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HEADS UP FESTIVAL: So You Want to be a Crime Writer?

What struck me about the four writers of crime fiction who came together yesterday afternoon under the banner So You Want to be a Crime Writer? was the degree of consensus that emerged as to what it takes to write a crime novel that engages readers and keeps them reading.

In the appropriately surreal setting of The Other Space – the live performance area for Ensemble 52’s innovative theatre piece City Sketches – David Mark, Nick Quantrill, Luca Veste and I undertook our own investigation into the writing process. Each of us read an extract from, and discussed aspects of a book (just the one, mind) that has influenced our writing.

David Mark, author of Dark Winter and Original Skin. Inspired by Jim Crace’s Being Dead.

Nick Quantrill author of Broken Dreams, The Late Greats and The Crooked Beat. Inspired by Ian Rankin’s Standing in Another Man’s Grave.

Nick Triplow author of Frank’s Wild Years. Inspired by Graham Swift’s Last Orders.

Luca Veste author of Dead Gone [Published by Avon, January 2014]. Inspired by Steve Mosby’s The 50/50 Killer.

NT, David Mark, Nick Quantrill, Luca Veste

The brief panel discussion and audience Q&A covered a broad range of topics including: the influence and support of experienced editors and their notable absence in the world of self-publishing; the breadth of thought, style and approach in the world of crime-writing. To summarise, these were the main consensus points:
1. You need to read, a lot. It may seem an obvious point, but as more readers become writers, keeping the reading habit shouldn’t be underestimated.
2. Develop your own strong and original narrative voice. Each author had a tale of a failed manuscript, you learn by writing and sometimes getting it wrong.
3. The crime writing genre and its sub-genres shouldn’t be restrictive – know the field, understand the tropes and, where it works, don’t be afraid to subvert them.
4. Whether it’s the choice and evocation of a specific location or the unsettling effect of subverting expectations, a sense of place is a key tool in the crime writer’s kit.
5. Where is no magic bullet when it comes to publication – develop your craft, work the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook for the right agent, and persevere.
Finally, many thanks to Ensemble 52 for putting on this free event as part of the Heads Up Festival. From a quick scan of social media afterwards it seems many of the aspiring writers who came along took a great deal from the perspectives of the panel, the books discussed, and some honest advice.
With Heads Up, the Head in a Book series of events and Humber Mouth Festival coming up fast, there’s no doubt something is happening in the City of Hull. It’s great to be a part of it.






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