Too Many Bodies?

Posted: February 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

Both actress Dame Helen Mirren and playwright David Hare have recently criticised British television for its focus on murder. Dame Helen also notes that the majority of the corpses belong to young women.
(http://www.theguardian.com/culture/2014/feb/16/helen-mirren-british-television-bafta-murder-women)
The main reason for this focus is that people enjoy watching crime drama, particularly those with a high body count. It is, like so much else in the media, ratings driven.
There are a number of reasons for this popularity. A crime drama has at its heart, a mystery. This can either involve the killing of one person or several. Why murder? Perhaps it is because death is extreme and therefore dramatic – it goes, quite literally to the heart of everything. We want to know how can someone perform such a wicked act and what drove them to it. Also the power of the puzzle should not be underestimated. The solving of a mystery is entertaining, particularly when there is no risk involved. This vicariousness might also have a more disturbing connotation. Could it be that watching crime drama allows us to inhabit our own dark side without consequences?
But what is it about serial murder in particular that draws us in? This kind of crime enables the narrative to examine more than one puzzle and as each murder takes place with further clues and red herrings and all the ingredients of a deepening mystery, the drama becomes more intense because there is more at stake.
Why female victims? This reflects reality. FBI statistics show that there are almost twice as many female serial murder victims than men and that almost half of all serial murder victims are aged between 20 and 30. Most serial killers act with a sexual motive often in conjunction with other things such as anger, power or control and unfortunately this makes women in many cases, natural victims for this kind of killer.
It is true that there are bodies galore in UK made TV dramas such as Silent Witness, Lewis, Whitechapel, Midsomer Murders, Death in Paradise, Ripper Street, What Remains and The Fall as well as foreign imports The Bridge and The Killing. What else do these dramas have in common? People love them.
If you don’t want to be in them Dame Helen – that’s fine. If you don’t want to write them, David Hare – also fine. But don’t please moan about body counts because telling us what we should like – that isn’t fine at all.

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Some books are temporary pleasures whereas others, once read, are with you forever. One such book for me is A Pin to See the Peepshow by Fryn Tennyson Jesse. I read it as a teenager and it has stayed with me ever since, influencing me in all kinds of ways – both in my choice of a legal career and my feelings about the death penalty, to which I am opposed.

The book tells the story of Julia Almond who, trapped in a loveless marriage, falls for a younger man and has an affair with him. They exchange passionate love letters in which Julia fantasises about getting rid of her husband. One evening she and her husband are on the way back from a night out at the theatre when they encounter Julia’s lover who stabs her husband to death. The couple are tried for the murder even though Julia apparently knew nothing of her lover’s plans.

The novel is based on the real life 1920s murder case of Edith Thompson and Freddie Bywaters who were hanged for killing Percy Thompson, Edith’s husband. The story touched me when I first read it and the injustice it involved, both in fact and fiction, made me almost breathless with anger and still does whenever I think about it. The novel is beautifully written and the final desperate scenes send shivers down my spine as much today as they did all those years ago. I love the way books can do that – reach out and touch you, haunt you, stay in your heart, help to form your future – however you want to put it. Some books are for life. I know this one changed mine. 

 

Why I Love to Read.

Posted: November 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

My love affair with reading started when I was about 7. I was on holiday at my Grandmother’s, it was raining and I was whining. No doubt in an effort to shut me up, my mother gave me an ancient copy of Enid Blyton’s Treasure Island and from then on I was hooked. It provided me with a pathway into a different world, companionship (albeit one way) and the opportunity to experience the thrill of adventure without risk. And of course, as we know, it is really a crime novel of sorts.
After that I was only really completely happy with a book in my hand. The Saturday library visit was the highlight of my week. And I have to confess that if I finished my own books I would then start on my mother’s collection. As she was an avid fan of crime stories – fictional and non-fictional – this meant that a few of my childhood companions were somewhat unusual – more Dr Crippen than Winnie the Pooh if you see what I mean . Of course that could have turned out badly but luckily my own criminal career has been purely legal. I leave the more illicit activities to the characters in the stories I write and read.
So do tell…how did your love of reading start?

Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
I have always loved this novel for its dark gothicism, building suspense and the wonderful characterisation of the Count. It also refers to the work of Cesare Lombroso!
M.R. James Collected Ghost Stories.
These for me are the most terrifying of ghostly tales – mostly because the writing is subtle for the most part and the fear and creepy atmosphere is built on suggestion – but then what you imagine is always more frightening than what you can see, isn’t it?
Stephen King’s Salems Lot.
I read this many years ago but it has stayed with me since then to the extent that I don’t like sleeping in a room with an open window and I rarely invite a stranger into my house at night!

Back in August my novel City of Devils was selected for the ITV3 Crime Thriller Book Club. On Thursday evening I went to the award ceremony at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane, London. Just writing that seems surreal but then the whole evening had something of a dreamlike quality. Nothing quite prepares you for suddenly being ushered on to the red carpet and facing a bank of photographers all shouting your name and asking you to look this way and that, as if you were some kind of film star. I felt as if I had accidentally stepped into another world.
This feeling didn’t go away once I went into the ballroom where the dinner and awards ceremony was held. It was packed with TV detectives and crime writers as well as publishers, agents and journalists. Everywhere I looked there was a familiar face. Rupert Penry Jones from Silks and Whitechapel, the cast of Arne Dahl, Idris Elba from Luther, Jason Isaacs from Case Histories, Peter James, Mark Billingham, Martina Cole – it was a crime fiction fan’s dream come true.
After some chatting and champagne drinking (oh the suffering I do for my art!) we all took our seats (complete with complimentary reading glasses supplied by our hosts). On my left was thriller writer Robert Wilson and on my right, Ian Rankin – two of my favourite crime novelists. They were both extremely good company and so very generous with their advice for a new writer. I couldn’t have had better dinner companions.
The awards ceremony took a while with retakes and a few jokes that I doubt made it onto the TV screen. At the very end it was my turn as a nominee. I sat and watched my clip played on a big screen with everyone watching. Camera men surrounded our table to record my reaction. I just kept smiling and laughing. It just didn’t seem real. Then the winner’s name was read out and unfortunately it wasn’t me – though I have to say, in all honesty, it really didn’t matter. Just being there , meeting all those interesting people and experiencing the whole thing was something I shall never forget.
Congratulations to all the winners (and my fellow nominees).

Coming Soon – My TV First!

Posted: October 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

I will soon be appearing on ITV3’s Crime Thriller Book Club talking about City of Devils which was chosen as one of their selected reads. To be on such a list with my co-selectees – Linwood Barclay, Malcolm Mackay, Andrew Taylor, Christopher Fowler and Megan Abbott – all hugely talented writers – is a real honour. It’s my turn next week on the 21st October which is also my birthday so I hope they’re gentle with me!

The Big Book Shop Party

Posted: September 11, 2013 in Uncategorized

On Saturday I will be taking part in the Big Bookshop Party – the launch of the ‘Books are my Bag’ campaign.
I’ll be dropping into two bookshops in Warwickshire – Kenilworth Books in Talisman Square (11 a.m) and Warwick Books, 24, Market Place (2.30 p.m.) to chat and sign copies of City of Devils.
This is very close to my heart as it was my childhood visits to the Talisman Square bookshop that started my love affair with the written word and I’m thrilled to be making a return visit to support such a brilliant campaign. So if you’re in the area do drop in and say hello!