Thriller Night – a crime writing Q&A

I went along to Thriller Night at the Shaw Theatre (courtesy of Time Out London, thanks!) on Wednesday night. And I’ve been trying to write this blog post since then, but no matter what I type it just comes out sounding really boring because there was just so much detail!
The night itself was a Q&A with 3 top crime writers РTess Gerritsen, Mark Billingham and Simon Kernick Рhosted by  comedian Andre Vincent.

I love crime fiction. Roughly 70% of my bookcase is made up of crime, and since I read A LOT that equals literally hundreds of books.
I’ve always harboured a secret ambition to write a book, so I jumped at the chance to pick up a few tips from the experts.

First thing I learnt? Apparently about 60% of fiction sold is crime. A huge market that could be all yours if you can write a top quality mystery-murder.

General discussion covered snobbery and nose up-turning at crime fiction (a sort of a genre fiction vs literary fiction battle if you will), literature managing to avoid the blame that TV & games receive for causing violence, and crime fiction as a guide for modern life.
All 3 authors agreed that crime fiction reflected the world around us, rather than creating violence, with Tess lamenting that “there’s nothing new under the sun – its all been done before”.
It was also interesting to hear that people actually find crime fiction comforting, rather than disturbing, because fictional crimes are always resolved. According to Andrew, in the wake of 9/11 sales of crime fiction shot up and the languishing stand-up comedy circuit suddenly prospered because people needed to laugh.

Top tips I picked up included Simon’s advice to ‘never give up’ (he waited 8 years for his first novel to be published), and Mark’s list of 3 things every agent wants:

1. Material – it’s got to be top quality
2. Be Personable – the author needs to be someone they can get on with
3. What’s your angle?- Did you do something else before you became an author? Trained in the circus? Chained to a radiator by a madman for 5 years? Something that makes YOU unique.

An agent will need to be able to tick at least 2 out of those 3 before they consider taking you on.
Make sure you write a decent covering letter too, and come up with a snazzy headline for your book. You’ll need to hook your agent in the first 3 lines for them to continue reading.
Mark also warns would-be-writers to steer clear of self publishing e-books, and keep trying for the real thing.

Most interesting for me was insight into the authors writing techniques, with all three doing it their own way. Simon explains that he aims to bash out 2000 words a day, and he plans each chapter up front. Once he’s finished he’ll go back and edit. He says that it doesn’t matter if what he’s writing is crap, he’s just desperate to get it onto paper – he can go back to it later.
Tess and Mark on the other hand don’t plan at all. Tess won’t let anyone see her work until she’s at least 6 drafts in, and Mark can’t move onto the next chapter until he’s gone back and edited his writing from the previous day.
Technique is something I’ve always struggled with because I would feel like I was doing it wrong, so it was comforting to know that there’s know such thing as wrong, just different.

I left Thriller Night buzzing with information and a determination to make this the year that I finally return to the writing that I used to enjoy so much. Now all I have to figure out is how to get my creativity back, because it seems to have vanished along with my pre-children waistline.

Any of you guys budding writers?

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