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!
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.
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.
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!
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