The crime writer talks about her liberal parents, dangerous outings with her father and the pleasures of motherhood
Interview by Donna Ferguson
The day after I was born, I was taken off to an isolation hospital. My parents had both had TB and there was a concern that I might develop it myself. So I spent the first three months of my life in hospital, 30-odd miles away from where my parents lived in Kirkcaldy. There was no bus service and my parents didn’t have a car, so they only managed to visit once in that time. When my mother saw me, she didn’t recognise me. She just walked straight past me.
We’re Scottish! We don’t talk about our emotions
All her life, I think my mum tried to love me in the way she knew she ought to – she tried to make herself feel that absolute bond that you’re supposed to have between mother and child. But we didn’t have that intimacy. A few months before she died, she said – almost in passing – “I always thought we never bonded properly, because we were separated when you were born.” That was the first time she’d ever directly addressed it. We’re Scottish! We don’t talk about our emotions.
The BBC is airing a new documentary on BBC One tonight (29th November) about women who write crime fiction, featuring prominent crime writers Val McDermid, Patricia Cornwell, Martina Cole, husband-and-wife author team Nicci French, Sarah Phelps and Paula Hawkins in interview with presenter Alan Yentob.
The aim of the programme “Serial Killers: The Women Who Write Crime Fiction” is to explore why – with 21 billion crime novels sold last year – the readers of crime are mostly women and more often than not, are the writers too. The same riddle earlier this year sparked the launch of a new women’s crime festival in London, Killer Women, set up by a collective of female crime writers including Hawkins.
The BBC’s programme begins with an introduction to the study of forensics and continues in a series of interviews with the authors, and with one editor, Trapeze’s Sam Eades, as well as with forensic professionals actively dealing with cases, such as Professor Sue Black who has been assisting McDermid with her research for 20 years.
Winner of – Anthony Award for Best Critical/Non-Fiction book at Bouchercon in New Orleans.
McDermid, Val.Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime. Grove. 2015. 320p. ISBN 9780802123916. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780802191052. CRIME
Using historical examples, author McDermid brings to life the various subspecialties within forensic science to show how, and how well, the theories work in practice. The distinct treatment—one chapter on entomology, the next on pathology, and so on—and the juxtaposition within the chapters of histories and case studies produces the experience of reading an introductory forensic science textbook, minus all the colorful photos and elucidative marginalia. While this might leave academic readers feeling shortchanged, average readers will be more than satisfied with a no-frills primer. Additionally, McDermid’s experience as a crime writer and former journalist allows her to present the facts of the individual illustrative cases in compelling ways. Currency of the material is ensured through the use of recent court cases and consultation with practicing forensic scientists.
VERDICT: This title will primarily be relevant to readers with a general interest in forensic science/criminalistics, casual academics, true crime aficionados, and fans of McDermid’s other works.(LJ 6/15/16)—Ricardo Laskaris, York Univ. Lib., Toronto