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

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

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

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

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

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

 Sabine Durrant is the utterly lovely and not at all odd author of some incredibly creepy books. UNDER YOUR SKIN is out now in paperback and her latest novel REMEMBER ME THIS WAY published earlier this month.

The girl was lying on the steps of the Foundling Museum, dressed all in white.
Four girls have disappeared in North London. Three are already dead.

Britain’s most prolific child killer, Louis Kinsella, has been locked up in Northwood high-security hospital for over a decade. Now more innocents are being slaughtered, and they all have a connection to his earlier crimes.

The Winter Foundlings is the brilliant new novel in Kate Rhodes’ Alice Quentin crime series. Out 14th August.

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Emma Thorley is gone…but not forgotten. GONE is a twisty story of murder, guilt and unintended consequences from an exciting new crime novelist.

 

That difficult second novel: truth or myth? by Sabine Durrant

Second novels, like second albums, are notoriously tricky. They’re the banana skin on the bookshop floor, the bucket above the door, the bogeyman hiding under the counter (you get the idea). “Can they pull it off again?” you imagine your readers or your editor wondering. And they’re not alone. In meetings, you talk bravely but inside you’re screaming, “I don’t know. Can I?” 

Remember Me This Way isn’t my second novel, but it counts because it is my second thriller. When Mulholland became my publisher they did so having read most of its predecessor, Under Your Skin, but this book they committed to unseen. (I think so little of it had even been imagined, it was called “Untitled” in the contract.) If you are confident in your own abilities that probably makes no difference but if, like me, you’re not, you’ll waste a lot of time worrying they won’t like it when it’s finished. 

There are logistical as well as psychological problems. I plotted Under Your Skin carefully, but I didn’t do that with Remember Me This Way. Busy promoting the first book, I got into a panic and started writing before I had a proper overview of what was going to happen and as a result I got snarled along the way. Much of the action, for example, was initially meant to take place in France, but there were plot difficulties with borders and passports, so in the end I relocated to Cornwall. In fact, I am glad that I did – the wildness and the remote atmosphere suited the action better – but I wasted time in the process. 

I also struggled with the feeling that I had to mine a different seam to the first thriller. With Under Your Skin, I could put in anything I wanted, anything that intrigued or thrilled or interested me. It was more complicated with Remember Me This Way. I felt I had to self-censure. It’s not that it mattered particularly that this time I couldn’t use strangulation, or give my main character a job in the media, but it did make it harder to get going. The first book had a twist and I knew that if this one had too, it would have to twist in another direction. I got quite tangled up trying to sort that one.

So yes – it was definitely harder. But here’s the thing – I think all the struggling is good in the long run. It’s part of the alchemy. I don’t know if my second thriller is better or worse, or just different, to the first. But I have great hopes for the third.  

 Sabine Durrant’s second (and utterly brilliant!) novel REMEMBER ME THIS WAY is out now. 

 

Greg Rucka on his love for football

This has absolutely nothing to do with my new novel, Bravo, which is being published by these lovely Mulholland folks. Seriously, nothing to do with that. If that’s what you’re looking for, you shall be disappointed. You can leave now, I won’t mind. 

This is about football. Proper football, not hand-egg. Soccer, as it’s best-known in the United States, though I live in a peculiar part of the country where referring to it as such often gets you sneered at. Maybe it’s the climate, but I suppose a lot of Portlanders like to pretend they’re British, even if their Anglophilia is lost beneath the flannel and rivers of craft beer. I’ve never liked the name “soccer” personally, and yes, I know that it’s born from “association football.” Yet there’s no “ball” nor “foot” in the word “soccer” that I can discern, and thus, I rest my case.

So what the hell is an American born on the California central coast and living in the Pacific Northwest doing writing about proper football on the Mulholland site? Why, especially, when his new novel has absolutely nothing to do with the sport?

Read More

Sabine Durrant’s top ten twists in movies and novels

WARNING: contains hints and spoilers for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, The Crying Game, Psycho, Rosamund Lupton’s Sister, Dallas, The Sixth Sense, One Day by David Nicholls, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and The Ghost by Robert Harris. 

A really good plot twist leaves you floored, breathless, as if you’ve been punched. The world shifts for a moment as you accept you’ve been taken in. Who can you trust after it has taken place? No one.

1) The least-likely-person twist 

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The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

She is the queen of course – though if you begin a book thinking it’s the least likely person, then it holds no surprises. (The butler did it.) Roger Ackroyd is on a different plane –everybody has their motive. You sift and wonder. What you never imagine is that Poirot’s right hand man, the narrator no less, has been spinning you all along. Bastard.

2) The moral twist

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Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

An archetypal thriller – the grim spooky setting of the Kent marshes, Magwitch with his suppurating shackles, Miss Haversham in her haunted bridal house. And Pip, poor Pip – the gloriously cataclysmic moment when he and the reader discover it isn’t smart money that has funded his posh reincarnation, but dirtily gotten gains.

3) The sex twist

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Neil Jordan’s The Crying Game

About race and gender and the Troubles, it is brutal and heart-breaking and at the heart of it is Jaye Davidson, a beautiful singer who turns out to be pre-operative transgender. Shocks her IRA lover at any rate.

4) The jump-out-of-your-seat twist

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Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho

The story is Hitchcock tried to buy up all copies of the book so people wouldn’t find out what happens. Now you know. The old lady’s dead and it’s Anthony Perkins in her creepy clothes. Yikes.

5) The narrator-in-danger twist

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Sister by Rosamund Lupton

You’re just beginning to think that the author has gone a bit mad – needs a bit of editing – when you discover the narrator, holed up by the villain, is losing consciousness. Faint-inducing.

6) The laugh-out-loud twist

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Dallas

The entire ninth season, plus the death of Bobby at the end of the eighth, turns out to have been Pamela Ewing’s dream. Deserves a place for pure nerve. 

7) The plot-turned-inside-out twist

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M Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense

Like The Others, this ghost story is one long conjuring trick, a bravura act of misdirection and sleight of hand. A boy who is visited by spirits that don’t seem to realise they’re dead, confides in Bruce Willis, a disheartened psychologist. Guess what, though? It’s not the spirits who are deluded….

8) The weepy twist

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One Day by David Nicholls

Worthy of a thriller, the axis-jolting, heart-thumping reversal at the end makes you re-live everything that’s come before. The lives of two characters, Emma and Dexter, have been picked up on the same day – 15 July every year for twenty years. A random date? St Swithun’s day? The anniversary of the day they met? No – an anniversary in reverse of the day she dies. 

9) The halfway twist

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Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Two interwoven narratives – Nick’s desperate search for Amy, his missing wife, and her diary, revealing facts about their marriage he might not want to see the light of day. A dastardly first half of a book, culminating in the rug-pulling revelation that the diary is faked and Amy is the one in control.

10) The penultimate-sentence twist

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The Ghost by Robert Harris

Brilliantly constructed novel about a corrupt prime minister and his ghost writer. It’s first person narrative, which usually means the protagonist survives – except here where, it turns out, the existence of the book itself indicates that he hasn’t. 

We’re not giving away any spoilers, but Sabine Durrant’s novels have been variously described as ‘beguiling’ (Julia Crouch), ‘tense and terrifying’ (Sam Hayes) and containing ‘more twists than a rollercoaster’ (Good Housekeeping). Her latest page-turning psychological thriller REMEMBER ME THIS WAY publishes July 17th

Get these Lisa Jackson books for a criminally low price!

These books in Lisa Jackson’s ‘shiveringly good’ (Lisa Gardner), New York Times bestselling To Die series can be snapped up for a bargain price on the iBookstore and Amazon this week!

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Two gripping Marcia Clark stories, each 99p.

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If I’m Dead shows Rachel shows Rachel Knight in her element - the courtroom - fighting to make the jury convict a man who killed his wife.

The one snag? No body…

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Rachel Knight is taking a break from her busy, crime-focussed life with a trip to tropical island paradise Aruba. But trouble is never far away, and on her first day, her investigative skills are called on when a reality TV child star goes missing…

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Q&A With Marcia Clark

Favourite movie: The Usual Suspects

Best villain: Hannibal Lector

 

Best hero/detective:

Best hero – Liam Neeson

Best Detective – Humphrey Bogart (Phillip Marlow) and of course Sherlock Holmes

Who has been a big influence on your writing?

EVERYONE – everything I read, both good and bad, I think especially the bad because it teaches one what not to do

Who would you want to play you in a movie?

Someone tall, blonde and gorgeous with great hair – or Judy Dench

 

Ebook or print?

Both

Do you write on paper or computer first?

I only write on a computer. I can’t read my own handwriting.

Best ever fictional murder weapon?

Frozen leg of mutton – shown in the episode written by Roald Dahl, “Lamb to Slaughter” in Alfred Hitchcock presents

 

The song you’d listen to to pump you up while writing:

I can’t listen to music when I’m writing. It would get in the way of listening to my characters who are extremely chatty.

Who’s the fictional character you’d most like to murder?

Well, it’s already been done, but King Joffrey in Game of Thrones

 

The latest book in Marcia Clark’s Rachel Knight series, The Competition, is out now July 3rd in paperback.