Monday, 14 September 2009

Scare tactics


I'm a good girl.
No, really, I am.
I eat my five a day, I read bedtime stories to my children and I call my Mother every day.
I like to think my reward will be an afterlife like George Best, but in the meantime I make sure I floss my teeth.
So what then, is a nice girl doing writing crime fiction?
It's a question I'm asked all the time. In fact, when I was doing the publicity stint for my second book, I was asked a variant of it in every one of the fifteen radio interviews I did.
And I suppose it does seem odd that I should choose to spend so much time dreaming up violent criminals and their brutal activities.
Why don't I shy away from imagining what goes on in the mind of a sociopath?
Why do I enjoy exploring the twisted logic of the damaged and the dangerous?
It seems strange, sick even...but it's not.
Hang on and give me a chance.
I believe that humans are instinctive thrill seekers. How else can you explain why my local gliding club has a waiting list? They're planes, with, like, no engines. Duh.
How else can you explain motorbikes, rollercoasters and ice skating? No need for any of it.
Yet we love it...or at least some of us do.
Me, I'm a bit of a wuss. I like being on my two feet. I don't like flying, skiing or riding horses. I don't like anything that goes faster than 30mph. To be honest I've never even driven on a motorway. Okay stop laughing now.
But I still need my fix of adrenaline, so what better way to get my kicks than to conjure a world of thrills and spills. A world of danger.
In the safe confines of the left field of my brain I can feel the dead weight of a gun, or the smell of fear on my victim. Hell, I can kill off the cast if I'm in a shitty mood.
And I'm not alone. Crime fiction has been and remains one of the most loved genres. From Agatha C to Mo Hayder, the book buying public have voted with their wallets and library cards.
Even in these cash strapped times, with the economy in free fall and the publishing industry suffering, crime fiction continues to sell.
When times are bad it seems, we still like to imagine a world where it could all be worse.
So that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.
Now, can anyone think of a name for my new serial killer?

10 comments:

Geraldine Ryan said...

As a fellow writer and consumer of the genre, I applaud thee! So many women write in this genre too and always have, so I'm surprised at the lack of imagination on the part of your interviewers! Well, I'm not really!

Susannah Rickards said...

Yep, I love crime too, reading it, not committing it. I once stole a pink shrimp sweet from a sweetshop then put it back I felt so guilty. Therein ends my life of crime. You nailed it: people in hard times like to imagine not only a life far worse, but one in which order is restored where moral rectitude and courage triumph eventually. There's nothing more reassuring than curling up with Sue Grafton when you have the flu. Whereas romances leave me cold - they're never as good or as potent as the real thing!

But but but I close my ears when you say you've never driven on a motorway. Don't ruin my image of you as some debonair real life Lily Valentine.

Love planes without engines. Duh! LOL.

Fab post HB.

Samantha Tonge said...

Great post and glad to find someone else who's never driven on a motorway:)

I like cosy crime, but anything stronger? No thanks, and i don't watch one second of programmes like Rebus, either.

My kind of escapism in hard times is Romance, unlike Susannah, lovehearts and laughs as opposed to guns and knives...

Having said that, my Egyptian book has a crime thread, there's a couple of violent scenes and boy did those words jump onto the page like never before and gave me a real buzz writing them!

I've always said there's so much sex and violence on telly not cos the audience demands it, but cos it's what writers like writing...

Gillian McDade said...

Great post Helen! Crime is something I rarely read, so it's good to get an insight into how it inspires fellow writers. (And thank you for mentioning the great George Best!)

CarolineG said...

Great post. I am a bit squeamish about very gruesome crime but do love Sue Grafton and have a biog weakness for Nikki French thrillers..
Definitely think there is something in that idea of it being a 'safe' walk on the wild side..

Susie Nott-Bower said...

The only crime I've ever read was Agatha Christie. But I absolutely know what you mean - writing gives me a real opportunity to play out my 'shadow' sides. So does painting. And some of those shadows are pretty dark! Maybe left brain is the place where all our unlived lives and personalities come out to play. And kill...
Susiex

Helen Black said...

I suspect the same factors come into play in respect of romance too.
In that,most of us don't...and maybe wouldn't want to live in that heightened state.
Yet we love to read about it.

Perhaps we all need to get a life?????

Tim said...

Interesting post! There are theories (about why we we like skydiving, driving fast etc) if you're interested.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Danger-Excitement-Michael-J-Apter/dp/1851684816/

Now, what about your serial killer? What sort of person are they?

Julie P said...

I love crime fiction but have never attempted to write it. I prefer to watch it on TV in the form of Waking The Dead, CSI, Silent Witness and the like - it's pure escapism but it does make me worry about the state of society and I'm horrified by what the human race do to each other - even if it is fiction and dramatised.

My all time favourite crime writer is Patricia Cornwell and her Scarpetta series, but I haven't read any crime fiction books for a long time - I might just have to start reading them again!

Julie

emmadarwin said...

Great piece, Helen. I love reading detective fiction, though not the non-detective crime, but, yes, I've never tried to write it. I might have to think up a proper plot if I did, which would be far too much like hard work. Or find out how the real world works, which I'm not very good at either.

But Sam and I and I suspect most of us do actually write as some kind of escape from, or rather enlargement of, our real experience. I write fiction about history, and though I'd never want to live in a place or time which didn't have antibiotics and plumbing, let alone votes for women and pushchairs, it's my escape... and I get to do sex AND violence, if I want to: the former is more fun with corsets, the latter more exciting when it's swords or battle-axes, and all the words are better too.