International Crime Watch

By Janet Somerville

hk_0wRlDAoHjedfE-hBHp2y0i8a1LKip6xiSGr_kK68,-FqLgSqWkCkUSkMgAA1Z51yL_gR4g20pkCrmjBg_NQU,KYIILb2emKSbCmWtmdTWHcmeNPPSScPi3qaqGSWnYDg,bR2OJJvOll74AAcB2Ak5_XqQ3BUW0A522YWGyeBFLX0,Qt5t8oc3if4gC1gx1a8UHMB_gxalOGyUGO5HkcS-IjIModerated by Ben McNally and billed as a murder of writers discussing international mayhem, this crime fiction panel was marked by intelligence and wit as Sara Blaedel (Denmark), Paul Cleave (New Zealand), Denise Mina (Scotland) and Marc Pastor (Spain) talked about their most recent novels.

In The Forgotten Girls, Blaedel’s Detective Louise Rick is on her way to a new Special Search Unit looking for missing people in a small town about an hour outside of Copenhagen, the town where Blaedel was raised. She notes that she felt it “took courage to return and use my own background in the story.” Cleave’s Jerry Grey is a crime novelist diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, whose reality conflates with his plots in Trust No One. He believes that “if he proves he’s a killer, the universe will forgive him.” Mina’s DI Alex Morrow in Blood Salt Water “says things you shouldn’t really say.” That is, Morrow speaks the truth, however painful it may be, not only to others, but to herself as well. Mina “became beguiled by the fact that she was a cheeky bitch.” This novel is “a holistic look at a crime with four stories that interweave.” Because Pastor is a forensic cop in Barcelona, he didn’t want his detective in Barcelona Shadows to be like him. He wanted him “to be an antihero and sarcastic. I wanted him to be angry with everyone, but to have a moral code.”

On writing, Mina suggests that “writing a crime fiction book a year is good. Writing fast makes it relevant—a snapshot of the time. You put in background noise, but it’s politics with a small p.” Blaedel admits, “I’m writing to entertain people. It was not my plan to be a crime writer, but Louise arrived and I knew she was working in Copenhagen in Homicide.” For Cleave, “sometimes you want the heartbreaking ending. Have them get away in a way that really hurts and bring the reader back to your next book.” Pastor notes, “It’s so zen: I write violence and I arrest murderers.” He confesses, “I don’t do drafts. I have a skeleton of structure. I’m a slow writer. I go picture by picture.” All agree with Mina that “in crime fiction there’s an explosive inciting incident and the rest is shrapnel.”

If you’re a fan of savvy crime fiction that verges on noir, be sure to pick up a title by Sara Blaedel, Paul Cleave, Denise Mina or Marc Pastor.

Follow Janet Somerville on Twitter @janetsomerville

Five Questions with… S.J. Parris

(c) The Portrait Company

(c) The Portrait Company

Journalist and author of SacrilegeS.J. Parris (the pseudonym of Stephanie Merritt) answered our five questions.

IFOA: You’re both a novelist and a journalist. How does your journalistic work inform or impact your fiction?

Parris: I’ve been a journalist for 15 years and in that time I’ve been privileged to interview a great many creative artists in all disciplines. More than anything, I think that has given me an appreciation for the sheer hard graft that goes into the creative process. When I feel I’m flagging with my own novels, I think of all the authors, playwrights, actors, directors and musicians I’ve talked to over the years and how every one of them that has enjoyed some success had to put in hours, sometimes years, of often lonely hard work – I do find that inspiring on the off days!

Being a journalist also taught me how to research thoroughly, which is very useful with historical fiction, though the great joy of writing novels is that you are free to stray away from the facts.

I think that writing fiction of my own has made me a more generous book reviewer, because I know what it’s like to be on the other side.

IFOA: Tell us about a book you read in the past few years that had a lasting impact on you.

Parris: The books that have had by far the greatest impact on me in recent years are Hilary Mantel’s two Booker-winning novels about the life of Thomas Cromwell – Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that these books have changed our perception of what the historical novel can do. She has given muscle and weight to a genre that can often be perceived as rather twee; these books are visceral and immediate, you live through every scene with the characters. And the repercussions of what went on in the reign of Henry VIII are still being felt during the period I’m writing about, so it’s interesting to me from that point of view as well.

IFOA: The series of books you are currently working on, including Sacrilege, are set in England in the 1580s. What is it about this period that appeals to you?

Parris: The 1580s, halfway through Elizabeth I’s reign, are a fascinating moment in English and European history. England is very new as a Protestant nation and the great Catholic powers in Europe, France and Spain, don’t really expect it to last; there are constant threats of invasion. It’s a period rich in intrigue, which saw the beginnings of modern espionage; Catholic spies and secret priests are all over the country and there are countless assassination plots against the Queen. There’s plenty of scope in such an atmosphere of paranoia and treason for novels that draw on murder and spy plots. My main character, Giordano Bruno, is himself a strange hybrid: he’s an ex-monk, excommunicated by the Catholic Church for heresy, working as a spy in England, so this gives him an unusual perspective on both sides.

IFOA: What is your idea of a perfect day?

Parris: A perfect day for me would involve a walk in the countryside with my 11-year-old son, a pub lunch with friends, a lazy afternoon reading in the sun and a good film in the evening. It’s the small things that really make us happy – I’m figuring this out as I get older…

IFOA: Finish this sentence: They keep telling me that…

Parris: They keep telling me that… the novel is a dying form, but I don’t believe it. People may be experimenting with different ways to access stories – ebooks, audiobook downloads etc – but it’s clear to me that there’s still an enormous appetite for good storytelling in whatever form, and more ways for people to get their stories to connect with readers, which can only be a good thing.

Parris will appear at Authors at Harbourfront Centre as part of the Crime Showcase on March 20.

Five Questions with… Hilary Davidson

Hilary Davidson is at IFOA to share her new novel, The Next One to Fall. Catch her in events Saturday, October 20 and Tuesday, October 23.

© Trish Snyder

IFOA: You and your protagonist Lily Moore have many things in common – you’re both travel writers, for example. In what ways are you different?

Davidson: When I started writing my first book, The Damage Done, I was wary about having Lily be my alter ego, especially since we have our day jobs in common, and we both love vintage clothes and old movies. But our personal lives couldn’t be more different. Lily lost her parents when she was a teenager, and she’s been estranged from her sister for some time. I’m very close to my parents, and I don’t have a sister. (I do have two brothers, and I used to think about trading them in for a sister.) Lily’s single; I’m married. My personal life is boring next to hers. When I pictured Lily, Ava Gardner came to mind, so I put a print of Ava on my desk, and I ended up thinking of her as Lily’s role model. Like Ava, Lily has a lot of chaos in her romantic life, and she’s not afraid to take big risks, like pulling up stakes and moving to Spain on a whim.

IFOA: You’re a world traveller. Where do you hope to go next?

Davidson: This has been a great year for me, because I was able to visit Israel and Argentina, two countries I’ve always wanted to see. I’m dying to visit Cambodia, but I don’t have anything planned yet. I’d also love to return to Peru. I was there for three weeks in late 2007, and it remains the destination I love best. My second novel, The Next One to Fall, is set there, and poring over my photos and notes while writing the book only made me long to go back.

IFOA: Why is crime fiction your genre of choice?

Davidson: I’m fascinated by human psychology, and I love exploring what motivates people to make the choices they do — especially when they know they’re doing wrong. Crime fiction lets me put characters in extreme situations, so the emotional volume of the story is turned up high. That lets me get into the heart of a character quickly. Even though I love plot twists and cliffhangers and puzzles, the most important thing to me is always character.

IFOA: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done for a story?

Davidson: Learning to scuba dive in the St. Lawrence River. It was a crazy idea, because I’m a lousy swimmer. But when I was starting out as a freelance writer, I met the editor of Equinox. We were both fascinated by astronaut training, which includes scuba diving. The magazine had already covered that story, but the editor wanted to do a piece about learning to scuba dive and asked me if I’d take it on. I told him I was terrified of the water and he laughed and said that would make for a better piece! I’m glad I did it, but it was a harrowing experience to dive a shipwreck. A year later, I went diving with sharks in the Bahamas for another story. I should know better, but I get curious.

IFOA: Finish this sentence: I write best when…

Davidson: I understand what motivates my characters. I need to figure out what each character in the book wants and what they’re afraid of. Until I figure that out, I feel like I’m writing in the dark.

IFOA: Bonus question: International Festival of Authors in one word:

Davidson: Inspiring!

For more about Davidson and her appearance at IFOA, click here.