5 things I’ve learned since writing crime fiction | Marnie Riches

Category: Author Post

Intrigue 2

 

1.

I’ve learned to think in multiple plot strands since I started writing crime fiction. In the period that I think of as my apprentice years, I had my sights set on becoming a successful children’s writer. I penned several middle grade manuscripts and a YA historical thriller that never saw light of day. But those years of dedicated practice did culminate in my having six historical adventures for 7+ year olds published – the first six books in the Time-Hunters series, written under the pseudonym, Chris Blake for HarperCollins Children’s. Happy times! Except my true instincts as a writer were to pen something far more complex and darker than a short children’s story with a linear plot. Don’t get me wrong. Writing for children requires great discipline and skill. There are some very rigid rules to adhere to. But jumping from character to character, from one timeline to another and tying your many ends up in a satisfying conclusion with a few really shocking twists along the way is a luxury that the crime genre in particular affords an author. If I get it right, it gives me a little hit of dopamine like I get from nothing else!

 

2.

I’ve learned that the world is a shitty place. As a childless twenty-something, I immersed myself willingly in current affairs. But when my children were really small, I used to avoid reading or watching the news because I simply couldn’t bear hearing about some of the terrible things that were going on. Murder. Genocide. Greed. Corruption. Pollution. Superficial celebrity bullshit. Carcinogenic this, that and the other. Terrorism. Crocs. I buried my head in the sandpit and force fed myself CBeebies on a loop. It was a natural reaction, I suppose, to parenthood. I didn’t want to feel that I had recklessly, selfishly brought children into a dangerous, flawed world full of hate, hunger and climate change. But now, my children are much bigger. The desire to write crime pushed its way out like the fruit of an overlong pregnancy because I am very interested and morally/emotionally engaged in the shittiness of the world in which I live. Crime-fiction is an author’s commentary on society. So, it was writing crime fiction that turned me back onto soaking up the horror of current affairs because I felt the need to stick my two-penneth in about the state we’re in globally through the medium of fiction.

 

3.

I’ve learned that the world is a wonderful place. Though the news and my books are all full of people trafficking and sex slavery and evil drug cartels and kidnappings and terrorism and unpleasant family members and mindless airheads showing their sticky-outy bits on Instagram again, the one thing that crime fiction (the reading and writing thereof) highlights is the heroism in the world. I like to write a book where for the most part, the story is resolved in a satisfactory fashion and there is a happy ending – at least for some of the characters. This is a reflection of the balance in real life, where have-a-go heroes pitch in to save people from the flaming wreckage of aeroplanes or pull the wounded from terrorist sieges. For every corporate monster who gobbles up a nature reserve or hacks down a bit of rainforest to make a fast buck, there are selfless folk everywhere, trying to put a little back. When I write crime fiction, I don’t hold back in showing the world in its darkest shades, but I always add in a good helping of light, because that, for the most part, reflects the balance that we see in real life. For every murderer, there is a well-intentioned crusader. For every arse-flashing narcissist on the internet, my contemporaries and I write intelligent, thoughtful and genuinely admirable female characters.

 

4.

I’ve learned that crime fiction readers are some of the most devoted and loyal readers going. Since The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die came out last year – April 2015, in fact – closely followed by The Girl Who Broke the Rules, I’ve met so many readers through social media who have not only been generous enough to take a chance on a new crime author but have also taken the time to write and post online thoughtfully-constructed reviews. So many readers on Facebook and Twitter will share my posts and big my books up. I understand that the pre-order numbers for The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows were pretty good and this is due in no small part to the loyalty and support of those crime fiction readers. What belters they are!

 

5.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned in becoming an author of crime fiction is that the world around me is full of inspiration. Every couple sitting on a park bench, holding hands, could potentially be clandestine lovers, plotting some terrible subterfuge so that they can be together. Every work-worn woman staring out from the window of a bus could be an abused wife, keeping a terrible secret and on the verge of doing something dreadful. Every huge mansion I drive past in a well-heeled part of town could have been funded by organised crime. And that’s before I stick my nose into the broadsheets! The slick, orderly veneer of life in a western European suburb is exactly that. A veneer. Writing crime fiction really brings that home to me. And when you get your head around the double standards and corruptibility of seemingly ordinary folk around you, you know that your take on life is sharp, savvy and well-intuited. So, I have crime fiction to thank for razor sharp insights. They’re not always comfortable but they’re good to have!

Marnie Riches’s new book, The Girl Who Walked in the Shadows, is out now #GeorgeIsBack http://amzn.to/1owQhSn

Female Leads in Crime by author Marnie Riches

Category: Author Post

Whilst reading Stieg Larsson’s books some years ago, what struck me was that Lisbeth Salander was an amazing heroine. Her character and backstory shone through the dense reportage-style prose and kept me reading voraciously. I hadn’t come across a female lead that had captured my imagination so completely in decades. Here was a truly rebellious spirit, with an utterly unusual and remarkable brain, who played the roles of victim, attacker and defending heroine all with great aplomb. She was a woman for all seasons and, above all, she had tremendous balls.

Off the back of the Millennium trilogy, I started to read Scandi-noir more widely, thinking this mesmerising little firebrand, Salander was perhaps symptomatic of the Scandinavian love of equality and progressive thinking. Strange, then, that I haven’t yet come across another heroine with equally impressive cojones in Scandi-noir fiction. Not in Nesbo’s books. Not in Camilla Lackberg’s stories. Not in Lars Kepler’s world. Not yet. But look at crime drama on TV, and there’s a completely different story…

Many moons ago, Lynda la Plante gave us DCI Jane Tennison in her series, Prime Suspect. The nation was smitten with this wine-swilling, tough-as-old boots-on-the-outside but vulnerable-as-hell-on-the-inside detective. It was perhaps the first time we had seen a strong, complex female lead in a crime series on TV, though we had had Thomas Harris’ Clarice Starling on the big screen.

TV crime dramas have come and gone since, but I am not aware of having been inspired, as a woman, by another female lead until ForbrydelsenThe Killing gave us Sarah Lund.

What a phenomenally fresh character Sarah Lund was, with her inability to connect emotionally with others and her drive to solve the crime, no matter what she might sacrifice personally to do so. She wore crap mohair jumpers. So, we all went out and bought crap mohair jumpers because we wanted to be just like Lund. Instead of making herself sexually available to Troels Hartmann, as was originally planned by Søren Sveistrup, actress Sofie Gråbøl insisted that Lund eschew romance like The Virgin Queen. She is quote as having said, “I am Clint Eastwood. He doesn’t have a girlfriend.” Well, though I like my heroines to be sexual beings, I think Lund’s sexual abstinence was an interesting departure from the norm.

But then… oh, my! Then, we got Saga Noren in Bron – The Bridge and she was even better!

Not only was Noren a bloody good detective, but she had sex with men when she felt like it, didn’t give a hoot about her terrible council estate hair, wore leather trousers, stripped off in the office not having showered first and drove a vintage Porsche 911 like a loon. Fabulous! She seemed to be on the autistic spectrum, which made her an interesting character, although I have it on authority from a friend with Asperger’s that the script-writers did not do a particularly accurate or nuanced portrayal of that condition. Nevertheless, it is never actually confirmed that Noren is an Aspie, and her often comic, off-hand manner, incredible focus and eye for detail make for a brilliant, rounded heroine, so perhaps we’ll let the script-writers off.

On the whole, the Scandinavians have done better at showcasing strong female leads in crime than we Brits and writers in the US have. In my opinion and the limited scope of my reading, of course.

So, onto George McKenzie. Given my admiration of psychologically complex women, when I created George, I took my own experiences of poverty and trauma, mixed them with a realistic dash of obsessive compulsive behaviour and placed on George’s shoulder a chip of shadow-casting proportions. I knew George had to have a big, abrasive personality, because women with quick, analytical minds who are not afraid to voice unpopular opinions are often viewed as such, where their male equivalents might be termed, “mavericks” or merely, “Alpha males”. I was sick of seeing tough women portrayed simply as bitches. George McKenzie is much more than that. She exercises enormous self-discipline in her professional arena but has no qualms about indulging herself recreationally in sex and drugs. It was important for me to write a female lead who was unapologetic, unafraid at times and petrified at others – a strong woman whom male readers might fancy and female readers might want to be.

Undoubtedly, George McKenzie has been inspired by her predecessors in literature and on TV. But she is essentially a departure from those introverted characters of Salander, Lund and Noren and the middle-class, middle-aged, white Jane Tennison – right for her time but who would fall short of our expectations of “kickass” nowadays. I hope George will prove to be a heroine who has readers coming back for more!


Marnie Riches is the author of the first six books of HarperCollins Children’s Time-Hunters series and now writes crime thrillers for adults. Her upcoming novel The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die is out April 2nd.