What do you get when you put two heavyweights of the Crime Fiction world together on one stage at Humber Mouth? Chemistry and then some. Val McDermid and Mark Billingham played off each other like they’d been doing a double act for years.
With thirty novels ‘not out’, endless radio plays and dramas Val McDermid is a true doyenne of the genre. Her books are read worldwide and her Wire in the Blood series found critical and popular acclaim on TV as well as the page, with Geordie actor Robson Green brilliantly taking the role of Dr. Tony Hill. Speaking about her Lifetime Achievement Award Val says,‘You normally have to die before you get one of those.’ It was actually Mark Billingham who presented her with it at Harrogate Crimewriting Festival, she explains how having been part of ‘Harrogate’ since it began, she is especially pleased with that one.
Mark Billingham is also no stranger to success, with sixteen novels to his name, including the deeply disturbing Thorne series, with David Morrissey in the title role, which debuted on Sky One in 2010. He was presented with the UK’s top crime-fiction award the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the year for Lazybones in 2005.
In conversation with Nick Quantrill – a crime fiction writer who set his acclaimed Joe Geraghty series right here on the streets of Hull – the two bestselling authors have been showered with accolades and awards, but you wouldn’t think it to hear them. Incredibly likeable, open ,honest and straightforward about their work they delight, entertain and even thrill, the Hull Central Library crowd.
Between the three of them they talk TV adaptations with Val saying ‘First time I sat down with Robson and co. I thought these people really get it.’ She continues, ‘As long as the tone of the book is still there, and there is not a dislocation between the book and the television it works.’
You normally have to die before you get one of those
Reminding us that it doesn’t always work Val explains how Reg Hill did his best not to let any of his fellow authors see the first incarnation of the much loved Dalziel and Pascoe with by all people, Hale and Pace.
The two authors also discuss the importance of having standalone novels as well as the highly anticipated series of books, often featuring one detective.
Val McDermid has been thrilling readers with complex, fast-paced detective stories for nearly 30 years. She tells Chris Moss about her latest release, her 30th novel.
“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” Joseph Heller’s famous line from Catch-22 could have been the epigraph for Val McDermid’s latest novel – her 30th, and her fourth to feature hyper-curious cold case rummager DCI Karen Pirie.
Already acclaimed by critics as well as fans, it’s a dark, knotty story that channels some of Scotland and the UK’s biggest social and political issues – including privacy, LGBT rights, immigration and mental health – and weaves them into a many-pronged investigation into a horrific traffic accident, an apparent suicide, a supposed air disaster, and a complex case of adoption and inheritance.
The author’s craft is there at every tricksy turn of the plot, but so is an impressively broad general knowledge and a clear passion for current affairs.
I’m in the business of writing about characters and am always driven by the story
“I never think about themes when I’m working on a novel,” insists McDermid. “I’m in the business of writing about characters and am always driven by the story. I’m a bit of a news junky and so it might be a news item or some fact I’ve picked up that finds itself in a novel. Often it can be quite tangential.”
The ideas for Out of Bounds, she says, occurred to her while she was researching her 2015 non-fiction book Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime.
“I was at a conference and two guys from Greater Manchester were discussing the ways to use familial DNA to uncover cold cases. That intrigued me. Families are seldom as simple as the image we have of them, and that got me.”
The novel is an exploration of the implications – for the victims of past crimes and for justice in general – that new kinds of forensic evidence can have when it comes to unearthing new facts. As ever with McDermid’s stories, the moment the reader is prepared to judge a character, the author turns the screw and forces us to reassess our prejudices.
The crime writer on bingeing on West Wing, taking time out on computer games and the joys of first-class train travel
Illustration by Alan Vest
When I first became a full-time writer, I mostly had writing days. People seldom wanted to listen to me read, consult my opinion or watch me perform. But the combination of success and the proliferation of literary festivals and media platforms has profoundly altered the even tenor of my mostly isolated days.
That’s probably a benefit; the observation and the company of others is, after all, what provides a writer with raw material. Left to our own devices, we’ve got a tendency to adopt the habits of a hermit crab.
I tend to write in 20‑minute bursts. That seems to be the length of my concentration span
Now I try to carve out a chunk of the year when the other calls on my time are kept to a minimum. Three or four months when I can more or less stay at home and write. January, February, March and, when I can get away with it, into April. When the weather is at its most miserable and I mind being indoors least. But my life is complicated, so even then I spend the equivalent of one of most people’s working days on trains each week.