I’ve invented a new sub-genre for Crime writing – Kid Grit – where children do unspeakable things to their parents for getting the dates of the LEGOLAND fireworks wrong. I merrily went off to Killer Women on Saturday at Browns in London, blissfully unaware that the fireworks were finishing that night and not Sunday, as I thought. Oops.
But I had a great time on Saturday. I’m sitting here now, eating the last of my cookies, looking at my 26 pages of A5 size notes and wondering how I’m going to condense it all! In fact, I could have written more but my brain and hand had given up by the time I got to the fifth panel of the day. So I just listened instead.
The first panel was How Publishing Works. It was great to hear from Tammy Cohen (author), Will Francis (agent at Janklow & Nesbit) and Sophie Orme (Editorial Director at Bonnier Zaffre). Amanda Jennings kept them all in check as they took us through the process of getting published from agent submission all the way through to publication. It was really interesting to hear things from an agent and editor’s perspective and the different roles they play. Looking through my copious notes, I’m going to pull out one tip from each of the panellists.
Will Francis (agent) – When submitting, an agent prefers to feel chosen. Personalise that cover letter but keep the letter short. FOLLOW THE SUBMISSION GUIDELINES.
Sophie Orme (editor) – It’s not just the editor who has to love a book in order for it to be signed. An editor has to pitch to other colleagues, including Sales and Marketing. In particular, Sales need to the love the book as they need to pitch to retailers.
Tammy Cohen (author) – Finish the book! Tammy originally wrote 10k words of a book and sent it to an agent she’d been introduced to. The agent liked it but Tammy had to finish the book before she received an offer of representation.
The second panel was Historical Crime. This was chaired by Alison Joseph and Antonia Hodgson (writing 18th century), Kate Griffin (writing 19th century) and William Ryan (writing 20th century) were the guests. Again, I have lots of notes so I’m just going to tell you why these authors love writing historical crime.
Antonia Hodgson sets her Thomas Hawkins series in the 1720s. A friend once told her that no one wants to read about the Georgians but Antonia loves finding the bits of history that get lost and then presents them to the world. In some ways, the early Georgians may seem a bit boring as there was no big war and the monarch at the time (George I) wasn’t that interesting. However, the history at street level was more interesting. London was the biggest city in the world at that time. With no standing army or police force, how did that all work?
The Victorian Music Hall is the inspiration for Kate Griffin’s Kitty Peck books. Set in Limehouse, where her own family comes from, Kate finds freedom in writing about the past. People know about contemporary places and if the author has got it right or wrong. As she’s researched more, she’s found that there were fantastic acts on the stage including dancing lions. The music hall was also outside the boundaries of polite Victorian society which allows for far more diverse characters.
William Ryan has a Korolev series set in Russia in the 1930s but his most recent book, The Constant Soldier (shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger), is set in Germany during WW2. William finds it harder to get a handle on the ever-changing contemporary world. For him, historical fiction is just contemporary fiction in disguise. Parallels can always been drawn – now, more so than ever.
Trying to grasp this ever-changing world was the subject of the next panel – Changing Crimescape. Taking part was Matthew Blakstad, Imran Mahmood and Vaseem Khan. Katherine Quarmby chaired. As the world changes, how much do crime novels have to reflect this?
Imran Mahmood is a criminal barrister and his debut novel, You Don’t Know Me, has the protagonist standing in the witness box, telling the story. He’s a young black male and is the defendant. As a barrister, Imran can see how fascinated people are by real crime but itAs’s often the more sensational crimes that grab the public’s attention. Most real crimes stem from boredom or a fight in a street over a spilt drink. They’re chaotic and random. For Imran, fictional crime goes beyond the randomness and tells us something about ourselves and society.
Matthew Blakstad’s debut novel, Sock Puppet, is set in the world of social media and how technology can be used to make people suffer. Reputations are being challenged online. The crimescape is changing because the world is changing. Power is being exerted in different ways and terrible things are being done.
Vaseem Khan’s detective series – Baby Ganesh Agency – is set in Mumbai. Vaseem lived there for 10 years and saw first-hand the city change and transition from utter poverty to the bustling call centres and other businesses that have sprung up in India’s new economy. However, the poverty is still there. Publishers may want to hang the label ‘Cosy Crime’ on his series but having just finished reading his first book, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, I can assure you that there are lots of particles of grit in his stories.
Policing this ever-changing world, whether real or fictional, means that police officers have to keep up with the criminals. Looking at Police Procedural was Lisa Cutts, Stav Sherez, Kate London and Killer Woman, Sharon Bolton, as chair. Lisa is a serving officer and Kate is a former officer. As I write Police Procedural, I found this panel fascinating and I have a huge amount of notes. So it’s hard to know what to tell you but there was something that made the audience laugh a little.
Due to the complex nature of Police Procedural novels, Sharon’s view was that it had to be planned out first. She starts with three different ideas and then researches. She finds that the plot starts to come together at the same time. Once she has her plot, then she writes.
The other three authors disagreed and declared themselves ‘pantsers’!
Stev Sherez doesn’t plot at all. He’s tried but he finds he can’t conceive anything without writing it down. Themes are very important to him and this leads to ideas. He tends to plot backwards as he rewrites.
Kate London has tried to plot but gets no ideas. As her characters start to interact and do things, then she finds that the plot starts to come together.
Lisa Cutts doesn’t plot either! As a serving officer, she’s not allowed to write about cases that she’s worked on. She prefers to start with a theme and take her story on from there.
Needless to say, Sharon was most disappointed with them! This was a very entertaining panel and I got to ask Sharon and Stav about how they check that their Police Procedural is correct. They do have people they can check with but they also make it up. Kate London said that she doesn’t know everything so she has to ask former colleagues about certain things.
As I wrote earlier, by the time I reached the fifth panel of the day, my brain and hand had stopped working. I did try to write a few notes on Genre Splice with Helen Smith (chair), CL Taylor, Ben Aaronovitch and Sarah Pinborough but I didn’t get very far. The authors were sharing their experiences of changing genres or slicing them together.
CL Taylor has moved from Rom Com (she hates the term Chick Lit) to Psychological Thrillers and has now just this last week, released her first YA book – The Treatment.
Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series featuring PC Peter Grant, is considered to be Police Procedural with a supernatural element. However, when he wrote the first book, Ben considered it to be Urban Fantasy.
Sarah Pinborough has written over 20 books in lots of different genres. In fact her triology, The Dog-Faced Gods books were placed in a different genre for each publication by some retailers.
The final panel of the day was a pitching session where some very brave volunteers pitched to Felicity Blunt (agent), Joel Richardson (editor) and Karen Sullivan (Orenda books). Mark Billingham chaired. I only had time to stay for one pitch but then had to leave. Well done to the person I saw pitch. I’m not sure I could be as brave.
Thank you to all the Killer Women for a fabulous Saturday and I’m sure that Sunday was just as excellent. And also thanks to Katherine Sunderland, Jacob Collins, Rachel Emms and Laura Robinson for keeping me company.
If you want to know more about the Killer Women then check out their website here.