What is it with crime? We’re obsessed with it – or the people committing it. I admit I’m probably slightly biased in that I work in law enforcement and so my day job usually concerns crime in one form or another, but at least I have an excuse to be a crime writer! My first crime novel was inspired by the day job; having spent a few years investigating heroin importations, I wanted to look further down the chain at street drugs and how they might affect lives. And so I found my teenage Michael, dumped by his girlfriend in a club on his seventeenth birthday, and I needed to tell his story …
But look at the best-seller lists. On Amazon or in your local bookshop of choice. In my case, there is no choice: Northwich has WHSmith and that’s it, unless you count the remaindered stock in The Works – and really, I just don’t get how I can find remaindered stock of books that were only published a mere two months ago! The shockingly short shelf-life of the mid-list trad-published author does sometimes make me glad I’m indie and my books will be available in print and ebook for as long as I allow them to be and at prices I set.
But this isn’t a rant over indie versus traditional publishing. I’m fascinated by the fact that no matter what top-ten/twenty/whatever list you look at, there is always a good dollop of crime there. Amazon’s list will include indie books, WHSmiths won’t. Even Richard & Judy seem to be moving from angst-ridden rom-com or saga towards the dark, dirty and downright dangerous. And when you switch on the television, there is a proliferation of crime drama from police-procedurals down to psychology. I’m enjoying watching National Treasure right now, and wondering whether he did it or not. And I do find it interesting that they haven’t portrayed Robbie Coltrane’s character as whiter-than-white – he has so many skeletons in his closet, I’m surprised he has room for clothes!
I remember my mum asking me way back why I couldn’t write about nice things. The first attempt at writing I ever made, aged about 14, was a YA thriller. I was expanding on and continuing a dream I’d had – isn’t that how a lot of us begin to write? But how many of us want to read or write about nice things? Nice things are boring. Boy meets girl and they live happily ever after. I’m sure we’d all like that (or variations thereof) to be the pattern for our lives, but do we want to read about it? Where’s the plot, the intrigue, the twist? Not every novel needs the twist-you-don’t-see-coming, but that’s a topic for a whole different post!
Script-writing generally requires you to have an inciting incident. That bit – about 10 minutes or so in – where everything changes and the plot is off and running. When the norm has been outlined and deviated from. When the party set out on their quest. When Something Happens to upset normality. In fiction, it’s less prescriptive, but something still needs to happen. Plot. Cause and effect. Boy meeting girl is lovely, but one or both of them has to have issues, or baggage and the path to true love is never smooth. What would be the point in reading about it if we know what’s going to happen? Even in romance, there’s got to be a reason to turn the page.
But the dark side of the human psyche is far richer pasture. Why are we so obsessed with crime? Both fiction and real-life permeate the bookshelves and television listings at the moment. Is it a safe way of dealing with issues in our own lives? I notice far more voice-overs at the end of tv dramas with a number to call if you have been affected by issues in the program. Do we think that by watching it or reading about it, it will never happen to us, or we will be better equipped to deal with it if it does? We become intrigued by what makes a villain do what he/she does – what motivates them. And then we become obsessed with making sure it can never happen again, when in reality it can – of course it can. We can’t have that level of policing (and I use the word without a capital P) and still live in a free society. Either we are all under suspicion or we’re not. Undoubtedly the 20th century had its share of very bad people, but I don’t think that’s any consolation to the celebrities and media people who’ve had their lives ruined by spurious allegations.
And still we are entranced by it. Reading gory descriptions of murder and kidnap. Satisfying our inner-demon in a safe manner. Personally, I don’t get why people want to read or watch docu-dramas about true-crime, but since I both read and write dark and gritty crime fiction, I’m clearly part of the problem and not the solution!