Monday, May 31, 2010

Murder They Wrote (guest post)

In a first for Crime Watch, today we have a guest post, from a fellow crime fiction enthusiast who attended the recent Book Council event with three great modern-day local crime and thriller writers, in Wellington late last week.

As this blog/website grows as a resource, I may look to use guest bloggers more often, to provide you all with a greater range of content, voices, and opinions. Just one of the things I'm looking to do to make Crime Watch the best resouce possible, and provide even more information and insight to those interested in crime and thriller fiction. So please leave some feedback in the comments section both about the concept in general, and the very first guest post.

by Rosemary Brooks (a Commissioning Editor in Wellington)

I have a confession to make. I am a huge crime fiction fan and yet I have read very little New Zealand crime fiction. That itself is a crime as there are some phenomenally talented people writing world-class books right here in New Zealand. I had the pleasure of attending an evening with three such people in Wellington on Thursday 27 May 2010.

Organised by the New Zealand Book Council, Murder They Wrote brought together Vanda Symon, Paul Cleave, and Neil Cross in a question and answer panel session hosted by the New Zealand Book Council’s Chief Executive, Noel Murphy.

With the full force of the “weather bomb” being felt outside, it was fantastic to see around 50 dedicated readers brave the inhospitable elements and venture to Cafe L’Affare to hear these three authors speak on a number of topics related to their writing. The discussion ranged from their thoughts on subjects such as genre classification and character development through to more private aspects of their craft like researching, plotting, and the actual how and when they write.

It was an interesting coincidence to find that none of the three sit down and plot their entire story before they begin writing. Vanda has a beginning and an end and some pivotal scenes in mind when she begins and then sees how she gets there. Paul, on the other hand, has none of it plotted when he begins. While Neil believes that if it still excites the author then it will excite the reader.

Another similarity between the three is how they feel about the genre classification applied to books. Vanda stated that she writes what she would like to read and the fact that this has to be classified into a certain genre “does [her] head in”. Paul, on the other hand, didn’t set out to become a crime writer; he wanted to write horror novels. On top of that, he thought THE CLEANER was more of a thriller/action story. Finally, Neil has been perceived as a literary novelist which was never his intention. He wanted his stories to excite, frighten, and keep readers awake at night which is “not the purview of the literary novelist”.

Following on from this discussion, Neil made the point that genres exist and there is no getting around that fact and that what infuriates him is that the various genres are not seen as morally equivalent – and that crime novels are taken less seriously than novels which fit within other genres.

This is a point that resonated quite strongly with me. A lot of my friends are big readers yet show very little interest in crime fiction. To give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe they don’t like to read about the dark side of humanity; maybe they find books which hinge on crime being committed unpleasant rather than interesting and simply can’t get past the subject matter. But equally maybe they (and many others who have not ever read a crime fiction novel) fail to realise that a good crime novel can be as well plotted and as full of strong characters as any literary novel (or any novel of any genre). A good crime novel will also have you unable to turn the light out at night as you can’t possibly go to sleep until you have read just one more chapter . . .

Those of you who also attended this evening will know that I have only scratched the surface of what was discussed. What I have written about here are the points that I found myself nodding in agreement with or reflecting on in the days since the talk. But they are by no means the only things I found interesting or thought-provoking. In the interests of space, I will leave my thoughts at that but I would love to hear from anyone who attended. Is there anything that I have missed out that particularly spoke to you? Anything you think deserves more attention than I have paid to it? Or any general impressions of the evening that you would like to share?


Rosemary also said this morning that "I am now about three-quarters of the way through THE RINGMASTER and really enjoying it. Interestingly enough, having met Vanya (albeit very briefly) I can see a bit of her in Sam Shephard."

So what do you think of Rosemary's report? Do you like the idea of guest posts on Crime Watch? Have you read any of these three great Kiwi authors? Or seen them at events? Thoughts and comments very welcome.


  1. Great post - sounds like it was a fun night. I wish I had been there! I have read many NZ crime books over the last few years and think these three writers are at the top.

    Kiwicraig - yes, I do like the guest post as it means more postings on your great blog.

  2. Rosemary - Thanks for this terrific post. I wish I could have been there to meet these great writers! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Craig - Guest posts are a fine idea! Thanks for being open to sharing your blog space : ).

  3. Good stuff. How about a repeat in Auckland?
    Thanks Rosemary.

  4. I'm only just learning about New Zealand crime fiction too (mostly via this excellent blog). Of those three authors you've discussed I've only read a book by one of them (Vanda Symon) but I've got the others on my radar now. You'd think here in Australia we'd give them a bit more publicity but I never see much evidence of it.

    It sounds like a great evening was had, I enjoy hearing authors talk about their writing processes and that sort of thing. I agree with you Rosemary that it's a shame so many people have a 'thing' about reading crime fiction, I know of many books that could be enjoyed by loads of people if only they stopped worrying about whether or not it's lierary enough for them. They don't know what they're missing out on.

  5. Great post - thanks Rosemary. Glad you came along, it was a fantastic night and great to meet you. Good luck with the guest posts, and nice to hear you're enjoying Vanda's book. She's great, huh? Probably one of the nicest people you'll ever meet, but don't let her know I told you...

  6. Craig it's an excellent idea and a great post by Rosemary.
    I'm already interested in New Zealand crime fiction writers. so far I have only read a Vanda Symon book but I do have a Paul Cleave in my TBR list and a Neil Cross in my wish list, so keep it coming.

  7. Thanks for the comments guys - it definitely looks like the 'guest post' slot is something that could work well, moving forward. Started strong with Rosemary's report too, which is nice.

    Graham - I agree, wouldn't it be great to start running some events like this throughout the country a little more regularly. It's a great start by the Book Council - let's hope they (and/or others) can continue more of this type of thing, beyond this great one-off event... Hopefully all three may be at the Chch Writers Festival (whether they are speaking or just in attendance).

    Bernadette - I agree. Many of the Kiwi crime novels are also published/distributed in Oz, but I'm not sure how widely they are publicised. Rowena Cseh and the staff at Good Reading magazine do a pretty good job including some Kiwi content - in fact I've covered all three of these authors in features for them in the past year. And they'd looked at the likes of Ngaio Marsh prior to that too. Again, hopefully this can grow.

    Paul - absolutely right. Vanda's lovely. But then again, I've found that most crime writers are incredinly humble, down-to-earth, and really fascinating to chat too - and I definitely include you in that too.

    Jose - I would be more than happy to include a review of a Kiwi crime book by you at some stage as a 'guest review', if you'd like (although you have your own fantastic blog of course). Hopefully you like Cleave and Cross - they're a different style to Vanda Symon, but equally good writers.

  8. Thanks for the great post, Rosemary. It's interesting to read about how these authors construct their books - I've only read one of them (Neil Cross) but look forward to the other two based on what Craig and others have written about them.
    I like the points you make about "why read crime fiction" and hope you'll be returning to those in more depth in a later post. It is an interesting question as increasingly we see books being classified as "crime fiction" which a few years ago would not have been - so if friends don't read them, they are missing out! (eg The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield to name but two excellent novels on the "border").

  9. Craig - That's a compliment. How can I reject it. You can count on it. I feel most honoured.

  10. This was a great guest post!

    One of the pleasures of the blog world is how easy it is to travel around the world and get a taste of YOUR crime fiction.

  11. Thanks for the feedback everyone. It was a really good evening and fantastic to get the chance to meet and talk to both Paul and Vanda (and I echo Craig's comments about both of them). Particular thanks have to go to Craig for first letting me know about the event and secondly for giving me the chance to share my thoughts with the blogsphere.

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