Earlier this year, an article in The Spectator investigated a death. The death of murder. Crime rates are dropping, not just in Britain, but all over the world. A good thing, surely? Yet as Andrew Taylor says, pity the poor crime writers.
But the article got me thinking about the difficulties of crime writing in a world of forensics & DNA, cameras & mobile phones, political correctness and terrorism. Has writing crime got harder? I rounded up some of the usual suspects for interrogation. This is the third in the series of female crime writers on contemporary crime-writing.
Meet Sheila Bugler
Modern technology undoubtedly makes it easier to catch criminals. But does it help or hinder the crime writer? (If you can give an example from your work, that’d be favourite.)
It hinders the sort of writing I like to do. There are two reasons for this. First, I’m not the sort of writer who enjoys research. I have a story in my head and I just want to crack on with it. Second (and possibly related to the first point), the police procedural side of crime fiction doesn’t interest me very much. I am more interested in the psychology and motivation of the characters I’m writing about.
Which areas of police procedure or criminal use of technology have you needed to research? And how did that influence the plot?
Having said I’m not interested in the police procedural type of things, I have written a police procedural series! So, I have to do some research. However, this mainly focuses on the hierarchies and structures within the police force rather than the procedural side of things, which I tend to brush over as lightly as I can get away with.
If I do need to do some ‘technical’ research, there are plenty of great resources (including TV crime series).
Today’s world of school shootings and suicide bombers seems a long way from country house killers and dastardly butlers. All of you write contemporary crime – would you ever consider writing historical crime, ie, before fingerprinting and DNA?
I would love to but – again – I suspect my dislike of research would make it tricky for me to get that right. I have a vague idea for a novels set in the 80s (my wild teenage years). I may get around to that some day.
In the majority of crime novels, the culprit must be brought to justice. It’s rare to see one get away, which is the opposite of reality. Are we tied to the formula of a ‘happy’ ending?
I’m not sure we are tied to the formula of a ‘happy ending’, especially when you look at the more noir end of the crime fiction spectrum. Without wanting to give too much away, neither of my last two novels (The Waiting Game and All Things Nice) have happy endings. I am currently writing a stand-alone crime novel and am playing around the idea of a seriously dark and unhappy ending for this one too.
I am a huge fan of female American crime writers like Gillian Flynn, Megan Abbott and – most recently – Robin Wasserman. None of these authors write novels with traditional happy endings.
Ian Rankin observed how Scandinavian noir is politically engaged and makes a comment on society at large. Do you think British crime is more focused on the individual?
No, especially if ‘British’ includes fiction from the all the UK nations (ie, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as Scotland and England). Crime fiction from Northern Ireland, for example, is very often interwoven with that country’s difficult history. I have just read A Savage Hunger by Claire Macgowan and the book is as much a commentary on the Troubles and its after-effects as it is a crime novel. Likewise, writers such as Anthony Quinn, Adrian McKinty and many other Northern Irish crime writers write novels that are very politically engaged.
In our lifetimes, there’s been a major shift on what we can and cannot say. Certain terms are taboo and using stereotypical clichés of race, gender and sexuality can result in a critical backlash. How far do you ‘police’ what you write so as not of offend?
I apply the same rules to my writing as I do in life. I would never deliberately try to offend someone. On the other hand, I am not particularly prudish and I do have a bit of a sweary mouth – I’m sure some of that comes through in my writing. If it does, that’s because I believe there are times when a swear word is the only possible option!
Finally, writing a series featuring the same main character, would you ever do a Reichenbach Falls and kill off your hero? Or are you afraid of the Annie Wilkes effect?
I write a series of crime novels featuring second-generation Irish detective, Ellen Kelly. I’ve grown very fond of Ellen as the series has progressed and it would certainly make me sad to kill her off. But I would do it, if I thought it made sense.
As for the Annie Wilkes effect… well, if I ever reach Stephen King’s levels of fame I’ll worry about that then.
Find out more about Sheila’s books on her website.
And read the Bookmuse review of All Things Nice here