Crime writers are friendly people. At least, the ones I met today are. Here’s how it all unfolded…
Scramble across High Street, Reservoir, just in time to make the train. Soak up as many of the final pages of Val McDermid’s Trick of the Dark as possible as the carriage heads the wrong way around the city loop. Lob slightly late into the morning fix at Feddish to hear Rodney Hall, David Brooks, Maggie Mackellar and Lisa Lang read from their books and work. Duck outside as the phone rings, missing Kate Howarth’s contribution to the morning’s reflections. Queue instead for a ticket to In the Mind of Crime with McDermid and Michael Robotham. Read more of Trick of the Dark in the queue. Twelve pages left.
That was the headspace I was in when we gathered on the edge, BMW Edge, to hear the two authors discuss that most crucial of crime scenes, the human mind. All together, sane. At least, no less so than whatever passes as normal. (This state of mind may change given my intention of watching The Human Centipede tonight.)
I had the pleasure of speaking to McDermid for about 40 minutes by telephone the other week for a newspaper feature (see note below). She was in Auckland, I was in Melbourne, probably only slightly warmer. My interest in her Writers Festival appearance was partly professional, but also I had said I’d try to say hello. Robotham I had read and seen interviews of, and had taken a look at his latest, Bleed for Me, and was creeped out really early on. He did a good job of selling what he described as his freakiest book, Shutter, which of course was then in high demand in the festival bookstore. I decided on Bombproof, which seemed more my thing anyway – a Lock, Stock-style romp rather than anything too psychological.
Some of the highlights from the hour include the clear differences in their approaches. Where McDermid can happily close the door on her work and get on with the dishes, or pub quizzes, Robotham often carries the crimes or most sinister scenes around with him. Where McDermid deliberately avoids knowing too much about real cases, and will go to some length to ensure no real victims of crime are unduly hurt by her fiction, Robotham will point out the seed for the idea behind Shutter was a real case – if only to emphasise that he is not sick in the head.
“I’m in control, nobody gets hurt unless I say so,” McDermid elaborated.
Where they were similar was their background in journalism had an influence on their fiction. They had also been the victims of crime, McDermid having been bashed by a wrestler and her home had been burgled, while Robotham spoke of being bounced around a hotel room by three balaclava-wearing IRA heavies.
And Wire in the Blood fans should take note, McDermid said she was about to start writing the next Tony Hill/Carol Jordan book. Fever in the Bone left her agent saying, “Darling, this sounds like a happy ending.” But she answered with, “Don’t be ridiculous, you should see what I have planned for him in the next one.” Fun times ahead.
After festival events there is usually a queue for signatures, never more so than with authors who have sold in the millions. McDermid was in person how she sounded on the phone, in gruff humour. She wrote, “All the best, thanks for the great chat.” For Robotham it was a case of going around again, via the bookstore, and finding the one that most appealed. He was just about to finish and walk away when I caught him, and he was happy to sign and have a bit of a chat. Bombproof is apparently the book his mates like the best, which is a good sign.
And yes, these two people whose day job is to write about grisly, though fake, murders, psychological manipulation and utter bastardry were friendly and warm. Shock.
Since then …
I have now finished Trick of the Dark. My short, sharp review: it’s engaging, surprisingly fun and I was pleasantly happy with the way she handled the memoir-within-a-thriller aspect. I was worried that could end up being rather tedious, but turned into one of the strengths. Having complex and flawed women everywhere, many of them sexy, does not hurt. McDermid joked on TV the other day that it’s “choc full of lesbians” and while that’s true, it works to serve the plot and never gets preachy about issues.
PS. My interview with McDermid was for a story in today’s Panorama in The Canberra Times. The company owns the copyright, so it’s not going to be reproduced here. Buy the paper, read it in a cafe, you know the drill, etc.
UPDATE: Post now has photos. As you can see.