identify her, graffiti started appearing across the region, asking: WHO PUT BELLA IN THE WYCH ELM? Is she the woman that my fictional detective, Ross Spooner, has been seeking since, on hearing the confession of a German spy captured in the Fens, The Chief sent him to the Midlands to find the elusive Agent Belladonna?

Graffiti, sprayed in August 1999, on plinth of obelisk on Wychbury Hill, Worcestershire

It is certainly the most intriguing mystery I have ever had the fortune to pursue. The many links between spies, Spiritualists, stage magicians and witchcraft covens, coupled with a breathtaking real life backdrop, might at first seem a little far-fetched. But I can promise you that all the weirdest details and strangest characters in this book are those I haven’t made up. And that’s… magic.

Latest news

Win a Crime Book Bundle!

On the hunt for exhilarating new crime fiction reads this autumn? Enter the Noirwich + The Crime Vault book bundle giveaway competition!

Read more

The Noirwich Lecture 2022: Yelena Moskovich

We were honoured to welcome the award-winning Soviet-Ukrainian American and French novelist and artist Yelena Moskovich for the annual Noirwich lecture 2022. Read a transcript of their lecture here.

Read more

Event Review: Murder Most Modern

UEA MA Crime Writing Graduate Helen Marsden reviews our 2022 event 'Murder Most Modern' with Scarlett Brade and Bella Mackie.

Read more

Event Review: The Noirwich Lecture 2022

UEA MA Crime Writing Graduate Helen Marsden reviews the Noirwich Lecture 2022, delivered by Yelena Moskovich.

Read more
Noirwhich logo

Subscribe to the Noirwich newsletter

Subscribe to the Noirwich newsletter and be the first to get the latest news about the festival. We'll tell you when new events are added and let you know about new interviews and articles.


Produced by



The Crime Vault

The Crime Vault




National Centre for Writing

National Centre for Writing