I went to the above festival recently and made 100+ pages (fortunately only A5) of notes so I thought I’d share them with you. Today is the third instalment and because of the quantity, it’ll be pretty much as I wrote it (not word for word but paraphrasing) so my apologies if it feels fragmented. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.
In Space, No-one Can Hear You Scream – 2pm Friday 18th July 2014
After SM introduced the panel, he asked LT about his book and entry to crime-writing and other formats.
LT – prefers writing short stories and hates writing long forms.
SB – reads crime, particularly science-solved crimes. Loves classic horror stories although they can be dissatisfying because the author doesn’t have to explain.
SM – always anted to be a writer?
SB – met a journalist who was going to take a week off work to write a Mills & Boon. She had a student debut so tried to do the same but it didn’t get accepted.
SM – JS so prolific – is it difficult to peg down in theme / setting, are you a magpie?
JS – Yes. Reads everything and sometimes surprises himself. Like SJ, likes writing what he wants to read. Has written two locked-room mysteries.
SM – On page 30 everyone dies, leaving the reader to wonder how he pulls off the rest.
JS – Didn’t want to write a sci-fi novel so had his character who had won a place so was unfamiliar with his surroundings so didn’t need to be specific with the details.
SM to LB – did you have fun with the time-travelling aspect?
LB – yes, played with the 20th Century as who we are in it.
SM – Talked about the violence to women in LB’s books.
LB – spoken from indirect experience.
SB – Many writers have young attractive victims because readers want to read about them.
SM to JS – Good things happen to a good man but bad things happen to him.
JS – What if the guy is told by an algorithm that he’s not going to be president? Family tragedy at the beginning but the family issues are the heart and soul.
SM – A book about fate.
JS – Identity, fate and teeth crop up in everything he’s written. “Don’t ask about the teeth.”
SM – Referred to JS writing for the Guardian.
JS – If fans of the blog had their way they would have him just do that. He wrote The Machine (sci-fi horror).
SM – Lacey Flint series – so you like writing series?
SB – readers and publishers wanted more of the earlier characters but SB prefers writing about Lacey. There was a woman who was convinced her son was the Yorkshire Ripper and others had done the same (about people they knew). Something like that makes us wonder about those people close to us.
SM – asked about location.
LB – Interested in Detroit. Strange to see ruins of our era (industry etc) but still a live city because people still live there.
SM – Worried about being real / tech?
LB – Loves the internet but feels that intimacy is over. Humiliation (YouTube).
<questions then invited from the audience>
Q – How to sell multi-genre books?
JS – There are agents who will represent different genres. Have a look in the Writers & Artists Yearbook and see an agent who likes a mixture. If you wrote a mixed-genre book, you’d be better with them.
SB – Trust in the book. If it’s good enough it will find a home.
Q – Is there a balance between writing something ‘usual’ or writing something new?
LB – Wrote a book with lots of language / accents etc. but was roundly rejected so changed it as it was detracting from the story.
SM – thanked the panel and asked the audience to stay seated until he and the panel had left. Then he announced that there was time for one more question and directed the microphone to a man a couple of of rows ahead of me who then proposed to his girlfriend (of five years)… who said “yes”.
Worse Things Happen at Home – 3.30pm Friday 18th July 2014
NJ to Julia – your character wants to get away from her family but terrible things happen to her so she can’t leave.
JC – Some based on experience, went travelling.
NJC to Chris – your wife was pregnant as was his character’s similarity intended.
CE – Not in first draft but was away researching when his wife phoned saying that the scan went well. Then on the day his wife gave birth, he submitted his ‘baby’ to his publisher.
NJC – CS was quoted as having no fear having 12 siblings.
HF – She little fear until she had children.
NJC – Nature vs nurture – born evil or raised evil?
CE – Had a good upbringing so a bit of both.
NJC – asked Cath re. forgiveness.
CS – thinks two-thirds nature, one-third nurture. As a society, if we allow people to live in poverty with no self-esteem, how can we be judgemental if certain patterns arise?
HF – Worked with inmates / parolees. Sad perpetuating events but we can help people change.
NJC – Had some murderous feelings about JC’s main character.
JC – Her main character is damaged, a very bright young woman, not happy in our own skin, is anorexic. These make her flaws but she does exacerbate that.
NJC – Must have done research into anorexic.
JC – Had anorexia – spent more on cigarettes than food but has overcome it.
NJC – Why do we write / read about terrible things?
CE – re. domestic noir, the ordinary can become extraordinary (e.g. noise at night; investigate or pull duvet over our heads).
NJC – Is it scarier if a family member is the criminal rather than a stranger?
CS – Nowhere left to hide. It’s a normal situation gone wrong.
HF – Many cases in court of domestic violence, stealing for drugs etc.
JC – Two woman in week killed by current or former partners, too prolific.
NJC – Most readers prefer a stranger being the killer rather than someone the victim knows.
CE – more commercial for strangers to be the killer. Just started watching True Detective.
NJC – talked about siblings. Freud says almost nothing about siblings.
HF – Didn’t write about siblings because she has so many but the book she’s writing now has them.
CS – Was adopted, had two adopted brothers, fought with closest ‘brother’. Was a mother figure to the younger sibling. Found Irish mother and found she had seven real brothers that she gets on really well with and was glad she didn’t have the strict religious life that they’d had.
CE – has an older sister (3 years older), a librarian, but their parents didn’t read, so the children found their love of books through the library.
JC – has a younger brother is eccentric – went away to the circus. Had leukaemia when he was young but when better, their parents sent him away to a boarding school so he had the best education.
NJC – asked about guilt.
CS – has felt guilty, it’s a useless emotion.
JC – can feel guilty about wanting someone dead but useful in fiction.
<questions opened up to the floor>
Q – very often women are victims, why not female offenders?
NCJ – being done (Peter James).
Q – Every worry that your books glamorise domestic violence?
CS – Try to make it realistic and empathetic with the characters.
HF – careful and nervous about writing about domestic violence.
NJC – all exploring emotional pain rather than a (criminal) with a knife drawing crop circles on a body.
Q – Is there something you wouldn’t write about it?
HF – was writing about a 14-year-old boy who committed suicide and she has a 14-year-old boy so had to stop.
JC – some of her writing is based on her diaries but only to a point.
NJC – couldn’t write about 18/19-year-ld boy who’d been revealed as a criminal.
CE – some fears feed though into the writing.
Q – How do your stories reflect our world?
CS – Has written about Assisted Dying and adoption. Can’t read non-fiction, some newspaper articles but not regularly. Uses fiction more rather than non-fiction.
CE – Doesn’t try to use a theme but they do appear by the end.
NJC – Should families keep secrets?
CE – After first book was published, was depressed and went to therapy and asked parents if there had been a history of depression. Told “no” but then they were in Weston-Super-Mare and his parents pointed out a wall that one of his relatives (great aunt) had jumped from, so they’d kept a secret.
CS – Was a secret and didn’t know who she really was. Hates secrets. Her children ask her to keep secrets and she does so out of respect for them but hates doing so.
Ann Cleeves & Peter May – 5pm Friday 18th July 2014
Peter started by saying he’d been writing when he was four, a story called ‘Ian the Elf’ and found it recently in his loft and made a little video on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTxOEfwclh0 and there’s a Facebook page for ‘Ian the Elf’: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Ian-the-Elf/203214123038641).
Ann was saying about an argument in a restaurant which ended with the woman pouring water over the man’s head. Ann had voices in her head ages 2-3 but could write third person when old enough.
Peter – doesn’t write dialogue if he knows a character well enough. It’s like he’s writing down dictation as if they’re channelling him.
Ann was a probation officer and had to write reports. Had access to the ex-cons’ homes (one meeting at home, one in the office). Found it hard to stick to the truth and wanted resolutions but doesn’t get them in real life. Got to ask such intrusive questions.
Peter asked Ann for her early influences.
Peter – Uncle’s wife hung herself. His uncle came to stay with them and had to sleep in the lounge. Family had loads of books and started with Ernest Hemingway’s ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’.
Ann – Parents read but mostly borrowed so had to go to the library which is why she’s so passionate about libraries.
Peter – loved Hergé’s Tintin as it heightened his sense of the visual. When writing script is very visual.
Ann asked why he’d moved from TV to novels.
Peter – Asked careers officer at school (was expelled from school – didn’t elaborate) who laughed when Peter said he wanted to be a writer – no courses so no career path to be a writer.
Ann – wrote as she was marooned on a Shetland island with seals, birds and nothing to do. In her first novel she killed off a bird watcher.
Peter – great to get your revenge. He had a teacher he didn’t like so made a nasty character. (Peter then talked about research.)
Ann – does very little so doesn’t write about technical stuff but has a contact (Helen) whom she can ask.
Peter – loves research. Historical stuff based in Scotland is from books but when to the islands and Canada for that aspect of his writing, and he talked about some of the research he’d done.
Ann – going is the only way you can research. Was thinking of a particular island in the Shetlands. Told by the Shetlanders that she shouldn’t go there because everyone put their rubbish there. Ann thought they were joking but said the first thing they saw were two dumper trucks. Stayed at B&B where the father was away and the son was very nervous about having people staying and wasn’t sure what food he’d got in so Ann and her husband ended up cooking.
Peter – lives in France, wanted to research in a wine region and ensured he included vineyards making 100+ different types of wine. Parked on a pavement quickly but was stopped by a police van (loaded with personnel) and thought he was going to be told off. The senior officer spoke to Peter using his name. Peter thought, “uh oh, he knows my name” and spent the next 15 minutes talking about his books while the traffic stacked up. Had quite a few scary experiences – went back and forth to China and to get to know the police system. Went to a morgue where the mortician asked if he wanted to see a body. Peter said “no” but the mortician insisted. The face was intact but screwed up as if in fear. Peter asked the interpreter how the man had died and was told he’d been executed the day before. The mortician then wiped his hands and said, “OK, let’s go for lunch.”
Ann asked Peter what he was currently working on.
Peter – just finished. Lads going to London but disaster. 1965 / 2000 and there’s a murder which relates to the 1965 disaster.
Ann’s latest is due out in September and is about a Scottish wedding. “Bannocks and flesh” (buns and meat). Set in February so very short days. Interested in people outside their comfort zone. ‘Into Thin Air’ – one of the London-based bridesmaids sees the ghost of a girl and then disappears.
<questions opened up to the floor>
Q – Hope you’re not going to retire Vera.
Ann – No. Alternates writing Vera and Shetland.
Q – How do your locations interact with the characters?
Peter – China was an important as the characters – ditty Isle of Lewis’ culture etc.
Q – Why three books in the Lewis series?
Peter – Invited to lunch with French publisher who wanted Peter to write a longer series but compromised (with help from his enthused wife) to write three.
Q – Have your books been accepted by the islanders?
Peter – worried when received a letter from Isle of Lewis but it was very positive.
Ann – has an islander (Shetlands) to read the manuscript and advise if anything’s wrong.
Q – asked if Ann was angry when the TV companies changed the endings of her stories and started Shetland halfway through.
Ann – would be a nervous wreck if worried. It’s just the scriptwriters’ / directors’ take on it but generally very happy (more so with the series than the pilots).
Peter – more controlling because the BBC Radio did an adaptation but it was dreadful. Easier because worked in TV and only let the series of three go to BBC TV if he was Executive Producer.
Robert Galbraith & Val McDermid – 7.30pm Friday 18th July 2014
Robert Galbraith, aka JK Rowling, was interviewed by fellow crime writer Val McDermid. I wasn’t able to make notes (got told off for using my mobile to put a status on Facebook as we were banned from taking photographs, so couldn’t use it to take notes, and it was too dark to write anything) but http://strangealliances.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/theakstons-old-peculier-crime-writing-festival-2014-robert-galbraith-interview is a great report of the hour. The audience was given the opportunity afterwards for ‘Robert’ to sign one of her two books (I have both and opted for ‘The Silkworm’) and we had about thirty seconds to chat to her. I mentioned that I teach creative writing and we’d looked at one of her chapters and she said “I bet you pulled it apart”. We did. 🙂
More to follow in Part 4 next week. Yep, this is the end of part 3 and I’m only halfway through my notes. 🙂
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