Published: 11/04/2013 16:01 - Updated: 11/04/2013 16:58

Write projects keep Val booked up!

Written byMargaret Chrystall

Val McDermid. Picture Charlie Hopkinson
Val McDermid. Picture Charlie Hopkinson

COMPARE the blurb between two of Val McDermid’s thrillers – from 1993, then 2013 – and you can see where 20 years hard graft with a fertile imagination can get you.

Back in 1993, Val’s own story revealed she had only quit the day-job in 1990, having grown up in a Fife mining commmunity, before going to university.

After 14 years working as a journalist on national newspapers, Val spent her final three as Northern bureau chief of a national Sunday tabloid.

Inside the cover of her latest bestseller, The Vanishing Point – which begins with the heart-stopping abduction of a child – the facts speak for themselves.

Val is now a top 10 bestseller, translated into more than 30 languages with over two million copies sold in the UK and 10 million worldwide.

Then there are all the awards, including the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for best crime novel of the year.

There’s a list of 25 fiction books, including her three series featuring Manchester private eye Kate Brannigan, Scottish lesbian journalist Lindsay Gordon and psychologist Tony Hill – whose story was turned into telly in the Wire In The Blood series, starring Robson Green.

So maybe it should be no surprise when you ring up to talk to Val on the eve of her appearance at the debut Cromarty Crime and Thriller Weekend, to find you are interrupting another deadline and a full list of projects just waiting for attention.

Val laughed: "I’m just trying to finish this autumn’s book which is due for delivery ... now.

"And I’m putting the finishing touches to the programme writing-material for the Harrogate Crime Writing Festival."

In the wings, there’s also a band of juicy projects waiting their turn.

But first Val is heading to Cromarty tomorrow for a weekend of events with fellow crime and thriller writers Ian Rankin – an old friend – David Hewson and Anne Perry.

Val’s own event is called Killing People For Fun And Profit.

She explained: "I’ll be talking about my own work and my own experiences of coming to the crime genre, but also talking about why we all do it and what we get from it.

"What is the fascination? What draws us to it and what do we gain from it."

And as well as each of the writers giving their own talk, they will be doubling up to look at some aspect of crime and thriller writing.

Val’s teaming up with Ian Rankin, a fellow Fifer to discuss The Vitality of Scottish Crime Fiction.

"We go back a long way, we both published our first novels in the same year and have been friends for a long time."

"I think we write from a different place from our English counterparts and I do think that Scottish crime fiction has a very distinctive voice.

"You wouldn’t confuse it with English crime fiction. I live in England and have done for most of my adult life but it’s a Scottish way of thinking that formed me and I still think that informs the way I write."

Val’s own background in journalism is another area that makes its way into her most recent book, The Vanishing Point.

A former journalist is hired to ghost-write the memoirs of a loved and loathed reality TV star, Scarlett. And the early days of the phone hacking scandal that resulted in the Leveson inquiry and its aftermath are recalled in the story.

"When you are writing a book – particularly one set in a broadly contemporary world – if things come up along the way that sit in the world in which you are writing, then you just include them. But I think we forget how long the phone hacking thing has been going on, since Sienna Miller first started talking about it.

"It’s quite interesting to me, although I’ve been out of journalism for, what – in was in 1991 I quit the day job. A terrifying number of these people who are being arrested and released on bail were around when I was doing the job and we all knew they were dodgy! These were people that we knew were scumbags!" Val laughed.

But though journalism is her background, Val doesn’t feel part of that posse any more.

"I’m very definitely not a journalist any more, that is not what I do.

"But I think – because of the whole Leveson thing – all journalists have been tarred with the same brush which when you think about it isn’t a particularly sensible approach.

"In my books I try and write about the world as it is. I don’t write about black and white, I write about shades of grey. So when I write about journalists – or anyone else – I don’t write about good journalists or bad journalists, good cops or bad cops. I have no interest in writing about painting one particular group as either all bad or all heroes."

Readers of The Vanishing Point are likely to find echoes in Scarlett of one real-life tragic reality TV star.

Val included a Jimmy Savile-like character called Jacko Vance in one of her Tony Hill books. The character was inspired by an interview Val had as a young reporter with Savile – and it’s safe to say she didn’t warm to him.

"When you are writing a book – particularly one set in a broadly contemporary world – if things come up along the way that sit in the world in which you are writing, then you just include them.

"But I think we forget how long the phone hacking thing has been going on, since Sienna Miller first started talking about it.

"It’s quite interesting to me, although I quit the day job in 1990-1991.

"But a terrifying number of the people who are being arrested and released on bail were around when I was doing the job and we all knew they were dodgy! These were people that we knew were scumbags!

"In my books I try and write about the world as it is.

"I don’t write about black and white, I write about shades of grey.

"For me it always comes back to this idea of the authenticity with characters that readers feel could exist. "Anyone in the public eye has a public persona and people make judgements about them all the time. And that is generally a very partial judgment based on a very partial reading of a character. It is, in a way, what you are allowed to see – or what the media allows you to see. "Whenever I am creating a character, I am trying to find the extra dimensions, I’m trying to figure out the backstory, why they are the way they are and why their life has turned out the way it has."

Val says she doesn’t want to create a world in her image, with her own morality, but is she happy with the one we’ve got?

"No I’m not happy with the one we’ve got, that would be deranged!" she laughed.

"But it’s not my job to tell people what to think or how to think.

"It’s my job to provoke people into thinking.

"People in my books take up a particular position. Things happen in my books the way they happen. I am not saying that is the best or the only way outcome.

"I’m not necessarily saying that I want the reader to think anything – but just to think. That is the most important thing.

"Sometimes people come up to me and say ‘I was so angry when you did such and such’ and I go ‘Great!’.

"What I hope people find when they come to my books is something that stimulates a response in them whether they do or don’t agree with it.

"My own politics are to the left of centre and I think because we write from inside our own heads that inevitably what ends up in the books is drawn from our own experience of the world.

"But it doesn’t mean that someone with different politics from me or a different background from me can’t enjoy my work.

"They don’t have to agree with me and I don’t have to agree with an author to enjoy their work, or the way they write or look at the world.

"I’ve disagreed violently with some of the things authors I like have said and that’s fine!

"That’s the whole thing about reading fiction it should sometimes be about about disagreeing violently.

"It would be very easy to live our lives with kneejerk reactions to everything."

Val revealed her writing self may have more noble qualities than her real self!

"I think that the person who writes books is a much nicer person than the reality. When I’m writing books I tend to cut a character more slack than I would in real life.

Last year, Val published her first children’s book, My Granny Was A Pirate.

"It has sold well and it’s up for a couple of awards," Val revealed.

"My publisher would like me to do more, but it’s just a question of finding time in my schedule and finding the headspace to think about it."

And also jostling for attention is Val’s next task – writing a contemporary version of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

"You might say of some writer ‘If they were writing now such and such would be a crime writer’."

Val laughed: "I don’t think Jane Austen would be a crime writer if she were alive today!

"But there are a lot of aspects of Northanger Abbey that you can have fun with. It’s not going to be a crime novel."

With a career of thriller plots behind her, Val is very aware of one flaw in the original.

"I think because Austen wasn’t familiar with writing a suspense plot it gets to the resolve too early, so I’ll have to work on that as well!"

With a non-fiction book about forensic science another job for this year, Val denies that publishers are looking for more from writers, as ebooks ramp up new demands for the Kindle generation.

"The reason this year has turned out the way it has is nothing to do with pressure from my publisher," she laughed.

"It’s entirely to do with people coming to me with projects I thought were interesting!"

For information on the Cromarty Crime And Thrillers Weekend, running from tomorrow (Friday) to Sunday – and to book tickets – contact The Cromarty Arts Trust on 01381 600354 or email info@cromartyartstrust.org.uk For a full list of the events, you can also visit www.cromartyartstrust.org.uk/events/12-apr-2013-crime-and-thrillers-weekend.asp

Val’s latest thriller, The Vanishing Point (Sphere, £8.99), is out now in paperback. There's a chance to win one of five copies in this week's Highland News.

 

 

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