Ahead of her appearance alongside Denise Mina and Sarah Ward at the Crime Writers Lunch – part of the Buxton Book Weekend 2017, Robbie Carnegie talks to ‘Queen of Crime’ Val McDermid about her time in Buxton and being part of the crime writing world.
RC: You lived in Buxton for 12 years – what are your memories of the town?
VM: I loved living there. It was always a friendly town. I loved the market. I loved the Opera House. I loved the fact you could get straight out into the country. I lived on Green Lane – you could just cross the street and walk up through the woods to Solomon’s Temple. There was that sense of being able to walk out of your front door and be somewhere else.
RC: You included Buxton in one of your novels, didn’t you?
VM: Yes, but not particularly flatteringly! That’s the way it goes, you see. You have a character who doesn’t share the same views as you. People think that the views of your central character are the same as your views but that’s not always the case. Kate Brannigan is a city girl – doesn’t like being more than 10 minutes’ drive from a Marks & Spencers food hall!
RC: Was there any kind of adverse reaction to the depiction of Buxton?
VM: No. I made up a Chinese restaurant and was quite rude about that. Someone got in touch, saying ‘I know that restaurant, I know which restaurant that is!’ and I was like, ‘No! Really it wasn’t!’
RC: Your latest book, Insidious Intent, is the tenth of the Tony Hill & Carol Jordan books. Is there something reassuring in returning to the same characters?
VM: It’s not so much reassuring – it’s familiar ground in one sense, but the exciting thing is how you move forward from where you left them at the end of the last book. It’s a continual journey, if you like, it’s a process of character development of how people cope with things that happen to them and how that becomes part of their lives or not as the case may be. And so coming back to them is intriguing. In one sense, it’s like meeting old friends, but in another there’s that possibility of forward movement.
RC: I guess that’s something that’s quite unique in the detective genre, isn’t it?
VM: It’s something that crime fiction’s particularly good at, because it’s set against a social-realist background. It’s set in the real world, if you like. So, as society changes, that can also have an impact on your characters. It’s not like you’re frozen in aspic, having decided to start a book in 1986, they’ve all got to be in 1986, or something like that. So you have that sense of forward movement that comes with the passing of time as well.
RC: When you’re coming to Buxton, you’re part of a Crime Writers Lunch, with Denise Mina and Sarah Ward, and crime writing has always been an area where women have dominated. What do you think women bring to the genre?
VM: I think when we’re young, when we’re little girls, we learn that we don’t get what we want by confrontation. Little boys fight for things. Little girls find other, more manipulative, more devious ways, I suppose you’d say, of getting what they want. And I guess that mindset, the understanding of that mindset, allows for the creation of complex plots and complex storytelling. I hate to make generalisations, because someone will then leap up and give five examples of why they’re wrong, but in general I think women crime writers tend to write more complex plots and men’s novels tend to be more linear.
RC: Do you think there’s a kind of ‘sisterhood’ of female crime writers?
VM: I don’t think it’s a gender-based thing. Crime writers are very collegial, generally. We’re pals. Mostly because almost all of us have come to the genre because we love it, we love reading it. We start off as crime readers before we become crime writers. So you’re always hanging out with people whose work you’ve read and whose work you enjoy, and that does lead towards a greater conviviality. Crime writers are definitely the party animals of the literary world! Literary novelists are a bit less convivial and poets are always whingeing, but the crime writers just want to get together, have a good laugh, have a catch-up. So we have social connections as well. I’m now part of a crime writers’ rock band. We play covers of songs that are mostly to do with murder or crime.
RC: What’s your instrument?
VM: I’m the singer. I used to play guitar – I still do, but not well enough to play in public anymore. We did a debut gig at the Edinburgh Festival and we did an event at Bloody Scotland, the Scottish crime writers’ festival, and we already have several gigs lined up for next year!
Val McDermid appears in the Crime Writers Lunch on Sunday 26 November at 12 noon at the Old Hall Hotel.
Buxton Book Weekend runs from 24 to 26 November. For more information on all events, click here.